this ever-growing collection of balaclavas is my most subversive work

handknit with only math and imagination then given away to kids

I made each of these hats with a particular child in mind. The first one was for my daughter, the purple owl. She wore it daily since she was four, save for a brief time when we couldn’t find it after she came home from an outing with grandpa. We shrugged and figured it was gone for good. (But it turned up later stuffed safely inside of the sleeve of her jacket). I don’t care if the hats and mittens I give to kids get lost (the second ever hat I made for Elvira is not pictured here, a blue bunny that escaped to the wild before I thought to document them) as long as they get used. They’re made to be worn. But even if they’re not? Doesn’t matter! The hats aren’t precious, the people I give them to are.

I jokingly call this project my most subversive work. How could a collection of brightly colored abstractions of animal faces undermine power structures, you might ask? Some of them have pompoms? I know. But I believe the act of giving a kid something made specially for them models a radical kind of relationship. And I have anecdotal evidence that suggests these kids do understand the value of what they’ve been given. The mom of the two little boys who got the sloth hats and accompanying mittens says they’ve lost every pair of gloves they’ve ever owned, but always know where their sloth hands are. After I showed my best friend and her two sons the woodland bandit collection, she said her eldest confided in her that his feelings were kind of hurt: “She just gives them away to random kids,” he told her. “I thought we were close?” We are close! I didn’t know her boys would want one! Eason was thirteen at the time, so I’d assumed he’d aged out of wanting dorky handmade things from his auntie. I’m still so impressed that he picked up on that relationship element of the project, but not surprised, he’s always been extremely perceptive. Knowing this and him, I made sure to make him my most elaborate and technically difficult hat to date. I KNEW he would appreciate it. I’d happened to be working on my orange fox hat while visiting him and he perched over my shoulder asking technical questions, dazzled by the coding language of the cable pattern. It was so rewarding to work on that raccoon hat for just him, even though I kept fucking it up and having to start over. I’d already made 15 of these hats, wasn’t I supposed to be a pro by now?

I always think the hat I’m presently working on will be my last, but inevitably I’ll get a new idea of a technique I haven’t tried, or start to wonder how to capture a particular animal’s characteristics in alpaca wool. Or more often, I’ll think of a kid I want to make one for. The “last” hat I made was for one of my summer children. Heidi’s twelve. I knew her favorite animal was an otter, and when I found this delightful sea green color (which I don’t automatically associate with her… she’s bright yellow) I felt like it was the perfect color for her. When I was getting ready to give it to her, she came over to show me a knee-length hooded cape she’d sewn for herself. We saw the otter hat I’d made for her was the exact same shade of pale green that she’d chosen for herself. We both might’ve gotten a little teary.