purple-sweater1I’ve been knitting almost daily, almost compulsively, in all sorts of situations—in cafes, on road trips, while playing chess, while watching movies, while editing manuscripts—for nearly 25 years now. For even a small project, let alone a large one like a sweater, it’s impossible for me to remember where I was and what was happening every time I worked on it, but some pieces soak up special memories of the times and places they were created in. For example, I have a green and blue shawl that is precious to me (even though I can never find an appropriate time, place, and outfit in which to wear a shawl, so it spends its life on a shelf) because I began knitting it in Québec City, while gazing out over the Saint Lawrence River, one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. I expect to someday treasure my blue/green/purple hat (once I get around to knitting it) because it will be made from the funky yarn I bought on my road trip to Portland, Oregon. And so on.

Then there’s the purple sweater. I didn’t choose the color to be symbolic. I just happen to really like purple, and the yarn at my local yarn shop that seemed just perfect for the pattern I’d fallen in love with in Interweave Knits magazine happened to be a heathery, dusty purple. It was only when, while sitting outside the polling place where I was serving as a polling place lead (a sort of manager and liason for the poll watchers inside) this past Election Day that it dawned on me: “I’m knitting a purple sweater!”

I was worried at the time. At our training, all poll watchers and polling place leads (volunteers, both Republican and Democrat, there to make sure the election judges were fair to every voter, and every voter who needed help or information got it) were warned not to wear or carry anything that could suggest any political affiliation, which meant, for all practical purposes, any color at all. Blue and red, of course, were taken by the Democrats and Republicans, but there was also a Green candidate on the ballot. Many colors together could be construed as a rainbow in support for gay rights. Yellow meant something, though I don’t remember what. And purple, of course, was a blend of red and blue, a call for peace between the parties, or in Colorado, an often quoted call to “Turn our state purple!” by bringing out more Democratic votes in a traditionally Republican state. So I wore all black (though I included a black hoody, a nod to Eminem’s 2004 anti-Bush campaign), hoping that nobody but the most ridiculous of racists could imagine I was campaigning for anything…until I pulled out my knitting project.

I had chosen to work on a complicated, cabled sweater because I wanted to look approachable and alert (so reading or writing wouldn’t do), but I knew that I’d be sitting in the hallway of an elementary school from 6:30am until 7pm, and I needed something to keep my mind, or at least my fingers, occupied. Nobody complained about the polling place lead sending secret messages through her sweater, though. By the end of the day, I’d added several inches to the body of the sweater, and become quite proud of its symbolic purpleness. Yes, I do hope that the divisiveness our country has suffered from for these past eight years will finally end, that we’ll all be able to work together, political leaders and everyday folks alike, to solve our country’s problems. That, and I just really like purple.

Now I’ve added another memory to my sweater: I’ve started on the sleeves now. I’m nearly done with, well, let’s call it the left sleeve. Still, my sweater will soon have a right, a left, and a center. This sleeve though, I’ll always remember, is the one I was knitting while I sat in my living room, watching Barack Obama’s inauguration as the 44th President of the United States of America. Like the teary-eyed masses gathered around the Capitol this morning, I have high hopes for this man, and for what all Americans can do together under his inspiration and leadership. I am cautious in my optimism—I cannot believe that anyone can live up to all that we’ve come to expect from him, and as my favorite web comic, Sinfest, reminds us, we must resist the temptation to follow anyone blindly—but our new President has impressed me so far as being consistently well-intentioned, and powerful in his intelligence and his charisma. Hey, there’s reason for some hope.

My purple sweater has soaked up some impressive history already. I hope the rest of its life will make me even more proud.

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