Vice President Harris is making her mark on the Washington-area crochet scene
By Jura Koncius,
Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson
When Vice President Harris visited a woman-owned yarn shop in Alexandria last month, she mentioned a little-known fact about herself that left the fiber arts community a bit giddy.
The new vice president is a crocheter.
“I was raised by a mother who said ‘I am not going to let you sit in front of that television doing nothing.’ And so I have crocheted more afghans than I can tell you,” Harris said while visiting the store. “And our daughter is a knitter.”
At the shop, Harris found out about a special hand-dyed yarn named in her honor (Observatory Circle) from Neighborhood Fiber Co., a woman-owned Baltimore-based business. Five days later, on International Women’s Day, a crocheted mural of Harris’s likeness and the words “I’m Speaking” was installed at the Wharf. And with all the Googling of “Kamala Harris and crochet” there was a spike at craftyiscool.com of online sales for a pattern to crochet a Harris doll in the Japanese style of amigurumi. (Translated from the Japanese, amigurumi means little knitted toy, says Allison Hoffman who owns the Austin business, “but I tell people that I crochet small dolls and cute toys out of yarn.”)
The crocheted mural of Harris is on display at the Wharf. It was designed by London Kaye.
Karen Sandra Franklin
Second gentleman Doug Emhoff with London Kaye in front of the mural she designed.
The cool factor of crocheting was on the upswing already, as hipsters have helped the hobby shed its image of being the stuff of old ladies. During the pandemic, more people have picked up DIY crafts such as quilting and knitting for comfort and to pass the time. Knitters are a much larger group, but the global crochet community has been growing as artsy crocheters keep posting their rugs, bralettes, sanitizer-bottle covers and cardis on social media. And the association of Harris with crocheting is huge. “Knowing that the vice president is a crocheter gives me street cred,” says Hoffman, who sells patterns for Amanda Gorman and Bernie Sanders dolls, among others. “Now I can say that I am doing what Kamala Harris does.”
Harris made the visit to Fibre Space, a boutique yarn shop in Old Town Alexandria, to check in with owner Danielle Romanetti on how Romanetti was managing in the pandemic and to discuss the covid-19 stimulus package.
“I didn’t know that she crocheted,” says Romanetti, who was contacted by the vice president’s office about five days before the visit. “When she showed up and said that, that was a surprise to us and most of the knitting and crochet community was excited to find that out. News spread around very quickly.”
While Harris was in the shop, Romanetti pointed out the wine-colored Observatory Circle yarn that had been named after her. Harris bought a skein, which Romanetti understood that Harris was going to give to her stepdaughter Ella Emhoff, a fashion student in New York who designs knitwear. After the Biden/Harris ticket won the election, Neighborhood Fiber’s owner Karida Collins created the yarn to mark the moment. “I wanted to commemorate how significant it is that our vice president is a woman and she is Black and she is Asian and she is the child of immigrants,” Collins says.
Karida Collins, owner of Neighborhood Fiber Co. in Baltimore, holds Observatory Circle, the yarn color she created to honor the vice president.
The deep burgundy color was inspired by an illustration by Collins’s friend Ashley Johnson (@blackwomxndostuff) of Harris in a navy blue pantsuit in front of an American flag. “In my mind, I was creating a color that would look good on Vice President Harris in that outfit and be evocative of the flag without being too literal,” Collins says.
Hoffmann says she was also moved to create something to honor Harris the night the Biden/Harris ticket won the election. “I was watching her speech where she was wearing the white pantsuit. It was such a moment,” says Hoffman, who writes books on amigurumi and sells patterns and supplies for making the dolls and toys.
Allison Hoffman, owner of Crafty is Cool in Austin, designed an amigurumi pattern to crochet a Harris doll.
“That night I started crocheting the Kamala doll,” Hoffman says. “I have developed this line of yarn for different skin tones. I had the perfect color.” She soon started selling patterns to crochet the doll, which has two shoe options: heels or sneakers.
The mural at the Wharf consists of 150 squares crocheted by volunteers. It was organized by yarn bomber and street artist London Kaye through Love Across the USA, an organization that creates crochet art installations honoring notable women. Kaye was inspired while watching the Inauguration Day events, and she posted a callout on Instagram (@madebylondon) for volunteers to crochet 24-by-24 inch squares that would be combined into a 40-foot-wide mural.
“It only took one post. I got enough volunteers to make four billboards,” she says. Kaye didn’t know Harris was a crocheter until after she started planning the mural, she says. Kaye stumbled upon a 2018 article in Vogue where the vice president’s sister, Maya Harris, referred to her as “the mad crocheter.”
Through a partnership with the Wharf and the Southwest Business Improvement District, Kaye arranged to install the completed mural on the outside of the Officina restaurant on International Women’s Day, March 8. It will be up through Memorial Day weekend, she says. Second gentleman Doug Emhoff has already visited the mural, and Kaye is hoping Harris will also come take a look.
No response from the White House on whether the vice president has brought any of her crocheted afghans to her official residence at Number One Observatory Circle. (Or whether she has any time to crochet these days.) She and Emhoff moved there last week after staying at Blair House while renovations were being completed on the 1893 Victorian house.
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