By Dyana Bagby
Jill Vogin wears her heart on her sleeve. And on her political sweaters.
A prolific knitter who has made herself known in Dunwoody and metro Atlanta progressive circles with her colorful and political handmade sweaters, Vogin said living in an often warm and muggy environment means adapting her unique designs. They range from an American flag heart on her back to John Lennon lyrics.
“I live in Atlanta, so I prefer cotton, sleeveless sweaters,” she said from her home knitting studio, where boxes of yarn are piled high against the wall.
Since the election of Donald Trump, Vogin estimates she has knitted about a dozen sweaters that include some kind of political message meant to inspire hope.
“I’m heartbroken, but when I wear one of my sweaters, people around me say something. It makes them feel good, which makes me feel good,” she said.
Vogin moved to Dunwoody from Washington, D.C., in 2008, and learned fairly quickly to keep her liberal views to herself.
While campaigning for Barack Obama in 2008 in Dunwoody, she said she stepped into the local REI to make a quick purchase. Instead, she said she was accosted by a man talking to a group of people in the store about how Obama was not an American and was a terrorist. She said she was escorted to her car by the store manager because she did not feel safe.
“I didn’t know what I was getting into before I moved down here,” she said. “That level of hatred and sense of fear was new to me.”
It took her until this year and the 6th Congressional District race that pitted Republican stalwart Karen Handel against Democratic newcomer Jon Ossoff for her to step out again to voice her political views.
“I’d never put out a sign in my yard until Trump got elected. The Ossoff race was the first time I put out a sign in our yard,” she said.
Handel eventually beat Ossoff for the seat in the U.S. House of Representatives vacated by Tom Price when he was appointed Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services.
As part of that campaign, Vogin knitted her own “Vote Your Ossoff” sweater that she wore repeatedly when canvassing door-to-door. When some local politicians alleged Ossoff supporters were paid protesters, she knitted her own “Vocal Local” sweater bearing Dunwoody’s 30360 ZIP code.
Her first major political sweater, and what she calls her masterpiece, is a portrait of John Lennon on the front with some of the words of his song “Imagine” on the back.
This sweater was created after several terrorist bombings in Europe several years ago, she said, leaving her feeling helpless but wanting to say something political, but not overtly political. “I tried to make people think,” she said.
Other colorful and one-of-a-kind political sweaters include one with Hillary Clinton slogans created from about $100 worth of yarn and weeks of work.
A Lady Liberty sweater with the word “Persist!” on the back was created as an ode to U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) following the infamous Senate confirmation hearing for U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell silenced her with the phrase: “Sen. Warren was giving a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
Vogin said her grandmother taught her to knit and crochet as a young girl and her love for the craft has evolved over the years from a simple hobby to a hunger to create meaningful art.
“When I knit the political ones or ones to make a statement, there is always a sense of urgency,” she said. “My knitter friends would pick them apart … but I’m not worried about being technically accurate. Usually I have a deadline. And making these is more of an emotional experience.”
The history of knitting has ties to political movements, Vogin said. Before women could speak out politically, they could knit and weave to express themselves. In recent years, young women have taken up knitting, shattering the image of knitters being only “old white women.”
Then, after Trump was elected, knitting became a powerful movement with the renowned “pink pussy caps” worn by hundreds of thousands of people who participated in the Women’s March on Washington.
Knitting is not all political for Vogin, however. She is the current president of the Atlanta Knitting Guild that was formed in 1985 and currently meets at St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church in Dunwoody. The group has more than 150 members who travel from throughout metro Atlanta and the Southeast for special events. When the guild meets each month, between 50 and 100 members show up to knit together.
Much of the knitting the group does is for charities, such as area hospitals that need baby blankets. The group also holds special events and invites “knitting celebrities” and authors from across the country to give workshops and lectures. The guild meets on the first Thursday of each month at St. Luke’s. For more information, see atlantaknittingguild.org.
Click below for images of more of Vogin’s sweaters. Photos by Dyana Bagby.