November 2015 Club

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Imagine a world in which women have no rights. No right to vote, no right to hold property or jobs, no right their own money, not allowed to read. A world in which the state and religion are tightly intertwined. (You might not have to imagine too vividly if you think about some countries around the world today). The pious language uses by the state serves to show that they are acting on the authority of the Bible.

The state in question is called Republic of Gilead and covers the historical country of the United States of America. In response to the plummeting birth rate, women are separated from former husbands and children and divided into different groups: Wives, Handmaids, Marthas, Aunts or Unwomen and wear different colours accordingly so that they are easily identified. The handmaids are entrusted with having the next generation and the pressure to conceive with the Commanders is overbearing. They are forced to wear cumbersome red robes with a winged veil, making it particularly difficult to hear or talk. They are given new temporary names, stripped of their identity and choices, make-up, creams and frivolous clothes are banned, as are books, newspapers and magazines. However the cruel Aunts - who teach, indoctrinate and enforce the rules - are allowed to read and write. Just the smallest breach of the rules might lead to hanging on The Wall, even an almost imperceptible look between a man and a woman.

As a Wife, you would be allowed to knit. The main character, Offred, envies the Commander’s Wife her knitting seeing that “it’s good to have small goals that can be easily attained.” Towards the end of the book, she wonders if it’s been “medically prescribed: ten rows a day of plain, ten of purl.” Offred often holds the skeins of wool for the Commander’s Wife and describes herself as “manacled” and “cobwebbed”.

Is it possible to escape such an oppressive, totalitarian state? What happens if you let your guard down and become complacent? Is everyone quite as pious as they make out?

Colourway inspiration

For the semi-solid colourway, it couldn’t have been any other colour than red. I’ve called it Handmaiden.

For the variegated colourway, I was inspired by the colours of all the old “inappropriate” outfits supposedly thrown away in the Manhattan Clean-up but which could be found in abundance at a hotel filled with prostitutes for the military elite – “armfuls of silk and nylon and fake fur, lime-green, red, violet; black satin, gold lame, glittering silver”. I’ve called it Jezebel’s.

The yarn type is 100% Mulberry silk to counteract the drabness of what these woman had to experience.