Famous Knits: Orange is the New Black

Written by Sarah on August 1st, 2013 Posted in DIY, famous knits, tv

I wasn’t expecting much when I heard about Jenji Kohan’s new show for Netflix Orange is the New Black. I loved Weeds (up until season 4, at least) but the premise of Orange seemed a little too similar (white ladies + drugs = surprise!). The posters also seemed a little too sit com-y and the trailer made me scared that it might be uncomfortably racist. But Jon loved Weeds, and we have a really hard time agreeing on what to watch. So we decided to give the first episode a try to see if we liked it.

We watched the whole first season in 24 hours. And in the same weekend, Jon had finished the first three chapters of Kerman’s memoir.

Since then, I can’t stop thinking about the show. I’m so excited to have a good excuse to write about it here.

orange is the new black

Inspired by Piper Kerman’s memoir of the same name, OITNB would have you believe it is about artisenal-soap-making Park Slope blonde Piper Chapman. She is sent to prison for smuggling drug money during an ‘adventurous, post-college, lesbian’ phase. But the story is much more than the fish-out-of-water it’s billed to be. It takes a lot of time to really explore all of the characters with incredible empathy.

While I can’t speak to how accurate the show is, it is certainly moving. And it has to be commended for a diverse range of characters and fantastically off-beat female actors. I’ve never seen an ensemble drama spend so much time developing characters that were all so complex and real. It’s refreshing to see so many talented female actors carrying a series and I certainly hope it’s the first of many like it. Long story short, Jenji is my new hero.

orange is the new black crochet 2

I don’t want to get into any spoilers here so I’ll stick to the topic at hand: crafts. Having limited resources, these women are very creative. DIY isn’t just for recreation but is often a necessity of prison life. According to Kerman’s book (which I look forward to reading in full), crochet became the craft of choice for many of her fellow inmates. The show has done a great job portraying this from bedspreads, pillows, scarves, and hats, to rec rooms full of women hooking away while others play cards and Scrabble.

orange is the new black red netflix

Badass prison chef/mother hen Red even wears her glasses on i-cord croakies. Ahem!

orange is the new black crochet

I did a little bit of Google-ing about prison knitting. (Apparently crochet hooks are considered less dangerous so it’s more common amongst inmates.) I came across a program in Maryland that has gotten a lot of press called Knitting Behind Bars. They teach knitting to male inmates as a form of recreational therapy. I think it’s amazing that these crafts can bring some catharsis and rehabilitation to them! (Does anyone have information on more programs like these?)

Have you been watching Orange is the New Black? Are you already looking forward to the next season? Does anybody want to talk about the show with me? I can probably go on for hours!

ps. Tomorrow is the drawing for the Metropolitan Knits giveaway! It’s not too late to enter!

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Comments (15)

  • Emma
    August 1, 2013 at 10:44 am |

    I could ALSO talk about OITNB for ages, and I loved seeing all the crochet!

    Check out Fine Cell Work – they teach embroidery and quilting to UK prisoners, and sell the resulting pieces so that prisoners have a chance to make some money. Many send the money to their families, others save it up for when they get out. We had a Fine Cell Work exhibition at my museum and the work is really incredible – but even better are the accompanying stories from the inmates. I highly suggest reading some of the stories on their website. They pretty much always leave me weepy. Working for them would be a dream job for me, they do such amazing things.

    • August 1, 2013 at 10:49 am |

      Thanks for sharing that! That sounds like a wonderful program. I’m definitely going to do more research on it.

      Some of the programs I’ve read about here donate the FOs to children’s hospitals (or similar charities). The inmates have a good feeling of being able to give back to the community and make things right, in a small way. I think it’s great that they can save money from their work since it’s so easy to fall back into crime after release without a good support system.

  • August 1, 2013 at 12:08 pm |

    Interesting. Could you imagine seeing a roomful of prison hardassed men knitting away? What a great visual!

    • August 1, 2013 at 1:20 pm |

      I know. It seems kind of shocking but if you check out the video, they all look so happy stitching away! Knitting is magic!

  • August 1, 2013 at 2:51 pm |

    I loved seeing this because I can’t stop watching either! And I love all the strange handy crafts too… I am incredibly surprised that I like the show as much as I do but hopefully it doesnt start tanking like Weeds did for me. 🙁

    Since I am only on like the 4th or 5th episode I haven’t even started to google when the next season will be out, any word?

    • August 1, 2013 at 2:53 pm |

      I heard Spring of 2014!!! I’m jealous you have episodes left to watch! I just have to re-watch it!

  • Kelly
    August 1, 2013 at 5:56 pm |

    So, my field of counseling has really opened me up to this earlier this summer. A counselor opened the whole knitting can be used as a treatment for many individuals with disorders. The book knitting for peace was made for prisoners to do charity work. The Maryland project you mentioned has its own blog. There are also quilting programs and other crafting programs so prisoners can do something for charities and show compassion.

    • August 1, 2013 at 9:29 pm |

      Thanks! I’m going to look into that book!

  • August 4, 2013 at 2:20 pm |

    I work with teens who come out of detention centers and are beginning the transition home. They often suffer from crippling anxiety, but knitting and crocheting has been amazing for them. For some, it’s the only way they can sit still. For others, it’s a very tangible sense of accomplishment. Once, when I had a particularly enthusiastic group, we knit a blanket to donate to the Linus Project. They felt so good about themselves and, having made bad choices in the past, really latched onto their ability to put good things in the world. Knitting really is magic 🙂

    • August 4, 2013 at 2:27 pm |

      That is wonderful! Your work sounds so rewarding! It’s great to hear knitting brings so much joy to people.

  • August 5, 2013 at 1:47 pm |

    I’m doing my dissertation using knitting as a therapeutic technique. There is an Interweave article from Winter 2003 by Betty Christiansen called “Knitting Behind Bars” all about this.

    I watched OITNB in a week and listened to the memoir the following week. Great stuff!

    • August 5, 2013 at 9:41 pm |

      Thanks for hooking me up with the article! Good luck on your dissertation! It sounds like such an awesome topic.

  • Claudia
    September 15, 2013 at 6:39 pm |

    Hi Sarah, I have been learning all I can about prison knitting programs. If you Google, you’ll be surprised at what you find. I am hoping to start a very similar project to Knitting Behind Bars here in New Mexico. I have been writing yarn companies for months getting yarn donations (thus far approx 74 lbs of yarn) let alone the donationa from our community for a women’s prison near us. I am getting the ball rolling on trying to get into the prison to knit with these amazing women. I only hope its not long before I’m able to do it and lend yet another story of just how inspiring, therapeutic, healing, and calming knitting and crocheting can be. Right now the women are making the scarves they donate every winter to the schoolchildren of the community closest to the prison. I strongly believe in the transformative powers stitching and knitting can bring, I only hope I am soon able to share what I know with a bunch of ladies so thirsty for the knowledge!

    • September 15, 2013 at 9:13 pm |

      That is really wonderful! I’m so glad you’re taking on this work and I really hope that you find a yarn company to help you out! Please let me know how it goes once you’ve gotten started. I know I’m across the country but I’d love to help spread the word about your awesome program.

  • Claudia
    September 15, 2013 at 6:41 pm |

    Sarah, I forgot to mention….I was TOTALLY GLUED to OITNB and watched the whole first season in a few days. I loved it!

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