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Archive for September, 2012

On Wednesday  I made my way to the Riflemaker Gallery in London, which hosted a panel discussion on contemporary craft, as part of the Women to Watch exhibiton. Rachael Matthews from Prick Your Finger was selected to represent the UK and over the last few weeks, she has made the Shamanic Bed for Creatives:

I don’t even know where to start ‘unravelling’ this Shamanic bed, which is full of symbolism, drawn from many different sources, ranging from the universal to the personal. Rachael is a woman of many skills and this shows in the Shamanic bed. The bedspread treats hand-knitting, crochet, machine-knitting and darning as equal crafts. The bed-frame is made from discarded wood and shows inlaid work and beautiful joinery:

As with many things that Rachael makes, important items and symbols get their own custom-made shelves or storage space. If you have ever visited Prick Your Finger in Bethnal Green, you will know exactly what I mean. Some of these find their place on the back of the head-board:

This means that the bed requires, or rather, demands, a prominent place in the middle of the room and thus symbolises the importance of craft and making in Rachael’s live. It cannot be shoved into a corner of a room and this was alluded to during the panel discussion:

In a very packed room, Glenn Adamson, Head of Research at V&A and Contemporary Craft Curator (far right), led the discussion between panellists Sandy Black, author, designer, knitter and professor at London College of Fashion (far left); John-Paul Flintoff, journalist, author and nettle pants maker (middle left); and Rachael Matthews (middle right) herself. Audience participation was welcomed and encouraged.

We tried to find an answer to the question ‘Why must we lead this creative life?’ and it won’t come as a surprise there is no one answer. It is perhaps easy to misread this question as ‘Why do I make what I make?’ or ‘What do I like about making?’ and indeed the discussion sometimes wandered off in this direction. For instance, John-Paul felt compelled to start making his own clothes and books because he’s worried about consumerism and the environment and this seemed to be a natural way of dealing and investigating these issues. He also said that sometimes we need permission from someone else to do something we want to do. Something that Sandy said resonated with me: by making something yourself, you start an appreciation of made things. For example, before making his own shirts and visiting a tailor on Savile Row, John-Paul didn’t appreciate the skills involved in making suits and why these tailored garments are so expensive.

But whenever we got back on track I think most of us agreed that if you are creative, you just cannot help it. Rachael feels a compulsion to make things and indeed, we all recognised the example of just having to do something with your hands: if she can’t knit, she’ll draw. If she can’t draw, she’ll do some woodwork. If she can’t do some woodwork, she’ll knit. Making is a journey. You start somewhere, but you’re not quite sure where it’s going, or where it will end.

Some of the themes we discussed felt very topical and were touched upon at MendRS and In the Loop 3, as well: sustainability, rebellion against mass production, craft skills dissemination and personal well-being. They also pop up in the practice of some of the people in the audience. For instance, Dr. Felicity Ford turned up in a 100% woollen outfit, with almost all items made by herself or by other skilled crafts people:

Making her own clothes from wool, a sustainable material and mostly sourced from independent spinners and weavers, and made from rare British breeds, she makes a strong point against mass produced, throwaway fashion. John-Paul was wearing a shirt he made himself and he adorned it with some badges, he had also made himself:

In a world where it’s becoming difficult to feel part of a tradition, something I think helps you feel grounded, I have noticed people have started exploring traditions (this also came up in the panel discussion) and are trying to shape their own traditions and symbols*. These badges, showing that John-Paul feels English, is happily married, has a lovely daughter, and has published books (and he makes them, too, from paper that would otherwise go to waste), are the first of a larger series he’s making, and I’m looking forward to seeing how he will develop his own tradition.  Tradition is linked with myths, stories and symbols, and this brings us neatly back to Rachael’s Shamanic Bed for Creatives.

Why do you lead a creative life? Is it a compulsion or a necessity? Do you enjoy being creative and what are the downfalls?

*) Dr Felicity Ford discusses developing her own textile tradition as a response to visiting Estonia; Helen Whitham explores creating a new, personal tradition in the textile-tradition rich Shetland Isles; and indeed, my own interest in traditional knitwear is a starting point on this journey.

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Last week I attended the In the Loop 3 conference, organised by the Knitting Reference Library, part of the Winchester School of Art. From the individual to the industrial and from the technical to the intellectual, I had no idea that a conference on knitting could generate such a diversity of topics; there were 28 presentations in all.

Strangely, I did not take any pictures during the conference, as I was too geekily absorbed by the World of Knitting –  I hope you can forgive me. Here’s a selection of personal highlights from the conference, presented to you in chronological order:

(1) Dr Martin Polley, Senior lecturer in Sport (he’s a sport historian) spoke engagingly about Knitting and the Olympic Games. Not only was knitting part of the predecessor of the Olympic Games, The Much Wenlock Olympian Games, where women and girls were judged on the fastest and neatest knits; knitwear has also caused controversy at more than one Olympic event. Most recently the LZR Racer swimsuits developed by Speedo to emulate sharkskin, gave swimmers an unusual advantage. These suits have been banned since the 2008 Games saw an incredible amount of new records.

(2) Sharon Evans-Mikellis, senior lecturer in Fashion and Textile Design at AUT University, New Zealand discussed garment shape innovation in knitwear design. I don’t know a single thing about knitting machines, let alone the high-tech ones that Sharon works with, but I was struck by the fact that even with the latest technology, knitting machines are usually used to emulate flat knitting, even if they can knit in 3D. Sharon explored some new ways of shaping knitwear using these capabilities, which is much more easily done in hand-knitting. Her talk has inspired me to try some new sweater designs, on which I will report in due course!

(3) Hazel Tindall, knitter, spoke about her mother’s diary she wrote in the 1960s. It gave a personal voice on how knitting pervaded this woman’s live, who much preferred reading and writing. Before the discovery of oil, knitting was about the only way to earn extra cash for housewives in rural Shetland, so apart from making garments for her family, she knitted goods for local knitwear buyers. Hazel read out snippets of the diaries, showed some of the garments mentioned by her mother, and gave an insight in how live must have been for many a housewive in Shetland at the time.

(4) Juliette, knitter. I only spoke to Juliette during dessert at the conference dinner, but I so admire her. 78 years of age, she was so lovely to talk to, and she knew so much about knitting. She was not only wearing a perfectly fitting cardigan, but on her shoulders was draped a beautiful Shetland lace shawl (in Jamieson’s cobweb, of course). Then she pulled out of her bag some miniature knitting she was working on. Jumpers knitted to a 1:12 scale, using needles made from piano wires and knitted in polyester sewing thread. And not just any old stocking stitch. Oh no, one was knitted in entrelac and another in a Sanquhar pattern.

(5) Helen Whitham, recently graduated with a first class honours from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design showed some of her graduation collection and spoke about her research, in which she concluded that knitted textiles from Shetland are authentic products expressing a time, place and culture and offer a basis for emotional attachment. This then, will encourage owners to hang on to these garments for longer. In her graduation collection Helen managed to create a whole new and more intellectual approach to Shetland knitwear, creating her very own personal ‘tradition’ informed by colours and shapes of things she found, amongst others, on the beach. Amazing.

(6) Roslyn Chapman, researched the history of the fine lace knitting industry in the nineteenth and early twentieth century Shetland for her PhD, with a focus on the social and economic relationships between the production and consumption of the fine knitted items. During her research, Roslyn became more aware of things that she had never seen, descriptions of the sale of articles that seem to have vanished without a trace. Where are the Shetland knitted opera cloaks? The Shetland lace clouds, lappets and hoods? And what of the scarlet, crimson, purple and blue shawls and the lesser known spotted hap? Where are all the Shetland fringes, tassels and ‘balls’? Were they loved so much that they have been worn to death, or hated so much they have been relegated to the backs of wardrobes? Roslyn showed photocopies of photographs of photographs (yes, really!) of intricate gossamer lace blouses, contemporary adverts selling burnouses, and payment receipts to Shetlands fringers (who’s sole task was to add fringes to knitted items.)

(7) Sandy Black, professor of Fashion & Textile Design & Technology at London College of Fashion, University of the Arts. Sandy discussed couture handknitting in the postwar period, and especially the work of Maria Luck-Szanto. Hungarian by birth, she came to London in 1939 to establish her hand knitted fashion business, using the skills of British knitters to produce her unique creations which adorned the elite society of London and beyond. Her designs contained many innovations, including the minimizing of seams, and influenced the patents for new machine knitting techniques which are only now possible to execute, with the current advanced knitting machines. Looking at the incredible detail of these handknitted garments, I feel all the more inspired to attempt a high finish on my own knitted garments.

Last but not least I, too, presented at In the Loop 3. I spoke about my Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches. An installation that had to be put on hold due to personal circumstances. However, when I have confirmed new dates for the exhibition, I will write a detailed post about it. The Curiosity Cabinet of Knitting Stitches gives a voice to some of the more esoteric knitting stitches, by presenting them as the rarities they are, by displaying swatches as a natural history collection of yore. It will be accompanied by a series of short workshops, to show others some of these techniques. I got so much good feedback from the audience, that I can’t wait to have it all sorted out and share these cabinets with all of you!

There, I managed to squeeze in a picture after all! I hope this post has given you a flavour of the conference. Personally, I cannot wait till In The Loop 4!

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Post updated on 11 September to correct spelling mistake in Helen Whitham’s name, and put a link in to her blog.

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