I regard knitting as a physical drawing, the transformation of a linear material into a sculptural form, the ultimate balance between drawing and applied arts. Over the years I have developed extreme textured knitting techniques and used knitting as a sculptural medium to make large abstract forms. The hanging knitted form, suspended using tension and gravity, suggests a vulnerability which evokes a bodily resonance with notions of absence and the abject.
For me, the process of knitting is as important as the product. Knitting in private is what I call ‘stream of consciousness’ knitting – I have no pattern, just a few rules, which I sometimes allow myself to break! I make decisions as I knit and the form develops intuitively. I very quickly enter a state of meditative timelessness which induces a profound sense of wellbeing. The psychologist Csikszentmihalyi describes this as the state of flow; it is caused by deep concentration, where levels of skill match levels of challenge. It is often linked to creativity and, ultimately, to happiness.
Image: Heart of darkness, 2015 - present, hand knitted wool, knitting needles, yarn; installed at Synecdoche's Bodies residency, September 2016
(Please click on the image to read more.)
Image: The sea, the sea, 2017, hand knitted wool, work in progress
Knitting in public, however, acts as a people magnet, initiating conversations and interactions with strangers. My knitting becomes a memory catcher, as thoughts, emotions and conversations are knitted into the fabric of the piece.
Because I like to knit large sculptural pieces, I need to knit whenever and wherever I can. It often makes me think of the character in the Snoopy cartoon, Linus, and the blanket he drags around! Is my knitting my version of Bly’s shadow sack?
As my work grows it becomes too unwieldy to knit in public, and then it is more closely linked with home and it becomes my comfort blanket, quite literally, as I knit alone. It fills a space in my private world.
I always knit with pure wool and sometimes I felt my knitting in the washing machine. A piece of work the size of a duvet becomes the size of a pillow case; months of slow, meditative work culminates in a relatively quick and unpredictable process which dictates the outcome. It often feels like a form of madness! This change in control fascinates me and adds a sense of fragility to my work. Felting is alchemy; heat and agitation transform the recognisable stitched structure of knitting into an alien, dense, distorted, sculptural otherness. Maybe the appeal of the process is that it is so capricious? I constantly explore techniques to exploit this change in control… ‘What will happen if…?’
Recently, however, I have been appreciating more fully the value in the recognisable nature and fragility of the knitted surface and structure. It has clear associations with comfort, domesticity, the body, the private sphere and various other femininities. Using knitting to make public things that are normally private can prompt conflicting, unexpected and uncomfortable responses - attraction, repulsion, horror and hilarity, amongst others.
I have explored ways to hang knitted pieces using tension and gravity, to great effect. The play on the word tension, with regards to knitting, is intentional! That the knitted fabric is so flexible makes it perfect for site responsive installations. The hanging form can evoke emptiness, loss and the abject.
In order to knit large sculptural forms, I sometimes use several circular needles as double pointed needles; extreme knitting in action! It means that there is potentially no limit to the size of the sculptures I could knit.
Sometimes I leave multiple knitting needles and balls of yarn attached, suggesting a work in progress yet unravelling; a metaphor for a mental state, as if I could pick it up and knit it again at any point or conversely, allow it to unravel. The artist Janine Antoni in Slumber recorded her brainwaves as she slept and wove their pattern by day into a blanket to cover her at night. The continuity between process in consciousness and process in unconsciousness intrigues me.
My knitted work subverts the notions of knitting as passive, private and benign. As with my work with stitch, there are hints of a dark side; even the language of knitting suggests this - casting off, unravelling, tension.....
Why have knitting needles not been allowed on aeroplanes for so many years?
Please have a look at my knitting page for more images of my work and for more thoughts about the process and the products.