For my thoughts on knitting generally, please read my blog posts, I knit therefore I am and Stream of consciousness knitting.
For more details about my knitted works and further images, please scroll down.
Gallery of knitted work:
1. All the babies I might have had, 2011, hand knitted felt, thread
2. Fields, 2010, detail, hand knitted felt, stitch
3. Heart, 2012, detail, plastic tubing, fluid, pump
4. Nobody 3, 2014, detail, hand knitted wool, knitting needles
5. Nobody 3, 2014, installed at Synecdoche at The Christmas Steps Gallery, Bristol, December 2014
6. Self-portrait, 2012, side view, hand knitted wool
7. Seascape, 2010, detail, hand knitted felt
8. Shroud, 2013, detail, hand knitted wool
9. Sunset, 2010, detail, hand knitted felt
10. Nobody 2, 2014, detail, leatherette, hand knitted felt, zips, stitch
11. Self-portrait, 2013, hand knitted felt
12. Social Network, 2012, hand knitted monofilament installed at Align at UWE, Bower Aston campus, Bristol, November 2012
13. Red tree trunk, 2010, hand knitted felt
14. Other 1, 2015, detail of hand knitted, felted insert
15. Other 1, 2015, detail of hand knitted, felted insert
16. Other 5, 2015, detail of red and white hand knitted wool inserts
17. Other 4, 2015, showing white textured knitted insert
18. Other 5, 2015, detail of red hand knitted wool insert
19. Heart of darkness, 2015-present, two part installation, hand knitted wool, knitting needles, yarn. Installed here at Synecdoche's [dis]place at The Vestibules, Bristol, September 2017
20. Part of me I, 2.7.17, 20 x 20 x 21cm approx., felted hand knitting, the first in a new series in progress of smaller soft sculptures
21. Part of me 2, 5.1.18, 46 x 28 x 24cm approx., felted hand knitting
22. Part of me 3, 3.3.18, 54 x 33 x 22cm approx., felted hand knitting
23. The sea, the sea, August 2017, felted hand knitted wool, exhibited at The Embroiderers' Guild exhibition, Page 17 at The Knitting and Stitching Shows, London and Harrogate, 2017
Internal monologue, July 2018 and ongoing
Internal monologue being knitted on holiday in Italy, 4.8.18
Every summer I like to start a new piece of knitting just before I go on holiday. It means that I can take the maximum wool and bring back the maximum knitting! As is evident, I find knitting extremely relaxing so it’s my favourite holiday past time. I try to start something really complex as, for my holiday knitting, the more complicated it is, the better! Maybe that sounds strange, but Csikszentmihalyi suggests that the higher the level of skill, the deeper the state of flow…. and I do find complex knitting so utterly absorbing; it’s perfect for whiling away the hours in the shade.
This year I’ve been working with another artist, Clare Thatcher, preparing for a joint exhibition in September 2018. Clare paints landscapes in oils using pure pigments. Her work is subsequently very textures and her use of colour is wonderful! Although we use such different materials and processes we recognise similarities in our work so decided it might be an interesting challenge to swap work and make new work in response to the one another’s work.
My stitched soft sculpture, Nobody 1, in front of one of Clare Thatcher's oil paintings, Feb 2018
These are the pieces that I brought home with me in February 2018:
One of Clare Thatcher's oil paintings
A series of 4 of Clare Thatcher's studies in oils for larger paintings.
These are some of Clare’s smaller works. The set of four are studies for larger pieces. I chose a range of browns and other colours from this palette. It’s definitely a very different selection to the colours I have worked with before and it has been an interesting experiment.
In terms of form, I wanted to revisit the peak-like protrusions that I used at the centre of last summer’s big knitted piece, The sea the sea (see below). They’re quirky and fun and hard to knit, so that was perfect. I have to knit each piece with double pointed needles and then knit it into the larger knitting. It’s complicated and labour intensive so it’s been great for my holiday knitting.
Sculptural knitting, 29.7.18
Since coming home I’ve been aware of the time pressure of the September deadline so have been concentrating more on the browns. I definitely don’t find it as motivating to knit browns as I do the other colours!
Most recently I’ve been thinking of how I’ll exhibit it, debating whether to show the ‘wrong’ side instead of the ‘right’ side. I’ve also been exploring ways to show both. I'm intrigued by the visual impact of the reverse, but also intention vs lack of intention, the mark making, the marks of my making, the change in control and maybe the ‘unconscious intentionality’ of it. It would be conceptually interesting to ‘just’ hang it inside out but I have to confess I'm feeling conflicted, as many, many hours and many years of accumulated skill have gone into the making of this large knitted soft sculpture. I'm at the point when I need to begin to sculpt the piece into a particular sculptural form if I’m going to show the wrong side, whereas if I want to show both sides it will probably need to have a different shape. Maybe I’ll use a mirror?
Right side or 'wrong' side? 27.8.18
I’ve been looking at David Pye’s workmanship of risk versus the workmanship of certainty and Elaine Cheasley Paterson and Susan Surette’s book ‘Sloppy craft’. I’ve also trialled some installation ideas. I do realise that, as knitting is literally so flexible, I could potentially install it in many different ways in the course of the week of this next exhibition. Maybe that’s what I’ll do!
One of the allotment installations, 3.9.18
'Wrong' side, detail
The colours of my new, knitted Living sculptures, see below, have also been strongly influenced by the vibrant colours that Clare uses.
Do come and see what I decide to do with it all. The exhibition is ‘disquiet’ at Walcot Chapel, Bath, UK. It’s a disused mortuary chapel, so will be a very atmospheric space to exhibit in. It opens on Sept 18th 2018 and is open daily from 11-5. The private view is on Sat 22nd from 2 – 5pm and everyone’s welcome.
The flyer for disquiet, featuring details of another of Clare's paintings and one of my Living sculptures.
Also, the title is a working title so watch this space….
Here are some images of the stages of knitting Internal monologue and some more trial installations:
1. 23.7.18 Knitting in the car. It begins!
2. 29.7.18 Knitting on a shady terrace after breakfast, Cetara, Italy
3-5. Knitting by the sea, 4.8. - 7.8.18, Castello Giusso, Vico Equense, Italy
6. ‘Right’ side, 8.8.18, with Vesuvius in the background!
7. ‘Wrong’ side, 8.8.18
8. ‘Right’ side or ‘wrong’ side? Perranporth, Cornwall, 27.8.18
9, 10. Allotment installations, ‘wrong’ side, 3.9.18
11,12. Allotment installations, ‘right’ side
13. Right side and wrong side
14. ‘Wrong’ side, detail
15, 16. Clare Thatcher's paintings that inspired me
17. My soft sculpture, Nobody 1, in front of another of Clare's paintings, Feb 2018
Living sculptures, hand knitted wool, knitting needles, April 2018 – present
Update, September 2018
Two participants wearing my Living sculptures at disquiet exhibition, Walcot Chapel, Bath, Sept 2018
I have now also trialed my knitted Living sculptures for a week during the disquiet exhibition at Walcot Chapel in Bath. Have a look at the full documentation and research so far, including the thinking behind the work and many wonderful images of participants becoming Living sculptures. There's also more information about this project on my Participatory art and social engagement page.
Click on the image above to find out more about Living sculptures.
Update, August 2018
Living sculptures, exhibited as a work in progress as part of my interactive event at Make Space at Bristol Museum for a day on July 18th 2018. They work well as static sculptures as well as wearable ones!
‘Living sculptures’ is a series of wearable hand knitted soft sculptures. Normally, in an art gallery, there are signs saying ‘Do not touch’; what happens if the viewer is not only encouraged to touch but is invited to become a living sculpture by wearing an abstract soft sculpture? What would it look like? How would it feel?
Most of my static soft sculptures are technically wearable, and at some point during the process of making, I try on all my sculptures. It’s part of making them me and is also part of my ongoing research into the links between clothing, body and identity. Yet they are, realistically, utterly unwearable.
This is part of a larger body of work in progress where, using traditional garment-making skills and unexpected materials, I am developing a selection of more readily wearable sculptures which can be put on and removed independently by visitors. The passive viewer can choose to become an active participant, a performer; or, for the onlooker, the space will be transformed into a dynamic, ever-changing, interactive experience.
I have trialled the participatory aspect of this idea as part of a day at Bristol Museum’s Make Space alongside The Woman’s Hour Crafts’ Prize exhibition in July 2018. I provided mirrors and some static soft sculptures for photo opportunities. Feedback indicates that the participants found it playful and fun but that it also provoked a range of conflicting responses. I documented the event with photos, videos and interactive feedback and feel that it was highly successful. I’m planning to add to this series and provide further opportunities for a larger, more immersive experience.
Here are some images of the Living sculptures event at Bristol Museum:
And here are some of others wearing them, including my mother!
I think they're are also very interesting as more static hanging, soft sculptures. I'm still knitting them, so they're growing and multiplying. They are my 'public' knitting at the moment, as they're relatively small! I plan to exhibit them as a hanging series at my next exhibition, disquiet, at Walcot Chapel, Bath from September 18th-23rd. Do come and see them.
Here are some photos of them hanging. More to follow!
April 2018: I have finally started making a series of more wearable soft sculptures! For a number of years I’ve been planning this, but have been motivated to start by being asked to run a Living sculptures day on July 18th as part of Bristol Museum’s ‘Make Space programme’ which will run alongside The Woman’s Hour Craft Prize exhibition from 7th July to 2nd September, 2018. They have invited local makers to provide hands on craft experiences for those visiting the exhibition.
Living sculpture, orange with blue darning
... and here I am knitting it amongst the bluebells! 10.5.18, Priors Wood, near Bristol
At some point during the development of each of my soft sculptures, I wear it so I have a selection of surreal and wonderful photos as a result. As there is a performative element to this ritual, many of the images are on my Performance page. I call them Wearing the unwearable. My plan for this project is to make some more readily wearable sculptures that the participants can try on independently. I like the idea of enabling the passive viewer to become a living sculpture, an active participant. It will, hopefully be a dynamic, ever changing environment, a spectacle for the onlooker and enjoyable for the participant.
Living sculpture, pink is a bit like a pixie's balaclava so far.....
... I sneaked the beginnings of this piece into a Buckingham Palace garden party. Beautiful gardens. Notice the ER carving on the bench! 15.5.18
As this needs to be a family-friendly event, I’m hoping that it will be playful, prompting curiosity and thoughtfulness about the links between what we wear and our identity. The sculptures will need to be suitable for all ages, shapes and sizes; quite a challenge!
I have chosen a selection of bold bright colours and have started by knitting some specific garment-like features so that the sculptures will have strong associations with clothing. I also plan to make some stitched sculptures.
Living sculpture, turquoise....
...being knitted in Volterra, Tuscany at half term, 29.5.18
I think I’m going to hang the finished sculptures on hangers and provide mirrors so that the living sculptures can take selfies!
Living sculpture, green
Living sculpture, blue, my favourite so far! I love the movement of the tentacles.
It interests me that what I have made so far are a bit like body parts at the moment…. its definitely because I like to knit when I'm out and about so I've started five pieces so that they're small enough to carry around. Each one will soon have to be knitted at home, more privately as it becomes too large to transport easily. I might decide to leave them as wearable 'parts', or I might make full body sculptures. I haven't yet decided....I also might felt them....Watch this space! Come back and see how they develop over the next few weeks and join me at the museum on July 18th to become a Living sculpture!
Feb 2018 and ongoing, I knit therefore I am
I find it hard to categorise I knit therefore I am, 2018. It isn’t a performance, yet it is performative; I do genuinely knit whenever and wherever I can. It is about knitting, but it isn’t about one soft sculpture. This 2018 series of images began when my lovely, supportive and long suffering partner, Dave, started taking photos of me knitting on our travels. It obviously doesn’t record every time I knit in public, but it does capture what I see as the quirky and humorous eccentricity of my habit! It’s also a record of many lovely days away together; I seem to have knitted on many beaches in the sunshine from February onwards! Can this really be in Great Britain? How lucky am I.
Knitting Part of me in the sunshine
at Barafundle Bay, Pembrokeshire, February 2018. Bliss!
This is a sequel to I knit therefore I am, 2012, which is documented on my Performance page. Then, I was documenting when and where I knitted as a project for University and it was driven by me. Interestingly many of those images are indoors and possibly more private. I don’t think my habits have changed, I just think that this current series has been led by my partner so it has a different emphasis. Often it’s about who’s available to take a photo and if we remember! Knitting is so much a part of the backdrop of my life that it’s normally not memorable, so we forget to capture the moment.
I have some knitting with me at all times, and if I have a moment to sit and knit, I take it out, wherever I am, and fall into the pleasure and rhythm of knitting. I knit on the bus, the train, as a passenger in the car, in the pub, on the beach, by the pool, on the ski slope, during lectures, at meetings, in church, in a queue, in cafes and restaurants, at weddings, football games, The Olympics, concerts and anywhere else I go. I’ve even knitted at Buckingham Palace! My family and friends barely notice. Knitting in public is, however, a people magnet. Strangers often come and ask me what I’m knitting. Sometimes, I’m bold enough to explain (My uterus? A shroud? A piece based on Jung’s individuation?) but often I just say that I’m an artist and I’m knitting a soft sculpture. The only places I don’t knit have been at my son’s school events (too embarrassing for him), the cinema (too dark) and at airports (not allowed, although fortunately this is changing!) I don’t think I’ve ever knitted at a funeral either. There are obviously other places and times when I feel it isn’t appropriate to knit as well.
I had to sneak some circular needles and a tiny ball of wool into my bag
when my partner was invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace!
Notice ER carved on the bench!
I'm knitting Living sculpture, pink.
15th May 2018
I sometimes wonder why this habit began and I’ve decided that there are multiple reasons. I think it began when I started making large sculptural pieces. In order to get enough knitting done, I need to knit for as many hours as I can. I also find that when I knit it becomes a stream of consciousness so in a way it’s better to not give it my full attention. Talking, watching TV, listening to an audio book; the knitting flows better when part of my mind is occupied with something else.
I find it hard to regard knitting as work. I rarely start knitting by myself at 9 o’clock in the morning. It makes me feel oddly guilty as I associate knitting with leisure and pleasure. If I try to see it as work, I find that I lose some of the pleasure in it.
Knitting alone is different; I quickly enter a peaceful, meditative state and time flies. Knitting sets my mind free so I can think differently. I often find solutions to problems, have ideas and remember things while I’m knitting.
Knitting in public, I need to keep part of my mind alert to those around me. It interests me greatly that knitting helps me to concentrate. I’m obviously a kinaesthetic learner! I sometimes wonder too whether knitting is a much healthier and less antisocial replacement for smoking. Although I gave up smoking 28 years ago, I still find that having something to do with my hands helps me in many social situations.
I find that I actually do more knitting with others or in public than at home alone and I probably do most knitting when I’m on holiday. Then, I will allow myself to happily knit all day!
Knitting calms me, almost instantly; it’s like a form of therapy for me. Not being able to knit in airports and on planes has been quite an issue for me as I’m very anxious about flying. Fortunately, attitudes towards knitting have been changing recently and the last time I flew, in May 2018, I was able to knit again on the plane, which was a huge relief.
Volterra, Italy, May 2018. Knitting with a view!
I have also only recently acknowledged the importance of 'knitting in public' in my practice. When this series of images started I had just decided to knit some smaller soft sculptures, Parts of me, for a multi part installation. I wanted to have portable pieces of knitting at all times. Each time we went away, I'd start a new Part of me so that I had a piece of knitting that was small enough to take in my rucksack. I feel that it has become a poignant snapshot of my life as, once the sculpture became too large to carry easily, I changed the colourway and knitted it more privately to finish it. I have a feeling that this model of knitting parts, or fragments, of a sculpture is now firmly embedded in my life and my practice. I have now started knitting my Living sculptures in a similar, fragmented way.
Sadly, I forgot to get Dave to take a photo of me knitting on World Wide Knit in Public Day 2018 on 9th June so I put together this montage of me knitting to post on social media:
I am delighted that, as a result of these images, I’ve won 2 tickets to the London Knitting and Stitching Show! I’ll make sure to post a photo of me knitting there as well.
Follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for regular photos of places I’ve knitted.
And here are some more photos:
1. Barafundle Bay, Pembrokeshire, 16.2.18
2. Overlooking Caldey Island, near Tenby, Pembrokeshire, 16.2.18
3. Saundersfoot, Pembrokeshire, 17.2.18
4. Worm's Head, Gower, with Lucy and Wolfie, 10.3.18
5. Bucks Mills, North Devon, 25.3.18
6. Rottingdean, West Sussex, 31.3.18
7. Worthing, West Sussex, 1.4.18
8. Priors Wood, Portbury, near Bristol, 5.5.18
9. Buckingham Palace garden party, 15.5.18
10. Volterra, Tuscany, Italy, 29.5.18
11. My I knit therefore I am montage for World Wide Knit in Public Day, 9.6.18
12. My Instagram post for WWKIPD, 9.6.18
2018, Knitting with red monofilament
1, & 2., 21.1.18, 4mm circular needles
3. & 4.,1.2.18, 10mm circular needles
2017 and ongoing, Parts of me
Update, August 2018:
Parts of me installed in a cell at the Subversive surfaces exhibition in June and July 2018
I have completed 6 Parts of me so far, with a seventh still to be finished! I was delighted to have the opportunity to install all six in a disused basement prison cell for the Subversive Surfaces exhibition at Town Hall Arts, Trowbridge for a month, from 9.6.18- 14.7.18. It’s a listed building so we couldn't make any holes anywhere so I decided to create an immersive walk-in installation. I suspended the soft sculptures from the bars by stitching through each one several times with wool and tying them in place. It was a bit like stitching them to the cell! I think it worked really well. The setting was particularly atmospheric which added to the immersive nature of the installation; it was dark, cold, damp and creepy! I’m looking forward to exhibiting them in other ways too.
Here are some images of the whole installation and some details too:
Parts of me will be a multi-part installation of smaller, hand knitted and felted soft sculptures. Who knows how many there will finally be?
Part of me 6 on Worm's Head, overlooking Rhossilli beach, Gower, 10.3.18.
I started knitting it over breakfast as Part of me 5 was getting too big to take on walks!
Each knitted piece is an exploration of the relationship between inside and outside, both physically and metaphorically; what is seen and what is unseen, the public and the private.
Knitting in public: Part of me 6 on Worm's Head,
with Lucy and Wolfie
Knitting in public: Part of me 4 in the sunshine at Barafundle Bay, Pembrokeshire, 16.2.18
Part of me 3, 3.3.18, before and after felting
Parts of me 3, 4 & 5, hand knitted wool, 1.3.18, work in progress
Each soft sculpture is knitted in public until its too big to carry around
then I knit it in private and start a new, public Part of me
Part of me 1, installed at Synecdoche's Opposing positions exhibition
at Southmead Hospital, Bristol, July 2017
Each Part of me is knitted in pure wool in one piece, in the round. The first half, the outside, of each I knit in a range of reds as a stream of consciousness. I start with double pointed needles, increasing as I work to sculpt a cone-like structure, knitting random protrusions and using bobbles and loop stitch to add texture. As the circumference increases, I move on to a circular needle and then several circular needles until I reach what I decide is the centre point when I start to decrease. Then I begin to introduce whites and flesh colours and also continue to decrease so that the second part, the inside, is like a warped mirror image of the first half. Each Part of me is a different size, and, inevitably, each has its own idiosyncratic identity.
Part of me 2, ready for felting
Felting produces a disquieting change in control, transforming the familiar, comforting, recognisable knitted fabric into something ‘other’, body-like and strange. Sometimes it seems like a form of madness; months of slow, meditative work culminate in a relatively short, unpredictable process of alchemy which dictates the outcome. I felt my work using a domestic washing machine and often felt it more than once to reach the required texture. Each piece shrinks by between a third and a half in every direction, depending on certain parameters. Its unpredictability is part of the appeal, but can be very nerve racking!
I am always interested in finding ways to make self-sustaining sculptures with knitting and stitch. Although in some of my work I use a stand to provide support for my sculptures, for example in Other 3 and Other 4, I find it more pleasing when a sculpture doesn’t need any extra support. All my hanging sculptures, Nobodies, the other Others, Heart of darkness and All the babies I might have had I (scroll down for more information) are examples of this. I use various devices in addition to felting, like combinations of materials of differing rigidities, quilting, tension and gravity to give form to my work.
This new series explores different ways to make self-sustaining soft sculptures. This time my research is based on felting and the intrinsic design. I knit with 2 strands of Cascade 220 pure wool on size 8 needles. For some sections of the knitting I use Fair Isle, or stranded, knitting, when the unused colours are woven in at the back of the work until they’re needed again, so my knitting can sometimes be up to 8 strands thick. The rest of the colour work is intarsia and, as it’s mostly knitted in the round, I have to frequently break off the yarn and add a new colour. This inevitably involves knitting in lots of ends which gives the subsequent felted fabric wonderfully varied substance and body. I have also designed these sculptures so that when the second half of the knitting is pushed into the first half after felting, the sculpture supports itself. It has worked with Part of me 1 but Parts of me 2 and 3 are substantially bigger so it’ll be interesting to see how they turn out. I’m hoping there will be some interesting slumping, another change in control!
Part of me 5, as public knitting, started 26.2.18
Images of Part of me 5:
1 & 2 Part of me 5, 1.3.18
Images of Part of me 4:
Knitting Part of me 4 on Giltar Point, Pembrokeshire overlooking Caldey Island, 16.2.18
1 & 2. Part of me 4, 5.1.18
3 & 4. Part of me 4, 1.3.18, beginning to knit the inside, adding flesh colours and decreasing
Part of me 3, final dimensions 54 x 33 x 22cm approx.,
finished and felted, 3.3.18
More images of Part of me 3:
1. Part of me 3, 24.11.17, knitting begins on double pointed needles
2. Part of me 3, 5.1.18, mid-point reached, working on 3 circular needles adding in flesh colours and beginning to decrease
3. Part of me 3, 1.3.18, working on 2 circular needles, continuing flesh colours and decreasing
4. Part of me 3, 3.3.18, finished and ready to felt! Dimensions before felting 80 x 54 x 18cm
5. Part of me 3, 3.3.18, a nerve racking few hours as the piece is washed 3 times, once at 30 degrees, twice at 40, to get the right consistency of felt
6 & 7. Part of me 3, felted. Final dimensions 54 x 33 x 22cm
8. Part of me 3, before and after felting
9. Part of me 3, dimensions before and after felting
I decided to knit multiples for a number of reasons, some aesthetic and some highly practical, and also to try something new. I enjoy multiples that are essentially the same but where each one is subtly different. I think it's visually interesting. As I have discussed in my blog, I knit therefore I am, I do knit whenever and wherever I can so the size of my knitting is important. I often find that I knit something out and about, my ‘public’ knitting, until it becomes unwieldy. Then I knit it more privately, at home. The public knitting tends to be done in the company of other people, in the pub, over lunch with a friend, on the beach. Obviously with the private knitting, I’m more often alone, or with my family. When I’m alone I do very quickly enter that addictive state of meditative timelessness, the state of flow….
Other practical aspects of multiples are storage, transport and installation. Yet another is that I’m not sure how large a piece of felt would sustain itself in this way. I hope to find out!
It wasn’t until I began to write this that I realised that, inevitably, the first half of each of these sculptures, what becomes the outside of the finished piece, tends to be knitted more publicly. As it gets to a size that is harder to carry around I then knit the second half, the inside, more privately. Much of my work makes public things that are normally private so this added, unexpected aspect thrills me. Although each half requires the same skill, time and effort to knit, the details of most of the inner, second half are largely unseen. This feels apposite! I’m knitting hidden innards. Weirdly wonderful! Love it.
I also really like the fact that, before too long, I probably won’t be able tell the Parts of me apart....
January 2018: With Part of me 2 I decided not to fold the 'private', flesh coloured part of the knitting into the sculpture. I am delighted that it holds its form just with the density of the felt even though its so much larger than Part of me 1. I might still change my mind though! Part of me 3 is bigger still, so I'll be interested to see how that works out....
Part of me 2, hand knitted felt, 46 x 28 x 24cm, 5.1.18
More images of Part of me 2:
1. Part of me 2, work in progress, second half on circular needles using flesh colours and decreasing, 29.10.17
2. Part of me 2, work in progress, changing to double pointed needles, 24.11.17
3. Part of me 2, work in progress, detail
4. Part of me 2, knitting completed, ready for felting, 5.1.18
5. Part of me 2, knitting folded in on itself, 5.1.18
6. Oh that chamge in control! Felting in the washing machine, 5.1.18
7.& 8. Part of me 2, January 2018
9. Dimensions of Part of me 2 before and after felting
Part of me 1, felted hand knitting, completed 2.7.17
20 x 20 x 21cm approx
More images of Part of me 1:
1. Part of me 1, 2.7.17, before felting
2-4. Part of me 1, before felting, with the inside folded into the outside
5-8. Part of me 1, after felting
9-11. Part of me 1, exhibited at Synecdoche’s Bodies exhibition at Southmead hospital, Bristol, August 2017. Here it was suspended with red wool in a locked glass cabinet above Gina Baum’s ceramic sculptures.
12. Dimensions of Part of me 1, before and after felting
22.7.17 - 29.8.17, The sea, the sea
I was delighted to be invited by the Embroiderers’ Guild, as a former Embroiderers' Guild Scholar, to submit a piece of work to their exhibition, Page 17, which was shown at The Knitting and Stitching Shows in London and Harrogate in October and November 2017. It is now touring and will be exhibited at The Fashion and Embroidery Show, NEC Birmingham, Harborough Museum, Market Harborough and Artrix, Bromsgrove during 2018. For details of dates etc please see my CV. Although the exhibition was organised by the Embroiderers’ Guild, they were keen for it to showcase a diverse selection of textile art so I decided to hand knit the sea, as one does!
I often choose to knit the sea when I’m by the sea. As well as being a compulsive knitter, I am also a compulsive swimmer so I find that being able to be immersed in the waves, as well as watching and smelling it, is the best research possible. Consequently, I have knitted several incarnations of the sea before now during holidays on the coast and it’s something I come back to with great pleasure each time.
Knitting on the beach at Putsborough, North Devon, August 2017
The brief for Page 17 was for a piece of textile work inspired by a book. The book that I chose is Iris Murdoch’s The sea, the sea which had a profound impact on me when I first read it in my early 20s. It’s a story of the sea, love and obsession, all of which seemed apposite!
I found it interesting to work within the constraints of this particular brief. The work had to be mounted on a canvas no bigger than A2 and was only allowed to project from the canvas by an inch. This was hard for me as my work is normally much larger, sculptural, organic, and definitely not rectangular! I decided in the end to use circular needles to knit a highly textural, two dimensional piece. It was very difficult to knit, but I love setting myself challenges, and, for me, the more complicated a piece of knitting is, the better. It was wonderful to extend my sculptural knitting skills in so many different ways. I would normally use circular needles to knit largescale, sculptural pieces; using this technique to knit something flat, which also had to be roughly rectangular, was an exhilarating piece of research and consequently totally absorbing.
I knitted intensively throughout the summer whilst we were on holiday and back at home, on the beach, by the pool, in pubs and on the bus, sometimes for 5 or 6 hours a day. Blissful obsession! When I knit I very quickly enter a state of meditative timelessness where time flies….And I’m happy….. (further reflections on knitting are documented elsewhere in my blog article I knit therefore I am…..)
More knitting on the beach
I absolutely loved knitting The sea, the sea but frankly I’m not sure about the final piece. I vacillated about leaving it knitted or felting it. Knitting has a familiarity to it which has a range of particular associations to do with comfort, the body and femininity which I have come to appreciate more and more. Felting transforms the knitted fabric into something more alien, less instantly recognisable, distorted and definitely more sculptural. It becomes ‘other’. One issue with felting is that you have to knit something very large which you then deliberately shrink. Madness! Months of labour intensive work culminates in a relatively short unpredictable process of alchemy which brings a change in control. It’s a nerve racking time as, obviously, felting is final and utterly irreversible. It’s often a hard decision to make.
In the end I did decide to felt it, mostly because of the size, partly because I thought it would be be easier to mount if the surface was denser, and partly, I admit, because it’s much quicker to cut off felted ends than to stitch in every hanging piece of wool! I am always much more interested in the process of knitting than the finishing.
I had planned that the knitted felt would be larger than the canvas so that it wouldn’t be visible but it seems that my felting calculations went awry! The knitting shrank much more than I had anticipated, probably because it was knitted in the round. The joys of that change in control! In the past I have successfully planned for specific sized pieces of felted knitting, but it is a hard thing to do. It’s just a very unpredictable process, which it one of the things I normally enjoy about it.
The sea, the sea, felted and mounted
In retrospect I realise I also should have allowed more time to take into account these vagaries; if I had I might have been able to come up with a better way of mounting it. As it is, sadly, I think the rectangle of white canvas is an eyesore. An important lesson to learn!
Unfortunately as well, such intensive knitting meant that I developed very severe tendonitis so I wasn’t able to knit for a couple of months after the deadline. In fact, I probably carried on knitting through the pain for longer than I should. It did mean, however, that during Synecdoche’s month-long [dis]place residency in September I had to do something other than knitting. I ended up working well outside my comfort zone and exploring a number of Displacement activities instead ….
Overall, I am delighted with the form, colours and the textures of The sea, the sea, but I’m definitely looking forward to freeing it from the constraints of that white rectangle! However, that might be a while as I gather the exhibition will tour. Watch this space!
Here are some images of The sea, the sea as a work in progress, and the final piece:
1. 22.7.17 It begins! Multiple double pointed needles used to knit central waves in the round #ascomplicatedaspossible
2. 24.7.17 It continues….
3. 26.8.17 Photoshoot on Putsborough beach, North Devon. Four weeks of intense knitting later and it’s nearly there….
4. Photoshoot on Putsborough beach, North Devon.
5. Photoshoot on Putsborough beach, North Devon.
6. Photoshoot on Putsborough beach, North Devon.
7. Photoshoot with a gin and tonic
8. 28.8.17 To felt or not to felt? The sea, the sea before felting
9. Detail of The sea, the sea before felting
10. Reverse of The sea, the sea before felting
11. Detail of the reverse before felting
12. 28.8.17 Felting the knitting in the washing machine
13. 28.8.17 The felted piece before I cut off the ends
14. 29.8.17 Mounted on the canvas
15. Detail of The sea, the sea, felted hand knitting
16. Detail of The sea, the sea, showing the sculptural form
17. Detail of The sea, the sea
18. The sea, the sea in situ at Page 17 exhibition at The Knitting and Stitching Show, Alexandra Palace, London
19. Logo for Page 17 exhibition
20. The sea, the sea exhibited as part of Page 17 at The Fashion and Embroidery Show, NEC Birmingham, March 15th -18th 2018
2015 - present, Heart of darkness, diptych, work in progress, hand knitted wool, knitting needles
Heart of darkness is a large scale, two-part, abstract, red, hand knitted installation. It is unfinished, and partly unravelling. Sometimes I reattach several circular knitting needles so I could potentially carry on knitting at any point; sometimes it is left to unravel. Because of the flexible nature of the knitted wool, it’s very versatile and site responsive and can be installed in many different ways.
Heart of darkness, installed at Bodies at The Unit, Bristol, September 2017
Heart of darkness is my response to being diagnosed and living with a heart condition called supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) for three years. I am a compulsive swimmer, I swim outside most days. It’s another ‘state of flow’ activity; the rhythm and immersion induce that addictive sense of wellbeing, akin to knitting. Consequently, I was devastated when my first episode happened when I was swimming. That it was the same day as my first big assessment at University I’m sure is significant.
These episodes take the form of heart palpitations – an uncomfortable sensation at the best of times – racing heart, sweats, light headedness, faintness and nausea. It was scary! I was soon diagnosed with SVT, which, fortunately, isn’t life threatening, but is debilitating. It’s unpredictable and unpleasant. I was given tablets which would sometimes stop the palpitations, but would often have to go to A&E to have them stopped with an injection. Apparently it’s some kind of electrical fault, which can be triggered by exercise, caffeine, alcohol, illness and stress. The first few triggers can be monitored but stress is obviously harder to control.
So, I decided to knit my response. As I’ve already intimated elsewhere, knitting is a major stress reliever for me. When I begin to knit, I very quickly enter that seductive state of meditative timelessness, so it seemed like the obvious response. Knitting also acts as the back drop to my life; I knit whenever I can and wherever I am. It marks the passage of time. I started knitting it soon after the first episode. It isn’t a literal representation. I knitted it for me, as a kind of therapy. It represents the rhythm of my experiences….
Wearing one part of Heart of darkness at Privy, June 2016
It’s knitted from the centre out, firstly on double pointed needles, then on a circular needle as the knitting grows, and eventually on many circular needles, which I use in the same way as one would use double pointed needles. It means it can be any size, and is thrilling! I regard it as sculpture. It has its own intrinsic form, but is also very flexible so it can be sculpted into other forms using tension and gravity. It is made up of a series of interconnected irregular holes. Somehow the idea of knitting holes appeals to me. Hanging the knitted fabric suggests fragility and the holes bring an extra dimension of vulnerability to the piece. Faultiness. The surface is also textured in places, the ubiquitous bobble becomes something other in this context!
And why red? Louise Bourgeois wrote:
‘Red is the colour of blood.
Red is the colour of paint.
Red is the colour of violence.
Red is the colour of danger.
Red is the colour of shame.
Red is the colour of jealousy.
Red is the colour of grudges.
Red is the colour of blame.’
Bourgeois, Louise, 1998, in an interview with Cecilia Blomberg, in Bernadac, Marie- Laure, 2007, Louise Bourgeois, Flammarion: London
I think, for me, red is the colour of many things – fear, anger, (‘seeing red’), anxiety, mortality…. Knitting with just one colour also means that the form becomes more significant.
Heart of darkness
installed at Synecdoche's [dis]place at The Vestibules, Bristol, September 2017
And why a diptych? This begins as a practicality but it becomes conceptual the more often it happens. As I knit whenever and wherever I can, obviously when a piece reaches a certain size it’s no longer feasible for me to carry it around. I continue to knit it more privately, often at home. I will then start a new piece of work which becomes my ‘public knitting'. In this instance I didn’t consider the piece to be ‘finished’, so I began the second part of my Heart of darkness. Making two sculptures around this theme brings delightful flexibility in the ways it can be installed and also echoes the research I have done around multiple selves, particularly in the stitched Nobodies and Others series. Maybe if the SVT returns this will also become a multipart installation? The process of knitting becomes a narrative….
It has been exhibited in six different shows so far, with many permutations. Sometimes I have installed both pieces together, sometimes separately; it has been suspended from meat hooks and chains, draped, hung in a shop window and worn!For more about my thoughts on the versatility of knitting have a look at my Installation and site responsive works page and my blog post Art in unexpected places.
1. 2016 Privy; an exhibition of public and private stuff at The Edwardian Cloakroom, Bristol, June 22nd - 29th, Lou Baker with Nicola Pearce and Maura Zukina
2. 2016 Bodies: a group residency by Synecdoche Art Community, a month-long, socially engaged, site-responsive residency at The Unit, an empty shop in St James’ Arcade, Broadmead, Bristol, September 1st - 29th
3. 2016 Unravelling: an exhibition of knitting and crochet art, at Bow Arts’ Ice House Studios, London, October 6th - 16th
4. 2017 Window Wanderland at Room 212 Gallery, Bristol, February 4th - 21st
5. 2017 [dis]place at The Vestibules, Bristol, a month-long residency with Synecdoche, September 4th – October 2nd
6. 2017, PRILIC at Jacobs Wells Baths, Bristol, 8-16th December
Both parts of Heart of darkness (far left and far right)
exhibited with 9 of my other soft sculptures
at PRILIC, Jacobs Wells Baths, Bristol, December 2017
Watch this video to see one part of Heart of darkness moving spontaneously, to music, at PRILIC.
Heart of darkness is technically unfinished, but I haven’t continued knitting it for a long time. Fortunately, in June 2015, I had a successful oblation operation which seems to have fixed my heart, for now at least, but there’s still the possibility that it could recur. For me, the fact that it’s unfinished is significant; maybe if the SVT comes back I will take it up and start knitting it again?
2013 - present, Nobody 3
I am a compulsive outdoor swimmer and I especially love being immersed in the sea so I set out to knit a large abstract wave. I have knitted a number of versions of the sea over the years and I return happily to this palette time and again. I often choose to knit the sea when I’m near the sea on holiday, so it also induces memories of relaxation and happy times.
Observing the sea in many conditions, for this piece I was especially interested in capturing the constantly varying textures of the sea, so I used different sculptural knitting techniques in ever increasing concentric circles in a range of blues. Naturally, I am unable to emulate the fleeting nature of those changes through knitting, but it has a pleasing aesthetic.
Nobody 3, installed at Unravelling: an exhibition of knitting and crochet art,
Bow Arts Ice House Studios, London, October 2016
I was working on this piece alongside my research into my Nobodies series. I was in the process of making the other two Nobodies, considering them as a diptych, but then realised that this knitted piece worked extremely well as Nobody 3. There’s something about the colour and its abject form when hanging that completes the triptych. It’s also a very similar size and shape and it fits well with the concept. Knitting for me is comforting, part of me and the wellbeing that creativity brings is a very important part of my practice. And so my wave began its life as a Nobody….
My knitted wave becomes a Nobody, May 2014!
I haven’t continued knitting it since then, although it is technically unfinished and still has two balls of wool attached to it. I like to leave much of my knitted work unfinished as it brings an added sense of vulnerability to it as it can potentially unravel….. and often it does! I find that it also makes many people uncomfortable; they feel an intense need to ‘rescue’ the unravelling stitches.
It also means I could carry on knitting….
I have installed it in a number of different situations, sometimes with the other Nobodies, but more often not. It was part of my Multitude installation at PRILIC in December 2017. Watch the video of it as part of a poignant dance response by Impermanence Dance Theatre.
I have worn it as well, of course, as part of my Wearing the unwearable series.
Me wearing Nobody 3 as part of my Wearing the unwearable performative series, July 2014
I have also had framed a fine art print of me wearing it which potentially means I can present it to a wider audience. This was exhibited at Synecdoche's Bodies exhibition at Southmead Hospital from March to July 2017 as part of the Fresh Arts programme.
Have a look at my Stitch page too for more information and images about the Nobodies series.
Here’s a gallery with more images of Nobody 3:
1. Maura Zukina wearing the wave as a work in progress, October 2013
2. The wave in progress, draped, February 2014
3. The wave, detail
4. The wave, detail ( Photo by Jonny Baker)
5. Wearing the unwearable, May 2014
6. The wave becomes a Nobody, May 2014
7. Nobodies installed at Synecdoche, Embassy Tea Gallery, London, July 2014
8. Nobody 3, photoshoot, July 2014
9. Nobody 3, Wearing the unwearable, photoshoot, July 2014
10. Nobody 3 installed at Synecdoche’s exhibition at The Christmas Steps Gallery, Bristol, December 2014
11. Nobody 3 featured on the poster for Synecdoche at The Christmas Steps Gallery, November 2014 (Photo by Alex Davis, design by Rosie McLay)
12. Another image of Nobody 3 from the photoshoot outside The Christmas Steps Gallery, Bristol, November 2014
13.& 14. Nobody 3 installed at Unravelling: an exhibition of knitting and crochet art at Bow Arts Ice House Studios, London, October 2016
15. Framed fine art photographic print of Nobody 3, Wearing the unwearable, exhibited at Synecdoche’s Bodies exhibition at Southmead Hospital, Bristol as part of the Fresh Arts programme
16. -21. Nobody 3 featuring in Displacement activity # 2; mobile soft sculptures, part of my Displacement activity series at Synecdoche’s month long residency [dis]place at The Vestibules, Bristol, September 2017
22. Nobody 3 as part of Multitude, the installation of all my life sized soft sculptures at the PRILIC exhibition at Jacobs Wells Baths, Bristol, December 2017
2013 - present, Shroud
Shroud is a hand-knitted reflection on a midlife crisis, an abstract self-portrait. Knitted in a spectrum of pinks, vibrant cerise fading to palest pink, it explores Carl Jung’s individuation, the process of finding meaning in life, which is ultimately a preparation for death. Jung talks about balancing our multiple selves with the dark side, or shadow, of ourselves, and maintains that failure to acknowledge and accept this shadow can result in fragmentation and associated mental health issues. He also describes the shadow as being the seat of creativity.
A trial installation of Shroud
at Unravelling: an exhibition of knitting and crochet art
at Bow Arts Ice House Studios, London, October 2016
Knitted as multiple holes, or absences, hints at fragmentation and that question of balance; its unfinished, undulating, unravelling edges, suggests a fragile, flesh-like bodily resonance. The form, title and concept challenge the stereotypical expectations of knitting and provide contrast with the seemingly benign, gendered colours and the comfort of hand-knitted wool.
Final installation of Shroud at Unravelling, October 2016
Knitting a life-sized sculpture is labour-intensive, obsessive and oddly cathartic. In private, it becomes meditative, in public, it acts as a people-magnet, initiating interactions with strangers. I regard my knitting as a memory catcher, as thoughts, emotions and conversations are knitted into the fabric of the piece; its fragility underpins my investigations into the dialogue between personal memories and universal themes.
I have also made a stitched shroud, a brightly coloured crazy patchwork of my old clothes, velvet and zips. It’s called My imaginary friend. I’m hoping these 2 shrouds are not so much an obsession with death as a celebration of life. My family have been instructed to bury me in one!
My imaginary friend, 2010, used clothing, velvet, zips; stitch
For more about my thoughts on the versatility of knitting have a look at my Installation and site responsive works page and my blog post Art in unexpected places.
Here’s a gallery of images of Shroud:
1. Shroud, work in progress, 9th April 2013
2. Shroud, work in progress, 26th April 2013
3. Shroud, work in progress, 31st May 2013
4. Shroud, work in progress, 3rd June 2013
5. - 7. Shroud installed at Align’s Scratch exhibition at Centrespace Gallery, Bristol, June 2013
8. Alice Jennings wearing Shroud, 17.2.2015
9.&10. Trial installations at Unravelling: an exhibition of knitting and crochet art, Bow Arts Ice House Studio, London, October 2016
11. - 14. Shroud installed at Unravelling: an exhibition of knitting and crochet art, Bow Arts Ice House Studio, London, October 2016 (Photo 11 by Jonny Baker)
15. & 16. Shroud, detail (Photos by Jonny Baker)
17. Shroud, unravelling
18. Shroud, detail of installation at Unravelling: an exhibition of knitting and crochet art, Bow Arts Ice House Studio, London, October 2016
2011, All the babies I might have had I
1. All the babies I might have had I before felting
2. Ready to felt? A nerveracking few hours!
3. After felting
4.-8. All the babies I might have had I installed as part of a diptych, with a canvas torso, at the Art Foundation end of year show at Queen's Road, Bristol, June 2011
9. Preparing the sculpture to be installed at UWE's Bower Ashton campus, November 2012; stitching it to a piece of string
10.&11.All the babies I might have had I installed at Align UWE's Bower Ashton campus, November 2012
12. Jen Dudley preparing to hang it at Symbiosis
13&14. All the babies I might have had I installed at Symbiosis, at The Phoenix cafe, Bristol, March 2015
15. Lou stitching it to the room at Pattern
16.-18. All the babies I might have had I installed at Pattern, Fringe Arts Bath, May 2016
19.- 22.All the babies I might have had I installed at Unravelling: an exhibition of knitting and crochet art at Bow Arts Ice House Studio, London, October 2016 (Photos 19. and 20. by Jonny Baker)
All the babies I might have had I is a red hand knitted and felted soft sculpture which resembles a web. To date it has been installed four times by suspending it; it relies on gravity and tension to transform it into a sculptural piece. However, when it is not suspended it still has some sculptural form. The reference to ‘tension’ when applied to knitting is apposite!
I knitted it as part of my final piece for my Art Foundation course in 2011, when I began to understand that it was possible to make conceptual art with knitting. It was a revelation, and very liberating. I knitted it in pure wool, knitting a series of holes radiating out from the centre. I used double pointed needles and hundreds of safety pins as stitch holders. I was truly ambivalent about felting it as it was fabulous as a knitted piece, and obviously also much larger. However, at that point, I decided I wanted my work to be less recognisable as knitting, and more sculptural, so I felted it. I am so glad I did as it became something ‘other’.
I have just recently written more about the conceptual side of this piece on my blog. It is now called All the babies I might have had I as last year I revisited this idea and produced All the babies I might have had II, which is very different visually, but deals with the same issues. All the babies I might have had II is a leather sculpture pierced with a meat hook from which it is suspended on a chain. I have stitched used baby clothes and knitted felt into zips to produce a differently troubling and thought provoking piece.
All the babies I might have had II, 2015,
leather, imitation leather, used clothing, hand knitted felt, zips; stitch, print
One of the most endearing aspects to this piece for me is that each time it has been installed it has been very different. For the end of year show of my Art Foundation course in 2011 it was part of a diptych with a life sized canvas torso. I stitched the knitted web to the floor, walls and wooden support in a purpose built space so that it obscured the torso which was mounted on a tall plinth behind it. It was very effective.
All the babies I might have had I
installed as part of a diptych with a canvas soft sculpture
at my Art Foundation Show, at Bristol School of Art, June 2011
In 2012, as part of my degree, I set up an exhibition, Align, in one of the corridors at the Bower Ashton campus at UWE with a group of other students. The corridor featured several balconies, so I stitched All the babies I might have had I to a piece of string, using thick red thread as an extension of the sculpture. It was then suspended over a balcony and some of the tendrils were tied to the metal supports of the balcony with the same red thread. I added some loose hanging threads too, which were visually pleasing and also suggested elements of unravelling.
All the babies I might have had I
installed at Align at UWE's Bower Ashton campus, 2012
In 2015, I was asked by a couple of students, Jennifer Dudley and Eloise Dunwell, on the MA Curating course at UWE if they could install my piece at Symbiosis. I was naturally delighted and gave them permission to install it however they chose. They used transparent monofilament and stitched it to some structural metalwork which was part of the venue. It was very compelling!
All the babies I might have had I, installed at Symbiosis, 2015
In May 2016, it was selected by Nicola Pearce and Laura Waite as part of a call out for Pattern at Fringe Arts Bath. This time I installed it again, in consultation with the curators, stitching it into the window space of a disused shop using the fabric of room– the light fittings, ceiling tiles and any holes and spaces I could find. I was especially interested in this hang as a response to a particular space. It makes me want to stitch a room….
All the babies I might have had I,
installed at Pattern, Fringe Arts Bath, 2016
For Unravelling: an exhibition of knitting and crochet art in October 2016, I installed it by attaching it to the wooden frame of one of the windows using screw-in eyelets:
All the babies I might have had,
installed at Unravelling, October 2016.
Photo by Jonny Baker
There is something deeply pleasurable about installing this piece. It’s slow, repetitive work, but it is skilled, intuitive and mesmerising; it becomes meditative, and, for me, I quickly enter Csikszentmihalyi’s state of flow.
It makes me realise that knitted and felted soft sculptures can be very flexible, obviously literally, but also in response to any given space. Have a look at my Installation and site responsive works page and my blog post, Art in unexpected places.