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Objects of beauty:
I am starting to tire of my current series: the pieces take too long to make and the repetition, although pleasantly meditative, has become boring. I need to shake it up, increasing the pressure in order to scare myself; for while I am a creature of habit in my daily life: when it comes to creativity I need to be challenged and stimulated.
This piece is part of a new series I am making entitled Square Pegs. It is based on the following concepts:
1) the suggested tension square accompanying almost every pattern (something I rarely do and so have decided to practice)
2) patchwork quilts – old, beautiful and steeped in tradition
3) my own obstinate peg, namely accepting and embracing it
In knitting square after square, working within the security of a fixed environment, I hope to provide an outlet for life’s challenges, honouring the grazes by transforming them into objects of beauty; the idea being that these small squares, with their individual narratives, come together to form a whole that tells an entire story.
A natural disposition to be good:
Most of what I am about to do is undecided and I have restricted myself to three changes:
• a yarn background instead of a felt one
• a smaller workspace
• a square canvas
This expanse of unknown excites me and I am keen to see how it will translate.
Up until now:
Up until now, the majority of my pieces have been colourful narratives – bright, sparkly and cheerful. They depict wonderful beginnings, beautiful middles and happy endings.
My drawing, on the other hand, tends towards the opposite; although here, too, you have to know what you are looking for.
My poetry and prose, also; both reflecting (often with alarming honesty) exactly what is going on inside my head.
Why then, when I pick up a yarn or thread, does it always come out with a smile? I don’t understand it and while I don’t necessarily mind (for cheerful is always good), I would like to have more of a choice. That way, when I’ve got something on my mind: like when I’m worried or stressed or upset… I can allow its story an outlet along with the emotion it contains.
Perhaps it has something to do with the tradition of the craft and how I see it: gainfull employment for hands that would be idle, domesticity at its best, a relic from a time that no longer exists? It reminds me of classic novels and of women who were well-behaved. It is passive and quiet; undeniably elegant. It has no room for rage or despair, for the mess of external expression. It was something that you sat and did, either in solitude or in company. Perhaps it is this that is stopping me, along with a natural disposition to be good?
Or maybe it’s because it was my grandmother who taught me and I see her as this shining light, someone who always managed to put a positive spin on things? Perhaps I am scared to taint her memory and infect her gift?
Or it could be that I am attached to the concept that we traditionally knit items to wear or use and embroider things to decorate and gift? Both are seen as crafts and craft, by its very nature, or at least according to it’s stereotype, is typically an airhead.
In trying to turn something ‘crafty’ into something ‘arty’, something with a message that goes deeper than a surface: “Hey look at me! Am I not the most lovely scarf, the most delicious hat? ”, I am changing the rules and I think this, the attempted remodelling, is where I have become tangled up.
An idealistic approach:
So this project is all about breaking the rules and moving away from the place where it all started. My previous work was different in the sense that it took embroidery and knitting as crafts and turned them into art, reinventing them and our perception of the form they take.
This work is all about exploration and doubly letting go, letting go a second time. Instead of having a vague idea of a theme for a piece: a pregnant rabbit, a frog in drag, a horse eating ice cream; I shall clear my mind and work without attachment to direction or outcome, allowing my inner guide and my outer muse to steer the journey. It is an idealistic approach, but one that excites me.
Phase one: humble beginnings
Having decided to try my hand at something new, I decided it was only right that I use a new ball of wool and a new colour; that way, everything would be different – the background, the method, the colouring – reducing the risk of any and all attempts on my part to cling to the previously tested. I would dive in and wait to see. Worst case scenario, should I mess up entirely, I would simply fail to swim. And from the bottom of the pool, lake or ocean, (it’s length and breadth dependent on the extent of the mess I am in ), I could simply float my way back up, either unpicking and correcting in order to continue or starting over afresh. No big deal. It’s not like the wellbeing of the world or even myself depends upon it, although my confidence might be dented somewhat.
I elect to make a plain square and begin by casting on 40 stitches. My first time slot (I work in the car) allows me 22 rows. So far, so good. Not that that says much; although to a novice, even this might be a significant success. In my classes (I offer small workshops and private lessons) I have seen all kinds of things and it always surprises me how diverse people’s blocks and difficulties are – some struggling to cast on; while others steam ahead, only stumbling when they try to end. It fascinates me, this first dipped toe, this initial sampling, and I am always honoured to be a part of it.
Phase two: the next step
Having completed my square (roughly K40 x K36, although I must confess I forgot to count them), I am ready to move on to the next step and already I have an inkling about what I want it to be. But I shall keep that part of the narrative a secret until I have a photograph to accompany it: that way I maintain your attention for a little longer, allowing me pause to examine the benefits, if there were any, of the square.
Brief interlude in which I attempt to examine the benefits, if there were any, of the square:
The purpose here was to provide an outlet: the tension square serving as a pseudo-type therapist; an entity both strong enough and reliable enough to accommodate my emotions, thereby enabling me space to temporarily switch off from all catastrophizing about the future in order to sit still and silent within the present. And while it is far from a cure or a remedy: it’s a something, and something’s are things I am always grateful for. One doesn’t reject a thing just because it only delivers part of what is desired: a ball of acrylic is infinitely better than having no ball at all.
I think the solution is to keep making – increasing the pressure and the challenge, experimenting with what works on the outside and trying, as much as possible, to draw a parallel between that which is kind to my inside. The trick will be in uniting the two, so that my squares not only serve to tell a story but also to exorcise the emotions attached.
Phase three: two birds
Moving on, it is time for the frame: the knitted edging to replace what has previously been in ribbon. This will serve to ground the square visually, making it easier to work with. It will also catch and hold straight the edges, which would otherwise curl. I have chosen to use white because it is clean and fresh and also because, being plain and simple, it won’t distract from what’s going on inside. The only complication I allow myself (for even when striving for simplicity, there has to be one), I limit to one row: k2tog, yo; repeat.
At the same time, because I work my interiors while stationary and because I don’t want to start anything else for fear of overwhelm or distraction from the task, I decide to approach the inside: the space where the story will sit.
Picking up my knitting doll (old and much-loved), I select a length of yarn and proceed to make a cord, which, when done, I will coil in much the same way one does a coaster or mat. The process is quick, simple and meditative and I lose myself effortlessly to the rhythm of it, re-emerging only when I am done. One of the things that I love most about sewing and knitting is that it is all-encompassing – swallowing me up thoughts, worries, distractions, life pressures and all… rescuing me (albeit temporarily) from the current weight of the world and the speed in which it invariably flows.
When I have roughly 25cm of cord, I make my coil, which I then loosely secure with cotton so that I can work on it. I then bring out my collection of sequins and beads and deliberate over which sizes and colours to pick. The larger my collection, the harder the task, despite my intention being the opposite.
My moon takes me three days: one to make the coil and two to decorate.
Next up: the focus of my piece: my person or animal. At this point, I have no idea what will come out; I simply pick up my needles and trust in the process. My hands move independently and gradually a shape emerges. I watch with interest until it starts to look like a ‘something’ and then I intrude.
In this instance, the suggested is of animal inclination. Beginning as a cat, it later becomes a rat and then, finally, joyously, (I couldn’t abide having to devote myself to such an odious creature: its yellow teeth, its scaly tail) a possum. This feels right, reminiscent of my time in Australia and my love for the family of possums who lived in the trees surrounding my house. A cross between a cat, a rat and a squirrel, they were among the most curious of all the creatures I had the pleasure of meeting. I loved watching them, constantly surprised that, in their lack of dexterity and elegance, they never seemed to fall. I still struggle to accept that something that maladroit can live securely amongst branches and leaves.
I give my possum a tail, slightly curled. Then I add two ears – one that sticks up, the other out, separate to the piece so that’s 3-dimensional. After this, I add a nose, a mouth and a cheek, all in various shades of pink. And lastly, an eye: fishlike and slightly Egyptian, reminiscent of pyramids and the calligraphy that decorates their walls. Lastly, I give it claws, grey, a pearl necklace and a tail bracelet. I work slowly, concentrating on each addition, careful not to overload it. I want it to be likeable, and the jewelery helps this, but at the same time I don’t want it to feel overdone. I’m pleased with the result as well as my restraint.
To balance the piece out, I decide to make a star, which, along with providing company for the moon, will help to balance the piece out. But as it evolves, it transforms into a flower, jasmine or honeysuckle. Knitted in mohair and angora, it is soft with a fluffy sheen. I decorate it in pearls with a single sequin at its centre, then surround it with more flowers, pearl and sequin in nature.
Three feels like the correct number of elements for the piece, so I decide to leave it there. But something is missing. Sitting with it for several days, looking at it often, thinking both in front of it and away, I decide to add some sequins and beads to the area beneath the moon. I leave their translation open to the spectator. To me, however, they are many things: raindrops, snowflakes, tears, shooting stars, meteorites, petals; their essence changing with my mood. Raindrops and tears are sorrowful, regretful, remorseful and hurt, representing certain people and events and the way I feel about them, along with the future and what it potentially holds. Shooting stars, snowflakes, petals and meteorites are more positive, signifying birth and transformation, possibility and change. Again, elements belonging to the future, but one I feel more warmth towards.
Overall, this piece has two levels. The surface one, which is sweet, playful and fun, almost childlike in presentation. And the underlying one, which speaks of hope and faith, goal and intent, apprehension and fear, sorrow and grief; of things let go and left behind, and of things yet to be encountered and enjoyed.
I miss Australia: the buzz of the city, the contrast of towering skyscrape against colonial relic, the warmth of the people; Chinatown, it’s smells and tastes; the beach – Bondi, Manley, Cooggie, Bronte with its bronzed swimmers and surfers, its vistas and cliffs; the animals – pelican, cockatiel, fruit bat, koala, possum, kangaroo; my house, the places I went, the experiences I had, the people I met.
I know that when I leave here, Mallorca, I shall miss the landscape, the sky and the light; watching the sun rise and set, the moon wax and wane, spotting shapes in the clouds, counting the stars and looking for various formations, every so often chancing upon a lone crusader as it flies past on its way to earth. I shall also miss the peace and quiet, the land that surrounds my house and the walled orchard with its fruit trees: lemon, lime, orange, pear, plum and fig, each month delivering a new surprise.
In its intentions, this piece has been fairly successful, although incomplete in its remedy. In telling a story that wanted to be told, it has given voice to a handful of emotions and the feelings that were attached, setting some free, while merely drawing attention to the presence of others. I have gained information and advice about necessary inner work and learnt that as well as grieving the departure of people, it is also important to mourn the loss of place and home.
Everything we touch, everywhere we settle, every experience we have, impacts upon us in some way. And whether small or large, pleasant or terrible, they need to be honoured and thanked.
This lesson shall go with me into the next chapter and the next piece.
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