Wow, from the last post I wrote in July there has been a turn of events. I moved my studio out of my house and into a small space in the River Arts District - Upper Curve Studio #9! Sharing space with four extremely talented artists who make a variety of work. This move has already inspired me to explore some other directions with the knits and has just really put me out in the world a bit more. My aim is to give myself a bit more structure in my day & to gather some momentum from the comaraderie of shared studio space. Heck, if that doesn't work, that bright red floor will energize me!
I have the luxury of exiting my back door in the mornings, walking 30 steps to my studio and getting down to it. Most days this is where I can be found, and this is my view from my knitting machine. Various & sundry items of inspiration, a drawing from my youngest son (a reminder to have fun); shapes of clothes; just cool photos; a couple of artists; pieces of art - including a preponderance of birds. (I just noticed that - hmmm). Writings reminding me to stay present. Smack dab in the center is Quan Yin - Asian goddess of compassion, among other things. I like this version because she seems to be encouraging me, she is also alert yet serene - the sacred place I strive to be. The place I go while knitting. Most of the time I am listening to Global Chill Out Lounge version on Pandora and contentedly zipping along on the machine, often silently chanting words of peace and light while I knit row by row by row. It reminds me of what Kiki Smith (one of the artists on my board) says, "I think there's a spiritual power in repetition, a devotional quality, like saying rosaries." Mmm. This centers me.
Every now & then I love to take a break from knitting clothing. This is where I go - blankyland. I dream of having piles of these all over my house.
I get asked this question often. It certainly is a different animal altogether from needle knitting. Truth be told, I prefer to knit on needles. However, the pace is obviously too slow if one wants to sell the work. Hence, the knitting machine. Invented in 1589, this technology is much older than many realize. Of course, the machine has come a long way since then, and now there are huge industrial machines (if you ever wonder where your t-shirts come from) and smaller electronic machines that enable a knitter to work off of a pre-programmed pattern. I prefer a bit of a slower pace, as I am often designing as I knit. I also want my sweaters to reflect a handmade quality, so I like to use my machine as an "acoustic" instrument -- unplugged. For any history buffs out there, or textile fiends, the following is an excerpt on the history of machine knitting. Enjoy.
In 1589, two centuries prior to the Industrial Revolution "... a machine appeared which clearly foreshadowed the direction Industry was going to take: William Lee's Stocking Frame. Knitted hoses & stockings - of course made by hand - were an essential piece of clothing in Tudor England, between 1500 & 1600. Men wore them of course, but so did women, under the long skirts in use at the time - an enormous market, where the manufacture of a pair of woolen stockings, hand-knit, took around four working days. This is where William Lee, curate of the small town of Calverton, in England, comes onto the scene. According to legend, to free a girl he was courting from the massive hand-knitting work which took all of her time, more likely foreseeing the economic possibilities in the market, Lee developed, step by step, a machine which exactly imitated the knitters' hand-movements, but at extraordinarily improved speed - in the end, up to twelve times faster. The Stocking Frame could manufacture enormous quantities of woolen stockings, and later, silken stockings as well - paradoxically, this was the very reason which brought Queen Elizabeth the 1st to deny Lee a patent. The interests of the thousands of English Knitters & their Guilds would be severely endangered by a machine which could work so much faster, & the times, clearly, were not yet right. Lee had better fortune in France, where he subsequently moved, & managed to obtain a patent: unfortunately, though, his ambitions, & new factory in Rouen, were quashed by the growingly hostile local climate towards his nationality & religion. Lee died, in great distress, in Paris, in 1614.
Despite his misfortune, William Lee thus stands, with his Stocking Frame, as one of the immediate precursors of that world-shaking event that was the Industrial Revolution - the event from which much of our modern world stemmed, surely including our work with Automation. The hooked shape of the needles in his machine is still identical today, four centuries later, in modern knitting machines; & so is his guiding principle of inventing, & constantly improving, machines such as those which move our Industry, every day.”
So, I got through my first multi-designer fashion show at the end of March. As several models walked down the runway wearing my pieces a fellow fiber artist leaned over & whispered to me, "You really know the art of restraint." What a spectacular compliment. I often think my work is too simple, even though my pieces really just come from what I want to wear but can never seem to find in stores. Maybe it's that Catholic school uniform thing, interestingly shared by Eileen Fisher and perhaps some of her devotees, the "cult of the interestingly plain." She says "the idea that you can just throw that thing on every morning and don't have to think about it." It sort of runs contrary to creating fashion, but that's what I want. Something I barely have to glance at, it goes well with most other pieces in my closet, it's comfortable, flattering, &, most importantly, it doesn't hit people over the head. It doesn't scream "LOOK AT ME!" However, on second look the pieces do very subtly communicate a message about the person wearing them. They are slightly artsy, maybe even a bit quirky. I hope that certain ease, artsy spirit & minimalist restraint comes across as I present my inside/out tank for sale this season. Yes, the art of restraint. Sometimes less is more.
Well, because sizing is dang hard, that's why. I strain against the idea of fitting into a certain number. It's not a feminist statement. It's just a silly system in my opinion. I also happen to know that sizes are manipulated in an effort to get women to buy clothing. There are so many sizing charts in our universe. It boggles my mind. Size 0? What the heck is that? Are you non-existent? If someone wears a plus size does another person wear a minus size? My goodness, even shoe sizes are helter skelter.
Also, knits stretch. That's the beauty of knitwear. Some people like them tight, some people like them loose. I have seen one of my dresses worn tightly on a voluptuous woman, and it looked gorgeous. Same size dress on a petite framed gal, and it looked gorgeous. It's all about YOU -- how you wear clothes, what you feel confident wearing, if you want coverage or if you want to play up your assets! Always my advice to gals who are interested in an item to wear. TRY IT ON. Clothing looks so sad & forlorn on hangers. It takes an animated body to bring it to life. Don't be afraid to try.
Just coming off a pleasant little show in Tennessee where I exhibited work alongside other fiber artists. I noted a great sign displayed on the table of my friend and uber talented weaver Liz Spear. It read "In this booth we do not argue with personal body perception." That's something to chew on.
Look, I have my own issues with my body that I can obsess over & discuss in great detail. I really don't want to add your list of woes, too. Believe me, we all get plenty of ways to dislike our bodies just standing in a grocery checkout line perusing magazine covers. Put on something you like & own it! Defy the rules & regs. One fashion faux pas I blatantly disregard is the sporting of cropped pants. I am a short girl, and fashionistas are always on & on about how cropped pants foreshorten the human form. I just don't care. I like them & I am going to wear them. I have been rolling up my dungarees since I was a kid, & I'm not stopping now. Orson Welles summed it up perfectly. "Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn."
Lately I have been asking myself why. Why, why am I so fascinated with making garments stitch by stitch? Why am I so bent on knitting? Why am I spending so much time and effort hunched over the knitting machine as it sings, shreem, shreem, shreem? It is a happily unending practice, and every day is really different. Sometimes calm thoughts, sometimes monkey mind, endless, breathing in and out. Every now and then a flash of insight into one of life's conundrums or a juicy idea for new piece.
This little explanation from www.habutextiles.com resonates with me.
Why? Do we bother to take so much time and labor... actually weaving or knitting when there are so many good machine woven fabrics or knit wears? They are durable, inexpensive... Why? Because we must stubbornly believe all the care our actual hands give to each and every process of making a length of fabric creates something more than just a "look." It may be subtle, but you know when you wear and touch. You know when that fabric ages with you. You feel the thought of that person, who made it for you... “slow” materials, not flashy, not necessary pretty, not cheap, not easy, but those that will give a soul to the fabrics."
Aaaah! That's it. Soul. Both absorbing & exuding the energy of the handmade piece. Communicating a little bit of your soul. Shining out in silence.
One of my earliest memories is an argument with my mother when the 4-year-old me insisted on wearing a hot pink jumpsuit with bell-bottoms & giant print flowers on it. There were several of these occasions, & I'm sure my choices were always, let's say, a bit quirky. My mother's clever answer was to plop me squarely in Catholic school, and for 7 years I wore uniforms to school daily. Usually I jazzed it up a bit with accessories like Fonzie socks or cool cords underneath the skirt or handmade necklaces displaying huge plastic beads or a wine cork! No lie! At age 8 or 9 my mom taught me to knit (back in the 70's, way before it was cool). One of my first projects was a pair of legwarmers made with fuzzy pink & purple variegated yarn. Oh, yeah. Knitting has fascinated me, frustrated me to tears, and provided me with comfort & joy ever since. Developing this craft is a winding road. It took me until middle age to realize that creativity & beauty are not frivolous, they are a vital part of our lives. True beauty, authentic, mindfully created artifacts or even funky knit clothing can touch our souls in rare and magical ways, transforming us & our world. It is essential to our spirits. I now embrace the quirky young me who screams to work with weird yarns and make off kilter art-to-wear pieces. I continue to develop a Wabi Sabi knitting practice. My mission is to enhance the life of every person who wears my knits by helping them to express & cultivate their own matchless styles. Life is too short to wear boring clothes!