Last week I worked in residence at Aspex Gallery in Portsmouth, as part of an exhibition called Working Title. The idea was to work with junk that had been donated by local people. There’s more info about the exhibition in my previous post. Below are some thoughts that I wrote for the Working Title blog.
When I was on the train to Portsmouth, I thought about the different approaches I might take to the pile of junk awaiting me at the gallery. I could knit or crochet with anything long and thin, or crochet into objects to decorate them. The ideas that most excited me were to make an object into an improvised knitting machine, and to repair an object using knit.
In my very first dig through the junk, I found a coat hook ideal for using as a knitting machine – so my first piece was pretty immediate. There were loads of cables lying around, so I used them for yarn.
This next piece took a little more time, and continues a theme I’ve been exploring recently, of juxtaposing ‘masculine’/hi-tech stuff with ‘feminine’ decorative craft. I’m calling it ’16 Appliances’ because it’s made from… you get it. This one is macramé rather than knitting, because there were 16 strands to work with all at once.
In the junk pile I found an old wooden chair with the back totally missing – it had been somewhat savagely sawn off just above the seat. I thought this was a prime candidate for knit-based repair, and was pretty excited when I had the idea of using the chair itself as a french knitting bobbin to knit the replacement back. It’s almost as if the chair is rejuvenating itself (with a bit of help).
The french knitting is working the opposite way round to usual – going round the outside of the leg, rather than inside a cylinder. You get the purl (reverse) side of the knitting on the outside, but that’s ok. I swapped the yarns of the two sides at times, to create two horizontal bars across the back of the chair. A row of nails along the back of the frame allowed me to knit a new (somewhat dysfunctional) seat.
I love the idea of an object becoming the tool for mending itself – and that the final appearance of the repair is controlled to a large degree by the tool and process. A few people commented on how savage the nails look, compared to the seeming fragility of the knitting.
I made this coat-hanger-knitting-machine on my first day in the gallery, when I was hunting for anything hook-like that I could improvise into a knitting machine. First, I knitted a little piece using scrap yarn and some random objects as weights (an egg cup, 2 pairs of broken sunglasses, a Power Ranger and some beads).
On my way into the gallery on my last day, I impulsively popped into the car boot sale and picked up an old blouse. I chopped it into one continuous strip, with some features still recognisable, and knitted it on the hangers. It’s like the hangers have ganged up on a garment in the wardrobe, and reformed it to their own taste. I like imposing a knitted structure onto a woven garment, too. (As I told a visitor to the gallery, I stand firmly on the knit side of the knit-weave divide).
I took my improvised knitting machine experiments outdoors on Saturday, knitting with electrical cables on the railings outside the Royal Garrison Church. It was a fun experience – and I got to meet lots of dog walkers – but next time I want to use something much thicker to knit with – like rope, yum.
More improvised knitting machines, on a smaller scale. I used plumbing parts as french knitting bobbins, attaching the nails with loads of elastic bands and working with the junctions to create multiple knit outlets. A pipe that can knit its own water, maybe?
This wheel had been looking at me all week, asking for a knit-based repair. It wasn’t until Sunday that I swung into action, crocheting it a scalloped replacement tyre.
All in all it was a great week at Aspex. The intensive week of experimentation sparked off lots of new ideas, which I’m looking forward to exploring further in future.