This body of Flawed Work / Imperfect Beauty is a collaboration between the relationship of Process and the interface of place, travel, memory, history, tradition, language, people and returning. Fundamentally, I am interested in the creative process of knitting to explore and articulate memories and tracing journeys. Knitting and returning, create the platform for the final work in a site-specific image, film and soundbite.
I initially found Shetland when traveling to Lerwick to learn traditional Fair Isle knitting techniques. But, the islands’ rich landscape and raw beauty completely drew me in. I began to wander away from the stationary act of knitting to take hikes across the small islands. Now, the two acts are intrinsically brought together in images.
The more precise Artistic Impression is, the more real it seems and the freeer it feels – Lee Ufan – The Art of Encounter
Since my first visit, I have returned and built relationships both with people and with the landscape, both of which I found through spending time living a connected life with the surroundings. The purpose of my trip and residency in Scalloway in December 2017, is to continue to take site specific photographs of my knitted lace to evoke a quietness and stillness, yet express an energy that is about a real truth of living. The locations that I have chosen to install my work are derelict and abandoned croft houses. The images are as much about showing a place for what it is and for what it is not as about the knitted lace. I’m drawn into the houses because they are full of the unexpected. There are signs of the lives that have lived in these abandoned places with their insides open to the outside without roof or protections. I find walls with the imprint of the people who once lived and loved there and made a home. I look out of windows that look onto raw beauty that must have been a hard existence. The architecture is quiet and simple with a sense of dignity.
I never snap the photographs – they are constantly deeply rooted in narrative. I try to get one good photograph a day – and that’s a good day.
In order to make the image, I connect completely with my surroundings – it could be that my hand traces the decaying croft walls where the palimpsest is so deeply felt through touch that I can feel what the life may have been like.
The Interrupted paint on walls, the hand cut stone slabs outside the front door to keep a skirt hem from getting muddy or a small, deeply inset window where a woman used to wait, the click of a latch will all narrate the image.
These are places of impermanence. They’re places that change every day over time.
Process – Conjuncture
Initially, the history of Shetland knitting began to excite me in the simplest terms of Fair Isle design and colour. I experimented at home in Yorkshire but the knitting became a true art form when I travelled to Lerwick in order to fill my knitting colour palette with colour made and sold in Shetland.
It is only now that I realise that the act of finding a place and building relationships through the process of knitting is crucial to my work. In fact, it is the work.
I wanted to knit a feeling, so I bring these relationships of memory, travel, conversations and place into the process of my knitting.
Flawed Work / Imperfect Beauty is born out of a new relationship and fascination with Shetland Lace. My initial inspiration was a 1970’s lace knitted cardigan bought from a charity shop and owned by a friend. I trawled the library in Lerwick for information on traditional lace designs and patterns but I couldn’t find either, so I sat on the floor of her old Sea Captain’s house that overlooked the harbour in Lerwick and mapped out the old cardigan in a combination of patterns and rows to try to remake what I had seen.
This was not art but a process to understand lace knit structures. This understanding fed an appetite to learn more and led me onto researching traditional Shetland lace in the museums across the Shetland. All of the lace shawls are perfectly and beautifully knitted by skilled and experience hands. The knitter had taken months to spin the wool, knit the shawl, make it pure white, then dress and stretch it into perfection to show every lace pattern to its best.
These shawls are all original to the maker. There are no two the same. They’re grown from a desire to make something exquisitely beautiful that, at the time of making, was sellable. I’m sure that the only aim was not just to make a sellable item but to show off a difficult skill to perfection with pride. These fine shawls were not worn by the women of Shetland who made them but were made by them to supplement their crofting income.
Through my MA, I had a desire to experiment and make CAD machine knitted Shetland inspired, lace fabric. This is not an easy process and, since there were errors in the knitting results, I completely accepted the flaws as part of the piece. I have developed lace patterns for Power Knit machines using Computer Aided Design. Each piece of work is unique and bespoke but inevitably subject to the conjuncture of design and process which often results in a flawed knit. Even with imperfections, the work is still very beautiful and surprising. In fact, I have capitalised on the flaws in the lace knitted fabric and use these errors to darn into – make the piece strong, make visible, add another layer, make a story, keep the piece alive. On a practical level, I don’t want to waste the knitted fabric, not in a political, austere mend and make do way but out of pure gratitude that I have made something worth looking at, at all. This is not the only reason I keep the flawed knitting – it has become another narrative in the work. When a broken piece of knitting drops from the Power knit machine at NTU, I reflect on both the designing and the knitting process to try to understand technically why it did not knit perfectly, did I want it to be perfect, what is its value.
The first time a ragged, puckered, broken, torn piece of lace knit dropped from the power knit machine at Uni, I picked it up and instantly saw a ragged lace curtain that had been hanging at a broken croft house window for years until it was shreds. And this is one of the reasons of why I returned to Shetland with my knitted lace curtains – a relationship between process and place and tradition.
Tracey Doxey – Studying an MA in Fashion, Textiles, Knit at Nottingham Trent University
Residency in The Booth, Scalloway, December 2017