I am a Contemporary artist who works with textiles and photography. I am also a knitter – sometimes a pretty good one. And, I suppose I’m a designer of contemporary lace knit.
Recently, I took my knitting, which is fine lace knit, back to the place of original inspiration, which, for my current project is Shetland. I take the lace back to a found derelict croft – a home where knitting certainly would have taken place and lace could have also once been knitted there. The project is called ‘Vod’ which is a Shetland word for Unoccupied / Empty place.
Shetland has many derelict crofts, sometimes quite plain and simple, sometimes with a yard and gate, some with modifications such as a lean-to toilet room but always, they are deeply moving. There’s something powerful in the traces that can be seen of what once was, their remoteness and their outlook. They all have a soul. It’s compelling to stand and look out of a derelict croft house window.
It is mostly in the window that I place my work. Sometimes across a door
The more crofts that I found in Bressay and Burra and worked in, the more I looked out of the windows and wondered how many women had looked out of that same window, waiting for husbands to return or for kids to come home and that was when I began to really get interested in the social history of the places and the women who had once knitted there. Below are some of the archive images of women knitting by crofts, which are from Shetland Museum.
My practice began to explore particular social and political narratives of place and values of material production embedded in place/s. Once I found the crofts, I began to research how the women were paid for their knitting and came to learn about the truck and barter system. I long to hear Shetland women tell stories of their ancestors’ home life and history and this is why I want to go to Unst – the most northerly isle in the British Isles – parallel to Norway and below Iceland on the map. It is the home of Shetland lace knitting. I’ll spend time in the Unst Heritage Centre and cycle around the small Island, taking in the surroundings.
Almost two years ago, when I started my part time MA at NTU, I was firstly inspired by Shetland knitted lace and my research was initially about the textiles only – how the lace was knitted and the motifs in it. Over the last two years and over five subsequent visits to Shetland, I have become more interested in the women who made the fine Shetland lace and how and where they lived, often in remote and extreme conditions. Learning this, and finding these places, developed a deeper understanding of the social and cultural context of lace knitting in Shetland. To express my respect for and love of Shetland lace and the homes once lived in and the knitters themselves, I respond to place and its associated narrative histories – in particular woman’s material and conceptual histories of creative practice.
There is a sublime energy in the derelict crofts coupled with the energy of a my contemporary take on lace knitting placed back into a abandoned building which creates a third energy – the site specific work itself. I hope that my latest Site specific work has integrity, authenticity and soul. The symbiotic relationship between my lace knit or lace engravings coupled with placing the work into derelict crofts, is an act which produces contemporary art that speaks of place, time, culture, textiles, struggle, hardship and past lives.
I’m lucky enough to be returning to Shetland to finish ‘Vod’ and I hope to interview and record the oral histories of knitting and crofting from the women at the specialist Heritage Centre in Unst. These women keep the origin of heritage lace knitting alive. I want to respond to their stories by making a textile and photographic site-specific work around their stories and creative practice on Unst. I have not been able to reach Unst on my previous visits to Shetland due to Winter, ferry crossing availability or non-availability of space to cross the sea between the islands, availability of day light (5 in the Winter) and the closure of the Heritage Centre between October and the beginning of May. I have not previously recorded oral histories and this is the only place where the lace stories originate. Unst is 60 degrees North and I learned from my son today, who will be filming in the most Northern part of Norway in March, that there are only 90 degrees, then you are at the Arctic.
The reason that I can return to Shetland is that I have been awarded an R&D grant to research the stories of the knitters, their lives and to look at the knitting itself and to work in derelict crofts, this time, with the permission of the owners to hopefully arrange a pop up installation in a derelict croft, around the Bank holiday weekend at the end of May. I will invite local artists, knitters and crofters for tea and cake and to look at the work that has grown out of this body of this project that has taken me a year and a half in the making
The Research and Development work in Shetland, is called ‘Vod’ – an unoccupied, empty place.
Thanks to Making Ways, Sheffield for supporting this R&D trip and for supporting the development of my creative practice.