Lace curtain on tour.

PROCESS

Eventually, after some time, I designed a lace curtain that was entirely inspired and touched by Shetland. Couched within the design are memories from all of my previous visits. I was hoping to capture the essence of the landscape, language, tradition, and the people that I have met.

It’s not just a lace curtain.

This week, the curtain is on tour visiting old derelict croft houses.  There was always one particular croft house in my mind.  Last August, whilst walking across Bressay to catch the rubber dingy to Noss, I came across a derelict croft house with its roof only recently removed and the slate tiles scattered across the ground. Inside the traces of the people’s lives were visible across the walls in layers of flaking previously-lovingly designed patterns in paint. I fell in love with the place and imagined how the woman of the house had looked out of the small square windows waiting for family to come home.

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RETURN / TIMING

About a month ago, I contacted Shetland Amenity Trust to see if they knew who had lived in the small 2 roomed croft house, they forwarded my email on to Bressay Heritage Trust and last week a lady emailed me to say that she was born in the croft house and it had been in her mother’s family for over 100 years. I was so moved by this email that I quite tearful and had a vision of what it would be like to meet this lady and listen to her stories. We arranged to meet today and in celebration of the house and lives lived there and the walls and paint marks and all the things that had inspired me, I made a laser cut in the one of my lace designs to hang on the croft house wall and leave behind.

Now, there’s one flaw with visualising what might happen when you’re wearing rose tinted glasses.  It’s mostly a one-sided, personal made-up fairy story where you don’t quite figure the other person or their thoughts and wants into the equation. The croft has been ravaged by the last winter and the walls have no trace now of the beautiful floral border design. It seemed smaller than I remembered and had been gated off.

I did briefly hang the laser cut on the inside wall on an old nail painted green then I gave it to the lady who had been born in the croft house and we looked at her photographs. she didn’t want to go inside.  I am completely grateful to her for taking the time to meet me.  It was really kind of her – she is warm, honest and open – characteristics I find in Shetlanders all over the islands.

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It was not the right time or place to hang my curtain in this croft but I have hung it in other croft houses.

The Shetland lace curtain is one of three pieces that were made a few weeks ago leaving enough time to darn into any of the ‘natural’ breakages before bringing it to Lerwick.  ‘Natural breakages’ meaning the errors that may or may not occur when knitting lace on a power knit machine. Right from the beginning, I have embraced these ‘natural’ errors in the knit by using the holes to darn into. The darning keeps the piece alive and adds another layer – another story. Each of the 3 curtains that were knitted on that day came out with the same errors – largish gaping holes down the left side. I designed the lace in CAD and they were knitted on the Shima at Uni and darned with a connection to the memory of an interior wall in a derelict croft house in Bressay that we didn’t return to.

 

I was hoping to capture the energy and the strength of Shetland in one image.

I have made a start.

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Fashion Designer or Textile Artist

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The more precise Artistic Impression is, the more real it seems and freer it feels.  

– Lee Ufan – The Art of Encounter.

 

I’m supposed to know what I am, but how can I when my eye is so acutely drawn to the exquisite couture lace and ruffles of the new McQueen collection, I see in words and speak in pictures and I like to knit and to darn.

jamieson & smith and lurex lace

I’ve knitted so long now that I see in stitches and patterns and blended colours drawn from the places that I have been deeply drawn to or a moment when someone looks up without speaking and the air is full of words or I remember something someone once said, like, ‘never sell these, Tracey, I had them during my grandiose period’ and ‘I read widely, if somewhat cursorily’.  I went home and looked up the word cursorily. 

These moments inform my creative practice – not a fashion design.

I am supposed to choose   just choose what I am, but it isn’t like that.  I can be a knitter, a dressmaker, a traveller or a writer because I have no real home. I am rootless and cannot imagine now, putting roots in one place or one creative discipline. Solitude is a place where pictures and words develop, like an old polaroid that is a little out of date but still quite visible.  These pictures and words are also my input into my designs – whether it is a vest or a dress or a curtain.

 

At Uni, I am involved in so many artistic disciplines that they merge into one big, cultivated concept picking up skills and dropping ideas along the way. Artistic expression leads to reflection.  But, this can be fashion.  And, it can be textile art.

 

The lace vests I am making in Nottingham, are a story born out of a dark, grey, solidly wet rainy day in Lerwick.

The dull yellow, hand knitted, utility vest that caught my eye, was hanging in a charity shop in a row of three – all with slight variations. It looked simple, boring, basic but if you listened to its story, it had a marvellous tale, being knitted in one piece, without seams, with care, in the round, with grafted shoulders. DSCN3138

There are no errors, it is a utility item, made for a purpose that no one will ever wear – perfect – it’s mine.  The vest became my integrity-anchor – a basic item of clothing that now grows a new life-form in lace patterns. The vest was added to my memories of seeing fine lace in museum cabinets, drawers in photographs and in the history and tradition of the islands North of Scotland, South of Iceland and next to Norway.

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My attempted samples of CAD lace knit struggled to deliver perfection and threw out random sections with holes. Beautiful imperfect.  So, I darned the holes. Why waste a beautiful sample, why not keep it alive, why not see the colours of the place in the weave and give it another chance?   Is the darning aesthetic or sustainable or for reasons of austerity? 

 

Now,  I have to choose, is the vest fashion or is it textile art?  What am I A Fashion Designer or a Textile Artist?

 

 

And, then there is the lace curtain…

Comeliness – the workmanship of risk

jamieson & smith and lurex lace

‘Comeliness’ – the workmanship of risk….

… ‘If I must ascribe a meaning to the word Craftsmanship, I shall say as a first approximation that it simply means workmanship using any kind of technique or apparatus in which the quality of the result is not predetermined but depends on the judgement, dexterity of care which the maker exercises as he works.  The essential idea is that the quality of the result is continually at risk during the process of making, so I shall call this kind of workmanship ‘The workmanship of Risk’

With the workmanship of Risk, we may contrast the’ Workmanship of Certainty’, always to be found in quantity production and found in its pure state in full automation.

‘The Nature of Art and Workmanship’ – David Pye

 

In short, when I was five, David Pye was writing the text above about workmanship and it still stands true nearly 50 years later. Reading his words in relation to ‘craft’ gives me a deeper understanding of what I am doing with a needle and thread, an eye for detail, a mind to experiment and a power knit machine that, although can turn out ‘workmanship of certainty’, the route to that can be long and more fulfilling with its errors, mistakes and risks.  Every turn I take with the lace knitting is ‘workmanship of risk’ – craft  – though the journey starts with a thought and a hope, travels through time in design and out at the other end from a power Knit machine. Every step is gradual, considered and handled carefully even through the power process, it is considered.

 

For some time, my knit has drawn upon my love of Shetland, the islands, its landscape and language. My knit is not just stitches and a pattern and here lies the art / craft.  Or, as David Pye later writes, ‘Comeliness’ which implies the ability to give an aesthetic expression, or to add to it.

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I’m knitting vests, or so I am led to believe. But I keep straying. Comeliness is not a word linked to vests but is a word associated with women. The life of these vests stem from Shetland to Nottingham through conversations that opened up discussions of it being ‘visually polite’ on to questioning mending the errors thrown out by the power machine which found my patterns too difficult to master due to conditions.

The vests are comeliness – not in shape but in aesthetic.  Within them is a life and a story. Each one will be ‘crafted’  Each one will have a name.

 

I am learning technical conditions and terminology and can do nothing but learn to speak in ‘take down’, ‘tension’, ‘ transfer’ ‘technical file’ and ‘half-gauge’. Coming from a long life of drawing with a line of yarn in hand-knitting, initially, I was out of my depth with Power Knit machines and Computer Aided Design (CAD) – splashing around in an unknown sea of errors.  Now, I tread water like when I thought I could swim as a child but could not.  I tread water alongside the technician at Uni who is aware of my errors, guides my ways, shows me steps at such great speed that I am left back at the shore only to tentatively swim out again and have a go.  Repetition is the key.

 

The start is pleasing. Each time I look back at my previous work – even if only a month ago, it looks naïve.  

 

If, as David Pye suggests,  workmanship is judged by a criteria of ‘Soundness’ and ‘Comeliness’ –

Soundness being – the ability to transmit and resist forces as the designer intended, there must be no hidden flaws or weakness. 

And Comeliness being the ability to give that aesthetic expression which the designer intended, or add to it

 – then I’ll embrace Comeliness every time.

 

Thanks to Jamieson & Smith for sponsoring me with the Shetland Supreme lace weight – the darned knit in image one.

http://www.shetlandwoolbrokers.co.uk/Shetland-Supreme-Lace-Weight

 

 

 

 

There is a saying in Shetland…

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“There is a saying in Shetland that the longer the end of the yarn left over after casting on, the longer it will take to complete the garment” (Sarah Don, The Art of Shetland Lace, 1980, p25)

 

To this end, after reading this line, I continue to take a random chance without any hint of calculation and guess the length of yarn I may need each time that I cast on for hand lace knitting.  Never once have I guessed the length correctly and either cast on in the hope that the length will be enough or, as mostly, I have over calculated leaving a tail left over.  This line of text both fascinates and maps a story.  An interpretation could be that a knitter’s overall experience and knowledge is marked / judged by their calculating the right amount of yarn that would be required for the amount of stitches to be cast on.  Additionally, maybe when  money and hand-spun yarn was scarce, the quote could have been born from careful frugality.

I imagine the sideways glances  in a group gathering to knit together many years ago, at the cast on edge of each other’s knitting, and that the cast-on tail’s length did not go unnoticed.

I’m interested in process. I think I was working to a definite idea of a finished product but not now (it moves and flows like water) but my initial inspiration remains strong.  Patience has grown to see what can or will  evolve from what I am doing – allowing the process to dictate the end product.  This has never been more apparent than when I tried to recreate a Spencer Vest both by hand and machine knitting. My Charity shop Spencer Vest purchase seemed such a simple utility item yet when you hold it and open it, you can see that it is skilfully knitted in the round with grafted shoulders and simple shaping to create a cared for design. I am in love with a simple vest that is far from simple.

 

 

I can knit, right? So I put a call out on a large facebook knitting group that I was a member, for a Spencer vest pattern so that I could understand its process. So many answers, all interesting but nothing was thrown up like the vest that I could hold or calculate. Ideas and patterns came in so I set to and knitted the front of a vest in a half size and liked it. I thought I could translate it on the domestic Silver Reed machine and came up with a forced, broken, unattractive disaster in which I learned that I was trying to make the machine do something that I could do by hand but everything was wrong. The tension, the shaping, the feel and outcome and at that point, I wondered why I was doing the course at all. I’d forgotten all I knew before and had no idea what I knew now and I questioned everything.  But what came out of this was a discussion and a turning point to change my attitude and find out what can come out of the knitting from a machine without having any prior demand.  Just to feel it, live it, make it, remake it, learn from it – warts and all.

 

Free -hand style knitting took over and the work began to grow a life. But I still wanted to make a vest inspired by the Charity shop vest and by the delicate lace patterns that I had seen in Shetland. I began to learn the processes of understanding how knitting by hand and domestic machine is different and then how power knit on the Shima machines is different again using CAD.  I’ve had to relearn everything in a new language. The old knitting patterns are in long lines of words – a code deciphered by charts but the charts are in different languages to CAD.

Here is my new language.  In the beginning, it is a story from a pattern library in CAD but a pattern library is not designing – just a starting point to learn how the stitch patterns move the needles to make a lace that will open up into the beginning of another story. It was an exciting start.

 

The simulations of the patterns opened up how the stitches lie and are formed       – I followed their lines.

Until I made my own designs, inspired by Shetland patterns, written in a code that was new to me, opening up another process to the next stage. I knit with my eye and  line of yarn like the stroke of a pencil. I’ve always done this with colours, shapes and patterns.

The place I am at now is no different. But I start from a 2D visual design drawing lines and patterns on a computer without any idea of outcome. The CAD process has loosened me up to go back to paper draw with a pen and paint and knitting needles and fine yarn.

I have drawn with knitting needles for years but my current journey is informing the loops and lines without any real end result in mind and this is where the journey takes on its own route.

 

It is in full circle.

Lace Archive

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Just by chance, we knocked on the door to the Lace archive at Nottingham Trent to see if I could take a look. I had twenty minutes, tops, to skim-view the Lace archive.  How could it be possible to take in the wealth of history and joy within those books and drawers in such a short time – but I got an idea of what lies inside that tiny room.

The lace archive holds 75,000 samples of lace acquired by donations from the late 19th Century to mid 20th Century.  Here lie books of technical drawings made by and for students.

When the Nottingham School of Art was set up in 1843 and young men were taught lace design, the sample books and drawings and books began to be donated for the students to use as reference and inspiration.  The same is happening today – I have done the same.

My experience of that brief fleeting time in the archive room is of being completely blown away by what I saw and felt.

I was lucky.  Gail Baxter, a Contemporary lace artist and Research Fellow at Nottingham Trent University Lace Archive was in the room and in twenty minutes explained and showed more to me than I could taken in during a whole day by myself.  Gail showed me Paraguay lace and when I said that I would have cut the little fringes off on the lace samples – she said, ‘they are the eyelashes’ and I fell in love with the black lace with wheels and eyelashes.   There was flocked lace, net, hand and machine lace, underwear and books with all manner of financial transactions in.  I know where the Paraguay lace is, because Gail put it safely away for my next visit.

 

Genuine joy and enthusiasm raced through me when I was able to look at, hold, touch the samples.

A lasting memory is seeing the book that had been closed for many years to reveal the embossed impression of the lace sample pressed into the opposite page over years of time of waiting to be seen.

 

 

knit . darn . knit

Blue Bronze

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hand knit darn into a machine knit sample

 

Winter.

I’m spending time learning CAD. I don’t find it so easy but I’m not giving up.  I’ve been a hand-knitter for about 35 years so I read knit in hand design and patterns and words.  CAD is another world to me. The Blue sample above is a machine knitted sample that the Shima power knit machine at Uni chewed up and released rather begrudgingly after another person’s work was left on the rollers.  The waste and cast on had a ladder and the pattern that I had designed from a hand knit idea inspired by Shetland lace, was not suitable in places, for transferring stitches on the Power knit machine.

What came out of the Shima, was something rather beautiful.  Something ragged and torn with a raw cast off edge.

I used two double ended 2.5mm needles to pick up the cast off and cast it off safely and then I worked into the ripped part of the sample without plan or forethought.

The hand-knitted section in this machine knitted sample is knitted using very fine metallic and wool yarn in a lace edge pattern which mirrored the diamond that had been ripped away.

The result is raw, it’s rough, it’s unusable but I like it. It is not visually polite.   I like the dirty blue colour of the sample and the bronze metallic yarn used to patch it.

What I am interested in is the palimpsest, the traces, the layers and stories:

The traces on the wall of the wallpaper / paint/ borders once layered over each other in a derelict house, exposed to the elements.

The 300 year old graffiti written into the walls of a castle.

The impression of lace on the opposite page in a sample book, after it has been closed for years.

A tear in a shirt.

The darn on an elbow.

The palimpsest of layers of words written in an old book.

I’m looking to express this in darning into the errors, holes, tears, rips in machine knitted lace to make something that both tells a story and can be beautiful.