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‘Vod’ an unoccupied, empty place.

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

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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. 

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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.

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Shetland croft house

 

The 8:55am link bus leaves Scalloway in the half light.  It waits at the first stop in case there are any passengers from the Lerwick link.  There is only one body on that bus and he doesn’t leave it. 

The link bus travels through Trondra towards Hamnavoe. I have an aim but first, I must see if there is snow on Meal Beach.  The 300metre path to the beach leaves high from the road and descends gradually. It is peppered in polystyrene type, small, snow balls. Hard, small hail stones over a thin salt like snow. Meal Beach lies below – a perfect crescent of sand and, as if in a wish, it is covered in snow.  How often do you get to walk on sand covered in snow with the roaring sea backing off in waves of perfect blue? Until arriving in Hamnavoe, the sun has not been seen for over a week.

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I only have an hour and a quarter before the bus will arrive from its round trip journey down to Houss, so I take in the sea view then leave, returning up the small path to the corner of the road, high on the hill, by the old tiny church, over looking the beach to a small croft house that lost its roof in the winter of 1993.  There’s very little left but it’s a fine place.  When I  encounter this building, all structure falls away and I actually meet the being of the place. If all components are right, a deep feeling of connection greets me immediately – something way beyond intellect or reason or history or architecture. What comes to greet me is purely intuitive. I look and really see the place, every detail and if I am lucky, for a few seconds or even minutes, time stands still and I am able to capture something by fluke or will. 

I place something in the croft, always in a window – either a lace knitted curtain or an engraving on aged paper or a laser cut of my lace patterns.  I’ve tried to figure out why I need to do this. It’s an urge that needs to been seen through by travelling 8 hours on two trains to get from Yorkshire to catch a 14 hour ferry from Aberdeen that can make me sick then a journey from Lerwick to a tiny Booth built into the sea in Scalloway.  And all the recent constant bad weather and a storm and power cut then an evacuation back to Lerwick for a night,  to return to Scalloway to catch a tiny link bus, miles and hours from the place I come from  in Yorkshire to a place that until today, I didn’t know existed.  There’s something special seen through a croft’s broken window that has probably not been looked out of for over 20 years. The grass surrounding the place has grown in to over knee high tufts, wind-swept into Icelandic-like grass mounds where my feet leave traces – What is it this urge to find a far off place and leave art?

 

I place the work, stand still, wait and if I am really lucky, all of my learning and thinking and knitting and talking and creative spirit comes together in that one moment and I am able to capture something of a world, partly created by me but joining with location, time, season, light, home, architecture, time lost, history and this present moment.   It’s freezing, it’s sleeting, my hand is red raw from being gloveless but that moment arrives.   It’s rich in colour – a celebration of something past and something living.  Each place has its own colour palette. 

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In that instant, how I relate to this place is a real poetic encounter. And sometimes, it goes further than that, getting a sense of the wholeness of time comes into focus. And I become totally aware.  So much energy and effort in making the knitted lace-work that all of those energies become concentrated in the croft at that moment and symbolise all the different aspects of women knitting, crofting, working, home – call it nostalgia or rose tinted glasses or history itself but this is the core of this arm of my creative work.

I’m knitting stories. At this moment of the coming together of all the components, the lace that I have made that was initially inspired by Shetland lace patterns has merely becomes the bi product of an art practice. An emotional, poetic, living encounter. A long travelled road to arrive here. 

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Leaving, Arriving, Returning

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Arriving can be overwhelming.

Even if it is not my homeland.

On the deck of the ferry, the ever present wind carries something extra; a raw, beautiful, self-awakening brought on by the boat arriving into Lerwick. It hits you at the point of seeing the Southern tip of Shetland.

Hold tightly onto the white painted, thin railing or the sight is too overwhelming.

And then, after a short time, there is the light house to your right, sitting proudly on the tip of Bressay and all is well enough.  At this point, without even coming in to dock, I’m already aware of the power of these small Islands.

Every day, I try to live in the moment, but, at this time of arriving, I usually feel a hint of sadness because I know I’ll leave.

Time moves forwards.

It’s an overpowering mixed blessing.   Before that, there is the long train journey skirting the East coast of England to Aberdeen. Then the overnight ferry – all in all – 24 hours From Sheffield To Lerwick.

You never know who you will meet on the ferry, in the shared bunk cabin room, on the deck watching Aberdeen being left behind or watching Shetland come into view, or at breakfast time or at checking in. There’s a life on the ferries that is quite extraordinarily simple.  People leaving, arriving, returning and I will once again do the same in a few weeks.

I know the journey so well, it’s almost as if I can hear it, feel it.  I know where the sun rises and sets on a flat-lined horizon behind a slow-moving boat.

Sometimes, someone meets me. More recently, someone sees me off for the return journey. Happy Sad Happy.

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Shetland can be a place of extremes although I have only scratched the surface.  The more I go, the less I know.  The more I see, the more I want to see. The more I wait, the more comes to me.

Shetland has embedded itself deep within me and added another story to my life.

Shetland offers surprising things to learn about, if you’re new to it all.

I ask many questions whilst looking out of the windows as the little pink car drives us from one place to another.  The Plantiecrubs draw me every time, second only to derelict croft houses and the beautiful spoken words of the Islanders.

 

Shetland offers an endless line of uniqueness –  the knitted lace and the knitted yokes and the music and the sea and beaches and seals and otters and sea urchins and fire and vikings and the seagulls that stamp at the edge of the tide and all the things that open your heart and mind to a realness that is rare these days.

PLACE 

I find places that become my favourite places to return to. Places to think and feel and work with. Places – To knit about.  Places to register the movement of time.

Sometimes, I feel at home in these places, sometimes a little scared because of the sheer isolation of it all. Sometimes, I purposely isolate myself. But always, I feel something special.  I notice most every detail.

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I begin to wonder, who lived here, who made these homes and crofts. And who painted these walls that have been left to dissolve into thin air after the months of harsh Winter weather.  There are lives written across the walls and in the dust.

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Sometimes I return to I honour a place by placing something in it. I mentally note the changes since the last time.

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In December, I don’t quite know what I will do in Shetland but my time will be taken up by walking, writing, knitting, thinking, being, taking photographs, feeling – really feeling, and reflecting,

I’ll start from a point of knowing something of a place but it really not being anything much.

I’ll ask questions, hitch a lift, go to the library, listen to folks.  Not much to write home about really. But I know I’m looking forward to living in a place that sits in the sea – A place where I will feel a strength and vulnerability and find things I never knew existed.

A Shetland Self shaped by place and others.

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just knitting

The process of ‘just knitting’ is so much more than a series of actions to produce something – a result.

The result may never actually be realised or known. We may have an idea and through the process of making, it just doesn’t turn out the way we thought or hoped.  Or the resulting finished article may just be a by-product and the art is in the making and in the journey and finding out new techniques or things that we never thought of before or even knew existed.  As in today, the knitted item I’m looking at was a by-product.  I watched a lace curtain that I’d knitted waft in the breeze above a sleeping cat. I watched for some time. The movement is now the art not the knit.

It took a really long time to make the curtain which has holes, is then darned and is knitted lop sided because of ‘take-down’ from the machine (in other words, the brushes on the power knit machine pulling it).  In the process of making, I understood how the lace patterns that I had seen in the Shetland museums are made. I translated those designs into a computer aided design package which were then sent to the power knit machine where the panel grew with holes and stretched edges and errors.  But all I could see was a thing of beauty which is now hanging ill fitted across the window of my small flat.

Today, I watched the dappled light fall across the room, from the peeping sun forcing its light through the tree outside my window. The dancing shadows in between the light created a small dancing scene on the wooden floor.  The shadow of the lace curtain left its trace.

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Before I went to University to study FTK, I didn’t even know that the knitting industry cut knitted fabric to make jumpers.  This I found quite shocking and have not knitted in a way that can be cut and produce waste. I never knew there was such waste in the fashion industry until I started this course.  Cutting knitted fabrid has never been an option for me, so now I’m finding ways to sculpt and manipulate the knit to create garment shaping.

Over the summer, I practiced smocking knit to varying degrees of success (bearing in mind that I used to smock dresses perfectly for my daughter over 25 years ago) Smocking knit is another thing.  It’s unruly and ununiformed.

 

Last week, I met Debbie at Uni whilst I was smocking the neck of a dress I was making.  She was really helpful and said that the smocking must add to the knit because the lace was sophisticated – to think of the yarn and finish. I’ve always gone for a contrasting yarn but looked again at the thickness and shine or matt finish.  At that point, I stopped the smocking.  I’m looking at other ideas for fabric manipulation to shape it.

but in the meantime, here are the latest panels that I have shaped into dresses by smocking.

 

Something has happened to my knitting.  I started by designing knitted lace inspired by Shetland lace but it has become something more. Learning traditional patterns has given my knitting integrity and credibility.  Shetland lace is a story of landscape, tradition, journey and sociocultural meaning and I wanted to bring those values to a wider audience.    I marry traditional lace patterns and highly technical poser knit designed in CAD to ‘just knit’ now. I’m using fine metallic yarn from Lanificio dell’Olivo and pure wool by Sato Seni who are both considering sponsoring me and I feel that I am just at the beginning.

 

 

 

 

a making process

At 5am, before sunrise, I wake immediately thinking about my making process – what it is and why. I thought it was the middle of the night because it was still not light at all but when I looked at the time, it made it acceptable to get up and develop the thoughts I was thinking.  ‘What is my work’ is the main point that I keep coming back to when I’m reflecting on my making.  I research craft, mending, repair, reflection, authenticity and tradition. What is my work about, if it’s about anything at all?

And, this is how I come to be in the avenues of the Hanging Water allotments at 6:30 am with the heavy scent of a late flowering honeysuckle in the air whilst picking fat ripe blackberries – sun rising to my left.   The ground is very damp, wet in fact. The late summer sun is rising with a hint of Autumn snapping at its heels.  Quickly, I threw on any clothes just to get out in the sun rise. I  noticed that it was the first time I reached for a jumper before leaving the house.  The mustard fair isle cardigan was the first choice – a perfect choice to greet the sun.

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All the world is here in this moment in the allotments. Whilst picking the ripe berries, I think about what people have said about my work.  The first thing that someone said about my work was stridently expressed in a tutorial at NTU. ‘You’re at Textile Artist, I’ve already told you’.  So, I assumed that mantle – an impressionable 53 year old taking every word as the truth.  But I’m not only a textile artist and this I have learned along the way through reflecting on process, result and reason.

The rising sun catches my face, plump berries from a cultured, thornless bush fill the bowl. Nature’s sounds fill the air – the brook at the bottom of the avenue, pigeons calling, a bee. You can almost hear the fruit creaking with weight.

 

My process is to see, think, feel, have an idea, run with it, see what happens along the way, make modifications, see the outcome, accept the outcome and either embellish it or just let it be – as it is and the outcome feeds another idea and it develops. I’m constantly learning – rarely is anything repeated, which makes it more of an art practice.

I’ve realised that there is a narrative that runs through all of my work. There’s a story.  Even the innocent blackberries that I am picking, weave a story or a moment into my work and process. It could be colour or texture or taste, even. Can’t work just be about the journey of making textile and memory? How can this small avenue of long wet grass that runs between old allotments, with the sun rising to my left be a starting point – but it is.  All the world is here, if you just look.

 

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Tracey Doxey is studying at NTU on the MA Fashion, Textiles Knit course.

She will be carrying out an Artist Residency at The Booth in Scalloway during December 2017

Picking Heather and Berries for Winter.

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The moorland that borders Sheffield and Derbyshire and stretches as far as the eye can see toward Edale, is carpeted in heather and speckled with thistle. The heather is knee high.  

In the sun and breeze, the air is constantly heather scented. Everyone the you pass along the way, shares their complements on the miles and miles of purple. Apparently, it is a good year for heather.

If you walk from my flat, through the Hanging Water allotments, up the path winding through Whitely wood to Ringinglow, cross the road by the old toll bar house opposite the Norfolk Arms  and walk across Hound Kirk Moor, which is an Toll Road, you’ll see the360 degree purple carpet.  Along the moorland track are two old milestones. I head for them every time I walk this way. The most interesting milestone registers the miles to Tidswell (Now spelt Tideswell) and Buxton and has a skull and cross bones carved underneath it. The Milestone was reunited in 2014 with its base after it was found in a garden in Dore where it had been part of a Rockery. You can read about it here but go and see it for yourself – it’s always a joy.

This is the second walk that I have done in two weeks where I have seen this natural purple carpet.  Today, the view so enriched my walk that I have chosen the colours of heather, thistle, stone, rock, sand, pale sky, gravel, blackberry and blackberry for my yarn colour palette for my new work. I have been knitting the colours into Fair Isle samples for a workshop I am doing on 2nd September but in doing the samples, I can see how beautiful this colour palette is.

 

 

In September, I will bring Fair Isle back into my work and the colour palette will lean towards autumnal heathers. In the Winter, when I look at the yarns and colours,  I’ll remember this summer day and the carpet of heather.

Embodiment

To craft something that has taken a journey of almost one year incorporating everything from the ill-tempered, sleeping cat that lies by my side as I write this piece to the deeply difficult-to-learn (for me)  digital CAD knit design, to make a lace knitted piece that I never knew could exist an academic year ago, is a good place to be.

Is it craft?

If, as written by Louise Valentine in the paper ‘Craft as a form of Mindful Inquiry’ is the case, then, I feel entirely relieved.

‘On reflection of the intellectual and social meanings of craft practice, craft is often misunderstood as skilful making. The notion of craft as a concern for innovation, individual vision and future cultural concerns: a fusion of art, science, engineering and technology, is uncommon’

The relief is born from realising my knitted pieces are craft in the sense of a fusion, a journey of enquiry and perpetual activity, not as skilful making.   Because, the result would be denied as skill by many.   The knitted pieces look to ‘hold skill’ but don’t look quite skilful because they are messy and ill fitting.  It is uncommon to consider the fusion of knitting and technology as craft but the outcome can be.

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How to make messy – attractive?

The lace trousers are the embodiment of my practice to date. Each loop and knot and lace hole contains all that I have seen and felt in Shetland over the last two years – they are possibly my most intellectual activity to date but not the most attractive or practical. To make these trousers, unbeknown to me at the beginning, I navigated through the naivety of an idea (to make a tube of lace into sculptural trousers)  through basic technical mastery of a software package (CAD), to develop an art practice that shows not tells.   My thinking process was knocked and shaped by software and ideas whereby I gained an awareness and understanding of practical things to take forward such as drape, tension, size, linking, mirroring stitch patterns, and finishes. My initial aim was not trousers but to learn the software and to power knit machine lace. The trousers grew out of trial and error.

But really, the joy that has come far outweighs the practical learning.  My joy in holding something that I have made which has drawn on stitch patterns developed from what I saw in the lace cabinets in The Shetland Museum and the Bod of Gremista.  This joy far outweighs the acquired technical knowledge to get to this point.

The technical knowledge I can take away, the embodiment is within.

Hours of looking, seeing, sensing have gone into this small, slightly unattractive piece of wrongly shaped knitting, which now is the start of my second year as a part time student at NTU for a discourse for craft and mindful inquiry.   The lace trousers are currently my ‘capacity to synthesize and integrate information’

Exploration in knit design is, for me,  a dance with an unfolding imagination.  To dance needs time and space.

I will be undertaking an Artist Residency at The Booth in Scalloway – December 2017, surely, I will be dancing with time and imagination.