In September 2020, I moved to a croft house in Levenwick and began, more or less immediately, to research the people that had lived here before me. Through conversations with local people, the return of photographs and pottery and 8 sessions in Shetland Museum Archives, I found that the Halcrow family had lived here from the mid 1800’s until 1660. I became particularly interested in researching a woman called Susan (Cissie) b1876 – d1960 who lived in my croft house for 83 years – and after her parents and brother died, from 1916, she was alone. She made the fire in the hearth, grew things, opened the old latch door and looked out to sea every day, as I now do, also as a single woman. Susan was the last of three generations of the Halcrow family to live in this house and she lived through some of the most recorded changeable times in Shetland history. And living here as a single woman can be tough at times.
Through this new frame of mine, I began to write a story of two women living in the same house over a century apart. I began to write and research through my own lived experiences, diarised in a daily practice of writing. I researched a story of Susan, this house and Shetland, juxtaposed with my own lived experiences in the same house and out of that story, I knitted a pattern for Susan. When I look at Susan’s face in any of the photographs that I have been given, she looks calm, serene and has a real beauty about her. The glint in her eye was there to the end. In the archives, I read Susan’s will. She mentioned the Small Holders (Scotland) Acts 1886 and 1931 and the Crofters (Scotland) Act 1954.’ This highlights the importance of Tenants rights here in Shetland and pinpoints some of the most notable, recorded social changes in Shetland’s history – dating from the Napier Commission – right through to the personal will of a woman whose parents and grandparents fought for their rights.
I was awarded a VACMA award. (Visual Arts Craft MakersAward) to write the story of Susan and myself living in this house over a century apart and to design a knitted piece dedicated to Susan Halcrow. I have made a neat little pullover dedicated to her, with her in mind. The jumper hopes to embody the natural elements of Shetland and how serene and calm Susan looked – always smart, usually wearing a brooch or collar when photographed outside the house. The body of the jumper is inspired by the colours of the Shetland seas of turquoise, aqua, greens and all the blues you could ever imagine and I wanted the yoke to be jewel-like. It is a knitting recipe of light, wind, the sea, yarn, Shetland life and a woman called Susan as well as my own creative practice. My creative practice is a way of expressing my life through the art of storytelling and technology of knitting and through the use of expressive colour.
I would like to thank Shetland Arts and Creative Scotland for supporting this project – for me, it is a thing of great beauty – not only the design but the 15 page story of Susan and I. The writing of this work has been a research and a personal journey written in letters to Susan. If you would like to read the story, it is in full on my Patreon site. If you are interested in the knitting pattern, it is available on ravelry (with the story too). Links to both are below.
Big love from Shetland in these long summer days. Tracey.
As a reader of my blogs, you’ll know that in September 2020, I moved to a croft house in Levenwick, Shetland. It has been a busy 7 months, buying a car, driving a car again after 12 years of not doing so, restoring the south bedroom to its original floor and fireplace and to a more relaxed palette, applying for work, getting project co-ordinator jobs, developing, devising and presenting successful online knitting workshops, digging out a byre, sieving soil, learning how to get furniture to an island parallel to Norway, that although is technically in the UK, it is miles away from London and finding that deliveries do not easily arrive on this island.
As well as living here, I have been researching Susan Halcrow and her parents and paternal grandparents who lived in this house for 3 generations from the early 1800’s. I’m particularly interested in researching Susan (Cissie) b1876, d1960 who was born in this house and lived here alone after her parents died early 1908 and 1914 and then her brother died in the Battle of Jutland in 1916.
I, as Susan did, make the fire in the hearth, grow things, open the latch door and look out to sea every day. We both live and lived here as single women.
Through this new frame of mine, my Shetland practice became entirely local (Shetland) based and I began to want to develop a digital written piece with an online knitted design created through my own (phenomenological) lived experiences of living in the same house that Susan had. I diarised my life in small chapters related to the morning or light, or sun rises or moon and frequently of the wind. Through a daily practice of experiential writing, I began to wonder about Susan and her life by researching photographs of her and working on a small colour blending knitting design. That pattern became, Good Wishes for the New Year and it was exactly that – all about Susan.
But, I wanted to develop a deeper understanding underpinned by archival researching of her and her family to write my story of Susan, this house and Shetland, juxtaposed with my own lived experiences in the same house and to share it internationally. This can never be The story because I cannot talk with her but it will be a story to honour a woman who lived a long life within this house.
At the end of January, I read about The Visual Artist and Craft Makers Awards (VACMA) which is a programme of small grants schemes with a range of local authorities and art agencies across Scotland to support Scotland-based visual artists and craft makers in their creative and professional development. I had become really interested in the idea of writing a booklet about Susan and I living in the same house about 140 years apart. And to write part of the story through the experience of developing a knitting design with Susan in mind.
So, I applied for a Visual Arts and Craft Maker Award (VACMA) 2 days before the closing date, and submitted by the skin of my teeth on 2nd February. The application flowed because this is real for me. I don’t have to make this up, it is my life, my home, seen alongside a very real woman who lived here – I just have to find the right way to write it.
I hope to creatively experiment through an auto ethnographic practice (personal experience in order to understand cultural experience) to enable me produce a 16-page digital booklet about the real life of 2 single women in different times living in the same house (140 years apart).
I will be experimenting with written word, photography and knitted design to tell our linked stories and I will also include a pattern design in the booklet. The project will bring together my previous 5 year’s skills and experiences, my Masters, Artist Residencies and my move to Shetland in an ongoing commitment to my creative practice.
Within time, I received an email from Shetland Arts to say that my VACMA application was successful, which I was over the moon about. To enable me to dedicate time to the project, I stopped all online teaching colour blending workshops until the end of May to give me time to knit the sample, research the family in the Archives at the Museum and to design the pattern and to write this work as beautifully as possible.
Though, from next week, my part time job has increased hours and I also volunteer at Women’s Aid too so I’m finding life very busy and full on but still, without fail, this booklet, the writing, research, design and knitting has been on my mind every day since February. I’ve been to the archives 4 times, I write when I can, I have, tonight, just finished the sample knit which has two different sleeve finishes and uses two types of yarn – as a sample, I am happy. The pullover will develop into another piece. I have a wonderful test knitter, Cait, from Cream City Yarn, a wonderful yarn shop and creative knitting space in a one-room schoolhouse located in the suburbs of Milwaukee.
Maybe the booklet doesn’t need a knitting pattern design in it, but a recipe of life in this house, and of knitting and two women.
If you would like to know more about my research on Susan and the Halcrow family, I will be writing a monthly piece on my Patreon site here.
I pack the bike paniers for the beach – a place that I know is today in a wind storm. Laying the blanket upon the fine sand, making ready to start knitting the gloves with my online Ravelry Knit group is wonderful moment. It is THE perfect location to sit and knit, think, feel – the sea rolling and heaving in front of me, the bike tyres being quickly buried under small sand drifts behind me. I dig into the bank of the crescent beach and unpack a speckled banana and Christmas biscuits in an old tin, my 5 year old Thermos from Japan, my note book, pen, yarn and chart.
I sit as if a child on a picnic for no one and watch the weight of water lift the surface of the sea in front of me. Waves break and reach the shore line as if they move along the keys of a piano – right to left along the entire long beach.
Sand grains settle on the surface of my tea as if in a grain huddle, in the base of the open biscuit tin, on the blanket in the shape of the base of my shoe, in the threads in the ball of yarn, on the canvas yarn bag that travelled a thousand miles, in my hair, on the scarf.
I scan the sea for whales – the whales that came in to the bay last Weds when I was at St Ninian’s. The weight of the sea water, rising and sinking, ebbing and flowing – covering secrets below its surface in the cold, cold depths of ancient sea sounds.
Today is the first day of my online Ravelry Knit Along where you can join me until 12th October in a group to knit the Smola gloves – named after my home in Shetland. You can ask questions, add photos, let me see your projects. THANK you to all those who have bought the pattern for the gloves already.
Happy knitting, happy sea and beach thoughts – If you’d like to join me on the beach next year, I will be offering Air B&B for single lady crafters, artists and explorers. Message me if you are interested in staying in my 200 year old house by the sea.
Around the 18th March, I began to receive multiple messages from friends on different platforms with a link to a tiny house in Shetland. On that day, I should have already been in Lerwick, but I wasn’t because the hostel had finally closed on 16th and the interview on 19th that I was going for, was finally agreed to be a skype call because of the Virus which we are all now well familiar with. I’d been looking for a little house in Shetland for some time, having looked at one myself, in the old lanes in Lerwick, in November. Then, a friend, went to look at another for me in January. But March, the little house in the sunshine-flooded image didn’t just speak to me, it shouted my name which appeared to be written all over it.
I called the agent who had a viewing day of Smola, on Saturday 21st, the last of all viewings of properties before lock down. As I couldn’t attend, I was sent the house report and two small videos – one of inside the property and one of the byre. Although the tiny house is basic, it is perfectly formed and without question, it seemed ideal for me and the dreams I have of living in Shetland, but on the Monday 23rd , one of the Saturday viewers had put an offer in on the tiny house and I lost hope and duly whined about it on FB on 25th March. This was not just a house to me, it had become a dream filled with ideas of sharing it, offering artist exchanges to exchange and share skills with each other artists and the wider community, artist retreats, workshops, air B&B to friends and people who have connected with me on Instagram, but most importantly, it would be a home where my (art) work / and life would become without borders – indistinguishable.
I was screaming inside, it should have been me because during the preceding developing 7 days, I had been booked to be in Shetland and could have been there, seen it, felt it, put the offer in but instead, I was in my tiny flat in Sheffield forced in to lockdown feeling helpless.
Then, Beate, a friend of mine, messaged and said, just put an offer in. It was the most practical and real advice I had been given, so I spoke to Emma, who put me in touch with Barbara, who in turn, put me in touch with Chris, who had rented the little house for 3 years and he told me about it. So, the house was more known to me and some questions were answered. And, in any case, I had already fallen in love with Levenwick last August
Are you still reading? After all the chronological dates and lost hope? Here’s Levenwick when I was there last August
That weekend, I thought about nothing other than the tiny house and artist exchanges and workshops on knitting and design whilst all the time mentally composing a letter in parts to the owners of Smola, in order to compete with the offer on the table already. Without seeing, smelling or touching the house, the letter flowed. I was honest, direct, clear and shot from the hip on the financial offer. On Monday 30th, I emailed it to the agents with the letter and offer, then promptly let it go. I went to work at Ryegate Children’s hospital where I’ve been a temp medical secretary since early Feb. Just because of a pandemic, the children don’t stop being ill with severe neurological issues, so I didn’t stop going to answer calls from worried parents, arrange medication and type consultant letters from clinics. I got on with my week. The pandemic gathered steam and I started knitting. Below are some of my recent designs.
On Thursday, 2nd April, I got a call from the agent. I assumed it would just be a rejection call. But it wasn’t. The sellers had accepted my offer on the proviso of a non refundable deposit to take it off the market and that they would wait for me to sell my flat. Since 2nd April until 17th May, two Shetland solicitors have been involved in writing the agreement for this non-refundable deposit, which I signed, in a wood in Sheffield on 8th May, honoured by my friend Deborah witnessing and co signing the document, and Lola the jug waiting as patiently as she could tied to a branch.
So there you have it, just over 8 weeks after seeing an image, both moving and still of a little house in Levenwick, I have signed a document to say that I will pay the non refundable deposit, deductible from the cost of the house, if I finalise the Scottish missives and all the papers to purchase within 3 months – an IMPOSSIBLE task. After the initial 3 months, I have a further 3 months agreement with the same terms but the first non refundable deposit isn’t carried over – that becomes lost. I was asked by a friend, – ‘what do I get for my non refundable deposit?’ and I said TIME but my wise friend Deb added, security . So, I have 6 months to turn everything around, still in lock down, during a pandemic and a recession to sell my flat and to purchase my dream.
I have 6 months to make this dream come true.
A dream to truly live a life fully in Smola, without borders between creative thought process and daily life, with my 2 cats, to go swimming with Barbara D and the Selkie swimming group in the sea, to write the book with Shetland knitters – of their mothers and mothers’ mothers and their knitting patterns and the homes they lived in, to make site-specific art, to offer air b&b to friends and artist whom I have come to know over the years through my artistic practice.
I can imagine the artistic exchanges that I hope to offer twice a year to share skills and art with other practitioners including and open call to hand block printers, wallpaper printers, basket makers, knitters, painters, writers and I can see it all happening in that tiny house. I am keen to be part of the village of Levenwick, keen to give and not take by being a supportive member of the local community and I want to make art, knit, share Smola with other artists, create exchanges and opportunities for others to come and work in and draw creativity from the fine little unassuming place.
This is my dream.
If you are interested in supporting this idea, please contact me.
If you are interested in future residencies or exchanges, please sign up to this blog so that you will see further progress on my move to Shetland because if it does not happen with Smola, then it will be another place.
If you are interested in coming to share skills, stay in the tiny house with me as an air B&B, also please let me know by contacting me through this website then I can see how many people would like to share of this dream.
If I do not make the exchange within the time – I will realign my dream.
In the meantime, if you would like to support me, you can do this by buying one of my knitting patterns here.
I am also looking to create a website for Smola and the creative business I will carry out there and I am looking to buy a new camera to capture the beauty of this place and to capture the offer to others.
I also have started a new Instagram page for Smola, which is here and where you can follow progress.
I’m hoping to share this dream with many people. When we are allowed to take visitors, I will be offering Air B&B for single travelling women – I’ll also be offering residencies and looking to create artist exchanges. If you are interested in any of these ideas, please email me on the contact form.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this new move
If you would like to keep up with my move to Shetland, please sign up to the blog here.
Dear lover of Yarn Stories and of the tactile art of knitting,
Making marks at the border of two paint colours.
I have designed a hat which harks back to my wanderings across Shetland. This hat didn’t just happen. It has a story, as have all the knitted articles still in Shetland. I wasn’t born in Shetland but my heart resides there. I can say that my hat was ‘inspired by’ but that feels too shallow. The hat was made like a recipe, gathering the ingredients by sight, sound and touch. This hat recipe has painted flowers in it, abandoned crofts, tussock grass, boggy land, a home without a roof, a lean-to kitchen and women and their creativity in it.
Painted by a woman, I think, by a woman with cold hands and an eye for detail. She will have looked at that wall and maybe, whilst knitting or walking or crofting or cutting peats, or caring for the children or family, she might have thought how she would like to make the walls pretty. Stencils seem visible in some homes. Where did the stencils come from to arrive at such remote, isolated homes? This unassuming row of flowers is deeply moving in its simplicity. Far away from neighbours, with a view of the sea, between the window and the sink is a row of 8 pointed flowers. The point where the energy of present and past meet are at the end of my touching finger and the disintegrating row of flowers. In some parts they have been painted over, but they are clear and proud. I ache at the beauty of the most simple stamped design carefully placed in groups of four V shapes to make an 8 pointed flower.
When did she think this pattern up? How did she do it? As I step back, I feel the same sense of pride that she must have when stepping back to see her row of flowers in her newly fitted kitchen in the lean to. A sink, a tap inside, cupboards and a border of flowers. I can see it now. The cups and plates and pans, with a view of the sea. This moment of really seeing takes my breath away. I stay for only a few minutes. Long enough to touch the woman that lived here long ago through her creativity and eye for detail and the end of my right forefinger.
Since September 2015, when I first visited Shetland for Wool Week, I’ve revisited the Islands many times. Over the years, I’ve stayed for weeks and months at a time, including stays with Barbara in her beautiful house built by a Sea Captain overlooking the sea in Lerwick, an R&D trip to Unst, a 4-week artist residency in Scalloway, 7 weeks with Mati Ventrillon on Fair Isle and 2 weeks in Brindister with endless stays in between. Returning to Shetland has always been about knitting. During these visits I began to build a strong love for finding the derelict, abandoned croft houses that are visible across Shetland, to see the interiors to in some way connect with the women who once lived in them. I’ve looked at censuses to find out who lived in certain homes and looked at their professions, I’ve looked at photographs of women in books ploughing the Fair Isle land who are looking straight into the camera lens, then I have gone to the walled old grave yard by the sea at the South End of Fair Isle and sought out those women by their names on the stones. I’ve worn old original Fair Isle cardigans, sat in the Lerwick library for hours and hours pouring over the Shetland knitting books and crossed the seas to touch and feel knitwear created by absolute artists of their time. All of the knitted pieces that are still in Shetland today, tell a story – a story of the woman who made those knitted pieces – the work bears a story that is woven into every stitch.
On my walks across Shetland, I found and looked at many derelict croft houses which were the homes of knitters, crofters, mothers, fishers, daughters and ‘spinsters’. The more I looked at, and went inside the homes, I felt more of a connection to the women who had lived there through visible signs of the past. My most favourite croft houses, which I visit each time I return, bear the marks of flowers, and leaves painted onto the walls. Each design is carefully and beautifully made by the families who used to live in those homes. I can imagine a woman carefully stencilling or stamping the flowers in a border around the wall of the lean-to kitchen. Some wall painted decorations particularly move me because they are so deeply powerful in their simplicity. I gently touch the patterns to feel through history to a time when a woman painted them long ago in a past that I long to know about.
As I walk away, always, the lasting memory is of the painted walls and it is these that I am honouring within this pattern. This hat pattern is inspired by the disintegrating flowers and leaves that I have found painted on croft house walls and the hat is made as a testament to the gendered craft of knitting, home, and to the beautiful women of Shetland, who knitted all of their lives and made homes a welcoming place.
here, you may find the Shetland Wall Flowers pattern.
Knitting has always been at the base of my creative practice. After spending over 2 months in Shetland, I have just developed a pattern, design sheet, story for any knitter to make. But the design goes back at lease five years to when I first started making this hat. Here’s a new hat and a new story.
Dear lover of yarn and of the tactile act of knitting,
This hat design has been long in the making. I’m producing it as a design sheet because the pattern can be followed to the stitch and colour, or you can use it as a springboard to develop your own ideas by choosing your colours and even a different tree and star motif to the one I have chosen to incorporate into your hat pattern – you can make it your design too.
Over the years, I’ve made this hat using varying yarns and colours. I’ve blocked it in to a shape that resembled a slouching hat or a kind of beret. I still have two of these hats from 2015, and I’ve worn them in all weathers and in many countries. I’ve left one and lost it in places but I have always retraced my steps and gratefully been reunited with the hat that now is part of me every winter.
Seeing the photos of this early hat, I see a different shape entirely to the one that has morphed and shaped to my head through being soaked in gale force rains, being stuffed in pockets and in bags and left for months in a drawer. In November 2019, I was living in Brindister, West Burrafirth, Shetland and wore my old hat every day whilst walking around the voe. By now, its shape had morphed into a basin shape and I felt lost without it if I ever forgot it any winter day – especially in the piercing winds.
In Brindister, when walking around the voe, I started to find sea urchin shells which had been discarded by the seagulls. Finding the first one was like finding the first four-leafed clover when I was a kid. For years, around the ages of 9 – 13, it became a solitary past time of mine to go in search of four-leafed clovers from near where I lived and then I’d press them in books. For years, when opening a book (there weren’t many in our house) dried 4,5,6 and 7 leafed clovers fluttered to the ground. Finding sea urchin shells at Brindister, became my new four-leaf clover hunt and I became obsessed to find a perfect, un-smashed, complete one. I gathered too many to carry in my hands and used my hat to get them back to the croft house and this is when I saw similarities both the shape of hat and crown design and the 5 segmented pattern on the urchin shells.
Over the last four weeks, I have made a new pattern / design sheet. It tells the story of the updated design and opens up the opportunity for the knitter to use the pattern as a springboard to create their own hat design. Without knitting, I would not be the maker, designer, creator of art that I am today. Knitting is the very foundation of my creativity.
Under a week after handing over this commissioned piece of
knitting, I have had time to reflect. I
have a window of time to reconsider what I have made and why and what happened
during the making and designing process and the outcome of what seems to some,
to just be a knitted pullover.
The idea for this hand-knitted piece actually came from my thinking son because I was questioning the time involved in knitting and designing one off pieces. He suggested for me to consider intricately knitting something that I loved and to log every hour and minute spent making it. This type of time is not commercial time but entirely creative, without speed, without a target. So, to make a knitted piece in this way, with this idea behind it was the initiation that made it a project or a work of art; not just knitting and certainly not textiles.
A constant driving question of any maker is what is the value of time spent. I question time and the value of an hour of my time because, at 55 years old I may be running out of hours and what do I want to do with my one precious hour? is my hour of more value than, say, a 23 year old who, statistically, has more hours left to live than me. If we knew how many hours left, what would we do with those hours? Knit?
So, the act of writing, logging and recognising time spent whilst making became an underlying, fundamental principal of this knitted piece. I did not lie about time, did not hide time spent in the making process, did not adjust hours to fit ‘within time’ or an acceptable amount of time judged by others to take to knit this item and I did not exaggerate either. I was wholly honest.
During the process there was no brief, or contract or even a binding conversation with the person who may or may not buy it, I made a Fair Isle pullover with a woman in mind. A woman who I know respects hand-made items, understands art and creativity and supports makers. And, I know that time is precious to her. Of course, in the end, it is wearable. Win, win.
There was no design brief or discussion or demands or
There was also no discussion of money due to the fact that
this was not my driving force for the knitted project. Notice, that this knitting has been called
many things – a project, a hand-knitted piece, a piece of art but never just
knitting or textiles.
This whole project was a thought process – thinking about
design, experimentation, research in practice, 2 years in an MA to research
knitted lace, colours, heritage, Shetland-inspired memories, traditional
patterns, blending colours, making mistakes and undoing mistakes, patterns I’ve
previously knitted and why I wanted to weave those things into each stitch. How can you sell that? In a story? To a believer? It’s an investment of time and detail.
In brief, the underlying principle was to create a work of art which encompassed understanding and mastery of the craft of knitting, which I have done for over 40 years now. To the untrained eye, this knitted piece is ‘textiles’ or ‘just knitting’ but, to the thinking mind it is not.
So, I started. And unstarted. Designed and redesigned and felt my way through many, many, many hours of knitting. Each hour was logged and sometimes what I was thinking, what I was feeling and my understanding of developing certain areas of the piece. The work went everywhere with me and I knitted every day over 4 months. Yes, 4 months – sometimes at night watching things on iplayer. It went to café’s, babysitting, to Sheffield Institute of arts and on train journeys and to different cities but always I stayed true to the principle of logging the hours and to making every loop perfect. I began to want to hold the work and get back to it. It became a piece of wellbeing.
I became fascinated by thinking about how one colour sat next to another and where the pattern had come from and what memories the knitting drew on. I undid anything that I was not totally, absolutely happy with and the happiness came in the detail which fed back to the process of thinking. The whole process took on a journey of its own.
The result is like a tightly woven carpet.
I am partly embarrassed about the hours I spent on this knitted piece and partly in awe of how much time I spent dedicated to something that a knitter would do in under half the time. But, that knitting, from a pattern would be ‘just knitting’. This piece came from scratch – from an idea and a bundle of over 50 colours of Shetland yarn.
On bank holiday Monday – the jewel-coloured surprise was ceremoniously and fittingly handed over
I’ve never had an Artist studio for a number of reasons:
– it is an expense that I cannot really afford, I live a 4-mile cycle ride from
town so to get to a studio and back is a chore, and in the summer, it felt odd
to call myself an Artist. One miserable,
wet, dark, raining night in August, I did look at a studio at Kelham Island,
but it wasn’t right. I couldn’t find the right place, at the right price.
In the end, I did buy a desk and was delighted how
that desk, in my home, made me feel and instantly became my work space. It was enough. It is enough. My flat became
exactly how I wanted it – a live/work
space at any time of the day.
Then, in November, when I was accepted on to the
AA2A Artist residency programme at Sheffield Hallam University, I moved old
papers and prints into the MA studio at Sheffield Institute of Arts (The Old
Head Post Office) It is a small space with a perfect wall area to overlap
things, put things up, leave things, remove things, reflect. So, until the end of June ‘19, that is exactly
where you will find me every Monday and Tuesday. Take
this as an open invite to come visit.
There is nothing not to like about this gorgeous,
strong building which was, for many years, The Old Head Post Office in
Sheffield. The floors in the large exhibition space are mosaiced, the walls are
still tiled in dark rich brown and cream and everywhere is conducive to creative
thought with old remnants of a by gone postal service in town which litters the
walls, floors and views. The technical resources are second to none. Space is
The AA2A residency came at exactly the right time. I applied 2 days after the closing date, the
submission was accepted, I was interviewed and proceeded to naïvely cover the
interview table with examples of processes and work. It was a shamble of words
and lace knit and photographs and, of course, laser cuts. I was over the moon
when I was accepted.
Now, is a new phase – a progressive time to learn,
experiment and develop by using the resources available to me. In return, I will show work to the current
students, do presentations and workshops, be around in the space, ask and
answer questions. I’m also mentoring a
little. Alongside that, there are countless
students doing their thing, and we share information. They’ve got used to seeing me and I look
forward to seeing them. In the new year,
I’ll offer workshops and add information to their notice boards of competitions
I did not want repeat my creative practice,
therefore, I expose myself to a very creative environment as what can be called
‘A Young Artist’ and I will add – at an older age because I’m not young but I feel
it. But, to repeat is out of the question
– where do I start?
I could only start the residency at SHU, where I had
left off at Nottingham Trent Uni but I had never used a laser cutting machine
myself as this is done by the technician at NTU. At Sheffield Hallam, the
students use the laser cutting machines themselves. They’re shown how to use them and off they /
I go. I collected all of my files from NTU but they are not compatible with the
software at SHU. So the learning curve of preparing files started.
Initially this seemed daunting but, only 3 weeks in, daunting is a memory. I’m learning by trial and error but the errors are mine and I continue to learn from them, build a new portfolio and a new-found confidence as a practicing ‘Artist in Residence’. Silly mistakes during the process of live tracing an image and digitally cutting it open up steps to understanding what I can try next and how to overcome errors. When I fail, I try again and again until, after I feel that I have some small grasp of the technique.
Students come into the laser cutting room, we discuss our practice and technique, we share learning experiences and own it. Every student fully owns their own work when they create and cut it. After two successful (ish) laser cuts, I needed a location to place the work in order to really see it.
I could hear a voice in my head asking myself why I thought
that laser cuts of lace knitting which were inspired by Shetland could ever fit
into Sheffield. There were no links between lace and Yorkshire. Did it need a
link? Could I create a link? Was it becoming inauthentic or decorative? Or, was
I repeating myself. And, that would never do.
Showing my work has previously been an easy act to
do as I chose remote extreme outdoor locations to place laser cuts or lace
knitting and Only I saw it. In Shetland,
the work merged with the landscape and each relied on the other to give
meaning. Pure Symbiosis
Today, I do not have access to Shetland to continue to place laser
cuts into abandoned croft house windows but I have done that already,
photographed it, shown it and understood it.
Now, I only have digital files that stem from my original lace knitting
CAD patterns. And I am placing them into Sheffield Institute of Art (SIA)
I looked around the SIA building, the stair wells, and corners at the working windows – mostly sash, and mostly aesthetically pleasing. I even used a measure and made diagrams. In Shetland there was no time for a measure of any sorts – not of windows or of place – I came across places and the site-specific work was entirely intuitive. It was placed quickly, in wind and gales and rain or snow. Here lies a clear difference, I have the luxury of choice and measurement – though this may remove the rawness of the work.
At SIA, location can be more considered than in Shetland. The work can be left in situ at SIA and not
blow away. Consciously, I knew I wanted
a window of great beauty, subconsciously, I wanted a window in a location with
great foot fall. I also considered the
view that would be seen through the laser cuts. I wanted people to walk past
and either look or not, to stop or not, to think about the laser cuts or not
but I did want the work have ‘the option to be looked at’. I didn’t want it hidden.
I chose this window on the half floor at Sheffield Institute of
Art, between floors -2 and -1 from the reception to the studios and laser
cutting rooms. A stair well of much foot fall.
I must admit, I put laser cut 1 and 2 up quickly because I had no permission and I felt nervous. Nervous if I could be stopped, or asked what I was doing or, and this was the biggest thing, – was the work interesting enough and would it ‘work’ into this location. Laser cut 3 went up – doing it felt good and I didn’t hide it but I could no longer reach to place the next row. At this point, I tried to enlist the support of Jim, a technician, who was obviously going to ask the question I had been avoiding – Who gave me permission to place this work in this window and had I had it covered by H&S?
So, now after the work has been checked and cleared by H&S,
Jim placed 3 more panels and I am thinking of placing renegade work across the
city and then in galleries. New Goals. But
for now, this window is my canvas.
Happy Christmas. Here’s to 2019 and new things that I don’t know exist yet.
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.
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.
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.
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.