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

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.

The tacit knowledge in a piece of broken knitting.

The final week of the first year of my part-time MA at NTU is drawing near and what have I learned?

More than that, what have I felt?

On a technical level, I have learned measurable things: how to use Digital CAD knit to a level where can design lace knit – maybe that’s the only measurable thing. (and maybe linking – but badly)

But from the perspective of just soaking in the atmosphere and feeling my way, I’ve taken leaps and bounds from that first day in Sept 2016. 

I arrived at Uni only being able to hand knit now I can see a future in my knitting that is beyond what I thought possible or considered and that is to make knitted lace – it’s as simple as that but what goes into that making isn’t simple at all. I suppose that this year, I have been working from accidental results and prototypes built from flawed outcomes from the digital CAD and power knit, but that’s also not the result.  Flawed endings are not a result. There may be a broken piece of power knit in front of me but it has a heart and a soul and a back story and here lies the unmeasurable learning.broken lace samples

To look at a broken piece of knitting with vision and joy is or has been the task of my countless attempts at trying  to knit lace – perfection was never an aim (but only when it seemed so risk ridden). The birth of my broken power knit samples involved multiple journeys to Shetland, taking in the light and the landscape and language, looking at traditional hand-knitted fine Shetland shawls in the Shetland museums, spending hours figuring out how the lace patterns are made and translating that into digital CAD designs, graphing lace patterns out in knit language that I had to learn,  then digitally positioning them to make an altogether knitted piece that is aesthetically pleasing in a number of yarns (some of which have been brought to the machine by contacting sponsors – some from the yarn bin at Uni – none purchased) stretching, pulling, steaming the pieces to flatten dishcloth shapes with holes in – sometimes unwelcome holes which were caringly darned to save the piece. Some pieces involved designing a garment shape and positioning the tried and tested lace patterns within the boundaries of the ever moving edges or mirroring, chevroning and altering patterns.  Why, then, are there still holes and errors? If I love it and have developed it to a sort of visual simulated perfection – then why does it still have broken areas – ah, take-down, tension, bent needles, programming, yarn waxing, yarn breakage, doubling up, single thread, finding something suitable. And why, then, is it still a bit broken – never mind, I’ll embrace the broken bit by darning into it. What? Darning? Dutch darning, boro darning – regular sock darning – it’s all in there in this broken piece of knitting that we will call unique’

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So, I look at the unique piece of knitting with joy and vision.

and, the latest samples are also intriguing  –  The gauge is too wide, the fairisle is like lace – nnoooo, it’s just like the drawn line.  It has a pencil line quality – that’s what it is. it’s quite beautiful in its looseness. The fairisle is like a loose pencil drawing. It’s not knitting at all – and I can see how it will look in a garment.

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When I look over my shoulder, I am pulling a faint thread of invisible yarn from Jamieson & Smith in Lerwick, Shetland to here in Nottingham to attach it to a power knit machine that I never knew existed 10 months ago, and I can (at last)  see the journey that I have travelled.

 

 

 

 

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…

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.

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.