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Liane – master of transformational construction

I’m always interested in doing something that I haven’t done before, it never occurs to me that it might not work’

Learning to knit:  I learned to knit quite recently, about 10 years ago.  My gran was an avid knitter, she used to knit loads of jumpers for us as kids and as young adults.  She came to stay with me quite near the end of her life, so I would try to do things with her that she would like, such as take her to tea.  One year I decided to ask her to teach me how to knit.  I’d probably done it as a child, but I hadn’t really got the hang of it and couldn’t solve it when I went wrong.

The first thing I knitted was a little jumper/wrap, made of four rectangles out of a soft Rowan yarn. I remember that I just cast on and did it; after about 8 or 10 rows my gran sighed with relief as I’d got good tension and she was worried she wouldn’t be able to explain it. Apparently my mum had rubbish tension. She can knit but doesn’t much as she always gets quite cross with it, though she’s an avid sewer.

I started knitting a few jumpers after that, v necks with long ribbing on the cuff and waist to make them quite fitted.  After that I would make my own patterns up out of chunky yarn which was quite quick.  Then I played with different yarns, such as a steel wrapped in silk as well as a paper/steel yarn.  It was weird to knit with, but I made my mum a lovely scarf from which would crumple and hold its shape but it was hopeless in the rain. 

I think of my gran when I knit, particularly if I hand knit. I definitely cast on like her, but my gran used to wind the yarn around her middle finger so she could put the yarn round the needle without taking her hand off, so she was really fast. I put the yarn around my little finger to keep tension, which probably came from my crochet, but it means I’m slower. I still have a cardigan/coat that my gran knitted for me; a Kaffe Fassett autumnal coat. It’s got so many amazing different colours and grades of wool and silk. It’s really nice to have that piece of her with me, and being able to wear it.

My tension square: I’m always interested in doing something that I haven’t done before, it never occurs to me that it might not work.  This string was a gift from a friend who passed away, so there’s a little bit of her in this project too.  Even though she didn’t get to do it.

I made a judgement when I started, but I’ve got too many stitches and it’s too wide. I wasn’t going to do a tension square for a tension square – that would be insane! This yarn is tough because it’s so unforgiving and has no stretch. It means I’m having to physically push it off the needle which is making my fingers hurt. It’s coming out pretty tight as it’s got no give. It’s annoying as it’s not growing fast and is closing back up on me so it’s time consuming and the tension is all over the place. It’s certainly not going to be square. You could probably use it as a scourer for pots, though it might not be scratchy enough. I don’t think I can stand knitting another one though. My fingers are telling me that it’s finished; they’ve gone red.

Making my own patterns and working with unusual fibres is what excites me.  I’ll look through my patterns as I’ll have a yarn I want to use, and I know roughly what needle size will work.  I try to find a pattern that is roughly in the right ball park.  The last jumper I knitted myself was using a hand knit pattern that I set up for a different thickness on the machine and it came out all right.  Instructions are there as a guide, it’s a bit like recipes, it’s just a suggestion. 

You have to do tension squares, it’s really disappointing if you spend all the time making something and then it doesn’t fit.  My hand knitting is always loose, so I usually have to use needles one or two sizes smaller.  With my machine knitting, which is my latest craze it’s even more important.  If you’re using a really woolly yarn like mohair or angora you can’t see the mistakes and it would be a nightmare to unpick.  But if it’s a straight stocking stitch I can drop a stitch and come back up.  I’ve got very good at knowing how stitches work – it annoys me if it’s wrong so I will rip back.  When things go really wrong, they got chopped up and used again, or I take them to the charity shop

On winter evenings it’s nice to have something on the go, hand-knitting is a season related thing for me.  I sit and knit watching TV or listening to an audio book.  Recently someone asked for help on social media to translate a hand knitting pattern with puff sleeves to a knitting machine.  It’s not straight forward, so I’m going to hand knit a sleeve, so I can work out how I can get the same shape using a different approach on the machine to see where I can add the stitches.  Machine knitting is so much quicker and I like the scale of what you can do with it.

Hand knitting comes into the house, but machine knitting stays in a studio in my back garden.  I’ve got some amazing needles that are the size of broom sticks with huge balls (25cm) on each end.  So knitting becomes more like rowing.  I have knitted a jumper on them, you have to move your whole arm.  I have been known to take knitting when travelling and knit on the train.  I like being practical and having something to do with my hands. 

When you’re out and about you get funny looks – even if I’m using a blunt needle to sew things up people tend to move away from you so you get plenty of space.  Generally people are quite curious, particularly if you’re on a longer train journey.  There’s always a small percentage of people who don’t think it’s worthwhile to do, and too easy, which is a shame as they don’t see the effort and it slightly downgrades what you do.

Now machine knitting is 90% of my practice. I’ll hand knit the rib if I’m using a mid-weight yarn, but anything else I go straight on the machine. 90% of what I make is play. I like textural design: being able to make a texture on the fabric as you’re knitting it, using things like tuck and slip; or it might be about hand manipulation or short row shaping to change the shape of the fabric. It’s so much quicker than doing it in hand knitting. I like seeing a style in a fashion magazine and having a go at it, working out how to create the shape in knitting, like a bell sleeve. I make things for myself, I probably have enough hand knitted garments to keep me going for many years though I have knitted for friends and family for Christmas presents from time to time. If global warming means we’re in a freezer I’ll be ok.

The thing I most enjoyed doing, which really pushed my ability was machine-knitting a straight fitted skirt to my own pattern with two different yarns; elastane and wool. It gave me a corduroy type texture and you could see the different colours and it gave a wonderful 3D texture to the skirt. It was a real challenge to knit as it kept pinging off the machine and looked fabulous when I finished it. I did swear quite a lot over that one.

I also do pattern cutting – not just traditional flat patterns but also transformational reconstruction. It’s a kind of sculpting either in the flat or on the mannequin to turn it into a pattern. I’m recognised as a master in that technique and can train others in it. Every year, the originator of this technique from Japan challenges the other masters, there’s about 130 of us, to try and ‘beat him’. The best we can usually do is match him – he gives us the image and we have to work out either what he has made from a flat pattern; or he shows us the finished garment and we have to invent a pattern within particular constraints such as one pattern piece. It’s a bit like Sudoku in 3D. It’s why I’m very attracted to machine knitting; how can I make a 2D object into 3D around the body.

I’d love to publish some patterns on Ravelry, and see if people like them and will buy and use them.  I’m doing some sampling at the moment to make sure I’ve tested every single size of the pattern.  I think the patterns need to be achievable for a range of knitting skills.  The bit that inspires me more though is doing some amazing 3D textural work, which are probably more one-off items.  I ended up helping out an undergraduate at Westminster Fashion College who was showing at London fashion week. I had 4 days to produce a garment for him from his concept and rough outline shape – including doing the test samples and final piece.  I get inspired by making garments, rather than just samples.  I need to turn it into something useful.  Since then, he’s been picked up as one to watch by Vogue Italia, and my piece was featured.

There’s an element of knitting that’s about therapy and connecting to a meditative state.  You have to concentrate on what you’re doing, a regular movement is very relaxing.  Knitting represents connecting to my Gran and all the traditional skills that people had.  The fact that nobody will have done exactly what I’m doing even if I’m following a pattern, it will be my own version.  I like the individuality, the creativity and the calmness it gives me. At the moment I knit all day.  I’m quite addictive in my behaviour with crafts, once I’ve started I want to finish it, which is slightly less therapeutic.  I go through phases of knitting and sewing.  I go into the studio after breakfast and the gym.  I knit for a couple of hours in the morning, then about 4 hours in the afternoon.  Occasionally if I get really in to solving something I do it in the evenings as well.  Particularly if it’s gone wrong and I want to defeat it.

You can find out more about Liane on her FB page

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Published by jencableart

Jen Cable is a mixed media textile artist who loves to draw attention to the outmoded, fabulous, awful and bizarre aspects of culture and everyday society

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