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Carol – a voracious knitter who likes to knit with glass

I knit a series of grenades as gifts.

I probably started when I was 10.  It would have been my father’s mother who taught me when she was visiting us and I made a belt.  It was maybe 10 stitches, it was long and blue and really very ugly.  Then probably I forgot, and I learned again the next year from my mother’s mother who was left handed, so that was curious; and my Great Aunt helped me and then I just took off, I just loved knitting.  My mum did not knit at all, none of her 7 sisters knitted.  Their generation, born in the mid-late 1930s, they just didn’t have any need to knit when they came of age in the 50s in the post war boom.   

Growing up in the seventies; if you were a smart woman you didn’t do art, you did science and math.  I never took art at school at all, so knitting would be my relaxation in the evenings.  That was when I would play and learn new techniques and have fun.  My mother’s mother did chevron blankets, so I learned that.  Then I would just teach myself.  Where I learned a lot of my knitting skills was from Threads magazine.  It used to have fabulous articles by knitters like Deborah Newton; articles about finishing and different stitches.  So I would just read, and look at books.  I’m not a master knitter but I know all kinds of stitches.  Knitting to me is about holding things together, metaphorically. We moved at least 18 times in my first 18 years of life. There was a lot of chaos. Knitting was something I could do that made me feel that I was together. When I was 17 my grandmother died.  She had a 50 gallon drum full of yarn and I got it.  That was when I knew I was identified as the knitter.   

I’ve always been interested in making things with my hands.  I liked the process of knitting; watching it.  I can remember going to a yarn store when I was 12 or 13.  In the back of the store there were 3 or 4 women, who I thought were really old at the time and they were all knitting socks with multiple needles and I thought it was fascinating and I wanted to try it.  The whole process of pulling one stitch through another to make a whole, it’s like a grass roots community effort.  You take one and you pull it through.  In glass especially, the individual stitches and the way they connect bring strength to the form.  An individual stitch or long strand of glass is not very strong, but when it’s attached and connected it becomes very strong.

Cloak & Dagger

I am a sculptor, I was doing mostly cast metal and working with found objects.  Then I started casting bronze: you make something in wax, make a mould around it, you melt the wax out and you pour the metal in.  You use these wax strands called sprues, that come in different sizes and cross-sections.  I had some skinny ones that are really flexible and I kept looking at them, and thinking that they look like yarn.  So I wondered if I could knit with it.  That’s where it started.  So I don’t actually knit with glass, I’m knitting with wax.  Because knitting is flexible, that doesn’t work with glass.  So I have to go in with a soldering iron and melt wax in all of the connections to make my shape.  Then  I make a mould around it and melt the wax out.  Then I put the mould in the kiln and I melt the glass into the space where the wax was.  The mould is then destroyed to get the glass out.  You think knitting is time consuming, but that is just a quarter of what I do, the rest is cleaning it up.  I just love the way  it looks and that you are concentrating more on the stucture of the fabric than the feel of it.

The process itself has become a metaphor for me.  The idea of having the needles in the pieces came from a friend of mine.  She wanted me to make her a piece with the needles in it, and I thought that it was stupid.  But that’s a lot of what I do now.  The thing of having the needles in it is a salute to the work in progress.  It looks like someone’s put their knitting down and it’s still going on.  I love that idea, for me, it’s not about the finished piece, I don’t make it to gaze on it.  I make it to process the world and be creative.  I like the fact that it salutes making things. 

Blue-Me Away

Most of my stuff (inspiration) is from domestic life.  I knit a series of grenades/bombs as gifts.  It came from listening to the radio when George Bush was bombing Iraq.  Though a bomb is not a gift, even if you put a bow on it.  Now I don’t tend to give art as a gift, what’s interesting to me is that I can make something that I absolutely hate but other people will love it.  I have given gifts of socks and mittens, but it takes so long to make.  So I don’t want to give them if they don’t want them.  If you know somebody loves something then that’s ok.  Why give them something that they’re just going to throw away?  I have a couple of pieces that I was going to throw away, but my daughter took them for her room.

I really like Escher, he did a piece where a hand was drawing another hand.  So I thought, gosh it would be really funny if I did a piece when one hand was knitting the other hand.  Then I worked on a second one and I realised that this was more than being goofy about Escher.  My father was ill and died soon after and it became the idea of what does it mean to become your own mentor – to pick up and nurture yourself.  I’ve done quite a few of those and its interesting how different things in my life affect how it turns out. 

Perfect Ten

I made a snake skin that was 40 feet long that I made for a local biennial.  It floated in the space with knitting needles as fangs.  I did a proposal of having a snake floating in the space and I thought that there was no way that they were going to pick this, but it was kind of fun to do the drawings.  But then they picked it, and I really had to think can I build it and do I want to.  It took me 6 months and was really fun to do.  You don’t usually push yourself like that if you don’t have an end goal.  Now part of it’s on the wall, some of it’s in the basement.  My husband many times has said ‘why don’t you become a painter, it takes up much less space?’  Everything I do becomes 3 dimensional.  It might start out flat, but then I want to build. 

It’s funny how people find me.  I was invited, to talk over zoom at UK Unravel festival @farnhammaltings.  They interviewed me about my glass knitting.  Now (In the USA) they’ve started these events called Vogue knitting live.  I found out about it when I was invited to go as an artist.  It’s a 2 or 3 day event, with a market place and they sell all kinds of yarn.  I found there were a lot of peers there that I didn’t know I had. 

Gourdgeous Shisha Zum Walora

During Covid I did gourd shapes with lighting inside them.  Right now I’m doing a bunch of knots.  I have a show coming up in July in North Carolina and I’m calling it to knit or knot.  So I’m having some knitted pieces as well as some simple knots.  They’re just simple twisted forms.  Part of why I knit is meditative and stress relief.  The same with the knitting in glass, I’m working through my angst.  There have been a lot of reason for angst lately.  Knotting is another way, to make a wish.  I’m going to have a wall of knots, some of them will be knit knots.  It’s like making a wish.  The double knitting and then knotting it is extra special protection, when it’s not enough to just knit things together or knot things together, you knit knot.  The knots are the last piece in that.

I like to knit rather complex patterns.  I love colour work and cables.  I have a lot of projects that are half finished and then I forget where I was.  The pandemic was great for finishing things as I had more time to go through and figure it out.  Now it’s usually in the evenings, for a couple of hours when watching TV or listening to an audio book.  In front of the TV I’m knitting something easy, like a sock that I don’t need to pay much attention to.  If I’m starting something I do it on a Saturday afternoon to work out where I’m going. 

I like to have yarn when I travel.  I like a project that will fit in my bag so I have something to do.  I’m a compulsive maker.  I’m in the studio 8 hours a day, even at weekends.  I’m just a nicer person that way.  It feels productive, it soothes me, but I’m not ignoring other people.  I think of the UK as the world of knitting and wool, but maybe it’s not anymore. I went to Scotland, and thought great, I’ll get loads of yarn but I only came across one yarn store.  I did go to one store near a distillery and they had these balls of ends of Harris Tweed.  Just the fabric cut offs, so I knitted with some of that.  It was super bulky and kind of itchy but it looked fantastic.  I made a scarf and combined it with other yarns and it was just luscious. 

I don’t think of things as a mistake, they’re just different from what you had planned.  I don’t think anything goes wrong in terms of art.  How you deal with that is really a lot about who you are.  If you just throw it away when it’s not perfect well then you’ve thrown away all the time you’ve put into it.  I like to think of the mistakes as a feature.  That’s what I tell my students: It’s not going to turn out exactly the way your planned, and if you’re going to go crazy about that then this is not your process.  In life you can’t control everything.  You have to think do I rip it out and reconstruct it, or do I turn it into something else.  Sometimes projects are half-finished as I paused and I forgot what I was doing, and I was making it up without a pattern.  So it sits there until I have the energy to think about it and figure out where I’m going to take it from there. 

Sphere Delight

I don’t do colour work as much as I used to.  I tend to do knitting projects that have an end in sight like baby bootees, or gloves or socks.  In those, if I’ve dropped a stitch I pick it up, but otherwise I don’t pull out the whole thing.  I figure out a way to make it work, like in the Japanese concept of Wabi Sabi; finding beauty in imperfection.  Usually people can’t find the mistake; you can find it, but most people they’re not looking that closely at your work.  People have an idea that there’s a right way and a wrong way.  I have trouble with that, there is a traditional way of doing things.  Part of that is there really is a pretentious hierarchy about it.  I have my biases, I like things to be well made.  I don’t like messy stuff that looks like people didn’t have the skills and just threw it together.  But there’s no right way.  It’s exciting when you take the rules and you play with them and try to see what you can get.  My mentor didn’t think I could knit with glass, she didn’t think it would work.  That stops some people in their tracks.  But I just tried it, and it worked enough to keep going and figure it out. 

I teach workshops of knitting with glass.  I have a class scheduled for September in Seattle.  Often people make something similar to basic knitting with a needle in it.  I prefer if they play a little more, but you have to learn a technique first.  It’s not good to shut people down.  I let students know that I haven’t had success with this, or what problems they might they might encounter.  They can then make the decision if they want to try it anyway.  I think you learn more from failing than succeeding. 

We don’t give enough credit to our tactile experience of the world.

I work with my hands because I process the world that day.  The experience of touching an object, is different from seeing it.  The way we look at objects, we’re so inundated we walk past and we don’t really look anymore.  With knitted glass, people look and then they look again.  That’s what every artist dreams of.  If somebody looks twice at your work.  They’re actually seeing it.  They’re not just seeing what their mind tells them that it is, and putting it in a category and walking away.  That’s a big deal.  The things that we remember in life are whatever jumps out at us as being out of the ordinary in some way.  It’s attracted our attention for being out of the ordinary.  That’s the best thing about art, the art that pulls you out of yourself for whatever reason to actually look and see it. 

If someone looks twice, I don’t care if someone wants to buy it, or even likes it.  I just like that I’ve tickled them, I’ve jumped them out of the everyday. That’s a gift.

Want to know more? Carol is the lone pioneer in the field of knitted glass. Her next exhibition is in North Carolina, but if you can’t make that you can watch a video about how she makes her work; you can follow her on instagram; you could join one of her classes in Seattle, or you could check out her website.

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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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