Beyond the loom: fiber as sculpture (Exhibition)

“Beyond the loom” was an exhibition within the large exhibition of women’s art “Women Take the Floor” in Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Visited in January 2020. It featured the groundbreaking fiber works from the 1950s to 2000s by female artists. Inspirational.

In the 1960s and 70s, a number of pioneering women in America radically redefined textiles as modern art. Coopting a medium traditionally associated with women’s work and domesticity, these artists boldly broke free from the constraints of the loom to create large-scale, sculptural weavings that engaged with movements such as Minimalism and Abstraction. This “fiber revolution” sprang from a new philosophical emphasis on structure in textile art, as well as revived interest in tapestry weaving and the brilliance of the ancient Peruvian textiles.

From the introduction to the exhibition

Anni Albers (1899-1994), Dotted Weaving, 1959

I think [weaving] is the closest to architecture, because it is a building up out of a single element – building a whole out of single elements

Anni Albers
Wool, compound weave

Sheila Hicks (born 1934), Linen facets (1988)

Lenore Tawney (1907-2007),
The Fountain of Word and Water (1963)

Water is fertilizing and water is dissolving and water is cleansing and water is life-giving… Water is thrilling.

Lenore Tawney
Knotted linen

Olga de Amaral (born 1932), Strata II (2007)

In the 1980s Olga de Amaral began to experiment with gold and silver leaf, connecting her work in fiber with a long history of indigenous Colombian metalwork artists.

From the exhibit description
Linen plain weave, gesso, acrylic and gold leaf

Ruth Asawa (1926-2013), Untitled (1952)
Kay Sekimachi (born 1926), Amiyase V (1956)

Everything has its limitations, and fiber does… and of course the loom has many limitations. I love working within limitations.

Kay Sekimachi
Foreground: work by Kay Sekimachi.
Woven nylon 6 monofilament

Sheila Hicks (born 1934), Bamian (1968)

All of the threads are actors on stage and none of them are hidden. They’re all part of the oevre

Sheila Hicks
Wool and acrylic yarn, wrapped

"Komi" hat with ear-flaps

The diagonal patterns of Finno-Ugric textiles inspired the hat with ear-flaps. This is the last project of the year and the most challenging. I share design ideas in this post.

For about a year and a half I fiddled with the idea of a hat with ear-flaps. A “couture look” was my lofty goal:
– ear-flaps should be one with a hat
– a large-scale pattern should flow from the ear-flap tips to the top as if the hat is if it is custom-cut from a whole piece of cloth
– combination of contrasting and gradient colors

This was a technically ambitious project. Perfect to finish the year but a bit difficult to write about.

I will break up the post into two parts. Something to share with textile artists of every level.
The part about choosing yarns, patterns and colors is for all levels of aspiring knitwear artists. The brief instructions how to shape ear-flaps are for the technically sophisticated.

The cozy hat with Finno-Ugric diagonal patterns.
Bottom-up knitting.

Techniques used

  • Judy’s Magic Invisible Cast-on (to knit the inner and outer layers. The knitting goes in both directions. The cast-on becomes a fold line. There are plenty good YouTube videos about this technique – look up!)
  • Short rows, Japanese style (to create ear-flaps. I found instructions online as well.)
  • Stranded color work knitting (optional)
  • To prevent curling, the bottom of the hat is knit into two opposite directions from the cast-on row. There will be 7-8 cm (or 3 in) of double-layering over the ears and forehead.

Yarns, patterns and colors

Choosing yarns

Creative mix of different yarns – fluffy angora and smooth merino – produces a wonderful “watercolor washout” effect.

Background:
Forrest Green,
Dark Orange
angora-merino blendrated for #5-7 needles1 skein each.
1/2 skein of Dark Orange left
Foreground:
Medium blue,
Bright blue
Light blue
merinorated for #4 needles1 1/2 skeins from Katia Ombre gradient set

Choosing needle size

Ignore the recommended needle size on the label if you are making a hat. The fabric should be dense, but thin. It should retain the shape and to shield from the cold. I used #2 needles – a much smaller size than recommended.

Ideas for patterns and colors

I adopted the traditional Finno-Ugric textile patterns ( See the previous post about Komi textile patterns) as a basis for design. The diagonal patterns come in wide variety of sizes, but all of them are all based on a rudimentary 6×6 pattern.
The background colors are contrasting and of the same intensity (Forrest Green, Dark Orange).
The foreground colors are gradient of the same color (blue).
Change one color at a time to achieve the harmonious transitions.
The number of rows for each color combination should be a multiple of 6 (or close to it):

BackgroundForegroundRows knitted
Forrest GreenDark blue (not the best combo, alas…)apx 12 rows
Forrest Green Medium blue apx 36 rows
Forrest Green Light blue 6 rows
Dark OrangeLight blueapx 24 rows
Dark OrangeMedium blue6 rows
Forrest GreenMedium blueapx 18 rows
The diagonal Finno-Ugoric patterns used for the hat

Ear-flaps: very brief instructions

I must be honest….


1) It is easier if you can knit with either hand: there is no need to turn over the fabric. This is how I knit, but the ear-flaps are doable without a trick of ambidexterity. Just skip the stranded colorwork at the bottom edge of the hat.

Below are several earlier models with ear-flaps: the hats look just fine without all-over stranded colorwork.

Simple version of the hat with ear-flaps.
This plain model looks lovely: the ear-flaps are made of light-green angora and the body is of soft gray alpaca.

2) Try to practice with some junk yarn until you get the technique that is just right for you. The first experiments – especially with my brief written instructions – might not be promising. Mine were not. It took me quite a while to get the technique straight.

3) Planning is a key to success.

I created a diagram of the whole hat, marking not only front and back middle stitches, but also the beginning and the end of each ear-flap and the ear-flap centers.

Well, caveat emptor is stated…

Now back to the brief instructions…


The same instructions apply to knitting both layers of the hat. The double-layer part of the hat is about 7-8cm (3 in.) over the forehead.
From that point, the layers are joined.

The knitting of the inner and outer layers of the hat goes in opposite directions from the Judy’s Magic Invisible Cast-on row.

Use Judy’s Magic Invisible Cast-on (plenty of how-to videos on YouTube). The cast-on will become the folding line for the layers.

Use thinner yarn for the inner layer. I chose the combination of angora (baby blue, over the ears) and very thin wool-silk yarn for the rest of the inner layer. Both colors fit the color scheme of the outer stranded colorwork.

Cast-on: Judy’s Magic Invisible Cast.
The close-up of the cast-on. Note the tiny knots: they should end up inside the fold of two layers.

Place markers: back, front and mark the ears. Especially – the center of each ear-flap. It is critical for symmetry. Use odd number of stitches for ear-flaps: 1 central stitch makes things easier to track.

For inner and outer layer repeat the same procedure (with your minor personal adjustments, of course.)

Knit the whole first row in a round. Knit 2 stitches together 3-4 stitches before and after the center of each potential ear-flap.

Shaping an ear-flap with short rows

The picture is worth a thousand words. It shows how to shape the left ear-flap with ever-increasing short rows. The right ear is a mirror image of the left.

Instructions for shaping left ear-flap.

Note that you cast 12 stitches more than required: it is for controlling excess fabric from short rows.

The outer and inner layers are knit in more or less identical fashion: after shaping of ear-flaps is done, knit in a round 7-8 in (3 cm).

Both inner and outer layers are done. This is the bottom edge of the hat.
It looks like a tube with two triangular sacks sticking out. The sacks will flatten during blocking.

Now is the easy part: fold the layers along the cast-on line, transfer the stitches from both layers onto one round needle (one stitch for the inner layer, one stitch from the outer layer, one stitch for the inner layer, one stitch from the outer layer… until all on one needle). Knit together.

Continue knitting in a round into whatever shape you choose.

My version came out like on the picture below.
I wonder what yours will look like… Keep on creating!

Aunt Dottie: the heritage of a humble New Hampshire knitter

Humble New Hampshire knitter made sweaters for her extended family. It became a collection lovingly preserved by her nephew. The collection reflects the hand-knitting trends of the 1970s-80s.

While taking a lunch walk, I saw the unusual exhibition in the hallways of the building in Portsmouth, NH: the walls hung with hand-knit colorful sweaters.
The nephew of the woman he calls aunt Dottie knitted over 70 sweaters for the family as Christmas gifts.
An individual sweater on display was not a work of art. Many are the replicas of commercial patterns. Some of aunt Dottie’s designs are lacking composition. The workmanship of some is not the best.
What counts here is the whole body of aunt Dottie’s work.
The messages and intentions that were knitted into the sweaters.
They reflect the ages and the interests of the giver and the recipients of the sweaters.
There is an interesting historical aspect of the exhibition: it reflects the American knitting aesthetics of the 1970s-80s. Large, bold patterns. Heavier yarn of bright, contrasting colors.