Beyond the Basics

Once I was beyond the basics of sewing and knitting I joined the family tradition of using and reusing yarns and fabrics: the left over pieces of grandmother’s flannelette nightdress becoming the yokes of little sister’s pyjamas and the spare ball of yarn from last year’s school jumper turning up as the pockets of this year’s cardigan. Nothing was wasted. Colours and textures were compared, matched and contrasted, threads and buttons sought out to complement and highlight clothes, accessories, and items for the home. It was an era when homemade was not fashionable but the ‘doing’ was admired.

I knitted plain and simple for me and my family right through to the early 1980s when I started to do patchwork and quilting and when I had money of my own to take to the fabric and yarn stores. I started collecting luscious fabrics for the patchwork and yarns of many colours for Fair Isle and intarsia work
In March 1987 I walked into a bookshop and found Kaffe Fassett’s Glorious Knitting. Things changed fast. Soon the fabrics were being given away and the yarn supply was increasing single ball by single ball of every colour and texture and type. This was knitting liberation for me and I started playing. Knitting before had been pleasant work, now I was able to use my knitting skills and the range of yarns to make fabric and garments different to anything I had ever done before. And again nothing was wasted. The smallest pieces of yarn being kept to become part of the next garment.

I started making up my own designs and translated patchwork ideas into them. A group of friends who met regularly to sew and knit together started having small exhibitions in our homes and in community centres. We gave ourselves different ‘label’ names and started getting serious about having swing tags etc. I used the name Women of Fibre, a name I had thought in previous years to use to describe women from previous generations of my family who, as basically ordinary people, had achieved or done some quite extraordinary things.

It seemed entirely appropriate for the work I was now doing, so much of it influenced by them. In the early 1990s my body was starting to protest all the knitting I was doing. I was enjoying my first travel in Europe and the UK and met a professional knit designer in Scotland who told me about a knitting machine that would help me make fabric with the yarns I was using. It was a simple bed of latch hooks and a hand operated carriage that produced stocking stitch fabric. When I got home I bought one and had a five minute lesson. This machine has changed my knitting as dramatically as Kaffe Fassett’s book had done. The learning curve was steep, fast and exciting and the simple technology delighted me. I mixed yarns of different plies, types and colours as I had done before but now had ends to deal with. When I hand knit I weave the ends in as I go giving added texture and interest to the pieces. Dealing with the machine knitted ends originally presented various problems.

The solutions to those problems enabled me to produce fabrics and garments that enhance the combinations of yarns and textures in ways that are quite different to my hand knitted work. Basically I braid and embroider the ends to produce surface texture over and above the texture of the yarn and the shape of the stitches. I also do intarsia over one, two, three or four needles with many different yarns across the whole bed of needles enabling me to produce plush fabrics when I trim the yarns each row.

Early in 1994 my daughter introduced me to her friend Vicky Gill who was studying textiles at the Canberra School of Art and who encouraged me to show my work beyond Canberra. I entered a piece in the New Zealand International Wearable Art Awards – it was selected and exhibited for the finals parade. Likewise the piece I entered in 1995. In 1996 I started attending the Fibre Forum workshops run by TAFTA in Mittagong N.S.W. This gave me the opportunity to show my work to a wider group of people in Australia and to meet other textile artists. That year at Mittagong I met up with a group of Canberra textile artists and we began meeting regularly. In 1999 we are mounted an exhibition of our work with the organising principle Unfettered. There were several more in the following years

I started giving lectures and conducting workshops in Canberra and shared my techniques with others mostly through the aegis of the Canberra Spinners and Weavers group.

At the beginning of 1998 I bought a computer and the learning curve for that was as exciting and as steep as that for the knitting machine and possibly hand knitting before that. Through the internet I met and was inspired by many knitters and textile artists throughout Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the US, Ireland, the UK, and many other places. My work was changing in response to the conversations I was having through these contacts and those at home. The prospects were entirely unknown and very exciting.

womenoffibre

Soon after I had a website built by Paul Callaghan of Bega and I was particularly excited by the home page he put together. I was continuing to go to Forums and started being invited to do workshops further from home. The 2000s were very busy workshop wise. There were grandchildren being born and there was knitting to be done for them as well. I retired from work, the workshop requests increased and I was soon travelling to New Zealand as well.

In 2004 my beloved younger brother Geoff died in Brisbane. He was always interested in ideas, including knitting ideas, especially as he and his wife Jenny were sheep farmers. In the 1990s we used to talk books, including the one he was writing. He encouraged me to start documenting my knitting and once we realised that our mother Esmé was not going to have time to write her book it became clear that the Women of Fibre book I was planning could include her family history work as well. She was delighted.

Four years later she and my father Eric died in Brisbane in June and we gathered to celebrate their lives lived well. I brought many treasures, mostly textile related, home as well as boxes and boxes of family history. Since then I’ve been going through it all, documenting it and deciding where it can all go. Much of it will be documented in this website and in Yarn and Vintage Made magazines. Some may even make it into the long promised Women of Fibre book.

My older brother Alan was very interested in the family history stuff too and generously documented some of the journeyings we as a family did in the 1950s. He died in 2011. But I think of him and Geoff and my parents often as I continue documenting all this and I reckon that when the book eventually comes out it will probably be dedicated to them.