To me knitting is both an ordinary and an extraordinary activity. Until very recently most young women in Australia learned to knit and many of them continued to do so into adulthood. For many it was a pleasure, for others it was a chore. But it was a fact of life that we knitted.
In my family, and in those of many of my friends, women sought out fabric and yarn always with projects in mind. A frock to be made, a jumper to be knitted. Their frugality was admired and a close eye was often kept on their purchases. They always needed to be justified.
I believe that for many women the buying of fabric and yarn and the making of functional garments and items was a justified way of meeting many of their aesthetic needs. I watched my mother, my grandmother, my aunts, and their friends fondle their purchases, hold them to their cheeks, arrange them in colour groups on shelves and in baskets. Their pleasure was obvious.
But they were often constrained by the patterns. By the rules. By the gauge, by the dye lots. Not that they saw themselves as being constrained. They just did what needed to be done, and they enjoyed doing it. They would not have seen knitting as being extraordinary. Or that they had the skills that enabled them at the same time to be making both fabric and garment or household item. That they were just a few steps away from creating unique pieces that could express their aesthetic yearnings in other dimensions. That the domestic could so easily translate to the exotic.
I see much of my current work as exotic versions of the domestic. Extraordinary interpretations of the ordinary. The opportunity to buy and make beautiful yarns is an important part of this. Many of the pieces I make start with the materials. The stimulus comes from the materials themselves. Accidental combinations of yarns occur when I’m rearranging my workroom. Their placement near the window allows me to see them in different lights. The feel of the mohair as I spin it with the silk starts me thinking about how I could incorporate it into the next hat.
The solution to technical problems – like ends – has also become the starting point of many pieces. And the ‘fixing’ of what at first seemed to be mistakes has frequently added other dimensions that later become basic features of some pieces. Time and opportunity are key features too. Time and opportunity to think and imagine. Time to experiment and the opportunity to cast aside an experiment that didn’t work.
In my generation ordinary women in Australia are allowed to be artists. Our mothers and grandmothers were only very rarely afforded the time and opportunities to express themselves in ways that they, and others, saw as art. I cannot know what most of them would have said if I had discussed any of these ideas with them. But I do know that their talents and skill underpin much of what I do in my work today. My gratitude to them is hard to put into words.