A square for Bobby Baker

I so enjoyed reading Kate’s account of designing a square for Adrienne Rich for our blanket. The poem she describes – An Atlas of The Difficult World – is one of many amazing works to which Kate introduced me through this project. If you are thinking about designing your own blanket with other people, I reckon that researching your squares, sharing stories, and making time to talk about what they represent are at least of equal importance to the actual knitting.

Like Kate, I use Adobe Illustrator to generate my charts, but I always feel the curvy shapes of knitted stitches do unexpected things to a charted design and that the only way to be absolutely sure of how the thing is going to look is to make swatches. I admire the efficiency of Kate’s design process immensely, and one of the treats for me about working on this project was gaining an insight into how she and Mel work together with charts and knitting. I loved seeing the seamless way that Mel’s hands translate Kate’s charts, and also her concise and thoughtful comments coming back “Should this square be blue?” “Have changed this one” etc.

My own process is less efficient and quite a bit slower. Although Adobe Illustrator definitely features, I also find I need some slow time spent with pencils and paper, and knitting on my swatches. This is time to think about the context of what I’m making, and also to get into the details of my designs. To describe how I work, I thought I’d start by introducing the square that I designed to commemorate one of my favourite artists of all time: Bobby Baker.

knitted square depicting four interwoven curls of moulded bread dough on a background of bread dough

This square features four moulded loops of bread dough, and recalls the protective breast pizza from the outfit Bobby creates in one of her iconic performances, Cook Dems. I chose this motif because it is the same one that Bobby herself wears on the cover of her magnificent book, Redeeming Features of Daily Life, and because it is emblazoned on a celebratory cupcake which Bobby Baker gave out at a talk I attended over a decade ago and which I have kept as a cherished memento, (time has turned it rather grey and ghoulish).

black and white book cover in which Bobby Baker is shown wearing white cookery overalls, a protective breast pizza and a pair of hand-baked antlers

Commemorative cupcake featuring Bobby Baker's Breast Pizza motif printed on icing in green and black shades

the cupcake, a decade old, with printed edible icing now faded beyond recognition and light fossilising evident at the edges of the very old icing

About Bobby Baker

I knew that a celebration of Bobby Baker would need to reference bread, cake, cooking implements or other materials found in British, middle-class domestic space, for these form the expressive basis of her work. In the 1970s, Bobby Baker had newly graduated from art school and felt deeply alienated from the art world and the domineering, vast, metal sculptures that were popular at the time. As a young, emerging artist, she supplemented her income by selling decorated cakes by mail order. One day, upon completing a baseball-boot cake, she had the amazing revelation that cake was her sculptural medium:

Suddenly it was like the heavens opened and a new thought shone into my brain – I’d made a Work of Art, a sculpture of equal status to Anthony Caro’s epic and huge metal sculptures. For a long time I just laughed with delight at the sheer irreverence of this decision to name such a pathetic, poorly crafted object ‘A Work of Art of Great Significance’. But I knew at the same moment that it was a pivotal turning point for me as an artist – I had discovered my own language, material, form – something that began to echo my fleeting thinking.

Bobby Baker's now iconic baseball-boot cake

Soft, perishable, undeniably drenched in complex social meanings, using this material as a sculptural medium enabled Bobby Baker to begin making art in a way that fit the complex, social themes she wanted to address. Thirty years later, as an MA and then PhD student exploring the significance of the everyday and domestic soundscape, I was drawn to the potent sonic materials of everyday life by the same forces which had inspired Bobby to start making art out of cake. I felt I had found a creative ancestor in Bobby Baker, and her work remains a vital reference point for my own.

In 2009, I was commissioned by Sound & Music to produce a contextualising series of podcasts for the Cut & Splice Festival which was, that year, themed around domestic spaces and living rooms. With kind permission, I used audio from some of Bobby Baker’s amazing performances to give a socially-engaged, feminist perspective on the tensions and complexities of the domestic soundscape. (You can hear that here.) In projects like this one, and in my doctoral research, I examined the links between our work. I also gained confidence in using humour by seeing how Bobby Baker did the same to broach complicated subjects like post-natal depression; class oppression; and the lack of respect and recognition for the domestic labour that produces and maintains the human race. For a long while, I had Marina Walker’s essay about Bobby Baker – The Rebel at the Heart of the Joker – stuck on my studio wall, where it exercised a kind of magical influence over my ideas.

Bobby Baker is intentionally naughty, deliberately playing with her food and making a mess, all the while carving out a space of agency and creative freedom in the same domestic contexts which have historically been restrictive spaces for women. Shocking, uncomfortable, vulnerable and teetering between tragedy and comedy, Bobby Baker’s work takes the very stuff of the Nice White Lady Home and turns it into a radical, liberatory critique of itself. Flour and juice become spattering paints that speak viscerally to the physical experiences of motherhood; cake becomes a sculptural medium “Of Great Significance” and packed lunches become a vehicle for pointed explorations of social class and identity.

The breast pizza (designed to protect the wearer against criticism) is a fantastic emblem of the spirit of invention and vulnerability that characterises Bobby’s practice. Cook Dems – the performance of which it is a part – also involves the creation of bread antlers (to increase one’s status) and a bread-ball skirt (to add that touch of glamour).

Cook Dems - Bobby Baker wearing breadball skirt, bread antlers, and protective breast pizza

After baking and donning these items, the piece culminates in a triumphal kitchen dance. In her book, Bobby gives a very moving description of taking this show on the road in the 1990s and bringing it to community centres around the country. She describes arriving “at a windswept estate overlooking the Clyde on the edge of Greenock” with her friend Pol (Polona Baloh Brown). They were greeted by a “group of sewing ladies” who were clearly expecting a fairly standard cookery demonstration and were surprised to find themselves in the middle of a subversive, feminist art performance:

In this instance, as with most, there comes a moment when people stop trying to make sense of what’s going on and just get into the swing of things. This was a particularly joyful occasion – my dream success event. They all chipped in and bantered all the way through. Their gritty, bawdy wit and appreciation of the innuendo was far greater than mine, so they took the concept miles further. When I did my final dance they all joined in and we shrieked with laughter together at the need for most women, and a lot of men, to wear a pair of baked antlers and just laugh, laugh, laugh.

To me, this description epitomises the value, impact and potential of community art projects, and the special genius of Bobby Baker’s work which is somehow able to unite people briefly in life-affirming experiences which reframe daily life as magical and transformative. I would love to hear from the women involved in this performance, and to ask whether they found – as I do, thinking about it now – that bread and the act of baking took on a special significance after being explored through this joyful creative lens. Thinking of this story again, the protective breast pizza comes to symbolise the pathos and risk in Bobby Baker’s work. How many of us would drive hundreds of miles to meet with a group of strangers in a community centre, and persuade them to join us in a potentially ridiculous, definitely uncertain, creative adventure? To be so willing to be that vulnerable with strangers takes immense bravery.

A closeup of the protective breast pizza Bobby Baker wears on the cover of her book

I certainly have found myself in various community arts settings over the years drawing strength from the stories of Bobby Baker’s practice, and perhaps emboldened by the thought of her valiant bread shield. In this, and in so many other ways, Bobby Baker’s work has had a profound impact on my own work with domestic sounds. However, she’s also influenced how I view knitting as a deliberate and feminist choice of medium which – like cake – is steeped in social and domestic references which make it a potent mode of expression. Bobby Baker is one of a generation of artists who insisted on the significance of women’s material culture, and who fought for it to have its own space and recognition in art history. Including her amongst my 15 blanket squares was about celebrating a particular branch of feminist arts practice using the fitting medium of knitted stitches.

About Bobby Baker’s Square

To design a square in honour of Bobby Baker, I first of all examined the shapes of the sculpted bread dough featured in her protective breast pizza. The four quarters of my blanket square were to be identical – which the four quarters of Bobby Baker’s protective breast pizza are not – so I knew I was aiming for an approximation, at best. A homage.

How to plan and visualise the quarters of my square? The actual chart used to knit the squares is bisected by the column of decreases that runs up the centre, which makes it hard to imagine how the finished square will look.

template showing the blank outline of the chart for Square Share

To help me visualise things more easily, I made a template for swatching which places one quarter of the finished square into its own space. I then filled the space outwith the quarter with a “lice” pattern (*k1 in background shade, k1 in pattern shade, repeat from * until all the stitches have been filled). This allowed me to get a sense of what each quarter of my square would look like in far less time than it would have taken me to knit an actual square, and enabled me to modify my designs in response to seeing them appearing in knitted form.

A blank chart which shows one quarter of the knitted square that will comprise the eventual design

Hirst – a lovely oatmeal shade – seemed an ideal base to suggest the breadiness of Bobby Baker’s protective breast pizza and then the rest of my design process focused on using Birkin, Bruce, Hare and Horseback Brown – (grey, charcoal, mid and dark browns, respectively) – to try to describe the pleasing, loafen materiality of Bobby Baker’s bread sculpture.

Shades of Milarrochy Tweed: Bruce, Horseback Brown, Hare, Birkin and Hirst

First chart attempt - a slender roll of bread charted as one quarter of ablanket square

Skinny Bread roll knitted from first chart

The first attempt looked, to me, too skinny. Although it is proportionately close to the size of the bread swirls on their background of bread in Bobby Baker’s shield, in this low-resolution rendering, without all the pleasing texture present in the original, I felt the knitted lines had to all be thickened by way of a compromise. It just didn’t look hefty enough for a shield. I tinkered with my chart in Adobe Illustrator until the moulded piece of bread looked thicker. Increasing the width of the loop of the bread dough in my square quarter enabled me to add in some more of the cracks and fissures that would be present on an actual baked bread crust.

Second chart attempt - a thicker roll of bread dough charted as one quarter of a blanket square

Thicker Bread roll knitted from second chart

This is one of the swatches for which the chart was developed in Adobe Illustrator, but once I printed out the charts, I made some marks in order to indicate where each of my double-pointed-needles ended, and to show myself where to change colour. I always knit from printed or drawn charts, which I place on a magnetic board. A magnet, which is also a ruler, helps me keep track of which row of the chart I am on. For this design I refined my chart in Adobe Illustrator but in many other cases, I did all my chart workings in pencil on my printed out paper template. Once it was clear to me that the second idea for the chart was working for me as knitting, it was a case of transferring my design from the wedge template into the chart template proper, for Mel.

Proper Bobby Baker Bread chart blanket square

This whole process – and sharing it with you today – have been an amazing opportunity to revisit the artistry and influence of Bobby Baker; I hope you have enjoyed reading about her work as much as I have enjoyed commemorating it in our blanket.

If you would like to make a swatch to help visualise your finished squares, you are very welcome to download my template for doing so here: blanket workshop worksheet LGF 1; this morning Kate also added the worksheet template I used for making my swatches to the Square Share Pattern, so that if you would like to try my swatching method for yourself, you can.

I hope you enjoyed reading about Bobby Baker and my knitted celebration of her work – until soon,
YOURS IN WOOL & BREAD,
Fx

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Square Share

Towards the end of last summer my friend Kate of KDD & Co. visited me here in Reading so we could plan a collaborative project. Our idea was to design something together which would speak to our shared interests in the creative possibilities of stranded colourwork, and the textures of womens’ lives, history, and creativity. We wanted to build on our many conversations over the years, and to work with our mutual friend, collaborator and comrade, Mel.

That meeting of many months ago has culminated in the co-creation of a celebratory, commemorative blanket.

celebratory stranded colourwork blanket, made up of many different, intricately-designed squares

This blanket represents many hours of exploring our own feminism; thinking about the people whose creative practices have informed our own; and the slow process of finding ways to appropriately and respectfully translate their work into stranded colourwork designs. Kate has written a bit about this process on the KDD & Co. blog today and we will both share more in coming days but, in the meantime, if you want to have a go at designing your own squares, you can download the blank chart template for doing so here.

In our friendship Kate and I are always enthusing to one another about artists, writers, designers and makers whose work speaks to us: “have you read…” “have you seen…” “have you heard…”. We wanted to infuse our blanket with that same spirit of joyous sharing. The final piece features 30 squares, each of which is inspired by the work of a maker who has, in turn, inspired us. Kate and I designed 15 squares each which Mel then knitted up, making helpful improvements to our charts and joining in with the conversations prompted by the background story for each square.

celebratory stranded colourwork blanket, made up of many different, intricately-designed squares

The process of celebrating anyone’s life and work is complex and researching and developing our squares for this project challenged us to think carefully about representation and commemoration. Also, a small colourwork square presents very particular limitations. It’s a low-resolution medium; the format of the squares and the shape of their chart means that designs repeat four times around each one; and working with Kate’s Milarrochy Tweed restricted us to a palette of 16 shades. These constraints imposed structure and discipline onto our ideas and forced us to regard the work and legacy of each of the women celebrated in a very particular way. Like the knitted postcards of Yumi and Muriel’s magnificent #KnittedCorrespondence project, each square offers a very small canvas for experimentation, learning, and exchange.

Too, there were questions about what our final choices should be, and what sort of feminist celebration our finished blanket would represent. This led to many challenging and thoughtful conversations as we thought about different intersections of identity and the shifting definitions of what feminism has meant to us at different stages in our friendship of over a decade. The process of poring over poems, letters, paintings, album covers and other manifestations of womens’ creativity was deeply moving and made me appreciate the many messy and multi-layered ways in which other women inspire me and influence my ideas. From the books beside my bed, to the sweaters I knit and wear, to what I watch, to the images stuck up on my kitchen cupboards, to the music I listen to, record, and mix, my life and my work are messily and joyously and intentionally connected with the creative expressions of a very diverse range of women. These connections lift me up and give me hope; they challenge me; they affirm me and my experiences but they also teach me about places within my feminism where I need more understanding, awareness and empathy. All these different layers and levels of inspiration and connection are stitched into our blanket and sketched into the pages where we worked out the details of our squares.

The collaborative nature of the project also meant that while exploring both old and new feminist ideas, I was also introduced to new perspectives, identities and makers by Kate and her designs. What a gift, for example, to find the moving performance poetry of Suheir Hammad…

a knitted square featuring a swirly red heart motif against a background of black, beige and green

…and to be introduced to the inspiring world of Alice Coltrane’s compositions and performances, whose album cover for Ptah the El Daoud, influenced Kate’s swirling commemoration of her work.

knitted square featuring swirling motifs in black and red against a background of blues, greys and greens

There are many more stories and connections embedded in our blanket – each of which deserve their own posts, really – but while we’re working on those, you can read more about the whole project here.

knitted blanket comprised of complex stranded colourwork squares

Working on this together was an immense privilege – a project both personal and political, and one that has made me think about what sort of feminist I want to be and why I even knit in the first place. From our first conversations about the blanket until now, we have hoped our project might inspire other groups to get together to create collaborative, commemorative blankets and to use that process as an opportunity for growth, dialogue and creative exploration. In that spirit, we’re starting to share what we’ve made together with you.

We really hope our work will give you ideas for your own Square Share.
Who will you celebrate, how will you commemorate their work? Who will you recognise and what will you learn from engaging with their work through creative processes of charting, knitting, swatching and design?
Perhaps – most importantly – with whom will you share your squares?

With greatest thanks to Kate and Mel for being such willing, thoughtful, challenging, supportive and constructive comrades through this creative project: it has been amazing to KNITSONIK with KDD & Co..

YOURS IN ALL THE KNITTED SQUARES,
Until soon –
Fx

a multicoloured blanket comprised of stranded colourwork squares, photographed from a dramatic angle

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Skystone Hat

In my last post I shared the Skystone Armwarmers I was knitting in August.

Skystone armwarmers in pinecone colourway

These armwarmers were knit using the pattern I produced for Arnall-Culliford’s well thought out book, Boost Your Knitting: Another Year of Techniques. The motif is meant to suggest any inspiration source that has lots of little, differently-sized bits in it… from puffs of cloud in the sky above, to the little rocks and stones underfoot on any beach, or embedded in tarmac. Hence the name, Skystone.

I changed the palette to one of browns, greys and creams to make pinecone-inspired armwarmers, but kept thinking that the motif would look amazing arranged around the crown of a hat, so I designed the Skystone Hat.

In this form, and in these colours, the geometry of the pattern really begins to suggest a pine cone to me.

On Sunday, my friend Sasha modeled the Skystone hat for me. She patiently hugged trees…

…held pine cones…

…peeped from between branches…

…and helped me find the best puddles of sunlight on a sunny, September day.

Thank you so much, Sasha.

Now that I have written this pattern up, I keep imagining it in other palettes which celebrate organic forms. Artichokes, succulents, roses, cacti, sea anemones… what will you use as inspiration for YOUR Skystone Hat?

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Under the Himalayan White Pine

The KNITSONIK System emerged, in part, out of my continually picking things up, or being in places, and thinking I WANT TO KNIT THIS… but then having no clear way to action that vague, common impulse. My Sourcebook is full of strategies for tuning my wish into reality, and for ploughing through what can sometimes seem the insurmountable gap between being inspired and knitting a thing.

A few months ago I found something under a tree in The Harris Garden which instantly made me think I WANT TO KNIT THIS.

Large woody pinecone from the Himalayan White Pine

A pinecone, large and comely, and possessed of an elegant geometry.

Closeup of pinecone and shapely spines

Its shapes instantly reminded me of the motif for the Skystone Armwarmers I had just finished designing for Arnall-Culliford Knitwear’s Boost Your Knitting Programme & Publication.

Geometric knitting motifs for Skystone Armwarmers

Knowing a KAL would be integral to the launch of this pattern, I filed the pinecone under INSPIRATION. It meandered around our shelves and tables, winking at us with its glorious warm brown blush and resinous patina, and I wondered which shades I might use.

The more I looked at it, the more tones and hues I saw.

Different shades of brown, FC44, FC58 and 4 in the J&S yarn range read from left to right

As the KAL drew nearer, I toyed with various palettes but eventually settled on FC44, FC58 and 4 for the browns in the background which are respectively goldish, purplish and softish browns.

Pinecone pictured beside paler shades of yarn sequenced from top to bottom, 202, 2, 61, FC45 and 32

Then for the pattern, to speak to how the light hits the sticky pinecone spines, I chose 202, 2, 61, FC45 and 32 which I’d describe as cool cream, warm brown, milky coffee, caramel and cinnamon brown.

These colours have been comforting to knit and the connection between the pinecone and the restorative pleasures of walking in the Harris Garden drew me back there a couple of weekends ago to share my knitting with its inspiration source and to learn more about the tree that made the pinecone.

Himalayan White Pine

It’s a Himalayan White Pine. it is tall and lovely.

Looking up into the branches of the Himalayan White Pine

Himalayan White Pine needles

You can make tea from its needles;

Himalayan White Pine Needle Tea

you can make incense from the dried, resinous pinecones;

incense bowl with resinous pine cone smoking in it

you can sit underneath it and knit.

Felix sitting underneath the Himalayaln White Pine and knitting

Knitting needles and yarns on the forest floor underneath the pine tree

The whole experience of knitting from the tree, reading about the tree and studying the fruits of the tree sent me down a rabbit-hole of ALL THINGS PINE.

Pinecone rubber stamp and Pinecone armwarmers

While knitting my Skystone Armwarmers, I decided to split-splice my ends together as I went, rather than weave them all in at the end. Various techniques exist, but I like to run a needle-tip through an inch or so of each of the yarns I wish to join, separating the two plies. I then lay the four plies of yarn side by side in the palm of my hand, spritz them with water, then roll vigorously between my palms until they are felted together. I have a tiny aluminium bottle for spritzing while I splice to which I had the idea to add a few drops of pine and cedar essential oils. This made my knitting smell nice while I worked on it, but it also kept bringing me back to the joy of the tree that had inspired it.

Skystone armwarmers in pinecone colourway

It’s been so amazing to be part of this KAL and to find all the different ways in which other comrades are inspired to turn everyday life into stranded colourwork. There’s a great post mentioning some of the different projects here on the Arnall-Culliford blog and the projects on Ravelry offer a real feast of colours.

There is so much colour and joy in the KAL thread, that I was inspired to produce a special playlist dedicated to exploring the theme of colours in sounds, songs and soundart – subscribers to my newsletter will hear more about that in coming days.

For now, I’ve been working on a more forest-themed playlist. Knitting my pinecone into a pair of armwarmers has deepened my appreciation for the Himalayan White Pine, and given these cooler August days a soft brown edge – a whisper – of autumn.

YOURS IN PINECONES AND ARMWARMERS,
Fx

Pinecone Armwarmers, incense, prints and glove blockers

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Skystone Armwarmers

Do you know about Boost Your Knitting? It’s an empowering and thoughtful knitting programme devised and co-ordinated by my friends at Arnall-Culliford Knitwear.

Boost Your Knitting is a year of techniques taught through monthly knitalongs; video tutorials; and a specially-curated set of patterns by different designers. It will culminate in the publication of a printed book later in the year. Knitting the designs results in accessories that are warm to wear, yet which also offer manageable routes into learning new techniques. I love that all the patterns produced for Boost Your Knitting are intentionally conceived as markers of process and learning: such projects are my very favourite to knit, wear, and design. For all these reasons, I was thrilled when Jen and Jim asked me to be part of their project last autumn. Yesterday, my design – Skystone Armwarmers was revealed.

So, what technique does my design – Skystone Armwarmers – explore?

This project is about choosing colours for stranded colourwork. I wanted to produce a pattern with an adaptable motif, which could be knit in different colours to suggest a wide range of different inspiration sources. In knitting stranded colourwork from daily life, I continuously come up against things which could be loosely described as ‘surfaces with differently-coloured “bits” in them’. A bowl of salad; pebbles in a riverbed; spatterings of lichen on a tree; a jar full of odd buttons; a posy of flowers… Rather than reinventing the wheel and trying to invent a new motif every time I encounter such an inspiration source, I thought it might be useful to devise one motif suggestive of differently-sized “bits”, the palette for which could be modified to convey a variety of inspiring contexts. Once I had come up with the motif, my job for the tutorial section of Boost Your Knitting was to provide a simple framework for putting colours together. In developing the pattern and tutorial, my hope is to offer a more tightly-contained and bite-size entry point into the concepts, ideas and processes on which my KNITSONIK books and classes are based.

I developed the designs and colourways for the samples which appear in Boost Your Knitting based on bits of cloud over a darkening sky spotted last autumn in our beloved park…

…and on differently-coloured stones spotted on Porlock Beach.

The process of how I picked the colours for each of these designs is explained in the video below, which I made with Jen and Jim some months back. It’s about half an hour long so it’s worth getting a tea or coffee ahead of sitting down to watch, but I hope that it will help you with what I know is a continuous source of angst for many knitters: choosing colours for stranded colourwork.

If you feel inspired by all this to cast on some stranded colourwork you are very welcome to join the KAL that’s taking place in the AC Knitwear Ravelry group this month. Many folk will be knitting Skystone Armwarmers, but this is not compulsory. If you want to knit with us, you can join in with any stranded colourwork pattern/yarn combination of your choice – just use the free video tutorial to help you pick your yarn shades.

Here are the KAL details copied across from the AC Knitwear group:

Prizes
AC Knitwear will be awarding the following prizes, chosen at random from eligible entries, at the end of the knitalong month:

  • A £20 voucher for use in the AC Knitwear online shop
  • Three prizes of a single pattern download from the KNITSONIK Ravelry store

Rules
In order to be eligible for a prize you need to…

  • Be a member of the Arnall-Culliford Knitwear Ravelry group
  • Post a photo of your work in progress in the KAL thread
  • Tag your project page on Ravelry with BoostYourKnitting
  • You need to choose colours for stranded colourwork, but it doesn’t have to be for the Skystone Armwarmers pattern
  • Works in progress are fine as long as there is a sensible amount of work remaining
  • You don’t need to complete your project within the month – it’s the taking part that counts. 🙂

Aims
AC Knitwear aim for knitalongs to be as inclusive as possible. You are welcome in our knitalongs regardless of race, colour, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, size, ability, financial circumstances, language, or where you are from. We will not tolerate any form of hate speech, whether intentional or not. We are working on the ways in which our business can be more inclusive and have better representation of all knitters. We are continuing to work on this behind the scenes, but we also welcome being informed if we miss something that goes against this aim. You can contact us via our website here.

I’m really excited about this project and have massively valued the opportunity to reframe what I do with everyday inspirations and stranded colourwork to fit the format of Boost Your Knitting. It’s really nice to see the pattern laid out in the clear, crisp format of the other designs in the collection, and great to be able to play with other stranded colourwork knitters this month in the AC Knitwear forum.

I’ll be joining in with a pair of Pinecone Armwarmers, based on this beautiful pinecone that I found in the Harris Gardens, here in Reading.

I’m still reviewing my selection of browns and – as per the video we made – using black and white photos to help understand the values of the different shades I’ve chosen.

Thanks to Jen and Jim for inviting me to be part of Boost Your Knitting – BRING ON THE TULIPS AND PINECONES, I SAY!
YOURS IN CHOOSING COLOURS,
FX

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The richly-patterned world of Sarina Mantle

I am so happy to have found the work of the artist Sarina Mantle and have spent quite a lot of time colouring illustrations from her amazing book, Women + Patterns + Plants, in recent weeks. Her drawings offer a lot of joy; they centre women in uplifting, glorious contexts, surrounded by flowers and leaves. I think her work is amazing.

Finding Sarina’s creative practice – vibrantly documented through her colourful instagram feed – has rekindled nostalgia in me for the formative 1990s in my own life. This was a joyous time for me, largely focused on anti-road protesting, and full of a rich, earth-based spirituality. I was obsessed with the idea of the sacred feminine, and Sarina Mantle’s work has reminded me of that. Exploring her work – mostly through the joy of colouring in – has also expanded my perspective on patterns.

In KNITSONIK knitting, I think about patterns all the time – but I think about patterns in terms of knitted fabric; pattern repeats; symbolic motifs that form a personal syntax or library: I think about patterns as part of hand-knitting and knitwear design. But Sarina Mantle’s work open new windows onto how we might contemplate patterns more broadly, beyond our knitting.

Sarina Mantle’s colouring book – Women + Patterns + Plants – also speaks tenderly to how patterns and colours can be related to our self-care. I wrote to Sarina to ask if she might do an interview about her work and happily, she’s agreed! To coincide with publishing this Q&A, I’ve also put together a playlist on Mixcloud. This mix features some of Sarina Mantle’s music, and has been produced as a sonic accompaniment to your colouring in adventures. Our Q&A is presented below, with images taken from the KNITSONIK archive and from Sarina’s instagram feed, for context. I really hope you enjoy this exploration of Women + Patterns + Plants – it’s quite a long one, so fetch up a tea and get comfy before you dig in.

FF: Your book reminds me slightly of artists like Monica Sjöö, or some of the writings of Alice Walker, which celebrate a kind of earth-based spirituality, and which suggest magical connections between women and plants. Could you share some of the artists and writers who have been an influence for your practice?

SM: One of my favourite artists is Frida Kahlo; I’ve seen her original works in her home Coyoacan (now turned into a museum in Mexico), also in Italy at the Scuderie del Quirinale, and in London at the V&A. Every time I’m in close proximity of her work my breath is taken away. She celebrates flora and fauna in her work in such a mystical & enchanting way. I also love so many poets; recent favourites include Warsan Shire, Nayyirah Waheed, Alex Elle, Liza Garza & Rupi Kaur.

I love strong women and powerful affirmations for healing.

FF: In knitting, the pattern and rhythm of an overall design come through repeating motifs many times, over hand-knitted fabric.

I make a chart, I knit the design, and as it is repeated, it takes on a sort of rhythmic form.

Could you describe some of your own creative processes with developing patterns in other mediums like print, paint and drawing?

SM: One of my favourite creative processes of developing patterns is my 100 days challenges where I do block-printed patterns every day exploring freethinking, non-attachment, fluidity and connection to a divine energy or source.

This process is about a flowing energy which lets the design become by itself and I don’t control or criticise the outcome, it just is. I make my blocks and use mark-making materials which form varied and unusual textures. I love the rhythmic form of endlessness, and tapping into the cosmic and ancient. I feel patterns are a connection to this unseen geometrical grid we live in and are made of.

FF: The first plant I ever drew was a spider-plant; I was about seven years old and that’s probably the first time I consciously drew stripes – one of the most basic and universal elements of design. Do you have a memory of the first time you drew a plant, and do you know when you started to think of plants as having a sort of underlying structure from which patterns might be developed?

SM: One of my early memories of drawing something which made me realise how complex and astounding we are as humans was my hands.

My secondary school art project in the first year was still life’s and drawing the lines on our palms. This kind of detailed study of still objects inspired my interest in looking at things in detail. I drew plants at school and I remember seeing deeply into the leaf’s pattern.

Plant consciousness really opened itself to me when I learnt more about the connection of mankind and plants through sacred geometry, Fibonacci sequence, flower of life, tree of life and so on… I saw balance, order, infinities… I traveled to South America and facilitated a pattern cutting workshop with Shipibo plant medicine people of the land; healers who are master painters and embroiderers. This was a huge turning point in my own awareness that plants hold much knowledge in ancient cultures. I realised that flora and fauna are frequently found in textiles globally across all cultures as if they all tap into, or flow out of, the same consciousness.

FF: As well as having beautiful illustrations to colour, your book features poems and prompts for the colouring book owner to fill in. How do you hope people will use these prompts?

SM: An example is my mother. She was the first to fill in the prompts. She made time for herself to reflect on her feelings, slow down, and put herself first, and it really touched me seeing my mum write down her feelings in my colouring book like that.

FF: One of my biggest hopes for carrying Women + Patterns + Plants in my online shop is that it will give fans of the KNITSONIK system more tools for thinking about, and developing, patterns for knitted designs to create and wear.

What do you think it means for us to wear patterns which celebrate our connections with our everyday lives? I mean, beyond decoration, do you think patterns perform a deeper function?

SM: I originally come from a fashion design background and love the construction of garments and hand-making textiles; this background sowed the seeds for my deep fascination for ancient culture textiles & patterns. I learnt that there is intention behind certain designs; that they can have deep meanings and cultural importance. I learnt that certain shapes and/or colours can be symbolic, ritualistic, ceremonial; that they can serve as identifiers of being from a certain community; that patterns can express individuality and also status. In daily life I feel patterns serve the same or similar function for me as a deep reminder that I am connected to an infinite source.

FF: I feel special connections to several plants: spider plants (for the reason mentioned above); dandelions (because they are so resilient and will grow anywhere, and because the whimsical timing of a “dandelion clock” reminds me of when my own body is slowed by illness); and cherry blossoms (because they are incredibly beautiful and the way they are celebrated in Japan during cherry blossom season is amazing and makes me want to be better at celebrating and thanking every season).

Do you have any special plants to which you are particularly drawn, and could you say why?

SM: I did a workshop in Mexico 2018 in an area called Oaxaca and we did a workshop based around our Uteruses and 28 day cycles. We were asked to visualise flowers on our womb; I loved visualising this part of myself with sacred flowers… that was powerful for me.

I love Aloe for its healing properties; I also love Hibiscus – it grows all over the island of St Lucia, where my mum was born.

I love cacti; they remind me of strength and protection and South American landscapes;

I love birds of paradise – they remind me of my aunty’s garden in St Lucia because she grows them in her back yard. I deeply love the lotus as a symbol of awakening and spiritual growth and yagé for her healing and wisdom, also.

I love sunflowers and orchids too… they simply make me smile.

FF: I love that your book blurs boundaries across places, plants and people, with patterning appearing across all those different contexts. Like the woman who is wearing stripy trousers, kneeling on patterned tiles, with a basket that has a patterned weave behind her, and then the plants forming a kind of rhythm around her. It’s so pattern-tastic! There’s a wonderful Shetland knitwear designer called Wilma Malcolmson who once said to me “we are always in colour” do you maybe feel we are always in pattern? To build on that question a little bit… can I ask, what do you end up taking photos of when you are out and about? I know loads of colour-obsessed knitters (including me) who take endless pictures of moss, rocks, lichens, for the colours… have you noticed any trends in what you document in photos, through your love of pattern?

SM: Yes I feel we are always in pattern, that we are pattern on a cellular level …. one of my favourite sayings is “everything is geometric, everything is vibration” the fact that we vibrate and are not as solid as we think makes me think of pattern. I research topics such as cymatics, Masaru Emoto research into human consciousness and the effect on the molecular structure of water and I love science and how it depicts aura, energy and so on.

Photos I take would be of tree bark, or layers of ripped billboard posters, speckles of paint split on street pavement, car tires on snow, a pile of autumn leaves… Anything which catches my eye and has a form of pattern.

FF: Same, same!

My favourite knitted motif I have ever designed is based on my digital sound recorder…

…it’s a motif based on the settings on the back of the recorder for stuff like “stereo mode” “high level sensitivity” etc. and how I always have those options set.

Just on a really mischievous level, I love that the visual pattern I produced from these settings really reflects the pattern of use and how I routinely use the recorder for documenting everyday sounds. Similarly, there are two levels of pattern in your colouring book – one that is the actual patterns to draw, but another deeper level which points to a pattern of use, and the idea that working through the book can be part of a daily ritual of self-care. Could you say a bit about rituals of self-care and where you feel this book fits in?

SM: I love this question, because self-care and the routine of self-care really taught me what it means to know unconditional love for yourself. No matter what we are going through in life, we can get to a point where we come back to ourselves and become present to how we feel. What we choose to do with how we feel can be very empowering. It can transform how we move, stand, speak, grow, feel… It can change our whole perspective on life, on how we want to be treated.

My ritual of self-care starts with meditation, breath-work and drawing.

My book really is about losing yourself in the meditation of simply being, in order to then tap into a kind of inner peace and creative consciousness. My drawings are a reminder to connect to nature which may lead to a stroll in the park or garden or perhaps wearing flowers in your hair or buying some flowers to arrange in your home.

FF: Could you tell us about other projects you have on and where people can find your work?

SM: I am a singer songwriter via my other Instagram @sarinaleah and I’m currently doing a monthly project where I create and produce music to a painting which is inspired by the energy of the sound. I’m also preparing for my first full solo painting exhibition on the 20th June and am very excited about this! All updates can be found via my Instagram, @wildsuga.

FF: Last question! If you had to pick just one design in the colouring book to form the basis of your ultimate dream woolly sweater, which one would it be? And why?

SM: I love meditation and women whose eyes are closed in deep reflection. I’d choose this as the basis for my ultimate woolly sweater, because it would be a reminder for me to connect to myself in this way and I’d wear the jumper while I meditated too, LOL! Magical.

Thank you so much to Sarina Mantle for agreeing to this interview and for taking such time and care with your answers. If you would like to buy a copy of Sarina Mantle’s amazing colouring book, Women + Patterns + Plants, you can do so here in the KNITSONIK online shop. You can also buy Sarina’s music from her bandcamp site here, and see more of her amazing original artwork here. Thank you again, Sarina, for doing this interview but also for your uplifting and celebratory arts practice.

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THE JOY OF DOTS: KAL winners announced!

I’ve enjoyed thinking about how DOTS can inspire us creatively for the last few posts on here… however, of course the *best* dots are the ones knitted by you. The POLKAMANIA! is a fairly big knitting commitment – it’s a lot of dots, and a lot of stranded colourwork. There are a few still in progress (cheer for those buddies!) but these are the cowls completed for the KAL deadline of 28th February.

01: Bev

Easy pattern to remember and lots of stonking colour. YAAAS! Just what I need right now!

Find Bev’s POLKAMANIA! project page here.

02: Mary Jo

This was a wonderful project – maybe not wonderful in its usefulness since I live in a climate which is almost always too warm to wear a cowl! – but so much fun. It was just a pleasure to sit down and work on it. There were revelations about how the color of the background affected the color of the dots – for instance on a warm red background the gray looks like blue. Definitely something to think about when planning Fair Isle projects.

Find Mary Jo’s POLKAMANIA! project page here.

03: Maylin

Need a happy project to get me through the winter months so this will certainly fit the bill. I may add a second darker background colour half-way, but for now, I’m just letting the Crazy Zauberball do its thing and having fun watching the dots change colours.

Find Maylin’s POLKAMANIA! project page here.

04: Muriel

Colours: aquamarine, geranium, Venetian,carmine, jasper, sugarsnap, poppy, iced, navy heather, vintage heather, robins egg and marlin.

Find Muriel’s POLKAMANIA! project page here.

05: Takako

Looking at the knitted fabric from a distance, the background color may appear to float.
The relationship between color combination and eye illusion is interesting.

Find Takako’s POLKAMANIA! project page here.

06: Vivienne

Colours from stash, inspired by the fabulous skies in Flash Gordon.

Find Vivienne’s POLKAMANIA! project page here.

These projects are all so beautiful. From the luminous tones of Takako’s cowl (which she PERFECTLY GRAFTED IN PATTERN) to the radiant, Flash-Gordon inspired palettes of Vivienne’s… to the spring-like petals of Muriel’s cowl to the mellow gradients of Maylin’s cowl… to the subtle colour play of hot and cold reds with different shades grey in Mary Jo’s cowl… to the bold, confident joy of Bev’s cowl… they’re all just brilliant: bright, playful and DOTTY.

Thank you SO MUCH for joining in with this adventure in dots, comrades!

Asking this random number-generator to pick numbers from these six completed projects has thrown up the following numbers: 02, 04, 01. If prizes are awarded in the same sequence as I wrote about them then CONGRATULATIONS – IN DOT SPACE will soon be on its way to Mary Jo; REACH FOR THE STARS will soon be on its way to Muriel; and THE CALMNESS OF DOTS will soon be on its way to Bev.

THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH FOR JOINING IN THIS ADVENTURE WITH ME,
YOURS IN DOTS FOR ALWAYS –
FX

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DOT PRIZE #3: THE CALMNESS OF DOTS

Concluding our dot-themed prize tour, I wanted to write about the wonderful use of calming blues throughout one of my favourite dot-themed publications: Making #3: Dots.

I have particularly happy associations with this magazine because I initially spotted it (haha!) at Loop in London, when I was meeting my sister-in-stranded-colourwork Janine Bajus for the first time. We’d agreed to meet there so that Janine and her friend Chris could see this yarny palace of dreams. When I saw this magazine (drawn INSTANTLY in by the word DOTS on the front cover) I flicked through and thought “this is absolutely lovely, but I’ll never have time to make any of these projects”. I left it there on the shelf.

But I kept thinking about it.

About those dotty projects in all those gorgeous shades of blue… the recipe including blueberries (how had I never conceived of blueberries as dots before?); the pebbles clad in crochet (why yes! pebbles ARE like dots…); the tiny, round pincushions dotted with stitches (and later to be dotted with pins…); the dots made of Yarn-Overs (so many ways to make dots and spots beyond stranded colourwork…); and the moon-themed bag with its singular dot of undyed white… there were just so many different and imaginative creative explorations of my favourite thing: dots. The sheer scope of what might be considered to fall within this theme, and the thoughtfully curated projects just kept popping into my mind. I ordered a copy.

As predicted, I’ve been a bit busy with my own stuff to make anything from it yet… however, this has not prevented me from stockpiling supplies to make some of the projects one day, and flicking through its quiet pages with their many tones of blue fills me with rare feelings of calm. I am keen to share all this with a fellow appreciator of dots and decided this magazine should form the main part of the final prize for the POLKAMANIA! KAL.

To accompany Making #3: Dots, I have included some stickers which are also dots, and which are also blue and white…

…I put these stickers in my bullet-journal to remind me to breathe, to look at the sky, to drink water, to pause for a few moments.

I’ve also included a set of Knit By Numbers 4-ply Mini-Skeins in a range of blues that reminds me of those found throughout the pages of this lovely magazine.

YOURS IN SPOTS AND PUDDLES OF CALMING BLUE,
MORE SOON –
FX

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DOT PRIZE #2: REACH FOR THE STARS

My plan for these posts about DOT-THEMED-PRIZES was always to explore the vast scope for creativity and reinvention that might be found by playing with dots. Yesterday I spoke about the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama who has really redefined what you can do with these seemingly simple shapes.

Today I’m following up with more thoughts on creative adventures in dotland. My quest for dot-themed prizes led me on all sorts of exciting online searches, one of which involved the discovery of the wonderful dot-themed stickers designed by Sophie of TigerFraeulein.

TigerFraeulein is a very small stationery business producing all sorts of amazing things for use in planners, sketchpads and bullet journals. However, I particularly love Sophie’s dot-themed stickers in which circles are used to encase a wide variety of themes.

Sophie makes watercolour dots, patterned dots, dots with nature scenes in them, dots with calm colours, dots with loud colours, and dots containing galaxies.

How could I not include some of these special sticky dots amongst the prizes for this KAL?

To complement these stickers and to add a knitterly dimension to them for a prize, I sought out yarns with a similar palette, eventually settling on these two contrasting skeins of Gytha Worsted Weight Yarn dyed by Lola Johnson of Third Vault Yarns.

The yarn-base Lola uses for Gytha is superwash-treated worsted-weight Falklands merino, spun by John Arbon… so a not too distant cousin of the John Arbon Knit By Numbers Yarn with which I designed POLKAMANIA! This is what Lola says about this yarn:

Gytha Worsted is named after a Nanny Ogg, from the Discworld Series. She is a loveable and much liked character, to all but her many daughters in law (which is said by many to be her only failing). This warm, welcoming, fully-figured mother and witch embodies this yarn. Its ridiculous softness and ability to take colour, along with its good wearing qualities, make it the perfect yarn for something next-to-the-skin-soft or to wrap you up in warmth as a jumper; it’s almost magical ;D. This superwash Falklands merino yarn is specially spun for Third Vault Yarns, it’s hand-sourced in the Falklands, treated and spun in the UK.

I love this description, and how Lola celebrates Nanny Ogg (secretly my favourite Discworld character) so appositely in yarn. To my mind, these two plump, contrasting skeins in the moody blue-purples of Locs and the soft grellow tones of Charcoal Ash go perfectly with Sophie’s spotty stickers.

There’s also something really pleasing about combining galaxies and stars in stickers with the magical, mythical worlds that inspire Lola’s colourways and the book/yarn clubs that she runs through Third Vault Yarns: there really can be universes in our knitting. And who can argue with the lovely connections between the smudgy watercolour dot stickers, and the painterly quality of hand-dyed yarn?

Along with creating her delicious colourways or rather, as part of that creative practice, Lola runs book clubs in which richly-dyed yarns are released along with details of the science fiction that inspired them. This framework offers knitters a really rich knitting and reading experience, and in 2019, Lola has been using this format to centre and celebrate female and non-binary led science fiction and fantasy. Each month involves a custom-dyed yarn which celebrates a particular book or author. I really like how books and stitches can be combined in our laps and imaginations when we sit down to knit. It’s not science fiction, but reading Yayoi Kusama’s autobiography while knitting on my POLKAMANIA! cowl infinitely enriched the experience of its making, and changed how I think about its dots.

I called this second prize REACH FOR THE STARS because I wanted to share, with another KAL buddy, that sense of a universe within a book, a ball of yarn, a knitting project. I hope this yarn from Third Vault Yarns and these stickers from TigerFraeulein will give someone further adventures in knitting which – of course, because of the contrasting shades I’ve chosen – may yet include more dots.

YOURS IN STARS AND STITCHES,
MORE SOON –
FX

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IN DOT SPACE: the infinite world of Yayoi Kusama

I didn’t mean for so much time to pass between my last post and this one. I’m continuing my dot-themed blogging today and hoping to finish this series of prize-related posts ahead of leaving for EYF later this week. Prize-winners for the POLKAMANIA! KAL will be announced tomorrow, and I’ve loved seeing all your finished projects over on Ravelry.

I’m on the final section of my second cowl and it’s been a long and thoughtful knit.

IN DOT SPACE Prize #2

In my last post, I spoke about these beautiful African wax print bags from Shop Joli – the dotty fabric of which is remeniscent of three-dimensional space.

Today I’m going to talk about the second part of the IN DOT SPACE prize, which is a children’s book titled Yayoi Kusama, From Here to Infinity. It was produced by MoMA to celebrate the art and life of the amazing Japanese superstar artist, Yayoi Kusama.

I chose this prize because Elle Weinstein’s illustrations perfectly capture the links between the textures of the world and the distinctive dots that underpin Yayoi Kusama’s iconic art practice.

The book does a great job of transmitting Yayoi Kusama’s sense of the infinite within the everyday. Its illustrations clearly show dots in the raindrops on a plane window, dots in the cars when viewed from the top of a skyscraper, dots in the pebbles on the bottom of a riverbed, and dots as the foundation of Yayoi Kusama’s phenomenally exciting artistic vision.

I hope it will inspire further adventures in dot-knitting, colourwork, and ways of seeing the world.

Perhaps understandably for a book that is aimed at making a complex artist accessible to young children, Yayoi Kusama’s lifelong struggles with mental health and the radical, sexual content of her 1960s Happenings are not explored in Yayoi Kusama, From Here to Infinity. However, I thought I’d say a bit about these missing elements to add some background for a more adult audience, and because frankly after immersing myself in the amazingness that is Yayoi Kusama’s back-catalogue of work, I have far too much to say about her powerful use of DOTS to end my blog-post here.

While I’ve been knitting away on my cowl, I have been exploring the rich world of Yayoi Kusama’s art practice. I really enjoyed watching the documentary made about her life and work – Kusama: Infinity – and her autobiography, Infinity Net. I can’t say everything about Yayoi Kusama – she’s best understood in her own words, in her own work, and on her own terms – but here are some some of the things I’ve taken away from researching her amazing art practice.

DOT SPACE IS INFINITE, DOT SPACE IS OBLITERATION…

Yayoi describes her first solo exhibition in New York in 1959 in this book, and the following is excerpted from the brilliantly titled chapter Taking My Stand with a Single Polka Dot:

My desire was to predict and measure the infinity of the unbounded universe, from my own position in it, with dots – an accumulation of particles forming the negative spaces in the net. How deep was the mystery? Did infinite infinities exist beyond our universe? In exploring these questions I wanted to examine the single dot that was my own life. One polka dot: a single particle among billions. I issued a manifesto stating the everything – myself, other, the entire universe – would be obliterated by white nets of nothingness connecting astronomical accumulations of dots. White nets enveloping the black dots of silent death against pitch-dark background of nothingness. By the time the canvas reached 22ft it had transcended its nature as canvas to fill the entire room. This was my ‘epic’, summing up all that I was. And the spell of the dots and the mesh enfolded me in a magical curtain of mysterious, invisible power.

In Yayoi Kusama’s amazing and foundational Infinity Net paintings, the negative space encircling each dot has been painstakingly rendered. The movement that produces each mark is organic and soft and the final painting is slowly generated through a process of accrual. The early works are thickly textured records of restless, repetitive action. To my knitter’s eyes, Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Nets feel like the painterly equivalent of garter-stitch. Each loop is formed through a discrete gesture which contributes to the whole – to the “enfolding curtain of mysterious, invisible power”; as with knitting, the finished work is constructed loop by loop.

There is no centre to these paintings; no background or foreground… instead, Yayoi Kusama’s dots seem to map an interior place. These early paintings relate to Yayoi Kusama’s later light and mirror installations in which we can also see places that feel less like tangible geography, and more like internal states.

In her 1960s New York Happenings, Yayoi Kusama continued to use dots in events where body-painting nude dancers or attaching dots to herself and her surrounding environs became the means to obliterate individual egos and identities; a way to blur figures into the background:

…by covering my entire body with polka dots, and then covering the background with polka dots as well, I find self-obliteration. Or I stick polka dots all over a horse standing before a polka-dot background, and the form of the horse disappears, assimilated into the dots. The mass that is ‘horse’ is absorbed into something timeless. And when that happens, I too am obliterated.

Dots as records of human actions, and as a way to obliterate space, appear in my favourite Yayoi Kusama piece: Obliteration Room. A pristine white space is slowly transformed through visitors applying little dot stickers which, like Yayoi’s round brushstrokes in her Infinity Net paintings, slowly collapse all the planes and perspectives of space into a mesmerising and overwhelming continuity of dots.

…DOT SPACE IS TRANSFORMATIVE…

In her autobiography, Yayoi Kusama describes the events and experiences events which contributed to her lifelong aversion to sex and to her troubled mental health. In her work, she continually confronts and recycles these sources of trauma, transforming them into a distinctive means of expression. She speaks about disturbing visual and aural hallucinations and the difficulties of her childhood. But she is also articulate about how her creative practice has allowed her to reclaim herself from these experiences, and to rewrite them in her own way:

Artists do not usually express their own psychological complexes directly, but I do use my complexes and fears as subjects. I am terrified by just the thought of something long and ugly like a phallus entering me, and that is why I make so many of them. The thought of continually eating something like macaroni, spat out by machinery, fills me with fear and revulsion, so I make macaroni sculptures. I make them and make them and then keep on making them, until I bury myself in the process. I call this ‘obliteration’.

A soft-sculpture work Yayoi created in 1965 for the Castellane Gallery – Infinity Mirror Room – Phalli’s Field – perfectly embodies the transformative qualities of her creative processes:

The walls of the room were mirrors, and sprouting from the floor were thousands of white canvas phallic forms covered with red polka dots. The mirrors reflected them infinitely, summoning up a sublime, miraculous field of phalluses. People could walk barefoot through the phallus meadow, becoming one with the work and experiencing their own figures and movement as part of the sculpture. Wandering into this infinite wonderland, where a grandiose aggregation of human sexual symbols had been transformed into a humorous, polka-dotted field, viewers found themselves spellbound by the imagination as it exorcised sexual sickness in the naked light of day.

There’s so much more I could write about Yayoi Kusama – about how difficult it was for her when she first came to New York as a young, Japanese woman; how sexism, racism and the conservatism of her parents made her early years as an artist incredibly difficult; how she used nudity, dots, and the vastness of her vision to protest Capitalism and the Vietnam War; and how she has become a paragon of self-care and self-discipline in her eighties, continuing to work in her studio, and being cared for in the psychiatric hospital in Tokyo into which she admitted herself almost forty years ago.

There’s just so much there to explore; so much to appreciate and to try and understand; and so much more to dots than I could ever have imagined before taking this deep dive into the amazing, radical, anti-ableist, feminist, anti-war and infinite world of the artwork of Yayoi Kusama. But if I get into it in yet more depth today, this blog post will never be finished.

DOT SPACE IS AMAZING!

I really hope that the IN DOT SPACE prize featuring African wax print bags by Shop Joli plus the children’s book Yayoi Kusama, From Here to Infinity, will offer new dimensions for appreciating your hand-knitted dots and contemplating how much can be said with this seemingly simply motif.

YOURS IN INFINITE DOTS –
FX

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