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.