Knitting is a meditative process. It slows me down and draws my attention to my hands: to creating something out of nothing, watching it grow. In a world of instant gratification, I like the slow repetitive process of making and anticipating a finished product. (Although, truth be told, the process itself often is more rewarding than any finished object.) The act of looping and interlocking individual stitches – making a solid object that is permeable, and yet constructed of many loops – makes connections where none existed before. My mind wanders to how we, in communities, are each small links in a part of the whole. All interconnected, interdependent, and in motion.
Knitting in glass (as I do) heightens this metaphor for me. As we face threats such as global warming, our world is interconnected and interdependent but also fragile. In glass, individual strands are weak and brittle on their own, but deceptively strong when bound together. You can crack or break single threads without the whole structure falling apart. And even when the structure is broken, pieces remain bound together. The connections are what bring strength and integrity to the whole and what keeps it intact. The connections are what will save us.
So knitting has made me think more deeply about the importance of community.
I joined Northwest Designer Craftsmen (NWDC http://www.nwdc-online.org/) in 2007. It is a juried group of artists and educators who work with their hands, and make and appreciate handmade objects. As our world becomes more and more technology based, I wanted to become more connected to people who dedicate their lives to making handmade objects. It’s hard to take things for granted when you know what it takes to make them.
This year, NWDC celebrates its 60th anniversary with a show at the Whatcom museum in Bellingham, Washington. Reaching Beyond: The Northwest Designer Craftsmen at 60, opens September 14th and runs through January 4, 2015.
This show, like the organization it represents, is an eclectic collection of objects. What they all have in common is their dedicated attention to detail. The materials used include wood, clay, glass, fiber, metal and mixed media. The objects range from jewelry to sculpture to wall pieces. The work is everything from utilitarian to fine art. And really, when you see these objects, it’s hard to argue that there is a distinction between utilitarian and fine art.
The two pieces I have in this show both involve knitting. Strike a Balance, (13 x 21 x 9 in), is a large piece of glass knitting (in single seed stitch) that reminds us that life is precarious and beautiful and fascinating all at once. The knitting stands upright with the knitting needle jauntily cantilevered and supported by the knitting. It’s striking a pose and balanced at the same time.
Handmade, (16.5 x 9 x 9 in), is a pair of hands knitting themselves. The idea makes me laugh. It’s funny to think of “knitting yourself”. But like much of my work it’s a joke on the surface, with depth underneath. Having lost several key mentors in my life, this piece is also a meditation on what it means to become your own mentor.
Knitting is how I process life and how I formulate my direction for the future. The hand knows much that the mind can only guess.
Carol Milne is a sculptor living in Seattle, Washington. She works primarily in cast glass, much of which is also knitted.