Sonic Youth and Crocheted Toys
By Suzann Thompson
Finding a reference to knitting or crochet in popular media is one of my favorite things! When we watch TV at home, I can’t help but call out “That’s a granny square afghan!” (in Amy’s apartment on The Big Bang Theory) and “Those are crocheted caps!” (on NCIS). The 2022 Liberty Mutual Insurance commercial featuring knitting AND crochet is one of my favorites.
Knitting and crochet appear in popular music, too. When posting videos to social media, I have used the app’s music search feature to look for songs, music, and bands that compliment my video. After searching the terms “knit” and “crochet,” I was surprised by the number of song titles that included knitting and crochet.
Songs about knitting and crochet are not new. CKC’s Library and Museum Collections contain at least a dozen examples of sheet music, where the title or lyrics mention knitting and crochet. Lyricists and composers were inspired by love, absence, wartime knitters, and a young girl’s desire to avoid school.
Finding these songs in CKC’s Collections inspired CKC to launch a music competition, CKC Music | Makers: A Knit Purl Jam & Acoustic Crochet. This is a call for musicians to reinterpret and recreate any one (or more) of a number of historical songs about knitting and crochet in CKC’s Library and Museum Collections.
Read more about the contest by selecting the CKC Music | Makers button.
Find a list of the songs with knitting and crochet in CKC’s Library and Museum Collections
by selecting the See the Songs button.
My own chance encounter at the intersection of crochet and music led me to explore some early 1990s pop culture, with a side trip into art and fashion as well. Let me tell you about it.
After Thanksgiving 2021, I drove my daughter back to her dorm at the university in my hometown of Austin, Texas. It would be a long drive home, so I started out right by spending time at Half Price Books at North Lamar and 55th Street, which had the additional lure of a large Goodwill next door.
As usual, I browsed art, needlecraft, psychology, and clearance books, before walking out through the music department. An orange, crocheted, stuffed toy ant (maybe?) peeked out from among the record album covers.
The crocheted creature, named “Dirty Alien,” and photographed by American artist Mike Kelley, dominated the cover of Dirty, a 1992 album by the band Sonic Youth. Photos on and inside the double album included several plush fabric toys; a second crocheted toy with a pale blue head and yellow, crocheted, spiral arms; and an image of Mike Kelley himself as a teenager.
An internet search revealed that the images were from Ah…Youth! (1991), Kelley’s collection of eight photos, presently in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The museum’s post about the photo collection called it “A kitsch klatch of thrift-shop yarn dolls and stuffed animals….” (1)
In the booklet inside the Dirty album, Sonic Youth member Thurston Moore wrote that Mike Kelley bought the crocheted and other toys from thrift shops, “where they resonated the guilt of antiquity.” Moore credited Kelley’s work with the rescued stuffed toys for the inspiration of Dirty, describing the toys as “…creatures of love, memory, loss and sentient rock and roll.” (2)
Mike Kelley previously used thrifted knitted, crocheted, and other handmade items in his 1987 work More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid, a six-by-seven-foot canvas covered with afghans, toys, and a hot pad, among other things. The original is at the Whitney Museum of Art in New York City. (3)
The Whitney Museum’s description of More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid interpreted the title as conjuring “…associations of guilt: when parents and relatives create these toys and blankets, are the countless hours of stitching, knitting, and crocheting a kind of penance, and for what? Do we expect children to repay the time and love lavished on them?” (3)
Of course the questions posed here easily could be answered by talking to people who actually make these sorts of items. If you have knitted or crocheted gifts for children or others, I encourage you to leave your thoughts in response to the Whitney’s questions about the motivations of makers in the comment section at the end of this post.
Mike Kelley died in 2012. About six years later, Supreme Streetwear collaborated with Kelley’s estate to produce shirts and hoodies with details from More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid and photos from Ah…Youth! (4)
My own Dirty Alien t-shirt came from Sonic Youth’s online store. (5)
We hope you will continue to explore knitting and crochet and music with us, by entering CKC Music | Makers: A Knit Purl Jam & Acoustic Crochet with a recording of your own. Or share our Call for Musicians with all your musical friends, family, and acquaintances. Find information about the music competition and a link to a printable poster by selecting the button below.
Read more about Sonic Youth at their website, http://www.sonicyouth.com/main/.
- Ah…Youth! 1991, Mike Kelley (American), https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/839622, accessed July 31, 2022.
- Booklet in the album Dirty, by Sonic Youth; album originally released July 21, 1992.
- Mike Kelley, More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid and The Wages of Sin, 1987, Whitney Museum of Art, https://whitney.org/collection/works/7317, accessed August 1, 2022.
- A Brief Guide to Supreme’s Latest Collaborator Mike Kelley, by Lia McGarrigle, https://www.highsnobiety.com/p/supreme-mike-kelley-collaboration, accessed August 1, 2022.
- Sonic Youth main store, https://sonicyouth.kfu.store/index.php/clothing.html, accessed August 1, 2022.
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