thinking art

When I was a Painter

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Before I was a fiber artist or an illustrator I was a painter, so I suppose I have always been a painter in my own way.


It was my drawing teacher my freshman year of college who first suggested I might be interested in fiber, and I made the jump in switching my major with hardly a second thought. That hasn't stopped me from seeing most things I make as paintings, namely the things that I weave. 
I'm comparatively new to knitting, having been working studiously as a knitter for a mere two years, and knitting, more than any other skill I have, has always presented itself to me in purely practical terms. One knits to clothe oneself. A skein of yarn becomes a hat.

 
But I cannot deny that the above piece is really a painting masquerading as a knitting swatch. My husband, encountering this small study blocking in my studio immediately remarked, "Oh, that's just like a painting." And a switch went off in my brain. For the entirety of the knitting processes, I had known that this piece was different, that it was meant to live a different life, I just didn't know how, or even what that could fully mean. If a weaving, which is just a piece of cloth that can unravel as easily as any piece of knitting, can hang proudly on the wall as Art with a Capital A, then why not this craft?


So what I've found in my practice over the years is that sometimes you make the art, you drive it, mold it, shape it, breathe it into being. You have directions and a map and you make it so. Conceive, plan, execute.


But sometimes you find that the art shows you what it wants to be. Sometimes your art bosses you around and you have to take the time to hear it out. A lot of the time, these things that are new to us seem so obvious once they reveal themselves, and that's okay. This knitting really being a painting is a simple solution to a belabored question about what my art does and what my art means. Change the title, change the context. But I don't have to do anything differently to make it into a painting. It's already true. What I have to do, what I have to remember, is to not force it into something that isn't true. It's knitting, but it isn't practical knitting. It's a block, but it isn't a pillow. Such a novel idea for this maker!


And what this maybe means for me is a whole new way of working. That's twice over in the span of a week that log cabin knitting has changed my life. Karen Templar, what have you done to me?!

Log Cabin Knitting and a New Way of Thinking

One of my goals for this year goes something along the lines of 'knit less, art more' but only in the sense that I don't want my studio practice (read: personal art) to suffer at the hands of my more practical pursuits. Of course I still want to knit all the things (it's a problem!), continue building my wardrobe through home sewing, and learn new techniques to challenge myself on both those fronts, but everything in balance.

That being said, leave it to me to spend nearly the first full week of 2018 knitting, and in the end finding that I might have struck a happy middle-ground between my Art and what I've up until now seen as just a hobby.

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I'm obviously not a knitwear designer, and yet I've spent the past week painstakingly bent over my Log Cabin knitting making design choices with every turn of my block, stressing every which way over right and wrong moves. But the funny thing I'm realizing now is, why do I spend so much time second-guessing myself when knit comes to purl, so to speak, if I'm comfortable (and confident) to make these kinds of choices every day in my illustration and textile practices?

I've always seen knitting as a relationship between the pattern designer, yarn company, and myself and never thought about there being room for me to call more of the shots. I don't think I trusted myself to know enough about knitting to mold it, to really put it work and extract things unexpected. With Log Cabin I'm finding that not only have I learned a lot about knitting since I started in earnest roughly two years ago, but I can trust myself to intuit moves like never before. I'm seeing now that knitting doesn't have to be a practice that is separate or opposite from my studio work, that it's just another tool in my belt and the possibilities are limitless. 

I've finished one block for the #fringeandfriendslogalong, a pillow front of lopi I picked up in Iceland on our honeymoon in 2014. Purchased before I was even a knitter, but that never stopped my yarn-obsessed butt (you can use any yarn when you're a weaver!). All these years I could never find the right project to do the yarn justice, not with heavy emotional burden I placed on it as a major part of my relationship history. A pillow is a simple thing, easy to adapt for Log Cabin knitting, and will guarantee it both a practical and special place in our home. 

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In terms of design, I'm most pleased with the transition from that cool, icy gray to mottled black, achieved by picking up stitches along the purple block with both black and gray yarns held together, then dropping the black to pick up stitches the rest of the way. In this manner I was able to knit continuously from solid to mottled on one strip, picking the black yarn up for the full width when I was satisfied with the proportions. A simple adaptation, but it felt like a power move. 

I started a second block to play with the ideas I developed in the first, so excited was I with this newfound magic power. I don't know how this will grow, or how it will live when it gets there, but the journey is most of the fun anyways.