While researching an article for Selvedge magazine, earlier this year I visited the Coventry firm of Benton and Johnson, one of the last metal thread manufacturers in the UK. If you’ve ever marvelled at the intricacies of gold work embroidery, this is how they make the threads that it’s worked with. These days gold and silver threads and bullion are used for ceremonial uniforms, epaulets and chairs in the Kremlin apparently. While much work is now done with cheap imports, this is the real, hand-crafted, McCoy.
There are only three people left at this factory, at least two of them nearing retirement. There was another factory in Sussex, but the craftsman there is retiring this year. That’s why metal threads feature in the Radcliffe Red List of Endangered crafts, published by the Heritage Craft Association this year. Up there with the Pandas on the endangered list are crafts such as saw and vellum making. Already dead as the dodo are Gold beating, the making of sieves and riddles, cricket balls and lacrosse sticks.
The article features in this month’s issue of Selvedge Magazine, available here.
STOP PRESS: new workshop dates available for 2018
Everyone knows knitting is good for you, don’t they? I have an article about it in this month’s issue of The Knitter, featuring some of the recent books that have been written on the subject. I have a couple of books to giveaway to one lucky person, Knit Yourself Calm, by Lynne Rowe and Betsan Corkhill, and Crochet Yourself Calm by Carmen Heffernan. Sign up to the newsletter this month to be in with a chance of winning.
Just to prove a point I’m taking a knitting tent to the World of Wellbeing at Womad, Charlton Park, Wiltshire, where we will be quietly teaching knitting, crochet, darning and mending. We have some lovely old sewing machines to sew patches onto your broken clothes, and a calming environment to mend your frazzled aura (often needed after a visit to the chemical festival toilets, I find) so come and say hello if you are there.
There is Sarah Corbett’s new book How To Be A Craftivist: the art of gentle protest to look forward to this autumn, which is also about discovering the power of activism that can challenge that feeling of powerlessness in the face of world events that can threaten to engulf us. Time to get making.
Are you tired of all the plastics in your bin that you can’t recycle? I know I am so I’m converting to trying to buy as few plastics as possible and it’s really hard. It’s one thing not to buy fruit in plastic punnets, though sometimes I tell myself that I’m going to re-use them when I pick my own, so that’s okay isn’t it? Most things can be recycled or composted so what’s left in the landfill bag is often all plastics. You can make useful new things from the new sheets of plastic which are easily stitchable with a sewing machine if they’re not too thick. I’ve made planters with mine to hide that other unsightly plastic thing, plant pots.
If you’d like to have a go yourself I’ve made a downloadable worksheet. Let me know how you get on. Please make sure not to burn yourself or inhale nasty fumes. remaking plastic worksheet
Channing Hansen, Frameshift
In contrast to the restrained and intellectual work of Rosemarie Trockel at the Stephen Friedman Gallery just around the corner, are some of Channing Hansen’s knitted pieces, two knitting exhibitions in London’s private art world.
Hansen is from Los Angeles and I haven’t seen his work in the UK before. The pieces, which have titles such as Frameshift, Software and Heavy Weather, are hand-knitted and then pulled over stretchers as if they were paintings. Although they look, well, intuitive, they are apparently planned through algorithms based on his own DNA.
In the gallery blurb Hansen quotes Robert Irwin: “To be an artist is not a matter of making paintings of objects at all. What we are really dealing with is our state of consciousness and the shape of our perceptions.”
He uses rare breed wool raised on a farm in Idaho that he spins and dyes himself. Tellingly, the gallery attendant told me Hansen is hyperactive and uses knitting to keep his hands and mind busy. Busy, busy.
You can wait for ages for a knitted art show, then two come along at once, and how different they are from each other, while geographically close so they can be seen at the same time.
Rosemarie Trockel’s early Knitted works are on show at Skarstedt Gallery in swanky St James (if you can’t find it, the doorman at the Ritz is very helpful). A contemporary conceptual artist Trockel can be relied upon to have an interesting take on what is usually considered women’s domestic work, by having her designs knitted on a machine by a technician. “I wanted to know what causes a given kind of work to be regarded by women as embarrassing, both in the past and in the present: whether this has to do with the way the material is handled of whether it really lies in the material itself.” (Kunstforum International, Feb ’88).
Have we moved on from this now, or are we more open to considering those ideas nearly twenty years down the line? The works feel sterile and flat, mimicking as they do the abstract canvases of masculine painters prevalent at the time that Trockel was poking fun at with ‘Who will be in in ’99’. The baby clinging to the giant ball of wool is another matter, made later and larger than the other works, it takes up a whole room to itself. Oddly realistic, the newborn is peacefully asleep but in danger of slipping off and being crushed by a rolling ball of brown fluff and made me very anxious — another comment on women’s work, perhaps.
(next time, Channing Hansen)