Curating, Bricolage and Indigo
Those who feel an attraction to yarn probably have a similar relationship to fabric, matched with an irresistible urge to collect interesting textiles when they see them. The two really do go hand in hand, given that yarn is potentilly fabricated into a textile, but in a less industrial way for the home knitter. Those who collect beautiful yarns and fabric face only one difficulty, the issue of storage being the most challenging in terms of space and protection from deterioration from light, insects or damp. In this new era of fashionable minimalism and discard, I stand firmly in the magpie group when it comes to textiles. It is not hoarding. I am the curator of my stash. Sometimes innocent questions are asked by a non knitter. For example, I recently bought one beautiful hank of fine merino wool dyed in indigo, it’s colour hauntingly irregular. The pragmatic bystander asked “what are you going to make with that?”, immediately indicating a lack of appreciation of this lovely yarn or the slow art of design. There is no answer. The beauteous yarn will let me know when it’s ready to be incorporated into something, and that might be never, but in the mean time, the hank of dark promise carries intrinsic allure and delicacy, it’s colour evoking many memories of indigo textiles seen in the Far East, Vietnam, China, and Northern Thailand. Why let function get in the way of a fantastic yarn?
I recently read a wonderful book on yarns, a pattern book of sorts, but also with delightful chapter introductions. In the prologue, the concept of bricolage and it’s relationship to style is outlined. According to the British sociologist, Dick Hebdige,¹ the only way left to achieve originality is through the mixture of cultural referents. Many modern knitters, as well as crocheters and sewers, (or should I use the French couturiers, so as not to confuse that fine art with smelly drains ) are bricoleurs: they find creative inspiration in ‘the combination of elements from seemingly disparate cultural sources’ creating ‘energy that didn’t exist before’ thus producing more unique and idiosyncratic knits.² I am glad I found this book: this concept legitimises as well as describes some of my favourite pastimes.
Darker Yarns and Creativity
My aunt was a keen collector of yarns and textiles. Her living room was overflowing with projects. At night when she tired of the sewing machine, she would return to knitting and crochet. She was surrounded by bags of colour: most of the textiles came from factory discards, usually swatches and samples for upholstery. She would mix and match these weighty fabrics, glossy heavy taffetas with tapestries, French imperial garlanded designs with plain textured fabric, lining the backs of her machine sewn patchwork rugs and throws with simple plain cotton. They were strong rugs, both in weight and design, and most suitable to use as floor rugs for babies. The money earned from the sale of her creations at weekend markets supplemented her old age pension. Along with rugs, she would knit or crochet small decorative items and children’s clothes. Her hands were always busy.
I visited her in hospital 9 years ago. She had just had a stroke but seemed to be recovering well. She sat up in bed with her knitting, the pattern spread out on the bed, a lacy design from an old women’s magazine. She remarked with a croaky, almost jolly laugh that she couldn’t understand the pattern, that it made no sense at all, but this didn’t deter her knitting progress. She had similar problems with the words in the magazine. I’m not sure if she ever received any help with this cognitive problem.
A few months later my Aunt committed suicide by slashing her wrists. For a long time, I felt guilty that I didn’t visit her at home after her stroke, and angry that she chose such a dramatic way to exit. Now I fully understand. Like most people who suicide, she chose the quickest option that came to mind at the moment of her decision. Her hands did the work that needed to be done. My memory of her now sails back to a time long ago: she is 22 and I am 5. She is short, soft skinned and beautiful. We are laughing as we pick daisies together in the backyard. She is teaching me to make long daisy chains which we wear around our necks. To this day, every Spring, I make daisy chains.
Yarns and Dementia
Before the fire, I curated a vast collection of fabric and yarn. The beloved stash included antique hand woven Indonesian Ikat and faded blue Sumbas, too precious to hang on our walls for fear that the harsh Australian light would fade their natural colour, womens’ finely embroidered supper cloths, French linen with fine pulled thread borders, hand worked Italian pillowslips no doubt made for the wedding glory box, filet crocheted cotton samplers and tray mats recording historical events such WWI and the return of the Anzacs to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth 11 and a vast array of other textiles and yarns. Among this collection was a modest little knee rug made of knitted squares sewn together, a common enough item, but this one stood out. It was worked in monochromatic colours, dusky shades of sunset pinks and pale orange. The tension was professional while the colours were worked in a most intriguing way, both within each square as well as the way each square related to its nearest neighbours, the whole row, and the whole blanket. It was the work of pure genius, a knitted Monet or Van Gogh in three shades. When we bought that little blanket in an opportunity shop in Beechworth for a few dollars, the saleslady mentioned in passing that the creator of that magic rug was completely demented. I’m keeping this in mind. Although I no longer have that rug, I have the memory of her genius and the knowledge that one day, my hands may be my only saviour.
¹ Subculture: The Meaning of Style, Dick Hebdige 1979
² Magpies, Homebodies and Nomads, Cirilia Rose, 2014
Yarns on Yarns, Part 1 may be viewed here.