Throwback Thursday

I don’t usually take part in internet social trends like #ThrowbackThursday but earlier this week it came up in conversation that my Parallax v3.5 had made an appearance back in 2014 and as far as anyone knew, that was the end of it — it was relegated to a WIP at the back of my closet, maybe to be broken out again and maybe not.

This could not be further from the truth, and I can’t figure out why I didn’t blog any of the rest of the story. So this is a throwback both to the blog post I made when I first began the pattern, as well as its appearance in a gallery show about a year ago!

Firstly, Parallax v3.5 is an expansion of the three-color concept of Parallax v3.0, which can be found in my Parallax collection. v3.5 is not available as a pattern at the moment, for reasons that will become clear soon. I conceived of this pattern during an Illustrator sketching session at the Men’s Spring Knitting Retreat some (unknown) years ago. It was one of those moments when a pattern comes together and you get chills. It is perfect and whole at that moment and all that remains is to actually knit it.

The process of knitting it was like that too. Similar to Parallax v3.0, I used Kauni Effektgarn to keep the intrigue up as I went (although I opted to make one of the three colorways solid rather than a gradient). As I went, I enjoyed the pattern so much that I decided I’d just keep working until I ran out of yarn. Since this is Kauni (where a typical ball is around 150g of fingering-weight yarn), you can probably guess what happened: the piece ended up about 10 feet long.

A 10-foot scarf may or may not be a useful item, but one of the things that can take a piece from the realm of craft to the realm of art is the element of scale. While this piece is not large in every dimension, it is considerably longer than usual. I have been told for many years that my work is art and should be in a museum or at least a gallery. As a matter of fact, I was an art major in college, and owned a gallery for a couple of years myself. So perhaps it’s a natural progression for me to think about presenting some of my work as art. More on that toward the end of this post …

In 2017, I had an opportunity to show some of my work in a gallery setting. Full disclosure: it was at the Quaker meeting house which I attend in Cambridge, not a “proper” gallery. But it got me to start thinking about how I would present my work in that context, and I started planning and building. The biggest issue to overcome is the reversibility of my pieces. I needed a reversible method of showing them as well, but one that also protected them.

Long ago, I had envisioned a reversible picture frame, inside which the piece would be suspended via fishing line or a similarly invisible method of support. I visited my local frame shop and started chatting with the woman who works there. She was intrigued by my ideas, and I had her build some simple frames for me. These frames had no glass in them, nor backing. Once I had the frames, I had to work out what to do with them. I had found some clear acrylic sheeting that fit the frames (or rather, I had the frames made to fit the sheeting). Gluing in the sheeting would leave a certain amount of space between them for a knitted object to sit inside. But unless the frames were much thicker, there would be no practical way to mount the knitting in between. Too thick, and the frames would be too heavy.

I decided to forego the mounting method by simply putting the acrylic sheets closer together. This way, when the frames were placed back to back, the small gap between them would squeeze the knitted object just enough to hold it in place by friction alone. Since the frames had a fixed size, I used acrylic shim material, which had adhesive on one side for ease of application, and of course which could be easily bonded to the clear sheet. Various sizes of shim would allow me to make the space between the sheets slightly larger or smaller for thicker or thinner double-knitted fabric.

The next obstacle was how to keep the frames together. They had to stay flush together to maintain the friction that held the knitted garment in place. But various connection methods were either bulky and visible, or too permanent. It was important that the frame be easily opened and closed for repositioning of the knitting — so screws and bolts, even if they could be made nearly invisible, were also out.

Finally, I struck on the solution: neodymium magnets. I found a source for coin-shaped magnets, and through careful measurement and drilling, I managed to mount them in identical locations around the backs of the frames. I then glued them in place and covered them with small circular plastic cutouts to protect them from each other (two magnets that get too close to each other will snap together and possibly shatter — this should be unlikely due to them being glued in place but you can’t be too cautious.

The final step was to install hinges on one edge, and some kind of hanging method on the other. I got some new blades for my old linocut tools and hand-cut clean channels for those fittings so that when the frame is closed, they don’t get in the way.

The little frames were simple — they’re sized for a piece of acrylic that’s 1’x1′. The big one was more of a task — the acrylic is 3’x3′, and the frame is the same thickness. For this, I had to use thicker acrylic to ensure the structural stability of the final product. It made it incredibly heavy, but also quite strong.

Hanging them was also an adventure, but with the chains it was easy to get them level simply by moving a hook up or down a link. Ideally, they’d be shown in a free-hanging location or perhaps perpendicular from the wall, to allow people to see both sides — but the space at the Meeting house was not conducive to that. I decided that I would return once a week during the show and flip them around so that people could see both sides on a repeat visit.

My work was shown alongside fiber art from several other artists in the Meeting, including (in large part) Minna Rothman, a self-taught tapestry weaver who has shown her pieces internationally. The show ran during January and February of 2018. It is my hope to continue creating a body of work which can be shown as art, and to refine the process of building these reversible frames for future shows.

This finally brings us to the question of craft vs. art. Despite the fact that I have an art background from college, I also have a much older craft background, as I have been crafting since I was a small child. I have shown my work as art, and I’ve sold my work at craft shows. In recent years, I have been selling only patterns so that people can craft their own versions of things I design. But what makes a craft art-worthy? Is it simply about presentation, or is it something more? This is a discussion that more qualified people have been having for years, but I believe that one of the things that makes a piece art instead of craft is its uniqueness. If I sell the pattern for this piece, it becomes craft because other people will create their own versions and mine is no longer unique in the world. If I don’t sell the pattern, it remains art, as there is only one like it. I realize that this is a simplistic distinction that doesn’t apply everywhere — for example, printmaking is still art; similarly, the art-worthiness of my piece doesn’t diminish because someone zooms in on a photo, charts it for themselves, and knits a copy. But if intention matters, then if I intend to make a body of work that can be displayed as art, I can’t also release patterns for the same pieces.

Does that mean that I’m going to stop releasing patterns for my work? Absolutely not! I still want to create things that other people will enjoy knitting. But I also want to have the freedom to explore concepts that may not be marketable in the same way. And if I can use my patterns to support that freedom, then perhaps I can sell my art — at art prices — it will help support the crafting side of my business as well.

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