Monday, December 10, 2012

Dear friends of Astounding Knits:
I surely do appreciate your patience, and continued devotion to checking back here to see if I've posted anything new and astounding lately. Too many projects have finally piled up and I'm sorry I've been remiss of late. I hope to jump-start this whole blog in the new year—please continue to stay tuned! And meanwhile, hop on over to Pinterest and see what marvels I've unearthed over there (hint: it's not just knitting and crochet!)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Hats & Hats & Hats

I'm not quite sure how to date the amount of time I've known Eiko Berkowitz; how long I've known of her is easier to pinpoint. The first time I ever spotted Eiko was a few months before I got married in 1998. I was having my dress made by the amazing Mary Adams, at her shop on Ludlow Street. There was a little cutout square in the wall of her shop, so that she could chat throughout the day with her friend and next-door-shop-owner-neighbor Amy Downs, a hat maker. Maybe I saw Eiko through that square; maybe I was browsing Amy's store in between fittings, and saw Eiko full-on and up-close. The only detail I'm certain of is that Eiko was wearing a hat. A tall, whimsical, colorful hat, probably one of Amy's.

This was also the case the next time I saw Eiko, at Rita Bobry's East Village outpost Downtown Yarns, where, as coincidence would have it, I was buying yarn to make a hat for a friend. She was wearing a hat when I was more officially introduced to her by my friend Elanor Lynn, when I was writing my first book about knitting, Knitting Lessons. And she was most assuredly wearing a hat when I visited her in her own shop, Yu, which specialized in vintage Japanese clothing, as well as skirts and embroidery of Eiko's own design.

It's probably clear by now that the unifying theme here is hats – Eiko wearing hats. But these days, the Okinawa native also makes hats, some of which I present to you in today's post. And it is probably clear from these photos that the unifying theme of Eiko's hats is the unexpectedness of their structure: they seem to twist and tilt in the most unlikely directions. Hopefully later this week, I'll be able to supplement these pictures with some words from Eiko herself: stay tuned!

Photos courtesy of Eiko Berkowitz

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Vegetable Supreme

By now, the incredible amimono (a word that encompasses both knitting and crochet) vegetables of Japanese crafter Jung-Jung have been showing up on blogs and pins for months. As with the work of Kyoko Yoshikawa, these pieces take food knitting to an entirely new level: of skill, of delicacy, of what is possible to accomplish with a hook and needles and yarn. On the one hand, they're incredibly life-like. On the other, their lace-patterned leaves and variously-textured surfaces artfully translate life into sublimity.

Using DMC Cordonnet Special crochet threads in numbers 80-100, Jung-Jung, who tells me she cooks every day, seeks to make accessories of the common vegetables – radishes, carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, lotus root – of her kitchen. She's entirely self-taught, and began to learn to crochet at the age of eleven.

"I want to express various things with knitting from now on," she says. And after vegetables will come "flowers of the field" - a series of events to greatly anticipate.

All photos courtesy of Jung-Jung
Oh, and did I mention - they're jewelry...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Knit What You Eat...

...the better to examine it. This is the underlying premise of the work of Swiss crafter Madame Tricot, who has been blogging her "knitted vintage butchery" for the past couple of months. "When you want to eat meat, you have to accept to see the dead animal which gave his life for you, without the packaging of the supermarket," she told me.

Honestly, hog's head never looked so un-upsetting. Perhaps this is a result of the obvious care Madame Tricot – who is a doctor in her non-knitting life – takes with her free-hand, life-size subjects, the result of what must be a love affair with meaty foodstuffs. Perhaps it's also helped along by the luxurious yarns she  uses: mohair, silk, alpaca, cashmere, and homespun. "I need a pleasant tasting material for my soul," she quips.

On a more serious explanatory note, "I learned in medical school to observe," says Madame (Docteur?) Tricot, a grandmother who has only lately begun to feel that expressing her more artistic side through these objects is not, somehow, shameful. "I think my knowledge of anatomy helped me to knit correct meat for my butchery, or to knit a lobster, or to knit a plant." A yarn shop called Novalana, in the town of Winterthur, will exhibit her work beginning on May 11.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Helen Pynor is known to crafters the world over as the artist who knit heart & lungs with diaphanous strands of human hair. This month, she's featured in London's Wellcome Collection exhibit, "Brains: The Mind as Matter." It's an exploration of many of the "strange and extreme things that have been done to the human brain in the name of science," according to the press release.
"Headache" (detail) by Helen Pynor, C-type photographic print on glass, 2008.
Photo courtesy of the artist and GV Art, London. 
Pynor's bright yet haunting piece features no knitting this time around, but rather, black cotton embroidery on fine silk fabric. The text reads: "Headache – press brown paper soaked in vinegar against the forehead" and is taken from an old home remedy Pynor discovered in an oral history archive at a library in Australia. 

"Headaches aren't something I'm prone to, otherwise I might have been tempted" to try the remedy, she maintains. It's possibly just as well that she hasn't, as "I've been told that some of the old remedies are no longer as effective due to contemporary ways of manufacturing things."

Anyone out there got a home remedy of their own for curing headaches they'd like to share? Knitting and embroidery, perhaps?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Death to Heroes

I can't argue that the work of Patricia Waller featured in ASTOUNDING KNITS was subtle, exactly. There was a crocodile massacring a toddler, after all. And an elf endowed with the cumbersome hindquarters of a snail. But "Broken Heroes," Waller's new show at Galerie Deschler in Berlin, presents a certain nauseous hilarity in the guise of homey crochet. As a collection, it's not surprising in comparison to her older work. It's just a wee bit...frappant, as the French would say.

Ernie from the iconic kid's classic Sesame Street is recast as a Bowery bum, replete with five o'clock shadow, empty bottle of booze, and a begging hat (although, for what it's worth, my pessimistic bet for complete degenerative breakdown would have been dour Bert).

"Ernie," 2011. Wool, cotton filling, fabrics, glass, crochet work, 100cm x 100cm x 80cm
Hello Kitty is caught in the throes of seppuku, spilling her cute guts all over her tidy pink dress. 

"Hello Kitty," 2011. Wool, styrofoam, plastics, crochet work,  65cm x 45cm x 60cm
And Spiderman has managed to tangle himself hopelessly in his own web. Frankly, I always thought this outcome was inevitable. 

"Spiderman," 2011. Wool, cotton filling, fabrics, crochet work.  90cm x 150cm x 200cm
All photos courtesy of Galerie Deschler.
The show's up through June 9, 2012.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Cool Splotch

By now, a year after publication, I am just plain cleaned out of ASTOUNDING KNITS. On the shelf in my office that's lined with extra author's copies to pass on to friends and colleagues, you'll spy not one bright pink-and-turqoise spine. And the reason is: my daughter's eight-year-old thug friends swiped them all. Okay, I sanctioned the swipage. And gladly, too. It's rare that the worlds of kids and books-intended-for-adults actually meet and merge. For whatever reason, AS wholly captivated a bunch of third graders.

One of their collective favorite entries was of Isabel Berglund's City of Stitches. A life-size knitted white tree held "viewers" in knitted sweater pockets inside its trunk, underneath a cloud of green knitted foliage. This past February, Berglund showed (at Specta gallery, in Copenhagen) a similarly compelling and befuddling knitted collage piece titled Floating Pearls:

Isabel Berglund's Floating Pearls (right), shown here with Borderland (left) by Signe Jaïs

"We are witnessing an object in the state of transition," says the gallery literature. Say two eight year olds hovering around my ear as I type this: "Whoa, it's a cocoon, a necklace and a splotch!" and "It's just cool!"

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Saws Away!

You remember her from Astounding Knits as the Dutch sculptor who meticulously recreated bathroom fixtures in pink knitted wool. Several months ago, Desiree de Baar turned her attention to pink knitted chain saws, which she proceeded to hang in Sleenerzand Forest in Drenthe.

The knitting "worked a bit as a jacket," says de Baar, covering the hard, inner bodies of the Husqvarnas themselves since, "I needed them to be weather-proof."The project was an initiative by natuurkunst Drenthe. They collaborated with the forest and assisted in the woods. "Although the hanging (of steel cables, up to 10 meters high!) I did myself.  It was really [a show about] sharpening your sights through the forest, finding those trees and the view lines with the perspective of saws."

Monday, January 23, 2012

Astounding Felieke

Somewhere, somehow, I stumbled upon the work of Dutch jewelry sculptor Felieke van der Leest. I was working on KNITTING AROUND THE WORLD at the time, and decided to add her to the chapter on knitting in the Netherlands. Much to my chagrin, she was eventually cut by the editors in the final stages of manuscript prep, just as ASTOUNDING KNITS was going to press - and so too late to add her to that book, where she really belonged.

In an attempt to make it up to her, I wrote about her work for the winter issue of Twist Collective. And I'm writing about her here and now, in the hopes of spreading word of her incredible, whimsical creations among the general American populace. Some of the pieces shown here (an assortment of her newest work) contain knitted or crocheted components; some of them don't. For a wider assortment, visit Felieke at her website.

Beaver Family from Pencil Creek
Billy the Kids

Incognitos Anonymous
Gonzalez Brothers 
Peace Puffin
The End

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Heaven + Birds

The Sundogs have been at it again - in December, with Cloudishness, another commission from Inverness Old Town Art in Scotland. This time, rather than bombing a graveyard, the ladies (known to us as Jennifer Cantwell and Annie Marrs) used a car park elevator as their yarn-y platform. 

As Cantwell explains it, "The idea was that the elevator was a portal to heaven, heaven is handmade. The ground floor was the departure lounge and there were departure lounge information messages broadcast from a cloud.  We made utopian public information messages relevant to those entering Nirvana: weather reports, public safety info, travel news, directions, etc. – positive affirmations for those entering the next dimension and reassurances for anxious travellers. People loved it, it made them laugh, the elevator was working the whole time so they went to whatever floor their car was on. The sky was knitted on the machine, the clouds were made from wadding, the signs were knitted (steeking, spray glue + hot glue!)."
For those of you who remember the Sundog's previous grievances with their last, elderly knitting machine, Cantwell is pleased to report: "I've a new knitting machine now. I think my concentrated rage killed that last one."
Cantwell also mounted a show sans-Sundogs, entitled Birdsong, using as inspiration an earlier collection of cassette tape doilies she'd made. She says of this project, which was also exhibited in Inverness:

"I wanted to crochet sound, make patterns from the actual notes or structure of the notes. I've an interest in invisible data, coding, radiowaves, information that's all around us and in the air we breathe but [that we] can't see. Crochet turned into knitting.

"The Fair Isle patterns were knitted on a knitting machine, and the designs for the Fair Isle were taken from the shapes contained within the soundwaves of actual recordings from locations – my partner Dave is a sound designer so we recorded birds and ambient sound from different areas of Scotland and then put them through sound processing software on the computer so I was able to actually see the soundwaves and the shapes the sounds were making. Then I designed patterns from the shapes. The birdboxes are handmade, the knitting is steeked, spray glued and sewn onto them. There's an mp3 player inside each one and headphones so you can hear the soundtrack of each box. The QR codes are linked to googlemaps; each box was geotagged so if you scan the code on your phone, googlemaps will take you to the location of each recording. 

All photos courtesy of Jennifer Cantwell

"Kids loved the show and it was well received with the grown ups too. In the gallery, this film was projected  on one of the walls, and I set up a knitting zone and left out needles and wool and instructions. At the opening, Dave brought his decks and dj-ed a live soundpiece made from birdsongs and knitting noises. It was brilliant."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


I know, I know, I've been remiss in posting about all those ASTOUNDING KNITS out there in the knitiverse. I promise to do better in 2012. And to start the year off right, here's Emily Stoneking's latest dissection, of a bat. You can knit it, too – see hereStoneking used Frog Tree alpaca sport to stitch up the body, and Jawoll fingering weight for the wings. She needle felted the insides out of bits of wool roving then sewed them into place.

I've always been something of a bat fan. For starters, as the mosquito magnet in my house, I love the fact that certain species of bat, such as the Cave Myotis, can eat up to 3,000 mosquitoes a night. I love that the Thai bumblebee bat is the smallest mammal in the world - weighing less than a penny and measuring about 1.1 inches long. I love that bats pollinate cashews and certain cacti; sleep not only in caves but also in furled banana leaves and large tropical spider webs; and that vampire bats can run on land in addition to flying.  And I love Stoneking's woolly exploration of their insides. (PS, did you know that bats and humans share a common ancestor?)