Culture Purls

Knitting (and crocheting) is big, surpassing its basic crafts level and appearing on the runway, in home decorating, and even, architecture.
09/15/2007 07:38 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

In late June I posted about a few of the knitting efforts done these days for and against the current war in Iraq, and one friend scoffed at Socks for Soldiers, alarmed that anyone would think that today's fighting men and women would not be able to get socks, when actually, armor was more the issue. While that may be true, I'm interested in what anyone wants to do with their artistry and their crafts because that is a reflection of individualism and current culture. That same friend caught herself wanting to send her deployed nephew homemade brownies instead of store bought, so she caught on. All of the sites that knitted garments for soldiers in Iraq cited that same outdated WWII nationwide knitting even though we do not have rations and victory gardens, and most socks today are machine made. The task just made the knitters feel like they were communicating support and comfort to those in dangerously supportive roles.

Knitting (and crocheting) is big, surpassing its basic crafts level and appearing on the runway, in home decorating, and even, architecture. An enterprising group of women who run the Knitting Site last year found a way to re-use those environmentally destructive plastic bags we should not be allowing merchants to pack our loot in, by cutting them into strips along with garbage bags, combining that with rope, and knitting it all into a brownstone-shaped slipcover for a two-story scaffolding. They did this for and at the 2006 London Architecture Biennale, gradually building the house in front of the crowd because neither building nor knitting should be done behind screens or walls, in their opinion, and they like the look of the mundane. Looking at the cozy result makes me wish I could live there, despite the real jungle gym of bars beneath it. However, I have to say I would not like to live in Alison Murray's knitted house and mill around the knitted stove and knitted table, drink from a knitted tea cup after picking wool posies from a knitted garden. I'd feel like I was wearing a knitted straightjacket and bouncing off the knitted walls. However, more than 500 knitters from Spain, the British Isles, the U.S., and Canada have contributed roof tiles, furniture and wall patches to Murray's project to benefit Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital and North Devon Hospice. The door of the 140 square foot house, which Murray actually finished in June of this year, is made of wood, as are the window casements. I'm tempted to get some of Habu Textiles new Stainless Steel yarn and knit her some screens to keep the moths out.

Alison Murray embarked upon the wool gingerbread house, as she had previously on a knit Christmas tree that raised 10,000 pounds for the hospice, because she wanted to show people that knitting wasn't just an activity for granny. In fact, when it is woven into the dialogue of a David Milch show, you know that the craft has a new body and consciousness, perhaps even, a beak. Anyways, in the short-lived HBO series, John, From Cincinnati, about levitating surfers, a seemingly psychic autistic man, and bitchy blonds (male and female), Bill Jacks, played by Ed O'Neill, irritably defends the intuitive powers of his recently resurrected pet bird, Zippy, to an incredulous drug dealer ("Your bird said all that?"): "I said he indicated, not that he couldn't speak if he wanted to, or do knitting in his spare time..."

Knit Knit Seben, created by artist Sabrina Gschwandtner, is a cool newsletter with limited edition covers intended for artistic, political knitters. (Knit Knit Book is published this month with Stewart, Tabori & Chang.) This spring's Issue 7, chiefly edited by Jonas Mekas, featured an essay by Trevor Pitt, another British knitlife designer--as I'll call those in the art of not creating knitwear--on his decision to engage his mother, aunts, and their friends in a collaborative art project for "Hardcore Soft," a mixed media exhibit at the National Museum of Art, Design and Architecture, Norway. The artist had concern over the violence in the housing development where he'd grown up and towards the people he loves, and reflected on his own distance from the place since becoming an artist, so he and ten women covered a wooden bench--not unlike the one that long ago sat in front of the local shopping center--in Sage Heather Aran Yarn knitted in garter and cable stitches. He wanted to create a dialogue between soft and hard, permanent and ephemeral, urban and domestic, and public and private. Before the Soft Bench went off to Norway, it was photographed in places suggested by the locals of Glebe Farm Housing Estates in Birmingham, and exhibited at the local library for a week. Pitt also filmed a funny documentary of his mother, "Feral Beryl" with her cat, knitting at home and around town, and wrote with Keith Stephenson, a limited edition pattern for other Soft Benches to be made.

It is difficult to make fun of work done to benefit hospitalized children and to address issues of construction, ecology and public safety, but these fantastic projects may one day be culture purls for Stitchy McYarnpants at her Museum of Kitschy Stitches, when she's exhausted the wealth of acrylic and wool prizes such as crocheted beer can sleeves, pom pom barrettes and baubles, freaky ski masks, and "krotch-tite spray-on knitwear" from the 1960's and 1970's. Take heed.