Exhibitions, General, Knitted Art

Soft Engineering Exhibition, a review of Textiles Taking Shape

In Hampshire (UK) we have been gifted yet again by the Winchester Discovery Centre with another fabulous textile exhibition. This time it is a group show by soft engineers: Alison Ellen (hand knitting), Ann Richards (weaver) and Deirdre Wood (weaver). Together they are demonstrating the common threads between knitting and weaving and show how the materials they use in their methods, particularly when working with materials of very different qualities side by side, spontaneously shape the constructed fabric.

Deidre Wood weaves with materials of contrasting physical property. The work is straight during the weaving process but when cut from the loom and soaked in water it reshapes itself.

Deidre Wood interlocking circles low res
Deidre Wood, Interlocking Rings, silk, linen and wool.

In contrast Ann Richards work exploits the different spin directions of high twist yarns to create her sculptural effects. Again the work is woven straight and the properties of the yarns are allowed to exert their influence once it is cut out and wetted.

Ann Richards scarves low res
Ann Richards double cloth pleated scarf

I was fascinated by the work of these sculptural weavers, having not been exposed to it before. I was, however, more familiar with the work of hand knitter Alison Ellen who introduced me to the joys of modular knitting a number of years back when I attended a couple of her workshops at West Dean College.

At the time I was working through my City and Guilds Hand Knit Design course and was struggling a little with the process of translating seemingly unrelated visual inspiration into knitted fabric. As a life long knitter with no previous design training, I had always worked from the other way around. That is using an ongoing inquiring experimental process with yarns and stitches (a “I wonder what would happen if I did/used this to……”), creating samples, and the properties and appearance of those samples then suggesting to me what garment they would lend themselves to.

It was a relief when I met Alison as she also appeared to be working (successfully) in this direction too and while it wouldn’t have helped me to pass my City and Guilds, I have continued to use this process, particularly in my knitted art practice, alongside the more conventional design process which I am pleased to say with practice has now become second nature.

Alison Ellen sweater low res
Alison Ellen modular sweater in wool.

Alison’s garments allow the stitches to shape the fabric. She is well known for using a modular approach, allowing herself to effect the drape of the constructed fabric by changing the bias. I have had the pleasure of trying on some of her cardigans and sweaters at a previous workshop and have seen others in them too. They transform once a body is put inside them, and create the most flattering garments due to this bias and drape effect. She has a number of wonderful design books too so if this type of knitting excites you I highly recommend them.

Alison Ellen Books low res
Alison Ellen’s books (you can see my copies are well thumbed)

So my love affair with modular knitting is probably all Alison’s fault (thank you lovely lady!). Some of you will already be familiar with my Weimwood Shawl design (pattern available from Etsy here¬†and if you would like to learn more about this type of knitting, I have two workshops coming up devoted to modules. The first is on Saturday 10 February at Wyvern College in Eastleigh. More details and booking is via the Ashcroft Centre here. The second is a slightly shorter session on Saturday 17 February 2018 at the fabulous Unravel Festival of Knitting in Farnham. More details can be found here.

modular scarf portrait low res
The Modular Scarf design for my upcoming workshops.

I highly recommend you visit this exhibition at the Winchester Discovery Centre if you can. It is free entry and I’m sure those of you interested in textile art and engineering will find it very interesting. If I have whetted your appetite for modular knitting it would also be lovely to see you on one of my workshops.

Until next time….