Knitting togetherness

design

Last December I started the ‘Scarf of the month’, a promise to myself to make one scarf each month that was influenced by current events.

The April scarf will not be finished in April. To be honest I have not even started it. Well, not started making it. I know exactly what I want it to be all about. But I run against a wall of sadness with this topic.

I am fed up with protestors in Germany marching against what they call the Islamisation of our society. I am fed up with right-wing politicians trying to scare. I am fed up with refugees drowning because others think them a threat. I want to knit against racism. I want to knit something welcoming against all those who want to close others out. I want to knit something soothing for those who are scared.

And I do not know yet how to do this.

I think it is too important to do something half-hearted. I will be late. But it will be good.

knit_tog

On design and activism

design

Machwas 067

We have been lucky enough to write about anything that interests us for the dissertation of my BA course, as long as it was somehow visual. As part of Visual Culture Studies, ‘Design, Culture and Context’ gave everyone the opportunity to research the subject their felt passionate about. Or curious. At the time the Occupy Movement had just peaked and protest was spreading everywhere – or at least discussed in all the media. I wrote about the design of protest signs and the use of humour and irony that started to emerge in plenty of signs. More than just making a spectacle of protest, these signs questioned the whole nature of protest – and in my opinion started a much deeper discussion about the nature of protest than many others marching before. In this time I started to work with the slogan ‘This is not a protest’ that I have since stamped on stickers, knitted into sweaters and will soon embroider onto a kitsch image.

Taube

When both articles about my protest research and my design work had been accepted to conferences, I wondered for a while where to turn to. In both areas I had open questions, threads that I want to follow up and that I both considered timely and useful. In the end I turned to design again – because I want to make things. But I think for me it is not only about making things, it is more about the question what I can do with things. If things can change the world.Protest_sweater

And this to me is where I have come full circle again. Because in my understanding both activists and designers want to change the world. With different tools, aims and methods, but with an understanding nonetheless that things need to change and that things can be changed. Both share that they are active, outlooking and confident occupations.

I had to be a designer to become an activist. I had to get this understanding that I can change the world before I started not only to complain about things I felt went wrong, but tried to change them instead. And it is something that I have started to see in others around me. Those that write software, craft or design objects, privately or for a job, have more active political interests and try to use this impact to change what they feel is wrong. People who are less limited in their expression are more hesitant. They say ‘Well, its not the way it could be, but what can you do?’

Which is not to say that picking up a creative hobby makes someone change the world. But it makes it more likely to learn how to stand for what one believes in. Once one has made the one piece that is EXACTLY how one wants it to be, it is hard to go back. Accept what is available. Compromise.

This is something I strongly believe in. Something that my design work focuses on. Something my activism focuses on. How can we make it possible for everyone to express themselves? To learn what one has to say? How can we start to learn to understand what everyone is saying? How can we give everyone the power to change the world?

Some fighters I admire for trying to achieve similar goals:

Arts Emergency: Their strong believe that arts education is not a luxury is strongly shared by me. I wasted nearly 10 years of my life because I did not dare to study design and felt it was a ‘risky’ choice. So glad I have done it and I will not go looking back. Support their work with a monthly donation or even by becoming a mentor. I know I will when I go back to the UK.

Craftivist Collective: Believe me, I have tried for this article, but there is no way to make ‘Design’ and ‘Activism’ sound anywhere nearly as sexy as this. As the name suggests, their encourage people to express their protest through craft. Which always asks the question: “What do you have to say?” we get asked that too seldom in or lifes!

Jen Gale: Looking at the everyday choices that can make a difference, Jen actively ecourages change. Not by street protest, but by make-do, mending and making.

Amanda Palmer: For openly encouraging others to make art and to make her struggle public. It is good to know that you are not the first one to go through the doubts, the not-being-taken-seriously, and did I mention the doubts?

Scott Santens: Yup, a bit the odd one out, but Scott strongly advocates for Basic Income, a topic very close to my heart. I personally think that a safety net like this would bring out the creativity in a lot of us. If you could get creative to gain what you want, rather than having to secure what you need.

There are more, there must be. I will add to this list whenever I think I of someone who shouts out until they are hoarse to get people making. Hopefully one day I will join their ranks. I have started shouting. What do you have to say?

Crochet Cube

design

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I love making blankets. They are a great way to recycle yarn ends and jut generally nice to have around. But I have made three last year. And I started to feel a bit like the great-aunt you know who made the one thing over and over again and gave stuff around to all family and everyone in the neighbourhood. I still have the crocheted loo roll cover that our heighbourhood crafter used to make – and give generously.

CC_layers

Trying not to fall into this trap I have tried to make something new with my latest project: to grow into height and not into the width. I have always been fascinated by the opportunities knit and crochet has to grow three-dimensional – and have learned a new way to do this with ‘Crochet Cube’.

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Crocheting a new layer into each layer, the cube grows without the need for any seams or filling. I made mine from yarn ends I had laying around but it is possible to make it completely from renewable materials. ‘Crochet Cube’ is handmade and takes a long time to grow and develop. It will be cherished for a long time as well. Because the layers trap air between it, the cushion is very soft and regains shape easily and quickly.

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For me ‘Crochet Cube’ has been an excellent opportunity to get on with #OperationDestash. I have turned leftovers into materials to experiment with, to learn with and to innovate with. But I am convinced that ‘Crochet Cube’ also offers opportunities to make sustainable items from renewable yarns – beautiful homeware, made with love, long-living and recycable without leaving a trace at the end of their life.

 

FuckUkuleleYeah

art, media, social

If you follow this blog regularly, you will have noticed my fight to become more spontaneous, less limited by my doubts and all the thoughts of ‚what could go wrong‘. For about two years – or even longer, I am not sure – I wanted to start to learn an instrument and make music; even more specific, I wanted to play the Ukulele. My father makes music for as long as I can remember and so do many of my friends, but I never got round to do it. I carried this wish around with me for this long, spending a lot of time thinking about it and regretting that it had not happened. Oh well, I do not have time to learn an instrument anyway. But as the talk by Rohan Gunatillake at Near Now revealed to me, ‘No time’ does not count. It is an excuse not a reason.
ukulele
So, what were the reasons of keeping me from trying something new? Anxiety? Hell yeah! I have failed learning instruments earlier as I did not have the patience to go through the boring bits before doing my own stuff. But with knitting I have gone there. I know now that I can force myself to go through all the motions and that there will be the point when I manage to do my own thing.

Set in my ways? Hell yeah! A lot of my days follow a routine which is very convenient. But I know I am already unhappy with this as I take on many new projects to break the routine. Learning Italian and Danish, entering drawing competitions and starting to make a zine to push myself to get in touch with others, I know I have the energy to do many more things in my life.

Something has to go? Hell yeah! There is only so much time in the day to fill and I know things will have to go as I squeeze in playing an instrument as well. But the more I come to think about is, the more I recognise that the part to go is the part of me that thinks everything over again and again. Which is what I am looking to do anyway.

So, this Saturday I ventured out and got myself a Ukulele. It is one of the many steps that do not sound like much, but help to make me more the person I want to be. Help me to be the best ME I can become. Who knows, worst thing that can happen is that I throw it away after a year, bored of what I can do. Best that can happen is that one day I will be able to write songs others can relate to. Much of scope. But I a not thinking about them anymore. I am doing something. I will see what can happen.

Right, why am I telling you all this? Partly narcissistic, because I can. Partly to make it more real and to push myself forward. Partly because I hope it will pass on a bit of my motivation and make you try out something new. I have been hesitant to acknowledge to myself that I can make things and that I can make a change for a long time. But now that I have gone there, I never want to go back. And like a reformed Believer I want to make this happen for others as well. And this is how I start. One Ukulele at a time :-)

Scarf of the month: March – Storyteller

art, crochet, dementia, knitting, social

This month I worked on #OperationDestash, by turning my purple leftovers into a #knitamileagainstcancer scarf. Posted this week already, this was a nice little feel-good project, that I hope does some good along its way.

The thing that really got to me this month was the death of Terry Pratchett. I never knew him as a person, but his work has been around me half my life. I must have been around 14 when I picked up ‘Only you can save mankind’, which still has an impact on my life. I went from there to the Nome triology, and not long until I discovered Discworld and was fully hooked. The stories of the Witches, Death and Seargeant Vimes played a huge part in my life since, because they seemed to flow directly from my head onto the page. Comparable to Death’s voice that is rather felt than heard, Discworld characters seemed to think exactly the same way as me – even before I knew I thought this. The lizards that worked drawing machines were as little a surprise to me as ants running Hex or Granny borrowing time until she felt the pain. (If this did not make sense: read the books!)

When the news came out that Terry Pratchett had been diagnosed with dementia, I was already researching in this area and had seen how it affected my grandmother. It made me so angry that this important, creative and from all accounts engaged man, should develop this illness. It just showed to me that it hit without any reason, it was not a question of not using ones brain, not a question of having done something wrong.

What I liked about the whole way he had been able to live and write with this illness, is the influence it had on people. For me, and I am sure for thousands of others, he will be the author of Discworld, and not ‘A man with dementia’. It is a fate I wish for all other people with dementia who do not dare to speak out, because DEMENTIA takes over their life and becomes a label they become invisible behind.

March_finalTo honor Pratchett and his amazing talent and skill as a storyteller, I knitted and crocheted the ‘Storyteller’ scarf. It is one of these artifacts that I hope can become anything, can inspire and help to drive a story forwards.

For me it has been bark, shown me a way, turned into a ruffled collar and a couple of things more. Let me know what it is you see in it and drive the story forward!

Knit scientific

art, crochet, design, knitting, research

When people hear that I am both interested in design AND research I often get a lot of puzzled looks. In everyday thinking design has become this crazy, random activity; messy and impossible to tame. Research on the other hand is white, clean and highly tamed. Every step measured and prescribed. One person can impossibly do and like both. The truth – as always – is blurrier than that.

What combines both design and science is the sense of curiosity and the will to explore. Both scientists and artists will often tell you that they start a project with a question and look for ways in which they try to find answers. And even though the in which these insights are generated are different, who is to say that one is better than the other – more creative, more insightful? Scientists as well as designers need to be creative to come up with solutions, to find the right questions to ask and to move on when the research seems to be ‘stuck’: Artists and designers on the other hand may go through uncountable repetitions with the vigour of a lab series, noting the different outcomes, changing their behavior to enhance the outcome.

The often quoted STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics is currently turned into STEAM as art takes its rightful place in the explorative cannon. Science and art move together closer (again one might argue) and are both more and more seen as both a creative as well as rigorous process. This is by far not as far-fetched as it seems on first glance. One of my all time favorite craft projects is the hyperbolic crochet reef  which has been grown with the help of participants all over the world. The ‘corals’ mimic the beauty of the natural shapes, while doing something extraordinary: exist as a flat and three-dimensional shape at the same time. If you read through the description of what a hyperbolic plane is, it might make you lose the will to live. But there is one way of increasing stitches in crochet when going in the round, and you can touch it, feel it, experience it.

One of the most interesting projects I have come across recently was Anna Dumitriu’s exhibition “The romantic disease: An Artistic Investigation of Tuberculosis” at Watermans in London. I am still sad that I have been unable to attend the workshop and felt lungs with (killed) TB bacteria. I am quite sure that the repetitive motion of felting would have helped to get an understanding of how the bacteria intrude the body. Much better than any textbook or illustration could ever do.

This is in my experience the great power of arts & craft projects that deal with complex scientific issues: it can be a communicator. It can trigger interest in complex topics, which most people do not have when looking at a blackboard. It might show the beauty of insight and patterns to new spectators. I believe once you have seen the beauty in something, you lose your anxiety of it. It might allow you to approach subjects that had been closed to you earlier. It might be a starting point for something entirely new.

I have been lucky enough to talk about this with Nicki Merrall, a knit designer whose cable pattern based on chance has been published in ‘The Knitter’, Issue 68 . But I met her at Nottingham Trent University, where she took her Masters degree, while I knitted my way through the BA. She describes the work on her final collection as a “transition” from her former work as a biochemist to a knit designer:

“Evolution of Form: A Hi-tech Approach to Craft” is my favourite project so far. The final pieces are far better than anything I could have imagined when I started my MA. This project pushed me to try many new things: machine knit rather than hand knit; form rather than colour and texture; synthetic yarn rather than natural fibre and making installations rather than garments. And in the process I underwent a transition from “scientist” to “artist”.

Have you come across people who are surprised by your choice of inspiration?

No, but many people from an “arts” background are surprised that a scientist would choose to work as an artist or designer. They don’t see that scientific work requires creativity and imagination; without these you only think of the obvious and may not be able to take advantage of serendipity.

Is there a mathematical problem / occurrence you would like to work with in future?

I think that knit could be used to understand the way in which things grow. That would be interesting!

Do you feel that your work might help others to see the beauty in logical and natural structures?

A lot of people do see the beauty in logical and natural structures, but they may not understand why, just as they don’t necessarily understand why they like certain man-made objects. So my work might help people understand why some structures are beautiful.

How do you think generally about arts and crafts as communicators?

The aim of scientific research is to advance our understanding about how things work. Therefore scientists communicate knowledge and understanding based on observable or measurable facts. Scientific papers are written for other scientists, rather than the public. Most people learn about scientific advances through mass media, but media is edited to argue a particular point of view, often by incorrect use of statistical analysis or ignoring some facts. And some journalists do not understand the science themselves, so might inadvertently create misunderstandings. Also people struggle with science because they do not understand the terminology and find it confusing when different scientists interpret the same facts differently.

Whilst art can be used to communicate factual information, art can also be used to communicate abstract or conceptual ideas. However, this often requires an explanation in addition to the actual installation. And, even though art is displayed for the public, the explanations are often written using language that is only understood by other artists. If people don’t understand visual symbolism or the way language is used by artists then the ideas to be communicated are lost.

In contrast, when I design and make knitted items I work from inspiration. I’m trying to make something aesthetically pleasing that is also functional. I usually write about the inspiration and design process because it helps people connect with me as a designer, and appreciate the skills required for and the technicalities of that craft. So, I’m communicating about craft rather than using craft to communicate. If I try to communicate about something else, then I’m using craft to create art and therefore using art to communicate an idea.

So, I guess the main thing about communication, regardless of field, is to understand your subject and write for your audience!

Thank you very, very much,Nicki, for your time and your insights!

Call for participation: Dementia & Art Zine

art, dementia, design, media

I feel I have complained long enough how much I dislike the way in which dementia is often represented in the media. Instead I want to take my own advice to ‘Stop talking and get on with it’ and showcase creative work around dementia.

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Dementi A rt is planned as a 16page zine, published both online and in limited print edition. In this brochure I want to feature artists work related to dementia – by people who experience dementia as well as those who do not. It will be distributed free of charge to raise awareness about the more subtle aspects around dementia.

Some pages have already been taken, others are still free for grabs. If you would like to get your work out there and feel you have something to say about dementia and art, please do get in touch via info@brifrischu.de or contact me via @brifrischu on twitter.  You do not have to be a professional artist to take part in this project – I am looking forward to combine texts, drawings, crafty projects – everything as long as it can be represented in print. Deadline for submissions is the 1st of May 2015. I am looking forward to learn about all your ideas and projects – let’s change the image of dementia!

 

10.000 hours of knit

art, crochet, knitting, social

I have recently seen Whiplash. Let me re-phrase that: I have recently fallen in love with Whiplash. This movie sounds amazing , looks amazing and tells a strong story of passion, talent and the will to become the best. The movie resonates with me since I saw it and it opened up an old wound.

You know how they say that masters of their craft, of their talent need to practice 10.000 hours before they become masters? I think I am nearly there. I can feel myself getting better. I have gone through blisters, through muscle pains and through working late nights, just to get on.

With knit. I am a really good crafter. I can make a sweater from scratch that people will love and I can make conceptual pieces that really mean something to others. But how unlikely is it that someone is going to make a movie about that? How unlikely is it that people will see my piece and will be completely off their feet?

I am not saying that this is not possible. I am not complaining that I do not get encouragement and recognition for what I do, because I do. I love what I do. But sometimes, in times like this, I wish I had chosen a more expressive, a more direct way of expression that would touch people in their hearts. Sometimes I wish I could stand on a stage and make the crowd go mad.

But then, then I get my graph paper out, settle for a good movie and plan the next master piece. That will cause blisters on my hands, my muscles ache and might take me up all night. Because of passion. Becuase of talent. And because I want to be one of the bloody bests!

Scarf of the month: February – Funghi

art, crochet, social

There is a part in my head that I do not really like. A part that does not seem to belong to me, but still dominates my life. A bulli. An agressive voice, arguing with me, trying to hold me down. Every achievement is diminished, every compliment is turned around, every idea trot on until it breaks.
The older I get, the more I achieve, the more I reject it. Try to fight it back. Argue and answer back. I used to call it ‘my head’. But I have recently called it ‘funghi’. Because it grows on me. Grows off me. It twitst and turns in intricate layers, unpenetratable patterns.

February_final_fullI had a really bad patch this winter, when the funghi grow strong and thick. I had finished my studies and was unemployed for a while, giving up a lot of the independence I formerly enjoyed, without a task, feeling useless. I could not enjoy the gift of spare timem could not motivate myself, but just sat and listened. Listened to the funghi grow, making me smaller and smaller. I had no way to fight it.

February_final_hiddenBut I took up my yarn and a hook and crocheted against it. I made the funghi and took it out of my head. I made it visible, so that I could address it.
It goes round and round in circles. Not in a clear line, but in layers that fold and crease and are hard to make sense off. Hard to get through.

February_final_giftEven though the funghi stands in my way, it also urges me forward. It is so much a part of me that I am afraid to lose it. Afraid to remain empty. So I am not really sure if I want to get rid of it. But I want to learn what is me and what is not. Want to learn again what is true about me, my achievements. Want to let myself grow, not the funghi. Use the funghi, not let it rule over me.

February_final_cushionFighting the urge to give up is what occupied me a lot during winter. It took up such a great part of my life that I decided to turn it into a scarf of the month. At the moment I do not know yet what will happen for the March scarf. Any suggestions? Get in touch via @brifrischu on twitter or via email info[at]brifrischu{dot}de.

 

Scarf of the month: January – Stop talking

art, dementia, social

For 2015 I set myself the goal to knit a scarf each month, commenting on a topic in the news or something that happens in my own life. With this I want to see if I am able to react quickly to events, and let them inspire me.

When the terrible shootings took part in Paris last month, I immediately started knitting. It was a heart-felt response, a strong wish to share my grief and to vent my anger. And I felt that this needed to be the scarf of the month.

je_suis_charlie2But when I later tried to collect my thoughts in a post about this topic and tried to explain my motivation for doing this, I could not do it. Still too much went on, personal thoughts and emotions, mixed with larger pictures I could not fully fathom. And I felt that this scarf on its own was in danger of becoming an empty symbol. Something I did not feel comfortable elevating like this.

Therefore I turned back to what @suzyopenheart asked me to do on twitter: Knit a “Stop talking and get on with it’ scarf. Which fitted me perfectly. This idea of knitting a scarf a month has been derived from my life-long habit of overthinking things. I normally spend so much time thinking what could possibly go wrong, that I do not have enough time to do the thing I thought about in the first place. But  I start to change this slowly but steadily.

Suzy Webster, who is @suzyopenheart wrote about her wish to make things happen:

“There is a lot of talk about dementia., its time we stopped talking and put words into action. My Mum has always said: ‘Stop talking and get on with it’.”

So there we are. I have started to make something without overthinking it. What can you do?

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