Posts Tagged ‘design’

Knitting rage

March 13, 2013

As  the traditional crafts teeter on the brink of extinction, it’s sad to see people who should know better making mistakes.  In a TV programme on Sunday night, a crochet square was clearly referred to as ‘knitting’ (BBC1 Call the Midwife).  It was an outrageous and egregious mistake for a programme whose dominant mode is an affectionately detailed presentation of the materiality of life in post-War London.  It’s not the mistake alone that I mind: it’s the leading astray of impressionable youth; the missed opportunity to offer accurate information to those who are ignorant of handcrafts.  They missed the chance to educate and that is unforgivable.  The distinction bewteen knitting and crochet is important: is, if you like, the equivalent of calling a bolt a nail, or of calling a Band-aid a bandage.  They do broadly the same job, but in very different ways.

A classic small square like this is the basis for an 'Afghan rug' - though more commonly the outermost edge is black.

A classic small square like this is the basis for an ‘Afghan rug’ – though more commonly the outermost edge is black.

Knitting is enjoying a resurgence of popularity – the groups of ‘knit bitches’ and ‘knit witches’ and the less outspoken groups of knitters who just get together occasionally – all of these suggest that knitting is making a comeback.  I still love knitting: it has carried me through many a dark hour, ever since girlhood.  My Auntie Beryl taught me to knit when I was about six, and I still have the needles we used.  She really knew how to teach: allowed me to choose the wool and the needles myself.  I chose lavender fluffy yarn – very impractical for a beginner as it snapped easily, the colour slowly turned grubby grey, and the fluff got tangled, but I loved it and perhaps I learned to ride out the frustrations along with learning to knit.

They are shiny pink anodised aluminium (I think) and most recently they knitted this scarf for Bunny -my grandson's  favourite soft toy - who has been feeling the cold.

They are shiny pink anodised aluminium and most recently they knitted this scarf for Bunny -my grandson’s favourite soft toy – who has been feeling the cold.

Almost everything from my early life has been shed as I traversed the world  to and fro, to and fro – so I was amazed to realise that the shiny pink size 7  needles at the bottom of my oldest knitting bag (circa 1960) actually date back to the 1950s.  Possibly my oldest possession.

Plastic, and long enough to hold most needles, with little holes at the end to accommodate the over-long ones.

Plastic, and long enough to hold most needles, with little holes at the end to accommodate the over-long ones.

The knitting bag is a little younger – probably late fifties or early sixties.  No doubt an expert could make an informed guess on the basis of the pattern, which reeks of the late mid-century to me.  Even at the time, while appreciating the convenience, I felt a smidgin of doubt about those irregular boxes and pseudo-random green stalks.


Do you see what I mean?  Years later I heard:

‘Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful ‘.  (William Morris)

Alas, by then my knitting bag was an essential item.  Some of those pale brown marks in the background are not the design, but stains.  Probably Nescafé, given the era and my known habits as a teenager.  We used to have ‘a last coffee before bed’ – in my mind’s ear I can hear Dad’s voice saying those very words.  Knitting as if there was no tomorrow, I usually answered:  ‘just to the end of this row’ and quickly sneaked round the end onto the next one.  Decades later he let on that he had tumbled to my devious behaviour – that part of it, at least.

first days in Canberra

October 1, 2011

From Nelson to Canberra takes three flights – change in Auckland and Sydney – to arrive exhausted, late in the evening, into the infinite hospitality and kindness of friends from way back.  Such a good feeling to be back in Canberra, where suddenly the whole world is sharply focused in that desiccating air.  It must be so good for the brain – or even the soul – to live in this clear purity.
My good friend – I’ll call her V. – was bubbling with enthusiasm for the exhibition of costumes from the Ballets Russes, at the National Gallery of Australia, so we trundled off to see it, conscientiously navigating the once-familiar circles and avenues.  It turns out that, over the years, the Gallery has collected these stage costumes as they have come on the market, often in a state of radical disrepair.  The Ballets Russes were great in the early twentieth century, but seem to have spent a long time going downhill: variously revived and reconstituted, too broke to replace or repair things, and wearing the costumes to a ravelling. But Serge Diaghilev’s original company commissioned costume and stage designs from amazingly eminent and interesting artists: Bakst, Picasso, de Chirico, Dali, Matisse, Braque – the list goes on and on.  The exhibition, too, was enormous and remarkably detailed, including many costumes worn by the amazing virtuoso, Nijinsky.

sketch for the Blue God costume

The ballet of the Blue God was choreographed to show off Nijinsky’s extraordinary talent, through a narrative sequence of stories about Krishna, the creator.

Nijinsky dancing the 'Blue God'

Krishna piping the world into being

There are still traces of Nijinsky’s blue body make-up to be seen inside the neckline of the costume. 
Over the years more pieces were added to the collection.  Restorers and conservators meticulously replaced the fabrics that the original artists had specified.  They did an absolutely wonderful job, as the perfectly renewed pieces below demonstrate.

costume for a Sea Princess

costume for a squid

The squid costume was one of the most substantially repaired pieces. Previous botched repairs had to be undone, the fine fabric supported wherever possible and replaced where it had completely worn away.

designed by Matisse - unmistakably

All these things are wonders, but perhaps the strangest and most incongruous sight at the Gallery is the ladies’ loo.  It is a vast and austere chamber, and a challenge to interpretation.  An armchair and a bed/bench remarkable for sheer gigantism, are awkwardly posed – not quite together, but not separate either – and enigmatically marooned in the huge pale space.   Luxurious padding on the chair is contradicted by the functional floor and the spare militarism of the stretcher – Perhaps the designer imagined large numbers of ladies, overstimulated by art, all needing a little rest, and supplied surroundings more rigidly blank than any imagined by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.  Or perhaps the designer was overwhelmed into this stammering visual silence by the proximity of great art?  This strange atrophy of taste co-exists with a kind thought: the ugly dark lump of a chair looks as if it might be comfortable.  Someone is trying to be both artistic and caring – and, touchingly, misses on both counts.

Facilities for ladies at the National Gallery

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