Hildur Bjarnadóttir’s “Urban Color Palette” spans much of the gallery wall in the Mint Museum Uptown. It shows the interplay of unexpected color in the natural world and invites the viewer to explore a sense of place.
The medium is crochet – wool yarn looped, pulled and woven into neat squares and rectangles, each dyed a different hue.
And it is fine art.
That heirloom crafts such as knitting and crochet can occupy the same space as fine art is part of the point of Charlotte’s World Wide Knit in Public Day event, which the Mint will sponsor Saturday with the event’s organizer, the Charlotte Knitting Guild.
“It’s hard – it’s harder than painting, it’s harder than other techniques,” Annie Carlano, director of Craft + Design at the Mint, said of knitting. “I don’t think people understand that.”
Good hand-knitting requires serious coordination to manipulate a strand of yarn around the two needles. Some of the more stunning pieces are knitted using very thin needles or very large needles, both difficult to maneuver, or they create patterns that require intricate charts and more than a basic understanding of math to accomplish.
“There’s a lot of interesting work out there,” Carlano said. “I’m hoping that this event at the museum will inspire people to think more deeply about knitting, crocheting and textiles in general. It’s part of our heritage in North Carolina, and it’s fun to do.”
One of those interesting works, “Mega Footprint Near the Hutch,” by Sheila Hicks, hangs in the museum’s atrium. Hicks loops linen threads in a range of bright colors into tubes that plunge from ceiling to floor. You can view it from various points – standing across the atrium to capture it all, looking straight up from the atrium floor, or looking down from one of the landings above.
“It’s the largest work by her in an American art museum,” Carlano said. “It should be an inspiration in what thread can do on a very simple level. But it’s also color. The way thread takes color is one of the reasons I love textiles. And knitting is all about threads.”
Calling all knitters
“Mega Footprint” dominates the room – so members of the Charlotte Knitting Guild thought it would be a perfect backdrop for this year’s World Wide Knit in Public Day activities.
The space, they hope, will help give more permanence to their annual event. Last year, the group planned a day of “guerilla knitting” around uptown, beginning with a series of festive yarn “bombings” in public spaces. With yarn bombings, a city’s residents wake up to an unexpected fiber installation.
The guild’s knitters got up at 7 a.m. and attached colorful bits of knitting to poles, railings and statues. All were taken down by security guards. (People stopped to yell at the guards for removing the art, said Davey Roberson, this year’s guild president.)
The year before, the guild held events at the Books-a-Million store in Cotswold Village Shops.
This year, the yarn bombing is more a planned tactical strike. The group got permission to bomb, since they want their informal installation to welcome fiber fans (and would-be fiber lovers) all day.
At a recent meeting of the guild, member Betsy Bond brought diagrams of the railings leading up to the Mint’s doors. She included photos and exact measurements. Expect to see brightly colored yarns knitted, crocheted and otherwise woven into cords and flowers covering those railings.
The point, Roberson said, is to draw others into the “world of knitting arts.”
Roberson, the guild’s first male president and one of only a few in the nation, says the Charlotte Knitting Guild exists to encourage others to knit.
“Knitting has always been a craft that for the most part has been passed down from generation to generation,” he said. “At the guild, we hold true to that.”
Fiber art as fine art
The attraction to knitting has ebbed and flowed, Carlano said.
Royalty in France, Italy and Spain employed knitters, mainly to make garments. But they were intricate creations. For instance, 17th century jackets were knitted with a complex, fitted structure and included detailed lace and gold threads, among other embellishments.
Carlano credits German artist Rosemary Trockel with elevating knitting beyond domestic art in contemporary times. Trockel created “knitting pictures,” covering frames with lengths of wool knitted in motifs.
Today’s fiber artists have interpreted knitting in a myriad of ways – from David Cole’s giant teddy bears and bullet-proof sweaters to Robyn Love, who crochets granny squares to wrap street signs and has knitted a milelong installation in Dallas.
It all shows the flexibility of fiber arts, Carlano said.
“You make something to wear, you can make something to sleep under, you can make something to put on a wall, you can knit a whole installation that you can walk under,” she said.
Carlano learned to knit a little bit from her mother; mostly she crochets and sews. But she longs to improve her knitting, to understand the accomplishment and peacefulness that she said serious knitters achieve.
“I would love to be a good knitter because I love the way knitting is supposed to make you feel,” she said.
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