I’ve been cocooning myself in the studio for a couple of years now. Gestating, trying all sorts of new/old/new again approaches, bringing them along to the fullest expression and then, having learned all I was interested in learning, dropping them cold. Sometimes that’s called iterating, sometimes it’s called a major dry spell, spinning one’s wheels, procrasta-productivity, even – oh no! – an artist’s block (which I actually don’t believe in.) I never felt stuck in this creative walkabout. Impatient to get on with it, yes, but never stuck. Breathe in, breathe out. Anyhoo, since last summer I have been testing and forging ahead with the myriad of ways to combine clay with fiber arts, specifically knitting/crocheting. Once I entered the formidable front door, it proved to be a mansion of many rooms and I’d like to take the rest of this post to share annotated photos from my visits to a few of them.
Solvitur conexos: It is Solved By Knitting
I have always loved to knit or crochet, a soothing rhythmic, meditative and productive past-time. I have tried many ways over the decades to combine fiber arts with my ceramic pieces, for the delicious tactility alone, but the results were so pathetically plebeian (think of those crocheted hats made with cut-up beer cans) that I kept pure ceramics separate from pure knitting. When I got interested in knitting unexpected objects instead of wearables, it all changed.
Knitting Custom-Paired With Older Clay Pieces
Nothing like revisiting an older platter with a glorious but non-food-safe glaze on it and putting it in a visual conversation with a knitted hamburger and the works. Sometimes I pick up an old vessel and ask it what it longs for. Sometimes I have a yen to knit something particular and then go hunting for a partner to contain it, as in “What old can wants these yarn worms I can’t stop myself from generating?” It’s been months and months of serendipitous matchmaking, but I am almost done with this phase because I’m running out of excellent older works!
Knitting Paired with New Clay Pieces
It’s fun to find the perfect yarn for the pieces I want to fool the eye with. That said, it’s also fun to have the work look unabashedly knitted, with excellent stitch definition. So the combination of yarn type, size and color, paired with excellently detailed shaping and a suitable gauge – not too tight, not too loose – makes the technical aspects crucial for creating that double take I so like to evoke. The setting created by the vessel matters as well. These clay half pints were formed by dipping real paper ones in slip and babying them along to completion. While I dearly love this cheery result, I’ve moved on to making my ceramic vessels from knitting as well.
Knitted Cylinders Dipped in Porcelain Slip and Fired Onto Existing Clay Pieces
Here’s another thing I most likely won’t be pursuing any further, although I DO like the way the pieces cross a line from knit stitches to cracked ceramics and back. The idea was to knit coozie-style wraps for existing work, dip them in slip and attach, fire and marvel. Typical of experimentation, it took a lot more fiddling – including infill, further glazing and firing, metallic waxes and the addition of mixed media stoppers – to get to the marveling stage with this older bottle and its fellows. While shrinkage rate is the real problem here, I have the process at hand if I ever need to apply it again – probably to all new work so the clays get along – but for now, it’s a valuable lesson with a surprising result.
Knitting Dipped in Porcelain Slip, Glazed and Paired With Knitted Pieces
And the fun just never lets up! Let’s see what happens when we apply glaze to a knitted porcelain-dipped vase. Gotta be careful here and give the knitted vase a solid clay slab base, so the glaze doesn’t just flow right out at the bottom – ask me about that! Oh, and keep that glaze at least 1/4″ up from that base. Still, the thing will leak like a sprinkler hose from the myriad of glaze-free recesses between the stitches, which are certain to appear no matter how assiduous the application, so it’s not meant to hold liquids. Just fantasies. And wishes from that fantastical knitted mohair and wool dandelion blowball.
Just Knit Porcelain
That group image at the top of this annotated photo essay, as well as this three-bowl stack, reflect the end result of all my wanderings: gorgeously simple knitted.crocheted work carefully steeped in liquid porcelain, lovingly shaped and tended while drying, slowly fired and finished only minimally. The works I’ve shared here are only about 40% of the techniques I have tried out, but they show how one thing leads to another. I’ve complained about kiln load after kiln load of “vitrified turds” on social media, but such is the way of clay. I only know a few ceramic artists whose work is at all similar and one said it took her six years to feel she was getting the results she wanted. Yikes! I’ve only been at this around 6-8 months! But I have learned that, while I crave color and narrative, simple pieces, even somewhat abstract ones, are the most astonishing and are a new wave of sculptural understanding for me. We now know the Greeks and Romans painted their marble statues, but the pristine white surfaces we have associated them with for millennia tell us they didn’t really need to.
I sense that there are many other floors to this creative mansion, and an attic and a basement, as well as both formal and secret gardens. My work is to keep wandering through it trying things out. To not have the answers yet, but to have curiouser and curiouser questions. I’ll be here as long as I can and I’m even doing head, shoulder, arm and hand stretches to stay in shape for daily knitting sessions, so the Muses will come sit down with me, tapping their toes to the click of the needles before they head out to watch over the kiln.
–Liz Crain, who just KNEW she was on to something when she knit her first artichoke.