Friday, 22 March 2013

Emigration - an installation

You may recall back in October I wrote a post about an installation I completed for the Swapbox exhibition in the Bonhoga Gallery.


I promised I would write more about it in the next blog post and here we are in March already.  November and December were unbelievably busy, and I think I needed two months to recover!  I was delighted to sell the installation, currently I am transferring the discs onto a board so it can be hung in the chosen place, working with it again has spurred me on to write the post.

The exhibition was by the group Text-Isles, which I am a member of, and as the name implies, started off with us swapping boxes which we decorated and filled with materials and inspirational items based on a chosen aspect of Shetland culture.

I decided to base my box on the popular past time of tea-drinking, machine embroidered the top ("A peerie scar of tae" means "a little drop of tea" in Shetland dialect) and filled the box with various pieces of felt, photos, fabrics etc.:

Once night last February the members of Text-Isles met at the Bonhoga Gallery and swapped boxes.
I said goodbye to my tea themed box and gained this one put together by Emma Blain of Aamos Designs.

Emma had chosen Emigration as a theme and had cleverly covered her cardboard box to look like an old fashioned suitcase.  Then the thinking began....

This was a very different way to work for me, to basically be given a random topic and materials to create a finished piece of work that would go on a gallery wall and be seen by the general public (I am almost having palpatations even thinking back to that time).

Between the mid 19th century and the mid 20th century a huge number of people left Shetland, some were forced out due to hardship and homelessness and others left in search of a better life.  When I thought about this, one of the main things that came to my mind was that as well as gaining new lives, skills and cultures they also took with them skills, knowledge and culture which they would pass onto their new neighbours.  I read the stories of several people that had left but decided to concentrate on one particular individual, Jeremina Colvin who moved from Shetland to Cowichan in Vancouver Island where she lived until she died in 1937.  Legend has it that she passed on advanced knitting skills to the local women who at that time made socks and other accessories out of their thick natural coloured wool.  This lead to the production of the Cowichan sweater which is now one of Canada's national symbols

It is generally a "chunky" knit in natural colours with some Fair isle borders and larger motifs on the front.

I based my installation on the motif on the jumper below:

This is basically a Fair isle star, several variations of which can be seen in traditional Fair isle garments.  I had been thinking for a while about how Fair isle patterns are "dotted out" on paper, a series of dots making up the designs.

My challenge was to create 115 dots for an installation, each dot to represent a piece of Shetland culture using the materials that were in the box, and I wanted each dot to be different.  I began by knitting many, many samples of lace, each a Shetland lace pattern.  The colours used were based on a piece of fabric that Emma had woven and was in my box.

These were stretched over felt and fabric discs and a pin inserted on the back of each.....

I painted some fabric and embroidered on extracts from the poem "Fair Island mid the Northen Seas" by William Hughson in From Old Rock to New Life, a Shetland Museum and Archives publication, and some dialect words........

.......Fused them onto felt and cut them out with my die cutter....

Each disc was pinned on the wall with the help of my template...

By keeping them a few cm off the wall they appearred to float by creating shadows....

Overall I was very happy with the result and it has sparked off my latest obsession with knitting.

I really hope Jeremina would be pleased with it too.

Brooches made to accompany the installation, lambswool knited fabric covering wool woven fabric (fabric woven by Aamos Designs). 
Patterns L to R, Bird's Eye stitch, Bird's Eye stitch knitted on larger needles, Bead stitch.