Knitting as Art, Part 1

“What is Art” is not something I want to get into today, but I’m sure you’ve noticed that some things are just not considered Art, and that there is a hierarchy in the art world of what types of art are more important.

In the Renaissance, for example, grand historical and mythical paintings were the most important. This is why most women painters made portraits and miniatures – there weren’t as many men interested in portraits and miniatures, and the social attitude towards women who painted portraits and miniatures was more favorable.

Crafts, such as knitting, crochet, quilting, and other activities we associate with women in the home, are another less-important-and-maybe-not-even-actually-Art. However, in the past decades, practitioners of these Crafts have made inroads into the art world, and lots of museums have started to collect and display their craft pieces.

Not everyone gets it, though. When Larissa Brown hung her exhibit of knitted hats, conference, she says:

My worst fears were realized when two intrepid art viewers actually took a couple of the pieces off the wall and tried them on their heads. I was aghast. After all, would I take down someone’s painting and roll around in the canvas?

I’ve been knitting for fifteen years. I know that sometimes a pair of socks is “just” a pair of socks. But sometimes, in the right hands, that pair of socks can make a statement about sexism or war, or its technique can inspire awe. Below, and in upcoming posts, are some knit artists I’ve found that I hope inspire you.

Althea Merback
Bug Knits
Althea Merback knits miniature clothing with super-tiny needles she makes out of wire. The scale of her items is usually 1/12th but can get to 1/144th of the regular item’s size! She manages to get over 80 stitches on her needles so she can knit all kinds of mind-blowing patterns and pictures.

Truth and Wisdom Kimono (with matching tabi socks!)
Truth and Wisdom Kimono (with matching tabi socks!)

Ms. Merback’s prowess led her to knit clothing for the stop-animation movie Coraline – watch this video of her knitting for the film on YouTube.

Lindsay Obermeyer
LBO Studio

Ms. Obermeyer has been exhibiting work since the 1980s and has had pieces or patterns appear in museums, books, and magazines. I found her in the book Knitting Art: 150 Innovative Works from 18 Contemporary Artists. Her interests vary widely, from human connection to endangered plant life.

from Woman's Work
from Woman’s Work

I like her collection called “Woman’s Work”, which explores her feelings about suddenly being a mother of an adopted child, and all the work it entails – not only physical work, but the work of navigating a changing identity. She knit a sweater that looks like two sweaters (a mom and a child) smushed together. She also knit two sweaters for herself and her daughter, Emily, when she first adopted her. The two sweaters are connected by very long sleeves, so that Emily, who was seven at the time, could feel safe and connected while also allowing her space to move and not be smothered.

The very nature of knitting helped Ms. Obermeyer produce the collection – she knit small pieces between doctor’s visits and basketball practice and later sewed them together into their final forms. Other crafts, such as another of her favorites – embroidery – did not lend itself to her busy life.

Look forward to more Artful Knitting as we enter the cold winter months!


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