Not My Baby

10,000 Hours Dress

Meet the “Thousand Hours Dress.” Isn’t she lovely? I commissioned this piece from local artist & designer, Peggy Noland. I told Peggy that I wanted a dress for my new project, Wait. , that I could also wear for ongoing 10,000 Hours events. It somehow needed to involve knitting and I needed to be able to knit while wearing it. (So no long flowing sleeves or miniskirts.)  Everything else was up to Peggy. I was to be client & knitting labor only.

This filled a few purposes. One, I needed a dress. Two, I love to collect Peggy’s work. Three, I wanted to know what it’s like to knit what you’re told for the purpose of fulfilling someone else’s vision. Up until now I’ve always had at least some creative input in my knitting projects, even if it’s just to choose the pattern and/or color. But knitting completely to others’ specifications is something that many knitters do. There are test knitters for designers who make sure that the design actually yields the product it promises. There are knitters-for-hire who will knit you that sweater you want. There are knitters who work in the sweatshops that make the fancy little headbands sold at the hipster store with the French name. Now, obviously, I didn’t have the sweatshop experience; but I knitted what she asked, how she asked, and (give-or-take 24 hours) when she asked.

Her orders:

Color – Sky Blue

Pattern – Pleated Skirts Lace

Piece 1 – large square swatch 12’’ x 12’’

Piece 2 – collar, 4-6’’ wide by 40-98’’ long

Lace. This was not easy. It was a pattern repeat of 22 stitches & 14 rows. It was slow going. It pushed me to the edge of what I was capable of. I could not talk to anyone or think about anything else while working this pattern. I did an internal cheer when I got to the end of each row. Every hour spent on these pieces felt like two. It mentally exhausted me.

Peggy brilliantly scanned in the large swatch, created a mirrored repeating pattern, and ordered a silky crepe fabric printed with the design. She made a fabric from my knitting… but it was not a knitted fabric. It looks like a snake skin print! Which, my mother pointed out, is odd since one rarely looks at a snake and thinks, “How lacy!”

The lace collar (which I managed to make just over 60’’ long) ruffles around the top and pieces of the swatch line the arms. Yes, she cut my cotton lace knitting and it did not fall apart. (She steeked, surged, & fabric-glued it, but it is secure.) Luckily, she did not do this in my presence; surely I would have fainted in a very dramatic “fetch the smelling salts” sort of way.

The result is gorgeous. I poured thirty fully-concentrated difficult hours into that piece. I simultaneously want to wear it everywhere and to frame it and hang it on my wall. I love it. But… it is not my baby. Peggy Noland created this work. When people ask me if I made this dress I will say, “No, Peggy did. I just knitted the lace for her.”

It’s a strange feeling to work on something giving up any creative control whatsoever. I trusted in Peggy, but I had no idea what the final outcome would be. It really did make for a different knitting experience. Hired needles.

Stranger in a Strange Land: Part 2

My trip to Stitches Midwest was me taking 10,000 Hours out for a walk. Not only was it a way to totally immerse myself in knitting education and culture, it was also the project’s first public appearance outside of a gallery context. This added to the intensity for me. 10,000 Hours is, after all, a conceptual work and let’s face it, even within traditional art-viewing settings, conceptual art can go over like a lead balloon. So how did it do away from the cozy confines of the white box?

XRX (the company behind the Stitches conventions) made a nicely tech-forward move and hired a Social Media rep, Kimberly Reynolds (aka SomeBunnysLove). Prior to the convention she had posted that she would be hosting Google+ hangouts throughout the week and would anyone like to join her? Since I have incorporated social media into 10,000 Hours (aka #10kHrs) and am very interested in the way knitters in particular use these platforms, I contacted her. She was extremely supportive. When I met her in Schaumberg, overwhelmed as she was by the 1000+ knitters descending upon her, she took the time to talk with me about the project. She also took a hefty stack of postcards and spread the word. So much so, in fact, that by the time I left on Sunday, most people I spoke with were going, “Oh! I heard about this! That’s you?” (Suddenly, I was wishing I’d packed nicer clothes.)

The most common initial reaction to 10,000 Hours is a certain facial expression which I’ve learned to recognize: the one you make while mentally trying to calculate whether or not you’ve actually put 10,000 hours into any particular activity. It’s fun to see this expression over and over again. I’m sure that I made it when I first heard about the research. I know that I will see it countless times again. It’s the “Hi, how are you?” standard greeting for this project.

The reception wasn’t always that warm and fuzzy. Some people I talked to didn’t necessarily dislike the idea, but they also didn’t have that instant spark of curiosity, so we’d gently shift the conversation to knitting in general. To date, I’ve only encountered one outright negative reaction: Kimberly had pulled over a rather prominent figure at the convention, she started explaining the project and handed them a postcard. This person never once looked at me, said nothing, rolled their eyes, and walked away as they tossed the postcard down. Ouch. While I recognize this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, what exactly prompted the eye roll? My only consolation is that since they never once looked at me, they won’t recognize me if/when we cross paths again in the future.

On the other end of that spectrum, however, was an extremely touching moment. After every class that I had, I made a point of explaining the project to the teacher because, essentially, as one of my teachers, they have now become a part of the project. Merike Saarniit, who taught the Introduction to Estonian Patent Stitches (by far the most difficult & consequently gratifying class I took that weekend), actually got chills when I told her that she was now a part of the 10,000 Hours project lineage. I really wasn’t expecting that!  It’s always nice when someone is moved by your work… but moved to the point of chills is truly special and being outside of a gallery setting bolstered my confidence in this project.

No, not everyone will be interested in (and I suppose some may even be in some way offended by) my work. But I’ve encountered an overwhelming amount of interest, support, and encouragement for 10,000 Hours. The conversations it produces, the walks down memory lane, the stories, the tips, the tricks, the sense of community… I am immensely proud of this lead balloon.

I want to extend special thank you’s to:

Kimberly Reynolds – Social Media Rep for Stitches

Elaine Rowley – of XRX

And all of my teachers at Stitches:

Beth Brown-Reinsel

Lily Chin

Candace Eisner-Strick

Margaret Fisher

Susanna Hansson

Merike Saarniit

I’m sure I will have more to say on my Stitches Midwest experience, but for now, I must focus on my approach to the 1000th hour (1/10th!!!)

Stranger in a Strange Land: Part 1

Last week I completely immersed myself in knitting: knitting techniques, knitting culture, knitting products & materials, knitting practice. For four solid days I lived, breathed, spoke, and ate nothing but knitting. (Okay, so I didn’t actually eat my knitting… but there was non-stop knitting, even during the banquets.)

I attended Stitches Midwest. Six months ago, when searching for intensive knitting workshops I came across Stitches Expos:

“Based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, XRX, Inc. has been devoted to the knitting industry for the past 30 years. The company is best known as the home of Knitter’s Magazine, a quarterly publication featuring popular designers and the latest knitwear fashions, techniques and supplies. Knitter’s is read religiously by 90,000 needle artists across North America. The STITCHES Events division of XRX produces annual knitting expos — STITCHES East, West, South and Midwest — as well as instructional retreats attended by knitting enthusiasts from all over the world. XRX Books publishes a wide variety of pattern and reference books for knitters and weavers.” – from the Stitches Expo Facebook page

I took seven 3-hour long courses. I went to presentations about measurements and clothing cut. I spoke with other knitters, looked at their work, talked about materials and techniques. I was overwhelmed by the marketplace filled with tools, implements, odds and ends, and yarns of every variety imaginable (my prize find was a linen & stainless steel blend). I watched knitting fashion shows. I read knitting books. I knitted and knitted some more. And when I wasn’t knitting, I was talking to or sitting next to someone who was and what we talked about was knitting (or sometimes the hurricane).

My first night back in my own bed I had a dream, a really bizarre dream, that I was vomiting yarn. It just kept coming. Like I was in one of Peregrine Honig’s Pukers paintings having overindulged in colorful fibers that just kept streaming out of my core.

I’ve been immersed in my work before. Leading up to my solo show in April I thought of little else. But in retrospect I did think of other things. I did other things. When I went to eat dinner I didn’t sit at a table filled with people holding my work in their laps. When I spoke with people we would talk a bit about my work and then move on to other topics. But when I walked into Stitches Midwest, I walked into 10,000 Hours. Nearly every time I spoke with someone, it was a part of 10,000 Hours, even if they didn’t realize it. I was in the belly of the beast. Surprisingly, it didn’t scare me in the slightest. (Even if I had to do a little subconscious purging afterwards.)

(Part 2 coming soon.)