Creating this blanket was almost like engaging in a very private piece of performance art, with the performance artist performing only for herself, into the early hours of many mornings, slowly descending into a kind of madness as she raced against the clock to finish it in time for an exhibition.
And it all started off so well…
Years ago I was part of the Creative Knitters, a group who for more than a decade held exhibitions in Pretoria every second year. This is where I met my friend and knitting mentor Jean Napier, who introduced me to the idea of incorporating fabric into knitting. So, for one exhibition, Jean and I decided we were going to knit blankets. I like geometric shapes, and I find the repetition of shapes quite soothing. I knitted squares, with smaller square shapes repeated in the knitted squares. My inspiration was the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Rosebank, Johannesburg, with its wonderful repetitive rectangular shapes – very reassuring for someone who craves order.
But very soon I realised what all knitters and crocheters realise at some point when they start a new project: there were going to be a lot of loose ends to get rid of. I was contemplating taking the easy way out and just lining the entire thing… But then textile artist Celia de Villiers suggested that, instead, I use the loose ends as a focal point; embellish them and make them part of the design…
This created an entirely new symbolic nature; a blanket design of order and chaos. While working on it, I had a lot of time to think about women and textiles and the role both play in the domestic sphere – probably the ultimate place where humans (read women) try to tame the chaos of living by creating predictable patterns of routine. I thought about my mom, who had recently died, and the small domestic routines she created. Routines, I began to understand, that gave her mind the freedom to pursue other interests she was more partial to.
But creating the “chaos” side of the blanket required meticulous attention to detail, and proved to be far more time consuming than the “order” side. I had to work according to a schedule, and did not allow myself to go to sleep until I had finished what I had set out to do that day. The irony of how time consuming chaos turned out to be was not lost on me as I fought off panic attacks in the middle of the night, fearing that I may not finish in time…
But I did.
And it was all worthwhile in the end. This turned out to be the Creative Knitters’ last exhibition, which was held in Pretoria and, for the first and last time, also in Johannesburg. It felt like a tremendous achievement to see my blanket hanging there, neither side giving away what could be expected of the other side.
Later, Celia took the blanket to the 2009 Patchwork Expo in St. Marie-aux-Mines, France. She was asked to curate an exhibition of African textiles for the Expo, and chose my blanket as part of the exhibition.
I have kept the blanket locked away since, always thinking in the back of my mind that it really should go to Celia – but I wasn’t yet ready to let go of it yet. Then I started the blog, and Salomé Nourse of Yellow Lab started taking her beautiful pictures of my work, giving me the opportunity to document what I do.
Celia remarried and went to live in Portugal. The time was right to let go, and I gave her the blanket as a wedding gift. Because, as I explained to her, the blanket had always had her name on it.
I was happy to give something I had made – which had made me feel so connected to my female lineage – to someone who uses textiles to comment on women’s role in society and whose work has made a deep impression on me. Because knitting is not just about colour and texture and fun – for me it carries a deep spiritual meaning of connecting, of stitching together, of adding something of yourself to the fabric of life.