Q&A with KnitKnit Author Sabrina Gschwandtner (Fall, 2007)
(Note: To see a gallery of images from this book, click here.)
When you first started KnitKnit as a zine, did you ever imagine it would someday inspire a big, glossy hardcover book?
Not when I started the zine. Initially I made it for myself because I wanted to archive good friends within a knitting circle and think about the intersection between art and craft. I didn’t think about distribution numbers or a vision for a book until after the sixth issue.
What sparked your idea to interview 27 of today’s most innovative knitters and compile their stories into one book?
Basically, I wanted to represent all the different things knitting can be and the range of craft that can be created. Once I found a collective group of artists willing to be portrayed as they really are in their private work areas, I could capture how their craft evolved.
Did you share a connection with any of these artists? Were there any that you found particularly inspirational?
I had a connection with all of them. I marveled at Althea Merback’s ingenuity, her approach to knitting, and use of color. I was really inspired by Rachael Matthews’s ability to create public events in London. Up to 4,000 people would show to these unusual events. They are spectacles—thousands of people knitting amongst each other within a public space, creating a large knitting circle. It really made me think about why knitting is so popular.
Why do you think knitting is so popular?
I think there is a connection between war and knitting. It becomes so popular at times of war. People need to feel safe. It’s a form of distraction—their hands are busy, their minds are concentrating, and they’re comfortable. It creates a therapeutic process.
Why is it important to examine knitting as both art and craft?
Knitting has the potential to be a handcraft and subvert what people think of as art. It’s interesting to see how powerful knitting can be in the public sphere and the reaction it can receive. It’s not only a high-class craft. People can now use cheaper acrylic yarn to create political protest and expression. This gives knitters a wide range of use.
Each person profiled in KnitKnit submitted a project to accompany his or her profile. Did you give them any specific criteria to follow? Did you find that any of them struggled to select one piece to represent the body of their work?
I gave them a lot of freedom to create something new. One artist wanted to work with recycled materials, another wanted to design garments for all body types. Dave Cole had trouble translating his immense project, Fiberglass Teddy Bear, into a pattern and became frustrated. I had to push him to finish, but once he completed his pattern it came out perfect, without a need for revisions.
What was your greatest challenge in writing and producing KnitKnit?
The whole process was hard. Traveling was especially hard since the budget was tight. There were times when Kiriko Shirobayashi, the photographer, and I were dragging ourselves to photo shoots to complete the project. I also had to learn how to manage the knitters. Every three days I would have to follow-up with them for project updates. Some knitters almost missed their deadlines.
In Spring ’07, The Museum of Arts and Design in New York City held an exhibition featuring many of the pieces seen within the pages of KnitKnit. Describe the public’s reaction to this often unusual and at times controversial work?
A hundred thousand people came to see the show! There was a phenomenal response. I had mostly positive reviews and some critical, but I was expecting something deeper. I wanted reviewers to question why there are more knitters . The response from the visitors to the exhibit was more personal. There were instances where WWII victims wrote about their war experiences in my autograph book. One woman, an American Red Cross volunteer during WWII, remembers having to knit for soldiers and has since then hated knitting.
What message do you hope readers take away from this book?
Knitting can be anything from a form of graffiti, gift, clothing, protest, performance, and sculpture. It is an empowering tool that allows people to think of social space.