Train, 2003 (detail)
knitted tissue paper patterns
Meditation, Oh my Father
10' x 10'
knitted vintage sheet music
When Stephanie Speight found
an ancient roll of paper in an old, damp basement,
she was drawn to its character, developed
over years of exposure to dust and mold.
She was inspired to use the delicate paper
as the fabric for a series of sewn 1940s-style
garments, from a bevy of bonnets to a gaggle
of grandma-panties stretched across a clothesline.
But as meticulous as she had to be to sew
with tissue-thin, aging paper, Speight decided
to go even farther.
"At the end of it all,
I glued the tissue sewing patterns end to
end." says Speight. "I ran them
through my pasta machine on the fettucini
setting, cutting them into fragile yarn-like
strands resembling shed snake skins."
The artist then cut up an old hoe handle and
constructed a very large circular knitting
needle. "With sanding and shaping
the old hoe made lovely smooth needles."
The resulting work -- entitled
Train -- is a breathtaking
14-foot knitted wedding train, full of what
the artist calls "little mends"
in the weak tissue.
Speight remarks, "Working
with materials so stunningly beautiful, utterly
fragile and impermanent was perhaps an attempt
to make friends with impermanence itself."
Having poured hours and hours and hours into
a piece she expected might, with luck, last
for just 3 or 4 exhibits, the artist feels
was "a practice of acceptance and surrender
to one's ultimate end."
Before Train, Speight had
knitted with paper and hoe handles before.
Her delicate and lovely Meditation, Oh my
Father was shown at Reed College in 2002.
The piece is 10 feet square and is knitted
from a ream of vintage sheet music.
Planalp is a living a knitter's fantasy. "My
friend is a yarn rep, and she gives me free
yarn, a duffel bag full each season."
Planalp, primarily a painter, had been collecting
wool sweaters for years, shrinking them and
cutting them up for parts to use in art works.
But she hadn't knitted for many years. When
the yarn rep came into her life -- with delicious
off-season oddballs -- she picked up the needles
again and began knitting, purling, and fulling
what she describes as "organic, kelpy,
ocean pod things."
Two years ago, Planalp joined up with artist
Jessica Schleif, whose knitted works lean
toward plant forms. "Together we made
a knitted salad for a food-related show. Knitted
lettuce leaves, pea pods, all green."
Since the salad, Planalp & Schleif have
collaborated many times over the past two
years, making abstract forms that drip, drool,
and seem to slither through space.
Planalp, 57, treasures her work with Schleif,
more than 20 years her junior, for many reasons,
including their cross-generational friendship
and working partnership. One notable installation
the two created together -- for AVA gallery in Astoria,
Oregon -- is Bounty to Barcodes. The work
included felted pods, antique fishing line,
felt stretched over fishing weights, and knitted
linen fish shrink-wrapped in styrofoam meat
trays. (Schleif still works with AVA, and
also collaborated on the Stump
Cozy Project there).
"I'm mostly a painter," Planalp
says. "Knitting is something I do at
night, and it's kind of meditative."
The artist admits, though, that the knitting
is not only fun but has made a significant
difference in her painting work. "My
paintings have changed because of the colors
in the yarn. The yarn expanded my palette.
I never expected that to happen!"
Planalp is clearly enjoying creating knitted
art, and its effect on her is obviously freeing.
Next up, she will install felted gray flowers
in the cracks of her concrete garden wall
for Portland Open Studios this fall. And her
show -- in January 2005 at Portland's Blackfish
Gallery -- will include a felted chandelier.
images this section...
Susan Planalp &
Knitted installation at Lint,
Wool, yarn, plastic