Last month, I showed off some of my work from Knitted City – a multi-artist ephemeral public art installation. While the project has now been dismantled, I really wanted to put together a process blog, from the concept to the construction – it was a massive job!
Of all the sites we were working on for Knitted City, the rotunda was the one that really captured my imagination:
I wanted to do something big for this project, and I thought that knitting sleeves for all the pillars would be appropriately impressive. Once I’d done the measurements, my suspicions were confirmed – eight pillars, two meters tall, fifty centimeters diameter. I was in for a challenge.
After a bit of dithering, I decided to make sleeves that looked lacy, but without the challenge of lace knitting (by knitting with 8 ply wool, in stocking stitch, on 12.75cm needles). I wanted to pick up the colours in the Rotunda’s ornamentation, so I bought a few different yarns and tested the colours on-site. This one was the best match:
Next step was to knit a swatch, and find out how many stitches to cast on per pillar. This was my very first attempt, knitted with massive wooden needles, while sitting on the steps of the Rotunda:
After this, I knew how wide I needed to make them, but the length was still a mystery; I couldn’t get an accurate measurement of the knitting unless I stretched it out to the right width. For my first attempt, I pinned the sleeve onto a dressmakers’ board, checking every twenty rows or so, until it looked about right:
This gave me an approximate idea of the length, but I still wasn’t sure I had it quite right. So for my second attempt, I tried for a site test at the rotunda, equipped with a measuring tape and a big bag of pegs:
As it turned out, I was about thirty rows short, so I was very glad that I double-checked before casting off!
Once I had this prototype sleeve, I just had to replicate it seven more times. All-in-all, it was about eight square meters of knitting in just over a month. On its own, this constitutes a fair challenge. However, I am clearly a glutton for punishment; I’d already decided that each sleeve needed to be covered in flowers.
Therefore, concurrently, I was crocheting eight columns’ worth of flowers. With around 300 flowers to make, the design was necessarily very simple (Row 1: 10 sc in a ring. Row 2: [hdc, 2 dc, hdc] in same st, sl st, repeat 4 times):
Each pillar had different colour scheme: sky blue, cornflower blue, lavender, dark purple, red, pink, magenta and a sort of petrol-swirly colour. For centres, I used gold, star-shaped split pins – much faster and simpler than my initial concept of sewing beads into the centre of each flower!
I would have seriously crashed and burned with these flowers if it weren’t for my Mum – she relearned to crochet so she could help me out with the seemingly endless stream of hand-stitched petals. After weeks of relentless crochet assault, we ended up with this massive floral pile:
Once I had all of these elements, it was time to put them together. At first, I tried pinning a sleeve to the dressmakers’ board again, and arranging the flowers on top:
While this method worked to measure the knitting, it soon became apparent that this was not the way to attach the flowers. However, there was an answer; turns out that our old screen door was the perfect-sized frame. We ripped off the screen, pegged the knitting out to the correct dimensions and flipped the door over. Then, I used the holes in the door to arrange the flowers, looping the ends of the flowers under the knitting to hold them temporarily in place:
Then, I flipped the door back over and used a crochet hook to sew the flowers into place (which was much easier than constantly rethreading needles for hours on end). Each flower was attached at five points and knotted securely into place – if it’s public art, it has to be pretty theft-proof.
This whole process was hell on the spine, hip joints, elbows, knees and wrists; I was bent over double for a whole lot of hours to get everything assembled..
It was one of the one of the most gruelling craft experiences I’ve ever had – until the installation day, that is…
We installed the rotunda on a Thursday. On Wednesday, it poured with rain while we installed at one of our other sites. On Thursday, the day dawned bright and clear, and I had a head cold. This was strike one. The wind was blasting up off the Torrens River, so we were chilled to the bone, despite the sunshine. Strike two.
The third strike? FIVE STRAIGHT HOURS of crocheting the sleeves to the rotunda. Earlier, I’d decided that crochet would be the best was to attach the sleeves. It was easier than threading needles, and super-simple to dismantle once the project was over, plus robust enough that it wouldn’t accidentally unravel. I was expecting it to only take a couple of hours, but I was frozen, ill, and I could only reach the right height by sitting on the handrail of the rotunda. This put the working space (where I had to crochet) at about chin height. By the end of the day, my arms were so fatigued that I could barely lift them.
Finally, though, it was finished. I threaded cable ties through the sleeves, top and bottom, and it was done:
I was really pleased that the work managed to stay up for the whole festival. In fact, on the last weekend it stayed very far up – some possibly drunk and certainly very tall people thought it would be funny to push the sleeves all the way up the pillars. When I arrived to dismantle, they were all scrunched at the top:
But I figured, if that’s the worst they can do to my work, I’m onto a winner.