crochet body project

A writer and art educator sets out to crochet a full-body self portrait.

Monday, July 31, 2006

progress update: practice head

We writers like to say that writing is rewriting. And I think also that crocheting will be recrocheting.

I'm happy that I was able to figure out how to shape the chin and guide it into the neck without having to make separate pieces that would be joined with seams. However, I made the chin too large and didn't cut it into the neck quickly enough, so I have a weird Neanderthal look going on here. I also misplaced the ear. I'm going to have to get in better touch with my own proportions.

Since this head is just a draft, I'm not sure whether to frog the stitches or just move on. I'm leaning toward just chugging away on this one, finishing out the details as part of that learning process, and then moving on to the next draft to see if I can do better. I have a feeling that once I get the head down, the rest of it will be smoother sailing.

Meanwhile, I'm enjoying wearing this thing way too much.

drafting the body

On the left is the first concept sketch I made for this project. I scribbled it out while indulging in French toast and coffee at a local diner. On the right is a sketch I made the next day. Surrounding the sketches are the yarns and hooks I'm using to make the practice head.

I made more progress on the practice head, and will post a pic of the work thus far tonight or tomorrow. I'm getting a little hung up on how I want to do the transition from jawline to neck, but hope to work that out today.

inspiration from Grandma Rosie

I like to think that, if she had ever been given opportunities besides the marriage, motherhood, and housekeeper track, my Grandma Rosie would have been an artist. Grandma Rosie has a flair for making things and an aesthetic sense that is just a bit off the beaten path. Years ago, for example, she made a little crocheted duck toy for my brother. Instead of stuffing it with batting, she filled it with M&M candies. The candies made their exit, one at a time, from a hole in the duck's behind. Grandma Rosie hadn't really intended for it to appear as if the duck was pooping candy; somehow her desire to make the toy more appropriate for a boy that was really too old for stuffed animals had just gone down a path that she didn't forsee.

Many of Grandma Rosie's creations are like this--they follow a certain logic that isn't always clear to anyone except Grandma Rosie, and sometimes surprise even her. Her use of found objects can verge on Dadaist in their inventive reappropriation, yet they also retain a certian sense of kitsch inspired by her library of well-thumbed craft books. She has a particularly astute eye for re-used material, and has incorporated everything from communion cups to breakfast cereal in her various creations. Some family members laugh at her work, and I have to admit that I used to, as well. These days, though, I've arrived at a sincere appreciation for the strange and wonderful things that she makes. I was delighted when she presented me with two wildly patterned baby blankets when my son was born in 2004, especially because I don't think her hands or her eyesight allow her to do much crochet any more.

I also don't think Grandma Rosie buys new yarn, or needs to. Mainly, she seems to work from the remnants of old projects, choosing colors in ways that interest her as she goes along. She saves almost anything that she imagines might be of use, and had a massive amount of leftover yarn and other craft materials from the past forty or more years. This stash is the basis for her work. She never shopped at specialty yarn stores, but bought good old Red Heart and other inexpensive stuff to suit her needs. Although she can skillfully follow all sorts of patterns, the real magic occurs when she subtly riffs on a design or tries a new combination of materials. Part of my renewed fascination with crochet comes from a sense of connection with her and her particular aesthetic.

Like many crafters, Grandma Rosie seems to need an imagined utility to drive her work. This utility isn't always apparent, however; another one of my favorite creations of hers is a gift she made for my husband--a little denim bean bag in the shape of a pair of pants, with white contrast stitching. It's a wonderfully executed object, even more so in its lack of apparent use. Bean bags are generally used for play, but what play could be done with a bean bag shaped like a pair of pants? It's pleasantly puzzling and altogether charming.

This is also part of the connection I feel with Grandma Rosie as I create my crochet body--the false utility impulse, which includes the tradition of crocheted "cozies," covers for everything from teapots and toasters to toilet paper. I remember visiting homes where Barbie dolls dressed as Southern belles perched on the backs of toilets, cleverly concealing a spare roll of toilet paper under their skirts. I remember Grandma Rosie's swans with arched pipe-cleaner necks, whose bodies were crocheted around oval bars of soap. Grandma Rosie and many women of her era made these things, obsessively covering stationary objects out of a baroque sort of decorative urge. In a way, my crochet body is a cozy, a decorative covering for my body. Among other things, it's a body cozy.

Friday, July 28, 2006

inspiration from cicadas

When I was little, I looked forward to finding "bug skins" in my back yard. Every summer, hundreds of empty cicada "skins" appeared, perched on leaves, twigs, and the links of our cyclone fence. I collected them, brought them into the house, played games with them, hooked their prickly claws into my clothes to wear them as brooches, and explored their hard, brittle forms with my fingertips.

The crochet body will have a split up the back for entry, as do the cicada skins. I like how this recalls metamorphosis, and how that process may be inverted by the act of donning the crochet body (which is a static object even as my real body changes).

progress update: practice head

Here I am wearing yesterday's work, a portion of the "first draft" of a head for the self-portrait crochet body. I'm working in cheap craft store yarn for this draft, focusing on working out the stitches and dimensions.

I have an unfortunate affection for varigated yarns, which look so lovely on the skein but too often end up looking sort of tacky on the finished piece. I chose a brownish varigated yarn for the hair on the practice head, and it's come out with kind of a camoflauge look. That's not too much of a problem, since I plan on covering that area with yarn fringe to copy my hairstyle. The closest match I could find for my skin tone was a light peach "baby" yarn that has a pearly thread running through it. It's a little shiny, but I kind of like the effect. A friend of mine has suggested that I dye yarn especially for the project. Part of me really likes that idea, but part of me is intrigued by the challenge of making the body from yarns that are readily available at my local craft store (and the way that it links the project deeper into our material culture). Craft store yarn also reminds me of my Grandma Rosie, and I think that part of this project is exploring that relationship in some way. I'll write more about Grandma Rosie another time.

For this portion of the practice head, I worked the hair portion with an I hook, and the face with a G. Most is worked in the round, but just below the widest part of the skull I started working back-and-forth to make the slit that I envision going up the back of the body (which would be how I'd put on the body if I wanted to wear it). Right now the hairline is complete, so I just need to finish the skin of the face and neck, and to add ears, eyebrows, and fringed hair.

I'm not entirely happy with the eye holes, which are too large, but managed to get a close approximation of my hairline, which makes me happy. I'm very pleased with how quickly this seems to be working up, and how well I've been able to make it fit so far.

Later, more meditations and inspirations for the crochet body...

Thursday, July 27, 2006

text inspiration

When I was puzzling through this project this morning, one thing that flashed through my mind was a poem that one of my creative writing professors, Janet McCann, read at an event many years ago. I can't remember the title, and can't remember enough of the actual wording to Google the thing, but it was about a dream she had in which she (as I remember) had to appear nude on stage, and looking out into the audience, found that they were dressed in elaborate "nude" bodysuits with jeweled genetalia.

I wish I could find that poem now. Probably I should email her and ask her to send me a copy.

inspiration from Kiki Smith

Kiki Smith - Untitled - 1991

I'm intrigued by the way Smith works with figures, not only the three-dimensional forms like this one, but the ones that are merely paper skins.

There's something about the body as subject and referent that really grabs me.

Also, for me, there's something that keeps drawing me into self- work--in my writing, autobiographical work; and in my artwork (limited though it is at this point), self-portaiture. Iterating the self is tremendously fascinating to me.

the inspirational ski mask

borrowed from the Swapatorium archives...

the project begins

Recently, I came across a picture of a really frightening knit ski mask posted long ago on Swapatorium. Also, I happened to attend the opening of the Kiki Smith show at the Contemporary Arts Museum. These two things collided with my recently re-discovered interest in crochet to inspire a new art project: a crocheted full-body self portrait. Here, I plan to keep track of this project in all its phases.

Today I bought yarn to experiment with. I decided that working out a head would be a good first step. To that end, I bought some yarn that comes somewhat close to my flesh tone, hair tone, and lip color. I don't have a ski mask pattern for crochet, so I'm starting off with a skull cap form and improvising from there.