Archive for the ‘craft’ Category

Extremely rude embroidery; is it a good idea?


Detail from Danica Maier's "Have Lunch Downtown" exhibited at the London Printworks Trust
Detail from the lacework "Having Lunch Downtown" by Danica Maier at the London Printworks Trust

Over recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in crafts traditionally considered feminine: knitting, lace-making, crochet, embroidery and things like that. Some of this renewed interest results in pretty pieces, while some takes a more ironic stance. I first encountered the latter in an exhibition called "Adam and Eve it" at the London Printworks Trust which I read about in the Observer and attended back in 2005. The exhibition contained large-scale but detailed wall mounted pornographic images made from lace (or made like lace) by artists Danica Maier and Miranda Whall (a detail from Maier’s work "Have Lunch Downtown" heads this post). Intriguing. The next time I came across this use of ironic reflection in needlework was when researching "scary wool". Two pieces of subversive cross stitch came up: "Hasty" by beefrank and "rage" by laurelann.

Hasty by beefrank on flickr 
"Hasty" by beefrank on flickr
'rage' by laurelann on flickr 
"rage" by laurelann on flickr

Although I came across theses works afresh, I think they are actually in turn quotations themselves, "hasty fellatio" being a Merlin Mann quote. But it works so well in cross stitch, the prim tone of the wording compliments the medium but confounds the meaning.

The question is where do you go from there? As us, the audience, become accustomed to seeing edgy subjects rendered into lace and cross stitch and embroidery how do artists maintain their shock value?

There seem several answers to this. One is to not bother, and many people getting into these crafts are just knitting or embroidering to produce nice work. For example I came across "Free Form embroidery on recycled silk" by davis.jacque on Jamie Chalmer‘s amazing mr x stich blog

'Free Form embroidery on recycled silk' by davis.jacque on flickr
"Free Form embroidery on recycled silk" by davis.jacque on flickr

Jacque’s work isn’t overly cutesy, but nor is it overtly edgy or ironic, it’s just fun.

The second response to escalating audience familiarity is subtle: somehow to keep the edge but drop the irony. I’m not sure how to explain this one (or even if I’ve correctly categorised it) but a good example, again from mr x stitch’s blog, is Marty’s Fiber Musings series "Pretty Ladies in Smart Hats"

"Peaches…and cream" by Martys Fiber Musings on flickr
"Peaches…and cream" by Martys Fiber Musings on flickr

The third path, and the one that prompted this blog post, is to escalate the shock-value of the content to match the increased audience familiarity. This, I think, is a mistake, though it may still result in highly accomplished highly skilful work. The trouble is that it’s an arms race we really do not want to get into. The example that got me thinking comes from DonkeyWolf’s blog, and is the work "Cream Pie" by Ruby42

"Cream Pie" by Ruby42 on flickr
"Cream Pie" by Ruby42 on flickr

Like mr x stitch, DonkeyWolf includes ‘Not Safe for Work’ (NSFW) postings in the blog, by which they mean that the images included (should you ignore the warning and look at the NSFW posts) are not what you’d want on your screen in the office if the boss walks in. In fact, for many of the pieces covered I think they need a ‘Not Safe for work, home, or anywhere else’ warning as some of the needlework shown is extremely pornographic. Luckily Ruby42’s embroidered and cross stitch cushion has a safe side, with a recipe for cream pie on (shown above). The other side is very rude. If you’re unsure what might be on it the wikipedia disambiguation page for ‘Cream Pie’ might help, after that, if you want to see, and have no-one looking over your shoulder at your screen here’s the link to Ruby42’s picture on flickr ( and to donkeywolf’s post ( but be warned, they are extremely pornographic, despite being rendered in embroidery.

Now I may be wrong, the motivation for these NSFW needlework pieces may not be an ironic and shocking subversion of our attitudes to feminine crafts, but I think it is. And the trouble with such pieces is that what is required to shock the audience escalates out-of-hand. I think that the work often covered in mr x stitch and donkeywolf‘s blogs’ Not Safe For Work feature have already crossed the pale.

Luckily there is a fourth way: to ‘go meta’. One can become ironic about the irony itself. This is done to wonderful effect by Stitch Out Loud with her "Come closer Bob!" on flickr:

"Come closer Bob!" by Stitch Out Loud on flickr


Art from books as objects


I’ve been meaning to collate all the fantastic sculptures I’ve stumbled across recently into a blog post but now I don’t need to as Richard just shouted out this amazing post on WebUrbanist: “A Picture is Worth … 10 Brilliant Book Artists“. The strange thing is that all the art that Steve mentions in the post is mostly stuff I hadn’t seen (like the wonderful Jonathan Callan piece at the head of this post), and many of those I was going to list are not included! In fact, trawling around trying to find that picture the Jonathan Callan piece I discovered another great post by Sean Flannagan over at Deeplinking: “Book Art All-Stars“.

The only one we have in common is Brian Dettmer who did the piece above.

The beginning of something ...

So what were the pieces I was going to mention? The first one I haven’t actually seen, but Su Blackwell has some beautiful work in Craft Magazine’s July/August issue like her piece “The beginning of something …” pictured above.

Aysegul Turan - All That Is Solid Melts Into Air - Books and Magnifying Glass

Then there’s the work I have seen, much of it at this year’s Central Saint Martins MA in Communication Design degree show. For example, Aysegul Turan’s “All That Is Solid Melts Into Air” above. Though that might be cheating as it isn’t really an adaptation of an old book like the rest are. How about this one.

Haein Song - Books of the Absurd

Haein Song’s “Books of the Absurd” a wonderful playful piece which put me in mind of this work from last year’s New Designers:

Lucy Norman - book lightshade

Lucy Norman‘s book lightshade

Laser etching crème brûlée for the Hardwick Village Show


I’m collecting crème brûlée recipes. Delia’s doesn’t seem to set, so I’ll pick between Simon Rimmer’s or Paul Merrett’s (or the Jamie Oliver one in “Happy Day’s with the Naked Chef”). It’s the village show on Saturday and I’ll be defending the baking cup. One part of my plan is to enter the dessert category with a crème brûlée laser etched with the Hardwick village crest. So yesterday Stuart taught me how to use our laser cutter in the hardware lab. Now I’m panicking somewhat. The lip of the ramekin’s will interfere with the laser head; will the laser burn or cut the sugar (I may need to manually defocus); how long will crème brûlée keep once the top is caramelised?

So on Saturday I’ll either e able to report a ‘HOWTO’ on laser etching crème brûlée, or I’ll have provided a particularly high calorie addition to the Mardas Gap!

Why can’t we take photos in galleries?


I don’t understand copyright laws at the best of times but I can understand why content owners are nervous about piracy. In the old days when I taped a new album from a mate onto a C90, or sat by the radio so I could record my favourite track,  the quality of the reproduction was pretty terrible. Now electronic copies of music or movies are often identical to the original media. But let’s put music and video to one side. What about art? What about textiles? What about ceramics? What about jewellery? Clearly if I take a photo of a piece of artwork at an exhibition, or a piece of jewellery at a degree show no one is ever going to mistake my photo for the original. Let’s try an experiment. Is this a photo of a Patrick Heron stained glass window or is it the real thing?

There, that was easy. So why ban photography?

I can see why one would ban flash photography – that would be very annoying for those reflecting on the pieces on display. I can also imagine that cash strapped galleries might want to charge for a photography permit – I’d pay.

I’m not saying that galleries should be forced to allow photography (though if the artwork was acquired with public money I would be tempted to force them). Clearly in a private space one has the right to prevent photos being taken. But why do it? It is frustrating for those of us who enjoy capturing things we enjoy either to help us remember them or to try and see them from some new and creative angle.

Some galleries are great – friends in New York have said that most galleries allow photography, and the V&A seems to have a wonderfully enlightened policy. But then on the other end I was amazed that several of the recent degree shows I visited banned photography. For example I loved the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design show, and put together a trip report for colleagues at work and used the report as a blog post here. I focused on the Communications Design Masters. In truth this was because I love their work, but it helped that you were allowed to take pictures. It made explaining what was hot, what was the zeitgeist, etc much much easier. I also visited the jewellery section as a colleague was interested to know what CSM students were producing (he’d enjoyed the jewellery RCA students had produced last year). So can I show him my favourite piece? Yes, here it is:


Well the less said about my sketching skills the better. But photographing it was a no-no:

(N.B. The jeweller, Clio Alphas, has some wonderful photos of this piece on her flickr stream if you do want to see why I liked the necklace she’d designed so much:

I had the same problem at the RCA show. Some designers let you take photos despite the sinage but others didn’t. This was especially frustrating in the fabrics section where I saw some great things that I’d have loved to have shared. One designer had made a fabulous fabric that combined geometric patterned thick felt with fluorescent plastic squares  matching the pattern, but slightly offset. Inevitably I’m struggling to describe the piece without a picture. The designer felt that allowing photos would enable people to steal her ideas; but I feel the buzz created by people discussing your work online far outweighs the potential for espionage.

More scary knitting – is it the uncanny valley again?


The joys of multidiscipliarity. I’ve already mentioned that one of the psychologists in our group, Dave Kirk, has picked up our technological work on surface computing to ask questions about how different materials are perceived (and could be perceived as part of computing systems). This led him to lay down the challenge ‘show me something scary made of wool’. A few of us in the group tried, and I’ve already catalogued my failures in another post. But it’s such an intriguing idea – to find something woollen and scary or to understand why we cannot – that I’ve been trying to enlist friends and, well, anyone who’ll listen. Jofish came up trumps by bringing an amazing seamstress/weaver (what is someone called who crochets for a living?) cozycoleman to my attention. Cozycoleman has some brilliant work for sale. In fact I immediately fell for her crocheted chess set and brought the last one.

(Don’t worry – she does sell the pattern.)

So how did Dave respond? Success! When asked if he was scared he replied “if I’m honest yes” 🙂 But this is where the plot thickens. It wasn’t the shocking anatomical nature of the educational birthing doll I used at the head of this post that got him, it was a later one from the same set. This one.

Cozycoleman isn’t out to shock. Her goal with these dolls is to help children understand birth. My intuition is that these dolls would do just that. I’m especially taken with the removable umbilical chord:

But looking back to that seated doll there is something spooky. I’m reminded of Mrs Bates from Psycho – someone who isn’t quite human. So perhaps the unsettling nature of these is that they are trying to look human and in so doing become scary. In his work on everyday perceptions of machine intelligence Alex has mentioned the concept in robotics of the “uncanny valley“. This hypothesis (by Masahiro Mori) states that we can cope with robots until they become too much like humans, when the slight differences unsettle us. He hypothesises that robot designers could work away and eliminate those differences, thus climbing back out of the valley. I’m not convinced. But back to wool. Armed with this new idea, that woollen humans would indeed be scary I’ve found some other examples on the blog

First Anna (who writes found a very unsettling granny on a filler bag she’d brought, and she wrote about it in this post (

And now she’s found another great creepy scene, and written about it in this post:

Summing up, I think the uncanny valley may hold at least one key to how to make wool scary.

Can knitting terrify?



Tank Cosy

(photographed by Mark Smith)

In CML, and especially Sendev, we do a lot of work on tangible computing and surface computing. Sometimes this involves combining touch screens with tangible objects. This combination begs many questions: what computer interactions are better done with physical objects rather than screen based ones; what interactions work best with both; etc? A few weeks ago Dave Kirk, one of the social scientists in our group, led a discussion about just these issues. Dave’s working on a framework to help us and others think through those tangible vs. screen based decisions. The discussion moved between the practical and the philosophical, the serious and the humorous. One of the interesting lighthearted moments was a discussion of wool objects. Things made of wool look and feel cosy, and Dave pondered why this was and set us all a challenge – to find something wool that was genuinely scary. Mie Nørgaard and I had already had a fun email exchange about edgy or extreme knitting which led to a blog post from me and a blog post from Mie. However using wool to subvert an existing idea and add a cosy edge (as Marianne Jørgensen did in the "Tank Cosy" at the head of this post) isn’t the same as scaring someone.

Stuart and Mie came up with some interesting tactics. They tried pictures of an angora rabbit (a shocked looking angora rabbit) and some killer sheep. But that’s cheating – it’s not really wool yet. Here are my suggestions.

Firstly people do try rendering scary subjects in wool, like this wooly balaclava or Halloween mask titled "Really Cold" from Adrian:

And some people’s idea of the erotic can be disturbing, like this one titled "Naughty Needles Outtakes: Bondage Onsie" from Nikol Lohr:

N.B Glasgow School of Art took this too far with their knitted phallus sex-toy: (this one is *not* work safe)

These will not be noteworthy for female readers, but for some of us blokes there is something unsettling about Sharleen Moroco‘s crocheted tampon cosies:

But none of examples so far frightened Dave. The only thing I could find that got close to shocking him was Andricongirl‘s "Lab test bunny". So sometimes it is humour that can be frightening!


The story isn’t over though. Dave claims that the scary part of Andricongirl‘s "Lab test bunny" is the eyes – and they aren’t wool! So if you have come across anything scary made out of wool do let me know, I’ve an argument to win 😉

Extreme Needlecraft


“Lenin… with mittens!” from majorbonnet

Over the weekend I made the mistake of uttering the sentence “I’ve been keenly following the knitting blogs, and it turns out extreme knitting is quite the thing in the U.S. of A. at the moment”. Needless to say the kids fell around laughing and have ridiculed me often since. I just wanted to shout out the kind of thing I’ve been enjoying:
Red gloves for Lenin:
Tank cosy:
Knit a big flag:
Embroidered graffiti:

And today Mie Nørgaard showed me Anders Bonnesen‘s great work: – I want to add that to my list.

One subset of this stuff was covered by Rose White in a brilliant talk she gave at the 24th Chaos Communication Congress (24C3) on “The History of Guerilla Knitting”. There’s a BitTorrent download of the talk available which is what I watched, it’s a great talk, worth downloading BitTorrent and an MKV player for!

I am partial to just plain old cute too: