Badbad Grape and free-form knitting. Photo by Rachel Levine.
Macrame, knitting, and crochet were once the domain of girl scouts, hippies and the over-65 set. Then knitting, like olive oil and salt, went haute and hip. Suddenly all the closet knitters came out en masse and they didn’t want that Pattons crap from Zellers. They wanted bamboo fair-trade needles and handspun, hand-dyed alpaca silk at $35 a skein.
Like many things in the DIY renaissance, these handcrafts not only found a more upmarket niche, but the skills were co-opted in the name of art. Yarn bombers tag street poles and trees with signature stitches. Groups like Les Ville-Laines and Tricot pour la Paix turn yarn craft into a political and social statement.
It is in this vein that Pandora Hobby and Badbad Grape present Moksha – Fibre Libre, an exhibition of scrumble (free-form crochet) and knitting. Pandora Hobby’s pieces are abstract landscapes, built out of coralline shapes, while Badbad Grape makes octopoid creatures. The 25 or so pieces range from palm-sized creatures to larger wall tapestries.
The work on view is based on their individual interpretation of the exhibition’s title: Moksha – Fibre-Libre. Hobby explains, “Moksha means liberation, like nirvana. [Badbad] envisioned something very tangible. All of his pieces are these yoga creatures. My pieces are about the idea of scrumble — that’s the liberation for me — there’s no direction.”
Scrumble work is free-form crochet, made organically without a pattern. According to Hobby, “You change direction, go round in circles.” This allows Hobby to make small pieces that are portable and easily stored until they can be used in a larger piece. Eventually, “everything ends up in something.”
“I avoid planning out the work,” she says, “I avoid sketchbooks. I stay ambiguous. I wait until the latest minute to commit to something if I can.” Her pieces grow out of yarn ends that she picks up in fripperies and bazaars. “Whatever yarn I find drives color and mood of piece. Each piece tells you what it is.”
Despite their different styles and interpretations, the two harmonized in the gallery. “My pieces are ambient. I see them as landscapes. One is very green — that’s the ground. One is pink, and that’s the sky. His creatures seem to live in the free-form world.”
One thing that doesn’t appear is clothing, save for one shawl. Hobby says that even though she often makes clothes, she emphasizes artistry over usability. “I always made a conscious effort not to make functional garments. My first exhibited pieces were massive dresses, but you couldn’t put your hands through them or the elbows were stitched to the body.”
Hobby is particularly excited about is the community of yarn crafters and artisans in the city. “It is a community of practice. There is an impetus to get together with like-minded people but work on your own thing. You learn new techniques and stitches and share your own.”
While once such meetings were the domain of knitting stores, social media sites allow these artists to find each other. “It’s [a community] for people who want to do something in addition to making socks.”
Right now, wool and yarn artisans want “to get wool in public. There’s this idea that society is hard on us. We can soften up some stuff, make people look and question the things around them. When someone sees wool work outside, it’s something they don’t expect. ‘What? Wool on a tree?’ It makes people open up. That moment can inspire you. That moment is a really good moment. That’s the point of doing art.” ■
Pandora Hobby and Badbad Grape are showing their work at Galerie Ame Art-Mile End (5345 du Parc) from Aug. 28-Sept. 2. The Vernissage is tonight, August 30, 5 p.m.-8 p.m., with musical guests Best Friends.