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Book Review: Knitting Art – 150 Innovative Works From 18 Contemporary Artists by Karen Searle

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Knitting Art: 150 Innovative Works from 18 Contemporary Artists by Karen Searle is, first and foremost, an art book. It just happens that the medium of choice for the featured artists is knitting. You will not find anything even remotely resembling a pattern. In fact, much of the artwork within is not wearable.

Each artist gets his or her own chapter, discussing their background, their method, their message – all the things you want to know about an artist. Each artist showcases plenty of phenomenal work, and each piece includes a caption that describes the method and meaning behind the particular piece – something that is often missing from many, many art volumes.

One of my favorites is Mark Newport, who is perhaps the ultimate geek – all his work revolves around comic book characters and superheroes. He has knitted full-sized, wearable replications of the costumes worn by Batman (both Adam West and Michael Keaton), Iron Man, and Aquaman. He has even created his own superhero costumes based on different knit stitches (i.e. Bobble Man).

Lindsay Obermeyer’s pieces explore issues of family and motherhood. Pieces include “Blood Line,” a child’s sweater with a lengthy knit umbilical cord pooling to the floor. “Connection” is a performance piece with Lindsay and her daughter, wearing matching sweaters connected by fifteen-foot-long sleeves.

Lisa Anne Auerbach’s work is highly political. Many of her pieces are traditional knit garments with political messages knit in. “Body Count Mittens” reflects the deaths of the Iraqi war. The number on the left mitten differs from that on the right, to reflect the new deaths that occurred during the week it took to knit the set. Other traditional Fair Isle sweaters include messages such as ”Praise the lord and pass the ammunition,” “When there’s nothing left to burn, set yourself on fire,” and “To say ‘I love you’ means let the revolution begin.”

Ilisha Helfman calls herself a “jazz knitter.” She uses fine hand painted yarn and tiny needles to knit in garter stitch short rows. She changes directions with the color change, creating unexpected and often three-dimensional collages.

Jane Morton takes the functional and makes it extravagant. She has knitted sweaters for a bike and a house, among other inanimate objects. As part of a special zoo exhibit, she created a cardigan for a giraffe (knit to bundle him up to the chin), and sweat socks for an elephant.

Other artists featured in this book include Kathryn Alexander, who creates sculptural apparel in a vibrant rainbow of colors; Jeung-Hwa Park and her shibori scarves; Laura Kamian, whose knit art can be framed and hung on the wall; Debbie New, whose art cannot be categorized – featured are a peacock coat, a brain-shaped hat, and an ugly hat kaleidoscope; Katharine Cobey, who creates massive installation pieces; Donna L. Lish who knits with light-reflective materials on machine; and Carolyn Halliday, Karen Searle, Reina Mia Brill, and Adrienne Sloane knit sculptural pieces out of various metals and wires.

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