Knitting a sweater, a scarf or another article of clothing usually begins with a spool of yarn, two needles and a slipknot. It’s a skill artist Carol Milne learned at 10 years old from her grandmother, and before long, she was hooked. She fondly recalls the impact a trip to a knitting shop had on her around the same time.
“When I was growing up, knitting was not popular, and it was all old ladies who knitted,” Milne said with a laugh. “But I remember going to the store and seeing these women knitting, like on multiple needles in circles, and I was just mesmerized.”
We don’t always know what will captivate us when we encounter something new. For Milne, the activity became a decades-long endeavor. She described herself as a compulsive knitter in high school and college.
Today, she’s combined the basic concept of knitting with the lost-cast waxing technique to create one of a kind glass sculptures. In “This is Your Brain on Knitting,” Milne has created an intricate web of interwoven links in the shape of a cerebrum. “Wiggle Room” is a teal and chartreuse curved sculpture with a knitting needle looped through the top.
Several of her translucent sculptures are on display in the solo exhibition “Carol Milne: Knit Wit” at Bainbridge Island Museum of Art (BIMA) in the Steve & Harriet Davis Community Gallery. Chief Curator Greg Robinson is excited they’ve been able to share her work with visitors. His eyes light up when he talks about the skill level necessary for her process.
“Some people can discount it because it looks kind of like candy, and she makes it look so easy, right? But this is truly one of the most complicated techniques,” said Robinson. “It’s not like she just melts glass, and it goes all the way through and then hardens. She has to figure out how she’s going to get glass in all those areas.”
When Milne came up with the idea of knitting glass sculptures, she was told it wouldn’t work. But, Milne is stubborn and was determined to figure out how to do it. The process begins with a red stringy and flexible wax. She wraps the wax around a knitting needle which makes coils. She opens the coils into loopy zig zags, then she knits them together by hand. Once the object is complete, it’s encased in a plaster mold. In the next step, she uses a wallpaper steamer to heat the wax, which melts out of the mold. The object goes into a kiln with a flower pot on top that holds the glass.
As it heats up, the viscosity of the glass is similar to honey. She’s figured out how to trick it into going completely through the cast. After about five days, she pulls it out of the kiln and removes the plaster to reveal her latest unique sculpture. The process is involved and time consuming, but she finds every step fulfilling. At a recent artist talk at BIMA, Milne explained how it all comes together, aided with photographs to illustrate it. While the artist is modest about her work, the audience was quite audible in their approval.
“The knitting part is very domestic. I think a lot of people look at it and say, ‘knitting, blah.’ But for me, domestic is a realm that most of us are in,” Milne said. “Art has been ruled by men, really, who say that the domestic is not a relevant topic for art, except that’s where we all live in every day.”
In the past few years there’s been a resurgence of interest and more respect given to fiber art. Since that’s at the core of what she creates, Milne says knitters often relate to her work because they’re familiar with the process.
“Cocoon” depicts two hands knitting a work in progress. It’s part of a series Milne began after an intense year of loss. Several people close to her died, including her father and the sculpture professor who taught her glassware.
“It made me start to think about what does it mean to become your own mentor,” Milne said. “These hands are actually knitting fabric that is connected to the hands. And so that idea, I think, really resonates with me.”
The first piece she created after the 2016 election is titled “Hari Kari.” In it, knitting needles are stabbing themselves in a subtle nod to the alarming events to come. She’s also created pink pussy hats, socks and teapots. The artist began creating pairs of socks when her daughters went off to college. It’s an examination of relationships, particularly the one she has with her husband as they transition to empty nesters, looking at how they relate now that it’s just the two of them again. Milne also incorporates humor, and titles are important too as they are a window into her intention with each piece.
The artist holds workshops and lectures, has won numerous awards and exhibited internationally. She has a degree in landscape architecture from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, and despite trying to steer herself away from the art world, she studied sculpture at the University of Iowa. She doesn’t knit with yarn nearly as much these days, as she focuses on sculpture. While she may have a specific idea in mind, her sculptures aren’t overt messages. She’s OK if the audience prefers to appreciate their beauty rather than digging a bit deeper.
“The idea behind the knitting for me is it’s like a grassroots political idea, that it takes lots of individual stitches to make a larger whole,” Milne said. “That’s why I think the knitting captivates me. You can’t make a big piece all with one stitch. It’s got all these pieces, combining to make something bigger.”
WHAT: “Carol Milne: Knit Wit”
WHEN: Runs until December 31
WHERE: Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, 550 Winslow Way E.
Lisa Edge is a Staff Reporter covering arts, culture and equity. Have a story idea? She can be reached at lisae (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Lisa on Twitter @NewsfromtheEdge
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