My first memories of crocheting are of watching my mum. She would crochet doilies for ornaments, table runners for side boards and dressing tables. I remember them being mainly crocheted in white, especially the fancy delicate ones. Occasionally a dash of colour would be added; pink, yellow, blue or green. She would use fine crochet cotton threads mostly, other times she would use voile. I remember sitting on the floor at a young age and cutting the voile into long strips so she could use them to crochet. Sometimes her crocheted pieces would be made to order and other times they were made to just be given away. I could say, I do believe she enjoyed crocheting. It probably reminded her of being at home in Jamaica time spent with mother, aunties, sisters and friends gathered round exchanging stories of hopes, dreams life lessons and futures yet to come.
What I do remember is my mothers hands would move so fast hardly ever dropping a stitch, while making very intricate and complicated patterns in an instant. I used to be in awe of this art in motion and would often admire the intricate work once it was completed. An art with such swiftness I can’t do, as it was not passed on. I’ve only ever attempted it a few times but nothing as serious as my mothers.
This hand art is known by many names in different countries throughout the world including; crochet, crochet lace making, Tunisian crochet and broomstick lace- depending upon where it is made and how, is a very unique technique to its region. There is a long history to the art and it tells many stories from one country to the next as we will see and get to know. As for my mother’s history and stories; I will never know, only that she enjoyed crocheting these spectacular pieces just because she could. Like so many women and young girls, there was no pattern required- just your imagination.
For my blog I have interviewed three women who are great at crocheting and some have a long history attached to the skill, others they have become acquainted over the lockdown year. I was interested in their now journey of crocheting, especially from 2020 to 2021 and how it now sits with them now.
In these interviews we’ve talked about climate control, a sense of connecting to the past, childhood memories of crocheting and other creative skills such as knitting and sewing. The first conversation is with Ekua Bayunu who has had an Artist in residence at the Whitworth Gallery, and has done collaborative works at the Whitworth with other artist and organisations. Ekua is also member/founder of GAM Global Arts Manchester, who have been working with the School of Creativity in which they have displayed their collective art works, some of which are crocheted pieces.
Dazrene: What is the residency about for you and why crocheting?
Ekua: The residency for me it’s about creating collaborative work with other artists and being open to accepting other ideas and direction. This actioning today was a project idea bought to me by Lena in response to her seeing the previous works I’ve done using textile sculpture and building up 3-D project. This can be done using crochet, to building up our own fabric to which we can then use. With my sculpture practice we are also interested free crocheting and not following a pattern. For me I was inspired by another artist called Mei Wong who did a free knitting session. I have never gotten into knitting, as it felt like computer programming a lot of math, really containing and controlling, it’s wonderful what you can use it for but that way of working it’s not for me. However Mei showed us this way of knitting once you can put a stitch together you can just do free knitting, so we thought let’s look at this in terms of crocheting.
Dazrene: What are your early memories of crocheting?
Ekua: My earliest memory of sewing is age three. My mum would sew our clothes and she would sit me on the floor at the foot of her machine and give me a needle and thread, I would just be stitching, probably before I could do anything else I couldn’t even write at that point but I don’t remember her crocheting. Crocheting to me is a real sense of the 70s. The 70s post hippy thing when we were all wearing Gliese also known as sleeveless tunics. We would make loads of crochet squares, using different patterns and colours and put them together. You would choose say red and black. Now some would have red in the middle with black on the outside and vice versa. That was pretty much my earliest memories and I knew what to do. Introduction to basic stitches, making a straight line then a circle then you make a very specific pattern using a treble crochet; you wrap it round the needle three times in one so you would have three stitches to build up this pattern then use singles, to make a corner three more stitches then singles to go across, then you would add so the corners were always made up of two lots of three and three singles to join them, then as many of the threes as you wanted. Very specific very 70s look.
So coming back and making three,I just play with stitches and half the time it doesn’t matter if I change a stitch halfway through and actually I’m bouncing off Lena half the time. Lena, Gloria and myself are all part of a Global Arts Manchester and on the board of an art lead organisation. Lena came to me in the face of making things like gloves and scarfs for one of the project we do called Park Dance, for which we receive funding. This funding is to dance in the local areas in Moss Side once week. We had funds to buy gloves as we wanted to dance through whatever the weather condition was. Instead of buying actual hats and gloves we bought people crochet supplies and gave a guide to the participants on how to make gloves.
The project here at the Whitworth is an opportunity to understand at the core a way to use my creativity to enhance my understanding around climate change emergency and justice. How as an artist I can amplify the message as a climate activist. So the crochet has developed by becoming sculptural and feeding into a character called Entwife. The Entwife comes from the ‘Lord of The Rings’- the Ents are the large trees that appear and carry the hobbits at the end battle, only referred to in the book, but not seen in the film. The entwives are busy serving and looking after the earth. So the storytelling and the character building is an important part in our conscious to stop us wanting to know and we can get into our heart building. That is how am I going to build my true relationship with justice and action through the developing of Entwife for we all need to be activists. This new initiative of creating change in a gallery through crochet.
I’ve also been digitising by way of using an app on my phone to create patterns for the crochet that I am doing, it is an interesting way of bringing in real art craft into tech and a different audience who are not skilled to it. As people we have become less comfortable with craft and creativity because we come from a world where our clothes aren’t made by people, we don’t see that process as everything is fabricated and commercialised. People don’t think they have that control that means of production at
their own hands. I think if I introduce it to them through a digital world that may make it far more relevant and they may want to get into it. Trees have always grabbed my attention. I love trees, I’m a tree hugger and the more I find out about trees the more excited I get about what they can teach us not only what they can do but what they currently do and have been doing forever on this planet. In terms of climate and what they can teach us, how we can emulate the structure of collaborative co-dependent in a
good way, it’s not too late and see about resilience as it’s close to being too late.
Dazrene: What’s your earliest memories of crocheting?
Lena: I actually picked up crochet during lockdown, because my other creative outlets were dependent on space outside of my house as I didn’t have any space in my home to set up a studio or a garden, which lots of people kind of discovered they could do that and run with it. It became very clear that I could not, so I was trying to find a way to continue expressing myself and came across a book of how to crochet from my grandmother and it’s from the 70s so they designs are kind off amazing with photographs. I bought some natural fibre wool from Aldi and just started to crochet. I was a few months into crocheting before I realised I was doing advanced stitch but what I realised earlier on with crochet was it felt like a language, like a form of communication. To me just the way that you put things together…I felt like I was having a conversation with my grandmother and all of the people. It took me to a place where I felt connected to a very old conversation. A foundation of creativity and community is in my mind. So being able to get together in this non-verbal way has interested me about being an artist and creative person.
Dazrene: Have you now brought this into your creative practice?
Lena: I thinks it’s constantly evolving with conversations and collaborations with Ekua has brought it here. I made little things like this (picture), my sister in law asked me to make buntings. It’s more like here’s a pattern make this, but each one I learn something from. So it’s nice to have this space and to bring it into my artistic practice in my mind. It still feels like early days like I don’t know where it’s fully going to go and how much of my individual practice it will be, as it’s very much of our collaborative
practice at the moment. I can’t knit, I’ve tried workshops and done knitting classes before. It just doesn’t stick. I’m interested in the connection to lace making.
Ekua: What’s really interesting is I had two older women visit my house who were probably in their 70s, or even in their 80s and they saw crochet as ‘that lace’ and didn’t really like it and felt a sense of oppression around lace, about how you’re supposed to be female. But then they saw what I was producing and their response changed like ‘oh you can do that with crochet’, like it doesn’t constrain you to be a woman in any way. You could almost see how they were saying ‘okay, that’s not me, defined crochet woman’ things seen more relaxed with the crochet when they saw what I was doing. Especially it was woman who had fought so hard in this country to breathe from notions of femininity- they were quite relieved to see they don’t have that fiscal response to the crochet work.
Lena: Reminds me of my when my aunt Kate gave me a crocheting lace booklet that was her great aunt’s, there are thing that have stuck with me in what you’re talking about. I’m not a practicing religious person but there is something in it, making those patterns from my point of view that I’m curious about, that might be a way I can put it into my practice?
Ekua: A lot of this is about valuing women’s creativity in western society; anything seen as woman’s work is not valued in a commercial or social aspects, not even raising children- let alone anything that we do with our hands but I’m interested to hear from Gloria who comes from a very different background.
Dazrene: What’s your earliest memories of crocheting?
Gloria: I’m from Kinshasa in the Congo. I started crocheting when I was a little girl then I start again was with Lena, as we are at the Winter Market she asked me if I would like to crochet I said no, but then I I gave it a second thought and decided to start again so now I enjoy it. As a little girl I was crocheting for my dolls; I would crochet skirts, jumpers, many, many things- so now I am trying to start again and teach my daughter as well. To crochet is very difficult but I will keep going, I love it and it’s good because it helps me to relax. I have the friends for who I design and make crochet for. I want to create any and everything, I suppose in a way I already do. There are no constraints; you can create anything you want and flow with creativity. Each time I come into the space, I watch Ekua’s piece of work just growing from that place of no constraints.