Learning from the volcano knitter
Lisa Louie as Featured Artist, Lahaina, Maui 2019 surrounded by her fiber art.
With decades of experimenting and learning, my knitting has evolved from primarily creating garments using published patterns, to creating unique and unexpected wearable and display art. Gradual changes in the ways I choose and combine yarns, my rule bending of most typical knitting execution, and the rule shattering exploration of form, shapes, and creative purpose all channeled me to what I create now.
With these changes, my knitting has evolved into what I call free style knitting. In my mind and when I work, choosing yarns, breaking knitting mores, and making unique objects must all happen together for the art to emerge from my needles. The challenge is to create knitted work that hovers in the balance between keeping enough of the mechanical structure of the piece to make it usable, and the impractical and unstructured creativity and rule breaking demanded by the act of creating art.
Free style bag made from silk, wool, linen and other yarns
What first changed in my knitting was combining different yarns to get more interesting fabrics. People can begin by combining two or more finer yarns to get the gauge of a heavier yarn called for in a pattern. After that, more exploration leads to more possibilities. It may lead to custom designs that become art, whether you wear it or display it. Most of my work, particularly my display art, has multiple yarns in different weights, fibers, textures, and quantities.
Shawl combining a gradient yarn and a variegated in my custom design.
Free Style Knitting
After I began experimenting with fibers, everything else changed. Next I began to adapt the shapes and textures. Most often I refer to this as free style knitting, because it defies most of the conventions of traditional knitting, and is very difficult to describe or categorize, but has obviously evolved from more expected knitting. For me, it is the growth and expansion of the original free form knitting.
My first finished pieces were things like the volcano hats, bags, and smaller wearables. The volcano cape was my first extensive venture into significant fiber art: it took nine years to complete. Creating this required finding unique ways to generate the texture that looks like lava, blending fibers that aren’t intended to work together, and shaping and balancing the form to make a wearable cape.
"Pele's Gift: Creation and Transformation" aka The Cape.
As time went on, the knitting became exceptionally different, and morphed into display art. Sculptures, wall art, and three dimensional work began to exist.
"Diamond Head: A Knitter's Perspective"
"The Landlord Cometh" knitted sculpture
The first piece of display art was an addiction-themed piece, which was created for a call for entry at a textile facility on the mainland. This first display art piece, first submission to a juried show, first accepted and gallery displayed art was my first try at all of those things, it still amazes me this piece was created, and was accepted.
"Addiction" first piece in a series
Pieces have gotten larger and more complex, and in 2021 I finished my first portrait and largest piece of wall art to date. Titled “Waiting His Turn”, the 6’3” by 3' 3” tapestry is a knitted portrait of my husband in a bowling alley, waiting his turn on the lane.
"Waiting His Turn" exhibited Maui Arts and Cultural Center in the Schaefer Portrait Challenge, 2022
This untraditional knitting combines many elements at the same time. However when I teach these techniques, it is best to separate the components into their respective concepts. This is why combining yarns and free style are divided into different classes.
My objective is to give people skills and tools to build on and incorporate into their own work. As they expand their creative range they can adapt at their own pace, whether that is creating more visually interesting garments, or doing their own fiber art.
By teaching concepts, and giving each student the freedom to explore the technique individually and uniquely, the work done in class will be different than any other work. As such, there is no set project for the class to complete, because they are learning new concepts to be applied as they wish.
My own exploration and growth started with a smorgasbord of learning from dozens of teachers over several years. I was shown the skills to develop my own abilities and voice within fiber art, and believe it is my kuleana (responsibility) to continue to share what I know.
My hope is that each person adapts what they learn to their own work, at their own pace, and develops their own unique perspective and art, in whatever way that evolves. Additionally, much of what I have to share is the belief in my students that they also can stretch and bend their own attitudes and routines to grow their own abilities and be inspired to leap out of their usual practices.