creature feature

I wrote in some detail in this post about the many trials and errors of developing and making my creature’s mask, and thought you might like to hear more about some of the other elements of its costume.

I wove the strap for my overalls on an inkle loom, using threads which spoke to the warm orange palette which colours the walls of Pilar’s house in Mexico city.

I’ve spent many months experimenting with simple pick-up patterns on my inkle loom, and this seven-thread motif is one of my favourites to weave, with a lovely rhythm. And for the purposes of the creature’s costume, I knew it would work very well: because the pattern is the same on both sides, the strap would be completely reversible.

my handwoven strap crossing the creature’s back

Like many simple, centred weaving patterns, if flipped about and repeated, this motif quickly resolves itself into a series of Os and Xs. If you’ve spent any time weaving bands – or indeed knitting traditional stranded colourwork – such interlocking OXO patterns will be very familiar to you.

oxo motifs in Shetland wool

I have spent a lot of time while I’ve been weaving thinking about OXO patterns, and their commonality in textiles of many kinds, across many different eras, all around the world. Such motifs are familiar to both South American and Northern European band weaving and hand knitting traditions and they interest me both because they are abstract and non-figurative, and because they are a natural consequence of the way such textiles are structured. These are patterns weaving or knitting hands simply can’t help making.

Because of where we are in the world, we might visually associate OXO patterns with Shetland knitting, or with Mapuche weaving, but I enjoy the fact that because these non-figurative motifs appear everywhere, they seem resistant to the imposition of any one set of cultural meanings. These abstract patterns, with their simple interlocking logic, express a sort of makerly commonality across textile traditions. They belong to everyone, and no-one — to us all.

Echoing the structure of the woven strap, I also used a series of small bands around the yoke of my creature’s sweater. The yoke proceeds through a colourful series of zigzags and chevrons, X’s and O’s.

I intentionally used pattern and colour together in this yoke as a way of visually connecting Scotland and Mexico, and expressing the collaborative ties between myself and Pilar. Yet at the same time I was also continually asking myself what it meant to see a place in an abstract pattern, to associate culture with a palette or a particular colour. Do these motifs look South American to you, or are you drawn to an immediate association with Baltic textiles? How do we map ancient motifs onto modern ideas of nationhood? When does it become useful, or important, to force symbolic meanings of identity or locale from abstract patterns? Can cultures ever hold a sense of property in motifs that all hands make?

The creature asks these questions. It does not have the answers.

On to the overalls: an old, thrifted pair of dungarees, which I adapted to comfortably fit the dimensions of this particular creature, and accommodate my hand woven strap.

The denim, and the pin badges, are an homage to Pilar’s favourite jacket.

The creature likes the way that pin badges record incidental moments, particular events, new destinations. It enjoys pin badges as souvenirs, memorabilia, ephemera: wee everyday markers of place, inclination, friendship, personality.

The creature likes Mr Benn. It loves to collect enamel pins from the knitting events and yarn festivals it visits. It is also a huge fan of talented badge and jewellery makers like Lorna Reid, Mike Finnie, and Felicity Ford (who created these wonderful tweed badges).

Some of the creature’s badges were gifts, while some were individually bought. Some remind the creature of being somewhere else (the wee horse came from a gallery in Philadelphia) while the Scottish agate brooch – a Victorian confection of polished, local stone – is definitely about just being here.

Mostly, the creature enjoys the colourful eclecticism of its badge collection, which befits the joyous syncretic spirit of its whole costume.

I hope that hearing about some of the thinking behind the creature’s making hasn’t dispelled its mystery. For those of you asking about the yoke sweater – yes, a pattern is now in the offing. And I’m also happy to say that the creature may be able to lend its woolly face to an exhibition. More about that shortly.