yarn as text

November 27, 2019

Just like all material artifacts, yarn can be read as a text. We read the landscape that has given rise to the wool fibre when we encounter bits of grass and other vegetable matter trapped in our yarn. We read the creature who grew the fibre when the sheep breed is identified on the ball band. And underneath this, we can read the rise of global mass production and the demise of local manufacturing in the changing place of origin on our yarn labels.

But what I want to share with you today is something different…yarns deliberately designed and constructed to tell stories.

These yarns are made by Creswick textile artist Madeleine Fernbach using wool, silk, tencel, plastic fibres and salvaged materials.

This skein is entitled Too Many Dolls (2019). Madeleine has used skin coloured wool top and plastic doll hair spun into a fat/thin single and attached dismembered doll parts (found in a charity shop) at intervals in the yarn to create a yarn that feels repellent and distasteful. It was intended to capture the feeling she had as a child when given doll after doll by her grandmother as gifts. When I handled the yarn I felt like I should think it was cute when it was actually making me feel a bit nauseated…all that skin and hair. When I confessed this to Madeleine, she laughed and explained that was exactly how she had felt when receiving dolls as a child. I marvel at how she has managed to generate a feeling in her yarn that other people can sense and describe.

It is rare in the craft world to deliberately try and create ugliness. It seems we are always trying to create something beautiful and even if we are trying to be ironic or subversive, we do this in beautiful ways such as subversive cross stitch or yarn bombing. In Make It Mighty Ugly (2014), Kim Piper Werker wrote about how deliberately making ugly things can free us from the inhibiting prison of perfection but her work was more focused on using ugly to generate creativity rather than being a creative end. Too Many Dolls is not a staging post to get somewhere else, it is designed to embody an unpleasant feeling. Fibre colour and spinning method are critical choices made to push the doll parts away from cute kitsch to something more unsettling.

Farmyard (2019) is another work by the same artist that evokes completely different feelings. This is a pastoral scene filled with whimsy and lightness. Plastic pigs, sheep and poultry graze amongst a verdant landscape of grass and red earth.

The white English Leicester locks create a sense of sheep wool caught on wire fences. The setting is bucolic and the sensations provoked by the yarn are curiousity, delight and joy.

Whilst the spinning method is again a single, Farmyard is plump and vibrant with colour and interest…such a contrast from the dull, flat colour and fat/thin dissonance of Too Many Dolls. Farmyard brings to mind lush spring pastures, before drought, before fire, before death…there is only optimism and new life spun in here.

It is extraordinary how much meaning and sensation has been spun into these yarns. They are not just artworks or texts but experiences, to be felt, touched, discovered and wondered at.

Madeleine is one of my local spinning comrades. She takes yarn to places others dare not go. She has recently become our local Ashford dealer and sells spinning supplies and her own spinning, felting and weaving creations through her Etsy shop, Weft of Centre.