I recently listened to a conversation between Kate O'Sullivan and Dan Thompson on the A Playful Day podcast. As I was listening to their discussion about connecting your art to the place where you live, I thought about how my own making and creating relates to my location. At first I thought it wasn't relevant. I’m not really involved in any local craft groups, although I’m aware of them: Eyeing the knit and natter group in the library on Wednesday afternoons, but thinking it wouldn’t really work with a toddler in tow; Talking to members of the local quilting group and mentioning I design fabric, but not taking it any further than that; Signing up for a newsletter from my local yarn shop, but not getting involved. I’ve lived in Sutton, in the south of London, for almost three years now, and while I would say I’ve now settled and enjoy living here, it definitely feels like a temporary home and not my „real“ home.
As I thought a bit more about the topic, however, I realised that, actually, location plays a big role in my fabric design. If you know me, you know that the question „where do you come from?“ brings a kind of tired smile to my face, and depending on how I feel, or how interested I think you are, you’ll get a simple or a more complicated answer. I’ve moved more than 70 times during my life, and lived on three continents, and in answer to the question „where do you come from?“ I could answer either Papua New Guinea, Canada, The Netherlands, Germany, or more recently, Sutton, in the UK. These locations, or more the mix of locations, understandably plays a huge part in defining who I am, and as I thought about it, I realised this does come out in the designs I create. Perhaps for me the answer to how being an artist is relevant to where I live is more about using my art to connect myself to the different places I call home - turning memories into tangible usable objects.
When I moved to Sutton, England from Heidelberg, Germany, I felt lost and depressed and struggled to come to terms with this new place to call home. At the time I spent months working on a design about Heidelberg, working from photo’s I had taken of my neighbourhood there. This was one of the first designs I made where I started to feel like I could almost get it to look how I saw it in my head. I spent hours poring over the lines, tweaking, adding details, and mentally walking around „my“ neighbourhood. Each building in this design has a memory for me, of many many walks past the river, through the streets to work and uni, and memories of ice cream and coffee, people I spent time with and conversations I had. Working on the design was therapeutic and helped me to slowly say goodbye to Heidelberg while at the same time creating something new that I could keep with me.
When my grandmother died two years ago, I started working on a series of fabric designs all centred around her garden. The collection, called grandma’s garden, shows fruit and vegetables from her garden, each of which brings up a picture in my mind of long ago summer days spent there, picking rhubarb and eating it with a palm full of sugar, learning to pick potato beetles off the plants with my grandma, riding my bike past her garden and stopping to pick some fresh raspberries, going down to her cellar for a glass jar of preserves for supper. I couldn’t go to my grandma’s funeral, because I was half way across the world with a one-month old baby, but working on these designs brought me close to her and created something that makes me smile when I see it and remember being with her in her beloved garden.
I haven’t (yet) made many fabric designs about Papua New Guinea, although I think that will come. One I did make though, was to celebrate two other grandmother’s and their gardens. This design conjures up memories of a very different kind of garden, on an island in the tropical heat, cutting a length of sugar cane to munch on on the way home, gathering firewood or digging up some sweet potatoes for supper.
Location doesn’t just play a role in my fabric design. I recently took part in a challenge on instagram, where I learned how to design and write knitting patterns. This was an incredibly fun challenge run by Francoise Danoy of aroha knits. We started the design process with a mood board of photos, and while I noticed many of the other participants used generic pictures to convey an idea for a design, I wanted to create my design around a real location, a real memory of a place that was important to me. I used photos from a recent holiday at the beach in Zeeland, the Netherlands, a place I also went to as a child. The resulting two pieces of knitting capture that mood and feeling for me, and now I can dress my daughter in a little cardigan that for me holds the location of the North Sea beach in Zeeland.
Creating all of these designs for fabric, or in my experiments with knit design, means that I can make objects to use on a day-to-day basis that are present with me where I am now, while reminding me of other places where I cannot be right now but that still mean a lot to me. For me, this is how I combine my location with my creating - translating memories and places into design.