Viking Knit Unraveled and Revealed

I recently spent time trying to puzzle out the Viking Knit.  There some excellent directions on the Internet including these on the Fine Art by Rocio website.  The problem is, the Viking Knit that looks so cool is double or triple knit and all of the instructions that I saw, including those in Irene Petersen’s otherwise marvelous book,  tell you to loop down a couple of rows with a single wire and then go up a couple of rows and come back down to double knit and repeat to triple knit.  I don’t know about you, but that would drive me “Ape-something that rhymes with knit.”  Plus it’s hard to keep your rows and stitches even and the wires lying evenly instead of whopper jawed and all kinked up.

And then there was this thing about clamping an Allen Wrench in a vise that seemed like overkill. Viking Knit wants to spiral and as long as you keep your stitches fairly even,  you don’t have to be fanatical.  You can straighten your wire work when you take it off the mandrel.  I was able to find several artists on the Internet who used a mandrel of some sort.  I have had success with dowels and chopsticks.

But my biggest discovery is that you don’t have to do the up and down nonsense to do triple and double knit.  All you have to do is work with two or three wires at a time.  It’s  really not that difficult.

Here’s a crudely drawn picture of how you start:

The red loops are what they call the petals.  The above diagram shows the stitch worked flat, and you can see examples of this in Arlene Fisch’s classic book Textile Techniques in Metal.  But for now, think round.  Since it’s recommended that you work in 24 or 26 gauge wire, working with 2 or 3 strands at a time is easier than it sounds.  When I work with copper wire,  I work with yard long strands of wire taped together one end and proceed as if I was using a single wire.  When I work with brass wire,  I use  18″ to 24″ strands because the wire is stiffer and a little harder to work with, but it is not difficult.  Here are some pictures:

Here is a triple knit chain in progress.  It is three stitches around and I am using 24 gauge wire.  They say that 24 or 26 gauge wire is the best size to use.

Here is a detail:

I add new chain according to the standard directions you will find in Internet tutorials or Irene Peterson’s book.  I worked on this brass wire chain until it was about 16″ long.  Then I annealed it with a micro torch (you don’t need to do this with copper or fine silver, but brass is stiffer) after brushing it with flux to cut down any fire scale.

The next step is passing it through the wooden  draw plate.

The above picture shows the chain during the drawing process.  I passed it through three successively smaller holes, then stopped.  I once saw a video of Charles Lewton-Brain demonstrating fold forming and he said something that stuck with me.  I don’t remember the exact quote, but he said that when you are working on something and reach a point where you like how it looks, STOP!


The picture above is the finished necklace.  I soldered the knitted ends together and soldered a 14 gauge wire to each end.  Then I made the end caps from brass, passed the 14 gauge wire through the holes in the end,  I formed wrapped loops. made jump rings and soldered them closed and finished with an “S” clasp I made for the necklace.

Here is a close up.

To give you a little perspective, the two copper sections below are five stitches around.  The top one is triple knit the same way I did the brass necklace and the bottom one is single knit.

The final picture is a close up of a wide hole bead I slipped over the chain.  The final necklace was about 24″ long.  How long do the chains get when you draw them?  There isn’t a hard and fast answer.  It depends on the stiffness of your wire, how many times you draw the chain and how many stitches around your chain is.  The only thing I can say for sure is better too long than too short.

So now that you know how to make a double or triple Viking Knit chain without all the up and down maneuvering, go ahead and give it a try.  OK, you might think it’s cheating.  You might be a purist.  Just remember, as someone wiser than me once said, “Virtue is its own reward and little else.”

Here’s a late addition:  the Viking Knit is the same as the “Acorn Stitch” or Celyon Stitch” used in embroidery, only it’s worked upside down.  Sometimes you can get the hang of a technique by trying it in another medium first.  If you’re new to wire work but good at sewing,  try the technique with thread to get the hang of it.

Ars Medendi

Ars medendi is Latin for medical arts.  Is medicine an art or a science?    Some say it’s both; medical knowledge is gathered through scientific study, but the application of that knowledge  is an art .   That’s why they call it practicing medicine, and it is not coincidental that practicing is also the same way you get to Carnegie Hall.
But seriously folks-I live in Philadelphia and walk past  a couple of fascinating sculptures almost every day.  One is a tall weathered metal cylinder in which mysterious looking symbols and foreign words in several alphabets-Latin, Cyrillic, Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese and Chinese-are punched out of the metal as if the creator wanted to make a giant stencil.  The other sculpture is a long trapezoid-shaped screen with the same design motif.   They intrigued me from the first time I saw them, but there are no plaques indicating what they are, who the sculptor is, or why they sit on opposite ends of   the plaza of Thomas Jefferson University Medical College.

People must have been asking the Jefferson administration the same questions because it appears that Jefferson recently added information to its web site about the sculptures.  They are entitled Ars Medende and the artist is Jim Sanborn, known for his Kryptos sculpture at CIA headquarters in Langley Virginia. You can read more about Sanborn and his work here.

And now for the sculptures

The Medical Arts cylinder was installed on the corner of 9th and Walnut Streets in Philadelphia in 2009.   It interesting by day but captivating at night.

When the cylinder is lit up at night it reflects  cryptic  symbols and foreign words onto the walkway and an adjacent building.   What do they mean?

I got a clue one night as my husband and I walked across the plaza.  He pointed  to the top of the  cylinder and asked me, “Do you recognize that?  It’s a DNA sequence.”  He should know, because he wrote a book called Corporate DNA: Learning from Life and did a lot of thinking about DNA and how it works while he was writing that book.   I admitted that the letters bore a strange familiarity even though I would be hard pressed to remember anything about DNA from high school biology.

Another look at the cylinder by day.  See the DNA sequence at near the top? Can you recognize anything else?

The Medical Arts screen  on the other side of the plaza on 10th Street  was placed there in 2008.  The first time I saw it, I was transfixed.  When I finally looked down,  I found two rusty X shapes from the stamped out metal that lying on the sidewalk.

There is other beautiful  art on the Jefferson Campus and I wish they would let the public know more about it.  You might remember the controversy that ensued after TJU decided to sell Thomas Eakins’ painting “The Gross Clinic” to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2007.   American surgeon Samuel Gross taught at Jefferson Medical College and the story is that Eakins took one of his anatomy classes.

There is a statue of Gross in the courtyard by Alexander Sterling Calder who was the father of  Alexander Calder, known for his jewelry and  better known for his mobiles.  There is so much history at TJU both artistic and scientific.  But that is a topic for another post.

Enjoy the video about Jim Sanborn


Jewelry from the Trash Can

I have been exploring textile arts and learning  techniques for incorporating them into jewelry.  And making up a few of my  own.  The bracelets below are from recycled materials:  old clothing dyed, stamped, painted and shredded, cast off electrical wire stripped and straightened, scrap stained glass tumbled and drilled, some gilded twigs from the sidewalk, pieces of old jewelry, and old plastic bangles or wire forms,  There is no plan; I just start to wrap and embellish.   I hit some of the bracelets with a heat gun to see how it would affect the fabric.  Depending on the fabric, it will burn, seal the frayed edges, or melt the fabric to reveal  what’s beneath.  I got this idea from a video by  Textile  and Mixed Media Artist Maggie Ayres.  There is so much information out there.  Don’t limit yourself to what you already know or think you have to take a class (unless you are learning how to use a torch, or another technique where proper safety instruction is vital).   Don’t be afraid to try something new!

The Fabric Workshop: A Philadelphia Treasure


 

I recently had the opportunity to see an exhibit at the new home of the Fabric Workshop and Museum .  It’s a roomy, comfortable space that takes up several buildings on Arch Street in Philadelphia.   You no longer have to climb flights of stairs to get to the exhibits and it’s conveniently located on across the street from the Philadelphia Convention Center.

The current exhibit, New American Voices II showcases the work of  four invitational artists-in-residence: Bill Smith, Jiha Moon, Robert Pruitt and Jim Drain.    New American Voices II was definitely not the visual version of a string quartet; it was the work of four soloists, each of whom chose different media and themes to express a unique point of view.   The FMW  tries to showcase artists from across the United States with varied backgrounds and perspectives and encourages them to work with materials they might not have used before.  From what I saw the FMW accomplished its mission and it looks like the artists enjoyed the process.  The exhibition had so much to offer that I can only hit the highlights  in this post.  To get the full flavor, you must see it for yourself.

 

South Korean-born Jiha Moon’s mixed media wall pieces combine collage, sewing, painting, and screen printing with an Asian color aesthetic.   She makes  plentiful  use of Asian and American popular culture symbols and much of her work reminds me of traditional Asian embroidery, not because of any needlework she might usem, but because the designs are expansive and flowing.  Much of her work consists of fanciful pieces that incorporate images from folklore and advertising , but she showed her serious side in a work that appeared to explore the tensions between North and South Korea.     The piece below, which is a little different from the others, features pin cushions, ribbons and beads.

                                       

Jiha Moon

Jim Drain’s huge (and I mean XXXXXL) colorful  machine-knitted dolmen sleeve sweaters remind me of  the big suit David Byrne wears in Stop Making Sense, and fantastic Noh costumes.  I suppose they could be worn, but they were displayed on stands that let the viewer examine every nuance of the designs.  A two-dimensional picture cannot convey the surprises that jump out as you circle the sweaters.  The colors shift and there are lots of subtle details and embellishments.   At first, the color choices appear to be mostly random but on further examination, you realize that every skein and thread works with everything else in the sweater.  Nothing is there that doesn’t belong.

 

Jim Drain

What fascinated me most about Robert Pruitt’s work was his use of period cameras to photograph members of a fictional African-American family to depict ancestors from years past like you’d see in a family album.  Now that’s attention to detail and real dedication.  For me the most powerful photograph was one of a young woman wearing a grass skirt and what appears to be a European colonial officer’s dress uniform jacket.  The golden shoulder cord is replaced by rope that appeared to be a noose.   Pruitt also uses  traditional African symbols and imagery pulled from contemporary urban America.   I found his work  disturbing and compelling.

Robert Pruitt

Bill Smith’s mechanical sculptures meld engineering and art in a way that any fan of Jules Verne or Nicola Tesla would admire, but his inclusion of organic objects like Emu eggs and feathers along with organic looking plastic forms that resemble jellyfish or brain synapses takes his work out of the realm of Steampunk into another world that seems really strange (or is it strangely real?)  Along with Emu eggs, he takes water, magnets,  quirky copper wire, electronics and computers to fashion  several interactive contraptions that manage to look organic, old-fashioned and futuristic all at once.    When walked up to one sculpture,  the Emu egg started to spin, the wires started to sway and the room  filled with a low humming sound.  Then projectors started flashing images onto the white walls of the gallery.  Amazing.   Here’s a video of a similar device he designed and built.

New American Voices II runs until the Spring.  Admission is only $3.00 but you can  donate more if you like.    Treat yourself to this exhibit and the ones planned for the future.  We are so lucky to have a venue like the FMW in Philadelphia.  Let’s support it.

For more pictures of the artists’ work, press here, here, here, and here.

Artistic Collaboration with Cats

My Feline housemate and sometimes artistic collaborator Plumpton told me about Henry.  Plumpton often helps out when I am  beading or working with fiber.  These collaborations don’t always go smoothly, but Plumpton has never sought another collaborator.  That should mean something.  Shouldn’t it?