Last month I spent a morning at the Art Gallery of Ballarat at a launch for a project that I've been working on for quite some time with a wonderful bunch of people. The project is WARM and it explores a topic close to my heart; climate change.
Created by SEAM Inc. (Sustainable Environment Arts Movement), the idea for WARM was inspired by a sheep farmer, Frank, who had just sold the farm that had been in his family for five generations. Like many farmers, Frank had personally witnessed the effects of climate change on the land. He spoke of drier soil, less predictable weather, changing seasons and a new global economy that works against our small primary producers. Frank had also noticed a societal change:
"The problem is we've become so dependent on fossil fuels to keep warm, we've forgotten how to warm ourselves with wool."
And you know what? That is so true. It's all too easy to flick the switch on the heater to warm the house up or even to keep our houses at the same temperature climatically controlled all year round! We do this without thinking, without actually considering the appropriateness to the temperature of what we're wearing, and definitely without considering the implications for our planet.
Many of those garments that traditionally have been made from wool are now made from acrylic and polyester (both made from fossil fuels), neither of which have the warming and temperature regulating properties of wool. Have a look through your wardrobe and consider what percentage is man-made fibres and what percentage is a natural renewable fibre.
WARM was created to celebrate the beauty and practicality of wool as a way to keep warm. Wool has incredibly unique properties, one of them being that it is both renewable but also biodegradable. It's also fire resistant, deters dust mites, regulates temperatures, is insulating, long lasting, water repellant, less likely to stain, resists sweat and doesn't need to be washed as frequently as other fibres.
WARM also aims to make a strong and arresting statement about the redundancy of fossil fuels as an energy source.
'WARM is a large-scale collaborative textile project that's all about the community and their involvement.
The projects roots are embedded in two paintings created by Ballarat artist, Lars Sternberg.
The first image is a landscape scarred by coal mining - it is as desolate and desperate as you can imagine. The second image shows this same landscape many years after the coal mine has closed down. It is an image of hope as we see the regeneration of the land captured in the glorious colours of the Australian landscape.
My role in this project was to design a series of knitting patterns that would go towards recreating that second image in wool. Yep. It was as daunting, challenging and exciting as it sounds and it took me on a whole different route in my designing journey. Looking at a painting and reimagining it in small pieces much like a jigsaw or collage was a different approach and it resulted in the fifteen patterns that make up the project. My favourites are the wildflowers, which are all indigenous to my area, the gum leaves and of course, the wind turbine.
Now this is where the community of knitters come into the story. Knitters from all over Victoria, and even wider, are invited to knit up these patterns and contribute them to the installation - seriously we are going to need a whole lot of knitted pieces to recreate this massive image so get your needles into action and join us! We really do need as many people to join in as possible. You've got until August the 12th to knit but I suggest getting started early.
Once you've knit your pieces send them in or drop them at the Art Gallery of Ballarat or the National Wool Museum in Geelong. As well as knitting these pieces from your home or as part of your knitting group, there will be a number of knitting workshops for both adults and children held all over Victoria where you can join in and learn more about the project and the patterns.
So with Winter approaching in the Southern Hemisphere, knitters are well placed to help lead a change to our way of thinking when it comes to our over-reliance on fossil fuels and their role in warming us. Instead of cranking the heater, snuggle in a woollen jumper or blanket. Get active, ride your bike or walk somewhere instead of automatically taking the car. Consider renewable energy purchases and options.
We can also make a difference through our purchasing habits. As I mentioned earlier, wool is renewable and biodegradable. Acrylic, while it is cheap, comes with an environmental cost - it's made from petroleum and coal products, both non-renewables. There are also issues regarding fibres that don't biodegrade. Small particles find their way into our waterways and oceans with consequences for our aquatic landscapes and animals, and possibly even those who consume seafood.
We would love as many knitters as possible to join in this project.
You can find more information on the SEAM website here:
You can find the patterns on Ravelry here:
You can find details of the workshops and demonstrations here:
And of course, if you can, come along to the exhibition launch at the Art Gallery of Ballarat on September 3rd 2016 - or check out the exhibition in the weeks following the launch.
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Who am I?
Textile artist, knitwear designer and teacher.
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