I was chatting to a friend Suzie Johansson a couple…
Well it’s been an interesting year so far, one which seen me taking a knitted direction I hadn’t dreamed of taking before (certainly a departure from my vintage knit creations). It’s time to confess my secret identity … recently I’ve enjoyed becoming Trixie von Purl! It’s been a lot of fun – she can say and knit things Geraldine Warner wouldn’t normally. As the author of ‘How to Knit Your Own Kama Sutra: 12 Projects for Naughty Knitters’ (published earlier this year on Apple and Harper Collins, and available to buy from my Online Shop), Trixie has had some fun with the press (Huffington Post, Washington Post, The Poke, LA Times) and even been interviewed on Irish Radio Station Newstalk by the charming host Sean Moncrieff. She conveniently comes with her own complete biography (a kind of parallel life I wouldn’t have minded myself), Twitter profile and Instagram account.
What do you think of when someone mentions knitted dolls? I’ve been charmed in the past with all things miniature but, to be honest, not completely bowled over – the DK brightly coloured bazaar creations were not for me. I have knitted many things over the years for small humans from the Debbie Bliss book ‘Toy Knits’, but didn’t really think it was worth my while to come up with my own creations, so when I was approached by the good folks at Rotovision to write a knitted character book, I didn’t exactly jump in with both feet … until I found out the subject matter! The incongruity of that and the medium appealed to me and I couldn’t refuse. And of course, the fun to be had. So much for the idea, what about the execution?
As a knitter used to knitting from vintage patterns, I’m drawn to fine detail and delicate shaping, and that’s what I love about the Debbie Bliss book – an unlikely source of inspiration for the knitted Kama Sutra admittedly, but put the subject matter aside for a moment (if you can) and think about the possibilities offered by knitting a 3-d human shape. I wanted to create something with that level of detail I love, and I’d never seen the human form knitted in an effective way without being too crude or terrifying! That last point is also important – there’s an aesthetic theory called ‘uncanny valley’ which describes the point at which a representation of the human form becomes repulsive to the viewer, which was obviously the last thing I wanted, so I worked up a couple of prototypes before committing. Whilst the final version is shaped in the right places, I tried to keep it simple and imbue it with as much charm and warmth as possible.
Then came the clothes and accessories: the concept of the book is 12 different positions enacted in 12 different scenarios, such as a spa, log cabin retreat, picnic, Vegas hotel room etc. In order to create these scenes I decided to push the boat out and challenge the perception of what you might normally expect to see as a knitted item – photocopier anyone? Miniature bearskin rug? I had a lot of fun with the clothes too, enacting out some vintage couture fantasies in miniature.
I’m happy to say the success of ‘Knit Your Own …’ has led to another book, which has been keeping me busy for the last few months. ‘Pride and Preju-Knits’ (to be published in November by Search Press in the UK and Harper Collins in the US) features 12 of your favourite Jane Austen scenes rendered in knitted miniature. I’ve had a lot of fun with this too, and again I’ve given vent to my love of different (often intricate) stitches.
I’d be lying if I said I haven’t struggled with the dichotomy of going from writing books about our handknitting fashion heritage to making figures, but as the year has gone on the transition has felt more natural. The pseudonym helps with that, keeping my two identities separate, but I’m really enjoying exploring another area of interest. Each scenario in both books has a story attached: in the Kama Sutra, the story tells us something about the couple in the picture and how they came to be in this situation; in ‘Pride & Preju-Knits’ I give a brief précis of the Austen story depicted in the image. And then it came back to me – when I was younger I was desperate to be a great illustrator or cartoonist and I just couldn’t hack it, didn’t have the talent, and what was the point when there were already so many amazing illustrators out there? I went through a phase of making clay caricatures of friends and giving them to the original person, but clay wasn’t my thing either. In my late 20s I followed another passion and indulged in my love for the written form by doing an English degree, eventually putting it to good use in one way or another over the years.
It was at university that I met my husband, coming together over a pint and many heated debates about literature, theory and technique (and my professed interest in football and cricket – I lied, but he was worth it), and I’m happy to say he is now finally writing his own book. Talking through the finer plot details with him has reawakened our passion for storytelling and I realised that one of the things I’m enjoying about knitting characters is that, in a sense, I’m illustrating a story through a knitted medium. I love the idea of bringing a story to life through an unexpected method, engaging the viewer in a different way, particularly when you see the figures in the flesh (or wool).
So what next? I’m curious to see what I can do with this and going see where it takes me, so I’m working on a concept involving two famous storytellers and their stories. Confessing to a friend recently my difficulty in being disciplined unless I’m up against a deadline, she challenged me to take part in an East Sussex annual open house festival, Artwave. I’m distilling my ideas into framed scenes which I’m calling Story Cabinets – each one has its own story and background. My description is deliberately vague – they’re a work in progress so I’ll post more when they’re completed!
I’m still indulging in my love for vintage knits in the meantime and working on a couple of designs of my own in the background, but I’m also very much enjoying this different phase.
I have a couple of workshops set up for the beginning of 2016 at the wonderful Dorking emporium The Fluffatorium (details being confirmed): one is about knitting from vintage knitting patterns, the other is about knitting figures in the round. So, in a sense, Trixie and Geraldine finally get to work together!