Fiber College is a terrific place to not only try something new but also to hone one’s skill in a special technique or method. Knitting designer Alasdair Post-Quinn will offer three classes in double-knitting this year. Double-knitting is a unique method of making a fabric with no “wrong” side and a built-in reversible colorwork pattern. Significantly different from the standard intarsia and Fair Isle colorwork that are so well known, double-knitting is a labor-intensive but wholly worthwhile technique to have in your repertoire.
We are thrilled to welcome this renowned double-knitting expert to our teacher roster! Alasdair will teach Introduction to Double Knitting on Friday, September 8 from 1:30 to 5:30; Multi-Colored Double Knitting (an intermediate level class) on Saturday, September 9 from 1:30 to 5:30; and Double Knitting Cables (for those with double-knitting experience) on Sunday, September 10 from 9:00 AM to 1 PM. Let’s meet Alasdair and then you can sign up for one or more of his classes here.
The theme for Fiber College 2017 is Re-Use, Re-Design, Re-Create. How do you incorporate any part of this theme into an important part of your life?
Design, for me, is a fluid process. I’ve put designs aside for years and revisited them later with a fresh mind. I am in the process right now of doing that with an entire book. I have learned and grown so much since my first book “Extreme Double-Knitting” came out, and now that I have the opportunity, I’m revisiting all of these designs, some of which are a decade old or more, and re-designing them. The challenge is to call to mind my creative limitations from the time period when I wrote the book, and re-design them not as I would now, but as I would have back then if I’d had a little more time and a little more knowledge and experience. I still want the new version to be a snapshot of where I was in my repertoire of techniques at that point, but perhaps using them a little more fluently.
In the other half of my life, since knitting is not (yet) a full-time job for me, I am a computer technician. One of the things I do on the side of that job is to take computers that are retired in my shop and refurbish them for reuse. I was raised a frugal Yankee and I don’t like to waste things when possible. If I can keep a computer out of the waste stream for a couple more years, and in the hands of someone who doesn’t have a lot of money but needs a basic computer, I consider that a worthwhile service to my planet and my community.
Tell us how you entered into the world of fiber and the fiber arts.
I have had knitting around me most of my life. My mother knitted, my grandmother knitted. I grew up in Vermont, and my mother’s favorite yarn was Bartlett — so there’s a powerful smell memory as well as the presence of yarn and knitting in my early childhood. However, I was never taught to knit. Instead, I did some counted cross-stitch, some basic weaving, eventually some Chinese knotwork. I suppose that was my entrance into the world of fiber arts, but it didn’t become a true part of my identity until later in life when I attended a craft skill-share event in my senior year of college. I was there to teach origami, which I have been doing since I was around 4 years old and teaching since age 12. Nobody came to my origami class so I sat in on a knitting class instead. It’s all been downhill from there.
Reusing materials can be great fun, exciting, or perhaps frustrating. How/What have you re-used as an artist?
As an artist, I’ve re-used quite a number of things. Most people look at my current work and assume I must have been a mathematician. In fact, in college, I was a studio art major specializing in sculpture. The sculptures I had most affinity for were found-object constructions, but I took them a bit further. I scoured the university (and thrift shops nearby) for interesting machines (old computers, typewriters, anything with lots of little mechanical parts) and took them apart, down to their smallest components. I then rebuilt these components into humanoid creatures which I called my “scrap-metal culture.” Later in my art career, as I was beginning to learn to knit, I integrated traditional crafts into my artwork: I wove a basket out of ribbon cables; a huge double-helix out of ribbon cables, and knitted a scarf out of rubber tubing. My work these days bears little resemblance to my work as a sculptor, but we all have to start somewhere.
What’s the best piece of advice a mentor has ever given to you?
As a self-taught knitter, I haven’t had a lot of long-term mentors, but a number of people have made an influence on my work. As I was just starting out as a knitter, I was told by more than one person, “You’re knitting wrong.” This confused me because I was making stitches — but the best advice came later, and I think it’s very common advice: there’s no such thing as “knitting wrong” as long as you’re getting the fabric you want.
Tell us about a time that you developed an exciting idea for your fiber art; where did the idea come from? What inspired you?
I think that the idea that has most excited me in recent memory is the idea that gave rise to the Parallax patterns. I developed a type of chart design I call “metapixel” knitting and have been very excited to do more with it. It has potentially endless applications and fascinating repercussions but it will require significant time in order to execute. The inspiration came from my long history of exposure to op-art, from coloring books my parents got me as a child, to picture warping exercises in art class in high school, to a particular class in art school that had us exploring the effect of “the grid” on art in both theoretical and practical applications. I have loved the interplay of shapes and colors for a long time, and the Parallax patterns and metapixel knitting in general have given me so much more food for thought.
If you could re-design your life as a fiber artist, what would that look like?
I currently work two jobs: one in IT, and one as a professional knitting designer. If I could re-design my life as a fiber artist, I’d be working full-time as a knitting designer. But I do worry that doing that would change the nature of my work and my relationship with it. Because it’s not my sole income now, I have more freedom to make it what I want, and not be beholden to the deadlines and whims of magazines and other companies interested in contracting my services. If there were a way I could keep doing what I do now, but expand it to fill the empty space left by a former job, with the same control and freedom I have now, I would do that.
What or who has had the greatest impact on your work as an artist?
My father probably had the greatest impact on my work as an artist. He and I followed parallel paths, in a way. We’re both self-taught craftsmen, we’ve both made major advances in our areas that have put us, eventually, in the top tier of our respective crafts. Neither one of us had training in engineering, but both of us are often considered to be engineers now. And both of us operate in a small niche that few outside our circles really understand. My father, however, is one of the two most sought-after makers of the uilleann bagpipes in the world, whereas I’m one of a small handful of people worldwide with master-level skill in double-knitting. I think, perhaps at a subconscious level, his journey affected my attitude toward my own.
If you could go back in time, what might you change about your fiber journey?
It’s hard to say what I’d change about my fiber journey; if I changed too much, I might not be where I am today, and I’m pretty happy with it. If I could still be sure I’d end up where I am today, I’d try to start earlier. As I mentioned, I had yarn and knitting all around me when I was growing up, but it didn’t sink in. If I’d had a deeper connection to knitting or more experience when I started writing my first book, it might have been a better, more complete product and I wouldn’t be trying to redesign it now.