TEXTILE artist Elizabeth Smith laments the loss of traditional craft skills and is doing her best to revive them with her exhibition of knitting at the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes which is on until June 2.

This, however, is not knitting as we know it: no scarves or cardigans, though there is a scattering of cushions and a pair of traditional Wensleydale gloves from the museum’s archive, and you’re greeted on entering this normally light-filled gallery with a dark curtain of what looks suspiciously like seaweed.

In fact it’s the main installation in the gallery and its title gives it away: Though I Sang in my Chains Like the Sea is made up of more than 100 knitted and crocheted pieces.

“The brief was to create an organic form which would seem to be invading the gallery. Each time it is installed it colonises the exhibition space in a different way,”

said Ms Smith who, though she lives near Huddersfield, in the Colne Valley, about as far from the coast as you can get, nevertheless takes inspiration for a lot of her work from the sea, the beach and the rock pools she loved as a child.

Closer inspection of the hanging fronds reveals a surprising amount of detail captured in the harsh Shetland and Icelandic wool which is her trade mark yarn: fungi and ferns, horsetails and pussy willow, and the occasional hidden figure, a reference to fairytales, and reflecting her love of plants.

But if the manifestation is abstract rather than practical – with the exception, perhaps, of the cushions – her techniques and skills are traditional ones and her ambition is to inspire others with a sense of wonder at these creative, home-based crafts.

“I use techniques traditionally used by women in the home.

What was once regarded as ‘low status’, partly because it was so common in everyday life, and partly because it was done by women whose talents were not highly regarded.

“Later, generations of women grew up fighting for the right to work outside the home, and so crafts like knitting and crochet were seen as unnecessary and a bit demeaning. Now they have equality of opportunity, I think many younger women are keen to learn the old skills. I want people to see the possibilities of knitting and crochet and to think about designing their own work,” said Ms Smith, 52.

She graduated in history from Manchester University, an academic, rather than artisan, background.

Darlington and Stockton Times:
A Dales cushion

But she watched her mother and grandmother knit and embroider and took inspiration from them.

“A lot of the shaping of the more complex pieces are those which you use in conventional knitting.

For example, using a round needle to get a tubular effect, as you would with socks, or forming pieces using raglan sleeve techniques.”

It’s a combination of practical skills and artistic interpretation which informs her work.

“You don’t often see knitting and crochet in a modern gallery,” she said.

Darlington and Stockton Times:
Inspiration From the Beach

Tradition with a Twist is at The Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes until June 2. Opening times 10am to 5pm daily. Call 01969 666210 for meet-theartists events and other details.