If you know your Mayfair art galleries, then Hauser & Wirth and Messum’s will be familiar territory. In the past few years both have established art centres in the English countryside – Hauser & Wirth in Somerset and Messums in Wiltshire – destination idylls to tempt us city folk into bucolic bliss.
An exhibition on now at Messums Wiltshire celebrates all things knitted, woven, sewn and spun. Called Material: Textile, it features clothes ranging from 8th-century Peru to 21st-century Denmark, as well as rugs, tapestries and embroideries that elevate craft to art.
“The very best textiles are, in many cultures, still the most prized of all possessions, even more precious than gold or silver,” Messum’s says on its website. And as anyone who enjoyed the Bauhaus pioneer Anni Albers’ retrospective at Tate Modern last year will know, textiles is one art genre where women have led the way. Which brings us to the crazy colourful world of knitted furniture.
It’s not just the ubiquitous knitted pouffe (everywhere from Argos to John Lewis) that is popping up at home. The woman with the biggest knitting needles in the country is Melanie Porter (melanieporter.co.uk); her gorgeous big-knit cushions and throws warm up entire rooms.
The upcycling trend lends itself to knitted furniture, too. Porter goes to town covering care-worn classic and contemporary chairs, sofas and lampstands in colourful wool. She has vintage ready-mades for sale on her website, but she also creates from scratch, and bespoke commissions are her forte. When your old armchair gets worn out, make Porter your first port of call; she collaborates with clients to create whole new covers, reinventing your favourite furniture.
“I often take colours from details already in the client’s home,” Porter says of her process. “I then knit giant made-to-measure panels with cables, bobbles and stripes incorporated in the design. I ‘felt’ the knit so that it doesn’t stretch or pull, but still retains the textures that were built into the structure of the fabric. Once ready for upholstery, the final fabric behaves in a similar fashion to any heavy upholstery fabric.”
In Hackney, textile artist Naomi Paul hand-crochets beautiful lampshades in striking colours from her workshop in the Marshes (naomipaul.co.uk). From simple pendant lights to statement centrepieces, the lamp’s silhouette might be the star, but colour, texture, poise and functionality all delight the senses.
Paul says that it was while watching her grandmother knit socks that she began to appreciate that skill develops with time and that, “handmaking gives an unrivalled quality to the finished fabric. Underneath simplicity lies a wealth of technical knowledge and complex making techniques.”
Paul’s cotton is knitted in Lancashire into tensioned cord yarn. Pendants are made to order in upwards of three to four weeks, in your choice of a single colour, or marl (which is ecru with a colour) or in up to four different colours that might either contrast or graduate through different tones.
We might not all have grandmothers that are still around to knit for us, but thankfully these two women are giving knitting and crocheting a whole new lease of life in the home.
Material: Textile exhibition is on at Messums Wiltshire art centre and gallery in Tisbury until 28 April. The workshop weekend runs 26-28 April (messumswiltshire.com)