Leigh Martin knits fungi.
You may know her better by her handle on Ravelry, Flickr and throughout the blogosphere - Bromeleighad. Her two ongoing and sometimes overlapping series, Decomposition and 52 Forms of Fungi, in which Martin creates or recreates lifelike fungi in small gauge and fine detail knitting, have gained the Oklahoma-based fiber artist a following of creatives, knitters and nature enthusiasts alike. Martin is all three.
She had been knitting for several years and working in urban forestry before she began experimenting with sculptural knitting. “…I had a strong desire to create something more conceptual,” Martin says in our email interview. “I still work on knitwear projects and have dabbled some in designing my own, but free form knitting and installations have filled a void that I never knew I had. I’ve always been more of a left-brained, analytical person, and this transition has been a great mental exercise for me – it’s been quite liberating.”
Martin is “mesmerized by various details in the environment” and has “always been very intrigued by fungi.” She is attracted to to the various shapes, colors, and intricacies of the many different species, which she refers to as “otherworldly.” Given her background in urban forestry, “reading up on various types of wood decay fungi is something that goes along with the territory (and becomes a personal interest by default).” Sometimes, Martin’s research “leads [her] to discover other species that are fascinating” and beyond what she had intended to find. “I also have a field guide that I use, and sometimes a friend will send one to me that they were intrigued by.” Martin is used to educating others about the environment, but 52 Forms of Fungi has given her the chance to become a student again. “This project been a great deal of fun, because I’ve learned so much about mycology and various species of fungi from around the world,” she says.
Though she identifies as a fiber artist, Martin unintentionally pushes the boundaries of the medium from within it. The term fiber artist is usually applied to women making fine art while working within traditional craft forms like knitting, sewing, felting, and embroidery. Often, there is a sense of feminist reclamation of the materials and processes that subtly, and at times quite overtly, permeates fiber art. Perhaps it is the realism of the fungi or the subject matter itself, but the viewer is not distracted by the implications of fiber when looking at Martin’s work.
“I mostly identify with fiber because it’s a medium that I have worked with for a long time, although mostly in the traditional sense through knitwear…but more than anything I just identify as someone who utilizes their particular medium to create a thought provoking experience (not to mention for personal enjoyment).” When asked how she views the difference between fiber art and installation art, as it applies to her own work, Martin supposes, “Perhaps the fiber element does not stand out as much because my focus is not weighted on the fiber materials alone, but instead, creating a realistic setting for them is equally as important. I set out to create something believable, because I feel that it results in a much greater impact amongst my viewers. Even installations in a gallery setting incorporate real elements such as wood, plants, moss, and other natural materials.”
It is in large part this element of Martin’s work, the site-specificness, the interaction between knit life form and natural environment, that separates it from most fiber art and puts it somewhere in the cross hairs of installation, sculpture, and conceptual art. It says something different than an art quilt or an embroidery because the fiber itself is not the message, or even the messenger, but rather a bridge between man and nature. It is a cluster of mushrooms knit directly into a tree. At least, it starts out that way.
When asked about her decision to leave her Decompositions to to be discovered and, eventually, to actually decompose at the site of installation, Martin says, “Leaving each Decomposition installation in place has been an item of conflict, because as much as I would love to leave them where an unsuspecting person could stumble upon them, they ARE placed in natural, relatively undisturbed areas. I have not felt right leaving my artificial pieces in these unspoiled areas where they could more permanently alter an ecosystem or negatively impact another person’s experience with it (what looks like art to some might be trash to others as it degrades).” A twinge of disappointment, if not a punch in the gut, is felt by those longing to glimpse a cluster of knit fungi on a hike.
But there is still hope for those eager to seek out some of Martin’s sculpture, if you don’t mind meeting her parents. “The more urban installations are a little different since there is so much more evidence of the human population, and I did actually leave Stacks in place where it was created – on a tree in my parents’ back yard. It’s still there to this day. I’m interested in working on some more permanent installations in urban areas, or possibly in natural areas using natural materials.” This means that yet another layer is added to the fiber/installation/conceptual art sandwich, that of photography, and maybe even set design. “For now, the photographs are the final product in the Decomposition series. With the 52 Forms project, I have been placing the forms and then I hang on to them after photographing so I have some context of size and construction in case I want to revisit a particular form.” Martin’s documentation of her Decompositions and Forms is much more than proof or record keeping. The sets of long shots and close ups carry us through the trees or down the street until we see, see closer, a secret that grows in the creases.
Martin’s goal of offering viewers “a greater awareness of their natural surroundings, a sense of how complex every ecosystem is and greater vision for noticing and enjoying these details in their every day life” through her fungi runs concurrent to the heart of her work in urban forestry, which “involves connecting people to the trees in their community.” One can pull meaning from both the visual impact of her work and the social, political, ecological fodder from which it grows. Her fungi call forth the natural poetics of Andy Goldsworthy, the glittering science of Carl Sagan, the Thoreauian marriage of political and artistic expression. More than anything, Martin says her mission is personal.
“Urban Forestry is very much related to education, not only about how to plant, grow and care for trees, but also about what trees can do for people.” Aside from the obvious environmental impact, Martin says that trees, plants and other vegetation provide “many social, mental and health benefits as well. In urban areas it’s so easy to lose sight of these benefits and go around without noticing the nature around us at all,” she adds. “I do not consider myself an activist by any means – I just hope that contemplating my creations can help another person to experience that well-being from nature, even if it’s just one person.”
Remember this post?
It was all about this blanket:
This very same blanket, designed and knitted by our very own Michele Fandel Bonner and photographed at our very own shop now graces the pages of Cascade’s newest book, 60 Quick Baby Blankets. That’s it! The same blanket!
The book is full of great patterns, (60 to be exact!), all knit in the baby-friendly superwash varieties of Cascade 220 and 128. Michele’s blanket is knit in 128, a chunky weight yarn, so it truly is a quick knit.
As the mother of a 10 moth old, I can tell you, blankets always make great gifts. In addition to the usual uses like warmth and comfort, a summer baby, as mine is, will still need a blanket to lie on at the park, or to sit and play on at the house. Plus, babies never outgrow blankets! So come on down to Seed Stitch and get your copy of 60 Quick Baby Blankets today.
Looking for an interesting baby blanket pattern?
A blanket that’s perfect for both boys and girls…
…and timeless enough to carry from crib to college?
Coming soon in Cascade’s next 60 Quick Knits series, just the pattern you’ve been looking for, designed by our very own Michele Bonner! We’ll keep you posted on the publish date, but in the meantime, be sure to congratulate Michele when you see her.
In celebration of summer, I thought I’d do a little series showcasing some of the fabulous non-animal fiber yarns we carry. Even though wool is an all-season fiber (I saw a runner in town the other day wearing hand-knit wool running shorts!), it’s not the first fiber many think of when casting on for summer projects. When there are so many other fibers to choose from – bamboo, viscose, linen, and more – why not give the sheep a seasonal rest? What better, more basic, breathable fiber to begin with than cotton?
We carry a lot of cotton and cotton blends, and not all cottons are created equal. If you want a yarn with a silkier feel and sheen, try Cascade Ultra Pima Cotton. Like most types of Cascade, Pima comes in a wide array of bright colors that are perfect for summer. Because it’s a DK weight yarn, it’s super versatile and can be knit alone on smaller needles for a tight, clean stitch, on larger needles for an open, lacy feel, or even held double for a super fast, squishy stitch. It’s also machine washable!
If you’re looking for a summer garment to knit up in Pima, Connie Chang Chinchio’s Tie Back Shell would be a great match for this yarn. You can always count on Cascade for giving you plenty of yarn bang for your buck, and Pima is no exception. You’d only need five skeins to make this sassy summer knit in a medium or large. Another great yarn to easily substitute for the Pima would be Tahki Stacy-Charles Cotton Classic.
If you are motivated by more than just the weather for using non-animal fibers (I’m talking to you vegans and green-living gurus), then you will love Rowan Purelife Revive. Recylced cotton, silk and rayon clothing is spun together in nearly equal parts to make this tweedy-looking DK.
If you know a little girl in need of a sweet summer cardigan, cast on Analu. French designer Muriela made this sweater specifically to be knit with Revive. Pictured below is a lovely toddler-size version of the sweater by Gingergooseberry, which she knit up using a mere three skeins. You can also try the adult-size Lady Analu to match!
Looking for a cotton that is both environmentally friendly and machine washable? Try Kertzer Down to Earth 100% organic cotton. Melissa Schaschwary designed her gorgeous, flowly Plover Summer Beach Shirt with Kertzer in mind, so you’ll be sure to get the gauge and drape intended when knitting it. Melissa’s knitwear and accessories for both children and adults can be found on Ravelry. You can support both an independent knitwear designer and a local business when you purchase Ravelry patterns like this one through Seed Stitch. Just tell us the pattern you’re looking for when you come down to pick out your yarn, we’ll look it up and it will go straight into your Ravelry library!
If you still haven’t found the perfect cotton yarn, stop by and take a look at all the other cottons and cotton blends we offer, including more options from Rowan and Louisa Harding.
Next time in the non-animal knitting series: silk!
After meeting Leslie Scanlon and getting my hands on some of her designs at the Yarn Crawl last month, I knew I had to learn more about her and her work. Leslie, who lives just up the shore in Newbury, is the talent behind the clean and sometimes funky knitwear designs of Mac & Me. In case you missed her at the shop, Leslie let me pick her brain for the blog.
Leslie started crafting at an early age. “My mom taught me to knit and sew when I was about 7. I was the queen of Mary Poppins strapless tube dresses. No Barbies in our Catholic household, Mary did have that amazing tapestry carpet bag though and she dressed in black. I messed around with knitting then switched to embroidery and sewing until graduate school. I was working on oral exams for my MFA and the stress was amazing so I started to knit. By the time I graduated, I was hooked again.”
When she became pregnant and “nesting and knitting kicked in,” Leslie was inspired to start designing. Her daughter, Mac, was behind every part of the business from the very beginning. “Once I had a few designs to sell and stores were interested in them, I started to think about how they should look in the store. Mac, my then 6 year-old daughter drew the original logo months earlier and it was hanging on the fridge. The name Mac & Me came easily.”
When asked about which comes first, the yarn or the design, Leslie told me that her process is always changing. There are some yarns that have inspired her. “The Elizabeth scarf is a great example, I found Kid Silk Haze, fell in love with it and had it on my drawing table for a year. I knew what the garment had to feel like; feminine, light, airy but graphic and bold, goodness knows how long it took me to pick out the color but I got the idea for the scarf and the photo shoot at the same time. It was done in a week. That’s the best.” She also loves and designs with Blue Sky Alpaca, Shibui Sock and Madelinetosh.
Nowadays, being a knitwear designer also means being a business person. “The most challenging part of being an ‘indie’ designer is trying to understand the ever changing direction of the business…It’s like the Wild, Wild West trying to anticipate the flow of blogging, Facebook and Ravelry while also concentrating on my real work, which is design and knitting.” Despite the stress of social media and marketing, Leslie is still rewarded by “designing, knitting, envisioning the photo shoot in my mind, turning it all into a knitting pattern and then letting it go. The thrill comes when people respond to my designs.”
When she’s not working, Leslie enjoys rug hooking and yoga. A certified yoga instructor, she practices daily at 5 a.m. with a small group of other yogis. This practice, it seems, reflects something of her aesthetic as a designer. “I see my work as clean simple shapes, with great color, texture and design. I try to live with clarity, with minimal distraction and clear direction. There are so many distractions, it is a constant struggle to stay focused on what we are each trying to do and say. I am most interested in quiet design, still waters.”
I am so excited this year to be participating in and supporting the Salem Arts Festival this year. I’m doubly excited that we’ll be celebrating one of our very own, Michele Bonner. Michele has an amazing ability to manipulate fiber in ways you never dreamed possible but will be inspired to try.
The Salem Arts Festival is a super cool event celebrating all that is fantastically art-y in our city. It’s held around town from June 3rd-5th and is a must see if you’re anywhere in our area.
Join us on Friday night June 3rd from 6-8 for a reception to celebrate her work. Her work will be on display in the shop throughout the weekend.
Trysh Lynch, one of our talented teachers, brought in some show and tell last night during our community knit night.
Trysh is what I call a no boundaries knitter/crocheter. She often works without a pattern, is a fearless experimenter, and is always adorned in some really interesting and beautiful hand made garment.
She whipped up this AMAZING twin set out of our Jade Sapphire 2ply cashmere. It’s a stunning color, not well shown here because of the shop lights. The shell underneath is made with her leaning hearts crochet about which she was a featured lecturer at the Topsfield fair.
The leaning hearts crochet runs horizontally and is a beautiful compliment to the knit short sleeve cardi that is over top and has a vertical line to it.
I wish we could have “squoosh-a-vision” here because the hand on this garment is so scrumptious after it’s been worked and blocked. Trysh is now working on a linen skirt to accompany this outfit. Simply stunning!