Big Knitting: The Big Knit Landscape Section 4 reviewed by Katherine Morley PDF  | Print |  E-mail

the big knit

Big Knitting: The Big Knit Landscape Section 4

An installation by Deborah Wang and William Elsworthy

Thursday May 7, 2008- Saturday June 28, 2008

At  MADE , 867 Dundas Street West, Toronto

(West of Bathurst, between Euclid & Manning)


A massive, knotted explosion cascades out of the cooler-cum-gallery, into the relative calmness of MADE, a contemporary Canadian design retailer/showroom in downtown Toronto’s west end.

Though it takes a moment to figure out exactly where artists Deborah Wang and William Elsworthy are going with the subtitle of their piece (“The Big Knit Landscape, Section 4”), the title, “Big Knitting” is an apt and deadpan moniker for this ambitious textile installation


big knit2


An enormous length of over-sized, meticulous knitting tumbles out of, and cozily encompasses the eight foot cubed, wood-clad interior of the MADE cooler. Inside, giant loops of earth-tones and off-whites play tricks with the lighting and sound—playfully reflecting some, and catching and devouring the rest, transforming the mini-gallery into a soft, warm, silent enclosure.

Clearly, whoever did this must have had the patience of a saint, and hands like Andre The Giant. The loops are at least 2” in diameter, which is impressive enough without considering the mammoth size of the knitting needles used (which were hand turned and lathed by Elsworthy). You can imagine the knitter barely able to close his or her fists around them, not to mention the bulk and unwieldiness of such instruments.

Yet, in all it’s bigness, “Big Knitting” somehow conveys a delicate, graceful precision, too. This is an intentional juxtaposition by the artists, one that invites the viewer to consider the manipulation of scale, and the forgotten role of geometry in the familiar, ancient handicraft that is knitting. 


big knit3

Once your eyes have adjusted to the magnitude of the piece, you may begin to absorb the detail and subtext cleverly layered into the folds of fabric. What initially appeared to be one continuous panel, is actually two subtly, yet significantly, different pieces. The first is made from what appears to be cream-coloured binding tape (like that used by carpetmakers), knitted and purled into very mathematical, precise rows. The second panel, draped end to end with the first, begins with a similar colouration and consistency. Gradually, however, the material changes in texture, becoming soft, woven, cotton textile remnants, and the neat off-white rows become loose, carelessly meandering loops of greens, browns and whites. Suddenly, Wang and Elsworthy’s choice of subtitle makes perfect sense, as you realize you are staring into a wild, impressionistic landscape, complete with forests, fields and mountains. The only thing missing is a herd of grazing sheep, and perhaps a strip of azure across the top to frame the idyllic, rural setting. You wonder how it took so long to make the connection.

Beginning again, outside the installation, you follow the fabric back into the cooler, and this time, you wonder if there is a further suggestion orchestrated by Wang and Elsworthy regarding the connection, or rather, disconnection of the city to nature. As the structured, orderly rows of knit open up and give way to irreverent eddies and whirls, there is a distinct allusion to the changes in the landscape one perceives upon leaving the city and heading for the countryside. The cool, concrete, urban grid gives way to nature’s swirling whimsy. The city becomes meadow, and the modern becomes timeless.

At this point, you might feel like hugging the installation. Not only because it’s so completely tactile, soft and inviting, but also as a kind of  “thank you.” Something wonderful is woven into “Big Knitting,” besides the cool bits of offcut Philip Sparks fabric. There is a bit of history, self-reflection, cheer, wanderlust, and longing there. Surprisingly, they don’t feel obvious and trite, as they easily could do in such an exhibit. Perhaps this is because they take some time and consideration to surface, just like the enormous endeavour  “Big Knitting” must have.


Materials: binding tape; reclaimed, shredded, dip-dyed cotton and wool remants

Price: Scarves: $110 and up

Suspended Panel/Throw: up to $1200

Available at MADE


Katherine Morley Bio
Katherine is an industrial designer, singer/songwriter, disc jockey and writer. This does not leave time for much else, but she does enjoy both knitting and crocheting,  and often rescues and experiments with "found" and vintage textiles.
Her writing credits include Past, Present and Future: The History of The Toronto Taxicab in Shift: Positions, May 2007, and Forget Yellow Cabs in GreenTOpia: Towards a Sustainable Toronto, Fall 2007. Her design work can be seen in Joe & Josephine, Radiant Dark, Cabin/Cabane, The Souvenir Shop at the Gladstone and Inspired by Nature, Fall 2008.
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