Wednesday, January 6, 2016

"Form Follows Function" and Creative Spinning

"It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things superhuman, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law."

-Louis Sullivan, Architect, 1896, The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered

I first encountered this quote in my History of Architecture class at Williams College.  Though a physics major, my art and architecture history courses had a profound affect on me.  Fast forward to spinning 30 years later: one day this quote popped back into my brain.

The biggest impediment to creativity is the impression that you must "do something" with your creation.  This attitude reflects the unfair dismissal of fiber and yarn as art.  To be sure, Fiber Art is a bona fide major in prestigious art colleges, but to the general population, it is still...just...yarn.

Why should this be?  Other basic materials are widely accepted as art: marble can be a both a countertop and a sculpture; glass a pane and a lampwork bead or a Tiffany window.  Yet a spinner creates a textured, colorful, original yarn and the first question is, "But what can you DO with it?"  Just as a beautiful handblown glass bead can be part of a bracelet, almost any "art yarn", or as I prefer, "creative spinning", can be incorporated into a wearable piece.  But like that glass bead, it also stands on its own as art.  It can be beautifully displayed on a wall, in a bowl, around a neck.  It can be admired for its beauty, studied for its clever technique.

Now back to Louis Sullivan and his quote. "Form (ever) follows function" seems to mean that the "construct" of something will be, by definition, the embodiment of its function.  Before referring to the ideal architecture of a tall office building, Sullivan writes, "the heart is ever gladdened by the beauty, the exquisite spontaneity, with which life seeks and takes on its forms in an accord perfectly responsive to its needs. It seems ever as though the life and the form were absolutely one and inseparable, so adequate is the sense of fulfillment." 

Though written in late 19th century prose, Sullivan's ideas on form and function resonate today with regard to creative spinning.  I used to say of my spinning, "the yarn will find the project", and I would wait until the right pattern came along.  This could embody the idea of "form follows function" in that the lofty yarn fits the shawl pattern, the tight plied yarn fits the sock pattern, the big chunky yarn will function in the hat pattern.  However as my creative spinning, knowledge of technique, and artistic exploration have grown I now interpret it quite differently; that the yarn is indeed the final "project", that its function is to be art and beauty.  And thus is its form.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Playing With Dolls

Dawn @1971
I hated dolls when I was a kid.  My sister played endlessly with Barbies - sparkly outfits, little colorful plastic shoes, slick blond hair to be washed, braided, and- horrors!- even cut.  I found dolls boring, preferring Monopoly and bike riding.  I did have a Dawn doll for some reason, but I abused her terribly; like that toy-torturing boy, Sid, in Toy Story I wrenched her apart, twisted her head around, hyper extended her limbs and publicly paraded her naked plastic body in the most humiliating poses.  Dawn became a staple of entertainment, however, when our family took long cross country camping trips during the mid-1970's.  Hours in the car as the miles sped by, in the days of no handhelds, DVD's, or videos, we had our books, scribble pads... and Dawn.  Dawn became "Dornie" and her acted-out stories became legend (in our family of 4 at least).  Always the unfortunate butt of a joke, poor Dawn.

Rainbow Twist Shop
Rainbow Twist Shop
Fast forward about 40 years later.  I become so passionate about spinning that my house is overrun with yarn.  I open an Etsy shop to start selling it.  Fancy art yarn displayed and no one knows what to do with it.  A customer introduces me through Facebook to some doll makers.  Waldorf-inspired, I'd never heard of it.  Handmade dolls with yarn hair, sure, even my dad made "Poodies" for us as kids, sock dolls with yarn-or-other hair.  But these Waldorf dolls were of a different caliber entirely.  Honestly, at first I thought the whole thing a bit...odd.  I mean, people were fanatically crazy over these dolls!  They would spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars on them, auctions would become bidding wars.  Grown women posed with them, oohing and ahhing, giving them quaint, feminine names...!  So, I dutifully spun beautiful yarn which would be mercilessly cut into strands for hair, and I dyed pristine long curly wool locks for tresses.  Learned words like "weft" and "crochet cap".  Honed some top-notch spinning and dyeing skills because my art would be adorning the head of one of these prized beauties.  It would be pulled, braided, fluffed, preened, and it had to hold up to child's play. 

Maggie by TigerLilys
One day a loyal customer and friend gifted me a doll she made using my lockspun yarn as hair.  As I took Maggie in my arms my world shifted.  I actually gasped at the solid, real feel of her body, the amazing hair, so realistic and curly, tactile and soft, the face, embroidered with a minimum of thread, yet soulfully expressive.  I hugged her, kissed her, talked with her and sat her by my side while I worked.  Well, I was sorely smitten.  And while I admired the incredible skill and care taken in every aspect of her creation, I just...loved her.

FeeVertelaine, HokeyDinah, Violet&Poppies, WoolyTopic
Mermaid by Island Quilts
I have become a grown woman who plays with dolls.  Believe me, when that just-right sweet face pops up in my newsfeed I literally feel my heart stumble.  I have infinite respect for the women who painstakingly stitch and felt in the hours after their young children have gone to bed.  I've seen pure magic made from wool, thread, and fabric.  And it only makes it sweeter when I have worked with the artist and we are friends- then it's like having a piece of her heart sewn right into the doll.

Now my sister just shakes her head, and says, "why is this happening 40 years too late for me?"  Don't worry, Susan, I will share my dolls with you any time you'd like.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Meet the Doctor (of Spin)

I am a doctor who spins... 

...yes, with a spinning wheel, that colonial-era wooden thing that spins flax into gold.
...yes, I transform wool from a sheep into yarn.
...yes, yarn, the stuff you knit hats and scarves with. 

I am a spinner who doctors...

...yes, a healer who took the Hippocratic Oath.
...yes, a pediatrician charged and entrusted with the health and well-being of young people.
...yes, it is at times the stuff of life and death.

I've always found it troublesome to blend these seemingly separate lives of mine, maintaining a split multiple personality of sorts.  The doctor personality would be concerned with science/medicine/growth charts/appointments; later, as in the case of Jekyll and Hyde, the spinner personality would pursue wool breeds/yarn gauge/plying/doll hair... and art.

For years, those two distinct personas lived within me side-by-side, coexisting peacefully, the one barely aware of the other.  Until my close friend Natalie led me to the epiphany that not only was that boundary unnecessary, it was not even there.  That the personality traits which I regularly apply to my practice of medicine (study, diligence, ethics, personal care),  were also responsible for my successful study and execution of spin technique and the diligence with which I run my Etsy fiber art business.

Think about this, if you feel like a divided person in your daily life:  whether knitter-CEO;  artist-police officer; dancer-physician...  you are the sum of all your talents and experience, which flow into everything you do and everyone you touch.  The sooner you embrace it all, the more complete you will feel.

Laura: Rainbow Twist Shop on Etsy