One of the cool things that happens in my neighbourhood every winter is the Winter Stations installation on the boardwalk. The installations (using the summer lifeguard chairs as bases) are all different every year, and every year they draw big crowds. I just think it's fantastic that people are happy to wander up and down a Canadian lakeside beach in the middle of winter enjoying interactive architecture.
This year there was an extra twist. The local business association decided to hold a Winter Stations shop window contest. Bonnie, the office manager at the Beaches Wellness Centre, had already arranged for a mini-sized lifeguard station to be built, but hadn't decided how to adorn it yet when I showed up for my Saturday appointment. Brainstorming happened with her, chiropractor/owner Johanna, myself, and whoever else was in the waiting room at the time. By the time I left, I had a mission: to yarn bomb the mini-station with interactive knitted faces.
The mouths of the faces have knitted tubes attached to the back, which lead to a knitted bag. The bag is full of treats: candy, coupons, whatever else Bonnie and Jo decide to put in there. The fun part is that people reaching inside can't see what they're going to get.
The sides are relatively open so that people can see from the outside how it all works.
Here's the official artists' statement from the window:
Beaches Wellness Centre Winter Station Design 2017
La Boca takes reference from the colourful, vibrant houses of La Boca barrio, a neighbourhood in Buenos Aires, where immigrant migrates from various places landed.
La Boca means "Mouth" in Spanish and invites passersby to explore the secret treasures by putting their hand in the mouth.
This "Winter Station" represents the colours, sensory and hot temperatures of Buenos Aires to warm up the winter of the Beaches in Toronto.
Katherine Hajer - Textile Artist in Residence
Godfrey Construction - Ed Godfrey/Chief Nail Gun Operator
Bonnie Menard - Curator of receptive spaces
Johanna Carlo - Head Honcho and Ideator
The Creative Team part is the coolest thing about this entire project. It really was a collaboration. I did the knitting, but what I was knitting were ideas from other team members. Bonnie created the environmental space around the installation (and yes folks, that's real sand she hauled down from a local garden centre, and real tree branches forming the "trees" around the station). She also created the "dripping" yarn strands hanging from the ceiling and arranged the balls of leftover yarn on the top of the station, which I like because it looks like the sculpture is forming from the ceiling.
Ed made the lifeguard mini-chair, and Johanna sponsored the whole thing, came up with a lot of the executable ideas (the interactivity, the importance of the mouths, the colour scheme, and the La Boca connection, not to mention the wonderfully over-the-top titles for all of us).
The different shop stations win by being voted on. If you want to vote for this station (you can, once a day until the contest closes!), follow this link and vote for "Beaches Wellness Centre". A randomly-drawn vote will also win a prize from the Beaches BIA!
The yarn was picked up the Saturday the whole idea came together, and then for the rest of the day I planned out how I was going to get all the knitting done in a week.
The most obvious way to take care of the big, rectangular facial planes (90x60cm) was with my knitting machine. Problem: I hadn't used my knitting machine since I moved house 8 years ago. One of the table clamps had been lost during the move, and while my stepfather had given me a replacement clamp, its diameter was a little larger than what the knitting machine was built for.
So before anything else was done, I had to take a drill to my knitting machine and gently scrape out one of the table clamp holes until it was big enough to accommodate the replacement clamp. Surprisingly, given my history with power tools, this was achieved in very little time with no damage to knitting machine, drill, furniture, or myself.
Knitting machines distort worked fabric both widthwise and lengthwise, so you have to knit a swatch and then let it rest for 24 hours to let the fabric relax into its final state. The photo at the top of this section shows my swatch, the yarn for the project, and my machine setup. Yes, it takes over the entire dining room table.
Once the swatch had relaxed, I could measure it and determine from its gauge how many stitches and rows I needed to make rectangles the right size. Each rectangle worked out to 90 stitches x 198 rows — thank goodness the machine came with a row counter! Machine knitting is hard on one's shoulders, so I made one rectangle per evening and then stopped for the night.
Wednesday I hand-knitted the orange treats bag, just starting with 8 stitches and working a basic beret shape until it was wide enough, working a few rounds even until it was high enough, then decreasing until the top of the bag matched the size of the mouths I was going to put on the faces.
Thursday and Friday I made the eyes, noses, and mouths. The mouths were measured and then unraveled, then the raw stitches were picked up and knitted for a few rounds to make lips. The mouth tubes were picked up from the wrong side and knitted until they were just over half the depth of the mini-chair.
The eyes got more complicated as I worked on them. At first they were going to be flat, cartoon-animal eyes, but then I remembered that crochet sphere calculator I used to make the Om Nom dolls for the nieces. The final eyes were made from half a white sphere, then part of an iris-coloured sphere, and then finally a flat black circle for the pupils. I didn't want the eyes to be too staring, so I made upper and lower eyelids for them (and yes the upper and lower lids are different shapes). Each eye was lightly stuffed to keep it from being crushed during travel and installation.
The nose, on the other hand, is just a folded triangle shaped to fit the gap between eyes and mouth.
There are a lot of great things about this project — the collaboration, the artists' statement, just the way it all fell together — but mostly I think it's a fabulous example of what happens when everyone pitches in over a short amount of time. It was an intense seven days working on it, but it was only seven days. We all did what we said we were going to do, and the results are exactly what we aimed for.
It was fun the following Saturday to sit in the waiting room and watch people going by on the sidewalk. A lot of people were catching sight of the installation, pausing, taking a good look at it, then glancing surprised at the office storefront sign to figure out what sort of place had such a thing in the window. It will be interesting to see how the reactions evolve over the course of the installation.