The Knitted Sculptures of Nicola GibsonMarianne Henio
I first saw the knitted sculptures of Nicola Gibson in the Machine Knitting group on Facebook a short time ago and was instantly impressed. Her knitted sculptures were unusual, intricate and visually appealing. I knew that Nicola Gibson would have a great story to tell.
Nicola works in Norwich, in the UK, where she has been based since graduating from Norwich University of the Arts in 1998. She started a business under the name of ‘Colabean Curiosities’ in 2009 after the birth of her daughter. She is now starting to make the transition away from a brand name to working under her own name as she has grown more and more confident in her work.
Most of Nicola’s work is textile based using machine embroidery, machine knitting, felting and sewing. She also uses what in school terms might be referred to as ‘resistant material’ processes too. This includes lamp working glass, which involves casting a range of materials, such as low belt metals, glass and foam. She works a lot with copper and solder to make armatures for the beautiful wire- knitted sculptures that we have all seen and enjoyed.
Nicola tells us: “I have always been creative and took a traditional path into Art College, where I studied Visual Studies. After my degree, I was lucky enough to get a job as an ‘Art Foundry Worker’ where I made life size, figurative, bronze and lead sculptures for sculptor Brian Alabaster. I learnt all the aspects of the lost wax casting process and became the primary welder. I thoroughly enjoyed this material and developed an affinity for metal which has never left me!”
During her time working at the foundry, Nicola bought her first knitting machine; a brother KH710. This coincided with a phase where she was revisiting textiles in her own work. She had been exploring hand knitting and crochet with lighting sculptures at the time when, she says: “Knitting was far less in vogue than it is today. I was drawn to the idea of a knitting machine because I am always fascinated by machines and process, so the idea of producing fabric, relatively quickly in this way fascinated me.
“It took me a really long time, self-taught, to really get to grips with how to operate and control it, and almost as long to work out what I wanted to do with it. I am not one for making garments and hand knitting had always resulted in decorative items and for years I would revisit my machine intermittently.”
Then one day, having heard that a regular knitting machine could be used to knit with wire to form amazing knitted sculptures, Nicola found a video on YouTube by Erica Thomson who detailed the technique she uses for her own knitted wire creations. Suitably inspired, Nicola syas: “I experimented with this technique for some time and expanded my single bed to include a ribber so that I could knit in the round, which I felt had huge potential!
“I was quite tentative and the first sculptural piece I made was a fish as I learnt how to manipulate the wire form once knitted. From exhibiting this I was commissioned to make a hare which was a much more challenging prospect!” And so began Nicola’s love of knitted sculptures.
“I sculptured the hare in clay first to familiarise myself with the forms and thus allowed me to work out the patterns. I transferred these to my knit leader. I have since adapted a knitradar to fit my machines. Having tried most makes of pattern reading device, I consider the radar to be most suitable for the work I do.”
In the meantime, in Nicola’s work life, she had moved from managing the foundry to teaching art, design, media and photography. It was important to her, as a lecturer, to be practicing as maker herself.
In 2010 Nicola began making to sell. She set up as a sole trader and joined the Norfolk Contemporary Craft Society which enabled her to show her work alongside brilliant and talented crafts people from across the county. She was nominated and elected as chairperson last year. Nicola usually makes work to exhibit and sell, preferring this to standing at craft fairs. She also runs workshops and makes pieces to commission.
Nicola tells us: “My favourite aspect of machine knitting is working with the machine itself; understanding what is happening as the wire passes through the machine and getting all the tolerances working together just right so that the shape knits without flaws. It sounds so simple but in practice it is not so straight forward! Of course there is also enormous satisfaction in realising a piece based on the plan and the model!
“In terms of my own work, I think perhaps what makes it unique is the complexity of the forms I make in wire and also that I use a variety of processes. As I have mentioned, I have a fairly diverse ‘making’ background and I really enjoy creating work which brings together different densities, textures and colours to sit side by side.”
Nicola Gibson’s Top Tip for anyone starting out in textiles or any making endeavour would be: “Make sure that you have photographs of everything you make so that you have a record of your work, but most importantly to make sure you have really good photographs which show off the pieces you want to sell or exhibit to their very best. If you are not confident using a camera and editing, there are plenty of people who are; perhaps you could consider a skills swap!”
Nicola has come across many craftspeople who have created an incredibly successful online presence, but admits that this has not been the most fruitful avenue for her pursuits. She says: “I find exhibiting my work and having direct contact with people is most successful for me, although, obviously more expensive and time consuming!
“I use Facebook, Twitter, Etsy and Folksy to promote my work, but this is not my forte by any stretch of the imagination. I find progress very slow and I have so much to learn.
“I am not very good at getting exposure! I think, like many creative people, I’m hard working and dedicated but terrible at making time to ensure the work I make is seen by others. So, inevitably, I would have to say that it is important to set aside time to make contacts and promote. Its good to have work on display somewhere so a range of people can ‘happen’ across it over the duration it is on show for. Its good for people to see work in the flesh and not just in pictures. My latest realisation is that posting to relevant groups can be much more encouraging than just posting to friends and followers.”
Nicola’s Top Tip for marketing is: “Always be nice to people, respond to any enquiries as soon as you can but don’t agree to take on new work for which you will not be properly paid or you will not be able to complete in the time you have available.”
So what are the plans for Nicola in the New Year? She tells us: “I would love to teach machine knitting classes in Norfolk and Suffolk. I have begun collecting and servicing machines to that end and now I have about 12 Japanese machines plus pattern readers, colour changers, linkers, lace carriages and so on. I have started to make an application for funding to help with the set up costs but the second half of the year was so busy with my regular lecturing role and exhibiting that I have had to put it on the back burner for the time being. My hope for the New Year is that I can get back to that project and be running classes by the autumn time!”
If you would like to get in touch with Nicola Gibson, or see her work in more depth, then you can find her on her Facebook page at Colabeancurios.
We wish Nicola all the best with her future endeavours and I look forward to seeing more of her knitted sculptures on Facebook.