Chaps who craft: Andrew Salomone
Californian visual artist and teacher Andrew Salomone, 29, is big news in the craft world right now, all thanks to a computer and an electronic knitting machine. Last year was a pretty busy one for him, what with holding an exhibition of terrible Christmas jumpers in collaboration with KK Outlet in London, jetting around the US for various group exhibitions and working as contributing editor for Craftzine.com. Here, he spills the beans on hacked knitting, his Bill Cosby obsession and – a little bizarrely – mysteriously-appearing cats (but that’s OK, we like cats here).
Black Cat Originals (BCO): How did the idea for hacking the knitting machine come about? How does it work?
Andrew Salomone (AS): I’m a visual artist and I like working with traditional materials through new technology so working with a hacked knitting machine just sort of fitted into my art practice. The idea came from when I lived in a really poorly insulated house and when winter hit I had to sleep in a balaclava. Then I realised I might be spotted walking around the house in it by my neighbours, so I decided to make a balaclava with pictures of my face on it. A friend of mine had a 1980s electronic knitting machine and I asked her if it would be possible to knit digital images with it. She and an electrical engineer worked out how to hack it and then showed me how to do it.
BCO: How do you go from the design to the finished product?
AS: I make pretty much everything through a process of trial and error, I’ve had to teach myself how to make stuff with the hack. A lot of times there isn’t anything in the manual specifically about what I’m trying to do, so I really have to experiment to make things work.
BCO: Do you sell any of your knitwear? Do you wear your own creations?
AS: I have sold some scarves, but I’m not really producing work commercially, I just make stuff to order if people want it and when I have time. I have a hat that I made from a botched version of the balaclava that I wear sometimes.
BCO: Do you think your knitting pursuits will overtake your other artistic output?
AS: The hacked knitting machine has definitely taken off but I have some other projects in the works. I’m not going to stop making other projects just because the knitting is going well, but I do want to see how far I can go with it.
BCO: Would you have got into knitting without hacking into the machine?
AS: Maybe eventually, but no, I would not have tried to make the projects that I’ve done without the hacked knitting machine. I still haven’t learned how to knit by hand.
BCO: Do you anticipate more men getting into knitting and other crafts if technology becomes more involved in the process?
AS: Yeah, I mean, I don’t really know if there is an overwhelming lack of men crafting these days. It’s not like when men went off to fight wars and women stayed home and knitted socks for them. Now I think it is pretty normal for everyone to just do whatever they want and I think it is just as easy to make the argument that more women are interested in technology as it is to say that more men are interested in crafts.
BCO: Do you do any other crafts? What other traditional crafts have you transformed?
AS: I did an embroidery sampler of digital samples and I made a pixelated photographic image of Bigfoot from fake fur – stuff like that. I suppose that the portrait of Bill Cosby from Jell-O shots might count as a craft as well, but I generally work with whatever material makes sense for the project, so sometimes that means a traditional craft process and sometimes it doesn’t.
BCO: So why the strong fascination with Mr Cosby?
AS: Bill Cosby just happens to be a person closely associated with two materials that I’ve been interested in working with: knitwear and Jell-O. I do think he’s pretty great though.
BCO: And what inspired you to create the Amy Winehouse jumper?
AS: I embroidered a sweater so that all Amy’s tattoos would be in the right places if she wore it, with the embroidered images on top of the tatts they covered. It seemed like she might not wear sweaters a lot because she wanted to show off her body art, so the sweater was a solution to a problem I thought she might have.
BCO: So what else interests you apart from arts and crafts?
AS: There is a fence I can see from my kitchen and there is a different cat walking on it almost every time I look at it. I cannot figure out where all these cats are coming from! I find that pretty interesting.
How to: Hack a knitting machine
Pictures by Becky Stern.
- Machine-Knit Mate Cosies (craftzine.com)
- Andrew Salomone’s Bad Christmas Sweater Exhibit in London (craftzine.com)
- Stitch-Hacking and Pattern-Blagging in London (craftzine.com)