Friday, June 7, 2013

Things That Don't Fit in a Drawer #7: Color, Charity, Community

So absorbed am I in trying to complete the knitted blanket I'm working on, it's proving hard to think about anything other than color.

Here's the thing in progress, an insanity, a riot, of intense, disparate, discordant color (doubled, below, by a b&w shot as I try to understand about color "values"...)

The "squares"of my blanket are knitted by various hands in various wools by the international group of women that are the Shanghai Guild, a "knit-for-community-outreach group." The guild's site is down for the moment ( but you can get a great sense of the Guild's work from posts on the very entertaining & photo-rich blog of Kathy Pauli, who very graciously hosts the guild members at her lane house every Thursday afternoon. Kathy does a heroic job of gathering wool (literally), storing materials & made goods, distributing those goods to the various causes the guild supports & traveling to far-flung places to see the work those causes do, be it building libraries or funding heart surgeries.

The Guild was founded in SH over ten years ago by another prodigiously kind-hearted ex-pat, Sue Ferry. Twice a week, Sue would transform her dining room into a community center: on Tuesdays, by laying out her dining room table with sewing machines for quilting, & on Thursdays, by getting rid of the dining room table to create a circle of chairs for knitters. Walking into this room, you could find solutions to all your practical dilemmas & sympathy all around for your cultural ones. Finding Sue, & the community of makers she pulled together, saved my life in Shanghai. 

When Sue de-camped for London several years ago, we gave up the sewing machines. But we still had blankets to make for the Yi Minority girls living in the orphanages supported by the Jo Charles Foundation. And so, we were inspired to making knitted patchwork blankets. 

The format allows knitters & crocheters of all levels to contribute by making 24 cm/10" squares (not everyone gets the instructions exactly right...) & allows those of us with other ambitions to figure out how to bring all those random squares into some kind of coherent whole. Our hope in sending these blankets to these abandoned girls was that they might have something of their own, something warm & unique, & that they might feel that somewhere out there, there are strangers who wish for their well-being.

Via Kathy Pauli Photo credit: Kathy Pauli
For my current blanket, sucker for complexity that I am, I gathered up a batch of awkward squares, misfits by color & size & shape. I set the rule that I would work only with available squares; where there were gaps between squares, I'd knit patches only with whatever scrap yarn I had on hand.  

Which rules have given me a challenging immersion in color theory, something I haven't thought much about since my freshman year at RISD...which I am now re-living with David Hornung's Color: A Workshop for Artists & Designers.  I mean, I can't even name some of the colors I'm working with (but the amazing color cloud can...) 

Of course, I'm working on this intuitively but still I wonder about things like, why sometimes the "wrong" hue (as in the brightest...lime green? leaf green? yellow-green?......) works better than a more analogous color (say, another pink)... The answer seems to be a similar level of saturation. But I didn't even have those terms fixed in place before studying up in Hornung's book...

Detail of Helen's flower be-decked blanket. Photo credit: Kathy Pauli
Many of these bright squares I'm working with now came from knitters in Taiwan. I've often piece together cheerful quilts out of the colorful squares made by another Sue, a lovely maternal-warm woman from India. On my last visit with the Guild, two crack-whip knitters, Fiona from England & Helen from New Zealand, were contentedly putting together a quilt of Fiona's squares, knit in the muted colors of an English seascape with a heathery grey violet mixed in for what Fiona felt was a bit of a "splash-out" of wild color.

I've been pondering how this comes about, the taste for color, whether there are "national" color senses, color palettes particular to place I'm hard pressed to explain to Chinese friends why the highly saturated, near fluorescent palette I see here in Shanghai is so different from an American one,. Except to say, that the wash basins & dust pans at my local Walmart in St Louis come in insipid chalky pale blues & beiges & baby pinks, never translucent hot pink or salmon or coral. Ha! In fact, here they are in my box of gouaches: light chinese green, oriental red deep, bengal rose-lake, english green dark, chinese orange...

It suddenly reminds me of an Indian friend in Rajasthan, some thirty years ago, warning me away from buying heaps of luminous mango-yellow-orange & pulsing pink-violet fabrics. While those colors glow so seductively in the light of the setting sun in India, he said from sad experience, they will merely glare vulgarly once they are moved to the cooler light of America.... 

You painters out there, any thoughts? 

By the way, you don't have to be an orphan to own one of the Guild's blankets. Recently, the Guild has dedicated itself to raising the money needed to sponsor heart surgeries for poor children thru Heart-to-Heart. A single surgery to repair a hole in a child's hear costs 25,000 RM (about $4000 US.)  For a premium donation to the Guild of 3000RMB (around $500 US) you can chose from among the most complex (i.e. labor intensive) blankets; for a donation of 1500 RMB ($245), you can choose from an array of simpler designs. We've already funded one baby! Here's she is successfully post-op in one of our blankets:

Please help us fund another child! If you'd like a blanket, there are some available at Santa Cecilia Music Cafe in Shanghai. Or you can contact me or Kathy thru the blogs. 

If you are looking for other opportunities to find community & serve a good cause, check out this guide to SH charities.

And please, do send your thoughts about color & color palettes!

1 comment:

  1. How about slipping a few neutrals in there to give your eye a little rest? Fun blog-didn't know about this side of you, the knitting sewing persona.