The Knitting Pilgrim on Tour
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Ergo Arts Theatre
The Knitting Pilgrim on Tour
(see below for answers…)
Which legendary actress (and great knitter) has been nominated for the most Academy Awards (21), has won three Oscars, and was nominated for 18 more? Hint: She recently played a role in “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.”
This kind, funny, down-to-earth actor who is also a knitter won the 1988 Best Supporting Actor Oscar for “Good Will Hunting” (which by the way was shot in Toronto, my home town).
Which one of the two Ryans (and btw they are both Canadian, like me) is also a knitter? This Ryan has been nominated for two Oscars, and has had roles in “La La Land,” “The Notebook,” and “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”
Which actor/knitter won an Oscar for his role in “Gladiator” in 2001, and was nominated for his roles in “A Beautiful Mind” and “The Insider?”
This iconic actress and two-time Oscar winner was seen knitting between takes on the set of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Who is it?
This American actor, film director, producer, screenwriter, fashion designer, and professional wrestler learned to knit from his grandmother. He has never been nominated for an Oscar, but his sister Patricia has been. Who is it?
Which actress, known for her roles in “Eat Pray Love,” “Ocean’s Eleven,” and “Notting Hill,” knits so much on set that she taught co-star Tom Hanks to knit too?
Okay, so this actress hasn’t won an Oscar, but she did win a 2007 Emmy for her role in “Grey’s Anatomy” and loves knitting so much, she contemplated opening up a knitting shop. Who is it?
Getting her big break as Rey from “Star Wars Episode VII - The Force Awakens,” this actress, who is a self-professed knitting extraordinaire, has worked with Academy Award-nominated director Kenneth Branagh in “Murder on the Orient Express.”
Bonus Question: Which Canadian actor played an 8-ft tall green dragon in “The Adventures of Dudley the Dragon”; was featured in the short film “The Mario Lanza Story”, which screened at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival; and hand-knitted three 9 ft x 5.5 ft tapestries called “Stitched Glass” that took him 15 years to complete? (Oh, and no, he hasn’t won an Oscar - but he will be seen in the one-man play about the tapestries called The Knitting Pilgrim, and he did write this Oscar knitter quiz…)
Kirk Dunn (hey, that’s me!)
Working With, and Learning From, Textile Conservator Ada Hopkins
While on my incredible continuing journey with my tapestry exhibition, Stitched Glass, and the accompanying piece of theatre, The Knitting Pilgrim, I thought it would be interesting to take a peek into the creative process of some of the people on our team, prepping the show for Ergo Arts Theatre. Here, textile conservator Ada Hopkins writes about her process mounting the finished Stitched Glass tapestries onto backing for future framing. Ada has worked as a textile conservator at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Canada, for the past 30 years, specializing in footwear made from animal skins and textiles. She has also performed treatments for private collectors and public institutions, including mounting large and small textiles, fabricating mannequins, and conserving elements of clothing for display.
My profound thanks to Ada for the work she has done on the Stitched Glass tapestries. Take a peek into her process here:
When Kirk approached me about working on the mounting and preservation of the Stitched Glass tapestries, I was intrigued. It was different from anything else I’d done in my textile career. Kirk was facing several challenges in his goal to not only display the knitted tapestries, but mount them and tour them. Knitting, like all textiles, is subject to gravity (which can pull on the fibres), changing environments, travel, exposure to light, pests and moisture.
The first goal was to get the tapestries mounted and ready for framing. We’d deal with travel next.
Preparation of Three Knitted Tapestries for Display
Preparing the Under-Padding
The black lines – the “cames” in stained glass window speak – had more depth than the pictorial panes, because this was where Kirk joined the tapestry sections together (the tapestries were too large to be knitted in their entirety on a single set of needles). We decided to place padding underneath each pane in order to give the tapestry a smoother appearance.
A colour photograph of each panel was printed onto an 8 ½” x 11” piece of paper, which was overlaid with a sheet of thin polyester film. The individual panes of the tapestry were traced onto the film and each section was numbered to determine its location, as each one is a different shape.
Next, a very large sheet of clear plastic was placed over the tapestry. The outline of the individual panes was traced and the appropriate number, transposed from the template, was written on each pattern piece. The numbered sections were placed on polyester batting and cut to size.
The knitted tapestry was flipped over onto a drop sheet on the floor. The individual pieces of padding were basted to the back of the corresponding panel between its surrounding cames.
In this photo, you can see the knitted tapestry, flipped face down on a drop sheet on the floor. The polyester film templates for the padding are piled on the side, and the black polyester batting, cut into sections, matches the sections of the tapestry.
Attaching the Knitted Tapestries to the Support Fabric
The next step was to attach each tapestry to a black wool panel, so that when the tapestries were vertical, they would have support, and gravity wouldn’t pull on the knitting.
First we had to measure the tapestries. And measure again. And remeasure. The knitting has give, so we needed to make sure we felt certain about our measurements to pass along to Ontario Staging, a company in Toronto that has been manufacturing stage drapes for over 30 years, supplying film, TV, schools, churches, and special events across Canada.
Each black wool panel is composed of two vertical sections to provide the overall necessary width, with the seam down the centre. Grommets are equally placed around all four edges through which nylon thongs are laced.
Attaching the Wool Panels to a Wood Frame
The next step required a large wood frame that was 12’ x 8’ to which the wool panels could be tied, using the laces provided by Ontario Staging. Joel Robson kindly made the tapestry assembly frame for us. Joel is a Toronto-based designer/maker assisting museums, galleries and private collectors with their display furniture. He is currently head of installation at the Textile Museum of Canada and former head of installation at the Gardiner Museum. It had to be something we could easily take apart, transport into my studio space, and then disassemble again once I was done working on the tapestries. Joel did a great job.
The measurements to locate the centre of the width and the centre of the length were determined. These coordinates were transferred to the wool panel with butcher’s string, held onto the frame by pushpins. The margins, around the perimeter of all four edges, were calculated and marked using the same technique. The central width and length of the knitted tapestry was determined; string was then attached with safety pins to make sure tjat the tapestry didn’t move when it was laid over the black wool. All these lines made sure the knitted tapestry was centred properly.
Here is Joel’s frame, with the Christian tapestry attached to it by laces.
The perimeter of the knitted tapestry was hand-stitched with nylon upholstery thread and a tapestry needle. This stitching followed the interior and exterior edges of the black outlines of the Christian and Judaic tapestries. (The Islamic tapestry did not have the same border treatment, so a single row of stitches was used to attach it to the wool support.) This held the knitted tapestry centered on the black wool support, keeping it centered when the entire unit was untied and placed on the drop sheet that was spread out underneath the frame. The frame proved too wide to work from the sides of the frame while seated.
Large sheets of mat board were slipped between the knitted tapestry/wool support and the drop sheet. This prevented them from becoming accidentally sewn together when the curved upholstery needle/nylon thread passed through the tapestry/support. The boards also provided resistance so that I knew when the needle passed through the three layers: knitted tapestry, padding, wool support.
The knitting was covered with quilted tablecloth under padding and bed sheets. This protected the knitting, as I needed to work directly on top of the entire panel with only the area to be stitched exposed. Working from the centre outwards, the stitching progressed, image by image. The section being worked on was pressed with a steam iron through several layers of damp toweling to ease out any ripples. The first set of stitches was made along the edge of the black came of the selected image.
Here’s an example of one section of the Judaic tapestry after steaming and stitching around its perimeter cames.
Once that was accomplished, a stitching grid was established using butcher’s string held in place with straight pins. A horizontal grid was set up every 10 – 15cm, followed by stitching along these lines. Then the vertical portion of the grid was established in the same manner.
The mouting of all three tapestries took approximately a month, working in the evenings and on weekends. It was amazing to see the smoothed-out, finished tapestries once all the stitching was complete. They really ‘pop’ visually against the black background.
I’m excited to see the next steps: getting the tapestries, now attached to the backings, into frames.
I’ve been fortunate enough to attend The Danforth Jewish Circle twice in the last month – both prompted by the recent terrible anti-Semitic events in Pittsburgh on October 27. I can’t say that the reasons we came together are positive – but the act of coming together is positive unto itself.
On Nov 2, the Danforth Jewish Circle held a “ring of peace” Solidarity Shabbat Service. While the service unfolded inside, the Danforth community, people of all faiths, surrounded the building in a ring of peace. It was profoundly moving.
In this time of polarized opinions about seemingly everything, not just religion, it is good to come together. To remember that we have the same wants and dreams: to live in peace and harmony. It sounds clichéd, but it’s only a cliché because it’s what we all think about and wish for.
On Nov 20, I attended a session at the DJC, which was a chance for reflection and discussion about what happened in Pittsburgh. To discuss our own connections to anti-Semitism, to understand how we feel in a world where this is still a problem, and what to do about it.
Even though I am not Jewish, it felt vital to participate in the conversation about this alarming problem. I am an ally. I am part of the solution. The coming together is part of that solution. Thanks to Olev, the Third Space committee and Rabbi Miriam for the event and their warm reception to me and Claire.
I keep thinking of the image of the dove of peace – a common symbol in all three Abrahamic faiths –and one that appears in each of the three tapestries of Stitched Glass:
Dove of Shalom
Dove of Peace
Dove of Salaam
Peace is the thing we all want. Where we fall down is how we try to achieve it. Those who try to achieve peace through violence will find it elusive. The best they can hope for is a victory resulting in a temporary cessation of hostilities. Real peace can only be achieved through justice, communication, patience, and compassion. Much more difficult work than violence.
How Stitched Glass Gave Birth to The Knitting Pilgrim
After fifteen years – a long, long time – of knitting Stitched Glass, my installation of tapestries looking at the commonalities and differences amongst the Abrahamic Faiths, things have started moving fast. Never thought I’d say that about knitting.
Needless to say, that’s meant I haven’t had time to blog about it all – so I have a bunch of blogs stored up. Here they come. February first.
The long-held purpose of Stitched Glass was to create an opportunity for conversation. Conversation, hopefully, among disparate groups of people – so that they could find common ground, rather than seeing the other groups as ‘the other.’
But as I approach the end of knitting the last tapestry, I’ve wondered how to do that. And off and on over decade and half of knitting, my wife, Claire, has wondered how to get the installation into textile museums and other galleries so that I could participate in that conversation. Claire would, in fits and starts between writing jobs, try reaching out to textile museums and the like, and get very little uptake. Granted, I’m not a trained visual artist – I didn’t get a Material Art degree from OCAD University (although that sounds like a really good time) – and I’m not represented by a gallery, and I don’t have a long history of solo and group exhibitions, because apparently I bit off way more than I could chew with Stitched Glass, and it’s taken a lot of time, alongside my day job and raising our kids with Claire, and doing the laundry. All very worthwhile and time-consuming things.
So one day about a year ago, knowing that I was over half-done the last tapestry, Claire discusses this problem with our good friend, Tracey Erin Smith. Tracey is the Artistic Director of Soulo Theatre here in Toronto, and she and Claire have often tackled artistic problems together, musing ways to keep moving forward despite the obstacles. At the time, Tracey’s theatre was producing a show called The Clergy Project which shares some themes with my textile installation – namely, interfaith empathy and focusing on what brings us together, not pulls us apart. Tracey, who is a great lateral thinker, asked if maybe she could use the tapestries as a backdrop for The Clergy Project – or as an exhibition that travelled with the show. Claire said that my last tapestry wasn’t finished yet, and also that I’d worked on the installation for so long, it really needed its own platform. So then Tracey said, why don’t you and Kirk write a show for him to perform alongside the tapestries, and use them as his set?
This, of course, was an ingenious idea, classic of Tracey. Because the reason I hadn’t attended OCAD U was because I’d attended the York University Theatre Performance Programme instead, where I’d trained as an actor. I was a full-time actor for 25 years or so, until my kids and Stitched Glass came along… so this idea of combining acting, writing and my knitting work created a new opportunity to get Stitched Glass out there.
Claire is a full-time writer, working primarily for film and TV, and we have often collaborated on writing projects over the years, so I asked her if she’d like to work with me on this project. I feared if I wrote it alone, it would never get done, because a half-tapestry still needed knitting. We pulled together our ideas, wrote 20 pages, applied to the Toronto Arts Council and were lucky enough to receive playwriting funds to develop the project (thank you so, so much, TAC). We called the show, The Knitting Pilgrim.
We asked our good friend Anna Pappas, Artistic Director of Ergo Arts Theatre, to produce it. She jumped on board right away because the play, and Stitched Glass, deal with themes like interfaith empathy, understanding of ‘the other,’ and conflict resolution – all themes she tackles in many Ergo Arts projects. A good match.
We did a variety of things to prepare for, and develop, A Knitting Pilgrim. Claire and I continued to write. We brought on the wonderful playwright Beverley Cooper as our dramaturge to help us with the script, and we also brought on three faith consultants to work with us at both script and workshop stage: Reverend Janet Ryu-Chan, Presbyterian Minister at Morningside High Park Church, was our Christian consultant; Sarah Margles was our Jewish consultant; and Farheen Khan was our Muslim consultant.
I’ll pause here to say that even just the process of talking about this project with those three consultants was so stimulating for me. After all my research into the Abrahamic faiths over the length of knitting the tapestries, to meet at the same table with Christian, Jewish and Muslim friends and work through how to talk about the Abrahamic faiths, and how we were all feeling about the status of getting along in today’s world – interfaith or otherwise – taught me so much.
Then I took Tracey’s Soulo Theatre course to get my acting feet wet again, and get comfortable with the idea of talking out loud about the ideas that I’d been living with, stitch by stitch, row by row, over the last 15 years of knitting. Meanwhile, of course, I was feverishly knitting. Yup. That’s me. Always feverishly knitting.
Eventually we had a script we felt we could workshop – and that is how we spent this past February.
We rehearsed at The Small World Music Centre in Artscape - a cultural hub in the west of Toronto. Anna Pappas directed the workshop.
We brought on the fantastic Nick Bottomley as our projection designer.
Here I am at the part of the show where the Christian window, or tapestry, is complete. At that point in the story, I’m only 5 years into my 15-year experience.
Bev Cooper, our dramaturge, worked with us on the script.
We held a presentation to show the work in progress, mostly to solicit feedback from our trusted colleagues. My brother Marc came to see the show, as did our 3 faith consultants.
We had a really interesting debrief after the presentation about the show and its themes, and we got lots of ideas about how to continue developing the work toward a tour.
And that is how Stitched Glass gave birth to The Knitting Pilgrim. Ergo Arts Theatre will tour the two shows – the exhibition and the play – together in 2019. And yes, we’ll use the Stitched Glass tapestries as our set – but some venues, like museums and galleries, will also show Stitched Glass as its own exhibition. We’ll perform the play, which runs about 65 minutes, and then give the audience a chance to see the tapestries up close, have an informal discussion, or a Q&A and panel discussion – whatever our bookers desire.
If you know of a venue – a theatre, museum, gallery, place of faith, organization or knitters’ guild – that would like to book the show in 2019, please contact Ergo Arts Theatre and click on touring info.
I’m pretty excited about it all. I have a lot of people to thank: Tracey Erin Smith, for the initial seed of an idea that has already grown into such an interesting tree, my wife Claire who continues to go on this long journey with me, Anna for agreeing to produce the show, everyone associated with the workshop, and our three consultants.
I’m still learning. We’re still writing. I’m still knitting.
I was lucky enough to have Presbyterian Connection – the quarterly publication of The
installation of three hand-knit tapestries in the shape of stained glass windows, looking at
the commonalities and differences of the Abrahamic faiths.
They asked me to do this because I am on my last segment of the project’s third and final
tapestry (pretty exciting stuff, because it’s taken me 15 years of knitting to get here), and
also because I am in the midst of preparing, with my wife Claire Ross Dunn and the
Pilgrim that will accompany the Stitched Glass exhibition on tour. That will all be
So I’m sharing the Presbyterian Connection piece. Happy reading. And if you’re curious
about how to book the play and the exhibit of the textile work, please click here.