Kirk has been knitting since 1988. He began designing in 1996, and shares his appreciation for colour and complex design with world-renowned textile designers Kaffe Fassett and Brandon Mably, with whom he apprenticed in 1998 at the Kaffe Fassett Studio in London, England.
Kirk and has been featured in Enroute Magazine, Family Circle Knitting, Vogue Knitting, The National Post newspaper, Maclean’s Magazine, The Presbyterian Record, Vogue’s Knit.1 magazine, the online knitting magazine Knitnet, and The Grid. He has been interviewed on CBC Radio's “This Morning” about knitting and acting. A documentary about his biggest project, Stitched Glass, called “The Threads of Abraham” has been made by filmmaker Todd Witham.
Kirk has been a guest speaker for several knitting guilds, and has given “Knitting without Fear” workshops at the Textile Museum of Canada. He is also often asked to speak about “Stitched Glass” for church and interfaith groups.
To book a talk or workshop, please contact us.
In 2003, Kirk was awarded a significant Chalmers Foundation Fellowship through the Ontario Arts Council in support of “Stitched Glass,” an installation of 5’ x 8’ tapestry panels, knit in the style of stained glass. The work explores the commonalities and conflicts of the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Kirk could not have foreseen the scope of the work. After 15 years of research, design and knitting, he has completed all three tapestries – the Christian, Judaic, and Islamic. Kirk’s background as a PK – a preacher’s kid - inspired his interest in religion and spirituality. With “Stitched Glass,” he has found a way to combine both his faith and textile interests.
Starting in May, 2019, Ergo Arts Theatre will tour the textile exhibition alongside a one-hour theatrical play called The Knittting Pilgrim, performed by Kirk, animating the exhibition. The evening of exhibition and play can also feature a panel discussion about the issues of interfaith understanding, compassion, and empathy.
Kirk also gives talks about the project. To book a talk about Stitched Glass, please contact us.
The Pussy Hat Project is a fantastic idea that LA-based screenwriter Krista Suh, and her architect friend Jayna Zweiman, came up with to protest the comments made by Donald Trump about grabbing women’s genitalia in an unsolicited manner. Suh had decided to go to the Jan 21, 2017 protest March on Washington and knew it would be cold, so she wanted to knit herself a hat. She and Zweiman realized that if more women wore the same hat, and they could design a hat that symbolized their objection to Trump’s comments, it could be both a fashion and political statement. Kat Coyle, the owner of The Little Knittery, the knitting store where this conversation took place, was fast to supply a pattern that would be easy enough for beginner knitters, and could be customized by more experienced knitters. The pattern is available on the Pussyhat Project website and here’s a how-to video. I loved this idea, but was really moved to action when I heard that my friend Tracey Erin Smith, Artistic Director of Soulo Theatre, was herself going to the Jan 21 march. She co-created the Soulo Theatre March on Washington project with Savoy Howe, founder of the Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club. Together, they will be leading the bus in creative exercises on the way down to Washington, they’ll participate in the march, and will talk about their experience on the way home. They’ll be creating a collective show about the entire trip to be presented at the Soulo Theatre Festival in 2017.
I knitted a bunch of pussy hats for both Tracey and Savoy, as well as friends participating in the Toronto edition of the March on Washington, customized them all, and enjoyed my protest knitting thoroughly.
Kirk designed this sweater for his father, Reverend Dr. Zander Dunn, a third-generation Presbyterian minister with a love of the colour orange.
Afghans are a great way to explore geometric patterns. This pattern, known as ‘Cityscape,’ is a variation of the old quilting design “Tumbling Blocks” retooled for knitting. Kirk used his favourite greens and pinks, but any colours can be used. The hues are simply divided into groups of dark, medium, and light, and each group is used for one of the three faces of the blocks.
Kirk was approached by A Needle Pulling Thread to design a simple pillow with the colours of that month’s issue: green, pink, black and red. It appeared in the 2009 issue of the magazine.
Kirk found these crab shells off the coast of a friend’s wonderful country home in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia. He dried out the shells, shellacked them, and painted them in traditional Nova Scotian folk art colours. He shaped the legs with modeling wire and knitted over them.
Kirk designed this sweater for his daughter, but she was a picky dresser and didn’t want to wear it until she had almost outgrown it… oh well!
For this puffer fish, Kirk used his grade school arts and crafts recall to papier maché a balloon for the body, and then knitted around the form. He used barbecue skewers for the puffer fish’s spikes, and plumber’s putty for the painted eyes.
While Kirk tends to prefer organic materials, sometimes the thesis of a piece cuts against that grain. North Pacific Gyre Jellyfish focuses on the effect of photodegraded plastic particulates in oceanic ecosystems. Where organic debris will biodegrade, plastic merely disintegrates into ever-smaller pieces while remaining a toxin-containing polymer. These plastic pieces are eaten by jellyfish, which in turn are eaten by larger fish.
To reflect the growing presence of synthetic materials in the aquatic environment, he cut a plastic sheet into one long continuous strip, combined it with yarn, and used it to knit the body of the jellyfish. The tendrils are old ribbons, synthetic yarns, and discarded wires and metallic cables. The resulting Frankenstein sea creature is a hyperbolic look into the future of sea-life on this planet.
Kirk found the shell for this artwork in pieces at the bottom of the lake at his wife’s family’s cottage in Northern Ontario. He dried out the pieces, glued them together again, and then knitted the turtle body underneath it.
Kirk borrowed Escher’s salamander design, which uses shading techniques to make the salamander look as if it’s coming out of the page. Then he knit it three dimensionally to make it come out of the shadow box’s surface.
The venomous lionfish is an invasive species, so Kirk thought it would be appropriate to design it overtaking the confines of the eight-inch shadowbox. As with the puffer fish piece, he applied papier maché over a form for the body, and then knitted around the body. He built the fin rays from coat hangers, and then knit something very much like a long-fingered glove with which to cover them.
This simple geometric pattern started out as red and gold diamonds. But as the piece went on, Kirk changed the hues a bit… and then a lot. By the end of the swatch, the basic red and gold theme was long gone and the harlequin pattern often associated with Commedia Dell’ Arte had indeed gone crazy.
Kirk designed this “One Thousand Cranes” sweater for his mother after she survived breast cancer. He was inspired by the story of Sadako Sasaki, the little girl who developed leukemia after the atomic bomb was dropped near her home in Hiroshima in August, 1945. After she was admitted to hospital, Sadako’s wish was to fold 1000 origami cranes so that, as the Japanese legend goes, she would be granted a wish. She died from her illness not long thereafter. Kirk’s “One Thousand Cranes” sweater won a design award from Knitnet Magazine.
In keeping with the contra theme, Stars and Bars was presented to a good friend and very talented director and dramaturge in return for her outstanding work in bringing one of Kirk's plays for young audiences to the stage. Kirk took inspiration from MC Escher's drawings of geometric tile patterns of Alhambra, in Granada, Spain.
In May of 1998, Kirk apprenticed at the Kaffe Fassett studio in London, England. During this time he was generously hosted by a good friend of the family who was an accomplished linguist and busy at the time picking up French as her fifth language. Fleurs de Lis was Kirk’s way of saying thanks for the incredible hospitality he enjoyed chez John and Klari Dormandy.
This pillow design was inspired by Topsy Farms, a wonderful yarn and lamb producer on Amherst Island. Made with their all-natural, 100% Canadian wool, milled at MacAusland’s Woolen Mills on Prince Edward Island, Topsy Farms owners Sally Bowen and Ian Murray have long supported my knitting work, and it gives me great pleasure to support theirs. This pillow kit will soon be available through Topsy Farm’s website here. To pre-order a kit, contact my studio or Sally.
With influences like American/British knitting designer Kaffe Fassett, M.C. Escher and the Impressionists, I am fascinated with colour and geometric patterns. I began designing my own garments, and later transitioned to installations to explore how to use knitting in unexpected ways. Most often relegated to ‘craft’ instead of ‘art,’ knitting – an ancient technique that has been around since the first millennium AD – is deceptively simple, primarily using a binary stitch – and yet can produce works of great resonance, complexity, beauty, and meaning.
My body of work re-imagines knitting in two ways: as complex and colourful three-dimensional unexpected things from the natural world, and large-scale installations. My series of three-dimensional marine life organisms – a lion fish, puffer fish, jellyfish, turtle, crabs, a salamander – are meant to take people by surprise, so that they see what knitting is capable of – and so that they see the many colours and wondrous shapes of our natural world, and feel connected to it, a part of a greater whole. I would like knitting to be regarded as an art that is tangible and accessible enough so that it can speak to many, and yet also produce startling, meaningful, awe-inspiring and beautiful works, and not just hats and scarves.
My most profound belief in life is this: that empathy is the path to understanding and the key to conflict resolution. Knitting for me is the artistic manifestation of that goal: symbolically, it weaves together yarn to produce an interlocked pattern, just as I hope people can be knitted together, through empathy, into a community.
Knitting also gives me a great opportunity to work with vibrant and multi-hued colours and textures – another perfect symbol of the variety of humans on the planet, with different colours of skin, background and stories, who I hope can come together in empathy and understanding no matter what they look like or where they come from.
I use three unique techniques in my knitting that I believe set me apart: First, I choose colours and colour combinations (often using 5-7 strands at once) not before I begin my project, but on the fly, as I knit – what I call ‘improvisation on the needle.’ Second, I twist the yarns as I knit to produce an Impressionistic pointillism effect: the twisted yarns, when using multiple strands, simulate small dots of paint. And third, like the Impressionists, I use complementary colours (adding orange to blues for example) to make the colour choices rich and give them depth. This technique produces a luminous effect, as if there were light shining on, and through, the knitting.
Knitting is both an accessible – anyone can do it – and wonderful, malleable art that is capable of making almost anything that is gorgeous, full of colour and meaning. I am privileged to work with this wonderful art form.