For their degree show this year, Central Saint Martins students Ellen Jonsson and Irene Albino knitted a 25-metre long essay. Titled </unravel;>, the project combines elements of graphic design, coding and knitting to challenge the idea of binarisms. Explaining that “Weaving and the Jacquard loom is the first form of programming,” Ellen and Irene’s intention is to confront gender stereotypes of male-dominated computer hacking and the domesticated, feminine “quick and easy” hobby of knitting.
Displayed as a performance at their degree show, Ellen and Irene used an Electroknit Brother 950i” from the 1980s, a part manual, part digital Jacquard loom knitting machine. They drew on the similarities of weaving and coding as both processes involve methodological patterns, but are conversely prescribed to different genders. Ellen and Irene asked themselves “if weaving is a form of coding, how would it be to weave code?” By further incorporating text, </unravel;> emphasises how language and knitting are coded systems with a set of rules and functions.
The pair spent months researching how to hack the knitting machine in order to weave their essay. In its original version, one could upload patterns through floppy disks, but with the help of the online community of “knitting hackers”, Ellen and Irene tricked the machine to believe the computer was a floppy disk; making it possible for them to upload any image as long as it was translated into bitmap.
Historically, craft is an undermined discipline due to the lack of respect society paid to its traditionally, female makers. However </unravel;> celebrates craft’s association with its female makers through the knitted essay which cross-references text and quotes about gender. The featured writers include Margaret Atwood, Sadie Plant, Marshall McLuhan and Ada Lovelace and many more.
During the degree show, the content was knitted and unravelled day by day, over the week. With the help of an Arduino-based motor, the knitted piece would roll out of a slot into a canvas scoop, “facilitating the audience to read the knitted text and pick it up to explore the content of the previous days.” The essay consists of a title, four chapters and a bibliography. Ellen and Irene explain that there is particular significance on the audience physically interacting with the text: “it was important for us that people read the texts and reflect, as we did, upon the issues we were trying to tackle," say the pair. "For that reason, knitting a bibliography was essential to track down the sources of the text and give people the opportunity to read more if they wished.”