We’ve had the immense pleasure of playing host to Nini & Wink’s extraordinary lace covered kangaroos over the last few months. Many of you have dropped in to see the installation—Mel’s Mob—in person. ‘Mel’ is short for Melbourne, and the rest of the roos are named after Australian cities too… just don’t quiz us on who is who.
Today, we caught up with Annette Fitton, the brains and hands behind Nini & Wink. She very kindly spared us some time and gave us an insight into her inventive mind, Mel’s Mob and how family played an important role in her creative development.
My grandmothers taught me how to knit when I was four years old. Grandma, who knitted socks for Grandpa and jumpers for us all, taught me her English style, throwing the yarn around the needle. Mormor who knitted jumpers, hats and mittens taught me to knit her continental style, picking the yarn through the stitch. I found plain knitting quicker and easier using the continental style and English purl easiest and it wasn’t until I wanted to knit rib as a teenager that I committed myself to knitting continentally. I do sometimes knit using both styles when knitting Fairisle holding one coloured strand in each hand for maximum speed. Continental knitters hold the tension in their yarn like crocheters do.
After graduating with a degree in Industrial Design and the dream of designing and making furniture I studied furniture making at Carl Malmstens Verkstadsskola in Stockholm.
My grandparents, parents and their friends and families were all very creative in their spare time. Making and renovating furniture and homes, gardening, baking, sewing and mending clothes and curtains, embroidering, fossicking for, polishing and setting gems, knitting, weaving, drawing, painting and singing.
The social media community of yarn bombers reaches far and wide. Yarn Bombing Trivento backed by a community of Italian crocheters invited 80 yarn bombers/groups they had discovered on Instagram to join them in celebrating the artform and bringing attention to their beautiful hilltop village.
As a self appointed ambassador I felt I should bring something recognisably Australian to the exhibition. Yarn bombing, temporarily covering ordinary inanimate objects with knitted or crocheted yarn, adds interest, inspiration and subject for discussion to public spaces. Unable to visit Trivento to choose a location or measure street furniture or trees before the event, I had to think of some yarn bombed thing I could bring with me. I flew with pigs to New York in 2015. In this instance the kangaroo was the obvious answer and a whole mob even better.
The trip was extended to cover a quick tour of Europe travelling on planes, trains, buses and cars and I realised I would have to limit my luggage to one 20kg suitcase plus a small carry on bag for the sake of mobility. Mel’s mob of seven ‘roos, modelled on the Eastern Grey which live in small groups, all had to fit in that one large suitcase. The idea of making and yarn bombing forms, to travel empty and be stuffed into shape at their destination, sprang to mind.
The incredible effort made by the small team of local artists who imagined and realized the whole event was the most inspiring of all. The dedicated care they took installing over seventy pieces of work of all sizes, along a trail of laneways winding each side of the main route from the town square 356 steps up to the cathedral in the original part of the town with very limited vehicular access was extraordinary. Their friendly and inclusive community made the whole experience very positive.
Yarn bombing with its craft base and lack of boundaries appeals to a wide range of people. Community groups, Red Cross, Hand Weavers and Spinners and Country Women’s Association, for example, have invited me to show and talk about my work at their meetings. I’ve visited RMIT’s fashion and design second years to show them my version of knitting, exhibited as an artist in residence travelling to both Hamilton in country Victoria for their Woolly West Fest twice and Vogue Knitting Live in New York.
Being approached to design and knit for Victor Churchill Butchers’ winter window display last year was great fun. A plucked chook, tripe, mince and half a dozen lamb brains were the result.
When I’m working on a project you can find me online researching subject matter, looking through my books for particular stitch patterns, sketching, charting, measuring, working with wire, carpentry, sculpting with recycled cardboard, plastic or recycled yarn bombing, machine sewing, hand sewing, knitting, crocheting, weaving, documenting and sharing my progress on social media.
My studio is full to overflowing with past projects, materials with potential and works in progress, an eclectic collection of storage furniture, colour and shapes. There’s a huge table occupying the centre of the space with my father’s carpentry workbench and drill stand on one wall and doors to the laundry on the opposite side. The floor to ceiling windows to my right, as I sit here typing, look out to the side garden, a Hills hoist washing line and a Brown Turkey fig tree.
The stage between inventing a solution to a problem and starting work on making it often trips me up. At the other end, once the project is finished and presented, emptiness sinks in. It doesn’t take much catching up on household chores, gutter clearing, edge trimming, oven cleaning etc. before pending projects lure me back to my workshop.
How I would operate if left to myself is a mystery. I begin with oats for breakfast in time to deliver my breadwinning commuter to the station and finish when the kitchen and table are clear, the dishes washed, washing folded and scraps put into the compost bin winding down with a quick look through the day’s newspaper and the challenge of the daily sudoku.
The zip up cardigan I wear almost all year round is in its second edition. It’s knitted from Patons Totem, originally made from yarn leftover from my children’s cardigans, in the style of a cardigan knitted for my father by my mother when they were both teenagers.The fishermans rib style knitting hugs the body and arms and the zip turns the collar into a neck warmer when needed.
A couple of small squares of red paper with some words and a diagram drawn on them, a message from a little boy now grownup, are dear to my heart. They remind me of the magic of words and time passing.
Dream. Waking with ideas of new things to try on my mind is very exciting.
Working alone does not seem as disconnected as it would be without easy access via the internet to communicate with and keep up with the rest of the world. I do think it would be more fun to work from a studio in a complex with a variety of creative others.
The radio is on while I’m busy in my workshop, current news, weather and a variety of music keep me company. Fresh air filters in from the garden.
The urge to reinvent the wheel keeps me imagining how things can be done differently. Challenges and limits drive inspiration. Material, time and technique.
At the moment my favourite drink is pure fruit juice, cranberry and pomegranate 50:50. A delicious way to start the day.
I really enjoy wandering around the sculpture garden at McClelland Sculpture Park and Gallery looking for and at the 100+ large scale pieces set in bush and more formal gardens around the gallery. Looking forward to the next Sculpture Survey and Awards.
A bowl of freshly cooked mussels in a light white wine garlic sauce.