Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Chinese bronzes and megalithic carvings: a reader opinion poll.

So. I am half-assedly planning my mother-in-law's Christmas present. This is way far in advance, obviously, but I hate being rushed at Christmas and I love the 'I could knit this... or this... or this...' phase when the whole project is pure potential. The pure potential phase on this could stretch out three or four months, because I'm going to finish the Russian Prime, and then knit my father-in-law's Christmas sweater before I start on this one. The plan is to knit something in two-color stranded knitting, using either the Russian Prime construction (probably) or the Steeked Jacket construction (probably not, unless I'm using yarn I don't wanna steek).

The current issue is the overall idea. I can't settle on that.

At first, I was going to do something based on the door lintel at Newgrange in Ireland. It's an early bronze age site, a tomb with very cool swirly thing going on:

At sunrise on Midsummer's Day, light shines through a hole above the door and all the way down the shaft of the tomb to the burial at the end. I was thinking of knitting this with a dark gray/blue and a light blue, with touches of gold silk detailing to represent the sunlight.

Then I got this damn book on Chinese art history that I'm reading. And that reminded me of several other ideas I've had for years that I could do instead.

The oldest idea, and probably the oldest of these patterns, is the 'Taotie'. That translates roughly to 'glutton' and is a face motif found on very old Chinese bronzes:

There is an old legend of a demon that was cast out of China by it's first settlers, then bound and forced to act as a guardian. Most historians suspect that's what the taotie represents. There are varying degrees of subtlety in its use:

I would make my version fairly elaborate (covering the whole sweater), but subtle, so unless you look closely it resembles a lot of swirls. I'd do it in ivory and turqouise, after a cup found in the tomb of empress Fu Hao:

Then there's my last idea:

Basically, copy that. It's another Chinese bronze, this time inlaid with silver. I was thinking I could custom spin the darker yarn, to look like the bronze patina, with different shades of brown with a little blue and green thrown in. And I could use a bright white or silvery gray for the silver bits. This one is probably the least complicated in terms of making the pattern (yeah, really), but I'd be spinning the yarn for it which would obviously take a while.

So. Two questions. One, what do you guys think is the best idea, and two, would y'all be interested in me walking you through the entire design process to see how I do it?

[Most of these images, copyright the Freer Gallery of Art, a branch of the Smithsonian. I will spare all of you the rant about how they can take their alleged copyright of cultural treasures stolen from other people and smoke it. But the collections available on line are great. Check 'em out.]


Bev said...

What an amazing project this will be! Love your last idea best, would definitely be interested in your design process.

Laura said...

The first and last - especially the last - appeal to me most. And I'd love to know how you do it!

Rose Red said...

I cannot choose - I love all of these ideas.

(btw, have you been to Newgrange - it is amazing. You can go into the tomb and they recreate, as much as they can, the midsummer sunrise effect into the tomb. Quite freaky!)

Jacquie said...

O.K. I love the last one .... beautiful art and yet there is something quite touching creating in honour of the Empress. I am absolutely no help in choosing and I would be extremely glad for you to walk us through it. I am awed by your creativity.Your MIL is one very lucky woman.

Kim said...

Personally, I like the last idea the best. Since you are wanting to spin the yarn yourself a pattern that you would consider easier might make things less complicated. Besides, I think the colour combination you propose (bronze and white with silver flecks) would be stunning. And you would have the added bonus of having the yarn blend in with the cat hair.

Kim said...

PS I forgot to say that of course I would want to see whatever design you choose from beginning to end.

Lynne said...

Oh, boy, what a choice! You're a long way from cheeseburger, chips, and Pepsi here, lol!

I hope your MIL is a tall, willow-slim woman - whichever pattern you end up with is going to be very, very busy, and if she's carrying one excess ounce, it'll be tripled.

I like the complex simplicity of the Newgrange swirls, myself. As the swirls are incised, I'd use the darker color for them, with the lighter grey/blue as the main color.

How will your MIL feel about walking around with a "glutton" label? For sure, the first five people she meets when wearing it will be educated Chinese - karma works that way. That said, I do love that bronze at the end, and it would be an utterly magnificent piece of wearable art.

Yes, PLEASE, walk us through it! And you'd better start now - that's an humongous amount of fussy, finicky knitting you're talking about, AFTER you do the spinning, which is going to be a challenge in itself, getting those colors the way you want them (assuming you go with the bronze, which I have a sneaking suspicion you'll do - it's the one you seem to like the best).

This is going to be one fascinating project! I can hardly wait!

Catie said...

I like the first idea best. and I'd love to know more about how you come up with ideas and your process

Denise said...

Good heavens now that I have picked myself up off the floor from being blown away with your creativity, I must admit that I really liked the one with the turqouise in it. But that could just be that those colors appeal more to me. Definitely want to see every step you take to do this. Thank god my mother doesn't read this or I would be in serious trouble.
Like the idea though about the cat hair matching the other one though. In my house with 3 cats its always about matching things to their fur. Best mug I have for coffe is "Its all about Meow".

Amy Lane said...

I love the idea of the Taotie-- how wonderful. ( fun as spinning the yarn and then making the tesselated sweater would be, I foresee baaaaaad complications happening. Perhaps we could save the Doctorate Knit&Spin level stuff for when the Goober is in kindergarten?)

Rachel said...

All three options are beautiful, but I love the last one the most, and no matter what, seeing your design process would be awesome.

Arianne said...

Ok, I never comment but I have to weigh in here.

Both projects would be inspiring. And I personally would prefer to knit and own the Newgrange spiral design sweater. However, I'm also a major fan of ancient China and the designs you've shown us I think are more compelling in terms of a knitting project (out of the two, though I'd like to see both if I'm honest!). I'd LOVE to see the design process behind the Chinese project. :)

Lynn said...

Those are some wonderful inspirations! I like the swirly one, but the last chinese bronze really grabbed me. It's so graphic and clear. I think it would translate beautifully.

Louiz said...

I personally would prefer the swirly spirals, but the last one is interesting too... but maybe hold off the spinning and then knitting for a deadline until the Goober starts school?

Donna Lee said...

I would love to watch you choose colors and spin the yarn to make the sweater. I like the pattern on the vase (?) at the end. I like the symetry of it.

Anonymous said...

I like them all, but I think the last pattern might have more meaning since you're going to spin yarn for it, which is a new spin (har har) on the Xmas sweater project. I love that pattern the best, too, though I love the other two as well. But I think it will really be stunning.


Roxie said...

I'm altogether in favor of the Newgrange swirls. Good colors, soft lines, and a touch of magic. And by all means, walk us through the process with you, whatever you do!

Allison said...

The colors you mention for Newgrange should look nice on your MIL. You said you'd do the Fu Hao's cup design in ivory and turquoise, but I feel like there's a lot of coppery coloring in the ivory's patina. Could you spin something that produces that coppery/ivory shading because that plus the turquoise would be even more smashing on her.

And please take us for a nice long walk. I love seeing your mind at work.