Challenging stereotypes through the art of knitting

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QUINTE ARTS COUNCIL

For our newest Umbrella magazine, Quinte Arts Council dedicated the winter issue to celebrating the art of craftsmanship and how the lines between the two often blur in innovative and exciting ways. . We’ve profiled 12 artisans from Quinte who express their art through their craft; the second in this series is Christopher Walker of Cabin Boy Knits in Stirling.

Fiber artist Christopher Walker has fond childhood memories of listening to the snapping of his grandmother’s needles as they watched Hockey Night in Canada. “My grandmother definitely planted the seed of knitting, [but] when I was a boy, I was not encouraged to knit,” explains Christopher. “It wasn’t until I was an adult that I met other male knitters and decided to learn.”

Today Christopher is the founder and label owner of CabinBoyKnits, a company producing naturally eco-friendly dyed yarns for customers around the world. Through his use of fiber, fashion and people, Christopher’s work often challenges society’s perception of gender and sexuality. His work has been featured on catwalks and in art galleries, and he frequently lectures and teaches in Europe and throughout North America.

His studio is in a pre-Confederation log cabin in the Oak Hills. “I can’t think of a more idyllic place to find inspiration and create,” he says, adding “I’ve always been fascinated and inspired by my natural surroundings. I think it’s innate to use the nature to achieve color through the use of plants, minerals and insects to create the fiber used in my art and designs.

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Knitting and wool have a long and rich history; while the exact history of knitting is unknown, due to the biodegradability of natural fibers and tools, the oldest knitted artifacts (in cotton, not wool) are socks from Egypt dating back to the 11th century. Knitting evolved from function to fashion, then waned in popularity before a resurgence in the 21st century, alongside the “handmade revolution”.

Christopher balances paying homage to the past with his natural yarn dyeing practices, while simultaneously disrupting societal norms: “Before 1868, (the invention of acid-based dyes), all dyes were derived from plants, insects and minerals. I use many traditional recipes and create my own colors and techniques.

At the same time, he acknowledges the influence of traditional gender roles (i.e. knitting as “women’s work”): “I challenge viewers to challenge binary perceptions and gender stereotypes, both through performance art and art installations,” he says. He is inspired by nature, art, people, fiber and fashion, as well as the works of Canadian artist Janet Morton and Australian artist Casey Jenkins.

The Winter 2021 issue of Umbrella magazine is now available.