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Exhibition: Once Upon a Time at The Customs House, South Shields

THE Materialistics. Despite what you might think, this is not an association for people lucky enough to be able to replace their sofa every year.

A knitted triptych of The Gruffalo by Margaret Hamilton and Margaret Murray

THE Materialistics. Despite what you might think, this is not an association for people lucky enough to be able to replace their sofa every year. It is a community-minded group of predominantly women who work collaboratively to produce incredible works of textile art.

Once Upon a Time is the latest Materialistics project leading to an impressive show at the Customs House in South Shields. It’s the fourth knitted exhibition since A Coat For A Boat in 2009 and follows on from Victorian Christmas and last year’s A Grand Tour.

This year’s creations are all inspired by the children’s stories or fairy tales which hold meaning for The Materialistics. So there is a magnificent triptych of The Gruffalo, a beautiful Jeremy Fisher, a heart-warming Snowman and an incredibly detailed wolf from Red Riding Hood.

The Customs House visual arts curator Esen Kaya has worked closely with The Materialistics on this exhibition since last February. She says: “We wanted to pick a subject matter which would be popular and which everyone could identify. Children’s stories seemed like a really good theme.

“Everyone jotted down their favourite stories which they had read as children or tales which they now read to their grandchildren.”

Chosen stories were a mix of the historical and contemporary, including Alice in Wonderland, Where the Wild Things Are, The Jungle Book, and Charlotte’s Web.

And since casting off a coat for coble Salma’s Dream, The Materialists have specialised in creating sculptural 3D work. The largest piece in this show is a life-size Gingerbread House for Hansel and Gretel.

“It is a challenge for the knitters,” Esen says. “But this is not twee knitting and the group have to think outside the box. They want to make their creations look like the real thing and knit in a sculptural way rather than in a very traditional sense.”

She adds: “Some pieces, like The Gruffalo panel, are reminiscent of paintings, whereas other things are objects, such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar which is a giant version of the book. There is also a larger than life orangutan for The Jungle Book, which has real character.”

Like previous Materialistics project, this was a community effort and knitters went to work in South Tyneside day centres, women’s groups and primary schools. The Northumberland Women’s Institute also contributed while folk at Bill Quay Farm were consulted for their expertise about rare breed wool and felting.

Esen says: “The Materialistics also led sessions in libraries over the summer, and this was very successful, especially at drawing in young people to the project.”

Once Upon a Time by The Materialistics is at the Sandford Goudie Gallery, The Customs House, South Shields until February 12. For information contact 0191 4545450 or visit www.customshouse.co.uk


LILLA Wren, of Jarrow, has been a member of The Materialistics since 2009. She chose to make The Jungle Book characters Kaa (snake) and King Louie (orangutan).

The snake took about ten days to make. I used mottled wool for the colours and video tape to make the black lines along its back. I had a problem with the eyes so in the end I used a sponge ball.

“I made the orangutan too but I found it very difficult to make his face look like the character in the book. An artist guided me through it and showed me how to build up a structure.

“I also made a lamppost for Narnia using black wool and video tape. It is nice to be inspired and use different techniques and materials to knit with. And there is a lovely camaraderie about the group.”


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