Knitting with glass?
To look at Carol Milne's glass sculptures is to want to touch them. Milne, of Seattle, has created a line of artwork she calls "knitted glass." The process, which involves strands of wax, pots of molten glass, and many days in a kiln, gives a rigid sculpted form to the soft shape of a knit in-progress.
Milne has been a knitter since childhood, and for much of her art career, worked in bronze. Eight years ago she was casting a bronze sculpture with the aid of sprue wax, which looks like strands of red licorice, when she realized that the wax had a strong correspondence with yarn.
"I was knitting socks and I kept looking at this sprue wax," Milne says. "It looks like yarn, and I wondered if I could knit with it."
It turns out she couldn't—the wax wasn't flexible enough—but by that point Milne was on the scent. Instead of knitting the wax, she manually bends it into place and wraps it around knitting needles, making it look like thick stitches of wool. She casts the wax in plaster, uses a wallpaper steamer to melt out the wax, and places the emptied mold in a kiln. She positions pots of lead crystal glass from New Zealand in the kiln, so that the glass liquefies, turning "the texture of honey," and flows into the empty mold.
Or at least that's the way it's supposed to work.
"There's no way to ever tell if your mold is full of glass," Milne says. "Just because the top is full doesn't mean glass has gone all the way to the bottom." She only finds out if a sculpture has turned out the way it was supposed to when she removes the plaster cast, which she says she does, "very carefully, with dental tools."
There is an intellectual dimension to Milne's work, and she explains that she sees the strands of glass, reinforcing each other, as a "metaphor for community." At the same time, glass and the knitted form complement each other in an even more direct, aesthetic way. "I love knitting in glass," Milne says, "because where the stitches overlap, the color becomes deeper."
She explains that her finished sculptures are sturdier than they look, which is a good thing: In the same way it's cathartic (if also depressing) to rip stitches from a knit, the captured energy in her sculptures invites the urge to hear them "crunch."