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13 November 2014

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You are in: Tyne > Entertainment > Entertainment features > A coat for a boat

Boat covered in knitting. Photo: Craig Leng Photography

The boat was specially made

A coat for a boat

An unusual art project at the Customs House has created a life-size boat completely covered in knitting.

Heard the one about knitting a coat for a boat? No, it's not a joke, rather an extremely quirky art project that's been running at the Customs House in South Shields.

The Casting Off project, which launched in February 2009, has seen the creation of a 20ft coble boat swathed from fore to aft in knitting.

Large knitting needles

Big needles means quicker knitting

The finished boat, complete with covering, is being displayed at the Sandford Goudie Gallery at the Customs House from 13 June to 13 September 2009.

And on 12 July it will be launched onto the River Tyne - yes, really - as part of the 2009 Mouth of the Tyne Festival.

Big knitting

As well as covering the coble in knitting, everything displayed in and around it has been knitted too - from rocks and pebbles to lobster pots, seagulls and a compass and stop watch.

There's even a knitted plate of fish and chips complete with salt and pepper shakers!

It was a big task to put it all together and several hundred knitters worldwide have been involved in making items for the exhibition.

At the helm was Ingrid Wagner, a Northumberland-based visual artist who specialises in big knitting projects - though she's more accustomed to making things for use on dry land.

Ingrid Wagner knits with giant needles

Apparently it's good exercise!

Ingrid spoke to BBC Tyne from the Customs House as the exhibition was being set up.

"It's incredible to see the boat in the art gallery," she said.

"Lots of the knitters have come in to help with this last stage of the process. Some are ripping up sheets, some sewing final bits and pieces together. It's amazing to see the whole thing come together.

"Over 350 knitters worldwide have been involved. We've had parcels arriving from New York, Australia, there was a knitted telescope from France. And we've had groups knitting all over the UK, from Sussex to Wales and the Shetland Isles.

"It's about as far from ordinary knitting as you can possibly get. There's a fisherman's wash bag with a flannel knitted from raffia and soap knitted from telephone wires.

"And there's a couple of pairs of fisherman's trousers with braces that were knitted with black bin bags and orange carrier bags!"

Boat covered in knitting. Photo: Craig Leng Photography

The finished boat

Film inspiration

Some of the needles Ingrid uses in her own art projects are over a metre in length, which makes knitting large-scale items much quicker.

It's knitting brought into the 21st-Century, if you like, and Ingrid says it's easy to pick up and good exercise to boot.

"It's a really good upper body workout and saves on your gym membership, because obviously when you're knitting a bigger piece of fabric it's a little heavier and your arms are working harder," she told BBC Newcastle's Alfie Joey in February 2009.

Ingrid also told Alfie how the whole "coat for a boat" project came about.

"The idea came from Esen Kaya, the visual arts development officer at the Customs House," she explained.

"She'd seen the film The Science of Sleep in which there was a knitted boat and she really took the idea and thought if they can do a small boat could we do a big one?"

Esen Kaya and Ingrid Wagner by a boat covered in knitting. Photo: Craig Leng Photography

Esen and Ingrid with the finished boat

The history behind the knitted "gansey", the type of hard-wearing, hand-knitted, woollen jumper worn by fishermen in the North East for many years, also fed into the idea.

"Fishermen wore them obviously to keep warm but then also if they were unfortunate enough to fall overboard they could be identified by the particular pattern that was in their gansey," Ingrid said.

"So what we're doing is constructing not a coat for the fisherman but a coat for the fisherman's boat!"

The exhibition runs from 13 June to 13 September 2009 at the Customs House and the boat will have its maiden voyage on the River Tyne on 12 July.

last updated: 15/06/2009 at 12:53
created: 16/02/2009

You are in: Tyne > Entertainment > Entertainment features > A coat for a boat

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