The idea for this amazing arts project came from Esen Kaya, Visual Arts Development Officer at the Customs House in South Shields, who envisaged bringing together the two very different crafts of knitting and boat building. However, both crafts are similar in the fact that their techniques are passed down from one generation to the next and this project brought the whole community together using those traditional and contemporary skills to create a life-sized boat covered in knitting; celebrating Tyneside's long and illustrious maritime and crafts heritage.
The boat itself is a 21ft coble which was built by the North East Maritime Trust, a boat rescue charity in South Shields which is dedicated to preserving the skills of traditional boat building. I had a lovely chat with Dave and Allan, two of the vessel's builders. They were so animated when talking about the success of the project - working in partnership with the local community, the Trust has helped increase awareness of traditional boat building techniques - and their enthusiasm for our maritime heritage really shone through.
Northumberland-based artist and textile designer Ingrid Wagner was in charge of the knitting; issuing a 'call to needles' in February 2009. Her innovative Big Knitting techniques were used to create the large-scale items: the actual 'coat' was made from recycled cotton sheets (from a local hospital laundry!) which had been torn and rolled into balls of yarn, and knitted using huge 25mm diameter needles.
Over 300 knitters of all ages and abilities were involved in the project; many of them were locals who took part in the weekly knitting group at the Customs House, but there were contributions from all over the UK, and some items even arrived from New York and Australia!
As well as the boat's coat, everything in and around it was knitted too: rocks, sand, lobster pots, seals, seagulls, starfish, seaweed, crabs, fish, a compass and even a ship's cat; with many items continuing the recycling theme: oars made from torn-up curtains, and fisherman's trousers knitted from black bin bags and orange carrier bags!
The boat was proudly displayed at the Customs House last summer, with a brief outing when 'Salma's Dream' actually took to the water on 12 July as part of the 2009 Mouth of the Tyne Festival. It was also shown at the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace in October, and following its appearance in Newcastle last weekend it will be touring other venues in the UK in the coming months. It's well worth a visit if you get the chance; it's an amazing project and there's so many different items to look at and marvel over - and it does really bring a huge smile to your face!