Scottish fiber artist Jo Hamilton is pushing the boundaries of crochet with her subversive “crochet paintings.” Ranging in subject from strikingly colorful portraits to painstakingly stitched cityscapes made with recycled yarn, her nuanced textile pieces play with color, line, and texture, challenging our traditional perceptions of crochet as an art form. Arguably a pioneer in the realm of figurative crochet art, Hamilton uses her work to comment on the complex issues plaguing society today, focusing especially on the looming climate crisis. In fact, the artist’s most recent body of work, which was on display this past November, critically engages with humankind’s fraught relationship with the environment and the devastating impact it is having on our planet.
“Transitory Trespass deals with my feelings about how the human race interacts with the natural world, simultaneously idealizing and destroying it with too much that is man-made,” Hamilton tells My Modern Met. “In my concern (and slight obsession) about the plastic pollution climate crisis, I also began upcycling as much of my own household’s plastic waste as possible into ‘plarn’ to use for my work.”
Plarn is plastic yarn that is made using discarded disposable plastic, like recycled grocery bags and other common plastic waste products. Hamilton makes her own by cutting the handles and bottoms off of plastic bags and afterward cutting them into loops that are then knotted together to make two-ply strands of “thread.” And she’s used everything from frozen food bags to toilet paper packaging to create the materials for her crochet masterpieces. The artist committed years ago to stop buying brand-new yarn because of the pollution created during its manufacturing process and the negative impact it has on the environment. Instead, she uses only her homemade plarn and any regular yarn that she can find secondhand.
This adds another dimension to her work, which goes beyond simply commenting on these issues by becoming a part of the solution. However, Hamilton knows that there’s still much more to be done. “Although I feel slightly better to be keeping some plastic waste out of the landfill and the oceans, I do think the onus of the plastics crisis should fall on manufacturers, corporations, and here in the U.S., the federal government,” the artist explains.
From the painstaking and tedious process of creating her own plarn to the sheer scale and complexity of each of her pieces, one can only imagine the amount of time and effort that goes into each extraordinary composition. Hamilton’s very first crocheted artwork, I Crochet Portland, took her over two years to complete, along with her very first series of crocheted portraits. Ultimately, each stitch serves a larger purpose: to make people think and reevaluate the impact that our everyday lives and habits are having on the world around us.
“I hope that the subjects and the materials might help us reconsider our relationship to both the manmade and the natural world, and that we are able to pull back from the fast-approaching tipping point where the manmade throwaway stuff of planned obsolescence will extinguish the natural world, and us for good,” Hamilton says. “I hope that my own very slow way of working, in opposition to the breakneck pace of modern life, might encourage us to slow down, appreciate what we have, and alleviate the hunger for more stuff.”
Scroll down to see images of Hamilton’s stunning crochet artworks. Her work will be on display again next year in October 2022 at Timeless Textiles Gallery in Australia. Until then, keep an eye out for any new work by following the artist on Instagram. And you can even commission your own piece by visiting the artist’s website.