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Rebecca Atherton: The Potential Possum and the Mostly Moon

Rebecca Atherton: The Potential Possum and the Mostly Moon

Artist, blogger and knitter Rebecca Atherton takes us through the creative process of the first piece in her newest project, Square Pegs.

Up until now:

The majority of my pieces are colourful narratives – bright, shiny and cheerful. They depict wonderful beginnings, beautiful middles and happy endings.

My drawing, on the other hand, tends towards the opposite.

Perhaps it has something to do with the tradition of the craft and how I see it: gainful employment for hands that would be idle. It reminds me of classic novels and of women who were well-behaved. It is passive and quiet, undeniably elegant. It has no room for rage or despair; for the mess of external expression.

Or maybe it’s because it was my grandmother who taught me and I see her as this shining light, someone who always managed to put a positive spin on things? Perhaps I am scared to taint her memory and infect her gift?

Or it could be that I am attached to the concept that we traditionally knit items to wear or use and embroider things to decorate and gift?

In trying to turn something ‘crafty’ into something ‘arty’, I am changing the rules and I think this attempted remodelling is where I have become tangled up. So this project, Square Pegs, is all about letting go.

Instead of having a vague idea of a theme for a piece, I shall clear my mind and work without attachment, allowing my inner guide and my outer muse (the chihuahua featured below) to steer the journey.

Something new:

Having decided to try my hand at something new, I decided it was only right that I use a new ball of wool and a new colour; that way everything would be different – the background, the method, the colouring. Worst case scenario, should I mess up entirely, I would simply fail to swim. And from the bottom of the pool, lake or ocean, I could float my way back up, either unpicking and correcting in order to continue or starting over afresh.

I elect to make a plain square and begin by casting on 40 stitches. The purpose here is for the tension square to serve as a pseudo-type therapist; an entity both strong enough and reliable enough to accommodate my emotions, thereby enabling me to temporarily switch off from all catastrophizing about the future in order to sit still and silent within the present. It kind of works.

Having completed my square, I am then ready to move on to the frame. This will serve to ground the square visually. It will also catch and hold straight the edges, which would otherwise curl. I have chosen to use white because it is clean and fresh and also because, being plain and simple, it won’t distract from what’s going on inside. The only complication I allow myself I limit to one row:

k2tog, yo; repeat

At the same time, I decide to approach the inside: the space where the story will sit.

Picking up my knitting doll, I select a length of yarn and proceed to make a cord, which I will coil in much the same way as with a coaster or mat. The process is quick, simple and meditative and I lose myself effortlessly to the rhythm of it.

My moon takes me three days: one to make the coil and two to decorate.

Next up, the focus of my piece: my person or animal. I have no idea what will come out; I simply pick up my needles and trust in the process. I watch with interest until it starts to look like ‘something’ and then I intrude.

In this instance, the suggested is of animal inclination. Beginning as a cat, it later becomes a rat and then, joyously, a possum. This feels right, reminiscent of my time in Australia and my love for the family of possums who lived in the trees surrounding my house. I loved watching them, constantly surprised that in their lack of dexterity and elegance, they never seemed to fall.

I give my possum a tail, slightly curled. Then I add two ears – one that sticks up, the other out. After this, I add a nose, a mouth and a cheek, all in various shades of pink. Lastly, I give it claws, a necklace and a bracelet.

Because at the moment it is top right and bottom left with nothing in between, I decide to make a star, which, along with providing company for the moon, will help to balance it out. But as it evolves, it transforms into a flower – jasmine or honeysuckle. Knitted in mohair and angora, it is soft with a fluffy sheen. I decorate it in pearls with a single sequin at its centre, then surround it with more flowers, only smaller this time, made of pearl and sequin.

Three feels like the correct number of elements for the piece, so I decide to leave it there. But something is missing. I decide to add some sequins and beads to the area beneath the moon. I leave their translation open to the spectator. To me, however, they are many things: raindrops, snowflakes, tears, shooting stars, meteorites, petals; their essence changing with my mood.

Overall, this piece has two levels. The surface one – which is sweet, playful and fun; almost childlike in presentation. And the underlying one – which speaks of hope and faith, goal and intent, apprehension and fear, sorrow and grief; of things let go and left behind, and of things yet to be encountered and enjoyed.

I miss Australia: the buzz of the city, the contrast of towering skyscraper against colonial relic, the warmth of the people; the places I went, the experiences I had, the people I met.

I know that when I leave my current home, Mallorca, I shall miss the landscape, the sky, and the light; watching the sun rise and set, the moon wax and wane; spotting shapes in the clouds; counting the stars and looking for various formations, every so often chancing upon a lone crusader as it flies past on its way to earth. I shall also miss the peace and quiet, the land that surrounds my house and the walled orchard with its fruit trees: lemon, lime, orange, pear, plum and fig… each month delivering a new surprise.

In its intentions, this piece has been fairly successful. In telling a story that wanted to be told, it has given voice to a handful of emotions and feelings. I have gained information and advice about necessary inner work and learnt that as well as grieving the departure of people, it is also important to mourn the loss of home and place.

Everything we touch, everywhere we settle, every experience we have impacts upon us in some way. And whether small or large, pleasant or terrible, they need to be honoured and thanked.

This lesson shall go with me into the next chapter and the next piece.

Read more from Rebecca at

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