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Frightening Fiber Artist Makes Gnarly Knits

Fiber artist Tracy Widdess reveals the origin of her macabre masks and woeful weavings.
One of Tracy Widdess’ recent knitted masks. Images courtesy of the artist.

Most knitters reach for their needles when they’re in need of a calming fix, but fiber artist Tracy Widdess isn’t satisfied unless she’s knitting the most unnervingly intricate and disturbingly detailed projects possible. Featuring elements of hand knitting, electronic machine knitting, crochet, and embroidery, Widdess’ work pushes the bounds of what can be accomplished with nothing but yarn, determination, and a slightly overactive imagination.


“There were a few factors that got me knitting,” Widdess tells The Creators Project. “First, growing up, my Mom had a few 70s and early 80s knitting [and] sewing magazines, I would spend hours poring over them, wishing to be inside the dioramas, thinking they were the most amazing thing,” recalls Widdess. Years later, when she was a teenager, she asked her mom to knit her some of the sweaters and socks from in those old magazines, “My Mom just said, 'Knit it yourself.'”


Another collaboration between Widdess and Blanquet.


A mask featuring colorful pom poms.

It wasn’t until she was in her 20s, that Widdess finally broke down and picked up some knitting needles of her own. “I had a flatmate who could knit and crochet, she made simple, nice things for her friends and they loved her for it, so I decided then to learn to knit out of spite,” jokes Widdess. It might just be Widdess’ sense of spite, combined with her dry sense of humor, and a penchant for mischief, that makes her work so striking in contrast to the sentimentality traditionally associated with knitting.


A mask featuring a machine knitted pattern.

In addition to her technical skill, Widdess has a tremendous drive to make work, which may be what allows her to put in the incredible effort that her ornate pieces require. “Making things is what keeps me okay; it's when I feel best,” says Widdess. In order to keep herself busy with lots of projects, Widdess sometimes collaborates with other artists by creating intricate versions of their imagery from colorful yarn. “The one with Stéphane Blanquet was very fun,” Widdess explains, “due to the language difference I had agreed to work with him without knowing what it was I was going to be making.”


Widdess shows off her crochet skills with this ornate mask.


Widdess’ knitted piece beside Blanquet’s original artwork.

When describing her process, Widdess admits that it can be difficult for those who are unfamiliar with the idiosyncrasies of the traditional techniques she uses to understand just what’s going on in her work. “I tried to document my process in order to explain it, but I find it takes way too much time and gets in the way of the making,” says Widdess. A single work may start with a digital pattern that Widdess designs and uploads to her electronic knitting machine. After knitting the fabric on a hand-operated knitting machine, she then crochets and hand knits embellishments onto the fabric before hand embroidering the final details. Each of these techniques requires a certain level of expertise in order for them to be incorporated into the finished work, but Widdess modestly discounts her technical prowess, saying, "I guess I just start from a base and add onto it, making and remaking and moving until it's right."


A view of Widdess’ worktable, featuring the magazines and toys that have inspired her, along with some of her own works and current works in progress.

Widdess insists that her insatiable ambition to make incredibly complex work is simply a manifestation of her need to amuse herself, “in order to keep it challenging and interesting to myself I keep on pushing the medium.” Widdess ultimately sums up why she makes such challenging work by saying, “it’s just things that I find interesting.”

You can see more of Widdess’ work and keep up with her newest creations on her website.


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