Work In Progress: Emma Hasselblad
Surrounded by sparkly sequins and pink yarn scraps, I recently got the chance to step into the world of our Work in Progress (WIP) artist for the month of June, Emma Hasselblad. We talked about her background in textiles, artistic process, and interest in exploring themes of femininity in her work.
What was your journey like within the arts? How did you start working in textiles? What is your earliest memory involving textiles?
I have always been into handicrafts and working with my hands because I went to a Steiner Waldorf school in Sweden for twelve years. We got to explore knitting, crocheting, woodworking, and making books in first grade, so I got the feeling for working with textiles at a young age. Making my own color combinations and patterns, choosing yarns, and watching my creations grow were things that I loved from the very beginning!
I then did my bachelor degree in fashion design and textiles at Esmond Berlin University of Arts for Fashion. My first year was trying out a lot of pattern cutting and making street clothes. It was a big shock for me because my school in Berlin was more rigid and strict compared to my education in Sweden. I started to experiment with knitting and then I made a hand knit collection called “dreamWWWorld” for my last year. In the beginning, my teachers told me that it was not going to be possible to hand knit a whole collection because I wouldn’t have the time and it was more of a project for art school. But then I finished dreamWWWorld and they were like, “Wow, it’s is amazing that this is possible!”
I am now doing my masters in Textile Art at the HDK Academy of Design and Crafts in Glastonbury, Sweden.
Tell me some specifics about your work. What materials do you enjoy using? What techniques are you drawn to using?
I have been hand knitting and working with thick yarns in wool, but the materials haven’t really been the main focus of my work and the colors are more important. I buy a lot of my materials second hand like sweaters that I rip up and reuse, but I also like to go to art stores because it’s fun! I have also been using low quality, pastel-colored yarns because I like to experiment and play with girliness.
While doing my masters, I have been knitting, making patterns, and thinking less about fitting my work on a body. I have also been learning more about machine knitting this semester, and have been working on a portrait piece, which is the first thing I made on the machine. To make a portrait, I start with a photograph or image and then change it in photoshop. Next, I choose the colors and the yarns I want to use and knit the portrait. I then crochet the portraits together by hand. Each portrait took one day to make on the computer and two to three hours on the knitting machine.
Take me through a day in your studio. What kind of practices do you keep constant while working?
Because I have a daughter, I like to start working pretty early in the morning and focus in the hours before lunch. The hours just disappear when I knit… I can work for fifteen hours and be surprised because I’m so into it and my mind just goes somewhere else! I think my time in the studio has been more balanced since having my daughter because I am more focused and strict about leaving my studio, otherwise I could just sit in there forever! I also always listen to podcasts or audiobooks while working. While making the portrait piece, I have been listening to a book or interview about that person, so I have been very immersed in this world and their stories.
Is there a conceptual thread that is carried through your work in all its phases?
My work is all about the colors. I don’t really have a conceptual plan before I start a new piece, and like to let the materials that I find guide my process and the direction of the work. I think my interest in exploring femininity developed in fashion school because we talked so much about the body. We were constantly being told what a body should look like and the focus was always on making clothes for that size. It made me feel really sick, and I think that’s why I got into knitwear because it’s so stretchy and can fit many different bodies.
In dreamWWWorld, I continued to play with these themes, referencing the female body with the knitted pieces. Everyone kept asking me if I made clothes for kids, because people assume that pastel colors are childish. I am interested in thinking about these questions of femininity and girliness by combining two low-status things: the colors and the textiles, which are often recycled and of low quality and value.
Tell me more about the portrait piece. What are you thinking about and how did you choose which women to feature?
When I started this piece in January, I knew I was going to do the TAC Work in Progress residency so I wanted to make something that could be featured in the window. I am playing with the theme of girliness and the symbols or posters that might hang in a girl’s room. I really want people passing by to see someone they know like Beyoncé, Louise Bourgeois, Audre Lorde, Princess Diana, or Michelle Obama. I also just flipped the piece, so people can see the back with all the threads hanging out — I think that’s my favorite part!
I had a long list of women that I wanted to make but realized that I couldn’t make all of them, so I asked all of my friends to help me choose. These women are all mothers and inspiring female figures for me. The opening in the middle is representative of being born or giving birth because motherhood is just such a big part of my life right now and I was reading a lot about pregnancy and babies while working on this piece. In that way, it has been very therapeutic!
Do you feel any differences in your work since you began the residency? How has this space and being a Work In Progress Resident at TAC affected your work?
It’s been super inspiring to be part of the Work In Progress Residency at TAC. Working on the portrait piece in the window has been really fun because so many people have come in and said positive things. Sometimes a person passing by recognizes one of the women, which starts a connection and an interesting conversation. Being at TAC has given me hope and just makes me want to work more!
How would you like people to experience your work? How do you like to share your works with an audience?
It has been so great to watch people interact my work and the portrait piece; I want people to be able to touch it and see it closely. There have been so many kids in the Manhattan studio for the after school classes, and it’s fun to watch them play with it. Last Saturday, I held a knitting workshop where people made these small knit pieces, which I am going to sew together before I leave.
Throughout history, knitting has always been such a practical thing. But it’s also a practice you can do by yourself, for yourself as well as something that you can do together in groups. In Sweden, I am part of a collective called “Textile Collective” with seven women. It’s so fun to sit down and talk, drink some wine, and knit together!
Do you have any dream projects? Anything that if you could do, you would do? Future directions to take your work?
I would love to do some big, sculptural, knitted piece in the park or something, because I think public art needs more textile work. Textiles are often in the private sphere where you can’t really see them. A man recently came into the studio and told me that he rarely sees textiles in galleries and public spaces, and it’s something that he wishes he could see more of in his everyday life. I agree with that. Textiles are associated with the feminine, something that women do, and I want that to change. There is a separation between paintings and sculptures, fine art, and handicraft, and I’m interested in making textiles more accessible for everyone!
I don’t really have a plan moving forward, but I am looking forward to starting my second year of my masters program! I am also excited to continue exploring knitting and working more sculpturally.
You can visit Emma’s installation for Work In Progress from June 1 – 30, at TAC Manhattan, and learn more about her work and process during Artist Open Hours, on Saturdays from 2-5PM.