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STITCHES

From bookazine no. 2, which has long been sold out, I have put all the articles from this issue online. You can find the full-text articles here #bookazine2

March 2020

 

I have known Iben Høj for many years. For a brief period we were both in the fashion industry, each of us in our own maladjusted way. Both of us, I’m not afraid to write, respected for both design and quality. Both of us represented at Designmuseum Danmark.

Iben is still in the industry. Or, ’industry’ might be pushing it! She still makes clothes, beautiful clothes. Knitwear that is often worn on the red carpet.

She has long since bypassed the hectic pace of fashion industry. She makes new designs when she feels like it, and her designs are not tied into seasons but have a much longer lifespan.

Some time ago, I visited her in the Danish town of Kerteminde. Arriving a little early, I intruded on Iben Høj and her husband, Jens Friis’s, lunch, and they invited me to join them before we moved on to the interview and photo session.

The view of the coast from their lunch table on Kystvejen in Kerteminde is quite a sight. The beach and the waves are their nearest neighbours.

Iben comments that she had been thinking about their interior design style before I arrived. ‘We don’t have the sparse, minimalist style that you might expect from a designer and a publisher,’ she says. And indeed, their style is more personal, with furniture and curios collected over many years. ‘A style that we probably have with us from our years in England,’ Jens explains. ‘It’s wonderful that so many people are getting rid of their heirlooms; that makes more for us to buy in the flea markets!’

It is a pleasant house to be in, and the focus is on what is important to them. They are both passionate within their respective fields. He runs a photo art magazine, she is knit designer. Both work from home. When I ask them whether their decision to work from home is a temporary arrangement as they wait to see if their respective companies expand, or whether they are where they want to be in life, they both reply that they have exactly the life they want, rich in meaning and content. They are successful, they do not compromise, and they have time to do what they do thoroughly, and they have a degree of flexibility that is perfect for a family with three children aged 9–15 years. That is possible for someone one who maintains their independence and is not seduced by material wealth.

It is Iben I am here to see. She trained at the University of Brighton, Faculty of Fashion and Textiles, and at the University of Westminster, Harrow School of Art. Some time ago now! Iben is 49 years old. After her graduation she sold designs to several acclaimed international fashion houses. For a while she worked as a knit designer in an English company. Far from glamorous but definitely a learning experience, she says. Following that, she designed knitwear for Bruuns Bazaar in Copenhagen. That was a good job, but it did not offer enough opportunity for exploration to suit Iben’s temperament. She was with Bruuns Bazaar for three years until she established her own company in 2003.

Materials and tools

While I chose to change materials and tools completely, Iben has gone deep, delving into the material and into the possibilities of the knitting machine, which she consistently challenges, both in her clothing design and in her artistic projects, the latter taking on growing prominence.

Many of them are on a very large scale. And they are all far removed from any traditional notions of knitting. You may have come across some of her works out there: at Mindcraft i Milan or the Spring Exhibition at Charlottenborg in Copenhagen, for example.

Iben’s production of clothes has so far been handled by others, far away from Kerteminde and Denmark. The art projects, on the other hand, are knit on a machine in her studio, which is part of the family’s private home. The studio is an Aladdin’s cave of finished knit designs, art objects, inspiration doodads and a wide variety of yarns, and she tells me her dream is to buy a knitting machine that would make it possible for her to produce her own clothes. ‘It would make so much more sense to produce the pieces as they sell, rather than building up inventory,’ says Iben, ‘and it would make sense to produce it locally.’

There are certain logistical challenges; a knitting machine is big and noisy. Thus, it would not be able to share a house with the family. In design terms it would also present certain challenges. ’The machine I am dreaming of does not have the same features as the machines my clothes are being produced on today. However, it has certain other features, and that is a challenge I would love to take on,’ she says.

Iben has also develop knitting patterns for KIT Couture, a collaboration you can read about here

Currently, Iben is working on a project in cooperation with the Trapholt museum. The projec is about embroidery but also includes knitting and culminates in the exhibition ‘Grænseløse Sting – et kunstværk skabt i fællesskab’ (Stitches without Borders – a work of art we create together).

The year 2020 marks the centenary of the reunification of South Jutland with Denmark. The reunification in 1920 set off a wave of national pride, which was manifested in visual symbols, as women used embroidery to express their affiliation, and symbols such as the Danish coat of arms and the Danish flag as well as images of Danish castles and the historic Dybbøl Mill were in widespread use.

‘It is deeply fascinating to see how women have always used textile crafts as a form of expression. I personally express myself through materials, thread and knitting, and I see and perceive a great strength in that,’ says Iben.

With the project Grænseløse Sting and a series of related embroidery workshops, Iben and Trapholt invite people to reflect on contemporary borders and restrictions and encourage them to express themselves through contemporary embroidery. The culmination will be a joint piece that Iben creates based on the many participants’ individual contributions with an emphasis on the history of embroidery, the border region, traditions and, not least, the individual participants’ own history.

The piece will be exhibited at Trapholt from mid May 2020 and will be included in the museum’s permanent collection afterwards. On this project, Iben has collaborated with the embroidery expert Tine Wessel (see  here).

Design School Kolding

In addition to her own creative and artistic work, Iben is also a workshop manager and teacher in the knitting line at Design School Kolding. She spends two days a week at the school. ‘The more experience I have, the more I consider it a calling to help maintain high professional standards. If we want our struggling textile discipline to survive, we have to realize, this is the eleventh hour. Soon, there won’t be anyone around who masters the techniques in depth and thus no one who can teach them. I know that there is currently a strong focus on crafts and craftsmanship. But even within the industry, we still tend to feel that studying crafts is more prestigious than practicing them, and that just won’t do. We have to realize our worth and promote awareness!’ says Iben in conclusion.

Jeg har kendt Iben Høj i mange år. Vi var i en kortere periode i modebranchen samtidigt, hver på vores utilpassede facon. Begge, tør jeg godt skrive, respekterede for både design og kvalitet. Begge er vi repræsenterede på Designmuseum Danmark.

Iben er stadig en del af branchen. Eller branchen og branchen! Hun laver stadig tøj, smukt tøj. Strik, som ikke sjældent bliver båret på den røde løber.

Modebranchens tempo har hun for længst bypassed. Hun laver nyt, når det passer hende, og hendes design er ikke bundet op på sæsoner, men lever længe.

For en tid siden besøgte jeg hende i Kerteminde. Jeg ankom lidt inden det aftalte tidspunkt og dumpede ind i Iben Høj og hendes mand, Jens Friis’, fælles frokost, og de bød på en mad, inden vi gik i gang med interview og foto.

Udsigten fra frokostbordet på Kystvejen i Kerteminde er ikke at foragte. Der er strand og vand som nærmeste nabo.

Iben bemærkede, at hun har gjort sig sine tanker om deres indretningsstil, inden jeg kom. ”Vi bor ikke stramt og minimalistisk, sådan som det måske forventes af en designer og en forlægger,” siger hun. Nej, de bor snarere finurligt med møbler og kuriosa samlet sammen over mange år. ”En stil vi nok har med os fra årene i England,” siger Jens forklarende. ”Dejligt, at så mange skiller sig af med deres arvestykker, så er der mere, vi kan købe på loppemarked!”

Der er rart i huset, og fokus ligger på det væsentlige. De to er passionerede inden for hver deres felt. Han driver et fotokunstmagasin, hun er strikdesigner. Begge arbejder hjemme. Adspurgt om, hvorvidt arbejdspladsen i hjemmet er en nødsituation i venten på, at de respektive virksomheder skal vokse sig store, eller om de er, hvor de skal være, svarer de begge, at de har det liv, de vil have, rigt på sammenhængskraft og indhold. De har succes, de går ikke på kompromis, og der er tid til at gøre det, de gør, grundigt, og der er fleksibilitet til livet som børnefamilie med 3 børn i alderen 9-15 år. Sådan kan man gøre, hvis man har foden under eget bord og ikke er forført af mammon.

Det er Iben, jeg er kommet for at besøge. Hun er uddannet på University of Brighton, Faculty of Fashion and Textiles samt på University of Westminster, Harrow School of Art. Det er snart længe siden! Iben er 49 år. Efter endt uddannelse afsatte hun design til flere velrenommerede internationale modehuse. Hun arbejdede i en periode som strikdesigner i en engelsk virksomhed. Meget lidt glamourøst, men til gengæld meget lærerigt fortæller hun, og efterfølgende tegnede hun strik for Bruuns Bazaar i København. Det var et godt job, men med for lidt mulighed til fordybelse til Ibens temperament. Der var hun i 3 år, indtil hun i 2003 etablerede sig med egen virksomhed.

Materialet og værktøjet

Hvor jeg valgte helt at skifte materiale og værktøj, har Iben fordybet sig, nørdet sig ned i materialet og i strikkemaskinens muligheder, som hun igen og igen udfordrer både i sit tøjdesign og i sine kunstneriske projekter, som bliver flere og flere.

Mange af dem i meget stort format. Alle langt fra forestillingen om, hvad strik traditionelt er for en størrelse. Du er måske stødt på et eller flere værker derude: På ’Mindcraft’ i Milano, på ’Forårsudstillingen’ på Charlottenborg fx.

Ibens produktion af tøj har hidtil været i andres hænder langt væk fra Kerteminde og Danmark. Kunstprojekterne strikker hun derimod på maskine i atelieret, som ligger i den ene ende af familiens hus. Atelieret er en Aladdins hule af færdige strikdesign, kunstobjekter, inspirations-dippedutter og garner af mange slags, og hun røber, at det er hendes drøm at købe en strikkemaskine, som muliggør også at producere tøjet selv. ”Det vil give meget mere mening at producere, efterhånden som det bliver solgt, frem for at producere til lager,” siger Iben, ”og det vil give mening at producere lokalt.”

Der er nogle logistiske udfordringer, sådan en maskine er stor, og den larmer. Den kan derfor ikke bo i samme hus som familien, og designmæssigt vil det også byde på udfordringer. ”Den maskine, jeg drømmer om, kan ikke det samme som de maskiner, mit tøj nu produceres på, men den kan noget andet, og den udfordring har jeg lyst til at gå om bord i,” fortæller hun.

Iben har desuden udviklet strikkeopskrifter for KIT Couture se her.

Aktuelt arbejder Iben på et projekt i samarbejde med museet Trapholt. Projektet, som handler om broderi, men også involverer strik, munder ud i en udstilling, der er døbt ’Grænseløse Sting – et kunstværk skabt i fællesskab’.

I 2020 er det 100 år siden, Sønderjylland blev genforenet med Danmark. Genforeningen i 1920 affødte en bølge af national stolthed materialiseret i visuelle symboler. Med broderiet som udtryksform demonstrerede datidens kvinder deres tilhørsforhold, og symboler som rigsvåbnet og Dannebrog og motiver som danske slotte og Dybbøl Mølle var almindelige.

”Det er dybt fascinerende, at kvinder til alle tider har brugt håndarbejdet som et udtryksmiddel. Jeg er selv meget optaget af at udtrykke mig gennem materialer, tråd og strik, og jeg ser og oplever en meget stor styrke i det,” siger Iben.

Med projektet Grænseløse Sting og en række tilhørende broderiworkshops inviterer Iben og Trapholt til at reflektere over samtidens grænser og begrænsninger, og til at man udtrykker sig gennem moderne broderi. Kulminationen bliver et værk, som Iben skaber af de mange deltageres individuelle bidrag med fokus på broderiets historie, grænselandets historie, traditioner og ikke mindst de individuelle deltageres historie.

Værket udstilles på Trapholt fra medio maj 2020 og kommer siden til at indgå i museets samling. På den broderitekniske side har Iben samarbejdet med Tine Wessel, som du kan læse om her.

Designskolen i Kolding

Iben varetager ud over sin kreative og kunstneriske gerning i eget regi et job som værkstedsansvarlig og underviser på striklinjen på Designskolen i Kolding. Der er hun 2 dage om ugen. ”Jo mere erfaren jeg bliver, jo mere betragter jeg det som et kald at være med til at holde den faglige fane højt. Hvis vores hårdt pressede tekstilfag skal overleve, så er vi i ellevte time. Inden længe er der ingen, som kan fagene i dybden og dermed ingen, som kan undervise i dem. Jeg ved godt, at vi taler meget om håndværk for tiden. Men vi er stadig tilbøjelige til også internt i branchen at mene, at det at forske i håndværk er finere end at praktisere det, og det nytter altså ikke. Vi bliver nødt til at erkende vores værd og at udbrede kendskabet til det!” afrunder Iben.

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