Our personal chat with Jacqueline Fink

Conversations   /   March 23, 2016   /   Sarah

Jacqueline Fink is a woman of many talents who has proved following your dreams can be highly rewarding.

Trained as a lawyer, Fink however didn’t realise her passion until after she began a soles searching journey after experiencing love and loss. The extreme knitter has reinvented the humble craft by creating supersized wool textiles in the form of throws, blanket, home furnishings and wall hangings.

We’ve fallen in love with Fink’s artisan creations, so much so our Melbourne showroom has several of her works on display.  It’s only fitting, with her hand craft pieces on show, we share with you her very personal story of what inspired her to begin knitting and learn more about her passion for the craft.

JACQUELINE’s light shades at Eco Outdoor

Can you tell us a little about your personal background and what inspired you to start a creative venture of this kind?

My mum taught me how to knit as a child, but I never committed to learning the language of knitting so my skills remained very basic. When I think about it, I don’t think I ever finished a single project!

Then, as it is now, my focus was on the therapeutic quality of the exercise not the functionality. Similarly, it was always the journey that I found rewarding, not the outcome.  Fast forward to the early years of my adulthood with a law degree under my belt, I found myself completely disillusioned with my chosen career.

Life as a lawyer just did not suit. I left law to work in my husband’s high-end fashion retail business. I learnt many important lessons while walking the retail floor; many of them brutal, but importantly it was during this time that my passion for high grade merino wool was reignited.

Three children then came along in fairly quick succession and it was my choice to stay at home to care for them on a full-time basis. I was totally unprepared for how difficult mothering can be and I felt like a failure. Post-natal depression took a hold of me and many residual anxieties from my experience with my first born child became embedded in to my everyday life, without me even realising it.

By this time, I was 35 and realised I needed to dig myself out of the hole I had inadvertently dug for myself.

At that age, I knew myself well enough to know that I need to work creatively with my hands in some way. I was desperate to be successful in my own right and I wanted to show my children that, if they were ever at a loose end in their life, that they already possessed everything they needed to create something meaningful out of nothing.

And so I began my search for a creative outlet in earnest.

That same year (2006) my mum was diagnosed with a terminal lung disease. Scarily, the disease runs in the family and so we knew what mum’s journey would look like. In my family’s case, it is very slow progressing until the end comes, which is then rapid.

In the three years that followed Mum’s diagnosis we had some very big life affirming conversations. In one of them my mum said to me that her only regret was that she had never fulfilled her true potential.

Those words were like a knife to my heart and I reacted viscerally to them. On the spot, I vowed never to have the need to say that to my children on my death bed. It was time to turn my ship around.

I was done with not taking responsibility for my enjoyment and experience of life. The end came for my mum on Halloween in 2009. I could hear the onset of her decline over the phone on the Friday. By Sunday, I was on a plane travelling north to say my final goodbye’s. As you can imagine, it was a deeply traumatic time for my family but in the very early hours of Monday morning my mum received a double lung transplant with only minutes to spare. And so she lives and six years on she’s still going great.

In the days following my mum’s transplant, I found myself occupying a very heightened and surreal state. Quite frankly, I was on another plane completely. I don’t know how else to describe it. It was during this time that I had a vision which transformed my life and opened the door to a new life.

While I was asleep, a big loud booming voice said to me, “You have to knit and it needs to be big.” The command was as terrifying as it was profound and it woke me from my sleep.

But I had asked for guidance from the universe for so long that I didn’t dare question my vision. There was no way I wasn’t going to listen to it.

Was it as simple as listening to that ‘loud booming voice’?

The day following my vision, without any external references, I set about discovering what knitting big meant to me, trusting my intuition implicitly. I took the instruction to ‘knit big’ literally and so I knew regular yarn was not going to cut it and I began searching “off the grid” for months before I happened upon my first bag of merino wool roving – straight from a farmer’s gate in South Australia.

littledandelion01

It was an instant love affair and I knew that I had found my joy. I had my Dad make up a set of industrial sized needles and I set about teaching myself how to knit with roving on such a large scale. It wasn’t easy and I made a load of mistakes. Roving is a difficult material to knit with. In fact, roving is mostly used for felting or for spinning yarn.

No one in their right mind knits with it because it is as delicate as fairy floss and prone to excessive pilling and breaking with use. But I was so determined to find a way to successfully use this delightful and beautiful material, that I was undeterred.

Did turning your craft into a business come easily?

My time spent in retail taught me the importance of marrying a customer’s expectations with the reality of the performance of any given material and so I taught myself how to felt my made up pieces in order to give them stability and an inherent functionality.

It was important for me to create pieces that could last a lifetime, not just one season. In the end, it took me two years of research and experimentation to refine my process. By the end of 2011, I had amassed a small collection of throws and blankets, which I felt were commercially ready to launch on to the market.

I had two amazing friends, who happen to be amongst Australia’s top interior stylist and photographer take some lifestyle shots for me. Once I launched Little Dandelion in April 2012, these beautiful images opened many doors and caught the attention of interior and lifestyle magazines, bloggers and stylists.

It just snowballed from there. Currently, it is just me and a huge set of stocks struggling to keep up with demand.

I put a tremendous amount of effort into my work to ensure that every piece is bespoke and imbued with love and care.

JACQUELINE's wall hanging at Eco Outdoor
JACQUELINE’s wall hanging at Eco Outdoor

My work continues to evolve and I am on a constant quest to increase my scale and challenge myself physically to see how big I can go. My lack of technical knowhow has been blessing in disguise and my passion for merino wool underpins everything I create.

With only basic knitting skills under your belt, have you had to master the technically side of knitting or have you developed your own language through experience?

I wasn’t an experienced knitter by any means and there remains a great deal I don’t know about this ancient craft, despite doing nothing else for the past five years.

I am very upfront about my capabilities. Perhaps it is my self-deprecating nature, but I always make a point in my workshops to let my students know that some of them will know more about knitting then I do. However, I do know a great deal about extreme kitting and working on a massive scale.

My particular form of knitting is very conceptual. I don’t follow patterns. I make my own up as I go a long through a process of trial and error.

I don’t like to feel constrained in any aspect of my life and my creative practice is no different. I suspect that is why I have never committed the language of knitting, which is actually very mathematical.

We love the raw and tactile nature that is so evident in your creations.  This is not always the case in knitted pieces, so where do you get your inspiration from?

My work is underpinned by three great passions: my love of sensory feedback, texture and natural fibres.

The extreme scale acts as a dramatic sensory and aesthetic conduit to illustrate the beauty and soothing powers of natural fibres. The textures I create through self-taught processes are rich, luxurious and have the power to imbue both solace and joy to the observer.

Essentially though, I create purely to please myself. I don’t worry about trends or even try to pre-empt the next “big thing”. My inspiration ultimately comes from a place deep within and it is enough for me that these ideas are eventually given a form.

The fact that others love them too is massive bonus.

It’s so refreshing to see artisans engage with natural materials and in such a way that the material is the showstopper, just as much as the piece itself.  What qualities do you love about the natural merino wool you use in your oversize knitting?

My work is my salvation and that is due, in part, by the special properties of merino wool which I work almost exclusively with.

I work with super fine merino wool and so it is incredibly beautiful and luxurious to handle. The sensory feedback this provides is therapeutic, calming and satiating.

Merino wool is the king of woollen fibres.

Amongst numerous other properties, it is multi-climatic, absorbent, elastic, resilient and luxurious due to its long staple and high degree of crimping. Australia is the world’s arrest producer of wool and most of that comes from merinos.

They outnumber us by three to one. It might sound trite, but Australia really was built off the back of these magnificent creatures and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude for all they provide.

We’re seeing a growing appreciation of products that are handmade and can tell a personal story vs a mass produced product.  Is that ‘made by hand’, crafted quality of high importance to you?

While “handmade” means that my business will always be bespoke and low volume, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The mark of the hand is at the core of what I do. Every piece made is unique and contains irregularities and imperfections which make them even more beautiful. So much love and energy goes into my creative expression. A machine can’t replicate that.

Working with Megan Morton in The School, it appears you’re also happy to share your craft with others.  Has teaching brought a whole new element to your business?

Absolutely.

I have developed an extreme knitting yarn with a Mill in New Zealand so that others can try their hand at what I do. Extreme knitting does involve different motor skills to regular knitting and so the workshops are essential to help people adjust to the new movements.

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The School workshop held in New York City. Photo credit: Brooke Holm

But, I have noticed that my classes are never really about the knitting. Any knitter will admit to knitting being the best type of therapy out there. Get a group of knitters together and the activity becomes an exercise in mindfulness on steroids.

There are always tears in my classes. Everyone has an incredible story to tell and, by sharing my own, it provides an opportunity for others to open up and be vulnerable.

Apart from the gorgeous Eco Outdoor installations, what other creations have been a highlight?

Actually, Eco Outdoor are now in the possession of some of my most favourite and meaningful pieces. Jen and I share a similar aesthetic and so it is exciting to have my work housed in the brilliant concept that is Eco Outdoor.

The SEA ART EXHIBITION. Photo credit: Sharyn Cairns
The SEA ART EXHIBITION. Photo credit: Sharyn Cairns

A definite highlight though was an exhibition I held in 2013 with my good friend, stylist and ceramicist Lara Hutton. Entitled “Sea Art: an aesthetic convergence”, Lara and I created a series of still life interior installations showcasing our respective works as well as a ceramic range for which collaborated.

I recently created a giant ball of wool with a diameter of 1.8m wide which was extremely challenging physically. I have also just finished a large scale wall hanging approximately 3m wide by 8 metres long which will soon be exhibited in Canberra.

Arm knitted one stitch at a time, pieces like this require a great deal of commitment and energy and so the end piece becomes a marker of time for me. Like the lamp shades I made for Eco Outdoor, these works take months and months to make leaving me little time to do anything else.

The process is also very repetitive and so a great deal of patience is required. You have to allow yourself to get lost in the process of making.

It becomes a bit like a meditation, but it is not all fun and games; it can get very gruelling and frustrating not to mention exhausting.

You can see more of Jacqueline’s amazing works at Little Dandelion or head to a workshop with her at The School.