SUPERSIZE IT

Stalled at a ca­reer cross­road, a vi­sion told Jac­qui Fink she must KNIT – and it had to be BIG – so the LAWYER be­came an ex­treme KNIT­TER.

Collective Hub - - CONTENTS - WORDS SELISE MCLAGGAN

Jac­qui Fink left her ca­reer as a lawyer to be­come an “ex­treme knit­ter” – and her work is in high de­mand

I didn’t WANT to make PEO­PLE un­com­fort­able, but I AB­SO­LUTELY think it was a VI­SION.

I al­ways re­ally ad­mired peo­ple who had this in­cred­i­ble pas­sion for some­thing, and I just didn’t un­der­stand why I couldn’t con­nect with any­thing,” says Jac­qui Fink. “It re­ally trou­bled me.” The Syd­ney-based fi­bre artist and ‘ex­treme knit­ter’, known for her enor­mous (re­ally enor­mous) blan­kets, started her ca­reer as a lawyer, but re­alised it wasn’t for her. The next seven years were spent work­ing “very dili­gently but com­pletely with­out pas­sion” in her hus­band’s string of fash­ion stores. While she felt good know­ing she was con­tribut­ing to the “fam­ily unit”, she felt lost. Then her mum was di­ag­nosed with a ter­mi­nal lung dis­ease called id­io­pathic pul­monary fi­bro­sis – and Jac­qui was given the in­spi­ra­tion to change her di­rec­tion.

One day over a cup of tea in the kitchen, Jac­qui’s mum re­vealed her only re­gret was feel­ing she had never ful­filled her po­ten­tial. “It was like a knife through my heart,” says Jac­qui. “I was so sad for her, but I thought, ‘I’m never say­ing that to my chil­dren on my deathbed. I’ve got to start tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for my en­joy­ment of life.’”

Though she had no idea what she wanted to do, some­thing in­side was say­ing, “Be cre­ative. Use your hands.” Around this time, Jac­qui met a group of cre­ative women at her son’s school. They all ran their own busi­nesses and she would grill them at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity. “I couldn’t get my head around [my next step],” she says. “I was try­ing to come up with this idea, but how do you get from A to B?”

It’s a ques­tion many peo­ple have asked them­selves when on the cusp of a life-chang­ing trans­for­ma­tion. You know there’s some­thing else out there for you, but what is it ex­actly, and how do you cross the bridge to get there?

In Jac­qui’s case, an un­for­get­table piece of ad­vice from one of the moth­ers gave her the an­swer. “She said, ‘You just do some­thing ev­ery day. It doesn’t mat­ter how small it is. Do some­thing ev­ery day to move your idea for­ward, and be­fore you know it, your busi­ness will be in front of you.’”

Her idea came in the form of a vi­sion. “At first I called it a dream,” she says. “I didn’t want to make peo­ple feel un­com­fort­able, but I ab­so­lutely think now it was a vi­sion. It was a big, loud, boom­ing voice that said to me, ‘You have to knit – and it needs to be big.’”

Her mother had taught her how to knit as a child, but Jac­qui knew reg­u­lar nee­dles and yarn wouldn’t cut it. In­stead, she had her dad make “some re­ally crazy-big nee­dles” that were 50mm in di­am­e­ter and 110cm long, while she searched for the right ma­te­rial. It took her eight months to find her first bag of woollen tops. “I opened it up and re­alised, ‘Oh my god, this is it,’” she says.

On Hal­loween, 2009, Jac­qui’s mum was trans­ferred to pal­lia­tive care. While Jac­qui was in Queens­land say­ing her good­byes, her hus­band was walk­ing with their five-year-old son, who found a dan­de­lion and made a wish. They later dis­cov­ered he’d wished for “Nana to get new lungs”. Hours later, the fam­ily re­ceived a call from a trans­plant team. In­cred­i­bly, a match had been found, and Jac­qui’s mum’s life was saved. >

This mo­ment in­spired the busi­ness name, Lit­tle Dan­de­lion. It also gave her the “height­ened state of grat­i­tude” to push ahead with her new­found pur­pose, and over­come the start-up hur­dles in front of her.

“[The wool I found] was light and fluffy, but as del­i­cate as fairy floss,” she re­calls. “You can just gen­tly tug on it and it will com­pletely fall apart.” So she spent the next two years find­ing a way to make the fi­bre into a func­tional ma­te­rial, by felt­ing it to achieve a con­sis­tent re­sult and height­ened strength.

Once she had amassed 10 blan­kets, Jac­qui’s neigh­bour Karen McCart­ney, for­mer ed­i­tor of In­side Out mag­a­zine, ar­ranged for them to be pro­fes­sion­ally pho­tographed. The images ap­peared in Vogue Liv­ing mag­a­zine.

Un­for­tu­nately, with the height­ened pub­lic­ity around her work came copy­cats of­fer­ing cheaper al­ter­na­tives.

“Those im­pacted on my busi­ness greatly,” says Jac­qui. But rather than wal­low­ing, Jac­qui piv­oted, de­vel­op­ing her own ‘ex­treme knit­ting yarn’ with a mill based in New Zealand (“I re­alised knit­ters don’t want to buy an­other knit­ter’s knit­ting, they want to do their own thing”), and tran­si­tion­ing from blan­kets and throws to large-scale art in­stal­la­tions – her true pas­sion.

Since then, her work has been hung in the Dubai Opera cen­tre and Sof­i­tel ho­tel in Dar­ling Har­bour. Jac­qui also pro­duces creations for many cus­tomers in Amer­ica, and pri­vate res­i­dences in Aus­tralia. On her web­site, fans of big knits can also pur­chase Jac­qui’s own range of ‘ex­treme knit­ting yarn’ and in­dus­trial nee­dles to mas­ter­mind their own creations.

The sheer size of her work means it’s phys­i­cally drain­ing. The Dubai piece was 5.2 me­tres wide by more than six me­tres long, and weighed over 200kg. It had to be spe­cially crated and took five re­moval­ists to get it into the truck. “The lo­gis­tics are pretty in­tense,” she laughs.

While Jac­qui ad­mits her chi­ro­prac­tor tells her she’s wear­ing out her body by do­ing her work, she’s not de­terred. “I love that phys­i­cal chal­lenge. When I’m up against a dead­line, I’ll have days on end of straight mak­ing. That’s when I’m in my happy place.”

In ad­di­tion to cop­ing with her mum’s life-threat­en­ing ill­ness, Jac­qui was also fight­ing her own bat­tles with anx­i­ety

When I’m up AGAINST a DEAD­LINE, I will have days on end of straight MAK­ING. That’s when I’m in my HAPPY place.

and de­pres­sion. She had three chil­dren “in quite close suc­ces­sion”, and de­vel­oped post­na­tal de­pres­sion and high anx­i­ety with each one.

These days, Jac­qui says that Lit­tle Dan­de­lion has be­come her men­tal health plan. “It’s my med­i­ta­tion. I can­not sit still, I’ve re­alised, and [this] is such a con­struc­tive way for me to calm my­self down and be quiet. I’m com­pletely free from de­pres­sion these days and I can com­pletely man­age my anx­i­ety.”

She ad­mits there are times when she gets over­whelmed, but far from be­ing lost, Jac­qui knows what she’s found. “I see peo­ple repli­cat­ing my work. It would be dis­hon­est of me to say that hasn’t knocked me about a bit. But that’s been a grow­ing-up process, too. Let­ting go and re­al­is­ing there’s space for every­body. I know what con­tri­bu­tion I’ve made to that space and no one can ever take that away from me.”

Think­ing back to her mum’s ini­tial con­fes­sion over a cup of tea, Jac­qui’s clear about what com­pels her. “I want to leave a legacy for my chil­dren,” she says. “I’m driven by show­ing them that, if you’re ever at a tight point in your life, you al­ready pos­sess ev­ery­thing you need to be able to turn noth­ing into some­thing in­cred­i­ble.”

Jac­qui with one of her creations.

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