Designer Edge with Caitlin T. McCormack
Who would have thought that crochet could replicate complex bone structures so realistically? Caitlin T. McCormack’s crocheted skeletons have you doing a double take. Her work elevates the eerie beauty of skeletons to an artform, with just fine white cotton and a crochet hook. And the sculptures are made all the more dramatic against black velvet backgrounds. Unique, experimental and breathtaking creations, these pieces are the epitome of our ‘Designer Edge’ feature by Janai Velez
Generations of artisans have inspired Caitlin T. McCormack’s niche line of work. Both her parents are artists, her grandfather carved “beautiful, painstakingly detailed birds out of wood” and her grandmother taught Caitlin how to crochet.
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“The skeletons that I make, especially the birds, are kind of a homage to both of my grandparents,” she says. “When my grandmother passed away, I inherited a large quantity of the ‘string’ that she and her sisters would use to crochet doilies. It was super thin and stained with age, and I decided to aimlessly crochet material with it, as a way to deal with the grief caused by her passing. I eventually decided to form the material into little shapes inspired by bird and fish bones, and hardened them with glue.”
Seven years later and Caitlin has a whole collection of lacy skeleton sculptures, which are showcased in galleries in her hometown (she’s represented by Paradigm Gallery + Studio in Philadelphia, USA) and around the world.
Visits to museums to examine specimens in person and studying photos are her starting points. She’ll then sketch the skeletons from memory, which is remarkable in itself. “I often aim for my work to look sort of, but not exactly, like the creatures it is based upon,” she says.
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It took lots of experimentation to work out how to best create a bone-like structure, and Caitlin T. McCormack says she’s still learning. Using the smallest crochet hook she can find and cotton string, she stitches individual components of the skeleton. A “top-secret” mixture of glues is used to coat the pieces. “Then I sew the components together, add more glue, wait, add more glue, wait some more, etc. After about a thousand years [pieces usually take two weeks to eight months to complete!], the piece is finished”. It’s either mounted on to a shadowbox lined with black velvet, or Caitlin will create a free-standing piece to display on a wooden base, covered with a glass dome. Sizes range from tiny sparrow skulls mounted on 4in plaques to full-size skeletons in 30 x 60in shadowboxes.
Caitlin T. McCormack feels lucky to be a full-time artist – making her own hours and being her own boss. She’s had a series of retail, teaching and movie-theatre jobs, but admits to being a bit of a homebody. “It’s funny to have so many socially oriented jobs when you’re much more well-suited to be stowed away in a poorly-lit room, silently painting glue onto pieces of string while muttering to yourself.”
Create your own Cute Crochet Cap
On top of bad lighting, Caitlin T. McCormack’s home studio also has a “hideous drop ceiling and terrible ventilation, and you have to walk through it to get to the bathroom”. But, she says it’s perfect for what she does. The walls are lined with finished and in-progress pieces and inspirational ephemera, and there’s a scattering of coffee cups on various surfaces throughout.
We can’t wait to see what else materialises from Caitlin T. McCormack’s experimentation in her cherished creative space. Her work may be of skeletal remains, but she brings them to life with a beautiful melding of archaeology, anatomy and art.