Morse Code Knitting

Kristen Haring

Haring writes:"Morse code knitting makes real a tale told since ancient times, in one version or another, about messages carried through textiles. The mechanism is a translation between binary systems: I spell out words by switching between the two stitches that make up knitting (knit and purl) like a telegrapher switches an electrical current on and off to send Morse code. With patience, text can be deciphered from the shape of the stitches. This project complicates reading partly to emphasize that all communication depends on cultural codes. Understanding Morse code knitting requires combined knowledge of domains often set apart as masculine and technical, in the case of Morse code, and feminine and folksy, in the case of knitting.

Individual knit pieces expand upon the project's overall themes and include: sweaters bearing information that can be worn openly, yet kept private through a code; a rendering of Jenny Holzer's "Truisms," reflecting on what remains in word-art if the words' meaning is suppressed; and an object in the form of a calligraphy scroll, symbolizing Leibniz's attempt in 1697 to achieve cross-cultural exchange with the Chinese emperor through the universality of binary systems.

The photographs presented here are of the Recording Series, which shows how a medium can influence language. Each "page" was a real-time, on-site documentation into a textile the size of a sheet of paper. Because Morse code is bit-intensive, knitting text is a slow process. This encourages an economy of words, just as telegraphy companies' practice of charging per word led customers to adopt a terse style referred to as "telegraphic speech." Compressed phrases such as "LOOK AT CEILING" and "MAKE CALLS" describe some of the activities observed at New York's Grand Central Station. The knit pages, like all historical documents, transmit mere fragments of a fuller story. Despite its limitations, the Recording Series reveals the feasibility in Charles Dickens's Madame Defarge legend of a woman seemingly engaged in handicraft but secretly recording data."