The masterpieces of Alexandria Masse
The giant spider that Alexandria Masse crocheted, which now adorns a wall in a downtown Toronto outlet of John Fluevog Shoes, is about three metres wide in all its fully splayed, multi-coloured splendour. But when the burgeoning textile artist was creating it last summer, she sometimes stuffed its unfinished parts into a handbag.
“I’d be sitting there with friends at dinner, making all these yarn circles,” she says about filling the complicated order from the retailer, which had given her a $10,000 commission to create the much-larger-than-life wooly arachnid earlier in the year. “I just adapted, you know?”
Her steadily growing legions of fans certainly do. With two crochet hooks and countless balls of yarn, over the past couple of years the Windsor, Ont., native (a recent graduate of NSCAD University) has modified her artistic sensibilities into a vast collection of remarkably eclectic pieces for public displays and private buyers. She makes everything from balaclavas in the shape of a teapot to a dress featuring the Halifax Old Town Clock … and from a 12-metre centipede named “Ha-Ha” to “Abigail” the shoe store spider.
Grammy-nominated performer Poppy recently donned a Masse teapot for a concert in the U.S. The artist has made bunny hats for the rapper Rico Nasty, and a headpiece that looks like a soccer ball for singer-songwriter Rich Brian. Earlier this year, Ha-Ha wowed art lovers at a solo exhibition at Anna Leonowens Gallery in Halifax.
“This is something I’ve turned into a career,” says Masse, “and I don’t intend on stopping.”
That sounds familiar to mom Terry Chow, who remembers her daughter’s creative ambition well.
“At home, sometimes, we would recycle things, and Alex would make a Styrofoam mobile or something, or a carton cut and coloured or painted to look like chickadees or turtles,” she says. “She also played a lot of sports: basketball, track and field, soccer, swimming. She was a hockey goalie in high school.”
Chow taught her daughter how to knit and ultimately, how to crochet.
“What I do, basically, is crochet,” says Masse, “but I don’t mind if people call it knitting or ‘knitwear’ … The process involves a lot of different things.”
If, for example, you want to make a monster-movie-sized spider with yarn, where do you start?
“I made a tiny prototype, and then I blew that up on a projector and traced the pattern onto larger pieces,” she says, explaining Abigail. “Then, I sewed everything — about 200 crocheted circles — together by hand because the piece was so large, and I had to use heavy-duty thread. After that, I needed galvanized steel to reinforce the legs … It was a long, long process.”
Less time-consuming, perhaps, but no less bespoke, are some of her most recent creations. Following her graduation from NSCAD (and Abigail), Masse spent August on retreat at the Icelandic Textile Centre in Blönduós.
“It was so beautiful,” she says. “You just get to live with a bunch of other artists in a building that has a studio, and you can just make as much art as you want. So, I created a bunch of pieces that were inspired by the landscape … especially the horses … I really like the horses there.”
These days, Masse relies almost exclusively on social media to market herself. Her Instagram account is chock full of pictures of Iceland-inspired knitwear, to her devotees’ delight. “This is my favourite piece you’ve made,” posts one about a skirt festooned with brown and white ponies.
And while she’s determined to be a going concern, she’s also circumspect. “I’d love to participate in one of those things (like New York Fashion Week) one day, but I’ve never intended to mass produce.
“Right now, I’m in a smaller piece period. I’ll probably shift over to working on a sculpture soon … If you have a medium and a tool that can be manipulated any way you want, why not manipulate it into a giant bug?”
At least you can if you are, like Masse, simply, creatively adaptable.