Two concurrent mid-winter exhibits are featuring fiber works, particularly woolen ones, by Midcoast residents. One fetes the practical transformation of fiber into warmth-retaining wearables, while the other features sculptural creations as well as clothing. Both reveal the wonderful way hands, tools and knowledge can transform fibers into a range of beautiful, and useful, objects.

At the Centre Gallery of the Unity College Centre for the Performing Arts, “Brrr! It’s Cold  Outside” displays work by local knitters, weavers, spinners, rug hookers, quilters and fiber producers through the end of February.

When Pat Allen, who coordinates the art shows for Unity College Centre, noted a winter hole in the gallery’s schedule, she thought about how cold it is in January and February … and she thought about the informal knitting group that meets on Thursdays a few doors down Depot Street, at the Crosstrax Restaurant. She spoke with one of the knitters and one thing led to another until “Brrr!” came into being, with some 15 to 20 exhibitors.

“The amazing thing about this show is you never know how many people in the area are doing this kind of stuff. Well, now we do,” she said.

Hanging a show of sweaters and hats and mittens was a challenge, but one of the exhibitors’ college-age daughters had some gallery experience and offered to lend a hand.

“It was kind of tricky,” said Allen, adding that some items are hung on branches “and we hung a lot of fishing line from the moldings.”

Some of the “Brrr!” exhibitors were too shy to put their names on labels, but the public’s response to the show has been as warm as its woolens. The last weekend of January, the Centre held an opening reception for the show, followed by a fiber workshop day in the gallery with the exhibitors and anyone else interested in popping in.

“There was a lot of trading of stories and interaction to solve problems that people had experienced related to their fiber work. If you get enough crafters together, there’s never a shortage of helpful suggestions,” said Allen.

Centre Gallery does not have regular hours; it is open during Unity College Centre for the Performing Arts concerts and by appointment … and Allen said she is getting more calls for “Brrr!” than for other Centre Gallery shows.

“I had some one come all the way from St. George! People really shouldn’t hesitate to call; I’m just four minutes away from the gallery and I’m around all the time,” she said.

The timing of the show, after the holiday gift-giving season, led to a charitable component. There is a collection box in the lobby to receive new or gently used sweaters, hats, mittens, socks, jackets and blankets in all sizes to be distributed through local food pantries.

“Maybe people got new things for Christmas and can donate. It’s going to be cold for a long while still,” she said.

The workshop get-together, which included a lunch of homemade soup, bread and cookies, was so popular that the Centre is considering holding another the end of February. In the meantime, anyone who would like to enjoy “Brrr! It’s Cold Outside” is warmly encouraged to call Allen at 568-3147 to arrange a gallery visit.

Maine Fiberarts has been displaying the sculptural knitted work and clothing of Cushing artist Katharine Cobey at its gallery at 13 Main St., Topsham, since early December. The exhibition, “Diagonal Knitting: A Different Slant,” continues through Feb. 25; there will be a reception Sunday, Feb. 13 from 2 to 5 p.m. that will include a talk by Cobey beginning 2:30 p.m.

The show takes its name from Cobey’s new book, published by Schoolhouse Press. She had several slim volumes of poetry published some years ago, but this is her first book about the three-dimensional fiber work she has pursued for decades.

“In a very, very small pond, I’m fairly well known. Meg Swansen of Schoolhouse knew my work and asked if I would write about it,” said Cobey, who was Maine’s 2010 Master Craft Artist, a title designated by the Maine Crafts Association.

An award-winning artist, Cobey has participated in a number of national solo shows. In Maine, her work has been shown at the Portland Museum of Art, the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockport and, most recently, and the Atrium Art Gallery of Lewiston-Auburn College, where several of her works were in last fall’s “Altering Matters: New Work by Maine Members of the Surface Design Association.”

Unlike sculptors who “pull” their work from their material — carving a piece of wood, for example, working around the grain — knitters create their material as they go along, Cobey said. The pattern approach of most knitting books does not teach per se, nor does it take into account a knitter’s knowledge of the medium.

“Knitting has been belittled. It’s an extraordinarily versatile technique,” she said.

Cobey has applied this versatile technique to an extraordinary range of materials. Some years back, she made quite the sensation with a wedding dress knit from strips of black plastic trash bags. A more recent piece, 2001’s “Throw Caution to the Winds,” is a kite made from hand-knit plastic caution tape. Her work  in Maine Fiberarts’ small two-room gallery is of the more expected fibers. The front room houses an installation of “Ritual Against Homelessness,” a series of five coats — knit from simple squares that are folded and embellished — arranged in a circle. The other room, which also serves as the nonprofit Maine Fiberarts office, displays a variety of garments, each hand-knit of hand-made yarns.

“Diagonal Knitting: A Different Slant” is not the usual knitting book. Cobey likens her approach to that of wood working. In that discipline, people begin by learning about the materials and tools and acquiring skills progressively, starting with hammering nails and moving on from there.

“Once you do this, then you can do that and so on. Even an experienced knitter has to read it that way; there are no patterns you can turn to,” she said.

Instead of patterns, Cobey’s book offers a methodology via the study of shape and techniques. Exploring knitted squares, triangles and rectangles allows the knitter to construct shape while also determining surface texture, color and patterns. These shapes can be combined to create a variety of garments, as well as sculptural pieces and works that have personal meaning. By learning to see and explore three dimensionality, knitters can freely create works of their own design.

Cobey will speak about “great shapes” and the diagonal knitting technique for creating seamless garments during the Feb. 13 reception, then engage in a question-and-answer session. On Friday, Feb. 25, she will offer a workshop on diagonal knitting at Halcyon Yarn in Bath, which she calls “a wonderful fiber resource for Maine.”

Despite its back-burner status, knitting continues to thrive and find new practitioners. Cobey said she is encouraged by the new DYI movement of young people who are embracing and transforming traditional handcrafts and techniques.

“I have a lot of young students …They want to use their hands, to use these techniques and combine them with their life experiences, which is how all art and fine craft gets created,” she said.

Exhibitions at the Topsham Center/Gallery are open to the public Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information about Cobey’s work, visit

VillageSoup Art/Entertainment Editor Dagney Ernest can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail to