"When I tell people I crotchet animals they immediately lose interest," says Leicestershire-based artist Shauna Richardson. But in her hands, the quaint and grannyish technique of crochet is in no way dull. She calls her craft "crochetdermy", a mashing of words that neatly describes the knitting of life-size animal heads that can be mounted on walls.
They may be cute and fluffy, but there's precisely nothing staid or old fashioned about Richardson's expressive crochet animals. They peer down from walls, roaring wildly, poised to pounce or appealing for mercy with eye-popping earnestness.
Richardson's clacking crochet needles have been hard at work lately making three giant lions. It has taken her 18 months, 36 miles of wool and an immeasurable dollop of patience to produce the feline trio for her Lionheart Project, one of 12 Arts Council England Artists Taking the Lead commissions. "Each lion is actually 25ft nose to tail," she says.
Like a travelling menagerie, the lions will be carted around the country on tour in an enormous bespoke taxidermy case. Starting on 1 May, their travels will take them to venues across the East Midlands before arriving at the Natural History Museum in London just in time for the London 2012 Olympics.
First stop on the journey will be Chatsworth in Derbyshire. The lions will fit into the majestic scenery for reasons other than their regal expressions, according to Richardson. “I used wool from a breed of sheep called Swaledale and I know they have some at Chatsworth. It’s nice to think that the lions will meet some of the sheep their wool came from.
Prior to the lions, her largest piece of crochetdermy was a large brown bear that was exhibited in the V&A's Power of Making exhibition last year.
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The Lionheart Project is at Chatsworth House, Derbyshire from 1 May until 10 June (www.lionheartproject.com) and then tours the UK