Interview: Maria Molteni, Founder of New Craft Artists in Action (NCAA) and Knitting Nets for Neighborhood Hoops
Maria Molteni (in purple, above) works at the intersection of design and basketball by knitting colorful, sculptural basketball nets and installing them in Boston. She created New Craft Artists in Action (NCAA), a craftivist collective that addresses public space, diversity, collaboration, feminism, and interdisciplinary learning. In the three years since it began, the NCAA nets have been installed across the country and as far away as the Hungary, South Africa and the Philippines.
The New Craft Artists in Action are launching a Kickstarter campaign for their book “Net Works//Learn to Craft Hand Made Basketball Nets for Empty Hoops in Your Neighborhood.” In this interview, Maria generously gives us her takes on the design process for knitting nets, neighborhood impact, and more!
What was your inspiration for your first knit basketball nets?
I am actually a beekeeper and I make a lot of work about bees. I decided to crochet a hexagonal (instead of diamond-shaped) net as if bees had drawn comb hanging from the hoop. Bees will draw comb off of anything, and I believe their meditative repetition and work ethic parallels the focus and rigor required in perfecting a knit stitch or free-throw.
Can you give us an idea of what is your design process?
I basically taught myself to knit and crochet incorrectly, but when I brought my work to Samantha Fields – who taught a sculptural knitting class and is now an NCAA player – she thought it looked really cool and told me to keep going. I’m an intuitive, hands-on learner and maker so I just pulled a hoop out of my basement and went to town on it until I had a form that worked.
This isn’t the most efficient method for most people and it’s difficult to teach someone else. So I brought on artists Andrea Evans and Taylor McVay who make incredible work and are experienced teachers. Together we offer workshops in finger-knitting as well as traditional knitting and crochet.
What material other than yarn have you used for the nets?
If you make the nets out of mason twine, they are very strong. If you knit with plastic bags, you get a really great SWISH! It’s fun to experiment with materials and methods.
How do you choose where to install your nets, and do the nets stay up or disappear?
We have an online map that is open to the public for logging hoops that suffer from “empty net syndrome” so we just keep our eyes peeled and encourage others to as well. We only install nets on hoops that don’t have a net.
The nets are ephemeral, as even the industrial nets are, but some last longer than others. Plastic bag nets break down pretty quickly, but it’s fun to work with recycled materials and even one game is worth the week or two of labor over the piece. Andrea Evans, Cara Kuball, and Samantha Fields have all made nets from mason twine that lasted over a year. When I returned to Andrea’s “Diamond in the Rough” installed by her Wareham street studio in the South End more than a year after we installed it, the bottom was all tattered and faded, but it was still very much intact and sturdy.
How did you see a benefit for neighborhood youth in creating nets?
I think they liked the nets project for a few reasons:
1- It’s fresh and different than anything they’ve done before. It highlights different skills they may already possess.
2- It extends beyond them and their personal psychology, working its way into the community.
3- Once they got the hang of knitting they could use the motion in a meditative way, keeping their hands occupied as we chatted about life, ideas, and everything.
There were opportunities for both private conversations as we worked, as well as exercise and expression when we played on the nets. They saw neighborhood kids run down the street to cheer and play and could see themselves inspiring others, being role models and receiving attention for the positive things they were doing.
Can you talk about working with guys to make nets?
It was AMAZING! They were totally responsive and engaged. It’s definitely a healthy project but there’s a sense of adventure and humor in what we’re doing too. The men can see that what they are doing can be powerful and we also tend to introduce them to finger knitting which is more directly physical.
We were in Detroit and a group of boys told us they liked the new net better than the regular one, because it is creative and has nice colors.
How do you know an installation is a success?
People are excited by them! When we install the nets, kids often come running and I find that girls are especially encouraged. They get so excited to see other women leaving their mark on the court and playing around.
People learn from experience and if they are presented with something profound or provocative, I think they are more likely to be inspired and affected.
Tell me about your upcoming book “Net Works”
The NCAA team wrote and illustrated very thorough instructions for how to knit and crochet, with a focus on making these skills accessible to beginners and all sorts of learners. Myself, along with artists Andrea Evans and Taylor McVay offer workshops in finger-knitting as well as traditional knitting and crochet, and the book has been coming together over two years.
We put out a nation-wide call for submissions for net designs and their corresponding patterns for the book. We received a huge variety of techniques and non-traditional patterns, and supplemental illustrations with personalized step-by-step writing to guide readers through their own processes.
In addition to the craft instructions and illustrations, the book will include history of basketball and games to play on any court.