Today I am featuring a long overdue interview from Elizabeth from “The Cusser Knits”. She is a talented blogger, fiber artist and foodie. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Elizabeth!
Apart from serve as minion to Chicken-Leg Al the Wonder Cat, you mean? Well, job-wise I’ve done a lot of things, my favourite of which was writing/editing/PA for a university fundraiser (though house-painter was a close second). Last month it became possible to devote myself to design full-time, so I’m going to see how that works out, and look into teaching some knitting classes. In my spare time? I…uh… knit. And spin. And write about knitting and spinning for my blog. I read a lot: lately I’ve been on a Scandinavian/Icelandic murder mystery kick, and I’ve just started the Master and Commander series. I’m also heavily into bread making, something that I’d like to explore more — it’s like doing SCIENCE! This year, I’d like to get back into yoga as a regular thing, and I really, really want to try dyeing yarn and fibre. Oh, and Skyrim. I play a fair bit of Skyrim.
How did all of this get started?
Well, I learned to knit when I was a wee ‘un — my grandmother was an Englishwoman of the WWII generation, and knit all the time. My sister and I stayed with her every summer, and I think she saw it as a way of keeping me quiet on rainy days, as well as a useful skill she could pass on to us. I went through phases of being really into it and then not knitting for years, until I moved to Alabama to live with the guy who is now my husband, and helped him take care of his mother. We had to be home pretty much all the time, and there were long stretches where she didn’t need us to do anything, so I took up the needles again. Then I discovered Ravelry, and the Rav members really helped me improve my skills. Combining internet geekery with knitting turned the whole thing into an obsession, and when Knit Picks started their Independent Designer Program, my mum pushed me to submit something. It was accepted, and I really enjoyed the process, so I submitted more, and then started selling patterns on my own on Ravelry. As well as being a creative outlet, knitwear design really appeals to my mathy side — a lot of the problem-solving in design involves math and geometry.
Obsessive? What do you mean by obsessive? I’ve been wondering about that all week! Heh. But thank you for the compliment. Skyrim is my current non-fiber-related geek-out; I could play that for hours. I used to be seriously obsessed with collecting music, particularly punk, industrial, and bebop — just shipping my cd collection down here is going to cost a bomb — and I’m hoping to get back into that. I mentioned breadmaking above: it’s really interesting to explore the chemistry of it; to learn how everything interacts to transform pretty much the same ingredients into so many different forms of bread. My main obsession right now is spinning, particularly learning about the different breeds of sheep and experimenting with the fibre to see what works best for each breed, and for what use each is best suited. That of course leads to reading up on the history, the genetic lines, the structure and properties of different yarn…I could bore you to death on that subject. Oh, and shoes. It’s terribly girly, I know, but I cannot resist some well-designed footwear.
Aside from your geekiness, what is your favorite personality trait and how do you think it affects your art?
I think creativity, if that doesn’t sound too precious. Knitwear design has taught me that I really do have a creative streak and a strong aesthetic sense. Not that I have exquisite taste or anything (I really don’t), but that there’s a sort of click in my mind when a piece or a colour combination is ‘right’, when it’s what I want it to be, and the whole process of getting there — playing with colours, techniques, textures — and seeing it all come together until I get that ‘click’ is immensely satisfying.
I think it would be the Let it be Spring mittens. They were my first mitten design, and the pattern, combined with the Estonian-style construction, was incredibly mathematically rigorous; much more so than I had expected. The prototypes made several flying trips across the room as I figured out how to make them work, but I’m glad I stuck with them. They’re a satisfying challenge to make — lots of increases and decreases and 2-colour twisted stitches — and the texture that results from that technique with the Malabrigo Sock is so lush, it looks more like brocade than knitting. Now that Malabrigo has come out with a sport-weight yarn, I’m working on updating the pattern with a larger size option, too.
What would you say to other geeky artists out there who are trying to get their start?
Well, I’m just trying to get my start, too, so I don’t have a lot of sage advice, but one thing that has been most helpful is to seek out people who have made a go of it, and listen to what they have to say. In a forum environment like Ravelry, you can get to know these folks, and they’re often happy to give advice and talk about their experiences; take full advantage of that. For knitwear design, the two most helpful things I’ve done have been to take Shannon Okey (knitgrrl)’s Designing 101 course on design as a business and to join the Ravelry Designers forum.
Also, get to know people who are into what you’re making. The vast majority of my social interaction is online, so of course I’m going to recommend forums again, but whatever works for you. Not only can it be a lot of fun, but you get to know what people like and don’t like about the sorts of things you’re making, and if you’re friends with such a group (by which I mean genuine friends, not ‘here’s a bunch of people I can market to’ friends) and they like your work, they’ll support you and tell others about you. That kind of encouragement can keep you going when you begin to wonder whether you’ve lost your mind by choosing to put so much work into your art, when there are waaay easier and less risky ways to make money. By the same token, support others whose work you like, and tell other people about them. A few of my friendships in the fibre world started with me blogging about something someone made that I thought was amazing.
My designs are all for sale on Ravelry at http://www.ravelry.com/stores/elizabeth-elliott-designs, (no membership needed to access that part), and there’s my blog, The Cusser Knits, where I write about knitting and spinning and such in obsessive detail. (Despite the title, it’s cuss-free, promise.) Eventually all of my patterns will be available there, as well.