Jess Hutchison, a.k.a. Jess Hutch, is a craft phenom and all around wonderful human being living and working in San Francisco. She’s become somewhat famous in the craft world recently for her knitted toys, most notably the bears and robots she designs and makes. Last year she wrote, designed, and published her own pattern book, which was an overwhelming success. I caught up with Jess this morning and asked her some questions I had about her life in the knit.
Lisa: So Jess, you obviously have some drawing skills and an artistic flair. What is your background in the arts?
Jess: I don’t have one! I took an arts & crafts class in 9th grade, but other than that I have no formal arts education. I’ve always had an interest in drawing, painting, and making things, since I was very young, but it wasn’t until about seven or eight years ago that I realized how important it was for me to do creative things on a daily basis. Of course, by that point I already had a degree in history! So I just started drawing more, and making things, sort of making it up as I went along (well, I also consulted how-to books!). At this point I wonder what it would be like to go to art school, or even just take classes… I guess it’s a possibility.
Lisa: Cool, my degree is in history too. I wonder what that means. Probably nothing. Anyhow, when did you start knitting? Who taught you?
Jess: I first learned about six years ago. My mom taught my sister and me. I actually didn’t enjoy it much, and I put my first (unfinished) project aside and forgot about it. Then a couple years ago, when I was taking a break after leaving a very stressful job, my sister Kate taught me again, and this time it stuck. I spent the rest of my time without a job knitting and knitting and knitting.
Lisa: Interesting. Now, lots of us fellow crafters out there don’t knit, either because we haven’t tried or there is something about it that doesn’t suit us. Describe for all the non-knitters out there the appeal of knitting for you. What do you love about it? What does it do for you?
Jess: I don’t get the same kind of inner peace from knitting as I do from, say, drawing, or embroidery. Knitting for me is more like a challenge, like a series of hurdles – it sometimes confounds and confuses me and keeps me guessing. I love that about it. I don’t knit garments, typically. 99% of the knitting I do is of my own toy designs, so I’m constantly ripping stuff back, taking notes, etc. I am basically knitting the fabric to fit the shape I’m going after, which usually involves several hours of crunching numbers, figuring how to distribute the increases and decreases to achieve that shape. I love how I’m able to create a toy or figure just from yarn and some needles, and I love how the resulting fabric, too, is so flexible. It works well for toys.
Lisa: I am fascinated by the notion that brilliant art and craft were at one moment in time just some unspoken part of someone’s imagination. Describe the moment in time that the idea to knit animals and robots came into your head. What lead up to it? How did it all happen?
Jess: I have been making toys for quite a while, since I was a little kid, really, but I was never totally satisfied with the results. After I had knit a couple sweaters, I decided that I should find a book of toy patterns. I found a few, but none had that strange quality I like in toys. I liked Kath Dalmeny’s World of Knitted Toys, which helped me figure out how to stack increases and decreases on top of each other to create shapes. It worked out fairly well, so I tried all sorts of shapes. I tried increasing very rapidly from one row to the next to see if the extreme shaping would hold its shape, and it did. I also had used intarsia on one of my sweaters, so I tried to see if I could use it on a toy. I sketched out a robot on a knitting graph, and tried knitting him up. It all took many, many hours of trial and error, but I was so challenged by it that it was a real pleasure!
Lisa: I love people who find pleasure in a challenge! Now, many people find joy in knitting, but not everybody has the patience or technical skill to write a pattern book. What was that experience like for you? Did you enjoy it?
Jess: There were aspects of it that I loved. I loved coming up with the designs, figuring out how to translate them into actual toys, and taking the photographs. And I loved seeing a finished printed product. It was also so meaningful to me that people liked the results. As I mentioned before, I have no arts training, so this was my first creative success! And that was important. But I found it very difficult and time-consuming to deal with some of the more practical, business aspects of the project. I learned that I find it much more enjoyable to focus on creating, and learning. I’m still trying to figure out what “fits” for me creatively. Some things have worked well, others haven’t. It’s an ongoing process.
Lisa: And that it is. Hey, one more thing. Your last name is Hutchison. Why the shortened version of your last name?
Jess: I have a long name: Jessica Dalton Hutchison. Although I’m very proud that every vowel is represented there, when I was putting my website and blog together I felt that something shorter and sweeter would be more fun. Most of my friends call me Jess, and Hutch is the traditional nickname for folks (typically guys) with the last name Hutchison or Hutchinson. So, Jess Hutch. Kicky.
Lisa: Yes, it is “kicky” isn’t it? Thanks for talking to me!! See you around town.