In the Knit: An Interview with Jess Hutch

by Abigail Percy on 01/05/2006

in knitting+crochet+yarn, People

birdbuzz3.jpg
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.

jesshutchrobot2.jpg

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.

jesshutchgeorge-1.jpg

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.

Be Sociable, Share!

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 ruth singer May 1, 2006 at 3:18 pm

Hmm, my degree is in history too. Are there lots of us crafting historians out there???

2 twostraightlines May 1, 2006 at 7:32 pm

History major here too (followed later by fine arts/graphic design)

3 Tisra May 1, 2006 at 8:53 pm

This is so inspiring for me in regard to Jess not having formal arts training. I spent years and years neglecting my inner creativeness and pursued Biology and Math and other very rigid subjects. But now, in my late twenties, after becoming a mother, I have connected with this part of me that has been there all along waiting to be fed! Knitting. Painting. Drawing. Sewing. I can’t get enough. One of my only doubts about fully chasing after art is that I don’t have an art degree.

4 maryse May 1, 2006 at 9:05 pm

i’ve chatted with jess via email because she and i happen to work in the same field. i knew about her history degree but i was very surprised to read that she has no formal arts training. she’s clearly a talent.

5 vegasandvenice May 2, 2006 at 2:42 am

My mind has been completely blown! Two incredibly talented women and neither with an art background? Jess it is so hard to imagine that this was your first success because you say that like you may have had failures and that is just well … hard to believe! You are both an inspiration to keep trying and learning! Lisa great interview and Jess great answers.

6 Jo May 2, 2006 at 10:57 am

Even worse than a history degree, I have an economics degree and like Jess, am only just starting to realise that having some creative time each day is truly nourishing my soul, at last. Thanks you Lisa for a great interview, it gives me hope. All these creative souls out there, and you two showing me that you don’t need all the formal paperwork.

7 Michelle May 2, 2006 at 12:05 pm

I am so in love with the little guy here, I had to scrap a page based on him…

http://fromichelle.blogspot.com/

8 jess hutch May 2, 2006 at 11:20 pm

Thanks Lisa, for a fun interview! Isn’t it funny, how many of us realized that creativity is so important to our daily lives *after* we went to school for other subjects, or pursued other paths? Right now I just feel like I have a lot of catching up to do!

9 ani May 3, 2006 at 2:00 am

history, here too! i did take a lot of photography classes though…

great interview, very inspiring. thanks!

10 tania May 6, 2006 at 1:09 am

great! i love hearing how about the process!
:)

11 kerbot2000 May 10, 2006 at 1:44 pm

um, y’know hutch, ‘y’ is a vowel. (sometimes.)
seriously though, great interview! glad to see you recognized for your talents. and even better to know that you didn’t go to art school! think of all the money you saved!

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: