Posted in Knitting
July 8, 2006

Interview: Cosette from CosyMakes

Flickr has become one of my favorite ways to find new crafty goodness — I was updated my Squidoo lenses (handspinning, dyeing and learn to spin yarn) when I spotted the fantastic hat pictured at left. It reminded me of a cross between Pippi Knee Socks (who has an awesome article on spinning coiled yarns in Knittyspin) and Kristi Porter’s Frankenknits (see Kristi’s latest column on intentional stitch-dropping, something I’ve been doing a lot of myself lately!)

But I digress! Back to the object at hand: I sent the waterlily hat’s creator an email and ended up doing an interview with Montana-native, Vancouver-resident artist / teacher / poet / knitter Cosette Cornelius-Bates. Enjoy!

You sell handknit, handspun and recycled items on your Etsy shop, cosyknitsliterally.etsy.com. Have you always combined thrift yarns with new materials? What was your inspiration?

If nothing else, I have always been thrifty. I inherited it from my mother who I call the ‘queen of all garage salers.’ Sometimes when one thinks of garage saling, it’s with a bit of disdain because many are quite cut throat and rude… my mother is nothing like that. We both just enjoy unique and interesting things.

I have always tried to combine thrifted and new yarn since I began knitting, but only since I entered graduate school have I emphasized it so much. Disgruntled by yarn prices and unwilling to use synthetics for the most part, I started looking for alternatives. I believe in knitting as a creative, daily, practice that should be affordable. Through the on-line fiber community I learned about recycling sweater yarn, and I was blessed enough to move to a neighborhood where there is actually a lot of wool at the thrift stores.

I initially found you through a photo of your waterlilies hat on Flickr (cosymakes on Flickr). You’ve been using a lot of yarn embroidery and vintage buttons lately — what do you like about them? Do any of the buttons you’re using have stories of their own? (I know my button box does!)

I like that embroidery and buttons add an additional creative element to my hats. When I embroider and add buttons, I use the same part of the brain as when I’m adding paint to the canvas. The other draw for me is (of course) that they are both thrifty. I started embroidering after I found a bunch of wool embroidery floss at a thrift store. When I look for more buttons, I can use up all of those singular buttons that nobody else knows what to do with.

Only a couple of my buttons have stories (sad!). My favorite is a button from my mom’s old bathrobe when I was young.

Which fellow crafters do you admire?

I especially enjoy crafters who also have a thrifty mentality and make high quality goods. But, alas, this could be a long list! I also am inspired by others who love making handknit/crocheted accessories, use buttons and embroidery, and those who do traditional spinning or knitting. I really enjoy it when craft is part of a person’s lifestyle choice and I can know them through it.

Here are a few of my current favorites:

  • Melissa of Tiny Happy makes amazing bags out of thrifted materials.
  • Stine mixes the used and the new in her sewing to make fabulous clothes and pillows.
  • fellow hat creator Croshay.
  • another fellow hat creator, Ruth.
  • and lastly, an amazing knitter and spinner, Adrian of Hello Yarn.

You knit your thesis (see this Flickr set) for graduation from Regent College — how did that come about?

I am in the process of knitting my thesis for a Masters of Christian Studies degree. I came to this school because it is the only program for professional artists that combines theology and art with the final project being mostly made up of the actual art (not just the paper).

It is a curious thing how I came to knit my project because I only started knitting 3 1/2 years ago. I have undergraduate degrees in art and English and so I came to Regent planning to do my arts thesis in either poetry or painting, but somehow knitting seemed like the thing to do. It just became a larger and larger part of my life. I started sharing my talents and my methods of recycling with other people who were interested. I give free knitting lessons to those who want to learn in my community.

My project will be the first craft arts thesis project at Regent (there were some quilts, but they were pictoral). It is interesting that it hadn’t happened before… many people leave Regent and go into full time woodworking and things like that. Craft is very respected here.

The Holy Spirit lace scarf, part of your thesis work, was made from a garage sale-purchased 100% hand dyed Italian merino wool Banana Republic sweater that you ripped out. This is what you said about it:

i was working on the trinity in knitting for my ‘vocation of the artist class.’ i brought in paintings and poetry also, but everyone was most taken with my knitting. They were also very excited about the possibilities of recycling. during class i was convinced to not seperate the function of the object to display it (ala the feminist reclamation of craft as art). when i got my paper back for the class, i was further convinced by my prof that i should try to knit my thesis.

Were you the only knitter in your art classes? What kinds of recycling were your classmates incorporating into their art?

I was the only knitter in my ‘Vocation of the Artist’ seminar. That has a lot to do with why I was so influenced to do knitting as my thesis. I didn’t realize the ways in which what I was doing was so powerful and accessible to people. It is human nature to understand what handknit items mean- they are care, comfort, warmth. The other students in my class were not recycling anything in their art, but they were excited about my recycling. It seemed very profound to them to deconstruct a mass-produced sweater and make it into a unique lace scarf. Their eyes literally lit up.

You’re active in the Recycled Yarn group on Flickr, as well as several related groups. How do your fellow artists inspire you there? Do the photos set off a spark that leads to something new for you?

I actually started the Recycled Yarn group on Flickr. The whole reason that I started my flickr site was to track my thesis and along with that I wanted to start a conversation with people about thrifty knitting and encourage people who are thrifty knitters. Recently, it seemed to me that there was a need for a more generic group on flickr, so I renamed it Thrift and Craft. I find my fellow artists in Thrift and Craft utterly exciting. They’ve got me admiring old curtains and bed sheets and pondering sewing up some bags. I really, really want to learn how to sew. I have not started sewing yet though.

In the caption to this photo, you write:

sweater ripping is hard. in knitting culture we are so used to being told the weight and the brand of the yarn and then following the directions. sweater ripping does not conform to those expectations ever.i wonder if i can teach people to be more creative and intuitive about knitting? it’s not really an issue with all of my poor friends who i generally knit with… plus i’m there to give advice. for the most part their lifestyles are creative — you have to be creative to be in graduate school with a couple of children. i wonder who will show up to the classes? what happens when they leave and don’t have the support of a community?

Do you think it’s easier to be creative when you have the support of a community, online or off?

Community is essential to all art. I really, really do not survive well as an artist in a box. When I moved to Vancouver, I had an aweful time finding people to be creative with. Around the same time my friend Jessica recommended a craft blog and I found it really encouraging to read about other people’s crafting adventures. However, it seems to me that there is no point having only an online community. The great thing about the internet is that it connects people together who may never meet otherwise. It has made craft a viable job and is an AMAZING place to find inspiration. I don’t know if my craft would be valid as only an online thing. I believe that knitting is part of who I am and that if I’m really being a part of the community in which I live, it needs to be a part of the community in which I live.

Would more knitters be willing to experiment if they had crafty mentors? Why do you think so many “casual knitters” are scared to deviate from patterns, or experiment with materials?

I think that knitters would be way more willing to experiment if they had crafty mentors. Really, I think that it’s about having a community and support. I have taught many, many of my friends how to knit and recycle yarn. Because we are an active community, they know that they can at any time come to me for advice and help. My other trick is to use the “The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns” above and beyond all other knitting pattern books. I think that many knitters are scared to break out because they’ve never been exposed to creative ideas when it comes to knitting. Many, even if they were exposed, wouldn’t want to. I don’t have an issue with that. Knitting, in itself is a good thing and means something in their lives and to the people they knit for.

My favorite terrifying statistic is that something like 80% of all knitters make the pattern in not only the exact same yarn pictured, but the exact same color, too. Why is that?

WOW. That statistic is terrifying. I had no idea. I was just basing my judgment on what I see in the Crazy for Knitting group at flickr. It seems so irrational to me. I have no idea why that many people are that way. I wonder what they’d do if they were given some yarn and some needles and told to make something. One thing that I started doing that has helped people I know to experiment is the community scarf. Here’s mine. Low stress knitting. No need to create something useful. Maybe Western culture, with its emphasis on production, doesn’t have a sense of playfulness or creativity?

What are your favorite items to knit?

I love to knit accessories. Hats are what I knit most, but I enjoy knitting socks, mitts, and scarves also. The large items that I most enjoy are shawls and stoles.

Do you knit much for yourself?

I do knit for myself. In fact, sometimes it is difficult to not keep things that I make. Each item always seems like such a surprise and a miracle when I complete it.

My husband and I usually end up deciding that we don’t really NEED another winter hat.

How do your other artistic pursuits influence your knitting?

For me it’s more about how knitting influences my other artistic pursuits. Knitting shows up in my paintings: this was inspired by this.

I also write poetry about wool (can I get any more geeky?!?).

Actually, the way that I go about other art is similar to the way that I go about knitting. I assume that my creativity in knitting comes from already knowing how to be creative. Like I said earlier, an absent knit is like a blank canvas and there are so many options of what to put on it where. I use my brain the same way no matter what art I’m creating.

Thank you, Cosy, for letting us peek into your creative process! This is the first in a series of planned interviews with artisans online. Leave a comment if there’s someone you think I should interview!

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