Hansi Singh of Hansigurumi
Etsy Store – Link.
Flickr – Link.
I am so excited to bring you this interview with an amazing up and coming crafter, Hansi Singh of Hansigurumi. You’ve seen her knit sea creatures profiled here before on the blog, but now we’ll get to know Hansi Singh herself! With her amazing background in both science and dance, we get the skinny on how Hansi got inspired to knit and create such amazing creatures.
Also, don’t miss today’s CRAFT Pattern Podcast where Hansi wrote us an exclusive pattern for a knit Paper Nautilus Shell.
Nat: You have an interesting background in both science and in the arts — spending a year in med school and then later studying dance — to now your new crafty business, Hansigurumi, where you sell your knit toys and patterns. What does it mean to be creative to you?
Hansi: Creativity has meant different things during the various stages of my life. When I was young, I liked the things that most kids like to play around with. Sidewalk chalk and clay were biggies for me. In college, I discovered creative writing, and stringing words together became my obsession. When I was dancing full-time, the challenge of full-body awareness and the immediacy of movement became my addiction. I particularly liked the intuitive nature of improvisation. I had to be utterly present to follow the next spontaneous impulse that could originate anywhere, even my big toe!
With my recent work as Hansigurumi, there’s an element of the sensuality of dance that I enjoy. Anyone who has knit with great yarn (and yes, I know that everyone has their own favorite fiber!) has found something utterly mesmerizing about how it moves through the fingers with stitch after stitch after stitch. I think this is why there are so many obsessed knitters out there. We all just want the chance to indulge in our yarn for hours and hours! At the same time, design is a process that involves so many elements: dreaming, sketching, researching, planning, experimenting, problem solving, backtracking, and then doing it all over again. It’s like being an engineer looking for a solution to a very open-ended problem. It’s this combination of form, inspiration, and tactility that’s so irresistible to me in the work that I’m doing.
Nat: How did you discover knitting and develop your array of sea creatures and animals?
Hansi: I started knitting when I was pregnant with my son. I felt huge, ungainly, and incapable of most of my regular activities. And I had this itch to make something with my hands. Writing and sketching just didn’t seem to cut it. Maybe it was a latent nesting instinct. Who knows?
One night my partner Aaron and I looked at an online tutorial about casting on and some of the basics of knitting. It was extremely confusing at first. I think I threw my ball of yarn and needles across the room a couple of times! I was so frustrated with the steep learning curve, but at the same time, I was determined to learn. After mastering the basics, I started reading about knitting obsessively. I found Barbara Walker’s work to be inspiring, as well as the work of Elizabeth Zimmerman, Debbie New, and Teva Durham.
After Ambrose was born, I started making sweaters and hats for him. I had a huge breakthrough when I figured out how to knit with my left hand (Continental style rather than English style). Suddenly I was cranking pieces out at three times my old speed. Trying new stitch patterns and knitting techniques suddenly became much easier, and I knitted up swatches inspired by Barbara Walker’s stitch patterns at an obsessive rate.
Aaron is a “seamster” (is that the male equivalent of seamstress?), and a toy designer. I think that it was his work that got me interested in knitting toys. KOBO, a local shop, was having a show for Children’s Day (a Japanese holiday) that Aaron was going to participate in. At this time, I was working on a knitted octopus prototype, using increases combined with short rows to enhance my ability to contour the mantle into a more realistic shape. Aaron mentioned my cephalopod to KOBO, and sparked their interest. I ended up making five knit octopuses for the show.
From there, it wasn’t much of a stretch to branch out to other undersea and land creatures. My favorite places to take my son are the Seattle Aquarium and Woodland Park Zoo. The aquarium, in particular, was the only place that held his attention in his early months. It must have been all those colorful, undulating shapes. It’s inspiring to me as well. We also love the library, which is a great resource when it comes to unearthing esoterica. Mostly I just surround myself with interesting things and see what manifests itself in my knitting!
Nat: What’s the process for writing your knitting patterns? Do you have any tips or tricks to share?
Hansi: Designing a toy is a really long process. Before casting on a single stitch, I do a ton of research on the creature.As I mentioned before, the library, internet, and our local zoo and aquarium have all been great resources. I start with a lot of sketches, and then attempt to translate these into knitting. Generally, I have to do a lot of experimentation before I come up with a satisfactory form. I have a rather large bin that’s filled with experiments whose results have been interesting, but that didn’t fit the situation. I still think they’re neat enough to keep around as reference, or as play things for Ambrose!
It may seem crazy, but most of the time, I don’t write down a single word until I have a form that I’m satisfied with. Using this prototype, I write out a preliminary pattern by jogging my memory and using the toy as a reference for what I did. Then, I use the pattern to test-knit another toy, just to make sure that there are no bugs in the design. At this point, I fine-tune things and tweak the pattern respectively. Often, I do this step several times until I have a design that I’m pleased with. A lot goes into releasing a yarn octopus into the world!
For those interested in making their own toy patterns, here are my bits of advice: experiment heartily, and proofread to the bone. Don’t be afraid to try new things, and don’t be leery of following inspiration that comes at unlikely times. Sometimes, I’ll be struggling with making a particular shape and will go to bed very frustrated, and then, lo and behold, a potential solution will come into my mind at 3 am! When you have a new idea, have yarn and needles at hand and be sure to try it out. And when you have a toy that you are satisfied with, be conscientious about writing out the pattern. If there are confusing parts, include descriptions or photographs, and be sure to edit and proofread the pattern numerous times. It’s amazing how those numbers can get away from you if you’re not careful!
Nat: What have been some of your favorite knit creations you’ve made?
Hansi: I must admit that I’m very attached to my octopuses, both dumbo and otherwise. It’s probably because they were the first creatures that I followed from idea to finished object.
I’m also fond of my squids, seahorses, and owls. Looking back at these three, it’s interesting how the design process was so different for each one. When it came to designing the squid, the octopus pattern was still fresh in my mind. After a bit of experimenting to create the paddle-like feeding tentacles, the rest of the design evolved very smoothly. When it came to the seahorses, on the other hand, I developed an obsession with getting the shaping just right, and in the span of a few days, I cranked out twenty in various states of malformation before I came up with one that I was satisfied with. Designing the owls, on the other hand, was like running a marathon. I started thinking about knitting an owl at least four months ago. Over this span, I made about 100 sketches, several failed prototypes, and pulled my hair out in frustration before hiding the latest Nosferatu-like version away in my scrap bin. Finally, just a couple of weeks ago, I came up with a design for the facial disk, beak, and chest that I was (finally) happy with. At that point, I think that the universe pitied me, and the rest of the design developed pretty organically.
Nat: If you can make a crafty prediction, after owls and octopuses, what do you think will be the next crafty mascot?
Hansi: Wow, this is a hard one! On the Etsy homepage, I just saw a treasury that featured fire hydrants! How neat is that? There is something really visually appealing about an old, peeling fire hydrant parked on a street corner.
Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of elephants around, particularly highly abstract versions in which the whole form is collapsed into a head-body with legs and a trunk. So very lovely! Cute little birds seem to be popular, as well as monsters of various genres. Personally, I love just about everything under-the-sea. I love all kinds of flatfish, as well as sailfish and cowfish. And, of course, I’m very fond of marine invertebrates, particularly the cephalopods.
Nat: What are some of the cool things you are working on now for Hansigurumi?
Hansi: Usually, I have 4 or 5 patterns on the burners, all going simultaneously. Right now, there’s a cuttlefish, chambered nautilus, slipper lobster, shrimp, and black devil anglerfish in the works. The cuttlefish and the angler are getting close to completion, but it’s very hard to say what will happen in the course of the design process. Sometimes, it will seem as though I’ve almost completed a design, and then I’ll shelf it because there’s some aesthetic element that I’m unsatisfied with. Unfortunately, the design process isn’t very linear!
I’ve recently been playing around with the idea of interactive toys and physical computing. It would be great fun to animate a yarn octopus so that it slithers towards you when it senses light changes or motion. I’ve been experimenting with the Arduino platform lately (a hearty thank-you to the lovely CRAFT blog for info on this), but this idea is definitely still in the embryonic stage. I’m a little worried about creating a toy that’s a fire hazard!
A big project that’s in the works for next year is a collection of knitted fungi for a solo show (gulp!) that I’ll be doing in March. I’ve already been reading up on fungi (now I know the difference between the genuses Amanita and Galerina… yes!), sketching interesting arrangements, and thinking about materials. I might even venture into the world of yarn-less knitting (electrical wire, plastic bags, fiber-optic cable, etc.). I’m sure that this process will lead to some new patterns at Hansigurumi.