"Knitting and other forms of visual art-making are vastly different experiences": Q&A with Erica Heusser

The Giftalong often has noticeable trends and stars. This year, it seems that everybody's Gnoming – I mean come on, even I want to break my no-toy vow to make those! – and everybody's gushing over Erica Heusser's perfect colourwork. (I've been making her Mayfield Mitts, all done bar the finishing and photos, and can confirm that not only are they gorgeous, the pattern is impeccable.) Now the astonishing thing about Erica is that she's not only new to designing – she only started knitting four years ago! But we'll forgive her for being such a prodigy since she's also a visual artist and art therapist. Transferable skills, you might say. 

Follow Erica on Instagram. 

1. Birds are obviously an important motif for you – besides your beautiful colourwork designs featuring them, there are all the painted pages! Where does this come from? What do they mean to you?
Great question, although I don’t have a simple answer! Birds have inspired my artwork for as long as I can remember, and I think the bird image has carried different meanings for me at different stages of my life. I admire their elegance, the freedom of flight, and their innate intelligence. I think I’m drawn to the symbol of the bird because of its versatility. I just find them fascinating!


2. You’re an art therapist – do you use knitting in therapy? Crafters often talk about the healing power of knitting; how does it compare for you to fine art?
I haven’t incorporated knitting into my current practice, although I think there is ample therapeutic value in knitting! This is something that I continually revisit as I review the art therapy curriculum I’ve created. In my personal life, knitting and engaging in other forms of visual art-making are vastly different experiences for me. I find the rhythms and structures of knitting to be very soothing and a good way of channelling my energy. The freedom of expression I find in drawing and painting tends to be a means of generating energy and involves more risk-taking.

3. What motivates you?
I think I’ve always had a strong drive to create, and that was cultivated in me from a young age. When it comes to my knitting, I try my best to design items that I love – and then I hold my breath and hope that the designs resonate with other knitters too! I also feel so encouraged and motivated by the responses I’ve received from the knitting community.

4. All your designs so far have been stranded colourwork. Do you see yourself branching out? What technique might tempt you next?
At this point, I plan to continue to design stranded colourwork patterns. I’m sure that my designs will continue to evolve over time, but I don’t yet know what direction they will take. 

5. Where do you see your designs in five years’ time?
I really hope to build a more substantial portfolio over the next five years. I design pretty slowly, and I would love to streamline my process so that I can release patterns a bit more frequently. I am also beginning to explore relationships with smaller independent yarn companies, and would love to create more designs to highlight their yarns!

6. What’s your fave of your own designs? Which is the most unfairly neglected?

My favourite will probably always be the Songbird Mittens pattern. It was the first design I created and published, and I think I’ll always remember the wonderful feeling of bringing a seed of an idea to fruition, and then having the opportunity to share it with the broader knitting community. I would say that the Wayfarer Mitts pattern is probably the most neglected, with the fewest number of projects.

7. This is your first GAL – was it what you expected?
It has really exceeded my expectations so far! What a fantastic event. I’m amazed at all the behind-the-scenes work that has gone into the festivities. I feel so fortunate to be a participating designer this year.

8. What GAL patterns have caught your eye? Are you making anything?
I made Sarah Sundermeyer’s Crystal Sky Hat as my first GAL project. I’m also eyeing Lesley Anne Robinson’s patterns – her brioche work is just stunning! I knit her Sizzle Pop shawl over the summer, which was my first foray into brioche, and totally fell in love. I am planning to knit her Ameyo shawl, but need to find the right the yarn for it. I’m also feeling tempted by Amy Van de Laar’s Beeswax series of patterns. So many talented designers!

9. My patterns always seem to get held up by photography. Do you have any particular stumbling blocks in the design process? What are the best and worst parts?
I think that each of my patterns has brought about its own challenges. Sometimes the process of choosing and honing an idea takes me a long time. Sometimes I run into obstacles while creating the colourwork charts, and spend a while problem-solving. At other times, the designing process goes smoothly, and I get stuck on choosing a name! My favourite part of the process is knitting from a newly created chart for the first time, and seeing the stitches come to life. And it’s also very exciting to see projects that knitters have created from my patterns! The worst part? Working through those obstacles that inevitably arise!

10. What haven’t you done yet (in art, in business or in life) that you really, really want to? 
Oh, that’s a big question. I would love to have the opportunity to travel more, see different parts of the world, and expose myself to different ways of living. I don’t travel often, but when I do, I always return feeling inspired and refreshed. I also dream of living in the (US) South West someday!