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11 February 2009 @ 10:10 am
ALTHEA CROME, BUGKNITS AND CORALINE!!!  
Today, it is my honor and thrill to present the interview with the incredible Althea Crome of Bugknits, miniature knitting artist extroadinaire who designed knitwear for the character Coraline. Gather 'round the knitting/crochet sofa and click your needles and hooks together for the amazing Althea Crome and enjoy this inspiring, magical, and exciting knitting adventure.

Q. Althea, I have to start off asking about your knitwear for Coraline. What a thrilling opportunity for you. How did it come about?

A. You could not be more right—this was indeed an absolutely thrilling opportunity for me and without exaggeration, a life changing experience. About three years ago, while sitting at an outdoor Thai restaurant with my mom, lamenting the break up of my marriage, I got an unexpected phone call from Shere Coleman from the costume department at Laika Studios. She explained that Laika Studios (previously Will Vinton Studios), which had been recently purchased by Phil Knight, was making it’s first feature length animated movie. She told me how the movie they were making was based on a book called Coraline by Neil Gaiman (who, I admit, I had not heard of yet) and about Henry Selick who was the mastermind behind Nightmare Before Christmas. She told me about how many of the costumers had come from England and had worked on Corpse Bride, which my children and I loved.

She said that they had always wanted miniature knitting for their movies but never had anyone who could knit at that scale. They decided to do a Google search and they came across my website. They said that because the plot of the story had a mystical quality, they were looking for knitting which had a magical quality and they really felt that my designs filled the bill.

Shere asked if I was interested in doing commissions. At the time, I was so overwhelmed with trying to raise four children on my own and figure out how to make a living, I wasn’t sure I could take on commission work, but I asked Shere to send me a follow up email, which, thankfully, she did.

I recognized soon enough that this was a really special project and that I would be a fool to turn it down. I simply HAD to find the time to fit it in. The first request from the studio was to knit a pair of black and white striped stockings for Coraline. Henry Selick loved them and even said they were “scary good” but in the end, they decided not to use them in the movie. Instead, they told me about the magical star sweater they needed—it would have to sparkle. I went on a tireless thread quest for about a month—finding everything from stainless steel thread to paintable sparkles and then set about knitting swatches and sending them to Laika. None of them looked right on screen and because of a time issue, it was looking like my hopes of making something for this wonderful project were fading. In fact, at one point, they told me that they were going to have to start shooting soon and would not be able to wait for me to find the right combo of threads. Soon after that email, my mom came over with some holographic thread and said “Althea, I really think this will work on the sweater for Coraline.” I combined the holographic thread with some Polyester sewing thread and sent off several more swatches to the Coraline people. Eureka! That was the ticket and at the 11th hour, Henry decided to have me go ahead and knit up the first star sweater for Coraline.

At that point, the studio sent me a Coraline body to fit the sweater on to and a drawing of what they wanted the sweater to look like. I designed a pattern that would fit the willowy Coraline and it took about 2 weeks to knit the sweater. I was delighted when I got the thumbs up from the studio and over the next couple of years I made a total of 14 identical sweaters for Coraline.

I was also thrilled to learn that they would need a pair of gloves for Coraline because gloves are my favorite thing to knit—they are so intricate and personal and somehow very intimate. Knitting gloves in 1/12 scale was what got me noticed in the miniature world because up until I started knitting them, miniature collectors had never had true 1/12 scale knitted gloves.

There are only two knitted garments in the film—the star sweater and the gloves—both of which are special because they are given to her by her mothers—the star sweater is given to her by her other Mother while the gloves, which she really wants and covets are given to her by her real mother.


Q. What were you feeling when you were in Portland Oregon for the world premier of the movie?


A. The thing I felt the most going to the world premier or Coraline was that I was so lucky!!! Of course I felt very nervous too because I knew I was going to be working at the party—showing off some of the knitwear I made for the movie and talking to a bunch of the VIPs’ and possibly even some movie stars. Gulp—I’m just a hard working Midwesterner and this was my first red carpet event. What I did not expect was how wonderful, gracious and warm everyone was. I think the fact that the premier was in Portland, rather than LA, gave it a really special but more relaxed and Bohemian feeling—it was magical, like the movie itself. There were people there dressed in jeans, there were people there dressed in vintage gowns and there were people there dressed to the nines—all sorts of people from all walks of life enjoying a really special night together. The party concept was genius. It really showcased the amazing handwork that went into the making of this movie and also emphasized the colossal team effort required to make such a film. There are clearly many, MANY cooks in the kitchen and yet somehow they managed to organize it and pull it all together to create something spectacular, unified and glorious—much of which has never been seen on the big screen before. I confess, I was star struck at first. But then people started coming over to me and offering heart felt thanks and congratulations for my contribution to the film. Neil Gaiman and his wonderful daughter, Maddie, were the first to come by and visit. He was so kind and lovely and so very complimentary of my work. Then Travis Knight came by and said that he has been in the business for a very long time and he has never seen the kind of attention to detail he saw in my knitting—I was absolutely humbled and grateful for his kind words. I was surrounded all night by people who wanted to watch me knitting, who wanted to see my art, who wanted to tell me “thank you.” I must say, it ranked right up there as one of the best nights ever.


Q. What a wonderful experience. I have to say, I totally love the blue sweater with stars on Coraline. Is this item going to be made available in full scale to all the millions of children that are going to see the movie?


A. If Laika wants me to do a full-scale version, I would be delighted. I have not, as of yet, designed one but would certainly like to for my daughter and nieces.

Q. What was the actual size for the Coraline model and how long did it take you to complete the knitwear? Were you allowed to create your own vision of what Coraline would wear, or did you work within guidelines from the producer of the movie Bill Mechanic or director Henry Selick and/or the author,
Neil Gaiman.

A. Coraline is about 9 inches tall. She is incredibly willowy and has a very big head compared to her lithe body. Coraline’s star sweater is made up of four pieces—front, back, and two sleeves. It took me 2 weeks to knit each sweater. The costuming department took the pieces and sewed the seams together while it was on the puppet (therefore I could not have knit it in the round) and they also applied the glow-in-the-dark stars. The conceptual design for the sweater came totally from Laika. They sent me a picture and a color swatch. The rest was up to me. I worked closely with Georgina Haynes, Margaret and Deborah Cook in the costuming department. I had the opportunity to visit the set of Coraline in October of 2007 and I also got to sit in on a meeting with Henry Selick where he was viewing some of the daily footage (the day I was there, they were looking at the scene where the Other Mother eats one of he cocoa beetles. I was very impressed with the level of attention they gave to the chewing and the swallowing. Henry took the opportunity to tell me how special my contribution to the film was—he told me that he thought it added something truly special

Q. What inspired you to knit in miniature?


A. Although miniatures had always held a sort of fascination for me, I had never entered that world, or had a dollhouse, or even knew that a whole industry revolving around miniatures really existed. In 2001 one of my best friends kept telling me about a dollhouse she had rescued from the garbage. When I finally went to visit her in Philadelphia she showed me the house, which she was in the process of remodeling and it looked like fun. When I got home I decided I would take on a dollhouse project of my own, ostensibly for my children when they were a little older. In my efforts to fill the dollhouse with things (I shopped mostly on eBay then since I was home-bound with kids and really knew nothing of miniature shows or dollhouse shops) I came across a knitted sweater on eBay and thought, “hey, I want to try that.” I have been an avid knitter since my college days and thought I could do at least as well as I had seen on-line. That very night I made a man’s cardigan with 0 needles and baby weight yarn. It was bulky and clumsy but it was an instant thrill. I felt at once that I had to do more. I still have that first project and enjoy pulling it out from time to time to look at it and see how far I’ve come. That sweater is made at about 11 stitches per inch whereas the sweaters I make now often have more than 50 stitches per inch.

After I had made a few things, I decided to try selling them on eBay and though that venture did not exactly pan out monetarily, it did get me connected to some people in the field. One connection led to another and within about a year or two, I had met some famous miniature artists who were taking some of my knitted garments to shows to sell. I was getting some really positive feedback and people really loved my knitting. Eventually, once my children were a little older, I started attending shows myself.

Q. Althea, how did you come up with the name of your website, Bugknits?


A. That’s an easy one—my dad dreamed it up for me—he’s always been great with names.

Q. Do you have any tips for the readers for balancing family life, knitting and business? Have your children read Coraline?


A. I’ve never been that great at “balancing” things in my life—I tend to go to extremes. Like staying up until 3 in the morning so I can get a good eight hours of knitting in for the day. I can say this: one thing I have learned through this process is that it is NEVER too late to follow your passion in life. That no matter what all the naysayers may throw at you, if you are passionate about something, and good at it, then take the chance and pursue it—regardless of whether or not it is financially viable at the time. Granted, not all of us have the luxury to pursue art in lieu of making a living and I am no exception. I live very close to the ground, so to speak, but I believe that some day my hard work and my love of the craft will pay off financially. My children are absolutely delighted with Coraline and have already seen it twice. Next, I’ll be taking them to Indianapolis to see the 3-D version. This year I got to be Coraline’s Knitwear creator AND have a two-page spread in Ripley’s Believe it or Not’s last book (Prepare to Be Shocked) so they have a lot to boast to the kids at school about!

Q. What are your favorite subjects for your knitting at this point in your creative process?


A. I am in love with designing conceptual knitwear. I get visions in the shower, while falling asleep, while driving and I can’t wait to get home, draw it out and then chart it. I know that once I can chart something, I will be able to make it. I design all my garments so that the shape compliments the pictorial theme knitted into the garment. For example the Ancient Greek Amphora I and II are decorated with all kinds of Greek imagery—warriors and boxers and bullfighters. But the shape of the garment, while still recognizable as a sweater is that of a Greek vase—with a tall neck, and ornate foot and sleeves that look like handles. The King and Queen of Heart Sweater has a collar shaped like a crown and sleeves that flair out like a royal robe. The Scuba sweater (a narrative story about a day I spent diving in Key Largo” has a collar designed to look like a barrel sponge and borders on the edge of the cuffs and bands to look like the waves of the ocean. My Andy Warhol sweater, with Marilyn Monroe on the back, has soup can on the front for pockets (the lids open up to reveal the pocket opening). I have several new ideas, which are all in various states of completion—some are still just concepts (I intend to design and knit a 3-D Roman relief sweater) and others are charted out awaiting the first knit—like my medieval nativity scene conceived of as a triptych.

Q. Do you have any dreams, goals or plans in 2009 for yourself and/or the business that you would like to share with us?


A. My dream is to be able to continue to follow my passion—designing and knitting in 1/12th scale. I have so many concepts for new sweaters—a roman relief, a family of nudes, a dragon and a medieval nativity scene. So many ideas, so little time! I would also like to do some traveling and presentations. I will be at the National Museum of Women in the Arts on May 9th and at the Columbus Library in Columbus, Indiana in September. I’m also thinking of writing a book of patterns—taking my miniature patterns and up scaling so they can be knit for real humans. And I would love to work on another movie again—the Coraline project was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had and I really liked working with those great creative minds.

Q. Althea, thank you so much for taking time away from your busy life to be interviewed for the Knit1fortheroad readers. Is there anything else you would like to add about yourself and/or Bugknits?


A. It’s been my pleasure. If you need any other information about what kinds of things I’ve been up to or what books, magazines or articles I’ve been in, you can check out my resume on line at
http://www.bugknits.com/Resume.htm I was in the last Ripley’s Believe it or Not (Prepare to be Shocked) and Also Sabrina Gshwandtner’s book “knitknit: profiles and projects in knitting’s new wave.” This year I will be in a book called The Culture of Knitting.

Althea, it has been my pleasure to interview you and share your wonderful journey with the readers. It is such an inspiring story and message for everyone out there pursing their passion and their dreams. Thank you!


For more information about Althea, Bugknits, Patterns and Exhibits visit:

Bugknits.com
Radical Lace and Subversive Knitting Exhibit


Knit-Share-GOOOO see Coraline!
 
 
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