Behind The Stitches: Krista Suh
“While I am proud of coming up with the idea of the Pussyhat I don’t think that’s what makes me special. I think that women have great ideas all the time! But unfortunately, I think that as women we tend to talk ourselves out of those ideas immediately“
Sam: Where are you from and where are you currently based?
Krista: I am from Southern California and I am based in Los Angeles.
Sam: You also lived in New York for a little while, right?
Krista: I did! If you want the whole story… I was actually born in New Jersey. I didn’t realize that was uncool. If anything, when I moved to California at age four, everyone in preschool thought it was so exotic that I was born in New Jersey. But I’ve been in LA pretty much all my life minus about four years when I went to college at Barnard at Columbia University in New York City.
Sam: Have you always been a creative person? What is your craft of choice?
Krista: Noooooo! I would love to tell your readers about that! Not that I wasn’t creative, but I didn’t cherish my creativity. First I was on a pre-med track. Then I was on a pre-law track. Then finally I just embraced my inner freak flag and became a screenwriter. I wrote a book called DIY Rules for a WTF World and in it, I include tips on creativity across-the-board. Whether you’re a writer, a crafter, or you’re just wanting to get more involved in politics but you’re not sure how or how to use your special gifts toward that. I didn’t want to limit it to writing or knitting because for me, they’re all so intertwined.
Sam: If you had to boil yourself down to a series of identifiers what would they be? I would describe you as a craftivist, storyteller, and knitter. But I’m curious what you would say.
Krista: Oh my God! I’m gonna steal that. I love it! I tend to lead with craftivist because it just so perfectly captures what the Pussyhat is and my political beliefs. Feminist for sure. I do identify as a writer/screenwriter. I love the written word. I tend to say writer because one of my best mediums is writing. When it came time for the Pussyhat it was visual and community-based but it also came with a manifesto. I could see people using the words I had written to defend their own beliefs. It was awesome and helpful to see the movement have a backbone in the written word.
I like the word craftivist. I was giving a talk at a museum and the curator said “I like the word artivist” and I had to say \”No, I don’t like that word\”. I’m normally not so contrarian but I wanted to offer what I love about the word craftivist. Just like women’s rights craft tends to be looked down upon whereas art is sort of elevated. That’s where form matches the content. The form being this medium that is so important yet looked down upon and the content being women’s rights which is so important and yet look down upon. It’s about combining those two things to make a powerful statement about how our thoughts, feelings, voices, our bodies… we matter.
So I think I would say craftivist, feminist, and writer. Those are my top three.
Sam: Where did the idea for the Pussyhat come from?
Krista: It first came about because I was devastated by the results of the election. When news of the Women’s March came up I just knew immediately that I would go. But I wasn’t sure what I would do. As a creative and as an artist, I wanted to bring my own gifts and my own contribution to the march. Not to say that showing up isn’t important. It’s so important! Showing up is 80% of the battle. But I was wondering what I could do to make an impact at this march.
I could tell it was history in the making. I was thinking very visually. What sign could I hold up? What thing could I wear or not wear that would be the perfect image to spread all over the world? I’ve always been inspired by pictures from protests. For example, ones where a woman is doing her lipstick in the reflection of a riot shield. Or of a woman in a dress who’s opening her arms wide to protect a man from all of these armed guards with guns. Only recently did I realize that I have been so struck by those images because there’s something that’s considered really feminine being done in a space that’s considered very masculine.
I was trying to see what type of powerful image I could create on my person and I couldn’t come up with anything. I thought I could march naked… but what does that even mean? I was so willing to go there. The heart was there but I was trying to figure out the right meaningful image. In that moment of stuckness, I think I started to picture what the march would actually be like. That’s when my New York years started to come back to me and I realized this march is in DC and it was going to be cold. As I said I grew up in LA and I’ve been in LA for years now and I never check the weather when I’m here. You just go outside and you’re fine. I realized that I wouldn’t be able to wear a T-shirt. I’d have to wear a coat and button it up. I learned in New York that you can’t just wear a coat. You have to seal in the cracks of a coat with gloves and a scarf and a hat. That’s when it hit me!
I was a beginner knitter. I had been a knitter for some time. But I knit super simple things. In fact on my list, I think every knitter has a wish list of their next project, I had been wanting to make a hat. I had made a lot of flat things like scarves, blankets, shawls, and I had also made a sweater. I was pumping out these Loopy Mango cardigans like crazy! But I never made a hat so that was on my mind. I realized that if I could make this hat, as a beginner knitter, anyone could.
Also making something with my own hands had way more meaning to it than marching naked for example and it was a lot cozier too. It brought to mind a lot of women from American history. For example, Betsy Ross who made the American flag and Grace Wisher who was an indentured servant who helped make the Star-Spangled Banner. There’s a history of women making protest gear. In some ways, the American flag was one of our first pieces of protest gear in the United States and it was made by a woman. I think that the handmade quality of the Pussyhats showed how much we cared about this.
Then I started to think if we all make them because this is going on top of our heads we would make such an impact and we could create a sea of pink at the march. I could suddenly envision it. I was so excited and I just hit the ground running.
I immediately texted my local yarn store friend, Kat Coyle, who owns Little Knittery. She’s my teacher and we joke that she’s my yarn mother/my fiber mom. I sent her a text that said “KAT, I JUST HAD THE BEST IDEA EVER!” with all of these emojis. I was in the car on a road trip when I had the idea. Then I saw her when I came back and that’s when we nailed down more of the design elements. It was so lucky, so uncannily smooth, and yet every move was very considered and thought out. We were very intentional with our choices. It was an amazing combination of creativity really working and the universe giving you things.
Sam: So you had this fabulous idea, but what was it that took it from an idea to a movement?
Krista: First of all, I think that the biggest battle with feminism is kicking out the voice of patriarchy within us. I tell people that I don’t need a six-foot-four white man to follow me around and tell me I’m stupid because I already tell myself that. You know? They don’t need to assign a patriarchy man to every woman because we already have that self-running tape in our heads.
It’s brilliant. That’s actually why I wrote my book. And that’s not even a plug for my book these are my beliefs. While I am proud of coming up with the idea of the Pussyhat I don’t think that’s what makes me special. I think that women have great ideas all the time! But unfortunately, I think that as women we tend to talk ourselves out of those ideas immediately. It’s so strange to me that we’re known to be nurturers and yet we don’t nurture our own ideas. I don’t know if you or your readers are into astrology but babies and creativity are both grouped in the same category. They are both Fifth House. It’s so fascinating to me that women tend to squelch their ideas immediately.
I think that if anything makes me special or if anything makes the Pussyhat successful it’s that I have been working on my creativity for over a decade. In a way that Pussyhat happened “overnight”. But Kat had to be obsessed with knitting for decades and I had to be working on my creativity for a decade because when I had the idea I didn’t immediately go to the squelching thoughts. The “oh if it doesn’t work it’ll be so embarrassing”, “who’s going to help”, “ People won’t like it”, “who am I to do this” thoughts. The squelcher‘s as I call them.
I fervently desire for women to learn to nurture their ideas because I think that is the next wave of true feminism. I do want to mention that because it’s amazing what the Pussyhat has accomplished but if you look at the beginning it was just one person, who had an idea, nurtured it, reached out, and was kind to the idea. I tell that story not to brag, although I love bragging, but I want to get across to people that you can do it too. That’s not a shtick. We’re all having these great ideas and I want to say that 99% of them are probably getting squelched and the Pussyhat was not.
“I was intent on making the Pussyhat epic. Well, I didn’t have to make it epic I just had to nurture that Epicness”
There are so many angles as to why I think that the Pussyhat succeeded. Before a project takes off everyone has something to say about why the project probably won’t work and then after it goes well everyone has an opinion on why it went well. But, we were a country devastated by the election so I think that a lot of people were ready for this. Also, there’s a real community among the crafting world. I didn’t have to reinvent the wheel. It’s not like I went around saying “hey, to spread the word about the Pussyhat when you start knitting or crocheting why don’t you take a picture, put it on your social media, and say casting on\”. I didn’t have to do that people just did it. There was already a rich tradition of social media and knitting together. There was already a desire to share and connect through our creativity on social media.
I also want to bring up the tactile nature of this project. It was an actual soft object that you could touch in your hands and in this world of screens, iPhones, iPads, and the computer. I think that a lot of activism lately has felt fairly detached. Not to say that those ways of bringing people together is not important, they’re so important, but I think that people were craving a different way to take apart. A more creative way. A way that allowed for the disabled community or the introverted community to take part.
I’ve gotten so many letters from people who said that because they are traumatized they can’t be in large crowds. They wanted to take part but couldn’t march so they were able to take part in this way by wearing a hat, making a hat, giving these hats away. It created this other avenue for people to get involved that was different from clicking donate.
It was symbolic of how much you’re willing to put into this revolution. But it’s also something to do with your hands that is a relief from looking at a screen all day and it gives you time to think through these things. You could knit them on your own or you could knit with other people. If you want to be alone and contemplative or if you want to be with others and talk there were all these avenues for you.
As a screenwriter, I think I was intent on making the Pussyhat epic. Well, I didn’t have to make it epic I just had to nurture that Epicness. I believe that people need epic. People crave a narrative in their lives. I’ve seen that in my work as a screenwriter and also just as a human being. We all crave a story the Pussyhat was something that you could add to your own story. Everyone has a story with the Pussyhat. When they first heard about it or when they received a hat. It has a rich story element.
Just two months after we launched there was that sea of pink. Even if you didn’t know what the Pussyhat was before January 2017 you saw the image of it. It was almost like this awesome magician trick but if you had taken part and you saw it on TV that was an awesome feeling as well! Everyone felt like they helped make that happen. It was a reminder that our small actions do add up to something. We don’t always get that sort of instant gratification. But every call that you make to your Congressperson does add up and makes a difference.
Sam: Can you describe the feeling that you had, during your very first Women’s March, looking out at the sea of pink hats?
Krista: I was in planning mode at that moment. Another volunteer who is a preschool teacher, so she knows how to handle human beings, kind of grabbed me and was like “OK Krista, you have to take in this moment I don’t think that you’re taking in this moment”. She and this photographer from National Geographic got me to climb up onto this guard rail. I am 5 feet tall. Everyone around me was wearing a Pussyhat but suddenly being just one or two feet higher off the ground I could suddenly see all the way down the mall. That’s when I could finally see the sea of pink and I was just like “oh wow this is real. This is larger than I knew. This is out of my control in a beautiful way”. I could not have done this by controlling every element. It was this child that grew up really fast and spread it’s gifts to the world.
Sam: In the bio for your book: DIY Rules for a WTF World you talk about how you “learned to live courageously”. What caused this shift in your self-esteem and what does living courageously mean to you?
Krista: Living courageously to me is so tied to creativity because it’s fighting against this idea that there’s only one right way of doing something and if you’re a woman you’re doing it wrong. That’s why so many women feel like frauds because they’re not doing it that “one right way”. There’s this brainwashing that happens. Creativity is the antidote to that. Creativity tells us that there’s always more than one way of doing something. The Pussyhat is the perfect example of this. There’s no one right way of protesting or expressing yourself there are 1 million gazillion ways. It takes courage to constantly practice that and constantly remind yourself of that.
“I had to find courage by following my heart’s desire, which was to lead a more creative life”
I still do it. I still get caught up in these moments of thinking that I’m not doing it right. I had to find courage by following my heart’s desire, which was to lead a more creative life. I was meant to be pre-med I was meant to be something “serious”. To follow that one right way of “You can only be respected if you do this”. Fighting past the belief that anything else means that you were a failure. Which can be scary.
That’s why Asian American representation is so important to me. Asian American boys have the highest rate of suicide in high school. People are dying when they believe that there’s only one right way of doing something. If you believe that you are an absolute failure if you don’t go down this path, of course, you can see how suicide would fit into that narrative. On the flip side of that same narrative if you are actually doing well along that path and you’re getting into the Ivy League and you’re getting the jobs but you’re still not happy, even though you’ve been told that this is the only way to be happy, that can also be a recipe for suicide. You can see the logic there and that’s terrifying to me so I think it takes courage to even ask the question \”Is this the one right way of doing something or can there be a more creative approach\”.
Right now my life is so full and beautiful but to put myself in my shoes from 10 years ago, back when I was in college it was such a scary time. To not only veer off of the path but I had such a chip on my shoulder and I had this pressure where I felt like if I was going to go off of the path I had to do fabulously well. I’m not allowed to just be a middling artist or writer. I have to be a best-selling writer to even justify going off of the path. I have to earn my right to be here and to make this choice. So that’s why I wrote the book and that’s why that line is included in the bio because I think that so many people are at that crossroads. I see my role as almost being a canary in the mine. That’s what I try to do in my life, show people that this creative life is safe. It’s not that scary no oxygen place that people make it out to be.
Sam: Can you talk about your Evil Eye Gloves and where that idea came from?
Krista: I had a dream about those! About a huge crowd of women with eyes drawn on their palms in the days before I came up with the Pussyhat. I kind of let it go because I was thinking about how we would set up a face painting booth and draw these eyes on women’s hands at the march. I was sort of thinking all of that through and I shelved it when the Pussyhat came into my mind and took off. That’s the other thing, I pictured people not needing to wear gloves. You could just draw it on your hands and we would all be holding up our hands. It was a very vivid image for me. But then in the two months that we were gearing up for the Women’s March it occurred to me that we could knit these. Duh!
I released it in my book and the idea was that we could keep vigilant and keep our eyes open for abuses of all sorts. Including abuses of government and domestic violence. When the gun control march happened I made an abrupt decision to release that pattern right then and there within 24 hours. It was really fast. So I gifted it to that movement. But I might revisit it because I think that the eyes are so powerful. It is about spotting abuses in all sorts of arenas and people can personalize it to however they see fit.
Sam: You’ve done a lot of collaborations with Aurora Lady over the years. How did that creative partnership begin? Do you have any advice for people who are thinking about doing creative collaborations in the future?
Krista: I spotted Aurora’s work a few months before the Pussyhat. I loved what she was doing with another artist named Taleen Kali coming up with images for Taleen’s music and her yoga practice. I had my friend Yumi Sakugawa set up a little opening meeting for us to see how we could work together. I showed up with a trifold. Almost like an elementary school presentation of who I thought I was and she loved it! I probably did make an impression on her right from the get-go but we didn’t work on anything right away.
When November hit I pictured her doing the artwork. I knew from social media posts that she was upset by the elections. But I wasn’t sure if she would be willing and able to work on it much less work for free. That’s something I find to be a delicate dance. With Aurora, I sent her a very long email. I made it scalable. I said \”if you only have a little bit of time perhaps you can do this. If you have a little bit more time for us you could do the cover… and if you have more time, maybe you could illustrate the pattern\”. I was very clear and I sent her a mock-up of what I wanted. Aurora and I often talk about how well we collaborate. She says that one of the reasons is that I am very clear and I’m able to be clear because as an artist I know how to communicate my vision.
I think that we’re both in awe of each other which helps! You don’t need to be amazing at everything. She did all of the artwork in two days. She came in on day four and we launched on day six. It was such a complete project. It had the artwork, a manifesto, the pattern, the website, and social media handles. It was so beautiful how it came together.
If people are wondering how to collaborate I think it’s a matter of knowing your gifts and allowing people to use their best gifts, their zones of genius. I wasn’t asking Aurora and Kat to shovel snow. I was asking them to do this thing that they are really good at. To use their gifts, their calling in the world, and asking if they could do that for this cause that they might believe in as much as I do. It was just a really good fit.
I know that for me when I’m asked to take part in something if it uses my gifts I’m much more likely to say an enthusiastic yes. But if it’s something that I’m just competent at it does feel not as fun and not as desirable. I think it’s a matter of just being aware of not only your gifts but other people’s gifts. In Aurora’s case, she understands her gift. But sometimes it takes someone to point it out to you. I always try to approach it with a friendly scalable attitude. It’s better to say \”You could do this, this, or this\” versus saying \”You have to do all of this or nothing\”.
\”I think that there’s that creative frenzy that feels good but then there’s that societal frenzy that does not feel good. I will do all-nighters if I’m moved to do it. But I won’t do them, anymore, if it’s not for me\”
Sam: Can I just say that in researching you for this interview I quickly realized that you are doing SO much! How do you create a work/life balance for yourself?
Krista: A lot of the work I do I would want to do in my free time. So that’s a big part of it. I love working with Aurora. We have a lot of cool collaborations in the pipeline. There are so many ideas that I have and it’s just a matter of trying to be honest about which ones need to be done now. That’s a combination of how much do I want to do it and how much the universe is sort of telling me to do this one now.
I had a moment earlier this year where I was having project FOMO. I have a writing partner and one day he said: \”You are FOMOing yourself\”. I’m not afraid I’m missing out on someone else’s event I’m afraid I’m missing out on my own ideas. I was getting stressed out by it. Then I had this \”aha!\” moment. I did this conference where Brené Brown was speaking, Serena Williams was speaking, and Krista Suh was speaking. After that project, I had decided against doing more interviews and conferences. I had cleared my slate so I could work on my next book and some movie scripts. Just a few weeks later my friend Connie, her stage name is Milck, was headlining this amazing touring storytelling event. I was like \”oh my God I should do that\”. It was this weird moment and I had to kind of stop and breathe. I was like \”Krista when you were doing that you wanted some time to slow down, write, and not have engagements all the time. Then the moment you get it you think the grass is always greener and you want that pasture instead\”. That was a moment when I had to remind myself there’s a lot of abundance in the world, that I can do those things later, and I can enjoy the projects that I’ve chosen right now.
That made me feel so much better because I think that there’s that creative frenzy that feels good but then there’s that societal frenzy that does not feel good. I will do all-nighters if I’m moved to do it. But I won’t do them, anymore, if it’s not for me. If the muse visits me I am going to stay up all night but I won’t do that out of a feeling of pressure. I avoid doing it if I’m thinking “People won’t like me if I don’t get this done on time\” or \”I won’t be a worthy person if I don’t get this done on time\”. I try and keep a lookout between if I am being motivated by fun, happiness, desire, and creativity or if this decision is motivated by fear.
Sam: This might be too big of a question to ask you, but I’m going to ask it anyway. What has your crafting practice brought to your life?
Krista: So many things! One thing is putting myself back in my body. Which I used to think was such a hippie-dippy thing to say. But I tend to be very intellectual, very cerebral, and activities that put me back in my body make my writing better. It makes everything better, to be honest.
Also, to get back to the tactile experience of it all, I need something I can see my progress on. That has helped so much and that’s what I was alluding to earlier when it comes to politics. Sometimes we need to physically see our progress and feel heartened to keep going. When I’m working on a screenplay especially on rewrite number gazillion I don’t see my progress the way I do when I’m knitting. I can see my progress, I can hold it in my hands, and it feeds the soul. It’s so exciting! Crafting has taught me to love what I love and that’s so powerful.
Krista: I do have some young adult books coming out. Not in the next few weeks or anything but that’s coming down the pipeline. I’m excited about them because they feature Asian American leads. Because I’m a screenwriter I would love to see them become TV shows and movies. Turning these books into television shows and movies can really up the Asian American representation. They show people that are at a crossroads how to follow your dreams and how to find out what you want versus what the patriarchy tells you that you want and need. That’s not on the book jacket. That’s my feminist agenda coming out through these stories.
Sam: What do you like to binge-watch and listen to while you craft?
Krista: Well, it depends on my mood I love to listen to Motown music! I just gave a talk in Detroit and got to visit the original Motown house. I was so excited! Just like crafting can be therapy Motown is like therapy for me.
Lately, and I’m surprised to say this, I’ve been digging the show Lucifer. I sort of stumbled upon it. It is so not related to feminism or anything. But I’ve been enjoying it. Lucifer reminds me of the show Castle that was popular a few years ago. What I loved about Castle was that they were so reliably fun. Every episode was like a puzzle or a riddle. No offense to the cinematographers, even though visually they were very cool, I don’t have to look at the screen to follow along with the story. It’s almost like an old-fashioned radio play and I really do enjoy that. It allows me to use my eyes and hands elsewhere.
All photos were pulled from Krista Suh’s Instagram.
If you want to see more of Krista’s work you can follow along on her journey through her website, you can also follow her on Instagram @KristaSuh, and buy her book DIY Rules For A WTF World (best title ever!).
Who should I talk to next? Leave your suggestions in the comments section along with any thoughts you have about Krista’s interview. I’m always on the hunt for inspiring crafters. Also, don’t forget to follow along on my Instagram account @bobbleclubhouse for your daily dose of all things fiber. Until next time, happy crafting!