Photo by Alexis Xenakis, XRX Books, 2012
Betsy’s art is the product of meticulously and artfully combining fibers and beads. A self-declared “left brainer”, she masterfully demonstrates the technical marriage between these elements with knitting and creativity.
I understand that your mother taught you to knit when you were 8 years old. Then fast forward to 2002 when your knitting world changed and you learned to bead knit. What were you doing professionally in those in between adult years?
I’m not sure your blog is long enough for all of my adventures! Just kidding, but I like to say that I reincarnate every ten years or so given how varied my interests are. In chronological order I have worked as the following: a mime, a scuba diving instructor, an actress/singer, a healthcare consultant, a stay-at-home mother (my absolute FAVORITE!), a voiceover artist and now a knitting designer, teacher and author. How’s that for varied?
You have had the wonderful benefit of studying with the upper echelon of famous knitters. Now you are considered to be in the cadre of talented designers. How do you use that knowledge, teaching methodology and your innate visual talent to teach your students?
Although I have never formally studied the art of teaching, I’ve taken note of what seems to work in the classes I’ve most enjoyed. I think good teaching comprises several critical components, including but not limited to the following:
- Strong technical knowledge of your subject matter
- Preparation, preparation, preparation (including the provision of organized written and visual materials for your students)
- A firm belief that everyone in a classroom has something to learn AND something to teach and the commitment to remain open to what students have to teach me.
- An understanding that different people learn in different ways. It’s always important to be prepared to offer students a variety of ways to learn the same lesson until we find the one that best aligns with the way they learn.
You describe yourself as “left brained” which would imply that your thinking emphasis is logical, detail oriented and analytical. Yet you clearly have the capabilities of right brainers who are imaginative, artistic and creative. Can you talk about that?
I could talk about this for days! The simplest explanation I can give you is that most people are right- or left-brained dominant. It’s rarely all one side or the other. Second, I wrote my book, Betsy Beads: Confessions of a Left-brained Knitter because I wanted to explore this. How did I transition from thinking of myself as an excellent knitting technician with no creative potential for the craft to having so many ideas for new work that I now describe my brain as being like an airport runway with new ideas lined up for miles, just waiting for an opportunity to take off?
What I now believe is that left-brained dominant folks like me are often no less creative than those right-brained folks who accept their creativity as a given. What works for me, and I believe can work for others, is simply engaging in a more concrete, organized creative process. The book contains seven short essays that describe the discovery and essence of that process. The projects in the book then illustrate it and offer what I call “what if…?’s, suggestions for taking the original designs in new and exciting directions. I truly believe that anyone who truly wants to be creative and is willing to do the work, can be. Giving yourself permission to BELIEVE that you CAN be creative is often half the battle.
Your beaded knit work is extraordinary and basically singular in availability. Are they all singular pieces or do you ever produce, contract production or consider alternatives for demand of multiple pieces?
I make every single piece I sell so the idea of doing production for large scale retail sale is not possible, nor do I have any interest in doing that. Perhaps selfishly, I want to make only what I want to make, when I want to make it. But in addition to my more costly, one-of-a-kind work, I do have a line of Limited Edition pieces: what I call Slider Bracelets and Bead Ball Necklaces. These are still made to order but simpler and quite affordable, ranging in price from $75 per bead ball to $125 for a bracelet. In the past, I have only sold my work at shows or from my studio showroom by appointment but that is about to change. Sometime in the next few months I will be adding an e-commerce component to my website where people will be able to directly order my Limited Edition work and buy an occasional sale piece of one-of-a-kind work as well as a new line of original pattern designs and accompanying material kits. When the new Studio B Shop site launches, I‘ll announce it on my website and on Ravelry.
You manage many avenues of generating Betsy Hershberg excitement: teaching, pattern making, book writing, kit making and of course your own knit projects. Do you enjoy working with all of these entities?
While I really do enjoy teaching and writing the book was an incredible experience (made possible by the extraordinary publishing team at XRX Books with whom I had the privilege of working), there is no question that imagining and creating new, one-of-a-kind work is my absolute favorite endeavor. The process I use often involves the iterative creation of small, ever-evolving swatches as I shepherd an idea from whatever inspiration is at play to a finished piece. The work is challenging, exciting and yet because it happens in small steps, it never feels scary or overwhelming. Perfect for a somewhat risk-averse, left-brainer like me.
At 63, you have achieved tremendous success with your work and your teaching both in person and through your book. Do you have a further vision for yourself? An area yet untapped?
Not really. I much prefer to remain open to whatever life will offer up next. I am never bored! The word does not exist in my vocabulary. Given my past, I have every reason to expect that the next adventure will be as much fun and rewarding as those that I’ve already experienced. I am an eternal optimist, another gift I have “inherited” from my remarkable mother - now a healthy, actively engaged, 87 year old. Whatever awaits, I am confident I’ll find a way to deal with the challenges and celebrate the joys.