This is without a doubt one of my favourite conversations I’ve ever had with a creator. Diva Zappa is amazing! She has such simple, beautiful ideas about creating and life in general. The magical knittress, actress (appearing in The Mighty Boosh + more), photographer and artist makes wonderful, colourful, unique handmade creations – ponchos, capes, scarves, gloves, beanies etc. – and embroidered couture canvas. Her wearable art is worn by (friends and fans) Noel Fielding, Diablo Cody, Corey Parks, Chloé Trujillo and many others and is inspired by light, faeries, magic, gunfire, Bruce Willis, tea, animals and Law & Order among other things! Each piece is handmade with love.
Your business is named Handmade Beauty. What are some of your first memories of beauty?
I’m a big fan of light and the different tones of light that bring out the colours in flowers. When you say ‘beauty’ I basically think about odd light shining from the sky, I can’t really explain it. If it’s a cloudy day things kind of sing at a different vibration – I see that stuff.
Your ‘about me’ section on your Facebook profile reads: I laugh so much it makes me cry and everyone is terrified of me. When was the last time that happened?
[Laughs] With my sister the other day actually. She made me laugh really, really hard. We were sitting and having tea at a gelato bar and she just said something completely stupid [laughs]. It really wouldn’t make anybody laugh but it was so ridiculous that it was like, really? It made my brain break and I laughed so hard I cried—it was awesome! People were starring [laughs].
Your profile also mentions: I like compliments. What’s one of your favourite compliments you’ve been given in regards to your art?
I had a show in London earlier this year and Noel Fielding, when he saw it, couldn’t stop saying that he felt like it was underwater!
What is one of your favourite things about your art? About knitting?
That anything is possible. That it starts from one string, it’s just a straight line and a straight line can be anything you want. It’s so cool to me that you can actually mould a straight line.
That reminds me of a time when someone asked me that saying: how long is a piece of string? And I replied to them, however long you want it to be. They were surprised by my answer because they had just accepted that it was one of those questions that have no answer. It really is up to you.
Yes, yes it is completely up to you, that’s one of my favourite things. It’s so astounding to me when I knit that it starts out… it’s just creation, it’s totally cool. I blow my own mind looking at a piece of string all the time! It’s ridiculous [laughs].
I can so relate to that! What are some of your favourite colours to work with? What colours make your heart sing?
It depends on the kind of day and the kind of light that’s outside. On grey days if the light is shining through a cloud it will be yellows and blues and gold that usually comes out and play. If it’s a sunny bright day I could go with a dark green or something. Honestly it’s whatever the light is telling me to do and the textures, I filter through my bag and grab things. I really don’t have a choice, the yarn tells me what to do next and what the next colour will be. It can be dependent on what’s happening around me, where I am or my mood. If I’m in a coffee shop and someone is making noise like a constant snapping of gum and I’m a little bit annoyed that will come out – I might knit with some grey or some really hideously textured yarn that I’m just a little annoyed and then I might switch to something pretty and… it might not necessarily work but it tells a story and ends up being an art piece—a living journal basically.
I love that you follow your instincts and allow yourself to do that. I find a lot of people can unfortunately suppress that part of themselves and they do what they think they should be doing rather than listening to their natural intuition.
Yeah. I’m a big believer in trusting yourself and doing things for you and not doing things for other people. If you’re making art don’t make what you think somebody else wants ’cause no one wants that, everyone wants to see what you make because you are what’s interesting.
You have such a confident attitude, have you always been this way?
Yeah I’ve always been. More and more over the years I’ve gotten really strong about my art but from the beginning like with my knitting, I never really cared about what people thought because it is just what I do. It has just become more and more, me. Now I apply that everywhere. Honestly, if you don’t appreciate me then I don’t need you in my life. Why would I hang out with someone that doesn’t like me?
Definitely, I know exactly what you mean in the last few years especially I’ve left all the unappreciative people behind.
[Laughs] Yeah. At a certain point you realise that you have a certain amount of time in the day or in life however you want to think about it and what do you want to do? How do you want to spend it? Do you want to do things for other people that make you feel uncomfortable or do you want to spend it doing things that open your heart and where you can spread a little fairy dust and make other people happy and spread the love. Wouldn’t you rather do that than force yourself to do things that just make you go ‘ugh’ all the time? Or hang out with people that drain you? I don’t like doing that it’s not fun. I like the idea of leaving a trail of sparkly fairy dust!
You come from a super creative family, is there anything super important you’ve learnt from their creativity?
To just do your work. What I’ve learnt is what I‘m doing—to just be yourself, be you, embrace it.
You use cashmere yarns and wools from all over the world, what is one of the most exotic places you’ve been and sourced yarn from?
I have a really beautiful orange yarn, a fuzzy, bright, bright orange yarn from Iceland which was amazing! I got some really pretty yarn in Basil that was hand spun and a rough silk, it was really cool, it was hot pink! I try and get some everywhere I go. If I see yarn I go, yeah I have to stop and get something right now. It’s funny that I remember where I get certain balls of yarn.
Is there anywhere that you would super love to go to knit but haven’t yet?
Actually yeah, I would actually love to be sponsored by someone to knit in different locations around the world and see what I come up with; to spend a couple of weeks in like Tibet on a mountain top and be totally isolated with like snow – like what would happen? Would I knit a bikini? I don’t know [laughs]. It’d be so strange like a fish out of water experience. I would love to go and see what other kinds of things inspire me and what would happen if I was taken out of every day-what-I-know coffee shop adventures of knitting in public to knitting in public in a land where I don’t speak the language. Maybe on a boat in the middle of the ocean, like a cruise ship – even if it’s totally retarded – I’m up for anything, any experience and any inspiration. I want to see what happens.
Have you ever been to Australia?
I have. I actually learned how to dance; I found the beat Down Under! I didn’t understand what you move to until I went to Australia. I was standing in somebody’s living room and there were these big speakers that from the floor were halfway up the wall – I was ten or eleven – they were playing some horrible music [laughs]. I was like, oh! That’s when you step! I got it! I started moving and dancing. It was really cool.
There were some photos taken of your knitted pieces against a charcoal, burnt out forest. You found that place while on a road trip to find a fairy tale like crystal forest?
I was looking for an icicle crystal forest. I wanted to go find a place that was all snow and make a tree covered in icicles and I wanted to hang all my knits in ice crystals.
Have you found that yet?
No I haven’t actually found that yet. I think I actually have to go to North Carolina or something. It’s getting to be colder here. My aunt basically has a forest in her backyard in North Carolina that I could go there. We could spray water all over the trees and make our own ice crystal forest. That’s how I found the burnt forest that I ended up taking pictures of all my knits on was because we were driving up to the snow. A couple of months before we drove up that way there were huge fires across the mountain side and it was the aftermath that we drove through. We drove through desert then burnt forest then snow all within an hour, just crazy climate surroundings changing. It was amazing! We just turned around a drove back to the burnt forest because it was so sparse and alive yet dead. There was so much crackling and energy there that it was screaming, it was really cool. Not screaming bad but it was really amazing.
A lot of people see fire as a bad, destructive thing but I see it more as a renewing thing, like rebirth.
Of course! Like the phoenix.
Before you started knitting you crocheted. How did you first come to that? Did you teach yourself?
No I went to a shop in Silverlake which is a little hipster, artsy part of the city in Los Angeles. When I walked into the store they had all these little hand glove things and I fell in love with them. They were all crocheted and were totally adorable! I couldn’t decide which one I wanted so I brought all of them. I got home and the magic of being in a shop wore off and I realised how horribly they were made – the dye from the yarn came off on my hands. I felt like I got ripped off and I was really upset. I knew from holding them in my hands that I could make them and I could make them better. I went to a knit shop and brought them in there and I was, show me how to make this. Three hours later I had a horrible version but a better made version of these gloves. I was only crocheting for three months and then my friend [actress] Laurie Metcalf was like ‘you need to knit.’ She showed me in ten minutes how to knit and I literally haven’t stopped since. I rarely pick up a crochet hook because it hurts my hands and it takes much more concentration for me.
I also do photography. The pictures of my knits in the burnt forest, I took all the pictures. I put them on canvas and I embroider them too.
I have seen those, they’re beautiful and really unique. I was going to ask about your photography. Is there a particular aesthetic you look for when you’re taking a photo?
The photography that I’m actually really drawn to and that I enjoy doing is rock shows. I like really super close like macro kind of stuff like of flowers and sections of things. I’m not so good at landscape or big, lots of things happening in the picture. I like isolating and getting really close kind of like you know what’s going on but you don’t know what is going on because it could be many different things and you just have to take a minute to look at the piece then you can understand what’s happening. I’ve kind of been obsessed with taking pictures of flowers recently. Flowers have been talking to me on the side of the road like ‘I want my picture taken!’ I have my camera with me all the time. I’ll be going somewhere and I’ll see this flower and be, ok I have to pull over and take a picture of it, it’s stunning! It’ll say thank you and I’ll be, ok we’re done, we’re good and I drive on.
How did you come across the idea to do embroidery with your photos?
I was chatting with Michael Patrick King who is the producer man behind Sex In The City and Two Broke Girls – he’s my friend – he saw my knits and he inspired me. He said ‘you need to knit something that can go on the wall because that would be amazing!’ At the time I was extremely against knitting anything for the furniture or for the walls—in my mind, my stuff, I’m making for a person. Once you get it in your hands you can do whatever you want with it, whatever it inspires you. If you want it on your wall go for it but at the time it was not my intention to knit something to hang on a wall. To solve the problem of that I decided that I was going to take a picture of my knits and I could print it and that could go on the wall because pictures go on the wall to me. When I printed the photograph on canvas it wasn’t enough to me. It was too simple. So I decided to start embroidering the knit picture. I just started making these crazy couture canvases. Now, I went to the aquarium and I took pictures of jelly fish and there was a bird sanctuary at the aquarium which I thought was hilarious so I took a picture of a bird and I embroidered that. I went to a flower garden and I took pictures of them and started doing those. It’s all moving.
I love all of the things you create you can just feel the love that’s been put into them emanating. They’re so beautiful.
Awww thank you.
The knit pieces look like they would just give you a big warm hug!
They really do, the knit pieces are extraordinary. I’ve seen actual transformations of people when they try them on. I make everything basically for me but I don’t actually have any intention of keeping any pieces except for three pieces that I just won’t give away.
What are those three pieces? I know one is a hat that you carry with you. What story and part of your experience does that one tell?
That hat was the very first hat I ever made in that shape which is a jester crown. It’s the most muted I’ve ever done and the most like a tree—it just means a lot to me and it’s mine. I’ve always worn it and I love it! It’s just got a bit of magic in it for me. Another piece is a poncho kind of thing which was my first attempt at doing shapes – a heart and a star – within the knit. It’s really just the ones I’ve done as a first attempt that I keep. Right now I can’t think of the third one. I want to keep.
Tell me about your mile long scarf you’re working on, Emilio Estevez! Where is he currently at?
I think he is somewhere in the 50+ range. I haven’t had a chance to work on him consistently because he was on display for four months in London. I got him back though and I’ve been moving and having other life stuff happen so he’s been on hold a little bit but I started working on him again. He is amazing! I recently did a little Starbucks ‘Fall Back into Fall’ interview video thing and I got reunited with him because they fell in love with him and had me walk my hands through him. I got to look at every bit of him. Since then I haven’t been able to stop thinking about him and thinking about him. It’s an amazing piece! I’m really excited about it.
I saw that video and was blown away! It’s such an amazing creative idea. I don’t know anything else in the world like it.
Yeah. He is going to take about 15 years to do.
Now that’s dedication!
[Laughs] well I’ve already been knitting for ten! I’ve already knitted more than a mile I’m sure. He’s pretty awesome!
Your London art show went by the name Bruce. You have an admiration for Bruce Willis? I read that each piece on show was knitted while watching Die Hard?
Yeah, well, not just Die Hard. Every piece that I knit, the majority of pieces, has Bruce Willis involved. One of his movies or I even have on my iPod quotes of his from Die Hard [laughs]. I’ll listen to him. It’s just ridiculous. The majority of it has some Bruce Willis in it. If it’s not Bruce Willis it’s Law & Order, you know the ‘duh duh’ sound?
Yes! I love that show.
That’s involved in some of the pieces. It’s the best show ever, I love it! [laughs] Bruce Willis and Law & Order are the two most inspirational things, I don’t think I’d have going on what I have going on without them.
You got to be on the set of Law & Order: Criminal Intent and knit while they were filming, what were you knitting there?
A piece that has fuzzy orange and soft pink. I think I might have sold that piece. I was just losing my mind! Vincent D’onofrio came over a shook my hand and Kathryn Erbe talked to me about knitting for a second. I was like, oh my god! Oh my god! [Laughs]. I just kept losing my mind.
Do you ever find it challenging to put a price on your art?
Anyone that says no is lying. Yes! It’s always difficult to put a price on it because it’s really subjective. I can’t really explain how I figure it out. It is based and time and materials absolutely but some pieces are just unlike anything else and sometimes need a little extra.
A percentage of your profits are donated to the Creative Visions Foundation, how did you get to be involved with them?
I haven’t been involved with them for a while. I donated some pieces to them a few years back. I got involved with them because my mum is really good friends with Kathy Eldon who is basically behind that. They are an amazing force. Kathy Eldon started stuff because of her son Dan – you should look into him – he was a reporter that was stoned to death in Somalia I think. He made these beautiful journals that were just breathtaking and inspiring—you have to see them!
I will totally check them out. What are you currently working on?
I have no idea what they are. I have three pieces going on. One is lumpy, thick and feels heavy like a sludge – it feel like sludge [laughs] – it’s big! Then we have a piece where probably only two sections of this piece doesn’t have glitter in it – it’s the light, airy, fairy, sparkly magic that is desperately needed right now apparently for me to be working on at the same time I’m working on sludge. The other piece is kind of tame, I don’t even know what it is.
What’s something that really amazes you?
That is a big question! I was looking at birds yesterday and I couldn’t believe that they were flying! [Laughs]. It’s just those basic simple things that we take for granted that amaze me. It amazes me that I walk outside and almost every single day I see a butterfly on my right and a dragonfly on my left.
Nature never ceases to amaze me. If I’m in a sad, bad, angry, frustrated, whatever kind of mood I just have to walk outside into my garden and it brings me back to a calm. Also animals have a similar effect on me.
Yeah me too. I walked out my door the other day and I looked up at the precise time a little tiny hummingbird just decided to land.
I used to have a little hummingbird kind of thing that would come visit me whenever I was sad that would appear outside my window at my parents place where I used to live. It wasn’t there any other time just when I was sad.
[Laughs] Well hummingbirds mean joy, they bring joy.
Wow! That’s amazing!
Because they break the rules, they can fly in any direction. Their wings go in a figure eight. They are incredible.
Thank you for sharing that and thank you for this conversation.
Thank you and good for you for calling people and interviewing them, it’s so awesome. I love that you are so serious, that’s really cool.
Create magic in your life every day!