Artist Knitter Q&A: Julia Mills
Julia Mills is an illustrator and painter living in the wilds of southern New Jersey. She is currently making fun prints about knitting (and other obsessions) as well as working on a children’s book. You can see her work at www.jamills.com and as JMillsPaints on Etsy, Facebook, and Twitter.
How did you enter the world of knitting?
Fifteen years ago I was in college—I’ve always been a very fidgety person—and I started knitting because it seemed to be a productive way to use that tendency to fiddle with things. I actually learned from Stitch N’ Bitch. It was really cool at the time and it’s a great book. I’ve made a lot of projects from that book, so it’s nostalgic for me. When people want to learn, I often recommend it.
Knitters are my people and I think about knitting a lot—even when I’m not knitting. The piece about my stash—I am so embarrassed by my stash and the jokes in there are really how I feel about it. I just can’t express enough how knitters are my people. I see another knitter and I can’t help but think, “She’s a knitter! We’re connected and we know what’s going on because we both knit.”
Why did you start including knitting in your artwork?
My background is in really traditional painting. I work on a lot of commissions, portraits, landscapes, traditional oil painting, etc. I went to graduate school for visual arts but when I was writing my thesis, I got really bad writers block and the only thing I could do was knit. I literally called it “procrast-a-knitting”. I went from making paintings about glassblowers and these big paintings of men working in industrial settings to making work about knitting. I ended up writing my whole thesis about knitting.
I have always drawn doodles and I especially loved to draw little balls of yarn. These illustrations are the first time I’ve put my words with pictures. I’m self-conscious about my writing, but I have always wanted to make comics. But as I started doing these little images of knitting and adding my commentary, people responded to my humor. So that’s kind of how I started making these object pieces.
Do you think knitting and art relate well to one another?
I think they go so perfectly together. Every step of my art career—since I learned to knit—has had some thread of knitting in it. And I remember working on my thesis and looking up all of these images of women knitting. It’s a really prevalent theme in art. So now I’m taking it and combining it with writing and imagery. It’s been a part of my art practice for a very long time. But it’s a push and pull. I felt for a long time that it was taking away from my artwork and it can be hard to find a balance between the two things. But I don’t think it hurts my art that I knit. I think it’s good for it.
What can we look forward to you making in the future?
I see these knitting pieces with the little drawings and the words but I am also thinking about pieces that focus on experiences. Like when I see someone else’s project, there are these steps I go through like: “Ooh I want to make that. Do I have the yarn to makes that? Yeah I probably do…but do I have those needles? Yeah I think I have those needles. But will this project work with that yarn? Yeah maybe that yarn won’t work and that yarn is in a box that is really far away. I should go buy some yarn!” Something I’m working on right now is a piece focused on what I have learned from knitting—terminology and life lessons.
What would you like to see in the future for knitting?
I hope that knitting gets more respect in the art world. I know there are a lot of artists doing amazing stuff with fiber arts. Even knitters will tell me that they’re just knitters and I’m making art. But I think there’s an art to knitting. There’s an expression and importance to it. I really think that when you knit something, you are putting a piece of yourself in there. I think about the importance of handmade and how they are expressions of our love and attention. I hope that I’m knitting when I’m 100 because it fills so many needs of relaxation and the ability to make things.
All illustrations by Julia Mills.