The Complete Surprise by Cully Swansen proves that the classics taught to us years ago are still pertinent to us on the Yarn Thing podcast with Marly Bird.
Cully Swansen is very modest about how he learned to knit. He is the grandson of master knitter Elizabeth Zimmermann and son of knitting designer Meg Swansen, so we may assume they sat him down and taught him. He recalls like the rest of us, the stories Elizabeth shared with us of learning to knit a few stitches at a time. He says he learned while attending a Waldorf school when they lived in Los Angeles for a year. The focus is on the arts, and he worked in languages, arts and knitting. He knit an entire doll! Much later, about ten years ago, he came back to it. He had been to college and had a career, but when he broke his leg and realized this was the perfect time to pick it up again and work on it while he was healing.
If we were to learn from Elizabeth’s and Meg’s example of teaching our kids our favorite crafts: Cully says knitting was just always there. He gives for an example, long road trips with his grandparents in the car to Canada, he was often in the back seat with Elizabeth. They played word games and things as we all do on road trips and she would share her knitting with him, a few stitches of whatever she was working on. He never felt pushed to learn to knit or play music as his father does.
In the 1990’s, Cully’s wife began helping with office stuff at Schoolhouse Press, which was founded 1958. Michelle has been instrumental with bringing the business into the 21st century, he says. Most of the business when they first joined was still by mail and phone. He says Meg was very happy to have their help, but it was never expected. Schoolhouse Press was begun with handwritten newsletters from Elizabeth, where she included newsy bits of her life and patterns. So the business has survived many changes and moved forward, he says, doing what they need to do. Customer service was always important, it keeps them aware of what knitters are wanting. Cully’s background from college was in mathematics, and realizes Elizabeth’s designs were created heavily crafted with math. He says Meg is very inspirational, and the success of their annual Camps has been based on her encouragement and enthusiasm. Schoolhouse Press Patterns (SPP) are patterns of Elizabeth’s mixed with Megs and a few from Cully.
The Original Baby Surprise Jacket: Cully, as the first grandchild of Elizabeth, was the original recipient of the first Surprise Jacket, back in 1968. It’s was easy to knit garment in garter stitch, but the construction is so creative, in that it’s a one piece but until it’s folded, how it works may not be rapidly apparent. It’s a marvel, and that first one for babies was such fun, soon she was asked how to make it for adults, which Elizabeth had to be open to and give consideration. The Calculator has been a wonderful tool for those that have tried it. A knitter can take any yarn they wish to use, find their comfortable gauge, find the wearer’s size and GO! Cully’s new work an online product that generates custom-sized row-by-row instructions create the Surprise Jacket.
Cully says the legacy of Elizabeth’s approach to knitting and pattern, about life really, her writing was always about self sufficiency, exploration, acceptance of failure, about learning from mistakes, confidence and growing as a person. She did it in such a way, that it was never pounded into a listener’s psyche, subtly, incrementally she had you gain belief in what you’re knitting, with self-empowerment. Cully’s work has been to try to find balance between that and the world where there is so much minute directions, knitters often don’t learn to think it out for themselves. His latest work is the book The Complete Surprise—Knitting Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Surprise Jacket. The book includes creating and customizing the jacket to fit.
Keep up with Cully and his adventures through Schoolhouse Press at their website: SchoolhousePress.com, make sure you sign up for their newsletter (enter your e-mail address at the bottom of any page on their website). They are also on Facebook so we can follow them there. Cully teaches at Meg Swansen’s Knitting Camp and has become a go-to guy to answer technical questions at Schoolhouse Press.
If you missed getting to hear this episode live you may still listen to the archived episode where it aired originally: https://www.blogtalkradio.com/yarnthing/2016/09/15/the-complete-surprise-by-cully-swansen or with your favorite podcast catcher like iTunes or Stitcher Radio. There is also ‘behind-the-scenes’ video of Marly visiting with Cully from her Facebook page.