Interview: Carlin Belof

carlinphotoYou may have seen crochet artist Carlin Belof’s Unravelled Crochet creations on Twitter or Facebook—particularly the dolls: horror, sci-fi, adventure and superhero characters recreated with whimsical accuracy; the sharp attention to detail especially remarkable when you remember that these are created through crochet.

Practicing the craft for 20+ years, Belof starting making and selling hats in the 90s to supplement her income—and Unravelled’s offerings grew from there. She still crochets hats (including everyday hats, specialty hats and helmet covers), and expanded into pillows, clothing and accessories—and of course there’s the dolls; you can check all of these out on her eStore page. She’s also game for custom creations. I asked her about the evolution from hats to dolls; and what it’s like creating the beloved movie and TV characters in crochet.

Thanks for taking the time to chat about Unravelled: Crocheted Items by Carlin and the evolution of your crocheted creations! Not a problem, I’m glad to do it. And thank you for this opportunity!

You started making and selling hats back in the 90s—and then later branched out into clothing, accessories and pillows. How did you come to expand your creative repertoire? It all happened organically. I originally started crocheting in my teen years. I was ridiculously creative back then and, out of curiosity, learned a lot of different artistic mediums. Crocheting was one of them but it didn’t capture my attention because at the time, more than anything else, I was into music, writing and drawing, so the crocheting was put aside.

Then at one point in the late 90s I picked up a set of crochet hooks to make myself a blanket, and learned that yarn could be quite expensive. So when I wanted to make myself a hat, I decided to pull apart an old sweater and use it for yarn. That’s when the crocheting bug “hit.” I started pulling apart more sweaters—hence the name “Unravelled”—and made more hats, and sold them whenever money was tight. I did that for a number of years.

As time went on, I’d think to myself something like, ‘I used to have a poncho when I was a kid, I’d like to have one again,’ then would proceed to make one. Or I’d think, ‘I need a new pillow, I wonder if I can make one.’ That’s basically how most of my creations were inspired: out of desire or necessity. And I always wind up with something that’s one of a kind.

And tell us about how your creations evolved to include dolls. What inspires you to make particular dolls? About eight years ago I started working at an outbound call centre, and the manager was cool with me crocheting to keep my hands busy. I listened to a LOT of phones ringing at that job, so I was able to do a lot of crocheting.

Anyway, shortly after I started working there I was stumped for creative crochet ideas, so I asked my friends what I should make next and specifically asked them for challenging ideas because, when it comes to being creative, I always like a good challenge. One of my friends, Harrison, suggested a guitar. So I made a guitar pillow. It was the size of a ukulele, but it still had all of the elements of a guitar: strings, pegs and everything. That was the first sculptural item I made.

I think the second one was a life-size facehugger from the movie Alien, which is probably my favourite movie. Again, I made it as a challenge to myself, to see if I could do it. Amusingly, many of my co-workers were freaked out by it, but I was totally proud of it because it looked almost real.

After that, I just started making stuffed items that were inspired by some of my favourite movies and TV shows, usually in the sci-fi, fantasy, horror or cult genres because they’re my favourites. Plus those characters are easier to crochet than ones in other genres, or real people, because they wear iconic, recognizable costumes. I also keep a list of characters and things I’d like to crochet, and when inspiration is lacking, I ask friends for suggestions. They always come through with great ideas.

It was when I started making “dolls” that people started noticing my work, commissioning them from me, and suggesting that I sell them at craft shows, which I started doing just a few years ago. I say “dolls” with quotes because while, yes, technically they are dolls, they’re more for adults and teens who are collectors, as opposed to cute plushies that are meant for kids to play with. The people who buy them tend to love the movie or TV show that they were inspired from just as much as I do.

You also do custom made-to-order work. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve been asked to make so far? The most challenging thing? The most interesting thing … hmm … probably the blanket I made for my friend Ellie. She wanted something that looked like it belonged in a gypsy caravan, so I made it using squares with starburst motifs in them and in bright jewel tones with a black border. It wound up being absolutely beautiful, and she loves it which is the most important thing.

And the most challenging things would probably be the life-size Gremlin and Gizmo dolls. Both of their faces were tough to figure out how to make because I don’t use patterns; instead, I figure it out as I go along. They were ordered by a gal in Australia, so it makes me happy to know that my creations have travelled all over the world, even when I haven’t.

What’s been your favourite project to date? Least favourite? Usually after I finish my latest project it becomes my favourite, then whatever is made afterward becomes the favourite. But, if I had to pick, I’d have to say the doll I made of Chef Charles Michel (who is a world-renowned culinary artist). The doll is just so adorable; I don’t think I can part with him.

And the least favourite is the fourth tam I made for an acquaintance. The first one was alright, then he asked me to make another, and then another, and then another. I don’t like making the same things over and over and over again, so by the time I got to the fourth one I was just frustrated with it.

Other than your website’s eStore page, is there anywhere else people find your stuff? Any upcoming shows or events? There’s nowhere else online, just the eStore or directly through me (by email). Because it takes a while to build up stock, I only occasionally apply to craft shows or bazaars. There isn’t anything upcoming yet, but when I do get accepted into a show I post it on my website.

Anything else you want to shout out? Just a big THANK YOU to everyone who has supported me over the years: the strangers at the craft shows and bazaars, the customers who’ve ordered over the internet, the social media supporters, my amazing dad and step-mom, and my wonderful friends, especially Lizzie and Philip (aka my biggest fans) and you, Cate, for doing this.

Now, for the fun part of the interview. I’d like to finish up with James Lipton’s Pivot questionnaire: What’s your favourite word? Wow … tough question. I don’t really have one. There are just so many options to choose from in the English language, in all languages, that it’s hard to pick just one. I mean, I’m intrigued by words that have complex yet specific meanings, like “melancholy” or “schadenfreude,” but I also like simple words that evoke emotional responses, like “home” or “desire,” and some words just feel good in the mouth and roll off the tongue nicely, like “masticate” or “unscrupulous.” Yeah, I can’t choose just one.

What’s your least favourite word? Another tough one. Ummmm … well, lately the word “bespoke” has been bugging me. It’s just harsh sounding, and there are lots of other options that can be used, such as unique, one of a kind, or custom made. It also sounds more than a bit pretentious, and I hate pretense. Oh … and the word “like” when it’s used as filler. As a friend once said, “like, you know, life isn’t like a fucking simile.”

What turns you on? Hah! Well, if I’m being honest … purely physically speaking, tall, slender men with long, slender fingers and long, healthy hair, and beautiful smiles and elegant styles. Guys who are comfortable with their femininity and confident enough with themselves to break the mold and be unique. Humility, compassion, introspection, and being able to admit faults and mistakes are also all highly attractive qualities too.

What turns you off? Beards, arrogance, ignorance, moustaches, excessive drinking, idiotic behaviour, goatees, pretense, mutton chops, stubbornness, unwillingness to learn and grow, stubble, hypermasculinity, facial hair of any kind.

What sound or noise do you love? Any of Franz Liszt’s piano pieces. I completely understand why women swooned when he played; his music is simply beautiful. Most of the music from the Romantic era speaks to me, but Liszt’s does most of all.

What sound or noise do you hate? Anything grating on the nerves, like an alarm clock that someone hasn’t turned off, or teeth on a fork, or an overly nasal singer.

What is your favourite curse word? Lately the phrase “Jesus fuck” has been popping out of my mouth. There is something very satisfying about it.

What profession other than your own would you like to pursue? Someday I want to open my own café. I already know exactly what I want to do; I just don’t have the resources to make it happen.

What profession would you not like to do? Anything in either banking or the corporate sector.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? I don’t know. Um … “All of your musical idols are here. They’re having a jam session and would love it if you’d sing with them.”

Thanks, Carlin! No, thank YOU, Cate! It was fun!

Check out the crochet magic on Carlin’s Unravelled Crochet website; and give her a follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Here are some snaps I took of Carlin’s amazingly detailed, whimsical dolls at the Addams Family Christmas Bazaar this past December:

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Interview: Director Amanda Smith

Amanda Smith. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

 

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra will present the fourth installment of its Haus Musik series on April 26 at the Great Hall, directed by Amanda Smith. Topping Ludwig van Toronto’s 2017 list of breakthrough women in the local classical music scene, Smith is known for her multidisciplinary collaborations with actors, singers, DJs, instrumentalists, visual artists and filmmakers—creating dramatic and remarkable classical music performances that translate the music into the physical world. Smith recently directed Belladonna – a queer techno opera, produced by her company Fawn Chamber Creative.

This upcoming performance of Haus Musik takes us to a post-apocalyptic world, with Tafelmusik performing live in a bunker, where survivor Alex (Ally Smither) has taken shelter. Alex’s only connection to the outside world—and her only source of hope—is the radio and music.

I interviewed Smith, asking her about this upcoming iteration of Haus Musik, as well as her drive to create multidisciplinary classical music experiences.

With this fourth installment of Tafelmusik’s Haus Musik series, you’re exploring political extremes and isolation—timely themes in these turbulent times. In a world on the brink of apocalypse, radio becomes a life line and music a source of comfort. What can you tell us about the genesis of this project?

Truth be told, I thought of it while lying on my bed and listening to CBC Radio. They were talking about tensions between the United States and North Korea, so my thoughts naturally jumped to the worst case scenario. Mostly, I was wondering how it would be possible to maintain mental resiliency in addition to physical safety—they go hand-in-hand, but we so often forget about our psychological needs. I remembered that UK radio stations have a thing called the ‘obit procedure’, which calls for specifically chosen music to be played in the event of a national disaster. This got me thinking about the role of the radio as a primary source of public information during a disaster, and thought about how interesting it is that music is a decided method of keeping the public united and calm. I thought that the music selected for the upcoming Haus Musik had the kind of uplifting, hopeful sound that would be helpful in keeping people going during a moment of darkness.

You’re collaborating with synth artist ACOTE, and including the works of 18th century classical composers (Mozart, Vanhal and Boccherini), as well as James Rolfe’s Oboe Quartet. How did these musical flavours come together for you for this project?

The classical music in the program was selected by the Tafelmusik team. With this program, I’ve created a narrative arc that will be interpreted and driven forward by ACOTE’s electronic music. I have worked with ACOTE fairly regularly over the past couple years and love his musical sensitivity when collaborating with classical music. He manages to always find a cohesion between the different styles of music that also puts us in the dramatic world I’m looking to create.

In addition to including various takes on classical repertoire, you also incorporate acting and dance into your work. What drew you to creating these multidisciplinary pieces?

My relationship with music has always been very visual. This was apparent while studying music in my undergrad, when I began to seek out platforms that allowed me to physicalize music in different ways. This just seems to be the way I connect with music. I like to work with artists from different industries, such as dance, visual art, experimental electronic music, film, etc., because they bring new perspectives and wonderful ideas. I think it’s a lot harder to grow if you remain exclusive to one way of thinking.

What do you hope audiences will take away from the experience of this performance of Haus Musik?

Simply, I would love for audiences to leave with the message that art serves an important role in our society. Not only is it a source of personal and cultural expression, but it’s often used to keep people united, especially music. When there seems so much wrong in the world, it’s easy for artists and the public to doubt the value of creative work—I think about this quite often. It’s good to remember that sometimes singing a song with your community is what keeps people fighting and pushing forward.

Now, for the fun part of the interview. I’d like to finish up with James Lipton’s Pivot questionnaire:

What’s your favourite word? I don’t have a favourite but the first word that came to mind was cuddle.

What’s your least favourite word? Slut—such poison to hear and say.

What turns you on? Good dancing.

What turns you off? Narcissism.

What sound or noise do you love? My cats purring.

What sound or noise do you hate? Open mouth chewing sounds.

What is your favourite curse word? Fuck.

What profession other than your own would you like to pursue? Literally, nothing.

What profession would you not like to do? Performer.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates? “Your family and friend are here.”

Before we go, anything you’d like to add or shout out?

Only that I’m looking forward to the show on April 26th. I think it’s going to be a really unique experience.

 

Haus Musik runs for one night only: April 26 in Longboat Hall at the Great Hall; doors at 8 pm. Get advance tickets online.