Cool as Kelley Deal, the Rockstar Knitter

kelley deal breeders, crafter, keynote speaker, interview

I’m beyond stoked that Kelley Deal is one of our keynote speakers for Midwest Craft Con in 2018! I’ve been trying to get this multihyphenate Midwesterner to join us since we started, and I have finally succeeded! Even if you don’t immediately recognize Kelley’s name, if you were conscious in the 1990s, you will recognize this bass line:

(That’s Kelley and her twin sister Kim Deal playing “Cannonball” as The Breeders.) In addition to being a rock star, Kelley Deal is an accomplished knitter who wrote a book and sells her upcycled scarves. Plus she’s still touring with the Breeders and R.Ring, and has a zillion other projects. She’s Midwestern and proud of it, living in her hometown of Dayton, Ohio, again to take care of her mom. She also happens to be good friends with both past conner keynote Chris Glass and famous internet cat Lil Bub. Here’s what it’s like living the dream:

How did you get started crafting?

My mom and father are both born and bred West Virginians. I remember my mom always sewing, our clothes, our curtains. It wasn’t considered hokey or kitschy, it was highly respected and an art form that was passed down. That’s how I got introduced to it.

Now my mother has full-blown Alzheimers. But recently I pulled out the quilt that she and I made when we went to Ben Franklin’s in the 1980s and took quilting classes because she wanted to learn how to make quilts better, and I didn’t know how at all. So I laid this quilt on her lap, and I knelt in front of her, and we were looking together, talking about the different parts of the quilt we made together. It’s just such a wonderful gift to share that. There’s something about this crafting thing that brings people together in a way that I don’t fully understand.

I was in Amsterdam in the mid-’90s, and I was sober at the time, and nothing was good on TV and I couldn’t read anymore. I had to have something to do with my hands. And the girlfriend of the drummer of the band we were touring with taught me how to knit. I made this really weird sweater, and I never really finished it, but it got me hooked. It was comforting. It was something my brain could deal with when I was starting to overthink. And then later when I was living in Minnesota, a roommate of mine was having a birthday, and I thought I’d make her a felted bag. Obssessed again! Later I met Vickie Howell, and she invited me to do her show, Knitty Gritty, and my project was this purse I knit and felted. And after that we kept in touch and she helped me work on a book that got picked up by Lark Books. Now it’s coming full circle, and I’m going to be on Vickie Howell’s new knitting show!

What’s your favorite thing about the Midwest?

The people. They’re good at work. Less talk, more work.

What would you be if you weren’t a musician?

I would be an artist. I’d have a studio and an easel looking over a river and covered in paint. I say that as a dreamscape — I can’t draw. Or I’d be a forensic coroner.

What’s it like being a rock star?

Serendipitous. It’s weird, because I don’t know. People say, “What’s it like being a twin?” And I’m like, “What’s it like not being a twin?” It’s hard to answer. I remember when MTV was playing Cannonball all the time, it was very different being a rock star on MTV then, with Nirvana and the Smashing Pumpkins. People came up and said hi. You were in the public awareness. Rock stars today are sports people or real housewives.

What three things would you recommend to makers?

  • I really like the Sartorialist because he makes me rethink texture and color should be.
  • The artist Paul Klee. His color work is breathtaking.
  • I love podcasts, especially one called American Fashion. I love hearing about other people’s processes and learning about fashion and how it’s changing. It makes me think about things differently. I also love The Conversation, this guy who talks to fine artists about process and the art economy.

What will you talk about in your keynote session?

Chris Glass said the crowd at Midwest Craft Con was amazing, and that you were so receptive. I’ll be talking about me and my journey — music and crafting and selling stuff online. I’m looking forward to it!

Rock out with Kelley Deal at Midwest Craft Con in Columbus, Ohio! The event is Feb. 16-18, 2018, and early bird tickets go on sale August 1!