Lisa Anderson Shaffer is a textile artist who creates crochet art pieces and also has a line of fiber art jewelry called Zelma Rose. I was thrilled to get the opportunity to interview her about her work, her history with crochet and how crafting has offered benefits in her life as well as the life of her grandmother, who taught her knitting and crochet.
See Lisa’s beautiful inspirational craft photos on Instagram
When and how did you learn to crochet?
I learned to crochet when I was about 9 years old. My Grammy taught me how to knit and crochet in a single afternoon. Rose Marie was very creative, still is very creative, but also very disciplined. I learned how to make a chain and also to knit and purl by watching her first, then by her watching me while tapping on the table with a knitting needle like a metronome. “Keep going, keep going,” she said to the beat of the knitting needle. Needless to say I learned quickly!
“My business, Zelma Rose, is named after both of my grandmothers. One of them, Rosemarie, is still alive at ninety-three years old and crochets for an hour every day. She taught me how to knit. And Zelma always had a needlepoint easel up and invited me to watch while I handed her whatever color thread she needed.” – Lisa in an Interweave interview
Your grandmother is still crocheting in her 90s right? What have you learned from her? How do you think crochet helps her as she’s aged?
Yes, Rose Marie continues to crochet for an hour a day. She sets a timer, which is so funny to me because it is so authentically her! She has always been very disciplined in her craft, whether she was crocheting or working in the ceramics studio. There was always an end product in mind. She loves to make blankets for people, still does and enjoys having a beginning and an end to projects. I learned discipline from her, but also the incredible importance of nurturing your creativity. She said to my mom about a year ago that she is so lucky to be creative and to have given time to discovering her creativity. As she has aged it has become more difficulty to physically do the things she loves in the ways she loves to do them, but she has so many interests. When she cannot play the piano because her hands hurt, she can recite a poem into a tape recorder; when she cannot do that, she can listen to music; when she wants to get some exercise she can scuffle dance in her slippers; and when she is tired, she can sit and sing.
That is so wonderful. What benefits has crocheted offer you personally?
Outside of yoga it is the single most relaxing thing I do. Even when I am working on a large piece with a deadline, I can just zone out and let go. It’s like a conversation between me and the fiber. It leads me down a road, I’m just following.
You also enjoy a lot of other crafts. How does crochet mix with those? What might make you select crochet over another form of needlework for a particular piece?
I love to work with my hands. In art school I was fortunate enough to be an interdisciplinary major, creating my own curriculum from a full offering of classes. I studied photography, printmaking, film, painting, and sculpture. I continue to enjoy doing all these things. Still there is something very interesting about crochet. While meditative, for me there is a very forceful psychical component, especially when working so large. The weight of the cord I use, the size of the hook … I’m always moving and pulling and lifting. It becomes a dance and that feels very creative and authentic to me.
How did your exhibit of Aerial go last year? What did you hope to express through that work?
The exhibit was fantastic. I still continue to show the pieces, creating new ones as I go along. It was my first fine art show in over 15 years, which was very scary to think about! It was my intent to take a textural and abstract look at the beautiful shapes and temporary silhouettes that are often overseen in nature, simply because the perspective required to see them is just too big. I think that came across.
“AERIAL explores the ever-changing and temporary truth of nature. Each piece in the series begins with actual aerial photographs of the West Marin County coastline the artist calls home. Anderson abstracts and renders each location as a three-dimensional fiber artwork formed by crochet, nautical knots, and embroidery.” – Alice Wu, Rare Device
“ZELMA ROSE is a line of jewelry designed by artist Lisa Anderson Shaffer. Inspired by the natural beauty of Northern California, Lisa’s designs evoke the delicate balance of bold colors and refined details only found in nature. Each piece is handcrafted by the artist and represents her mission to create jewelry that is distinctive and memorable.” – About Zelma Rose
I’ve noticed that your jewelry doesn’t typically incorporate crochet … is there a reason for this?
I haven’t found the right marriage, yet, of what I want to communicate through my jewelry with crochet. Part of what makes Zelma Rose designs so unique is their beautiful drape, which really comes from allowing the fiber some space and freedom. I haven’t managed to find the right combination with crochet to make that happen.
What are the pros and cons of making a living as a fiber artist? Any tips to offer others entering the business or struggling to make it work?
I think they are mostly the same as any other creative business owner and artist. There is always a juggle, never enough time to get done what needs to get done, and each of us do the work of about 10 people on any given day. Fiber arts are becoming more and more recognized, which is nice and helps to further the exposure of the craft. A plus side is that it is easy to ship and travel with.
“I never feel like I have enough time to create. Some people would find that depressing, but for me it is a product of having everything I want. Being a stay at home/work at home mom and being an artist for a living is getting to have everything for me. It’s more of giving something up for now, than in totality. Like I might have to give up an hour of art time today to gain an hour of something super fun with my daughter’s school. Being able to juggle things like that can be difficult and wonderful. I have so much gratitude to be able to make these choices. I say that to myself at the end of each day. I chose this.” – Lisa in an interview with Carve Out Time for Art
Does your background in psychology play any role in your career today?
Always! I have found it to be very helpful to have insight into the human condition as a business owner.
“Shaffer hasn’t completely abandoned her experience or interest in psychology. She teaches a class on how business owners can establish better boundaries at the Makeshift Society, an organization for creative people in San Francisco, and consults with several companies on business and psychology issues. She realized recently that she could feel comfortable combining the two threads in her life: psychology and craft making.” – Maura Hurley, SF Gate, 2013
What is your favorite ever item that you’ve crocheted?
A striped baby blanket for my daughter.
“When I think of women creating their most beautiful lives, I think of women like Lisa who is balancing motherhood and full-time entrepreneurship like a BOSS, defining success on her own terms, and being her most creative and authentic self.” – Beatrice Clay, intro to interview with Lisa
What are some of your favorite crafty / art places in the Bay Area?
There are so many! I love Handcraft Studio school for classes. It’s also a great place to teach! Minted, for classes as well. Love Fest Fibers for yarn and supplies, Flax for good old fashioned art supplies … and I simply adore the DeYoung Museum. It has such a Bay Area vibe and they always have fantastic fiber art shows, as well as fashion shows, which always inspires me.
If you could invite five people (living, dead, real, fictional) to a craft party, who would you invite?
Wow. This is quite a question! Angela Davis, Jimmy Page, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Keith Haring, and Stevie Nicks.
What a great group! Who are some fiber artists that inspire you?
Carrie Crawford of Mineral Workshop, Meghan Shimek, Windy Chien, Cindy Hsu Zell, Liz Robb.
Another great group. Anything else we should know?
I absolutely positively love what I do.
Listen to Lisa Anderson Shaffer share more in her podcast interview with Vickie Howell of Craft-ish.