The Adventures Of Miss Flitt: Q&A With Designer Beth Hahn

Published on January 30th, 2011 in: All You Need Is Now, Art, Books, Culture Shock, Current Faves, Feminism, Issues, Q&A |

By Chelsea Spear

In the late 2000s, knitwear designer Beth Hahn took the knitting world by storm with her series, The Adventures of Miss Flitt. Blending steampunk-friendly Victorian style, elegant knitwear designs, and an addictive narrative, the series follows the adventures of Emma Flitt as she traverses 19th century Brooklyn to find her sister. Her travels take her to seedy vaudeville theaters, pickpockets’ dens, and—in the most recent edition—to a most spooky séance. Ever the master storyteller, Hahn weaves her story through a series of simple-yet-gorgeous and thoroughly wearable cardigans, berets, overskirts, and other accessories.

On a chilly weekend in early January, I took virtual tea with Beth Hahn to find out more about her knitting endeavors.

strange case flitt
“The Strange Case of
the Magician’s Cabinet”

Popshifter: Hey Beth, how are you? What are you up to these days?

Beth Hahn: Hi, Chelsea. I’m well, thanks. And busy! I just finished a new sweater design, Gretel. It’s a ’60s style sweater with a mock-honeycomb yoke. If you knit it in an earth tone, it’s quite folksy, but a bright color makes it such a Joan from Mad Men sweater. Last weekend I went to Vogue Knitting Live and signed my Miss Flitt books at the Knitty City booth. I met lots of knitting world luminaries like Meg Swansen and Ysolda Teague. This week, I’m taking a break from knitting and designing (and math) and working on illustrations for my friend Anath’s new album. Her songs are gorgeous—darkly tinged and romantic—so the illustrations are proving wonderfully fun.

Popshifter: Tell me about “Gretel.” What inspired it?

Beth Hahn: I did a watercolor of a girl walking her dog. She’s wearing a simple shoulder–buttoned yoke-collared sweater with three-quarter length sleeves. From the start, the yoke pattern and the button details were very important to me.

When the sweater was finished, Gretel looked less like a sweater you’d choose for a quick dog walk and more like the one you’d put on if you wanted to look elegant while sitting by the fire and telling stories about witches and unfortunate children.

Popshifter: Backtracking a bit . . . how would you describe The Adventures of Miss Flitt to my kid brother? What inspired you to create a series of stories with knitting patterns?

Beth Hahn: How old is your kid brother? I know I can tell him about “The Strange Case of the Magician’s Cabinet,” but can I tell him about “Dangerous Ladies and Opium Dens” and “The Séance” yet? Figuring out how to sum up Miss Flitt for people was quite daunting. I had to find her “elevator pitch.” In other words, if I ran into a VIP in an elevator and they casually asked, “What are you working on?” I had to be able to explain my project before either of us reached our destination; hence: The Adventures of Miss Flitt is a serialized, illustrated, 19th century mystery set in New York City. Each chapter, or book, includes six original character-based knitwear designs.

The series began because I wanted to create knitwear designs based on my favorite literary heroines. I would make Madame Bovary’s Jardin d’amour stockings and Isabel Archer’s Albany Cutaway, but when I began the design drawings, the ladies in the drawings began to forge off on their own and tell their own stories—as ladies often do—and one of them became Emma Flitt.

Popshifter: Your knitting patterns have a wonderful vintage look to them. What kinds of challenges do you face in updating Victoriana for contemporary knitters and fashion mavens?

Beth Hahn: Each era in fashion is obsessed with something. The Victorians were about bustles, high collars, capes, and lace. You won’t see a bustle anywhere in Miss Flitt, but you will see an overskirt, a cape with a high collar, and lots of lace design. I don’t want the designs to look like costumes, so I try to capture the line of the clothing but keep things ultra wearable.

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