Coraline is a high-definition 3D animated feature to be released in the UK in May. Director Henry Selick employs old-fashioned stop-motion animation enhanced by computers to create state-of-the-art 3D effects. For the last three years the most talented animators and puppet makers in the world have been making Coraline. I spoke to Althea Crome, a miniature knitter, who made the clothes for the film at a ridiculously tiny scale.
First a bit about the story:
Based on a book by Neil Gaiman, the film tells the story of a lonely girl transplanted to an old country house where she lives with her neglectful parents. She soon discovers a tunnel in the wall leading to a parallel universe where she finds a very different version of her parents - nearlly identical in looks, they dote on her and seem to be exactly how she wished her real parents were. However, things are not quite what they seem in this new world and it turns out to be a case of 'be careful what you wish for'.
Now the interview:
Hello Anthea. How did you get involved in producing the clothes for the film Coraline?
About three years ago, while sitting at an outdoor Thai restaurant with my mom, lamenting the break up of my marriage and crying into my Thai iced coffee, I got an unexpected phone call from Shere Coleman. She explained that she was from the costume department at Laika Studios. She said that Laika Studios (previously Will Vinton Studios), which had been recently purchased by Phil Knight, was making it’s first feature length animated movie. She told me how the movie they were making was based on a book called Coraline by Neil Gaiman (who, I admit, I had not heard of yet) and that it was being directed by Henry Selick who was the mastermind behind Nightmare Before Christmas. She told me about how many of the costumers had come from England and had worked on Corpse Bride, which my children and I loved.
She said that they had always wanted miniature knitting for their movies but never had anyone who could knit at that scale. She and Georgina Haynes (puppet fabrication supervisor) decided to do a Google search and they came across my website. They said that because the plot of the story had a mystical quality, they were looking for knitting which felt “magical” and they really felt that my designs fitted the bill.
She asked if I was interested in doing commissions. At the time, I was so overwhelmed with trying to raise four children on my own and figure out how to make a living, that I wasn’t sure I could take on commission work, but I asked Shere to send me a follow up email, which, thankfully, she did.
I recognised soon enough that this was a really special project and that I would be a fool to turn it down. I simply HAD to find the time to fit it in. The first request from the studio was to knit a pair of black and white striped stockings for Coraline. Henry Selick loved them and even said they were “scary good” but in the end they decided not to use them in the movie.
Instead, they told me about the magical star sweater they needed - it would have to sparkle. I went on a tireless thread quest for about a month - finding everything from stainless steel thread to paintable sparkles and then set about knitting swatches and sending them to Laika. None of them looked right on screen and because of a time issue, it was looking like my hopes of making something for this wonderful project were fading. In fact, at one point, they told me that they were going to have to start shooting soon and would not be able to wait for me to find the right combo of threads.
Soon after that email my mom came over with some holographic thread and said, “Althea, I really think this will work on the sweater for Coraline.” I combined the holographic thread with some Polyester sewing thread and sent off several more swatches to the Coraline people. Eureka! That was the ticket and at the 11th hour Henry decided to have me go ahead and knit up the first star sweater for Coraline.
At that point, the studio sent me a Coraline body to fit the sweater on to and a drawing of what they wanted the sweater to look like. I designed a pattern that would fit the willowy Coraline and it took about two weeks to knit the sweater. I was delighted when I got the thumbs up from the studio and over the next couple of years I made a total of 14 identical sweaters for Coraline.
I was also thrilled to learn that they would need a pair of gloves for Coraline because gloves are my favorite thing to knit - they are so intricate and personal and somehow very intimate. Knitting gloves in 1/12 scale was what got me noticed in the miniature world because up until I started knitting them, miniature collectors had never had true 1/12 scale knitted gloves.
What inspired you to knit such small garments?
Although miniatures had always held a sort of fascination for me, I had never entered that world, or had a dollhouse, or even knew that a whole industry revolving around miniatures really existed. In 2001 one of my best friends kept telling me about a dollhouse she had rescued from the garbage. When I finally went to visit her in Philadelphia she showed me the house, which she was in the process of remodeling and it looked like fun. When I got home I decided I would take on a dollhouse project of my own, ostensibly for my children when they were a little older. In my efforts to fill the dollhouse with things (I shopped mostly on eBay then since I was home-bound with kids and really knew nothing of miniature shows or dollhouse shops) I came across a knitted sweater on eBay and thought, “hey, I want to try that.” I have been an avid knitter since my college days and thought I could do at least as well as I had seen online. That very night I made a man’s cardigan with 0 needles and baby weight yarn. It was bulky and clumsy but it was an instant thrill. I felt at once that I had to do more. I still have that first project and enjoy pulling it out from time to time to look at it and see how far I’ve come. That sweater is made at about 11 stitches per inch whereas the sweaters I make now often have more than 50 stitches per inch.
Other than dressing the model of Coraline, what else, or who else have you knitted for?
Coraline is the first movie I have ever knitted for. It was the best job I’ve ever had because although the concept and look of the sweater was entirely the brainchild of the costuming department at Laika, the design, fitting, thread selection and interpretation were mine.
When you first started knitting in such a small scale were you doing it for personal creative pleasure, or had you intended them to be for something in particular?
From the very first thing I knitted, I was definitely hooked. I equate it to falling in love - I was compelled to keep doing it. My mind was flooded with ideas, which I could not knit as fast as they came. Initially I saw these things as doll clothes, but as my skills increased, and my desire to push the envelope and go smaller increased, I conceived my designs as art pieces unto themselves - not intended for any dolls or dollhouse settings, but rather as something that could stand alone and be appreciated in its own right.
Now museums and several private collectors own my pieces and it has been an absolute joy and pleasure to be able to share my art with the world. The single largest collection of my work is in the Kentucky Gateway Museum Center in Maysville, KY.