Ella Emhoff Thinks Democracy Needs Knitwear
Ella Emhoff is reclining on a plush, high-pile carpet, mimicking the pose of a balaclava-clad mannequin perched on the mossy hill behind her. The slope is dotted with multicolored knit bows, which seem to have just sprouted from the green fuzz and decorate the ends of her pigtails. Above her head, giant, trumpet-shaped sculptures of flowers brush against the jewel-toned linen curtains lining the walls. “This is the environment I create the knits for,” said Emhoff, gesturing to the organic-meets-extraterrestrial exhibition space, which played host to the NYFW debut of her eponymous knitwear brand. Though she coyly dubbed the label Ella Emhoff Likes To Knit, this Saturday’s pop-up presentation was clearly a labor of love. The collection features an array of intricate, whimsical garments like bunny-eared bonnets and a candy-striped miniskirt constructed from no fewer than 20 different yarns, all knit by Emhoff in her Brooklyn studio (occasionally for 10 hours at a time). When she finally got the chance to trade her needles for a negroni, we sat down with Emhoff to ask about her most impractical projects, the perils of mohair, and what the Secret Service will be wearing this fall.
ELLA EMHOFF: I’m getting down to your level.
CAITLIN LENT: I appreciate that. I’m a very short person. These chairs are not doing it for me.
EMHOFF: There’s no hierarchy here.
LENT: [Laughs] Tell me, what’s in your system?
EMHOFF: Sadly, not a lot. I had some vegan pho. And I chugged some leftover coffee from this morning. Very much not what I usually do.
LENT: Although you’ve got a negroni…
EMHOFF: You’re right, I am drinking a negroni right now. [Laughs] The special cocktails tonight are dirty gin martinis and negronis. Because that’s all I drink.
LENT: Two of my favorites. How many hours of sleep did you get last night?
EMHOFF: I got four hours of sleep.
LENT: Not ideal. Wait, what’s your sign?
LENT: Mohair or wool?
EMHOFF: Wool. Mohair: hot, itchy, shedding. I respect the mohair trend, but knitting with it is really hard and wearing it is really hot. I do have some angora yarn featured in the collection though. I get everything donated to me mostly. Every designer I meet, I’m like, “Do you have extra yarn?” But I also have to buy a lot. Let’s just say I bought 85 pounds of yarn for this collection.
LENT: That’s a lot of yarn.
EMHOFF: I use a mill in Maine that I’ve been using since I started. It’s called Jaggerspun. But my goal is to eventually work with a farm.
LENT: What’s the most impractical thing you’ve ever knit?
EMHOFF: I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me this! I made it a long time ago, when I was in school. It is a wrestling suit. It’s green and white striped, and it’s got a racerback. Never once have I worn it. It’s too hot! But somehow also freezing. And it’s just not flattering. No one should wear it. But it came into my head one night, and I just wanted to challenge myself and my pattern-making skills. It’s still in my samples box. One day I’ll pick it up.
LENT: Obsessed. We thought you were going to say the balaclava without the eye holes!
EMHOFF: I’ve actually had people buy that and wear it! You can kind of see it through it, but mostly they roll it up and wear it as a beanie. It’s really more of an art object, though. What I really want to do is make a morph suit. I can now do the feet because I knit socks. Gloves are next.
LENT: Would you separate the toes?
EMHOFF: That’s really creepy, but I love it. In a couple of months you’re gonna see a toe sock post and you’ll know why.
LENT: What’s the longest time that you’ve spent knitting consecutively?
EMHOFF: 10 hours. During lockdown, I was knitting from 9am to like, 11pm. I couldn’t stop.
LENT: Wow, what was in your system then?
EMHOFF: A lot of weed. [Laughs]
LENT: Are you going to any after parties tonight?
EMHOFF: No! After party in my bed. [Laughs] That could be a lie. I might stop by the Proenza [Schouler] party. Just because I love Jack [McCollough] and Lazaro [Hernandez]. And maybe I’ll be feeling a little saucy once everyone has left. I’m so nervous about having people come to a cocktail party about me.
LENT: Well, we like to see Ella Emhoff’s knits. Is the Secret Service coming along to Proenza?
EMHOFF: [Laughs] Yeah, as we’ve seen in recent articles, them bitches come everywhere with me.
LENT: I remember seeing them at Clandestino in summer 2021. They had like, Lower East Side cosplay on.
EMHOFF: Oh, they’re always here. We love them. One day I’m going to get them in the knits.
LENT: I would love to see that.
EMHOFF: I don’t know who I have to talk to make that happen. But if anyone in the White House wears Ella Emhoff Likes To Knit, everyone there will be wearing it.
LENT: I want to see the full Congress in knitwear. That would really bring us together.
EMHOFF: That’s what democracy needs.