Professor Profile: Sandi Zimdars-Swartz, quilter/knitter

Sandi Zimdars-Swartz is director of the Department of Humanities & Western Civilization and creates many of her own vests and sweaters through knitting and quilting.

How did you learn to knit/quilt?

Sandi learning to sew
Sandi learning to sew

I find it impossible to think of a time when I have not been sewing, since I learned when I was about 5 years old on a child-size Singer Sewing Machine. My mother was taught by her mother during the Depression, and she taught me. I began by making simple bibs and baby clothes for my younger brothers and clothes for my dolls. I learned to knit when I was twelve, from a nurse on the ward where I was hospitalized for a period of time. I began to quilt not long after I came to KU, after I had gotten an embroidery sewing machine; there are only so many shirts to embellish!

When and why did you start designing and creating your own vests and sweaters?
I’ve always been interested in taking designs and putting my own touches on them. I began doing that in my home economics classes in high school. I would buy a blouse pattern and decide it needed a different collar, and then adapt the pattern, or buy a sweater pattern and decided it needed a different set of cables, or stitches, or neckline. After I began quilting, I loved being able to start with a simple vest pattern and then combine fabrics and patterns to create a new look. With knitting, I love combining different yarns, stitches, and cables into new designs.

Do you knit/quilt other items as well?

The seal on this totebag was embroidered from a photo Sandi took on a trip to the Galapagos Islands
The seal on this totebag was embroidered from a photo Sandi took on a trip to the Galapagos Islands

I do some garment construction – my biggest accomplishment last year was to take a Vogue pattern for a blazer and successfully change the collar and front styling, while working with a plaid fabric that had to be matched at the seams. I also like to knit scarves with lots of different colors and textures of yarn and stitches. I have also taken my photographs of animals, loaded them into my embroidery software, and turned them into designs that can be used as embellishments for shirts, jackets, or tote bags.

What’s your favorite part of creating these items?

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When I work with fabrics, yarns, and photographs into embroidery designs, I have to think in new ways – shapes, forms, colors, and textures. It’s a welcome alternative to processing words on a page. And the process of construction is like meditation for me. I can give myself to the work in a different way than I do when I’m doing my academic work.