Encounter with “Jazzknitter” Ilisha Helfman

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Just the other day when I wandered into the knitshop on my day off, I met a colourful lady who literally made my mouth drop and almost left me stupified. She had picked out this book out of our books section called “Knitting Art, 150 innovative works from 18 contemporary artists”, flipped it open and told us that she was one of the artists featured.

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Gingko leaves by Ilisha Helfman

Needless to say that we were all impressed and honored that artist Ilisha Helfman, who calls herself “the Jazzknitter”, graced our little yarnshop with her presence! Of course I seized the opportunity and asked her if she would be available for an interview. Luckily, she agreed and invited me to her studio in the Pearl District in downtown Portland.

One more note before we go any further: I can hardly call this entry “Interview with Ilisha Helfman”. Dear reader, one cannot simply “interview” and therefore pin down a person like Ilisha Helfman. Soon enough in our conversation, I just laid down my pen and paper for it was impossible to keep up with this colorful, high energy, passionate and free spirited artist that she is…

Colorful and free spirit: the Jazzknitter


Seashell collection by Ilisha Helfman

When jazz comes to my mind I think of free jazz musicians that improvise as they go, nothing is planned, no written notes, just free flowing improvisation of music and the musician takes it were the music wants to go. There is no better way than to describe Ilisha Helfman’s knitted art than the aforementioned: nothing is planned, no pattern, merely free form knitting where the artist “follows her thread” as she calls it herself, and let the yarn be what it wants to be.


Forest collection by Ilisha Helfman

There are however, several parameters or rulesets so you will, that are applied to the way Ilisha works with variegated yarn and knitting:

  1. Collect the color in one place
  2. Let it curl if it wants to, let it be a design element
  3. Never repeat yourself
  4. Whatever comes out, use it
  5. Be open for surpise and capture the moment
  6. Watch closely when something interesting happens and recognize it

The work that comes from her hands are simply delightful and so incredibly sweet. I am a lucky person to have seen her adorable projects in person!

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Ilisha also told me that she makes sure that when knitting an art project, she always faces the right side of her work. Always knitting in garter stitch from the front side in preferably purling, she does not turn the piece but rather change hands. 

Don’t you just want to see her in action????

How about a workshop at CloseKnit, Ilisha?

Ilisha told me many many more interesting things about the way she works. I could spill the beans here but wouldn’t it be much more exciting and interesting to hear it from the artist herself? And wouldn’t it be such an adventure to try to knit the way she does?

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Peacock shawl by Ilisha Helfman

Well, I am happy to tell you that Closeknit and Ilisha are talking about organizing a workshop in which Ilisha Helfman tells you in detail how she works and in this workshop, you will try to free form knit yourself. Ilisha will teach you to be a “Jazzknitter” yourself and how to follow that thread and let it be what it wants to be. 

Are you up for this adventure? I know I am!

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Details are to follow in the near future. Keep on checking back, I will let you know when, where, what time this unique workshop with Ilisha Helfman will take place!

You think we are done? Ilisha does so much more than knitting..!

Barely recovered from all the beautiful knitted art I was exposed to, Ilisha and her husband Joe Freedman took me into the back office of their studio and simply showered me with all the art that they make. What inventive and innovative artists they both are!

Ilisha designs miniature objects for dollhouses, attends miniature shows and has a business called Hestia House. She sells her miniature creations online through Hestiahouse.com.

What better way to showcase her work than through these pictures:

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Dollhouse by Hestiahouse

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Miniature paper objects by Hestiahouse

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Miniature rugs by Hestiahouse

Is your head already spinning? Mine is… but hold on, one last thing! 

The most beautiful cards I have ever seen…

Ilisha and her husband Joe would not let me go without showering me with some delicate paper gifts. Using laser cut techique, Ilisha and Joe create these elaborate, intricate and fine paper cards/art:

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Trying to write about Ilisha Helfman and her husband Joe Freedman is very difficult for me. I mean, how in the world can one capture free spirited people that in no way can be catagorized? 


I tell you how I felt when I entered into their studio, which by the way was filled with sounds of more than a dozen singing canaries. I felt like a little kid holding a butterfly net in my hand, trying to capture two sweet butterflies that were swirling around me showing me their magical world. Of course I miserably failed capturing the butterflies called Ilisha and Joe but hopefully I have showed you in this blogpost just a tiny little bit of their magical world…

Were to find Ilisha and Joe?

Visit Joe Freedman’s and Ilisha Helfman’s website at: www.leafdisplay.com 

Visit Ilisha Helfman’s websites at: www.hestiahouse.com and www.followthethread.com

Their studio Leaf Display is located 1780 NW Marshall St. in downtown Portland, OR 97209 and you can call them at 503-719-5150.

Portrait of Ilisha Helfman:


Thank you for reading and until the next entry…

Most of the pictures in this blogpost courtesy of Ilisha Helfman and Hestiahouse.com

4 Responses to Encounter with “Jazzknitter” Ilisha Helfman

  1. Portland is so fortunate to have Ilisha and Joe living there! Those of us in the Northwest Corner of Connecticut miss them dearly, but we can understand Ilisha’s desire to return to Portland and to be part of an active, more urban artistic community. Joe and Ilisha’s many contributions to our community have made our town a better place and while their presence and artistic sensibilities are missed here, our loss is Portland’s gain!

  2. Ilisha Helfman and Joe Freedman are two true artists, that create magical and genius pieces of art. Embrace them warmly Portland, they are a great addition to your community! This was a great blog, fun to read and the pictures are wonderful. I’ll stop back often!

  3. valerie young says:

    You almost captured the amazing Ilisha but no one can ever quite do her justice. She is a loving, caring and generous friend as well as a multi-talented artist.

  4. Rebecca Z. says:


    Thank you for sharing you adventure in knitting improvisation. I’m married to a jazz musician, and we often muse over the commonalities between knitting and music. The other day, I complained a particular stitch was painful to knit, and he asked what I meant. Told him it was like a playing a piano where you had to keep stopping and pulling the keys back up.

    “I’ve had to do that,” he told me. “Takes the flow away.”

    You can’t knit like Ilisha without a flow.

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