It's crochet but not as you know it. Phil Ferguson, AKA Chili Philly, crochets big joyful hats that resemble aubergines and tacos, then photographs himself modelling them. Often in these pictures he has melancholy look on his face, as if it's not in the least bit amusing to be dressed as a giant woolly mushroom. "That's not my sad face, it's just my actual face," he says. He's funny, is Phil. Even if he doesn't mean to be.
"Oh, I did mean it," he says. "Of course I meant it." He had a plan. "Originally I made my Instagram to meet people in Melbourne," says Ferguson, 23, who studied fine arts at Perth's Curtin University, then moved to Melbourne in 2014. "It was like argh, I don't know any arts people here." Did he end up making friends? "Well yeah."
Chili Philly has more than 141,000 Instagram followers. He stresses that you don't become a social media sensation by accident. "You need to do something out of the box and do it well if you want people to pay attention. I had it very clear in my mind what I was going to do, the reasons why and how I wanted my audience to respond. If you're doing the same as everybody else, you're not giving your audience a chance to develop. They're probably already following 500 illustrators, or whole bunch of hot people."
Uniqueness and consistency are essential, he says. "If you break it down: I'm a person you wouldn't expect to be crocheting, and [I never intended it to be a thing but it ended up being a thing] I look sad. That's funny. I knew if I kept up the imagery it would work; I'm not just posting willy-nilly photos."
In February he held a solo exhibition at the Australian Design Centre in Sydney. "Success became its own incentive, to push it, to keep up with it," he says. "Now it's about, how can I make what I do performative, more than just a static image of me wearing a hat?" He's branching out into crocheted outfits.
He taught himself to crochet from a Youtube video. "Really, anyone can do it. It's just one hook." But could anyone crochet a realistic hamburger hat complete with lettuce and tomato? Or a half-peeled banana? "Would anyone else want to?" he laughs.
"Any artist, designer or craftsperson has worked on their skill set, they don't just randomly learn it one day. It takes time, you've got to commit. But, and this is the thing with a lot of craft, once you reach a certain point you can just do it."
Why crochet? There are no knitting nannas in his past. "I have a knack for the visual, and I've always been interested in making things," he says. "I did sculpture at uni so the 3D aspect appealed. I started getting into the idea of drag and making sculptures wearable. I guess I like tactile things, I like the process of crochet."
The craft's inherent sustainability appeals to Ferguson, although he admits this wasn't a driving force, rather an added bonus he's come to appreciate as he's gone on. "There's no waste in the process of crocheting. You're not cutting anything out, or throwing bits away. I've collected all these hats, all these balls of yarn. I ended up with too much, so lately I've been unravelling them to reuse the yarn. Crochet is really easy to pull apart, to repurpose it into something new. I made a wonton early on, it wasn't super successful so I repurposed that into the spaghetti."
#28: 👨❤️🍝 Happy Valentines Day to my partner of 22 years: my face. Only someone who is single would crochet a plate of spaghetti for them self for #ValentinesDay. (You win my eternal love if you get the spaghetti reference) Anyway for those who missed it, I got a Twitter @thechiliphilly. I'll use that for any questions you have because I always miss Instagram notifications! Have a nice day everyone!
Okay, so why food? "I used to work at a burger shop, and at the same time emojis were becoming really popular."
Clare Press has just launched a new podcast.