In the 1990s ‘Chilli Philly’ was the most impressive gourmet delight to hit the fridge section in your local supermarket. In 2016, ‘Chili Philly’ has new meaning, as the pseudonym of internet sensation Phil Ferguson.
Phil is your typical 23-year-old guy. He lives in Melbourne, really likes burgers, and once Miley Cyrus direct messaged him on Instagram. That’s right, Miley Cyrus follows him, as does Joe Jonas (the best Jonas brother), and probably even your next door neighbour follows him too. In the space of a year, Phil has amassed an organic following of 139,000 followers on the social media platform. Everyone is double tapping his photos.
Phil’s story of dizzying internet success is pretty simple. He just did something he loved, and did it exceptionally well. Besides burgers, Phil also really likes to crochet. He started crocheting food-shaped hats, and chronicling his creations on Instagram. A few people liked them, then a few hundred, then a few thousand. He now has everyone hanging by the tip of his crochet hook.
Growing up in Western Australia, Phil was always making things and using his hands. He later studied Fine Art at Curtin University, and taught himself to knit and crochet. He wasn’t that good at first, he admits, but he persevered. He made small things first. Then, inspired by his favourite animated series, where the main character wears an animal shaped hat, Phil decided to extend his crochet repertoire. Food-themed hats soon followed, and the cult of @chiliphilly began.
Phil admits he can’t read or write crochet patterns. When making his hats, he freestyles, simply going with the flow to the sound of a good podcast in the background. He has no reference sketch or written instructions to follow, he just does his best to transfer his idea out of his brain and into the real world. Phil’s dedication to his art is impressive. It can take two full days of consecutive needlework to create a single hat, and in the internet world, that’s how you earn a double tap.
We recently caught up with Phil to learn a little bit more about the man under the hat.
Tell us a little bit about your background – where did you grow up and what did you study?
I grew up in South West WA in a town called Roelands, near Bunbury. I’ve always been creative, all throughout my life, and was always that one boy who did art. I moved to Perth when I was in year 9 and stayed there all through my Fine Art degree at Curtin University, until I moved to Melbourne in 2014. I moved here on a whim, after opportunities started to come from my work on Instagram!
At uni I did a lot of work studying Institutional Critique, and creating mixed media works. I guess through studying, I developed my artistic sensibility and my sense that work can be art no matter what materials are used to make it. Though I have to say, I never did as much crochet work as I am currently!
You’re famously known on Instagram for crocheting food-shaped hats! How did you originally get involved with the intricate art of crochet, are you self-taught?
I’ve always been into textiles and I’ve always been into art, so I guess it is only natural for me to want to combine the two. I taught myself how to crochet and knit a few years ago when I was on holiday in Canberra. After a few goes it came quite naturally to me, I was only doing quite simple stuff then, but over time I started to experiment and invent my own patterns. Now I crochet almost everyday and with that much practice I have become better!
How did the concept behind Chili Philly come about, did you just wake up one morning and say ‘I think I am going to crochet a hat that looks like food’? What was the first hat you made?
The hat idea was actually inspired by the character Finn from the television show Adventure Time. He wears a bear hat that covers his whole head and only shows his face. Also when I started playing around with making hats, I had started getting into RuPaul’s Drag Race and began to appreciate the art, costumery and decadent headware. I guess it was a natural progression from obsessively watching these two shows to making wearable art. The hat thing kind of just stuck.
Though I’m known for ‘food hats’ my first few hats weren’t food at all! The first hat I made that was an ‘object’ – a pot plant with a cactus in it. After that I made my first burger hat (which took many months) and after that was popular, I just kept running with the food theme!
Did you ever anticipate this idea would garner the massive response it has in the past year?
I will admit that I had an inkling the idea had the potential to be popular. After basically spending my formative teenage years on social media, you can kind of see a pattern emerge of what types of things have the tendency to go viral. However, I didn’t expect this to actually happen to me! When I look back on the last year I can’t believe how much I have done as a combined result of crochet and social media, from moving interstate to being approached for custom commissions.
How would you describe your work, and what influences your distinctive aesthetic?
I would describe my work as colourful, fun and humorous. The two main influences that really inspire me are the television shows Adventure Time and RuPaul’s Drag Race. Both shows are completely different to each other, but at the same time they both impact my work and inform my designs in a lot of ways. The colours and abstract concepts explored in the animated world of Adventure Time are definitely carried through my work, and well, the hats themselves I can see definitely see on the Drag Race catwalk!
What’s been one of your all time favourite hats to design and make, and why?
My favourite hat so far would probably be the first pizza slice hat I made. This hat was one of the first pieces that I had a clear idea of how I wanted it to look in my head, and was able to translate this idea into a physical thing not far from my initial concept. I really love how it turned out.
Can you give us a little insight into the inner workings of your creative process? How do you translate the ideas into a tangible item, do you make a pattern or just freestyle crochet?
So my hats usually take around a full day or two to make (though that’s involving solid 6 hour blocks of time just sitting there crocheting non-stop!). I usually start with an idea in my mind and go straight to creating.
For me, the end result isn’t a hat, the final product is the image I put on Instagram, so in my mind I can see the final image in my head before I start making.
Once I have the idea in my head, I head to the shops and buy the colours of wool and yarn I need to make the hat. This is a really important part of my process, as I am really driven by the colour selection process. I’m really conscious that at the end of the day people are only seeing the hats as an image on Instagram, so the better the colour choices, the better the outcome.
I don’t plan or sketch or make a pattern for any of the hats. I don’t know how to make or read patterns! I know, it’s crazy! I just start crocheting from the image I have created in my brain and freestyle along the way. I’ve never been a drawer or sketcher and always work well with my hands. Though, because I’ve done it so much, I understand how to construct and create and so I can call upon those skills when I need to. I’ve learnt to commit to making something and not to second-guess my process too much, as it generally works out.
Which other local designers, artists or creative people are you loving at the moment?
FurryLittlePeach.com. My friend Sha’an is the main reason I started my Instagram, she had around 40k followers when I started and it made me realize it can be an achievable thing to work with social media.
Goodfoodcrapdrawing.com. I love this so much, mainly because as a former hospitality worker, this is a creative approach to the idea of food reviews.
Kinaiwong.Tumblr.com. I met Kinai a few months ago, she’s super talented and I really like her gory yet clean aesthetic.
Can you list for us your top resources across any media that you turn to when you’re in a need of creative inspiration?
Instagram. Alongside it being my main social media platform, I can follow lots of fun cool people and always check what everyone else is doing.
Facebook. While it seems really conventional to use other social media platforms for inspiration, Facebook allows me to see what is currently trending and what is happening in the world.
YouTube. My one stop resource for finding out how to crochet in a certain way!
The Food Channel. I love that we have a free food channel now in Australia, and it’s always showing me what food is out there to make.
Robhasawebsite.com. It doesn’t inspire me exactly, but it is the place I get all the podcasts I listen to while I do my work!
What has been your proudest career achievement to date?
I think my most proudest achievement would have to be going viral TWICE! The first time was simply because I made crocheted food hats, but the second time was because I had a story behind what I was creating!
What would be your dream creative project?
I’d love to create costumes for celebrities!
What are you looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to the year ahead! The last few months have been the first time I have been self employed, and I am doing fine at the moment. I’m slowly learning how to manage myself, my time and so much more!
Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?
My favourite Melbourne neighbourhood would probably have to be Collingwood. It seems to be the place I always am and it always has something happening.
What and where was the best meal you recently had in Melbourne?
I recently went to Huxtaburger for a quick feed the other day! After working at Tuck Shop Take Away, I’ve grown an appreciation for burgers and there’s something about a Huxtaburger one that I really like.
Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?
Other than sleeping in bed or crocheting in bed, I would probably be walking through the city, seeing family, or not much at all until I get to go out that night.
Melbourne’s best kept secret?
The only café I’ve ever been to multiple times has been Drugstore Espresso on Toorak Rd. I think the guys there are all really nice and I’ve been there many times after a big night out!