Judy Graham has made sweaters for everyone, from her grandson to Barbara Streisand, Ellen de Generes and Diane Keaton. She’s also a star herself. Knitting Tips by Judy is a most unlikely hit on a network best known for its youthful audience. YouTube’s oldest knitting instructor at 78, Graham has more than 34,000 subscribers to her channel of how-to videos.
She spoke to us by phone from Los Angeles about out how she became an Internet success story.
When did you start knitting?
I started knitting when I was a teenager and kept at it. I was a feminist in the heyday of the women’s movement and I would knit at women’s consciousness-raising meetings, even when it was looked down on as women’s work. Then my husband and I became hippies and decided to drop out. We moved to the Berkshires, and I opened a craft shop. I started experimenting with yarns and making sexy little tops, took them to New York and sold them at Bendels. After my first marriage ended, I moved to LA, met the costume designer on “Rhoda” and the show bought a lot of knitted things from me. The rest is history. Word of mouth kicked in, and suddenly I was the knitter to the stars.
And how did you wind up teaching knitting on YouTube?
Eight years ago my son Jefferson, a tech writer for USA TODAY, wrote a story about seniors sharing their expertise on blogs. I was intrigued. He told me about YouTube – that you could actually make money on YouTube by selling ads through Google. I decided to take that route, since it’s easier to teach knitting on a video. No one was teaching knitting on YouTube at the time, so my videos took off quickly.
My husband, who is a photographer, started doing the videos in our living room. He focuses on my hands, using one light and a basic point-and-shoot camera. I post a new video every Tuesday on how to do different knitting techniques. I also make my own videos talking into the camera about whatever I’m doing celebrity-wise.
Who watches your YouTube channel?
I have viewers on my channel from 11 years old up to their 80s. Knitting is very trendy these days. Young people have discovered it’s relaxing, really good for your hands and mind, plus you can listen to books or watch TV while doing it.
What kind of money can you make on YouTube?
If you use Google Adsense, they place videos on your channel. You can pick the ads you absolutely don’t want, but it’s not all knitting products – it might be movies or whatever. If people watch the whole ad, you make money. I don’t make anything near a full-time income on YouTube, but it’s nice to have some extra cash.
You seem to be very open to technology!
I’m surrounded by people who are into it: my husband, son, grandson. I live with a tech guy! My husband is Michael Ansell, a photographer for TV shows.
I was an early adopter of computers. I used one for my business, for writing letters, doing invoices, keeping inventory. I had the first version of QuickBooks. I used a computer before Windows – I had to learn DOS and use a dot matrix printer. Remember those days?
I’m dependent on technology. I use my smartphone as a phone, but also as a camera. I love getting email on my phone. My favorite app is the flashlight, especially if I can’t see a menu at a restaurant. I love that you can sit at a restaurant having an argument about Errol Flynn or some other esoteric subject and you can ask Google to settle the argument.
I love doing crossword puzzles online. I read online constantly and on my Kindle, which I share with my 93-year-old father-in-law. Between me and my husband, we have all latest tech, including a few computers.
Do you get frustrated with friends your age who refuse to use technology?
I wish I could get friends my age to stop being so stubborn. These days, saying “I don’t need a computer” is like being a woman who says, “I don’t need to learn how to drive, or do taxes.” That’s not acceptable anymore, but somehow refusing to use technology is.
Anyone can use technology no matter how old. My father-in-law is totally involved with his computer. He watches old shows, looks up recipes, uses it for email, to do research, for everything.
What I do on my computer changes every day, there’s so much to learn. I love it. I get all my jobs through email, including Hollywood jobs. No one calls anymore. I’m constantly marketing my business on the web. I have a Facebook business page, plus a personal Facebook page. I’m on Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest, in addition to YouTube. But I have friends in their 70s who say, “I don’t need it, I don’t want it, I hate it.” I tell them it’s not easy to get used to technology, but you have to do it to keep learning, to be part of the modern world.
What are you working on right now?
Making videos. Writing a memoir at my son’s request – it’s been fun going down memory lane. Designing and knitting clothing for celebrities. Bernadette on “The Big Bang Theory” wears a different sweater designed by me every week.
How can other people your age share their skills on YouTube? How difficult is it?
If you have a skill you want to share – quilting, crafts, cooking, gardening – you can share it. Cooking for instance – that would be easy to video. If you’re doing something interesting that not everyone else is doing, you can find an audience. I just watched a video of a woman doing a tango on her 92nd birthday with her 28-year-old son. There’s a 90-something yoga teacher. There’s a woman who does raw foods who’s close to 80 but looks 60. You will need someone to do the video, but if you have the skills, you can post it yourself. Or ask for help.
What does aging with attitude mean to you?
I think it’s important to think young. Thinking young means staying abreast, not turning off to new things, having fun, laughing, being joyful.
What do you wish you’d known when you were 30 that you know now?
I wish I’d known that it gets better all the time.