Ashley Childs has an eye for detail. The new hire and first female knife maker at New West KnifeWorks has never wandered far from the world of form, function and beauty– she studied photography and printmaking, designed jewelry, and is an accomplished pianist– and her unique skill set brings grace to an industry known for its grit. Infamous for her minimalist, sculptural aesthetic and talent for swinging a hammer, Childs’ large life has taken her from the fashion runways of New York City to an iron forge in Buenos Aires and all the way to the Wyoming mountains.
You began working for a jewelry maker after graduating from the Art Institute of Chicago, and eventually created your own line. What was the craziest moment of your career in jewelry design?
Sitting across from the jewelry editor of W Magazine. She was literally putting on my rings and taking pictures of them on her hands. She really liked my aesthetic and at that moment I realized I really did have the eye for design. I was so close to being in the magazine, so it was this bittersweet moment. I knew I worked so hard for myself and that was all that mattered. I went home and realized that jewelry making didn’t have to be the rest of my life. I just wanted to be happy and make stuff.
Is there a memory that stands out to you when you reflect on your time spent in Buenos Aires studying under master blacksmiths?
I ended up with this group of blacksmiths through a long time family friend, and I wasn’t too keen on blacksmithing just yet, I didn’t know enough about it. John Winer, who is this master blacksmith originally from Tennessee, took me under his wing and I remember we were pulling out these two inch by half inch bars of steel. You have to really get them hot and then use the hammer to pound out the edges. There were all these Argentinian locals watching us, and I was brand new, but I was good at it. It was like everything faded away, and it was just me and John and the piece of steel and our hammers. It was once of those moments where you realize, this is what it means to be alive, this is it. This is making.
What is the coolest thing you have learned or made in your new job as a knife maker?
The highlight has been working with the New West KnifeWorks team, being taught by people who have been making these knives forever, and seeing the machines that they’ve rigged up. Erin Hemmings is one of the most creative, innovate engineers I know. On top of that, my creative input is heard. I’ve been in teamwork situations before where I had a creative idea but my voice wasn’t heard because I’m a woman. And then some other asshole would pipe up and say the exact same thing and be taken seriously. At New West KnifeWorks, I came up with an idea about the suction in one of our machines, and they put it on. I talk with Corey Milligan, the owner, about the design details and aesthetics of the pocket knives we are coming out with soon. I suggested he make the ironwood knife with clean lines, since the material is so beautiful, and we are probably going to do it that way. So I feel seen and heard, even though I’m new and have never made knives before.
As a knife maker, are you interested in the culinary world?
I’m a huge fan of Sweet Cheeks [butcher’s shop] in Jackson and I go there once or twice a week to buy local beef, I like to get something fancy for myself on Friday nights. And I cook a lot of vegetables. I like knowing where my food comes from… I make tools and the two go hand in hand. I’m interested in authenticity, the art of the craft. When you understand where things come from and how things are made, I think you have a much better appreciation for the food you’re about to eat, the chair you’re sitting on, they house you live in, the tool you’re using… and for the people who made them.