The queendom of drag is vast and diverse: There are comedy queens and look queens and insult queens and pageant queens, goth queens and dancing queens and lip synch assassin queens. And then there is Norwood Park’s Alexis Hex, who has carved out a singular genre as a knitting/crocheting/macrame-ing witch drag queen whose magic often involves transforming yarn into one-of-a-kind creations ranging from wall-hangings to fitted dresses to tiny toy birds.
As the host of YouTube’s Knitting’s a Drag, Hex uses anima-inspired unironic kitsch to teach aspiring fiber artists how to make their own toys and scarves with easy-to-follow (really) directions and a whole lotta charm, uniqueness, nerve, and talent.
Those traits are also on deck for Hex’s October 31 Halloween show, Whores of Horror, hosted by Hex’s drag mother Coco Sho-Nell and Raymond Cleveland and featuring a roster of a dozen queens serving Halloween eleganza realness. Some of the show, Hex says, will likely be shot in cemeteries.
“Knitting’s like drag,” Hex says. “You take bits and pieces of things everybody has access to and you use them to create something beautiful and creative. There’s a magic to knitting. When you start to see the fabric start to form, it almost comes alive.”
At 36, Hex, nee Brent Perrotti, has no time for disrespect. “I’ve had guys come up to me and be all ‘Are you seriously knitting in a bar?’ And I’ll be like, ‘Are you seriously bothering me while I’m sitting here minding my own business knitting in a bar?’ I knit everywhere. Alone in a bar, wherever. It doesn’t need defending,” Perrotti said.
If the best defense is looking fabulous, Hex has things all sewn up. Exhibit A: The crochet dress she wore for a recent photo shoot. It fits like bespoke couture and it looks like a Vogue editorial.
Hex’s transformation into the Knitting Drag Queen began, as so many meaningful things do not, at an Applebee’s. Hex was working as a server in 2009, near her hometown of Buffalo Grove. One of her tables included a woman knitting a blood red scarf. She was intrigued.
“On my day off I bought yarn, needles, a book about knitting. I had a friend show me things I wasn’t quite getting from the book—and from then on I never left the house without yarn and needles. I feel quite comfortable going to bars alone with my knitting,” Hex says.
While Perrotti has been knitting since 2009, Alexis Hex arrived on the scene in 2014, a queen born of a goblin king. “Everyone’s first time in drag in public is either Halloween or Pride, and I was Halloween,” Hex says.
“I had always thought drag would be so much fun, but I was already the weird guy who knit at bars. Why would I do any other thing that would make me even weirder? But then I realized, I’m already the weirdo, what does it matter if I add something else?”
She turned, as so many do, to David Bowie for inspo. “I did a Bowie inspired Goblin King thing. I was really feeling myself. I thought I looked great. I look back at the photos and I realize maybe I shouldn’t have been feeling myself quite so much,” she recalls.
Hex’s first performance in drag was an amateur drop-in show at Edgewater’s the Call, a neighborhood bar frequented by drag queens and the people who love them. Hex opened with “a slow jam version of the Pokemon theme.”
“My mom came, and all the house queens were cheering me on. It was the most amazing feeling,” Hex recalls. “A lot of people are like, ‘These are the rules of drag, and you’ve got to do this and this and this.’ At the Call, it doesn’t matter who you are, everybody supports what you bring to the stage.”
It was an approach to drag Hex embraced, even if it meant getting harsh critiques outside of her home bar.
“Once I was in a contest and did ‘Dark Lady’ but not as Cher, and the judges wanted to know why I didn’t do it as Cher. I don’t do impersonations. I’d rather do someone you can’t see anywhere else. Although once I did Winnie the Pooh doing the Miley Cyrus song from Black Mirror,” she says.
“Drag is all about throwing all expectations to the winds, throwing a middle finger to ‘norms,’” Hex continues. “It’s about being who you want to be, not what society expects. Alexis is Brent but more amplified. Brent has constraints, but Alexis is much freer. When I’m Alexis, there just aren’t as many rules,” she says.
There is, however, a learning curve when it comes to drag presentation. “Coco taught me all the basics. The makeup, the shapes, where you hit,” Hex says. “I don’t go for subtle. I want to make an impression. Alexis isn’t natural. She’s supernatural.”
The name obviously reflects that. “I’m a witch, so I wanted something witchy in there,” Hex says. “I’ve always loved the name ‘Alex,’ so I went with the female version of it. “
Perrotti was raised Roman Catholic, but eventually found “that didn’t really resonate for me.”
She moved a lot as a kid, attending three high schools in four years before graduating from Evanston Township High School. “I read a lot, and when I found some books on paganism and witchcraft I was like, ‘Oh. There are other people like me.’ My practice is Earth and nature-based. I would do group rituals with the (now defunct) Temple of Four Winds, but I’m mostly a solo practitioner. I see magic as the flowering of human potential. It can allow you to create change. We all have it. It’s up to you whether you want to use it.”
While the COVID-mandated lockdown has been a challenge, it also allowed Hex the time she needed to launch Knitting’s A Drag, from logo on out. She dropped the first episode in August, in celebration of her birthday. The series drops a new episode every Saturday at noon. So far she’s covered casting on, tying off, scarf-making, and soft toy-making.
“It’s not easy being creative with drag in lockdown. We feed off each other and the audience. Obviously that’s hard performing virtually,” she says. “But the love of drag keeps me going. I’ve wanted to do this webseries for so long. Lockdown gave me a chance to focus on it. I think creativity is especially important right now, when things are sucky in the real world. My goal is just to give people a little escape and entertainment. And teach them how to knit.” v