Book Review: The Knitgrrl Guide to Professional Knitwear Design

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Today, I finished reading Shannon Okey’s The Knitgrrl Guide to Professional Knitwear Design.

The book is a primer for getting started as a (hand) knitting or crochet designer.  It addresses the business end of designing (e.g., writing up, testing, printing, marketing patterns) and is not a guide on how to design.  Shannon compiles information from her own career; from extensive interviews with designers, editors, tech editors, publishers, and others in the industry; and from a range of web resources into an easily digestible package.  Her writing style is both conversational and professional.  The book provides many links to further reading on the internet.

The first section of the book discusses different aspects of being a professional designer.  Shannon shares her own opinions and also seeks out tips from others in the industry.  The chapters in this section are:

  1. What does it mean to be professional?
  2. Social media
  3. TCB, No PB&J Required, or: The Business Side of Things
  4. Send in the lawyers
  5. Writing patterns
  6. Making sales
  7. Proposals and Publishing
  8. Advertising
  9. Further education
  10. Professional organizations and associations
  11. Standing out

The main themes Shannon emphasizes in this section are behaving professionally, promoting yourself and your brand/business, understanding your strengths and limitations (and therefore how and when to get help), and staying true to your own values.  For example, is it more important to you that you have full control over your patterns or would you prefer to design while others deal with photography, distribution, and/or tech editing?  While she clearly presents her own opinions, Shannon makes it clear that people can find success through many different paths so you will need to find what works for you.

This section is slightly more than half of the book.  Shannon doesn’t claim to have invented the wheel, and much of this information is freely available online – she even provides links for you.  You will probably consider this part of the book successful if you believe that:

  • as an emerging designer from outside of the industry, it would take you more time/money to gather this information on your own than to buy and read Shannon’s book,
  • Shannon Okey as a success in the industry, and
  • you can trust Shannon and thereby, her advice.

On the other hand, if you feel like Shannon is just building up her “cult of personality” through this book, or that she hasn’t enjoyed the type of success you envision for yourself, or you are already aware of the many resources she includes in the book, then you may feel cheated.  As a recent knitter, I am not as familiar with Shannon Okey (gasp!) as I am with many of the crochet designers profiled in the next section, so I started the book without a bias towards or against her.  I did, however, play the mental game of wondering how I would have responded to the same material if it was presented by Crochet Designer X or Crochet Designer Y, and I know my response may have been different if another author presented the same information.

The second section of the book, The interviews, includes profiles of over 30 professionals with various roles and tenure within the industry.  The consistent messages in this section are about remaining professional and realizing that this is an industry where you are expected to work hard and long hours but may not reap financial rewards in proportion to those efforts.  The interesting thing about this section is that, because so many voices are “speaking,” there are many different messages.  In a sense, this section reinforces the early point about staying true to your own values.  I found the interviews fascinating – the “horror stories” in particular are real learning lessons.

The final section of the book includes two appendices (book proposal and class listing templates) and yet more links to various resources.

I would recommend this book to an aspiring/emerging crochet/knit designer.  I personally had the benefit of a fabulous mentor, Mary Nolfi, through the Crochet Guild of America‘s mentoring program, and I still learned a lot from reading The Knitgrrl Guide to Professional Knitwear Design.  Yes, the information presented in the book exists out there in the world, but if you don’t have it at your fingertips during the early stages of your career, you might make devastating mistakes.  With that said, I do have some complaints about the book.  In the second section, the editing changes.  Sentences suddenly end without periods, or even mid-thought.  It isn’t clear to me if this is because the interviews were conducted online and Shannon is keeping them in the original, grammatically incorrect format, or…?  I also had some issues with the formatting of the book in general.  There are more blank pages than I’m accustomed to seeing.  In the interview section, there are many parts where it seems like a page break was incorrectly inserted or removed.  These weren’t deal breakers for me, but contrast with Shannon’s presentation of herself as a detail-oriented self-publisher.  It would have been helpful to include a short chapter, or at least some discussion, about damage control if you’ve made mistakes early in your career (i.e., before reading this book) since there is a lot of talk about people who behave unprofessionally or act like divas.

Crochet Classics Book Review: Donna Kooler’s Encyclopedia of Crochet

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Donna Kooler’s Encyclopedia of Crochet

This is one of the first books I bought for my teaching library after becoming a CYC certified crochet teacher and instructor.  The book was published in 2002 and is part of a series of books by Donna Kooler that cover various needlecrafts. I recommend this book for many reasons but there are four elements of this book that really make it stand out as a classic.

  1. It is organized in a “beginner friendly” manner.
  2. It includes both left- and right-handed instructions, with illustrations.
  3. It provides a thorough overview of various techniques and materials.
  4. It allows you to grow from a beginner to an advanced intermediate crocheter within the same book.

The book is organized into five sections: Beginnings, Crochet Basics, Beyond the Basics, Pattern Gallery, and For Your Information.

The Beginnings section has a very interesting history of crochet in Europe and America.  Donna also includes a great photograph in this section with crochet hooks from different time periods.  This section is one that I read with fascination but it could easily be skipped by those who aren’t history nerds ;).

The Crochet Basics section is designed to explain the hows and whys of everything from patterns to materials to basics stitches to a beginner crocheter. One of the best structural aspects of the book is that this section starts with a key to crochet pattern abbreviations and symbols.  In contrast, many crochet books put this information towards the back in an appendix.  If beginner crocheters aren’t accustomed to this formatting, they are immediately turned off to the entire craft!  And why not, since if you don’t know how to translate the abbreviations and symbols, how can you move ahead through the patterns presented in the book?

Donna also explains how to read patterns.  Many books, even those designed for the beginners, provide a list of abbreviations and assume that the reader will know what to do when they see (instructions between parenthesis) or *inside of asterisks.*  These are precisely the aspects of pattern reading which most people find confusing.  Donna discusses gauge in detail, rather than just reminding you to “check your gauge.”  She provides a thorough review of different materials including yarn fibers, caring for your crochet fabric, and the purpose of various notions.  This section includes a lot of information that even some more advanced crocheters may lack (e.g., which fibers are most elastic and things to consider when substituting the yarn for a pattern).

The section continues with illustrated instructions for forming all of the basic stitches of crochet.  As noted above, Kooler includes both right- and left-handed instructions with illustrations.  The end of this section includes several simple patterns by a variety of designers (ok, mostly by Melissa Leapman, but you get the point).

The Beyond the Basics section provides an overview of colors and various colorwork techniques, thread crochet (including filet and motifs), and what Donna calls “specialty crochet” but what I call “the stuff that isn’t usually in the big, expensive crochet books so you have to buy another book to find out about it.”  Here she provides an introduction to bead crochet, wire crochet, and Tunisian crochet, and has a small section on finishing details like pockets.  This section also includes a number of patterns by various designers.  In general, the patterns aren’t really my style, but each one emphasizes specific techniques or skills.  The patterns here are more oriented towards building the skill set of the reader than towards being extremely fashionable.

The Crochet Pattern Gallery section is my favorite.  This is basically a stitch guide.  The stitches are crocheted in attractive colors and photographed clearly.  The patterns include both abbreviations and symbols.  And, as if those things weren’t enough, Donna includes alternate names for stitches, when appropriate, and variations of the stitches.  The stitches are organized as:

  • Simple Combinations,
  • Fans & Shells,
  • Lace Patterns,
  • Waves, Ripples & Chevrons,
  • Angled Patterns,
  • Spiked & Crossed,
  • Post Stitches,
  • Bobbles, Popcorns & Puffs,
  • Tapestry, Jacquard & Mosaic,
  • Net, Mesh & Trellis,
  • Motifs,
  • Filet Crochet,
  • Edges, Edgings & Insertions, and
  • Tunisian Crochet.

The final section, called For Your Information, includes a resource list which is obviously outdated, footnotes, an excellent bibliography, a standard index, and a pattern index.  The pattern index is quite detailed – for example, cluster stitches are listed by name and under cluster stitches as well.

To keep my review balanced, I will mention a few things that make it less than perfect (egads!):

  • This is a classic, not a trendy book.  The patterns are conservative and not all of them are “current” styles.
  • It doesn’t provide much detail on designing your own projects, particularly clothing, which is something that many crocheters are looking for today.
  • It doesn’t use a binding which allows you to lay it flat when reading.
  • While the illustrations are better than those in most crochet books, most beginners would probably find it helpful if there were more photographs in the Crochet Basics section.

Donna Kooler’s Encyclopedia of Crochet really is a stand out as an all around reference book for crochet. It has excellent photographs and clear illustrations.  It is a softcover, which allows you to carry it around without throwing out your back.  I highly recommend it for the library of any beginner through advanced intermediate crocheter.

Updated 8/10/2014

Encyclopedia of Crochet revised

This book is now available as an ebook, and there is a revised edition (pictured above) available in print and as an ebook.

Yarn haul – Knit-A-Way, Brooklyn

Several years ago, UB was kind enough to give me a gift certificate to Knit-A-Way in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn.  Knit-A-Way is conveniently located around the corner from my dad’s apartment.  For some strange reason, whenever I visited my dad (which admittedly is infrequently, but still!), the store would be closed even if it was during standard business hours.  Either the owner was on vacation, or there was a note in the window about closing early, etc.  But yesterday evening I went to my dad’s for dinner, and it was open!  So I took my chance to buy up some yarn for an upcoming baby blanket.

Checking color combos on the table.

Originally, I was looking at the Berroco Vintage in Aquae, Banane, Kiwi, and Snow Day, which seemed to fit the colors palette in my head.  I wasn’t really feeling confident about the fiber content (50% Acrylic, 40% Wool, 10% Nylon) since the due date is in July and you never know about wool allergies in babies.

The store was about to close, so I had to decide quickly.  At the last minute, I happened on the owner unpacking a box of Lion Brand Cotton-Ease (50% Cotton, 50% Acrylic).  I ultimately went with Snow, Turquoise, Lime, and Lake (clockwise from top left, below).

Hexagon baby blanket, here we come!