Interview with Margaret Hubert, book review, and giveaway

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This must be my lucky week!  Just four days ago, I posted an interview with Ellen Gormley.  Today, I’m excited to post an interview with Margaret Hubert.  If you have been crocheting or knitting for any length of time, you have probably come in contact with one of Margaret’s books or patterns.  This post includes my interview with Margaret and a review of one of her recent books, The Complete Photo Guide to Knitting.

The Interview

A few years ago, I learned that the New York Public Library allowed card holders to search for and request books from any branch.  These books would be delivered to your local branch for pick up.  I was surprised to find out that the libraries have a pretty good collection of crochet books.  It was about this time that I was first noticing the names of different designers.  I was introduced to Margaret through the Hooked series of crochet books that I checked out from the library and had great fun making her bags and hats.

Margaret is also one of the designers featured in Crochet Master Class.  According to her bio in that book, her career has spanned various aspects of the needlecrafts industry, including owning a yarn shop, owning a hand knitting business, teaching needlework, writing crochet and knitting books, and teaching at local, regional, and national crochet and knitting events.  Her blog bio mentions that she has also published cross word puzzles and is a member of a Shakespeare club which is over 110 years old.  You can visit Margaret’s website, blog, or Ravelry designer page for more information.


Margaret Hubert in one of her beautiful free form garments…
…and the Free Form Raspberry Jacket in all its glory!

Underground Crafter (UC): Who first taught you to knit and crochet?

Margaret: My mother taught me to knit at a very young age.  I do not even remember learning.  According to my Mom, I used to try knitting with 2 pencils, and she decided that she should teach me the proper way.  I learned to crochet when I was 19 from the owner of my local yarn shop. I had knitted a sweater that needed a crochet border.  My Mom said that she couldn’t help me as she wasn’t a very good crocheter, so I asked for help.  Mrs. B. put a crochet hook in my hands, taught me to single crochet, and I haven’t stopped since.

UC: Since you are multi-craftual, what is your favorite “go to” craft these days?
Margaret: I love both knitting and crocheting, which I do constantly. I also do some sewing, quilting, and needlepoint, but do not have a lot of time for much of this any more. My most favorite thing to do, is to combine both knit and crochet in one-of-a kind free form garments. In fact, I do a workshop teaching this method, and it has become my all time most popular class.
Margaret is teaching her Combination Free Form Crochet and Knitting class at the NYS Sheep and Wool Festival in October.
UC: Where do you generally find your creative inspiration?
Margaret: My garden and the woods surrounding my home have a lot of influence on my creativity. I love flowers and use them a lot in my work. Living in the North East, every season brings its own fabulous array of colors, which are my greatest inspiration. Spring with its pastels and greens in every hue, summer brights, colorful fall leaves in yellows, orange and red, and even winter, all are so beautiful.
This Floral Quilt highlights some of the beautiful flowers Margaret enjoys making.
UC: I recently retaught myself to knit after about 25 years of avoiding it.  I found your The Complete Photo Guide to Knitting to be a really helpful resource.  What tips do you have for people returning to knitting or crocheting after a long absence?
Margaret: My tip would be to start with something quite easy, with very little shaping and finishing, perhaps a hat or scarf.  I would use a smooth yarn in a medium weight. Once your brain and fingers begin to remember the motions, then you will be ready to tackle something a little more involved.
UC: What are your favorite crochet and knitting books in your collection (besides yours, of course)?
Margaret: I have seven of the Mon Tricot series of knit and crochet patterns that are so tattered and torn, but I love them and use them a lot. I also love The Batsford Book of Crochet by Ann Stearns, A Treasury of Knitting Patterns and A Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns by Barbara Walker. There are many more, but these are my favorites.
UC: You’re teaching several crochet classes this summer at ChainLink in Minneapolis and at the NYS Sheep and Wool Festival in October.  What do you enjoy about teaching?
Margaret: Of all the hats that I wear, I love teaching the best. I love the enthusiasm of the students, I love the look on there faces when they “get it”, I love how  they like to share and send me photos of their finished projects. Whenever I am at a conference several attendees will come up to me wearing one of my designs, they are so proud and it never fails to excite me.  Most of all, I do love sharing my knowledge and doing my bit to keep the needle arts alive.
Margaret is teaching Learning to Master Bavarian Crochet, Finishing Like a Pro (Crochet), and Oops How Can I Fix That? (Crochet) classes at ChainLink in July…
…and Bavarian Crochet, Intermeshing Crochet, Combination Free Form Crochet and Knitting, Free Form Crochet, and Entrelac Crochet at the NYS Sheep and Wool Festival.
UC: Do you have any favorite crafting blogs or websites you’d like to share?
Margaret: I don’t have a lot of time to read many blogs, or even write many blog posts myself, but I do like to check out Lion Brand’s, Vashti’s and Crochet with Dee.
UC: (Insert your own question here.)
Margaret: If you were to ask me what I thought the most important thing that I could teach someone was, it would be how to properly check gauge and to instill in them the importance of checking gauge before starting any new project. It is so important that I can not stress it enough. It makes such a difference in the finished garment/item and there would be so much less frustration and disappointment.
I can’t agree with Margaret enough about the gauge.  Most of my students who struggle with patterns have it much easier once they begin to swatch and check their gauge! I know Margaret is a busy woman, between designing, writing, teaching, traveling, and the rest of her life.  Thanks for stopping by Margaret!  And now on to…

The Book Review

After about 25 years away from knitting, in the last year I decided to conquer my fears (of making enormous trapezoids) and start to knit again.  Perhaps my motor skills are better now, or I understand yarn and needlecrafts better, or I’m just more patient, but this time it “stuck.”  An invaluable tool that I picked up along the way was Margaret Hubert’s The Complete Photo Guide to Knitting.  I recommend it to my beginner knitting students and think it is a great resource for your knitting library for several reasons.

The book is organized into three major sections: Knitting Basics, Stitch Patterns, and Specialty Knitting Methods.  As the title suggests, the book is heavy on photographs and light on illustrations.  (Sidenote: I personally find it impossible to learn anything new from an illustration, but can use illustrations as reminders for techniques I’m already familiar with.)  Margaret opens with a brief history of knitting, and then jumps into the Knitting Basics section.  This section includes a review of tools, pattern abbreviations, and provides an explanation of how to read patterns in addition to the abbreviations.  At this point, the book jumps into various techniques for casting on (5 options), forming the knit and purl stitches (2 methods each), and binding off (3 options).  Each technique includes multiple, large photographs which are clearly lit.  Margaret then goes on to display several shaping methods.  This is followed by knitting in the round, again including photographs with double-pointed needles, one circular, and then two circular needles.  As you might guess from the interview, Margaret also emphasizes gauge!  There is also a nice piece on finishing.  This section has many photographs, but the text is rather brief.  If you are a visual learner, this is probably an ideal reference book for you.  If you learn best from reading descriptions of the process, this section is lacking some detail that you might need.  For example, there is no discussion about choosing yarn, or how to hold the needles, or the usual debate between the continental and the English knitting methods.

The next section, Stitch Patterns, is like having a stitch guide embedded in the book.  There are 185 stitch patterns, arranged by type:

  • Basic stitches,
  • Light textures,
  • Medium and heavy textures,
  • Laces,
  • Ribs,
  • Honeycomb and brioche stitches,
  • Eyelets,
  • Ripples and chevrons,
  • Slip stitches,
  • Color combos,
  • Motifs, and
  • Cables.

I love the way the stitch patterns are organized – like most knitters/crocheters, I hate seeing a wonderful stitch and then never being able to find it again.  There is also a difficulty rating for each stitch (using the Craft Yarn Council standard skill levels).  The swatches are beautifully photographed and are quite large, so you can see the detail.  The colors Margaret uses for her yarns are also lovely.  There are several project patterns in this section, generally following the type of stitch that is used in the pattern.  This section is worth the price of admission alone for me, since it is a great stitch guide.  However, if you are looking for stitch symbols, there are very few in this book – most patterns use abbreviations only. (The cable stitches in this section all include symbols though.)

The final section, Specialty Knitting Methods, introduces (or reminds!) the reader to (of) various techniques and includes at least one pattern along with a description of the method.  The methods included are:

  • One-Piece Knitting,
  • Entrelac Knitting,
  • Freeform Knitting (clearly one of Margaret’s favorite techniques!),
  • Crazy Lace Knitting (pattern by Myra Wood),
  • Knitting with Beads (pattern by Judy Pascale),
  • Intarsia Knitting (pattern by Sasha Kagen),
  • Twined Knitting (pattern by Beth Brown-Reinsel), and
  • Ouroborus Kntting (pattern by Debbie New)

The Crazy Lace, Intarsia, and Twined projects include charts in addition to pattern abbreviations.  As with the rest of the book, the projects are beautifully photographed and the colors and layout really bring the projects to life.  In the last section, the photographs are of the projects, not the methods for creating the projects.

Overall, I recommend the The Complete Photo Guide to Knitting to a beginner knitter looking for a book to “grow” into an intermediate knitter with.  I also recommend it as a stitch guide – it doesn’t have as many stitches as some guides, but the organization, skill levels, photographs, and yarn colors are superior to most on the market.  There are also projects included so you can try the stitches on something other than swatches if you aren’t at the stage of designing your own creations yet.  The photographs are great for visual learners.  On the other hand, there are few stitch symbols in the book, which didn’t bother me since I prefer pattern abbreviations, but I know that many knitters prefer symbols.  This is really a comprehensive visual reference rather than a thorough written treatise on knitting.  If you are looking for a wordy text, go for the Knitter’s Handbook.  Because of the visual cues, it is also a great book for a more advanced knitter who needs a quick photographic reminder (“Oh, right, that’s how to do the provisional cast on!”) before starting or while working a project.  I gave the book 5 stars.

Go Crochet! Afghan Design Workbook: Interview with Ellen Gormley, book review, and giveaway

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I’m thrilled to post an interview with designer and author Ellen Gormley.  I love crocheting afghans (in fact, at one point, I made nothing else for about 3 years straight!) and recently heard about her new book, Go Crochet! Afghan Design Workbook, on the Getting Loopy podcast.  I then read more about it through Ellen’s blog tour for the book.  Finally, I was convinced to part with my hard earned money and check it out.

This post is long, because I’m including my interview with Ellen and my review of the book.

The Interview

I’m having a hard time remembering the first pattern of Ellen’s which caught my eye, but I eventually began to notice that many patterns that I liked were written by her.  I love her afghan patterns, but Ellen designs many other things as well which you can see on her Ravelry designer page.   Ellen has been a designer for about seven years and, according to her blog, is also a mom and a lover of chocolate (who isn’t!) and Jazzercise (er, um…).

Ellen Gormley

UC: How did you get started designing?
Ellen: I had made 2 blankets for a friend’s wedding… his and hers mirror images, one was gray with white for him, and one was white with gray for her.  I had so much fun using the technique that I went ahead and practiced making the strip technique into rectangles.  It became the first pattern I ever sold, to Leisure Arts, in 2004. I never saw where the finished blanket ended up. When I sold the very first project I had ever designed, I knew I was on the right path and began truly researching how to make it a business.

UC: When I first became a CGOA Associate Professional member, you were the person who assigned me to my mentor, Mary Nolfi.  Tell me about how you became involved with the CGOA mentor program, and some of the benefits of having a mentor.

Ellen: I searched for crochet on the internet and found the Crochet Guild of America.  When I found out that there was a mentor program, I knew I needed the resource. Tammy Hildebrand was assigned to be my mentor. Soon after that, she became the Mentor Coordinator.  During our work, she had a personal crisis come up and asked if I would help her out temporarily with the Mentor Coordinator tasks.  Later, when it was time for her to move on from the position, she asked if I would take over, considering I had already learned the ropes when I had helped her.

Recently, I passed the torch to Renee Barnes, who is the current Mentor Coordinator.  The program is great because it gives a one-to-one contact for the burgeoning professional to get a ‘reality’ check and ask for guidance.  Still, no one can build your career for you, and the Mentor is there to support and encourage you along the way.

(UC comment: The CGOA mentoring program is really a wonderful opportunity for anyone attempting to enter the crochet industry.  Yes, there are other more informal resources such as the Ravelry Designers group available.  But having a one-to-one relationship which is private and not on a public forum really can’t be beat in my opinion.  The best part is as the mentee, you are really expected to guide the process by asking questions, providing updates, etc., rather than sit passively while your mentor does all the work!)

UC: Crocheters and afghans (and crocheted afghans) sometimes get a bad rep.  When you’re designing afghans, do you feel additional pressure to break those stereotypes?

Ellen: In some ways designing afghans feels less ‘prestigious’ than designing garments; however, research shows that consumers make more afghans than any other type project.  Blankets fit without needing bust darts or specific measurements. They are awesome to give as gifts. You can take color risks with blankets that you might not want to take with a garment and blankets are easier to donate and are easier received than garments. Blankets are easier to hand down from generation to generation than garments. Blankets get used, which is the biggest compliment you can receive, to have your handmade item used.

UC: I recently bought a copy of your book, which I’m really enjoying.  What was the design process like for this book?

Ellen: Thank you!  I contacted the company with my resume and list of achievements and told them that I wanted to write the book.  I submitted the first several designs for them to consider. After the contract was signed, I started in earnest to design in batches of 8-10 motifs until all 50 were complete.  At the same time, I was noting which ones that I enjoyed the most that I would make into final projects.  Each motif had a hang tag and the editor would write comments about the color choice on the tag and return them to me.  On a few, we went back and forth with colors, sometimes even changing yarn brands until the right color combination was chosen.  Others we agreed on immediately. We wanted to have a bright, consistent color scheme, but at the same time knew we wanted a variety of styles to help every reader find something that appealed to them.

UC: Where do you generally find your creative inspiration?
Ellen: Generally it’s the yarn. Generally, I just grab the yarn and start and see what happens. Sometimes I start with goals or an idea of what I want to create.  I rarely “see” the finished project in my mind before I start.  I often see color combinations and patterns in clothes, wrapping paper, flowers, that inspire me.

UC: What is your favorite crochet book in your collection (besides yours, of course)?
Ellen: I love books!  I have many, many books.  I love my The Complete Book of Crochet Stitch Designs by Linda P. Schapper.  I go back to all my Encyclopedia type books, 101 Easy Tunisian Stitches, and The Encyclopedia of Crochet Techniques. There are too many good ones to list.

UC: Do you have any favorite crafting blogs or websites you’d like to share?
Ellen: I love Vashti Braha’s blog.  Of course I love Doris Chan’s blog. For a variety of crafts, I enjoy Brett Bara‘s Manhattan Craft Room. I just came upon and I think the classes on there could be really worth seeing.

UC: (Insert your own question here.)

Ellen: People frequently ask me how to make crochet their profession and I remind them that it is a career. It takes study, it takes research. It’s not easy to get a book deal. Many very successful crochet designers have never written a book or wanted to write a book.  Be professional always. Never miss a deadline. Always tell the truth. Do work you are proud of. Learn from your mistakes. Every colleague you meet today could be an editor or publisher tomorrow, so use good manners.

Thanks so much Ellen for sharing this great advice and for taking the time to join me for an interview.  And now, on to…

The Book Review

Go Crochet! Afghan Design Workbook is a really fun book.  It is a great introduction to personalizing your own crocheted afghans and also features 50 different motifs and 10 projects.

The book is organized into three sections:

  • Ready…Set…Go Crochet!,
  • Motifs to Go, and
  • Afghans to Go.

There is also an appendix which provides information on yarn weights, hooks, and crochet terms including comparisons between the US and UK terminology.

Ready…Set…Go Crochet! has a nice introduction to supplies including things like digital cameras and blocking boards which aren’t on the standard list of tools included in most crochet books.  It also reviews pattern abbreviations and international stitch symbols.  There are a few pages explaining the stitches used in the book, complete with instructions and diagrams.  This includes the basic stitches (sc, dc, etc.) as well as clusters, popcorns, and several types of decreases.

My favorite part here is the six pages devoted to “Creating Your Own Designs,” where Ellen talks about pattern modification, color, layout, and assembly.

I love Ellen’s discussion of color and yarn selection.

As someone who teaches a lot of beginners, I really enjoy the conversational tone Ellen uses as well as the information she shares.  She anticipates a lot of the questions that beginners or those who are just becoming intermediates have about yarn, terms, etc.

Motifs to Go includes ten designs each in squares, rectangles, triangles, hexagons, and octagons.   Each motif includes a small introduction about the pattern or colors by Ellen.  The colors are vibrant and the pictures represent the blocks well.

I particularly like that each motif includes five potential “Mix and Match” partners – especially since the partners are not always the same shape!

Before the patterns for the motifs of a particular shape, Ellen has a page which discusses – and illustrates – different potential layouts for blankets using that shape.  This is one aspect of the book that I think really separates it from other similar books.  For example, in Beyond the Square Crochet Motifs by Edie Eckman, you would find more motifs and equally great information about color and various techniques.  However, if you were trying to piece together an afghan from the different shapes, you would suddenly be presented with watercolors, which might make it tough for you to visualize a final project if you are a relative beginner.

From Edie Eckman’s Beyond the Square Crochet Motifs.

The final section has ten afghans using great color combos and different joining techniques to bring the patterns to life.

This isn’t a book where all the motifs will end up the same size or are easy to combine together – the All Call pattern, which includes every motif in the book, looks like it was a struggle to bring together!  If you are looking for a book like that, there are others on the market.  I definitely recommend Go Crochet! Afghan Design Workbook to anyone looking for another crochet motif book to add to their collection, to crocheters who want to branch out from following patterns completely to modifying patterns to personalize their finished projects, and to anyone who enjoys crocheting afghans.  In addition to all the content I’ve mentioned, the book is spiral-bound so you can lay it flat when working on a project, it includes a section on conversions from US to UK terms, there are both pattern abbreviations and stitch diagrams, and the motifs and blankets are beautifully photographed.  I gave the book 5 stars in my review.

Interview with Creativity Coach, Carlota Zimmerman

Today’s interview is with Carlota Zimmerman, a Creativity Coach in New York City.  Carlota and I actually went to high school together, and we have since kept in touch as her journey brought her to Wellesley College (class of ’96), working and traveling in Russia, a career in network news, and then a J.D. from the Maurer School of Law at Indiana University (Bloomington).  She is also an accomplished playwright and blogger.  Check out her website at Carlota Worldwide.  (You can also check her out on the Huffington Post.  And, if you or anyone you know is considering going to law school, you must read her “Top 5 Reasons Not to Attend Law School” article first.  Just to be sure you’re on the right path…)

In the last few years, she resettled in New York and launched her Creativity Coaching business.  Carlota is particularly good at bringing her clients’ (and her friends’)  creativity to the forefront, and that is what we are discussing today.

UC: How did you get started blogging?

Carlota: I’m actually a produced playwright, with one play currently on tour, and another one almost done, so while I love writing, blogging did not come naturally. I think if you don’t have a “message” to get across (such as, say, a business, or a passion), it can actually be quite distracting. I really only started blogging once I became truly serious about my creativity coaching business. I wanted to use the blog as a format…

(I hope.) I might however blow their mind, and make them feel invincible…if I do my job right!

UC: Do you have any tips for a newbie blogger in terms of finding a voice, choosing which blog host to use, etc.?
Carlota: Well, in blogging, like anything else, you must accept that at first, you probably won’t be very good at it…and that’s fine. But you must commit. You must blog regularly, since the more that you write, the better it’ll become. Try not to despair when some of your friends’ blogs have a hundred followers and you have yourself…and the cats. The cats have excellent taste!

(UC comment: I know mine does!)

Also, consider the blog, and consider what audience you’re attempting to connect with, that will help focus it. But at first, yes, it might just be you and some dear friends reading it. (And buy those people a drink for supporting you!) But it will get better as you figure out more about yourself and your goals.

I personally use Blogger, since they make it so easy to Tweet/Facebook etc. the posts.

UC: What led to you becoming a Creativity Coach?
Carlota: My obsession with getting every single person on the planet to fully utilize their potential. Wasted potential makes me cranky. (UC note: Trust me, you never want to see Carlota cranky.) And I speak from personal experience; before I started this business, I spent eight years in network news, working for all the networks, except CBS, in Moscow, Russia, New York and Washington, DC.  Name a show and I probably worked for it. I did everything: White House producer; operations producer for ABC News; assignment editor for CNN; had a famous national correspondent throw a water cooler at me; threw phones at incompetent producers; made writers cry…yes, I brought joy wherever I went. But I was excellent at getting stories on the air and that’s all that matters.

So then, obviously, I got burned out. I had experienced tremendous success, and since prestige at that point was more important than values, I thought, “Oh! Law school!” (Those people who also went to law school, are probably choking on their bitter laughter right now. I don’t blame them.) I went to law school…and it wasn’t super fun. Not the most wonderful three years of my life, for which I take full responsibility, since I hadn’t researched it, nor did I really know myself. So for me, law school was three years of trying to force a square peg (moi) into a round hole (law school)…you can imagine how much fun that was. For both of us.
I did have some interesting experiences, such as the summer practicing law in India, and the second summer interning in Senator Clinton’s immigration department, but by the time I graduated in 2007, I knew that I didn’t want to practice law. But…what did I want to do? There appeared to be no money to be made in napping on the sofa, with the cats.

Through trial and error, I started slowly, very s-l-o-w-l-y working as a creativity coach, by which I mean, I was helping friends figure themselves out. (I was also bartending and doing various odd jobs for cash.) And then, in midst of all this, I was contacted by the Brazilian government regarding a play I had written at 17, which had won the Young Playwrights Festival when I was 18. The Brazilians wanted to stage a nation-wide tour of the play to encourage a national dialogue on the issue of prisoners’ rights. (*sound of head exploding*) The play is now on the second year of it’s tour…mother’s so proud!

That was for me a true galvanizing moment about the necessity of doing what you love…and how it makes things work. I started writing again, wrote a new play, got a great agent, and the ideas just started flowing.

So when I say I’m obsessed with every single person on the damn planet using their full potential…I AIN’T KIDDING! Because when you do…its extraordinary what can happen. And when you don’t…

UC: Without giving away all of your trade secrets (which we should be paying dearly for), can you share some tips for yarncrafters in a creative rut?
Carlota: I prefer to work with people on a one-on-one basis, and help them build personalized and creative strategies, based on their needs and personalities…but off-hand, I would suggest: return to your roots. Why did you start crafting in the first place? Why is it important to you? Consider why you might be in a rut: is it time to undertake a project you think might be beyond your skills? Also, start seeking out inspiration in very new places…

UC: Any tips for emerging desigers/authors on dealing with rejection?
Carlota: My all-time favorite story in this regard, is about the author Kurt Vonnegut. After he passed, I went to an exhibition honoring his life, and among all of his manuscripts, and photos…was a pile of rejection letters. 800 rejection letters. He had received the slips, saved them…and kept on writing. Kept on writing at what he believed in his heart to be valuable, till he finally broke through. I was deeply impressed. He knew his talents…and that’s all that mattered to him. Is he my favorite author? No, not at all…but my respect for his courage and perservance is off-the-charts.

UC: As a playwright, where/how do you find inspiration?
Carlota: Ugh: everywhere. I have to finish the final polish on this play by August 1, so I can send it to my agent, since I have two book proposals I want to sell, and then a third play I want to start writing December…but that’s also because I’m very driven and after so many years of not writing, my business has unleashed my creativity in extreme ways. But I personally believe that this period of fertility, could NOT have happened, had I not had years of feeling completely at loose ends, and understanding that I had to fight it out and figure myself out…or else, that period would have never ended.

Carlota has definitely given me some inspiration.  I don’t know if I will be keeping my rejection letters until I collect 800 like Kurt Vonnegut, but it is helpful to be reminded that everyone goes through that experience!

Updated August, 2014: For anyone in need of more one-on-one work to get you out of a rut or onto the next change in your lives, you can contact Carlota to learn more about her services and her current pricing here.  Although her home base is in New York City, she also offers phone/video chat services for clients living elsewhere.  As a satisfied customer myself, I will tell you that if you need your butt kicked into shape, Carlota is the right coach for you!