Monthly Archives: October 2011

Winner! Knit Local by Tanis Gray

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Check out this post to read my interview with Tanis Gray and review of Knit Local: Celebrating America’s Homegrown Yarns.

According to Random.org, the winner of today’s giveaway of Knit Local is # 33.  Congratulations to

Tami!

Thanks to everyone who entered, and to Sixth & Spring for providing me with the review copy prize.

Interview with Susan Huxley, organizer of Chase the Chill, the Original

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Susan Huxley is an accomplished needlecrafts author who first came to my attention when I checked out her book, Today’s Crochet: Sweaters from the Crochet Guild of America, from the library a few years ago.  (And, no, I didn’t get around to making a sweater from it before I had to return it.)  I had the pleasure of meeting Susan virtually through the Crochet Guild of America‘s Yahoo group for Professional and Associate Professional members.  Susan is an active member of the Arts Community of Easton, and is involved with many fiber arts events.  I was so “hooked” on her Chase the Chill: The Original project that I asked to interview her here on my blog.

For those of you in the Easton, Pennsylvania area, you can get involved with Chase the Chill on Saturday, November 5.  Read on for details!

Susan Huxley’s plarn gown at the CGOA Fashion Show, 2010. (Photo by Nancy Smith.)

Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first get started crocheting?
Susan: I was wielding a hook when I was knee-high to a grasshopper. There isn’t a time in my life when I wasn’t exposed to knitting, crocheting, sewing, and other crafts. My grandmother was at home crocheting when this little bundle came home from the hospital. When my military-sailor father went to sea we lived with “Nannie.” And thus began my stitching education. It continued when I lived with her full-time until I was 12. By then I was more than capable of initiating and stitching on my own, and had plenty of craft magazines close at hand to teach myself interesting new things. That’s how I learned circular work on double-pointed knitting needles, for a stuffed octopus toy. Nannie had me make several more to grace the back of her living room sofa.

My first distinct memory of a crocheted project was “The World’s Longest Crochet Chain,” worked as the family drove across Canada, from an island off the West Coast mainland to the new place Dad was stationed in Halifax.

UC: When/why did you decide to merge your love of crafting with writing and publishing?
Susan: It was accidental…and inevitable. First, I was a truck driver, only crocheting or embroidering while waiting to load. Yes, 18-wheels. After establishing my fallback job skills, I took up clothing and textiles in the Home Economics program at the University of Alberta. A sudden move to central Canada put the kibosh on that career path. Shortly before the move, my English prof offered me a position in the Honors program. I couldn’t find a home ec program in Toronto, but her offer inspired me to move in new directions. I was accepted into the English program at York University and the Journalism program at Ryerson. The Ontario College of Art rejected me. I chose the Journalism program as more practical, and after a year had quit to work full-time as a reporter on a community paper. Then I freelanced for the national newspaper The Globe and Mail. And starved.

Answering an ad for assistant editor of a craft magazine put food on the table. I loved the work. Within weeks of my start date, the editor quit. I didn’t realize that slapping my resume on the editorial director’s desk and asking for the job was ballsy. He continued to interview others. I think I was eventually given the job because no one else would work at the offered salary. So, at 28, I was responsible for the editorial content of a national, glossy, subscription-based craft magazine.

Susan at Easton Sheep to Shawl, 2010. (Photo by Robin Phelps.)

UC: How did you get started teaching crochet?
Susan: At Rodale Inc., I was a senior editor on the sewing book team. (Note the jump from magazines to books…and the change of countries. Risk doesn’t scare me…being hungry does.) I discovered that promoting books I worked on won me brownie points. I didn’t actively pursue teaching gigs, but when they were requested, I didn’t turn them down. The sessions were popular with guilds and stores since I didn’t charge. These teaching sessions naturally progressed into crochet as I took on other craft titles.

I wasn’t afraid to stand in front of a crowd, thanks to competitive Highland (Scottish) dancing and a public school teacher who steered me into the debate club when I was in grade 8. I have some public speaking and debate awards to my name, including a provincial (the US equivalent of a state) title. Being a military brat also played a role since I moved enough to learn to come out of my shell in order to make friends quickly.

As an editor I spent a lot of time attending conferences in various craft categories to hunt down new book ideas and authors. This taught me a lot about good teaching, although I’m not there yet and continue learning how to be a better educator.

UC: Has teaching crochet impacted your personal crafting?
Susan: Absolutely. Even if I pick up a hook and start to stitch for the pleasure of feeling the yarn slide through my fingers—or to learn a new stitch pattern—it isn’t long before the laptop is open and I’m jotting down what I’m doing or ideas on how it can be applied to a project, pattern, or piece of art.

Recording what I’m doing is important because anything a student sees could turn into a request for instructions and further guidance. Rather than trying to recreate the work, it’s easier to write as I stitch. Of course, only a week ago a friend, Robin, asked me to show her how to make a very specific type of mobius, and I fumbled around while trying to remember what I did because I didn’t have access to the notes on my computer. I don’t like wasting a student’s time like that.

Chase the Chill, 2010. (Photo by Robin Phelps.)

UC: You organize Chase the Chill, “an annual happening with a cause.”  How did this event start and what was the motivation behind combining public art, charity, and yarn bombing together?
Susan: I blame my friends, the core group of the Saturday Stitchers of Easton: Robin Phelps, Elinor Levy, and Bonny Peters. And my artist friends. And the shelter down the street.

Safe Harbor has beds for the homeless, a meal program, and counseling. First thing in the morning and at other specific times throughout the day, there’s a steady stream of people who live in nearby inexpensive rooms and apartments—and homeless people—walking down the street where I live, heading over to the shelter to eat. In the winter, some aren’t dressed for the cold. It’s heartbreaking. I’ve bought coats and boots for a few, but that doesn’t have much of an impact.

I wanted to do more. Something that allowed people the freedom of personal choice and the dignity that comes from not having to qualify for aid or be exposed to sometimes well-meaning but smug donators.

Around the same time that these thoughts were bouncing around, I was enjoying weekly stitching sessions with a group of gals. I was kicking around ways to free them from the tyranny (VBG) of the pattern, stop beating themselves up over mistakes, and think of stitching as an art form. I also wanted to encourage others to look beyond their own lives and embrace random acts of kindness. And, finally, I had been cold sheep for a couple of years and was sick of looking at my huge yarn stash. It was time for a stash-down by working up as much yarn as I could.

At the same time yarn bombing images were starting to pop up everywhere online.

One day, all of the above ideas managed to be in the same spot of my brain at the same time. There was a grand collision and Chase the Chill was born. That’s often the way things are with me…they surface as a full-blown idea. Or, in the case of an art piece, as a visual of the finished work.

Scarf bombing works because anyone can claim a scarf without any qualifiers. Do some go to people who can afford to buy their own? Of course. Are some distributors helping themselves to scarves made for others? Probably. Are some low-income people taking more than their share? It doesn’t matter. Who “deserves” a scarf? Does a person have to “look poor to receive a gift?”

Interesting exercise, isn’t it?

The whole idea is to have fun putting the scarves out there and inviting people, via a hang tag that says you can take it. Like a Happening in the 60s, the bombing takes on a life of its own. The only rules are no placement on private property without permission, covering signs or working parts of parking meters, or around trees.

UC: How can people get involved with Chase the Chill?
Susan:

  • Donate yarn: Synthetic is best because it’s easy-care for the recipients. That said, the Saturday Stitchers continue to go overboard, creating many exquisitely stitched scarves in the most luxurious yarns. A couple of last year’s distributors told me how satisfying it was to see the thrill on someone’s face upon discovering a real treasure. So special yarns can’t be ruled out.
  • Donate scarves: Last year we had close to 80. I’m pretty sure we’ve topped our goal of 250 for this year, in great part because The Comfort Zone in Phillipsburg, NJ, has been so prolific. I take a photo of every scarf received. Every contributor gets a photo folder attached to the Facebook page Chase the Chill, the Original. And I post the pics, one at a time, to my Facebook page.   Ship to 67 N 4th St., Easton, PA 18042.
  • Start your own local Chase the Chill. I’ll help any way I can.
  • Donate a few dollars to Safe Harbor Easton: It has a Paypal button. Funding has been cut dramatically recently.

Chase the Chill, 2010. (Photo by Robin Phelps.)

UC: Where do you find your creative inspiration?
Susan: A better question for me might be “Where don’t I find inspiration?” It’s everywhere. I love looking at fashion and art on the Internet. And listening to Easton artists talk about their work. Lately, though, I’m drawing inspiration from people. Just this past week I was chatting with a wonderfully experienced stitcher and spinner. Gaye and I were comparing yarn holding/tension techniques. She said she’d love to make a study of this. I’ve built on this comment and now have a new project in the works for 2012.

UC: You seem to be multi-craftual.  What is your favorite “go to” craft when you have time for personal projects?
Susan: I go through phases. I’m also obsessive. I latch onto, say, crocheting with plastic bags. And that’s all I do during my spare time for a year. When I’m working on something my minds wanders to other ways I can work with the same material/technique/concept. Then I wake up one day, decide I’m bored, and move on to something else. My top two craft loves, though, are crocheting and garment sewing. Knitting is third. Quilting isn’t even on this list, although I’m still obsessing about piecing old clothing into new garments these days. I can feel the passion waning, though.

Chase the Chill, 2010. (Photo by Robert Gerheart.)

UC: What are your favorite crochet/craft blogs?
Susan: Do I have to pick one? I only allow myself an hour on Facebook and 30 minutes on the Internet every day, otherwise I’d be lost to the world. A whole new meaning to plug in and tune out.

My favorite art blog is Joanne Mattera Art Blog, which is about marketing every Monday, because the advice is often applicable to us professional stitchers who do fairs, submit teaching proposals, deal with clients, educate the public…

UC: What other projects are you working on right now?

Susan:

Chase the Chill, 2010. (Photo by Robert Gerheart.)

Thanks Susan for stopping by and sharing your projects with us.

If you have a chance to visit Easton for Chase the Chill on Saturday, November 5, you should!  (I won’t be able to attend since I’ll be teaching a beginner crochet class at the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum and Garden.)

Yay, I survived my first Blogtoberfest! To find more blogs participating in Blogtoberfest 2011, visit Tinnie Girl.  For Blogtoberfest 2011 giveaways, visit Curly Pops.

Reminder:

You have until 11:59 p.m. Eastern time tonight to enter my giveaway for Mini Christmas Crochet (Twenty to Make) by Val Pierce here by October 31.

Year of Projects: Crochet Master Class – Plaid progress

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This post is part of my Year of Projects: Crochet Master Class series.  You can find my other posts about woven crochet here and here.

I don’t have much to report on for my Year of Projects goals this week.  As much as it has been fun to be more active on my blog this month, I am very much looking forward to the end of Blogtoberfest, 2011!  I plan to take a few days off away from the blog, even though I have a few books to review.

Between all of the blogging, a busy season at work, and the secret swatching I’ve been doing for design submissions, I have only made a wee bit of progress on my plaid pillow project, started during my Tartans & Plaids class with Jenny King at the Lion Brand Yarn Studio.

One panel is finished, but I still have to weave in the ends.

Thanks to my class with Jenny King, my plaid is woven evenly!

I’m still debating whether I should felt the finished project.  Opinions?

For more Year of Projects posts, visit When Did I Become a Knitter.

To find more blogs participating in Blogtoberfest 2011, visit Tinnie Girl.  For Blogtoberfest 2011 giveaways, visit Curly Pops.

Crochet Lyceum: Crochet 101: Student Showcase Giveaway!

This post is part of Crochet 101, the first CAL/class in the Crochet Lyceum with Underground Crafter series.

Visit this post for the full course outline and more information about how to participate.

I was planning to post Class 6: Basic Finishing Techniques today, but frankly, I’m too tired to do the post justice, so I will be delaying it for a few days.  I did want to give people who have been participating in the CAL a chance to win some giveaways that I’ve saved up just for you!

Next Saturday, November 5, I’d like to have a student showcase post with pictures of the swatches and projects that those of you following along for all or part of the CAL have made.

To enter the giveaway:

  • Email one or more pictures of your swatch(es) or project(s) to marie@undergroundcrafter.com/blog OR post or link the pictures to my Ravelry group.
  • Grant me permission to share the pictures, and let me know how you’d like to be credited (e.g., by your real name, your Ravelry name, etc.).
  • For each different project or swatch you share pictures of, you will get 1 entry.  You can enter as many pictures as you’d like, but pictures of the same project will only be counted once.
  • You must email or post the pictures with your permission by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on Thursday, November 3.

So, what are the prizes?

Yarn (3 prizes):

Notions Kit:

  • 3 sizes of crochet hooks, 1 set of yarn needles, and a gauge ruler.

Good luck!

To find more blogs participating in Blogtoberfest 2011, visit Tinnie Girl.  For Blogtoberfest 2011 giveaways, visit Curly Pops.

Interview with Kathryn Vercillo from Crochet Concupiscence

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Today, I’m pleased to present an interview with Kathryn Vercillo from Crochet Concupiscence, one of my favorite crochet blogs.  It is sort of like the USA Today of crochet blogs – a roundup of everything going on in the crochet world, plus Kathryn’s personal projects – but with much better/more engaging writing.  Kathryn is working on a new project Swaddle, which she will share with us.

Kathryn is a professional writer and blogger, and she lives in San Francisco, where I used to live as a toddler (yes, it is true, I haven’t lived in NYC for my entire life – I did spend three years elsewhere).  You can find Kathryn on her blog, on her Twitter page, or on Ravelry as CrochetBlogger.

Kathryn Vercillo, in one of her crocheted dresses.

Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first get started crocheting?

Kathryn: Like many other people, I learned a basic crochet chain from my mom when I was a kid but then didn’t really do anything else with crochet until I was an adult. A few years ago, I was struggling with a very serious bout of depression and I kept trying to force myself to explore different interests in order to escape from the clutches of such sadness. I can’t even tell you how many things I tried (hula hoop dancing, drawing, computer gaming) and somehow I got it into my head that I wanted to try crochet. It immediately resonated with me when nothing else had.

I started re-learning crochet at that time by trying to read vintage crochet patterns from my mom’s old magazines but those proved too difficult to understand (although I can read them now). I ended up getting some “how to crochet” books for kids from my library and learning from them, using YouTube videos as a supplement when certain stitches confused me. It started out as a possible hobby and became a true passion. Now I crochet daily and research the craft all of the time.

UC: What was your original inspiration for starting Crochet Concupiscence?

Kathryn: I am a freelance writer for a living and had been working as a professional blogger for other people for about five years. Every time that I had a new interest, I started a blog of my own to explore it further and share it with others. However, I never really devoted a lot of time to any of those previous blogs because I was busy blogging for others. Last year I started cutting back on my professional blogging work in order to focus on some other writing projects. That opened up a space for me to launch a blog of my own that I could really devote myself to. Crochet had become the love of my life by then and I wanted to spend as much time as I could researching it so it was a natural step to launch the blog. My favorite part of every day is the writing I do for Crochet Concupiscence.

Kathryn wearing one of her cowl projects.

UC: You’re a very active blogger with an established audience, but seem to have a life, too (or perhaps that is all a scam, and you are chained to your computer all day?).  What tips do you have for emerging bloggers?

Kathryn: I do try to have a life although I admit that I probably spend more time crocheting and blogging than the average person would :). Based on my experiences both with Crochet Concupiscence and with the blogs I’ve done professionally for others, here are my blogging tips:

  • Take the time to ask yourself what you want from your blog. The thing about the blog world is that there are many, many different tools for bloggers (Twitter, SEO stuff, WordPress plugins, etc. etc.) and you can easily get lost as you learn about each of these new things. If you know exactly what you want from your blog, it will be much easier to sift through all of this and choose only those things that make sense to you and keep you enjoying your blog. Your goal might be to keep track of your projects in one place, or to connect with other like-minded people around a topic like crochet, or to have hundreds of thousands of followers and be a big influencer in your niche. Whatever goal you have is fine but it’s important to know what it is.
  • Establish a posting schedule. I write about the same things each day of the week so that I don’t have to think “what should I write today?” For example, I always do crochet artist profiles on Mondays and crochet book reviews on Tuesdays. It’s a time saver. I also recommend setting aside specific times of day or days of the week to do your blogging. This keeps you on track.
  • Read other blogs that interest you. This will keep you inspired, give you ideas for what you want to do with your own blog, and help you connect to a larger community, which is a key thing that makes blogging fun.

UC: You are working on a new project, Swaddle, which explores the way women nurture the men in their lives.  Tell me about your inspiration for this project and what type of support you are looking for from the crochet community.

Kathryn: Yes! Swaddle is a crochet art project that uses the traits inherent in crochet to explore the ways in which women communicate with the men in their lives and how this affects their relationships. I believe that women are generally taught to be the caregivers and problem-solvers in their relationships, and they often use words to do this.  Sometimes the ways we communicate as women do a great job of nurturing the relationships we have and sometimes they go awry and really stifle those relationships.  Swaddle explores both sides of this through crochet art.

Historically, mothers swaddled babies to keep them safe but it sometimes went wrong and ended up killing the child, and that’s where the imagery comes from for the project.

This crochet project will ultimately have 12 – 24 pieces in it for display in a gallery. The title piece is Swaddled. This is a collection of crocheted swaddling blankets wrapped around representations of male figures. Some are cozy and comfortable, as we expect crochet blankets to be. Some are strangling and suffocating. Some are too loose and the male is exposed. This represents the core idea behind the title project.

Communication, relationships, and women’s roles have long been themes I’ve explored in my writing and artwork. When I started getting into crochet, I knew that I wanted to do some type of art project with it. Crochet is stereotypically a female craft and can be constructed in both a delicate “feminine” way and a structural “masculine” form so it lends itself well to art that explores gender issues. I also think that the repetition in crochet with its constant loops and knots easily represents communication, so it works well for this project.

I would love to see the crochet community support this project and that’s why I’ve chosen to use Kickstarter to crowdsource funding to make it a reality. People can donate as little as one dollar to support the development of the project. People who donate $20 or more will be allowed to select a set of stitches in the color of their choosing which will go in to one large-scale art piece in Swaddle to represent the participation of those who have helped the project along.

I’d like to note that I’m using yarns from indie female yarn dyers and spinners so the funding through Kickstarter will also help the fiber community in that way.

UC: I usually ask about favorite blogs, but I think your Hooked Together project gives us all a great view into your blog reading habits.  Instead I’ll skip right to asking about your favorite crochet books in your collection.  Do you have some that you always return to, or new favorites, to share?

Kathryn: Yes, Hooked Together is a compilation of all of the crochet and fiber blogs you read. I’d also like to note that each Saturday I do a “link love” post with links to my favorite crochet posts from the week so that’s another great way to see what I enjoy reading.  (UC comment: I love Link Love – I don’t read as many blogs as Kathryn, so that’s how I find out about posts I haven’t seen yet.)

As for books, I’m currently obsessing over Edie Eckman’s Around the Corner Crochet Borders. It features 150 crochet edging options, so it’s a great way to learn lots of different stitch combinations in a manner that is easy to follow.

I recently reviewed Sarah London’s Granny Square Love, and I adore many of the projects in that book because I’m kind of in love with grannies lately. (UC comment: Me, too!  I had great fun reviewing Sarah’s new book, and have been on a granny kick lately.)

And I’m a huge fan of Crochet Master Class, which you actually turned me on to because of your great posts working through that book!  (UC comment: Thanks, Kathryn! You can read my Crochet Master Class posts here.)

Finally, I am working my way through a great vintage crochet book called Crochet and Creative Design by Annette Feldman that is more about the theory behind crochet construction.  (UC comment: Thanks for introducing me to this book, Kathryn.  Of course, you know I had to rush out and buy a used copy for my vintage crochet book collection!)

Kathryn’s lover’s knot scarf.

UC: Has blogging about crochet influenced your personal crocheting?  If so, how?

Kathryn: Great question! Blogging about crochet gives me an excuse and motivation to constantly research crochet, so it has exposed me to many different things in crochet that I might not have found otherwise.

It was through reading crochet blogs that I came to understand both the importance and the how-to of blocking crochet. And it was through crochet blogs that I learned about tapestry crochet, which is a type of crochet that I really want to delve into in the near future.

I think crochet blogging also helps to keep me productive because I always want to have new work to show off on my blog. I’m participating in Year of Projects through Ravelry and I always try to chip away at my list to present something for those weekly posts on my blog.

Kathryn makes friends with an alpaca at the Tucson Wool Festival.

UC: What are your favorite types of yarn to work with?

Kathryn: I’ve never met a yarn I didn’t like! No seriously, in terms of fiber, I’m currently loving bamboo/ silk blends. They are soft, shiny, somewhat eco-friendly (bamboo is, silk isn’t always) and work up easily. I also just recently bought some crazy soft baby alpaca and that may be my brand new love.

I prefer to buy hand-dyed and / or hand-spun yarns from indie dyers and small stores. Six Skeins and Candy Skein are two examples of online stores I like. (UC comment: Candy Skein’s proprietress is Tami from Tami’s Amis, the host of WIP Wednesday and FO Friday.) I also like Yarns of Italy, which isn’t an indie dyer but offers a select set of yarns direct from Italy at affordable prices. I prefer variegated yarns and like to stick to a blue/grey spectrum with some infusion of bright colors (greens and purples, mostly) and neutrals (creams, black and white).

If I had to pick a name brand yarn type that most people know, though, I’d definitely go with Malabrigo. I can never pass up a Malabrigo that comes into my path. And I also like Lorna’s Laces. I have a ridiculous yarn stash, which is organized loosely by color and put on display in vintage metal containers throughout my home.  (UC comment: I’ve been planning to check out Candy Skein and haven’t tried Six Skeins or Lorna’s Laces yet, either – so thanks for the positive reviews!)

Kathryn’s large granny square project.

UC: What are your favorite types of projects to pick up for your own personal crocheting?

Kathryn: I make a ton of capelets, cowls and scarves. I often buy just one or two skeins of yarn and these items are small enough that I can use just that small yarn amount. I also like those small projects because they allow me to see how various stitch combinations work out without a huge commitment. Plus one great crochet accessory like that can really pull together an outfit!  (UC comment: So true!)

I do typically have one larger project on the hooks – lately it’s been a large granny square blanket but I’ve also done a lot of dresses – that I can go to when I want to crochet but don’t want to think about what I want to make! In general I like to work on seamless crochet projects with very few color changes.

UC: (Insert question here: If there is anything I haven’t asked about related to crocheting, blogging, yarn, etc., that you would like to talk about, please include it here.)

Kathryn: I would just like to add that one of my main goals in terms of what I can contribute to the crochet community is to strengthen the connections that crocheters have online. This is reflected in my Hooked Together project, of course. But I also try to do it steadily with my blog by reviewing books and yarn, interviewing crocheters, sharing links, highlighting daily Etsy selections, etc. I believe that the crochet community is a terrific community and think it’s wonderful that we can connect online in the twenty first century so I try to do my part to establish and strengthen such connections.

UC: Thanks so much for stopping by, Kathryn, and I think you are meeting your goal of strengthening the online connection between crocheters!  Please stop by the Swaddled Kickstarter page and contribute to this exciting art project.

To find more blogs participating in Blogtoberfest 2011, visit Tinnie Girl.  For Blogtoberfest 2011 giveaways, visit Curly Pops.