I am so excited to share an interview with Vashti Braha today. I first learned about Vashti’s work because, as you know, I love Tunisian crochet, and she has designed some amazing Tunisian crochet patterns. I’m a devoted subscriber to her Crochet Inspirations newsletter. If you love to crochet, you should sign up, too. Vashti’s newsletter somehow simultaneously looks at crochet with the fresh and inspired eyes of a precocious newbie and the wisdom of an ancient master. Every time I read it, I am inspired to pick up my hook!
All pictures in this interview are used with Vashti’s permission.
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first get started crocheting?
Vashti: My earliest memories are of my Mom crocheting, knitting, and embroidering. I would sit with her for hours and try to untangle the yarn in her yarn basket while she crocheted on the couch. It felt very natural to learn how to crochet from her one day when I was nine. This was 1973. I remember thinking “Aha! Now I have the power to make anything I need to survive.” I was thinking of Tarzan, Gilligan’s Island, and Hodge Podge Lodge at the time–I imagined crocheting myself a hammock, tether, sack, or other survival item.
The first things I made were clothes and accessories for my younger sister’s dolls. (Her passion at the time.)
UC: What inspired you to start designing?
Vashti: Until I was 30-something, somehow I never noticed that real people wrote patterns for crochet designs! I changed as a crocheter when my son was born in 1999. I set new challenges for myself, took on ambitious projects, and read new kinds of crochet books and patterns. I started noticing how each designer had a different style. That’s when I imagined what I might design some day.
Thanks to the new online crochet world that was developing at the time, I learned about the CGOAChain Link conferences. At a conference in 2004, I unexpectedly sold my first designs and was on my way.
UC: You originally started your crochet career selling your designs to other publishers. Now, you are almost entirely self-published. Can you talk about that shift – what inspired it and what are some of the challenges and rewards you see as your own publisher?
Vashti: I became an independent designer and publisher due to a combination of factors. Freelancing (selling designs to other publishers) was not a perfect fit for me. Then, as the industry changed, I reached a breaking point with it. I’m glad to see that more recently it has been improving in some ways for freelancers.
I’m going to rant a bit now, and I’m only speaking for myself. Every designer is unique, so I don’t pass judgment how any other designer goes about their business. Also, a few of the issues I list below have improved since I started publishing independently, and I do still freelance here and there.
For years, the print publishing industry in general has been battling rising print costs, a rigid and bloated hierarchy of middlemen, and new forms of digital competition. Crochet publishing has also been promoting outdated assumptions about crochet and about intellectual property rights. Until very recently, I think every new crochet designer started out freelancing. As far as I know, being published (in a print magazine or book, or by a yarn company) was the only game in town.
Unfortunately, some time after I began designing, the publishers’ rising costs were being passed along to the designers: in other words, pay rates for designs started stagnating. I’d like to know if the amount paid to the production staff, the printing presses, the postal services, etc., was also flattening and drifting downwards!
Not only that, we designers were also supposed to work harder for the same or lower pay: write the pattern for 4 to 6 sizes instead of 1 to 3; provide schematics and stitch diagrams; add special tips and swatches in alternate colors; etc. All this, and still keep the pattern short!
Do you know what kinds of designs meet these requirements the best? The ones made of a few big squares. For a designer, that’s a rudimentary way to design a fashion item! It also limits the development of crochet’s potential. For the rest of the industry, however, this kind of crochet pattern seems to be the favored way to sell yarn. Well, I don’t go to the trouble to design something, and write up the pattern for it as clearly and accurately as possible (in 5 sizes, with diagrams, etc.) so that I can sell someone else’s yarn and lose all rights to my intellectual property as a bonus LOL!
I’m hearing from designers that with a few exceptions, companies have been slow to take the edge off for a pretty essential part of the industry, the designers! Instead, to add insult to injury:
Sometimes contracts have not been provided even when requested; if so, nothing is negotiable;
It’s breezily mentioned that your projects were stolen or given away;
Big and obvious project photography notes from the designer are disregarded so that the project is photographed inside out or upside down;
The pattern is redesigned without permission from the designer, usually by the tech editor (who can be quite surly!).
Yarn companies need designs to sell yarn. What are pattern magazines, leaflets, and books without patterns? But not just any patterns! New ones, distinctive ones; yet some publishers recycle the same design with no additional compensation to the designer. What crocheter wants to pay for a design twice? Even if the publisher changes the yarn, crocheters still know it — this means that good design matters to crocheters.
There reached a point when it stopped making sense to me to pursue freelancing. More crochet was appearing on fashion runways, and I was teaching trendy crochet design. I couldn’t see submitting trendy design proposals, then waiting 6 months to find out if they would be published 6-12 months after that, when I could publish them myself online in as little as a few hours. Almost every day a new way to publish and go directly to fellow crocheters presented itself. I remember when Etsy happened, and free blogging, and then…Ravelry!
I keep the proposal deadlines in mind of some of the larger publishers. So far, I’ve been preoccupied with my own learning curve -learning how to produce my newsletter, use SEO and analytics, understand Facebook’s latest changes, etc. Before I know it, a freelance deadline has passed me by, so I look to the next ones. A design of mine is in a new book, Simply Crochet: 22 Stylish Designs for Everyday. Another one is in a forthcoming Tunisian crochet book by Dora Ohrenstein.
UC: I love the Designing Vashti newsletter, especially how you share your inspirations and explorations of different techniques. How did you decide upon using that format to share your adventures in crochet?
Vashti: Thanks so much! I feel honored when a crocheter is interested enough to say, “You may email me every two weeks.” It makes each issue a special occasion and I want to make the most of it. I have a sense of intimacy with my subscribers and this causes me to write about crochet in a contemplative way.
I chose the newsletter format for two main reasons:
It’s the easiest and best type of “headquarters” I could create for people who want to know when I come out with new designs, offer classes, and other news.
I made a commitment to my inner crocheter to do for crochet, and for fellow crocheters, what I wish were already being done. I like thinking about crochet. I get plenty of newsletters in my inbox about yarn, crochet, or knitting, and I always hope they’ll give me something to think about. My subscriber list has grown constantly since the first issue in October, 2010, so I’m not the only one out there who likes to think about crochet!
A great fringe benefit of the newsletter is that it disciplines me as a writer. I like finding out what newsletter topic inspires me every two weeks.
UC: In the last few months, you have talked a lot about slip stitch crochet. What do you enjoy about this stitch?
Vashti: It gives me a fresh new experience of crochet. I’m discovering a whole microcosm in the seemingly simple and limited slip stitch, sort of like the Horton Hears A Who! story, or like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. My inner crocheter is startled and fascinated — and amused that crochet books are still being published that state authoritatively, “The slip stitch is not for making fabric”! The slip stitch results in some amazing fabrics, but aside from that, scratch its surface and it reveals a lot about crochet itself.
UC: What are your favorite crochet books in your collection?
UC: What are your favorite types of yarn to work with?
Vashti: I almost always like a z-twisted yarn (the plies of the yarn are twisted to the left) instead of s-twisted (twisted to the right). I crochet right handed, and my yarn overs don’t unwind a z-twisted yarn, so it doesn’t get “splitty” on me. I like how my really tall stitches look in smooth z-twisted yarns because the multiple yarn overs don’t make them look stringy. (UC comment: Doris Chan recently wrote a detailed blog post explaining the difference between z- and s- twisted yarns, if you’d like to know more.)
Lately I’ve been fascinated by alpaca. It’s hard for me to resist sparkly yarns, like silk and mohair spun with metallics and little sequins or beads. Handspun angora is a special kind of magical.
UC: You’ve had a variety of roles in the crochet industry – designer, teacher, writer, and now publisher. What advice do you have for aspiring professionals?
Vashti: Each of us is designing our business and crochet lifestyle, as well as designing crochet patterns. Thanks to the digital revolution and to the multifaceted nature of crochet, we have more choices than it first appeared back when I started designing. I continue to be inspired by how each designer makes her or his own path with it.
The three things I’d most like aspiring professionals to know are:
1) Join up with others and compare notes. It’s easy to miss opportunities, or to be taken advantage of, or to lose perspective, because this is a solitary job for most of us in this industry. Find a fellow professional you can call periodically, just to chat about the biz. In addition, meet up as a group online. Crochet designers need to meet up with each other, separately from tech editors who also need meet up with each other for example, or teachers. Ravelry groups help make this possible, but they are public. It’s better if you meet privately (I speak from experience).
2) The designer creates new intellectual property. The designer and only the designer starts out with all rights to the property, unless she or he chooses to let others have some. No one protects this property better than the originator of it.
It’s easy to lose sight of this simple fact.
I wish someone had made it clear and simple for me years ago. I still would have sold some or all rights to some freelanced designs, but with eyes open.
I’ve learned that a huge amount of people seem to prefer to profit from other people’s intellectual property instead of create their own, whether they can pay enough for it or not. I’ve wondered, why is it so many people, when they could create their own stuff and then do anything they want with it? After having designed a lot, I’ve concluded that it’s because it’s actually really hard work to create something out of nothing all the time. It’s much easier if someone else does it!
So, I’d say to aspiring professionals: don’t underestimate how eager people are to legally take your property off of your hands, even while discounting its value. I’ve heard this from several publishers: “It’s just one design. What’s the big deal? Why hold onto it forever? You’ll have plenty more.” If it’s such a burden, why dothey want it so much LOL?
3) Rather than feel flattered or important when given yarn to design with, I wish designers would expect it. Designers are already paid too little for a living wage. Yarn companies need designers much more than designers need any particular yarn. It should be the other way around: a yarn company is lucky when a designer chooses their yarn to design with, to blog about, or to recommend!
UC: What are you planning for 2012 and beyond?
Vashti: I’m looking forward to teaching several crochet classes both nationally and locally in 2012. I love teaching and getting to know students, and am very patient. Some crocheters who have had trouble learning in the past just need to find a calm and patient teacher.
I post updates in my newsletters as classes are scheduled. I can announce the classes I’ll be teaching at national conferences as soon as the schedule is posted for the summer and fall.
I want to try online classes too, though that might have to wait until 2013 or late 2012.
The Crochet Inspirations Newsletter has its own Facebook page that has been coming in handy. I originally set it up as an experiment with Facebook pages, but I go to it to scroll through the archived issues, to post follow-up info to an issue, and to answer questions.
For example, in the newest issue I talked a lot about my mannequin, Lindsay. Several readers emailed me to ask where I bought it, so I posted the link at the FB page. One week I forgot to include an important photo in the newsletter before I sent it out, so I posted it on the Facebook page for that issue. Come to think of it, I think I should remind my subscribers about the Facebook page.
Wow, Vashti, thank you for being so generous with your time, so detailed in your responses, and for offering some great advice for aspiring/emerging designers.
The book features 20 quick patterns for knitted gifties. Most of the projects are made with DK weight yarns and 3.75 mm (US size 5) knitting needles. The creatures are embellished with easy to find craft supplies, such as pipe cleaners, wiggle eyes, and felt. Each pattern includes brief instructions and then directions for “making up” (assembly). As the book is only 50 pages and contains many full page pictures, the assembly details are sparse. My two favorite patterns are “Horny Devil” (basically a knit circle with pipe cleaner arms and legs, felt horns, and an itty, bitty pitchfork) and “Just Married” (a three tier wedding cake).
The book also includes 6 pages of beginner information, such as basic stitches, illustrated instructions for casting on, and tips on pattern reading. There is also a knitting pattern abbreviation list in the back.
What I like about the book: Although the patterns are quite simple, most of them are pretty cute. Since the book is small, it is affordably priced and also portable. The embellishment supplies are easy to find (unlike safety eyes, for example). I think these patterns would make fun arts and craft projects for tweens and teens on a rainy day, as well as great, last minute gift embellishments for adults.
What I didn’t like (or what was missing): Several of the pattern names are way too cutesy for my New Yorker sensibilities (e.g., Ha Pea Valentine’s, Toad-ally in Love with You, and Bee Mine). Many of the patterns are quite similar. If the patterns were consolidated (e.g., “Basic round shape”), more space for directions on assembly could have been featured. The binding makes it difficult to lay this book flat to read while knitting.
I would give this book 3 out of 5 stars for the general knitter as a book with quick and simple gift embellishment ideas. I would give it 4 stars for a knitter who works with older children. If you are crafting with older kids with the dexterity to work with thinner yarn and smaller needles, I think you would have a lot of fun with this book.
Leave a comment on this post, telling me about your experience with or interest in needlework, by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on Friday, February 3, 2012. Be sure to include your email address (which won’t be displayed) so I can contact you if you win. (Please note that my comments are moderated, so if you are a new visitor, your comment will not appear immediately.)
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Did you miss me? (I missed you!) I skipped my Year of Projects update for the first time ever last week. I had to take about a week off from my blog to work on a secret project while simultaneously dealing with a whole mess of deadlines at work (the kind of deadlines that involve 12 hour days). I tried to keep up with everyone else’s projects, but, in truth, I wasn’t that successful at it.
This Irish rose project is suited to all of the various -a-longs that I’m involved with: Surmount the Stash, 12 for myself, and Year of Projects. It seems to be turning itself into a choker. I’m not much for jewelry, but I’m planning on wearing it (at least a few times) when it is finished.
Learn everything you need to crochet on your own, and have fun in the process. Accomplish chain, single, half double, double, and treble crochet stitches and their many combinations while learning to read patterns. We’ll discuss how to change colors, troubleshoot patterns, and finish a project. In keeping with the Recycle It theme, we’ll also make yarn from t-shirts, dye plain wool yarn with Kool-Aid(R), and more.
If you have “advanced beginner” to intermediate crochet skills, expand your stitch collection to include many textures such as popcorns, bobbles, puffs, bouillon, and post stitches while working on your choice of sampler project. Students should be familiar with basic crochet techniques including chain, single, and double crochet stitches.
About the Folk School:
John C. Campbell Folk School provides experiences in non-competitive learning and community life that are joyful and enlivening. Located in scenic Brasstown, North Carolina, the Folk School offers year-round weeklong and weekend classes for adults in craft, art, music, dance, cooking, gardening, nature studies, photography and writing.
Identified by Rand McNally Atlas as a “Best of the Road” destination, the Folk School is only two hours from Asheville, Atlanta, Chattanooga, and Knoxville, and is just a day’s drive for half of the residents of the U.S.
We’re located in westernmost North Carolina, seven miles east of Murphy, NC, off U.S. Highway 64, just north of Georgia’s state line.
I hope to meet some of you there! Feel free to share the link to this post, or to refer people to the Folk School website for more information.
(Thanks for clicking through the SOPA Blackout page. I try to avoid politics on this blog, but SOPA could have such a profoundly negative impact on the crafty blogger community that I was compelled to participate in the blackout today.)
I finished The City and The Stars, which was another Arthur C. Clarke masterpiece, but decided not to continue on to the Sands of Mars. This week, I’m reading one of my birthday gifts.
Oh, what’s that? You want to see what I’ve been working on, you say? I am finishing a secret project, and my sister’s blanket was too large to photograph in my dimly lit apartment or outside in the pouring rain. So I’m sharing my swatches from the Colorful Cables class I took with Melissa Leapman on Sunday at Vogue Knitting Live.
(Ignore the messy work – I was frantically learning new techniques in a classroom!) I can definitely see myself working with slip stitch and color blocked cables in the future. I might even consider the stranded cables. But the intarsia cables? Not so much.
Yesterday, I visited Vogue Knitting Live 2012. Months ago, I registered, hoping to take a broomstick lace class with Jennifer Hansen. Unfortunately, the class was cancelled. (Although I desperately want to go on a rant here about how crochet workshops will never be offered at knitting events if we don’t sign up for them, I will refrain.) I decided to take Colorful Cables with Melissa Leapman instead.
Although I didn’t make a shopping list before the event, I established some guidelines so I didn’t go overboard in the Marketplace.
I set a spending limit and brought cash only,
I walked through both floors of the Marketplace before making any purchases,
I avoided all New York City yarn shop booths, since I can visit them any time, and
I decided that I wouldn’t buy yarn but would take business cards of interesting yarn vendors.
This plan seemed to work pretty well, since I actually walked away with $16 :).
I’m sure it will come as no surprise to anyone that I ended up buying a few books. I made the bulk of my purchases at the Kinokuniya Bookstore booth, where I bought three Japanese crochet books.
The prices were quite reasonable compared to what I’ve seen online. It was only after I paid for everything that I realized the store is actually in New York City. This could be dangerous! (Thank goodness for the frugal living challenge!)
I also bought a small bottle of Soak. I hate handwashing, and since this is a wash that doesn’t have to be rinsed, I thought I should try it out.
I saw some wonderful yarn vendors. In particular, Vivian from Arctic Qiviut spent several minutes speaking with me about qiviut, a new-to-me fiber made from the underdown of the musk ox. This fabulously soft and luxurious fiber was way out of my price range, but it definitely goes onto my imaginary shopping list for the future!
I was really impressed with the softness and beauty of the undyed alpaca from Furnace Mountain Alpacas. I am so looking forward to working my stash down so that I can buy some yummy alpaca goodness! I got to touch test some other fibers that I’m not very familiar with: yak yarn at Bijou Basin Ranch‘s booth and buffalo yarn at The Buffalo Wool Company‘s booth. I also learned about Stitchuary, a company that shares limited edition yarns from independent farmers in the U.S. with the public. Another interesting company was Seabury Organizers. They make these fabulous spiral needle/hook organizers. In years gone by, I probably would have bought one right away. But I didn’t seen a fabric that was my style, so instead the organizer went on my wish list.
Lest you think the Marketplace was all about shopping, I should mention the yarn bombing, yarn tasting, and learn to knit and crochet areas.
There was a great beginner area, where you could learn to crochet with my favorite Tulip Etimo hooks or knit on some fancy needles. My favorite yarn tasting area was, naturally, the Blue Sky Alpacas table. After all of this meandering, it was time for class.
I definitely learned a lot in the class, but I don’t see myself jumping into an intarsia project any time soon! I hope to have some pictures of my swatches to show you in my next post.
I learned some new tricks from the class. I’m proud of myself for sticking to my budget (and not buying any yarn!). I wish I had the chance to learn broomstick lace from a crochet master, but I’m pretty satisfied with how the day went.
I’m really excited today to share an interview with Dr. Carol Ventura, the tapestry crochet master featured in Crochet Master Class. I can’t think of another crocheter who is as associated with a particular technique as Carol is with tapestry crochet. Carol first learned about tapestry crochet as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala. While there, she purchased several bags, and after returning to the U.S., she unraveled one to learn about its design. Since that time, she has been hooked on tapestry crochet! (You can read more about Carol’s introduction to tapestry crochet in theseinterviews.)
UC: What originally inspired you to begin designing your own patterns and writing crochet books?
Carol: It was/is the best way to share tapestry crochet with others. (UC comment: Carol shares a lot of great information about tapestry crochet on her website and blog, including this post about the design of the bag featured in Crochet Master Class, and this recent post about creating tapestry crochet graphs from photos.)
UC: Where do you generally find your creative inspiration?
UC: What do you enjoy about working with the tapestry crochet technique?
Carol: I love that it’s portable and doesn’t require lots of expensive tools or a lot of space.
UC: Your tapestry crochet books include not just patterns and tutorials, but also detailed information about the historical and cultural significance of the technique. What was the development process like for these books – was it similar for all three or did it change over time?
Carol: I’m an art historian by trade, so it was logical for me to include a little bit about tapestry crochet history in my Tapestry Crochet and More Tapestry Crochet books. Each book stands alone and compliments one another. I didn’t include any history in my Bead & Felted Tapestry Crochet book because I had already covered that topic in the first two books.
UC: What are your favorite crochet books in your library (besides your own, of course)?
Carol: I have a huge library of thousands of books about many topics – but no favorites. I love them all! (UC comment: I’m sure I’m not the only one who would love to sneak a peak into the crochet section in Carol’s library!)
(Edited to add: UC comment: You can read more about this afghan and Carol’s experiment with felting it here.)
UC: Do you have any favorite craft or design blogs or websites to share?
UC: If this isn’t too personal, can you talk a bit about your insulating concrete form (ICF) house? It seems like a fascinating project and I’d be interested in learning more about your decision to design and build this style of eco-friendly housing.
Carol: I was inspired by houses in Central America and Europe that are built to last for many generations from stone, brick, and concrete. I was also inspired by reading Mother Earth Newsarticles about earth sheltered homes during the late 1970s when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala. I couldn’t afford to have the concrete walls poured in the usual manner, though. While watching TV, I found out about ICFs – the perfect, affordable solution.
The house is still not finished, although we’re living in it. We started construction 10 years ago – before “earth friendly” and “green building” became popular – and people back then would look at us like we were nuts for building such a different type of house! The response is better now. I created several web pages about its construction to help others avoid some of the problems we encountered.
It is still difficult to find basic information about some of the various steps involved and my ignorance cost us tens of thousands of dollars! I understood that we had to plan ahead because it was difficult to install the utilities, but there were other things that I didn’t anticipate. If only I knew then what I know now!
Thank you so much for taking time from your busy schedule for an interview, Carol!
I love to cross-stich, too! My mother and grandmother were amazing embroiderers, and I’ve always wanted to give it a go!
Thank you to Creative Publishing International, for providing this review copy, and to everyone who entered the giveaway. If you haven’t already, you can check out my book review and interview with Linda W here.
I started on the Irish crochet chapter and have been making some progress on an Irish rose project for myself. I’m very excited about an interview with one of the crochet masters that I’ll be posting on Sunday (hint, hint).
5) Limit new yarn purchases, increase the ratio of natural to synthetic fibers in my stash, and continue to destash any yarn or notions that I won’t be using in the near future.
I survived a trip to my favorite yarn shop without buying any yarn. I also donated 12 crochet hooks that I had in my stash to the Hollis Branch of Queens Library. (I taught a 3-part crochet class in the after-school program, and the kids had so much fun they are continuing a crochet circle there. The hooks will help them get started.)
On the other hand, I joined the birthday swap on Crochetlist. It looked too fun to ignore :).
7) Participate (however briefly) in a Ravelry CAL.
Thanks to everyone who read and responded to my CAL whining last week. I haven’t committed to anything, but two CALs are really calling out to me:
I plan to drop in and out as my schedule allows, but I’m going to remain flexible. So, I won’t be committing to make 100 squares from Edie Eckman‘s Beyond the Square: Crochet Motifs with Made in K-Town, but I will make some :). And I don’t know if I will complete an entire Wool-Eater blanket (especially on Sarah London’s timeframe), but I will try out the technique. For both projects, I will kick off with stash yarn, which will support goal # 5 and my efforts to Surmount the Stash in 2012.
Professional crafting goals
3) Publish at least five patterns.
I’m still toiling in secret on a sample for a pattern that should be published later in 2012.
4) Blog at least twice a week.
I’ve posted 5 times since my last weekly update. Yay!
Needlecrafts, handmade creativity, and other good stuff