Monthly Archives: January 2012

Interview with crochet designer, Vashti Braha

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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!

Vashti has been designing professionally since 2004, and is also a writer, a teacher, and publisher of her own designs (and of DJC Designs, Doris Chan‘s pattern line).  Her Designing Vashti blog won the Crochet Liberation Front‘s Flamie for Best Crochet Blog in 2010.  Vashti can be found online at her Designing Vashti website, her Ravelry designer page, her Designing Vashti: Crochet Inspirations Facebook page, and as Vashtirama on Twitter.  She also blogs at Vashti’s Crochet Pattern Companion and Toy Designing Vashti, and with several other crochet designers at The New Crochet Cowl Scarves.

All pictures in this interview are used with Vashti’s permission.

Vashti Braha.

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.)

Although Vashti is primarily known for her fashion pieces, she also has fun, children’s patterns like the Teacher’s Gallon Friend classroom toy pattern.

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 CGOA Chain Link conferences. At a conference in 2004, I unexpectedly sold my first designs and was on my way.

Vashti is one of the designers that contributed to the Pam’s Comfort Cables benefit pattern, available through KnitPicks. Here is her Brighid’s Willow block.

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.

Vashti’s Slip Tectonics Cowl pattern.

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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Vashti’s Rimply Tunisian Neckscarf.

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.

Thirsty Twists Bathmat.

UC: What are your favorite crochet books in your collection?

Vashti: I have a gazillion and couldn’t part with any of them! I love all of my stitch dictionaries, especially: the Harmony Guides Volume 6 & Volume 7, several published in Japan, and Robyn Chachula‘s new Crochet Stitches VISUAL Encyclopedia.

Undaria Flutter Scarf pattern.

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.

Tunisian Shakti Scarfythings.

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 do they 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!

Sparkle Love Knot Lariats pattern.

 

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.
My first local class this year is Introduction to Slip Stitch Crochet on February 4 in Sarasota, Florida. I teach Advanced Slip Stitch Crochet on February 11. In March, I’ll be teaching Tunisian lace and crochet jewelry.  I’ll teach more topics in April. These classes all take place at my favorite yarn shop, A Good Yarn in Sarasota, Florida (941-487-7914).

I want to try online classes too, though that might have to wait until 2013 or late 2012.

 

Eva Shrug Slip Stitch Rib pattern.

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.

Book review and giveaway: All You Knit is Love

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Tonight, I’m reviewing All You Knit is Love: 20 Patterns for Romantic Handmade Gifts. I’ll also be giving away my review copy, courtesy of Sterling Publishing, so read on for details.

Book Review

This is a short and sweet pattern book by Debbie Harrold, who is apparently known in the UK for her Knit & Purl greeting cards.

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.

Full disclosure: A free review copy of this book was provided by the publisher. Although I accept free books for review, I do not accept additional compensation from the publisher, nor do I guarantee a positive review.  My reviews are based entirely on my honest opinions. This also post contains affiliate links. You can read my affiliate and review disclosures here.

Giveaway

I’m giving away my review copy of All You Knit is Love: 20 Patterns for Romantic Handmade Gifts, courtesy of Sterling Publishing.

Year of Projects: Crochet Master Class – New York Groove

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This post is part of my Year of Projects: Crochet Master Class: Lessons and Projects from Today’s Top Crocheters series. You can find my first Irish crochet post here.

Like Ace Frehley, I’m back!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-4vMQOOiUY

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.

I did manage to sneak in a few minutes on my Irish rose project this weekend, so it has grown a bit since I last shared a picture on Work In Progress Wednesday.


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.

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

Colorful cable swatches

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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.

So far, I’m enjoying Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs more than I expected.  (By the way, Misadventures in Craft was reading this book last week, which inspired me to read it next after finishing my library loaner.)

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.

Slip stitch cables

Color blocked cable

Stranded (Fair Isle) cables

Intarsia cables

(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.

For more WIP Wednesday posts, visit Tami’s Amis.  For more Yarn Along posts, visit Small Things.

Vogue Knitting Live 2012

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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.

You may remember that I have a little problem making things for myself, which inevitably leads to embarrassment when I attend big yarnie events and have nothing to show for my talents.  I’ve been working feverishly on a top secret project, so I haven’t finished the Irish rose project for myself.  Determined not to be crochet-less at this event, I went through my sample bin and pulled out the Bobble Diamonds and Posts Scarf.  I watched Wendy’s Lookbook‘s 25 Ways to Wear a Scarf in 4.5 Minutes, and decided to go with a variation on the “Infinity” scarf.

Since it was about 18 degrees F (-8 degrees C) outside, it seemed like the warmest way to go.  I took a self-portrait in the hallway.

Excuse the lighting and drab interior, but it was much too cold to attempt a coatless portrait in natural lighting outdoors!

I arrived at the Hilton New York an hour before the class to check out the Marketplace.  One of my best friends and I have been participating in Frugally Sustainable‘s 23 Day Frugal Living Challenge.  (Side note: We both consider our finances too personal of a topic for public forum discussion, so we’ve been emailing each other every day and have shared some Google spreadsheets to track our progress.)  And, I’ve committed to Surmount The Stash along with Revelations of a Delusional Knitter this year.

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.

This book has great motifs and edgings, as well as a selection of adorable teeny tiny projects.

I’ve been considering this book for a while. I think it will really help my students to understand international stitch symbols.

Tunisian crochet. ‘Nuff said.

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.

A panel from the yarn bombed pillars in the Marketplace.

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.

For once, I actually finished my homework.

Five different swatches on stitch holders, waiting to become colorful cables.

Melissa Leapman started the class off by explaining that she has a lot of fun teaching this class, since she has written two books on cables (Cables Untangled and Continuous Cables) and two books on colorwork (Color Knitting the Easy Way and Mastering Color Knitting), and gets to spend 3 hours combining her love of both whenever she teaches this class.  We got to explore slip stitch, intarsia, and stranded/Fair Isle techniques for adding color to cables.

My mini skeins for intarsia.

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.

Have you been to any fiber conferences recently?