Interview with Deborah Atkinson (Snowcatcher)

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Do you ever stumble across a blogger or designer and wonder how it is that you haven’t seen her work until that moment?  This is exactly how I felt when I first saw Deborah Atkinson’s Snowcatcher blog.  I literally couldn’t understand how so much time had elapsed without me being exposed to her amazing snowflake patterns and jaw-dropping outdoor photography.

Deborah can be found online on her Snowcatcher website and blog, her Ravelry designer page, her Etsy shop, and her photo website.  All pictures in this interview are used with her permission.

Deborah Atkinson on her bike.

Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first get started crocheting?
Deborah: My grandmother began teaching me when I was about 8 or 9, I think. I saw her making a beautiful lace table cloth, and I wanted to learn how to do what she was doing.

A Flake of Its Own pattern.

UC: What inspired you to start designing, in general, and designing snowflakes, in particular?

Deborah: When I was young, we couldn’t afford patterns. Or hooks, needles, yarn or thread, for that matter. I had a new little baby sister coming, and I wanted to make booties and cute little dresses for her. From the beginning, my grandmother had encouraged me to experiment with different shapes and stitches. My first pair of baby booties was something I came up with on my own, with no pattern, because I had no pattern, and I wanted to feel like I had some ownership in this new little baby coming into our home! I think I ripped the first bootie out about four times before I finally came up with something I liked. This process at that age also taught me to try to remember what I’d done so I could create a duplicate that matched perfectly, and it taught me to “read” my stitches.

Incidentally, my first hand-sewn dress for my baby sister was a pattern I made up, too. It didn’t fit her, but the bright pink and green flowered fabric was cute, and years later she used it on a doll.

I was attracted to my grandmother’s lace crochet, in particular doilies and round table cloths, since I was a young girl. She tea-stained her thread with real tea. She made a few snowflakes, too, and she stiffened them with sugar water. I loved the way her tiny, delicate snowflakes twirled on the Christmas tree.

My first purchased snowflake instructions were in Volume 9 of McCall’s Design Ideas Christmas Knits and Crochet, way back before the publishing date was included on the bottom of every page and before restrictions on how items made with the patterns could be used (or sold). The lone copyright information on the inside title page includes six different years from 1976 to 1982, so I assume this particular magazine was published in 1982, but the patterns originally may have been published in any of the regular, non-holiday issues before that. The snowflake patterns were designed by Sister Norma Gettelfinger back in a day when such credit was rarely ever provided (and other patterns in the magazine are not credited to designers), so we are very lucky to know the snowflake designer! These snowflakes were not stiffened, and there were some other things about the patterns I did not like, such as tri-picots that didn’t match on both sides. I also didn’t like slip stitching to the next point to start a new round, which always made the starting point bigger, bulkier and uglier than the rest of the points. I hated that and was always trying to come up with a way to get around that method of starting new rounds.

I made so many of Sister Norma’s snowflakes, I eventually memorized my favorite patterns, and after making too many of each one, I began modifying them to my own liking. I also began collecting every snowflake pattern or collection of snowflake patterns I could find. I didn’t want my snowflakes to be alike, so I searched for variety everywhere I could find it.

Several years ago, I found the remnants of a Snowflake Monday group on Yahoo, and I petitioned to join the club but never received a response. I’ve been told Noel Nevins, whom I believe may have started the group, had less and less time on the internet as the years went on, and I’m not sure anyone on Ravelry or Crochetville has heard from her in several years. I eventually found some of the group members on Ravelry, and I began participating in 2009, I think. Marikamum on Ravelry tried to keep the Snowflake Monday, or Snowmon, as it has become known, going on Ravelry and Crochetville for a while when the Yahoo group faded, and I eventually sort of tried to keep both groups active until my own leisure internet time became more limited.

Marikamum asked if I would share my patterns after I announced I liked the weekly pattern selections featured but wanted to do my own instead of the same flakes everyone else was making, and that’s how my own Snowflake Monday was born. I started my blog as a way to keep my family up to date and to share cycling training tips with other beginners and non-super-hero athletes. I had no idea when I started the blog it would become a snowflake pattern collection, but I’m delighted it did. Now Snowmon is a combination of passion and challenge; I sometimes wonder how long I can keep coming up with new ideas, and that’s what keeps me going.

Lollipop Snowflake pattern (one of my personal favorites).

UC: When do you make snowflakes? How do you find the time?
Deborah: I’m very fortunate to have access to public transportation, which gives me up to three hours per day on bad weather days to do whatever I want without interruptions, other than sardine-like conditions from time to time, fare checks and the occasional obnoxious passenger. This is when I do most of my crochet, knitting embroidery and hand-quilting. I’m also very fortunate my husband likes to do most of the driving when we travel, and he doesn’t mind if I work on stuff while he drives. I also try to make use of every unexpected free moment I may find. I work on snowflakes in waiting rooms, in long lines, even when I have to stand on the train because they are so portable, quick and mostly easy. I always have thread and hooks in my purse, and I generally carry something to work on in my backpack when I’m camping and on overnight cycling or backpacking trips.  (UC comment: As someone who also does a lot of my crocheting during my [much shorter] commute, I can completely relate to Deborah’s experience.)

From Deborah’s “The Wave” series of photographs.

UC: The outdoor photography on your blog is incredibly striking. Other than suggesting that we all move to Colorado, what photography tips can you share with the rest of us?
Deborah: Thank you! (blush!) I do think ALL snowflake aficionados should move to Colorado so we can have snowflake bees every Monday night together in the same room. Or maybe we could do a snowflake retreat in the mountains, and everyone can enjoy the very same mountains and wildflowers inspiring my creativity! Seriously.

I taught photography in college and in community education for a while, and I think one of the tips most of my students got the most from was from a demonstration my own professor, Ray Kissiah, gave during my first year of photography classes. He pulled out a dollar bill, cut a tiny circle out of the center and told us that’s what we were doing every time we took a photo and didn’t use every bit of the space in the frame. He said we see the little focusing circle in the middle, and that’s where we place our subject, and we don’t try to get closer, so we waste all the outside of the dollar. He encouraged us to spend the entire dollar, not just the center of it. I didn’t cut up money when I did my demonstrations, but I did cut up photos the very same way to demonstrate what he tried to teach.

Valentine Wave II pattern.

UC: Where do you generally find your creative inspiration?
Deborah: Literally everywhere. Tiles on the floor, wildflowers, real snowflakes, long miles of solitude while hiking, cross-country skiing or cycling, quiet moments, music, sparkles, danglies, new thread and yarn colors, new thread and yarn color combinations, paint swirls, rainbows, butterflies, snowflake books, Christmas advertisements and wrapping paper, red rock, quilts, quilt shows…

Hanging by a Thread, Deborah’s 2012 PDF pattern booklet to benefit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

UC: This year, you are again offering a PDF version of your snowflake patterns in exchange for a donation to the National MS society. I think this is a truly wonderful way of sharing your work while also raising funds for a favorite charity. Can you tell us more about this project, and how you were able to organize it.
Deborah: We owe this to the economy. I’ve been doing the MS-150 since about 2002, and I would host an ice cream social at work to raise the required amount each year. Some years I did well, some years I had to put some of my own funds in, and I always bought the ice cream from my own money. Then the economy tanked, and the office where I worked laid off about 20% of the employees. I’ve never been able to raise enough money since then. What they say about desperation being the root of all creativity is true. I needed to come up with a way to raise more money, and offering a collection of snowflake patterns seemed like it might work, so I tried it, and it worked! I still do the ice cream social, and most of the portraits I do are on the barter system, with recipients contributing to multiple sclerosis instead of paying me, but most of my donations are coming from snowflakers.  (UC comment: I purchased Deborah’s pattern book last year, and it was fabulous, and I plan to do the same this year.)

Torreys Peak and Grays Peak from Deborah’s “Colorado Fourteeners” photo series.

UC: What are your favorite crochet books in your collection?
Deborah: This may sound weird, but my favorite crochet books are snowflake books by Kenneth Libbrecht and W.A. “Snowflake” Bentley, which of course, have no crochet whatsoever. I can pick up any of these books any time and begin crocheting just by looking at the gorgeous photos. Of actual crochet publications, I probably enjoy the magazine Crochet Traditions and Linda P. Schapper‘s Complete Book of Crochet Stitch Designs most.

Torreys Peak Snowflake pattern.

UC: Do you have any crafty blogs or websites to share?

Deborah: Oh, my gosh, yes, but the list would go on forever. Most of my very favorites are listed on the sidebar of my blog, and what isn’t listed there is in my subscription list on my blog profile page. I also enjoy Crochetville and Ravelry when I have time, and would highly recommend both to anyone just getting started or wanting to go in a new direction. Both sites also are great for inspiration, support, resources, trends, hot topics, keeping up with needlework in the news, and friendship. There truly is a bond when people who are passionate about something get together, even if only online.  I also recommend the snowflake groups on Ravelry and Crochetville. Both are free and full of inspiration and support.

Thanks so much for stopping by Deborah, and sharing some of your passion for crochet and crochet snowflakes!

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