Every Monday during National Crochet Month 2013, I’ll be interviewing crocheters. Today’s interview is with Mary Beth Temple, crochet designer, author, podcaster, teacher, editor, and publisher.
I’m thrilled today to present my interview with Mary Beth Temple. Like many crocheters, I first became aware of Mary Beth through her Getting Loopy podcast. This interview has been a long time in the making. Mary Beth was kind enough to sit down with me – twice – during Vogue Knitting Live back in January. We spoke at length about some of her current projects, trends in the crochet industry, and our mutual buddy, Charles Voth. (Charles is my cyber friend, and he is Mary Beth’s friend in real life.)
Much of the interview was informal and chatty, so I’ve edited it down for the blog today. Mary Beth is often known online as Hooked for Life (her publishing company) and she can be found on its website, Facebook, Patternfish, Twitter, and on Ravelry (as MBTemple, on her designer page, and in the Hooked for Life Publishing group). Archived episodes of her podcast, Getty Loopy, can be found on Blog Talk Radio. I somehow forgot to take a picture with Mary Beth at Vogue Knitting Live (chalk it up to being starstruck), but she has granted me permission to use pictures from her designs and website in this interview. Unless noted, pictures are copyright Hooked for Life, and will link to the pattern page on Ravelry.
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Underground Crafter (UC): You’re pretty outspoken about including crochet at knitting events, and the extent to which people sign up for crochet classes (versus their level of complaining about the lack of crochet at an event). Can you talk about how you first got into that role as the crochet advocate at knitting events?
Mary Beth Temple (MBT): Part of it was because I had the Getting Loopy podcast. I don’t produce new episodes anymore but there are over a hundred episodes still available at Blog Talk Radio. I wound up speaking to a lot of people in the industry, not just in my role as a designer and an editor, but also in my role as podcast host. Getting Loopy won three awards, we had thousands and thousands of listeners – not as big as some of the knitting podcasts, but at the time, Getting Loopy was really the only ballgame for crochet only. There were other podcasts that addressed crochet, that were crochet inclusive, but we were it for crochet only.
I found myself really advocating as the leader of the Loopy Groupies. It was something that was a problem. I would sit at The National NeedleArts Association (which is our trade association), and we would go to the Yarn Group meetings and they would go, “The knitters…” and I would yell, “And crocheters!” People got sick of that so now they say knitters and crocheters.
There is no one right answer to this. On the one hand, I would like the knitting shows to be more supportive of crochet. On the other hand, the crocheters have to step up. On the other hand, there are crocheters that say, “Well, I can’t afford to go these big conferences.” Sometimes I feel like, particularly near the end of Getting Loopy, I was preaching to the choir. I mean, the people that were listening to Getting Loopy were advocating, they were the people taking classes and buying patterns and whatnot. So I couldn’t very well go on the show and rant that crocheters were not supporting the shows, because, of course, my listeners were, by and large.
So I get it – not everybody has unlimited funds. I get that there’s a swath of the market that does not want to be preached to about having to support the shows when they don’t want to. I’m not here to put a gun to anybody’s head. And I think that’s different for me. I think I was a “gun to the head” person five years ago and then the recession happened. If you can’t afford a $90 class – or, it’s not even an affordability issue, if you choose not to spend your money that way – it is not up to me to tell you how to spend your money.
I do think if it is not an affordability issue, and somebody is coming into your town or to your show, and you’re going to be there anyway, and it’s something you’re interested in, you should make a little extra effort to support that person. I’ve taken classes from teachers I admire that I didn’t even particularly care about the class subject, but I wanted to support the event.
So here at Vogue Crochet (laughs)… Vogue Crochet – Trisha [UC comment: Malcom, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Knitting] will kill me! Here at Vogue Knitting Live, in New York City, because I am local, there is somewhat less pressure on me to sell out because I don’t require an airline ticket and all that other stuff.
I will say, without pandering, Trisha Malcolm has been trying every year. This is never going to be a 50/50 crochet and knitting show, but that’s not what it’s meant to be. So let’s just say that in the same way that a girl doesn’t have to join the Boy Scouts, not everything is for everybody, and I do understand that. But we’ve tried different crochet classes every year, and we’re getting the hang of it. We’re starting to find out what works in this venue, and once we figure it out, we’ll get to do more.
Last year, for example, I was on the schedule and Jennifer Hansen was on the schedule. Jennifer Hansen, who I think is a gifted teacher and has a huge following – she teaches online and she has Stitch Diva Studios - her classes did not hit the budget.
UC: I know, I actually registered for her class last year and they contacted me and said it was cancelled.
MBT: And that had nothing to do with Jennifer. I had someone come up to me yesterday and say that Jennifer Hansen cancelled. Jen Hansen didn’t cancel – she would have been here! But at that point, it’s dollars and cents.
Again, I have a little more latitude because I’m not as expensive at this event for them. We’re trying new things. I’m teaching Bead Crochet tonight, we’ve never taught that here, so I don’t know. I’m teaching Tunisian Crochet Basics – that is a guaranteed sell out every time I teach it. I’m teaching Crochet Entrelac for the second time – that was very successful last year.
The other thing that I’m sort of interested in is using the numbers from this show. For example, last year, Crochet Entrelac was on the schedule and when we went into the final week, we had 11 students signed up which is not wonderful, but it’s ok – nobody’s unhappy with 11. 23 showed up.
UC: Hmm, so a lot of people registered on the day of the class or that weekend.
MBT: Right. To the point where we had to go find another room, because the room I was in would not accomodate 23 people, even with additional chairs. We did a little Girl Scout field trip through the hotel, looking for a ballroom, which again, Vogue Knitting was right there. They got us a bigger room, they helped us move everybody, I offered to stay late, so that nobody missed any material, and we did it.
That is a very small study. Extrapolating that data, I wonder if crocheters are not necessarily cheap so much as slower to sign up.
UC: Are you finding that most of the people in your classes identify themselves as crocheters, as bicraftual, or as knitters looking to learn crochet? Who do you usually attract at these more knitting focused events?
MBT: Tunisian, believe it or not, is mostly knitters.
UC: I do believe that, actually.
MBT: The other classes are, by and large, knitters who crochet. Now, again, shout out to the local guilds, because they do put their money where their mouth is. If I’m going to be anywhere within a 5 hour drive – God Bless the New York City guild, the Long Island guild, and the Connecticut guild. Now are they all coming to Crochet Entrelac tomorrow? No, because they took it last year. But that class is selling very nicely. So I’ll find out tomorrow if they’re knitters or crocheters or people that identify as bicrafty. It’ll be interesting.
I’m teaching Bead Crochet, tonight, and that’s new, and I happen to know that has a lot of guild members in it. That’s something new that they can take from me that they haven’t taken before. Tonight, we’re experimenting with shorter classes, sort of entry level, that are two hours, they’re less expensive, it’s not as big of a time commitment, they don’t have homework, and they only accomodate 20 people. It would be an easier sell out. As of yesterday, the class was not sold out, but as of tonight – you never know what you’re going to get when you walk in the room.
UC: I’m wondering about your new book, Curvy Girl Crochet: 25 Patterns that Fit and Flatter. Again, I feel that you’re the torchbearer. There are so few books about garment design – not just patterns – for crocheters. Can you tell me a little about the process behind this book and how it came to be?
MBT: Curvy Girl was an absolute labor of love. When I agreed to write… You know, there’s a whole process for getting books to market. The publisher has a vote, the sales department has a vote, the author has a vote, you know, everybody’s got what they want. A successful book is one where everybody goes in, if not happy, then at least content with how things worked out.
When we were negotiating to do Curvy Girl, [there were] two things that I felt very strongly about:
- That we did not have size 8 models and call them plus sized. I wanted actual size 22 models in the book. And I felt strongly enough that I might lose that battle that I made sure we talked about it going in. This was not an adversarial thing, but I wanted to make sure that everybody was on the same page, that when I said plus sized, I don’t mean the size 6 girl that won America’s Next Top Model. I wanted actual adult women who wear larger sizes.
- The other one, and I was fairly insistent, [was] that I be given the real estate to get that modification in there. I’ve said this 18 times, but I’ll probably say it 100 more: If you put five size 0 women in a room, they’re built very similarly. If you put five 2X women in a room, they’re not built very similarly. Beautiful plus sized patterns are one thing, but for the vast majority of that audience – including myself – it’s not going to fit right without modifications.
The thing I’m leading the torch on now [is] I think there are hundreds of thousands of competent crocheters who stick to scarves and blankets and hats because they’re afraid that they are going to spend a lot of time, or a lot of money, or a lot of both, and come out the other end with a garment that does not suit them. And that’s not just plus sized women, that’s everybody.
If you want to know what torch I’m carrying around now, it’s to try and convince some of these rectangle and square crocheters that they can dip their toe in the garment water and it’s not so scary as they think. It’s not scary because they don’t have the skills; it’s scary because they didn’t have the information. And now they do.
UC: They tried that pattern that didn’t have enough information, and they couldn’t resize where they needed to.
MBT: Or, it was boxy, or it was bulky, or both. So here [in Curvy Girl Crochet, you have]: lightweight yarns, elastic stitch patterns, waist shaping – or take it out if you don’t need it. Here’s how you measure you arm and find out how your sleeve needs to be.
You don’t want to measure yourself because that makes you uncomfortable, for whatever reason? Go to the store, buy a sweater that fits nice on you, take it home and measure it. Take it back, if you need to. I’m trying to put every trick in there that I have to take the stress level off garment crochet.
UC: Can you talk about what motivated you to start the Getting Loopy podcast, and your reasons for deciding to finish it?
MBT: This sounds kind of silly, but I had seen an advertisement for Blog Talk Radio (it was new at the time), and I thought, well that looks like fun, I want to play with it! Our first couple of shows were on Monday afternoon at 2 p.m., because when you’re new to Blog Talk Radio, before you’ve developed a following, you can’t get the prime time hours. And I thought, I’m going to talk about crochet, because that’s what I’m interested in.
Our first guest was Amy O’Neill Houck, who is now in Alaska, who is a designer friend of mine. I called up and said, I want to do this thing, and she said, “I’ll do it!” So the first six or eight episodes were mostly my friends. Somebody said later, why do you have so many designers on the show? Well, who else am I going to torture but my friends? (laughs) That’s how it got started and the first episode had like 37 listens that week, and it went on from there.
We moved to the prime time spot on Monday night. The fun thing about Getting Loopy was the chat room. There’s a group of people that still talk to each other because of the Getting Loopy chat room. They call themselves the Loopy Groupies. They’re all over. It’s really cool to go out into the world five years later and they’re like, “We’re Loopy Groupies!” and they’re there and they’re waiting for you.
The downside to that is it committed me to Monday night at 9 p.m. I did Getting Loopy for three years, I did over 100 episodes, and it got to the point as my design career started to take off, that… I hate to put everything down to money, but it’s a lot of time to run Getting Loopy. So then Blog Talk Radio said the only way that I could keep my time slot now that I had made it valuable was to pay for it. So a year before I was ready to end the show, some of the Loopy Groupies got together and did a pledge drive, and raised the $500 I would have needed to keep the time slot. So I ran it one more year, and [the fee] was going to roll around a second time, and they offered to do it again, but… I’m gonna offend some people here.
It’s much like public television, in which the same 50 people would have contributed again, and the other 23,000 that had listened to the show were not going to chip in a dime. Again, I didn’t want to charge for it, and I know some podcasters have gotten sponsors. I never wanted to go that route. The only way that I could manage Getting Loopy on my schedule was to do whatever the heck I wanted. I just didn’t want to take to take money from a yarn company or a magazine or a publisher, because no matter that they said you can keep control of your show, I would have felt in the back of my head that it might have changed my outlook on things and I never wanted to do it. That is not to say that people who take sponsorship are bad – I don’t mean that.
UC: Right, it’s just not your personal approach.
MBT: It just wasn’t for me, and in addition, it would have had to be managed. Somebody would have had to deal with the artwork and putting up ads and collecting the money, and really this is the stuff I have no time for.
So we ended when we did because the money that they had fundraised the year before had run out. And even so, that money only paid for the Blog Talk Radio fees, but it didn’t pay the website hosting, or the graphic design, or all that other stuff. I had a totebag sale and that raised some money. But it got to the point where I’d rather be designing new projects than running fundraisers for Getting Loopy.
In addition, I also felt toward the end like I had said everything I had to say. I found myself repeating a little bit. And then it suddenly turned into we were plugging whatever the new book was, which doesn’t interest me. As a platform, I felt I was getting ranty, and nobody listens to you when you rant. I just felt like we were done.
I have had many, many requests to bring the show back. I would consider doing it monthly, and I would more than likely tape in the afternoons to avoid the fees. So is it dead forever? Absolutely not. And there’s 115 episodes that people can still listen to. It amazes me that I still get emails from shows that I taped four years ago. People will say, “When you taped that episode, I was not interested in that topic, but as I’ve grown as a stitcher, I’ve gotten interested. And I can go to Blog Talk Radio and I can listen to the show you did on that topic, and now it’s really relevant for me.”
Some of the shows have tens of thousands of listens because people just get interested in them. We had the wacky phase – I had the lady that specializes in equine crochet, she made things for horses. We had some wild stuff go on there!
And, we used to host the Flamie Awards, so we would do a huge 2 hour extravaganza with people calling in from all over the world. So it was fun, but as my business has grown, I don’t have the time to give it the attention it needs, and it doesn’t earn enough money for me to hire somebody to do the scut work.
UC: Considering that you’ve worked in so many aspects of the industry – as a designer, podcaster, self-publisher, author, tech editor, etc. – do you have any tips you would give someone that is considering coming into the yarn industry as a professional?
MBT: The reason I do so much, and the reason I do what I do, is multiple income streams. And that makes me sound like a Amway salesman, but there’s going to be an ebb and flow in the natural dynamic of any small business. You’re going to have a hit pattern that sells 1,000 copies in two weeks, and the next four patterns are not going to sell at all, or they’re going to sell slowly, or they’ll sell a year later, and you cannot predict that.
So my theory is if there’s magazine money coming in, and there’s indie pub money coming in, and there’s book publishing money coming in, and then there’s royalty checks coming in, and then there’s a kickback from KnitPicks coming in from their IDP program, and then I get a teaching fee, it all balances out.
UC: So you would basically recommend that people diversify their income.
MBT: Yes. That said, I don’t want people to feel like they have to start doing everything at once. I mean, I started out doing magazine work, and then said, well that’s not enough money so I started Hooked for Life. Hooked for Life is very well established right now, so then I added the teaching.
UC: So you staged your growth.
MBT: Yes, but not on purpose. That’s just how it worked out.
UC: What’s next for you?
MBT: My next booklet that’s coming out the first of a series I’m writing for SoHo Publishing. It’s called Easy Cowls to Crochet. It will be out January 27 and it will be exclusively available at Jo-Ann Fabric for six months. (UC comment: Ravelry members can see patterns from the booklet here.)
I have a series of beaded jewelry designs that are being released over the next few weeks, some of which made their debut here at Vogue Knitting Live.
I’ll be at the Knit and Crochet Show in October. That’s a biannual event, but I’m not going to [the summer show in] Indianapolis. I’ll be teaching four classes in October.
I haven’t sold my next book yet, but I’m doing three more booklets for SoHo Publishing that will come out in 2013. I’m also a contributing pattern editor for the next Vogue Crochet issue with Charles Voth. We come as a team. And Robyn Chachula is also a contributing editor. We’re helping put the issue together. We don’t pick what goes in, but once they’ve made the selections, Charles and Robyn and I help them make the magazine, and that’s actually a lot of fun.
UC: Did you work on the last issue of Vogue Crochet?
MBT: Yes, I did. I had one design in the last one, and I’ll have two in the next one.
UC: That’s great. I heard the last issue sold out.
MBT: In about a minute and a half. (UC comment: Issues are still available for the iPad here.)
UC: People say that those special issues won’t sell, but I think people are starved for fashion crochet.
MBT: Well, here we’ve been saying for all these years that crochet doesn’t have to look crappy. So let’s get some crochet stuff and give it to a Vogue stylist! The stuff looked awesome. Even if it wasn’t your personal style, looking through that issue was like candy.
UC: That’s definitely Vogue’s strength in terms of how they present their look. It looks great, and you might want to make it. Sometimes the pattern can be great, but it looks frumpy the way it has been styled.
MBT: It also looked fashion forward. We’ve been saying for years that crochet can be fashion forward – because it can be! I mean, look at the runways! But if you style it on someone with too much hairspray, in a turtleneck under a corduroy blazer, then it looks old, like it’s old fashioned. And that’s what we’re trying to avoid. That’s the ballgame, so far as far as I’m concerned – to make this stuff look as good in the craft magazines as it does on the runway.
Thanks so much for spending time talking to me at such a busy show, Mary Beth! And for your patience in waiting for me to publish this interview :).