I’m so excited to share an interview today with Carolyn Christmas. Carolyn is one of the crochet designers whose work inspired me to start designing. I’m also sharing a roundup of five of my favorite designs from her collection.
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Carolyn is the author of Rodale’s Visual Encyclopedia of Needlecrafts, The Portable Crafter: Crochet, and one of my all time favorite stitch guides, 101 Easy Tunisian Stitches, along with dozens of pattern books published by DRG and Leisure Arts. She is also the former editorial director and product development manager for DRG (now Annie’s), and the founding editor for Crochet! magazine. Her designs have been featured many magazines, including Crochet!, Crochet Today, and Crochet World.
Carolyn is focused on self-publishing these days, and you can find her print patterns for sale on her site, Gourmet Crochet. Her PDF patterns are available on her site here, as well as on Etsy and Ravelry (where she is carolynchristmas). Carolyn also has a blog where she shares free patterns, Pink Mambo. You can also find Carolyn on the Pink Mambo Facebook page, on Pinterest, and on Twitter. All images are copyright Carolyn Christmas and shared with permission.
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you get started crocheting?
Carolyn: I’ve crocheted all my life. I remember learning to knit at age 5, and crocheting came right on the heels of that. I didn’t get serious about crocheting until I was in my teens, though.
UC: What inspired you to start designing?
Carolyn: When I was in my twenties, I found myself at home with newborn twins and a six year old. I had a lot more time on my hands than I thought I would during naptimes, and I’d always been intrigued by the idea of designing for publication. I used to study magazines at length, checking the bylines of each design, and finally decided to gather my courage and send something off. I told myself I would give it up if I hadn’t published anything by the time the girls started kindergarten. As it turned out, I was working as editorial director of a needlework publishing company by that time.
UC: Where do you generally find your creative inspiration?
Carolyn: Everywhere and everything. Just life, really. For example, I’m working on a rug design now because I decided I needed a rug in my bedroom. I’ll be doing a lot of baby designs soon because we are looking forward to a new grandchild in November.
UC: What are your favorite crochet books (besides yours, of course) in your collection?
Carolyn: I’m inspired by designers with widely varying styles, and not all are knit and crochet desginers. I love the whimsical work of knit designers Jean Greenhowe, Alan Dart, and Jan Messent; the color work of Kristin Nicholas, the freeform work of Prudence Mapstone and many others; I also love newer designers Amy Gaines and Stacey Trock, the thread designs of Ann White and Kathryn White, the graphic style of Katherine Eng, cuteness and precision of the work of Michele Wilcox, the wonderful doll designs of elinor peace bailey and the fabric designs of her daughter-in-law, Heather Bailey. I could go on and on.
UC: Recently, you revived your blog. What motivated you to start blogging again?
Carolyn: I decided to start the new blog, Pink Mambo, because there are a lot of designs that run through my head and off my hook that I’d simply like to share, and the blog will be a home for those. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying designing smaller things for Pink Mambo. I’m intrigued by the idea of ads supporting the blog so that I’m able financially to show the patterns for free. The blog is not self-supporting yet, but I’d love it if I could give all my patterns away at no cost. Another reason for starting the blog was that there is a big, thriving crochet blog community out there and I wanted to join in.
UC: You’ve written books with major craft publishers, self-published print patterns, and now are selling your e-patterns on your website, and on Etsy and Ravelry. Can you talk about your transition from book publishing to self-publishing and what you see as some of the advantages and challenges of self-publishing?
Carolyn: My own journey from book publishing and having a “real job” in the industry to self publishing came because I became ill and found myself at home needing to start over and redefine my goals. I had been working as product development manager at DRG when I had to leave because of my illness, and as I recuperated, I realized I wanted to spend my time creating new designs and publishing them myself. I wanted to primarily create, rather than primarily manage people.
Self-publishing is a very freeing experience after working for mainstream publishers for years. There are a lot of new designers out there who have never known anything but self-publishing. You don’t have to send a design off and wait for weeks, sometimes months, to hear back from a publisher. You can just get it out there when it’s ready. And of course, owning the rights to your own work is a benefit that’s a whole subject in itself. One thing to remember for those who want to self-publish—you have to wear the hats of editor, copywriter, technical editor and more. Sometimes this involves hiring outside help in the form of tech editing and testing. The best thing, I think, about self-publishing is that it allows a designer to find his or her own “voice” in crochet, so to speak. You don’t have to try to design to fit the mainstream market if you don’t want to—you can design what your heart, and your own customer base, wants you to design.
UC: In the past few years, you seem to be really drawn to circles, including your recent Circle Dance Afghan Crochet A Long. What do you like about designing with this motif?
Carolyn: I love circles! I don’t know what it is exactly about circles, but I can just never get enough of them. I’m doing a series on Pink Mambo about how to crochet flat circles in several variations, and I’ll move on to doing multicolor circles with invisible beginnings and endings, and turning a circle into a square.
UC: You’ve done a lot of work with Tunisian crochet (one of my favorite crochet techniques). How’d you get started with Tunisian and what do you enjoy most about it?
Carolyn: I got started doing Tunisian crochet in my teens. My mother and I made a lot of designs where you crochet a big swath of off-white Tunisian simple stitch, then cross stitch on it. Back then, I didn’t think about the possibilities too much and I didn’t realize the textures that could be achieved. I enjoy the nice drapey fabric that is possible with Tunisian crochet. I also love Tunisian entrelac and have done a lot of experimenting with that technique, including working it in a circle with my Giant Dahlia design. My most enjoyable Tunisian crochet experience was when my husband and I designed the Easy Tunisian hooks formerly manufactured by Annie’s. These are in really short supply now but we do have another manufacturer interested in having these made, so we’re hopeful these will plentiful again soon.
UC: Do you have any crafty websites or blogs you frequent for inspiration or community?
UC: What’s next for you and crochet?
Carolyn: For the foreseeable future, I’ll be putting the bulk of my crochet energy into Pink Mambo. I just love working on it and traffic is increasing every day.