Today, I’m really excited to interview Sharon Silverman. Sharon is a crochet designer, author, teacher, and now, TV crochet expert. I was first introduced to her work through her book, Tunisian Crochet: The Look of Knitting with the Ease of Crocheting, and I’ve had the pleasure of taking a Tunisian crochet class with her at the Lion Brand Yarn Studio. I’ll also be reviewing Sharon’s new book, Crochet Scarves: Fabulous Fashions – Various Techniques, and hosting a giveaway of the book, courtesy of Stackpole Books, so read on for more details!
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first get started crocheting?
Sharon: I always liked arts and crafts. When I was little, I used to make mosaics from kits, do paint-by-number, and make what we used to call “horse rein”–I think the device is called a “Knitting Nancy” or something like that. My mother taught me to knit, which I didn’t do very well, then she taught me to crochet when I was 7 or 8. I loved it from the beginning.
(Available for download here.)
UC: What inspired you to start designing?
Sharon: I often made up my own patterns for home decor and accessories, but never considered myself a designer. For my first crochet title, Basic Crocheting, I needed a sweater pattern. I hired a designer to provide one, but it wasn’t what I was looking for. I thought to myself, “Well, you’ve made so many sweaters over the years from other people’s patterns, how hard can it be to come up with one yourself?” I developed a chevron sweater pattern that was easy to scale up to various sizes. It had some simple shaping so it fit well. It was at that point that I started to think of myself as a designer.
UC: Where do you generally find your creative inspiration?
Sharon: Inspiration is everywhere! I get ideas from nature, architecture, artwork, furniture, fashion…and sometimes from what’s missing in my closet. You know the scene in The Sound of Music where Maria looks at the draperies and thinks, “Play clothes!”? Sometimes it’s like that for me. I see the colors in a flower or the shape of a cabinet pull, and I can picture a crocheted item based on that. I often feel like a crochet engineer.
My esthetic at home leans toward the Japanese style, with clean lines, a few carefully chosen embellishments, and a minimum of clutter. I appreciate subtlety in design, which I suppose is why in variegated yarns I prefer ones that change slowly around a strong central color rather than the more rainbow-y colorways.
UC: Your newest book, Crochet Scarves: Fabulous Fashions – Various Techniques includes scarf patterns using crochet, Tunisian crochet, broomstick lace, and filet crochet. You also work with some unusual yarns (such as a woven yarn). What was the design process like for this book?
Sharon: My overall goal was for crocheters to have an excellent experience with the book, and to find interesting patterns they could successfully complete and would be proud to wear or to give as gifts. I wanted to make sure that newer crocheters would find friendly patterns and would be comfortable enough to extend their skills, and that experienced crocheters would find fun and intriguing designs to hold their attention.
Within that framework, I had several design goals for the book. The scarves had to be variety of shapes, textures, colors, and techniques. There are skinny scarves, chunky scarves, a shaped collar, a turtleneck cowl, solid colors, variegated colors, stripes…some are for warmth while others are purely for fashion.
I wanted to introduce crocheters to some wonderful hand-dyed yarns, like those from Space Cadet Creations and from Kangaroo Dyer. I also use some high-quality mass-produced yarns. Price can be a consideration, even for something like a scarf that does not use a tremendous amount of yarn, and I kept that in mind when I was sourcing the yarns.
Woven yarn is one of those products that seems impossible to figure out at first glance. I kept looking at the knitted sample in the yarn store, and realized that if you can knit with it, you can crochet with it, too. The funny thing about that yarn is when non-yarn folks see your creations, they gasp, “You MADE that?” They think you made the yarn itself! It’s actually quite easy to work with, so I included a scarf that uses woven yarn to create a beautiful ruffle.
As for the variety of techniques, my Tunisian Crochet book got a lot of interest so there is definitely a need for more Tunisian patterns. Seven of the twenty-one scarves in the new book are Tunisian crochet. I’ve been intrigued with broomstick lace for a while, so I included one broomstick lace design. Filet crochet is another technique that I think everyone should try. The right filet crochet design makes a gorgeous garment–it’s not just for tablecloths and doilies.
UC: You have a lot of step-by-step photos and picture tutorials in the book. Tell use about your decision to include those.
Sharon: Ideally, I would be able to look over your shoulder while you crochet so I could answer questions and offer guidance. “Put the hook here, not there.” “Remember, in Tunisian crochet you don’t turn the work.” “Pull the fringe through from the right side.” Since I can’t be there in person, I want the written instructions, technique photos, and charts to be my surrogate. I try to anticipate where a crocheter might get tripped up, and insert a photo to clarify things.
It takes a lot of time and planning to think all of that through and to get the step-outs ready. Alan Wycheck, the book’s photographer, is terrific at capturing motion in still photos.
This is the first book in which I’ve included symbol charts. A lot of people are visual learners who appreciate charts to supplement written instructions. I responded to this need by developing the charts.
UC: You’ve had a variety of roles in the crochet industry, including writer, designer, writer, teacher, and TV star. What advice do you have for aspiring professionals?
Sharon: Ha ha, TV star! I don’t think that three appearances on HGTV‘s Uncommon Threads qualifies me for that title, but maybe I’ll make your compliment come true one day!
My advice for aspiring professionals:
- Get organized. Find a way to keep track of your work, your proposals, your finances.
- Hone your crocheting and your pattern-writing skills. Take classes. Attend conferences. Study magazines and books to learn the proper format. It is ESSENTIAL to write your patterns as you go along, not to try to figure out what you did when the item is all finished. Believe me, I know how tempting it is to crochet something to completion and not take the time to write down the row-by-row instructions, but that is the path to pattern doom.
- Have your patterns edited and tested. You can start by asking friends do this for you. Remember that making something and writing the instructions for someone else to make it are two very different skill sets. Don’t assume that everyone using your pattern will know what you do–make the instructions complete.
- Take advantage of the resources available to you, including the Crochet Guild of America, Ravelry, books, and websites. (UC comment: I have to second Sharon on this one. I had a wonderful mentor, Mary Nolfi, through CGOA’s mentoring program.)
- Assess your skills and potential realistically. If you are fantastic at making things but hate writing patterns, maybe you are better off selling your finished items than doing design. Just because you love crocheting, doesn’t mean you can make a living at it. But that’s okay, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing: many designers have family responsibilities and/or other work to supplement their crochet business. There’s nothing wrong with having a hobby that earns you a few extra dollars now and then.
- Be professional and respectful. When approaching people in industry, be it designers, editors, or yarn company representatives, keep in mind that their time is their most precious resource. Don’t ask them to create your business plan. Don’t ask them how to get started–it’s your job to figure that out. Book and magazine publishers have guidelines that potential contributors must follow. Research those before you approach an editor with a submission, and make sure you follow their procedures. That said, most people in the industry are happy to help. Ask a specific question rather than an open-ended one, and you will most likely get a useful answer. Follow up with a thank-you when you get a response.
- ALWAYS respond calmly and constructively to a question or criticism, even if the person asking is completely off-base. Keep any indignation and sarcastic thoughts to yourself! I’ve had someone complain about a book because she was disappointed that it didn’t contain a design for a purse…when in fact there is a pattern for a clutch! (Maybe she didn’t realize that a “clutch” is a kind of purse…?) You can’t get too worked up about stuff like that. Be gracious if someone finds a mistake in your work, and correct the error immediately. Keep things professional, not personal.
- Keep track of your expenses as well as your income. It may feel exciting to be offered $300 for a pattern, but that has to be examined in the context of what you spent–including your time. If you paid $40 for yarn, $10 on shipping, 30 hours crocheting and writing up the pattern, and $25 to a friend to test it, $300 of income might not seem so great.
(UC comment: Wow, thanks, Sharon, for being so generous with your advice. Many newbies have to find out these things the hard way!)
UC: What are your favorite crochet books in your collection (besides your own, of course)?
Sharon: I have several stitch dictionaries I turn to often, including The Crochet Stitch Bible by Betty Barnden, and some Japanese stitch guides. Shirley Paden‘s Knitwear Design Workshop is fabulous. I have two of Tine Solheim‘s books, which are in Norwegian but have such interesting designs that the language hardly matters. Tunisian crochet books and patterns by Kim Guzman are some of my favorites. I admire the work of my designer colleagues Doris Chan, Ellen Gormley, Kristin Omdahl, Annie Modesitt, Robyn Chachula, Dora Ohrenstein, Mary Beth Temple, Lily Chin, and Marlaina (Marly) Bird. I try to keep up with new books and magazines regularly.
UC: Do you have any crafty blogs or websites to share?
Sharon: StitchDiva has excellent patterns and online tutorials in several techniques including Tunisian crochet, broomstick lace, and hairpin lace. NexStitch also has very helpful videos. Everyone should check out Craftsy. And your blog and others like it are wonderful resources for crocheters! (UC comment: Aww, thanks, Sharon!)
UC: What are you up to next?
Sharon: During the next few months I’ll be doing the blog book tour for Crochet Scarves. I’ll be at the Lion Brand Yarn Studio in NYC–in person!–on October 4 for a talk and book-signing. Anyone who is interested in the event should sign up on the Studio’s mailing list.
I’m currently evaluating my short- and long-term business plans. With so many free patterns available, it’s important to consider whether selling patterns is a viable long-term proposition. In the meantime, I have several book and leaflet ideas that I’m working on. Some of my patterns have been chosen by a yarn shop owner who is packaging them into kits–I hope that venture is successful. I’ll share more about that when her business is up and running.
I’m also in discussions with interior designers who are interested in high-end custom crochet pieces for their clients.
I love to teach (especially Tunisian crochet) and am open to invitations from any group or shop that wants to host!
Most of all, I want to express my appreciation to people who use my patterns. I enjoy hearing from them and hope they will share pictures of their work.
Thanks so much for stopping by for an interview, Sharon, and for sharing your advice with us!
The Book Review
Although I generally prefer “technique books” to “pattern books,” I was eager to check out my review copy of Crochet Scarves: Fabulous Fashions – Various Techniques from Stackpole Books. On the surface, this seems like it would be a straightforward book of scarf patterns. Instead, it is chock full of step-by-step tutorials and lessons for different crochet techniques.
The book includes 21 scarf patterns. The patterns use Tunisian crochet, broomstick lace, filet crochet, and “standard” crochet techniques like increasing and decreasing, bobbles, and post stitches. The patterns includes a range of skill levels (4 easy, 11 intermediate, and 6 experienced). Each pattern is introduced briefly, shown in a photograph (usually on a mannequin), and then presented as a pattern. Even the simpler patterns include several photographs of the stitches being worked, and the more complicated patterns include several pages of step-by-step photos. The progress pictures are presented before the pattern instructions, which are shown using both U.S. crochet terminology and international stitch symbols.
Although all of the patterns are for scarves, Sharon manages to keep the styles diverse enough to hold your attention. My favorite patterns are Accordian Arrows, Changing Tides, Diamond Loop, Grecian Ladders, Premium Cable (which includes a great tutorial on Tunisian cables), Monet’s Village, and Sea Splash. This is a book that you can definitely grow with, as there are plenty of techniques and stitches to learn. There is even a Techniques section in the back which includes step-by-step photos of all the basic crochet and Tunisian crochet stitches, as well as tips on pattern reading. At the end of the book, there is a small photo of each pattern with the corresponding page number, so it is easy to find your favorites.
There are a few things that could be improved. The book is a paperback, and, like most paperbacks, doesn’t lay flat when open. This makes it challenging to read along or look at the step-by-step photos while crocheting. The projects are shown on mannequins and against neutral backgrounds, but it would be helpful (and more attractive) to see the scarves on people. Finally, I don’t agree that the Cactus Lace broomstick lace pattern is at the experienced skill level. I think that designation may scare off a relative newbie to crochet, when broomstick lace is actually quite simple (especially with Sharon’s step-by-step photos).
Overall, I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars. I recommend it for beginner and intermediate crocheters who want to make relatively simple projects while also learning new skills. An adventurous newbie who learns well from photographs could use this book to learn to crochet. And, of course, if you like making scarves, this is definitely the book for you.
The nice folks at Stackpole Books have been generous enough to donate a second copy of Crochet Scarves for this giveaway, so I get to keep my review copy . This giveaway is open to all readers. Enter by 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday, July 19, 2012. To enter: Leave a comment telling me about your crochet scarf experience. Do you like to make scarves for yourself or for gifts, or are you new to crocheting scarves? For additional entries, like Underground Crafter on Facebook, join the Underground Crafter group on Ravelry, and/or share a link to this giveaway on Facebook, Twitter, or your blog. (And then, leave a comment here, on Facebook, or in the Ravelry group letting me know what you did!) One winner will be chosen at random. Good luck!