Today, I’m pleased to interview crochet designer, Cristina Mershon. Cristina is originally from Galicia, Spain, and she currently lives in Oklahoma. Although she has only been publishing her designs since 2011, she has been quite prolific. You can find Cristina on Ravelry as CristinaMershon or through her designer page.
Each photo is linked to the pattern page on Ravelry.
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you learn to crochet?
Cristina: It seems like avid crocheters have similar beginnings: mom or grandma taught them around 8 years old, and my story is no different. I loved seeing my mom knitting and crocheting beautiful things. Knitting used to be my favorite thing to do when I was younger back in Galicia, but with time crochet became my obsession. My mom and her friends only crocheted with white thread that they bought in big skeins from a factory in Portugal, and they would only do household items. Knitting was for wearing, and crochet for the home.
When I first come to the United States, I was shocked at the new world of crochet in front of me. I could do anything and everything with yarn and a hook!
I am graphic designer during the day, working on book covers, web layouts, logos and all kinds of promotional materials, trying to make my clients happy with the use of color and fun shapes. But at night, when I am home, after spending time with my hubby and 4 little kids, it’s my time to create crochet items with a modern twist.
UC: What inspired you to start designing?
Cristina: A lot of my inspiration comes from knitting. I love the seamless flow of the knitted fabric, and the intricate detail of the lace. So when I stared designing, I wanted to accomplish a knitting look using a crochet hook. One of my first published works was a series of shawls, but not your old school grandma ones. I wanted to do modern style shawls for everyday use, for the office, or to take your kids to school. In fact, I wear them all the time, and they make any everyday outfit into a sophisticated look.
Designing helps me create what I really want and I cannot find. I love creating super easy to make items, nothing complicated, easy shapes, simple stitches… all combined to created something really special.
UC: You have many great designs for children as well as lovely accessories for women. What appeals to you about crocheting wearables?
Cristina: I reconnected to crochet when I first got pregnant with my first baby. Something in me (crazy hormones!!) pushed me to make things all the time, a nesting instinct that wouldn’t go away. So that’s when I began to crochet baby items. I started with lacy edges for receiving blankets and it just went off from there.
I got pregnant again with my second (they are only 1 year apart!), so I made everything from jackets, to blankets, to towel edges, and booties… and then baby number 3 and number 4 came along… then my collection of baby hats and jackets was so big, that my friends asked to me sell some to them.
Then, I went to a baby boutique and the owner asked where did I buy my baby’s hats… so I started to sell those too. All of that while working full time in the advertising agency. Those were a few crazy years!
And one day I realized that I never did anything for me, so I started designing shawls and shrugs, and anything that would inspire me to use basic shapes, like circles, squares, rectangles, and hexagons, to create one of a kind items. A great example of that was my first work for Vogue Crochet, where they asked me to design two different projects. It was an amazing experience.
UC: How did you make the shift from designing finished objects to designing patterns?
Cristina: I am always going to be very thankful to Cascade Yarns and Crochet Today! They gave me my first opportunity to create crochet patterns. I didn’t even know I could do that, or that anybody would ever like them. I knew how to crochet visually, but I didn’t have any idea of how to follow a pattern. Everything I did before then was by looking at a existing finished piece or graphic pattern.
I remember working on my first design ever for Cascade Yarns, the Alpine Shawl, and trying to figure out how to write a pattern. It was very very hard! After that pattern was published and liked by hundreds of people within a few weeks, I started getting requests for designs. I couldn’t believe that a hobby like mine could translate into a little career, but how exiting.
UC: In 2012, you published your first booklet, Exquisite Crochet Shawls. Tell us about what that was like and what the design process was like for those shawls.
Cristina: When I got the opportunity to create the shawls for Annie’s, Exquisite Crochet Shawls, I was delighted. Every shawl in that book is inspired by my country of Spain. I am from the Northwest region of Galicia, a very magical place where knitting and crochet were not just a hobby a few years back, but the only way to create wearables and items for the home. My mom used to get the whole fleece from her own sheep, wash it, card it, rove it, spin it and wind it all by herself.
So the Alborada Shawl (meaning “dawn”) has the purple tones of the sun coming up in the morning, with beautiful pineapple lace motifs. The green Celtic Nature Shawl was inspired by the round markings by the Celts found in ancient stones; the blue Galician Sea Shawl shows the ripples and waves of the wild Atlantic ocean; the Volvoreta Stole (meaning “butterfly”) is light and airy; and the Art Deco Shawl is a mix of structured and freeform crochet, if that even exists.
UC: Last year, your design also graced the cover of Crochet Noro. Tell us about that experience.
Cristina: The cover of Crochet Noro: 30 Dazzling Designs was a huge surprise. I never though the shawl would make to the cover since all of these incredible crocheters were a part of it.
One day I stumbled onto the book on Amazon.com before it was published, and I thought that the shawl looked very familiar. When I realized it was my own design, that was a great feeling. The same thing happened with my first cover of Crochet Today!: I couldn’t believe my first ever magazine project would make it to the cover.
Vogue was very unexpected, to the point that when I got the email to be a part of it, I though it was a joke. I felt so blessed.
UC: How does your background influence your design process?
Cristina: My art and design background definitely influence my crochet design. I want to push the envelope with every design. Right now, I am working on a series of crochet wearable patterns that I will be selling on my own through Ravelry. I think it’s time to work on patterns where I get create what I really want to wear, maybe pushing the envelope a little bit.
Thanks so much for stopping by, Cristina!
The next interview in the series will be posted on September 23 with Monica Rodriguez Fuertes/Hand Made Awards.
Publication date: 1983 reprint of a 1979 publication.
Status: Out of print, but available online (sometimes, for exorbitant prices) Update: Thanks to PlanetJune for letting me know that Crochet Workshop will be republished by Dover next year. You can pre-order it on Amazon here.
I first learned about this delightful book from Crochetbug. (You can learn more about James Walters in this post on Crochet Concupiscence.) Unfortunately, the book’s condition is such that it is difficult to enjoy. You see, it reeks of smoke. One day, I hope to air it out enough for me to actually want to read through it, but until then, I am limited to brief moments of picking it up until the smell is unbearable, and then washing my hands profusely.
I did take some time to photograph it so I could share some of it with you.
You can almost immediately feel the sense of whimsy, creativity, and joy that Walters has to offer.
The book includes all kinds of information that you would rarely see in a crochet book today. As a freeform pioneer, Walters shows you how to create your own projects, rather than rely solely on patterns.
There are many great illustrations, and I can’t tell if these are by Walters or someone else. Here is one showing the progression of various spiral crochet pieces
These are part of a section that explains how to construct motifs of different kinds.
There are examples of several freeform garments included in the book…
as well as explorations of specialized techniques, like hairpin lace.
Most of the projects are displayed artfully, rather than functionally.
I really wish I could bear to read through this book, because I am sure I would learn a lot and be completely inspired.
Hopefully, one day it will come back into print (or be available as an ebook) and I will have the chance to read it cover to cover. Until then, does anyone have any tips for removing foul odors from books?
Regular readers may know that I have a sizeable collection of vintage needlecrafts books. (I’m using the Etsy definition of vintage, which includes anything at least 20 years old.) I currently have over 50 vintage books, e-books, and magazines in my collection.
I love looking through older needlecrafts books. While the very old pattern books can be hard to follow because the authors assume a high level of familiarity with construction techniques, shaping, etc., for those of us who like to modify patterns or design our own projects, these books can be an endless source of inspiration. And my inner sociologist is often amazed (or amused) by the cultural snapshot vintage needlecrafts books can provide.
I would love to share my passion for vintage books with my readers, but if I’ve learned one thing since I started blogging, it’s not to over commit. So I make no promises that I’ll review a vintage needlecrafts book each week in 2013, but I certainly will highlight no more than one a week ;).
To kick off this series, I’d like to share my favorite sources for vintage needlecrafts books and e-books on the cheap. (I’ve yet to come across a steady source of vintage magazines, but would love to hear your suggestions in the comments.)
Amazon is a great source for vintage books, but the price range is very broad. Sometimes you will find out-of-print books selling for hundreds of dollars and other times you will find a treasure for $0.01 plus the cost of shipping. I generally search for specific titles, often discovered through Crochet Concupiscence (especially her series on 1970s crochet designers) or Crochetbug. I’ve also found a lot of free vintage e-books for my Kindle.
I periodically search Etsy for vintage pattern books. I find it too difficult to investigate whether or not the seller has the right to sell vintage PDF patterns, so I only buy physical copies.
Half.com is another interesting source for vintage needlecrafts books. You can sort your search by publication date in both directions, so the oldest books will appear first. It is now owned by eBay, so you can easily search there, too. Like Amazon, there can be a wide spread in prices.
Library sales and thrift shops sometimes have great vintage finds for low prices.
PaperBackSwap is a website where you swap books. You earn points for each book you mail to another user and can use those points to “buy” books from other members. Essentially, you pay the cost of shipping a book media mail. I’ve gotten a lot of vintage books here, and even if a book isn’t listed, you can add it to your wishlist so you’re contacted as soon as a member offers it for sale.
What’s your favorite source for vintage needlecrafts books and magazines?
Today, I’m interviewing Kathryn Vercillo, one of my favorite crochet bloggers, for the second time. (You can check out the first interview here.) Kathryn recently self published a book, Crochet Saved My Life, about the ways crochet supports physical and mental healing.
Kathryn is a professional writer, and her work has been published in magazines such as Latina and Skope. Kathryn has also written for numerous websites and blogs, including PC Worldand Houzz. And, of course, Kathryn is the mind behind Crochet Concupiscence, and is also known as CrochetBlogger on Ravelry and Twitter. You can also find Kathryn and Crochet Concupiscence online on Facebook, G+, and Pinterest, and you can sign up for her newsletter (which generally features awesome goodies and discounts) here.
Underground Crafter (UC): Your new book, Crochet Saved My Life, shares your personal experience of using crochet to help deal with your depression. Tell us more about your decision to write the book and to share your experience with depression, which is often stigmatized in our society. What were some of the challenges you faced in starting this project?
Kathryn: I have been a writer for as long as I can remember and I knew that there was another book in me, but I wasn’t sure what it would be about or when it would happen. I started writing the Crochet Concupiscence blog shortly after beginning to heal from depression and it was a really great project for me. I enjoy writing about crochet every day and I’ve really been happy with the terrific support I’ve received from the online crochet community. So it began to get clearer and clearer that my next book would be related to this topic that was becoming increasingly important to me – meaning the topic of crochet.
There were actually a few false starts. For example, I had ideas for a crochet pattern book and was thinking at the time that I wanted to get into pattern design. But as I started doing that I just found that it wasn’t really that enjoyable for me for a variety of reasons. I admire and respect the terrific crochet designers that are putting out books, but making my own patterns turned out to not feel right. I like doing a lot of random crochet work and creating my own designs but I don’t enjoy the process of writing that down and translating it all into something that someone else can follow.
I also started writing some short stories about crochet. I enjoyed that but I can’t say that I was passionate about it. In the meantime, I was continuing to post a lot on the blog and I found that one of the topics I was drawn to again and again was how crochet helped in healing people and just improving quality of life. So it began to occur to me that this was really a topic I wanted to explore further and to do that I needed to get at the core of why it was so important to me, which meant confronting my own depression story. As I started to do that, I found myself not only having a lot to say but also feeling really positive while writing the material and that was what told me that yes, this was the right project at the right time.
One of the toughest things for me with this book was deciding how much of myself to share and in what way. I did not want this to be entirely a memoir about my own experience but I did think that it was important to share that story in detail. I wanted to be honest but not self-pitying. Finding that voice was a little bit tough. In the end I decided to write the book much like I write my blog – just casually talking to my reader. I found that it worked for me and I hope it works for the readers!
The other thing is just that the length of a project like this is tough in many ways. You sit there isolated at your computer and even though you’ve written 100 pages you aren’t anywhere near done. There’s no instant gratification. There is a lot of self-doubt. There is a lot of writer’s block to contend with. I’ve been writing long enough to know how to work through that but it’s never easy!
UC: What was the development process like for this book? How did you find the other people you profile and encourage them to share their personal experiences in your book?
Kathryn: In the beginning I just started by creating an outline of topics that I personally thought crochet might help in healing and that I wanted to learn more about. I started with my own story because I think that’s where all good writing begins. Then I began doing basic research (thanks Google) to start getting new ideas about the topics on my outline. So, for example, I knew I wanted to cover the topic of how crochet can help with anxiety so I did a bunch of searches into that to start fleshing out that chapter.
In the meantime, I did a few posts here and there on my blog about health-related topics. The response I received was terrific and really encouraged me to keep going with my research. I put out a few “calls for stories” on the blog. At first I really had no idea how I would use those stories other than just for getting ideas about what else to include in the book or maybe pulling a few quotes for chapters I’d already identified as interesting me. But then the stories I received were so incredibly powerful that I knew that they needed to be told in full.
Women were responding to my calls for stories and telling me really intimate, personal, difficult details about their lives. I felt like it was my responsibility to honor that and find the best way to share their stories in a way that celebrated their strength while conveying the role that crochet played in helping them to heal.
I had about a dozen stories from those calls on my blog but since they were now going to be such a key part of the book I knew I needed more. That was when I started putting out calls for specific topics, to help cover areas of the book that I didn’t have enough material for. So for example I put out messages on Twitter asking if anyone wanted to share their stories about using crochet as a pain management tool.
In a few cases, I actually found specific people who had blogged about a topic and reached out to them individually to see if they wanted to share their stories. Of course, some did and some didn’t. My whole approach to this process was believing that the stories that were meant to be told right now would be the ones that came forth. I made sure everyone had the right to choose how much personal detail to share, whether or not to share their real names, etc. I wanted to respect that everyone is in different stages of healing and should tell their story from that place. I hope I did a good job of that!
UC: This is your second self-published book. Can you tell us about the experience of self-publishing? Do you have any advice for those of us who are considering self-publishing?
Kathryn: Yes! In 2011 I put out my booklet of articles about cool elderly women who crochet. That was mostly a test run to see how I liked self-publishing through Amazon’s CreateSpace tool. At the time I was still really undecided about whether or not to get a traditional publisher but the experience of self-publishing was so positive for me that it clinched it for me that I’d self-publish. I honestly believe it’s the best option for most writers today. You get to retain your rights, make many decisions for yourself about the entire process, collect more in royalties (usually), etc. and as a solopreneur that is all really important to me.
I have two pieces of advice for people who want to self-publish. First is to surround yourself with experts to help you in the process. I worked with a really great photographer for my book cover and she did images that I just never would have gotten on my own. And it’s a bit tangential but I have a really great web/tech guy who helps me keep my blog running right. If I didn’t have him, I would have spent tons and tons of time trying to keep the blog’s problems at bay (he helped in particular with a big issue I had with my web host) and I wouldn’t have had the time/energy to get the book out on schedule. Other professionals that a writer may want to work with include editors, marketing people, and interior layout designers.
The other thing is that you have to be willing to play many different roles to successfully self-publish. I needed to treat this like a creative work, almost a piece of art, as I was making it. And yet, I needed to be my own taskmaster and manager, insisting on maintaining a schedule to keep it on track. And now that it’s out, I can’t think of it as a creative work anymore, because then the critiques would be too emotionally tough to bear, so now I need to switch gears and think of it as a product I’m trying to sell to the right people. But still, it’s my baby and to promote it I need to stay genuine to its creative intent. So you just go back and forth a lot, utilizing different skills. I think if you aren’t prepared to do that then self-publishing can be really, really tough.
Practically speaking I think that the CreateSpace tool is a really good one. It was easy to understand. It affords you a lot of control but there is an online community there to support you with questions and help. There are other options (Lulu, Blurb) and I don’t know a lot about them but my experience with CreateSpace has been really positive.
UC: Your blog has some new features since I last interviewed you. What are some of your current and upcoming Crochet Concupiscence projects?
Kathryn: I am running two regular series right now that I’m really enjoying. And the first is one that I know you enjoy as well – my articles about the crochet designers from the 1970s! Each Wednesday I take a look back at the work of a crochet artist who emerged around the early 1960s. I explore the work they did at the time, the boundaries that they were pushing in the fiber art world, etc. Then I try to find out what they’ve been up to since. A large number of them are still creating art today, although it’s often not crochet art anymore, and it’s fun to see how their careers have gone over time. These people really contributed a lot to the growth of crochet, making it the craft we know today, and I think it’s not only interesting but important to honor them for that. (UC comment: Yes, it’s true, I’m completely addicted to this series since I love vintage crochet!)
The other regular series is my Designer Crochet Series where I take a look at a famous fashion designer each Thursday and see if there is any crochet in their collections. This is a yearlong project and I’m about halfway through it. I actually haven’t gotten a lot of feedback on this one so I don’t know if people are enjoying it as much as I am but it’s something I really love doing. (UC comment: I’m always amazed by all of the pictures you find for each of these posts!)
And finally I’ve recently begun to take a strong interest in crochet blogs published in other languages so I’ve been doing some posts sharing my favorites. People who are interested in that can start by checking out my posts on Spanish Crochet Blogs but I’ve also covered Italian, French, Japanese, Portuguese, Finnish and a few others.
UC: You do a lot to support the crochet community through your blog and other social media outlets. Do you have any suggestions for crocheters who are interested in being more involved in the online crochet community?
Kathryn: Thanks! I love being a part of the crochet community. My best advice is to be available everywhere but active in only your favorite spots. So for example people who want to can find me through Ravelry, Hookey, Etsy, and a whole bunch of other places because I do make myself available there. However, I’m only super active on Twitter and Pinterest, and to a lesser extent G+ and now Facebook. Facebook was a compromise for me because I’ve never really liked the format there but so many people wanted to see a Crochet Concupiscence Facebook page that I felt like it was important to get more active there.
My point here is that you want people to be able to connect with you but you don’t want to burn yourself out by trying to keep up with all of the latest social sites. Find the ones that you really enjoy. (UC comment: I think this is great advice. I try to focus my time on the sites that I enjoy using the most!) I like Twitter because for me it’s a place where it’s easy to have quick conversations with many different people. Plus I like participating in TweetChats, such as Crochet Chat, which is the first Wednesday of every month. I like Pinterest because of the visual beauty of it; I truly enjoy spending time there. And I like the G+ format for finding and sharing information. I enjoy those so I spend time there. I spend less time on the sites I enjoy less because if you’re not having fun with the community then what’s the point! I also want to give a shoutout to Hookey here – I haven’t spent nearly enough time on it myself (only so many hours in a day) but whenever I’m there I find a really great crochet community so anyone who is looking for a new place to start finding some great online connections would do good for themselves to try there.
I also really encourage people to comment on my blog and even to email me. I like the one on one connection of really getting to know people.
Thanks so much for stopping by, Kathryn, and for sharing your tips with us!
From 1998 to 2007, I kept a list of every book I read in a beautiful Daisy Arts handmade journal. (I used the same journal to track all the movies I saw in the theater, but only in 1999.) Looking through the pages of this book, I have a great reminder of my interests (and how much “free time” I had) in each year. Unfortunately, I’m also made aware of the sad, steady decline in the number of books I read each year (21 in 1998, 6 in 2007).
Recently, I have been bemoaning the fact that I don’t read very much anymore. Yes, I know I write a lot of book reviews, and I guess if I counted all the craft books I read in a year, I would be right back at 21 – but I’m talking about, er, um “real books.” Most craft books I read are more like picture books with patterns in them – enjoyable to be sure, and inspiring and instructive. But, generally speaking, my knitting and crochet books don’t provide a solid reading workout.
I guess I must have went on about my desire to read more longer and louder than I thought I did, because my colleagues surprised me with a Kindle Fire on Monday. Wow.
I guess the only way I can repay their incredible generosity is by reading more. (You may recall that I did go through a brief audiobooks phase earlier this year. That got old really fast right around the fourth time I transferred a 21 CD audiobook into my iTunes library so I could listen to it on the commute to work.)
One of the amazing things about having an e-reader is that I can borrow books from the New York Public Library online and they are sent right to my Kindle. (I can also read a sample chapter of pretty much any book available in the Kindle format for free – and you know how I love freebies!)