Interview with Melissa Martinez (Hispanic Heritage Month Series)

Interview with Melissa Martinez (Acts of Knittery) on Underground Crafter blog.

Today, I’m continuing my Hispanic Heritage Month series with an interview with Melissa Martinez, the knitting and crochet designer and maker behind Acts of Knittery Designs. Like me, Melissa grew up in New York City, but she has since moved to Philadelphia. Melissa’s patterns have been self-published as Acts of Knittery, as well as by Classic Elite and Made in America Yarns.

Melissa can be found online on her website/blog, Ravelry (as ActsofKnittery, on her designer page, or in the Acts of Knittery Designs group), Ebay, FacebookAmazonCraftsyPinterest, and Twitter. All images are copyright Acts of Knittery Designs and are used with permission. Click on pattern images to be brought to the Ravelry page.

This post contains affiliate links.

Interview with Melissa Martinez (Acts of Knittery) on Underground Crafter blog.
Melissa Martinez

Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first learn to crochet and knit?

Melissa: My grandmother first taught me as a young child. I started learning crochet first and then went on to learn knitting shortly after that.

UC: What inspired you to start designing?

Melissa: I had sold finished knit and crochet accessories on both eBay and Etsy for several years. Customers would often ask me if I had patterns available as well. I figured why not start writing them down and selling the patterns.

Interview with Melissa Martinez (Acts of Knittery) on Underground Crafter blog.
Shrubbery, a knit shawlette pattern by Acts of Knittery Design.

UC: You design a lot of hats and shawls. What do you enjoy about those projects?

Melissa: I love how quick they are and also how most don’t require a lot of yarn (or time) to make. I also love how a relatively small accessory can make such a big impact and really transform a whole outfit and your look.

Interview with Melissa Martinez (Acts of Knittery Design) on Underground Crafter blog.
An Ounce of Flounce, a knit scarf pattern by Acts of Knittery Design.

UC: The photos for your self-published patterns have a very consistent (branded) look. Do you take your own photographs or do you use the same photographer? How did you develop your photographic style?

Melissa: Thanks so much for that compliment! I take all of the photos myself. I guess I’ve had lots of practice with shooting product photos for when I sold on Etsy and Ebay. I just try to make sure there’s adequate light coming in from the window (natural light is definitely the best) and then when I crop my photos I try to not have all of them exactly centered. I think that adds a bit of interest.

Interview with Melissa Martinez (Acts of Knittery Design) on Underground Crafter blog.
Mesh Cowl with Flower, a crochet pattern by Acts of Knittery Design.

UC: You sell your finished objects on Ebay and individual patterns on Amazon. What do you see as the pros and cons of selling on websites that get a lot of traffic but aren’t focused on the needlecrafts?

Melissa: I think that selling on these large marketplaces definitely helps to expose your products to an entirely new audience. There may be a lot of potential customers who are looking for a hand knit item or pattern and have only heard of the major online sites Ebay and Amazon. On the other hand, I find that most of the time these customers may not be fully aware about how long it actually takes to make an item, the quality of yarn used and the great attention to detail that goes into a handmade item. A lot of people on Ebay are just looking for bargains and you can’t really blame them. On Amazon, I find that some of the more classic or generic patterns sell well but not the truly unique. That’s one area where sites devoted exclusively to the needlecrafts such as Ravelry and Craftsy excel, since customers already have more of an appreciation for hand crafted goods and unique patterns.

Interview with Melissa Martinez (Acts of Knittery Design) on Underground Crafter blog.
Wyvern Scarf, a knit pattern by Acts of Knittery Design.

UC: Your parents are Argentinian with Spanish and Italian roots, but you grew up in my hometown of New York City. What was the yarn crafts scene like in your family and community when you were growing up? How does that compare with the current scene in Philadelphia?

Melissa: My grandmother was always knitting something and she made the most amazing knit onesies for babies I had ever seen. She would actually go out and sell them on consignment at a few local stores. My mom is also an avid knitter and crocheter. She is very DIY (do it yourself) and I think that’s where I get it from. She would sew clothes for me and my siblings growing up, bake her own bread, etc. There were a few craft stores and fabric stores that sold yarn in Queens where I grew up but when I had discovered the yarn shops in Manhattan, or “the City” as us native New Yorkers call it, I was completely blown away and my yarn addiction took on a life of its own. I really like the yarn shops in Philly as well.  (UC comment: You can read my yarn shop reviews from my trip to Philly here.) The people are really friendly here and extremely helpful. One of the yarn shops here is actually owned by a New York transplant like myself. I hope to personally get more involved in the local scene soon. Most of the time I feel like I’m the only one I know who knits. I guess I need to get out more, lol.

Interview with Melissa Martinez (Acts of Knittery Design) on Underground Crafter blog.
Chai Beanie, a knitting pattern by Acts of Knittery Design.

UC: Does your cultural background influence your crafting? If so, how?

Melissa: I don’t often think about, this but I guess it does. I think it’s more of the fact that previous generations and other cultures place a greater value on crafts and handmade things. I see it almost as carrying on a tradition in some ways. The only other thing I can think of is that I do adore using vibrant color when I design a piece so maybe my cultural background sneaks in that way.

Interview with Melissa Martinez (Acts of Knittery Design) on Underground Crafter blog.
Northern Belle Cloche, a knitting pattern by Acts of Knittery.

UC: What are your favorite knitting and crochet books in your collection?

I only have three right now. Two were lent to me by my mom and I sort of just kept them with me but she can always have them back if she ever needs them: Big Book of Knitting Stitch Patterns by Sterling Publishing Co. and Donna Kooler’s Encyclopedia of Crochet (UC comment: reviewed here). The third book I purchased myself when I seriously started thinking about designing: The Knitgrrl Guide to Professional Knitwear Design by Shannon Okey (UC comment: reviewed here). This last book has really helped shine the light on so many questions I had about becoming a designer. I was truly clueless and this book helped me so much. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to follow a similar path.

Interview with Melissa Martinez (Acts of Knittery Design) on Underground Crafter blog.
Cloche Hat with Two Flowers, a crochet pattern by Acts of Knittery Design.

UC: Are there any Spanish- or English-language crafty websites/blogs you visit regularly for inspiration or community?

Melissa: I love Design Sponge even though it’s mostly geared toward interior design. Rena Tom has some cool business tips at times, Tara Swiger is absolutely wonderful and really understands what it’s like to be a creative entrepreneur. I also enjoy reading your blog. 🙂 I wish I did follow more blogs, especially Spanish language ones. I’m always open to suggestions.

Thank you so much for taking the time for the interview, Melissa, and for your kind words about my blog!

Hispanic Heritage Month 2013 Interview Series: Cristina Mershon

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. 

This post contains affiliate links.

Cristina Mershon.
Cristina Mershon.

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.


Alpine Shawl, published by Cascade Yarns.
Alpine Shawl, published by Cascade Yarns.

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.

St. Tropez Tunic, published by Interweave Crochet.
St. Tropez Tunic, published by Interweave Crochet.

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.

Cristina's designs on her baby, Sedora.
Cristina’s designs on little Sedora.

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!

Melania Dress, published by Interweave Crochet.
Melania Dress, published by Interweave Crochet.

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.

Grace Shrug, published by Inside Crochet.
Grace Shrug, published by Inside Crochet.

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.

Galician Sea Shawl, published by Annie's in Exquisite Crochet Shawls.
Galician Sea Shawl, published by Annie’s in Exquisite Crochet Shawls.

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.

Alborada Shawl, published by Annie's in Exquisite Crochet Shawls.
Alborada Shawl, published by Annie’s in Exquisite Crochet Shawls.

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.

Shades of Blue Shawl by Cristina Mershon. Photo (c) Soho Publishing.
Shades of Blue Shawl, published by Soho Publishing in Crochet Noro.

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.

The Art Major: Color Wheel Cowl and Beret by Cristina Mershon. Image (c) Crochet Today!
The Art Major: Color Wheel Cowl and Beret, published by Crochet Today!

One day I stumbled onto the book on 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.

Buttoned Cowl by Cristina Mershon. Picture (c) Rose Callahan/Soho Publishing.
Buttoned Cowl, published by Soho Publishing in Vogue Crochet.

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.

Vintage Needlecrafts Pick of the Week: Crochet Workshop by James Walters

VintageNPotW 400

This post contains affiliate links.

This week’s pick: Crochet Workshop by James Walters.


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 order it on Amazon here.

Condition: Good.

Craft: Crochet.

Crochet Workshop cover

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.

Crochet Workshop 8 suit
A freeform crochet body suit.

You can almost immediately feel the sense of whimsy, creativity, and joy that Walters has to offer.

Crochet Workshop 67 shaping

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.

Crochet Workshop 105 swirls

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

Crochet Workshop 156 motif2Crochet Workshop 157 motif1

These are part of a section that explains how to construct motifs of different kinds.

Crochet Workshop 207 freeform

There are examples of several freeform garments included in the book…

Crochet Workshop 214 hairpin

as well as explorations of specialized techniques, like hairpin lace.

Crochet Workshop 215 hairpin lace risque

Most of the projects are displayed artfully, rather than functionally.

Crochet Workshop 248 thigh highs

I really wish I could bear to read through this book, because I am sure I would learn a lot and be completely inspired.

Crochet Workshop 225 gown

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?