You can find more information on the 2014 Sampler MKAL here, and can order the pattern here. Join in any time for a fun project with great prizes!
This month’s giveaway sponsor is Erin.Lane Bags. Lindsey and her mother, Lisa, sell their fabulous knitting organizer bags and cases on Etsy. In addition to the Etsy shop, Lindsey can be found on Twitter and as followingaslan on Ravelry. Lindsey was nice enough to stop by for an interview today. All pictures are copyright Erin.Lane Bags and are used with permission.
Underground Crafter (UC): Tell us about your company, Erin.Lane Bags. When did you start it and how has it grown since the beginning?
Lindsey: When my mom and I learned to knit, we were a hugely unaware of how expensive a hobby it was. However, we learned quickly. As a teacher, I know most of you know, I am pretty much, broke, all the time. My aunt, who owned a yarn shop for 23 years in Grosse Point, Michigan, was kind enough to set us up with a few balls of yarn, and some needles. Yarn meaning Rowan, and needles meaning, Addis. She wasn’t setting us up to have good taste at all, right?!
I lost 6 sets of needles, and when I went to replace them, I realized I was in it for almost $100 bucks. I couldn’t do that. So I spread it out over several months. While I was working on rebuilding my needle collection, I went to my mom, the consummate seamstress, and asked for help. She had had similar problems with her needles so we started working, and when we finally liked a case, we showed it to our ladies at our local knit night. One lady asked for one, then another, and then we realized we had a business here.
We started developing other products to help everything be coordinating, and we took some big risks.
In 2006, my father had quadruple bypass surgery and one month later had to have his sternum removed due to a MRSA infection inside the bone. Shortly thereafter, he lost his job, and then about 6 months after that, my mom lost hers. We needed the money, and so Erin.Lane Bags became a business. We worked hard to try to get ready for our first show, STITCHES South, and then basically started going on a yearly STITCHES Tour. We have done all of the shows several times with great success.
We have been blessed to have wonderful customers who always have an unique problem, They need something to do this, or that, or the other, and that is really how we grew our product line. Our goal because being the best solution for knitters’ organizational woes.
When we went to our first show we had six products, and now we have almost twenty. It is super exciting to see what we have accomplished, and how this has impacted so many people’s lives. It is so amazing when someone tells you how much she loves her bag, or how her needle organizer is perfect for what she needs it to do. It makes the long hours at the sewing machine seem worth it in so many ways.
Lindsey: When we started this crazy journey, my mom sewed, and I did all the prep work. I cut the fabric and ribbon, ironed the ribbon, and did ALL of the seam ripping. (Trust me, that was almost a full time job.) I watched my mom sew. I studied her hands, the way the used a seam ripper as a regulator to turn the perfect corner, and didn’t think I was learning anything.
Then providence stepped in. The owner of our local yarn shop asked for a cute, functional project bag to sell. We developed it, and then, armed with 10 bags, my mom went in to the next knit night. By the time I got there after a faculty meeting at school, they were all sold, AND we had requests. We knew we were on to something. We decided to make more that weekend, and they were simple enough for me to be able to sew, so we bought a $100 machine and I sewed a few things. I then realized how much I had actually learned watching my mom sew. I started saving money to buy a “real” sewing machine. After a year, I had enough and bought my first machine – a Brother NX-Q850. I loved it. We used my mom’s 20 year old machine and that little Brother to get us to our first four shows.
The rest, I guess, is history. I have been sewing ever since, and now I have LOTS of sewing machines that do LOTS of different things!
Lindsey: I am a knitter. At least, sometimes I pretend to be. I buy LOTS of yarn at all the events I go to, but mostly I don’t have time to knit due to all of the sewing I have to do. I love knitting, and when I can throw a couple rows into a sock or scarf, I do. Mostly I knit small things though.
We started making organizers because when I learned to knit, my aunt taught me she taught me on Rowan wool an Addi Turbos. Nothing too expensive (smile). When I learned how expensive this hobby was going to be, I realized quickly that on a teacher’s salary, I couldn’t afford to lose even one set of needles. However, by that time, I had lost like 6 sets of Addis. I went to my mom who had been sewing since forever, and asked her to help make something for me. We tinkered and tinkered. There were lots of “prototypes.” When we figured out a design we liked, we made one and took it to our local knit night. The people at my local yarn shop are still my market research. They are some amazing ladies!
UC: You have over 1,600 sales on Etsy (!). What tips do you have for a new Etsy seller?
Lindsey: Stick with it. I know it is hard to look at a shop and see that the number of sales is in the thousands. To be honest, I look at shops, and think 10,000 sales? When did they open? Oh, great same time as me. Perfect. But at the end of the day it is about perseverance. If you don’t stick with it, it will never be successful. Sometimes, it sucks. Sometimes, you think you are not doing anything correctly, just keep going.
I know that social media has played a huge roll in getting me to that number of sales. Also, Etsy is an amazing community. You can find a tutorial on just about every topic. Etsy wants you to be successful, and they have the best tutorials on how to be successful in their online marketplace.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Etsy is a wonderful community of like minded people. Ask someone who has been doing it longer. I know I have asked people for help, and it has been great. Mostly, everyone on Etsy is happy to see others succeed. I think that is what sets it apart from places like Ebay and other online shop sites.
Also, have a plan. Make all of your listings when your sales are slow and just keep them as drafts. Set up a regular update. A lot of the searches are based on what is most recently listed and not what is most relevant. That helps a lot. That way when you have a few minutes you can list something from your computer or phone/tablet without having to interrupt what you are doing or stop a work flow.
UC: What’s on the horizon for Erin.Lane in the next year?
Lindsey: This next year is going to be a whirlwind. (And by year, I mean school year: I’m a teacher – that is how we think.) We are planning on being a several shows like STITCHES Midwest, Arkansas Fiber Arts Extravaganza, and maybe a few more. (We are on a couple of waiting lists.) And that just takes us through September!
We are also working on a club with A Hundred Ravens called Random Fandom. If you are a nerd or geek, or just a big fan, you should totally check it out!
On the design front, we are working on developing a spinning bag. My husband just took up spinning, thanks to a few friends from DFW Fiber Fest, and he can tell me what works and what doesn’t. I have no idea when it will roll out, but know that it is in the process of being developed. We also have another new needle case to roll out, hopefully this summer.
Other than that, I will be teaching another year, hopefully my last, but we will continue to sew to meet all of your organizational needs!
Thanks for sponsoring our giveaways, Lindsey, and for stopping by for an interview!
Erin.Lane Bags is offering the winner of this month’s giveaway their choice of any bucket bag or drawstring bag in their Etsy inventory.
To enter the giveaway, post a picture of any 2014 Sampler Mystery Knit-A-Long sampler square you knit during May in the relevant spoiler thread on Ravelry by 11:59 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, May 31, 2014. (KAL participants who are not Ravelry members can instead share pictures with the Underground Crafter Facebook page or Tweet pictures to @ucrafter.) Each square you share a picture of will count as one entry. One winner will be chosen at random on or about June 3.
You can find more information on the 2014 Sampler MKAL here, and can order the pattern here. Join in any time for a fun project with great prizes!
This month’s giveaway sponsor is sarahkincheloe on Etsy. Sarah’s shop carries an array of beautiful and functional organizers for crochet hooks and knitting needles. In addition to donating a prize for the giveaway, I asked Sarah to share some background with KAL participants and my readers in this interview. All images are used with her permission.
Sarah Kincheloe with her vintage sewing machine in the background.
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first get started knitting and sewing?
Sarah: My mother and aunt are truly remarkable crafters. My aunt sewed all of her husband’s suits and button down shirts back in the day and my mom made most of my and my brother’s clothes (with matching dresses for my dolls, of course). I wholly resisted learning to sew, but did pick up crochet and needle point among other things.
As for knitting, it’s one thing no one in my family did, and maybe that’s the reason it intrigued me. I bought a book for $4 at a craft store and a pair of needles and taught myself when I was 24. My first project was a scarf that rolled horribly but by the time I got to my third or fourth it was a double knit scarf with intarsia that had even the old Polish ladies at my knitting shop in Brooklyn scratching their heads. I’ve never been much for huge projects but I’ve knitted a lot of little toys and stuffed animals as well as blankets, socks, mittens and the like.
UC: What was the original inspiration for opening your Etsy shop?
Sarah: I wanted a nice knitting needle organizer and couldn’t find one I liked. I asked my mom to sew me one for Christmas and she did. I think this is what convinced me that sewing is actually useful. I flew back to grad school in Chicago with an old school metal Singer sewing machine in the carry on.
I already had an Etsy shop selling hand painted and black and white photography, another passion of mine, but my darkroom was in Texas and I was in Chicago so I decided to try my hand at sewing useful things that were also nice to look at.
UC: Your organizers and cases are geared towards knitters and crocheters. Why did you focus on these products and what do you enjoy about making them?
Sarah: I focus on knitting and crochet because I understand those things. I can anticipate how a dpn roll should work because I have an unwieldy amount of dpns myself. People have requested organizers for everything from paintbrushes to bookbinding tools to midwife equipment but I always feel more confident creating something I can really envision using myself.
UC: Your photographs have a really clean look. Do you have any photography tips to share with crafters?
Sarah: Seek out good natural light and edit your photos to reflect the real item. I use Photoshop to get a white background as well. It adds extra time and effort to each listing, but I think it’s worth it for the cohesive look in my shop.
UC: How do you balance your business with your professional job? What tips do you have for other small business owners who are also working at another job?
Sarah: This is a constant question in my mind as I do have a full time career that I love as well as a toddler, a husband, and a huge urban garden where I grow as much of our food as possible. I set aside chunks of time to sew and make sure to keep up with orders on a daily basis. Luckily winter is my busiest time of year, and that is when the garden is quieter. I have used slower times to build up a lot of inventory (about 300 items) so I never have to enter panic mode.
Since my day job is pretty intense and requires me to be “on” (I’m a social worker doing therapy with adults with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder), it’s nice to have time to just sew and listen to podcasts and unwind a little.
Thanks for stopping by for an interview, Sarah, and for sponsoring this month’s MKAL giveaway!
To enter the giveaway, post a picture of any 2014 Sampler Mystery Knit-A-Long sampler square you knit during February in the relevant spoiler thread on Ravelry by 11:59 p.m. Eastern on Friday, February 28, 2014. (KAL participants who are not Ravelry members can instead share pictures with the Underground Crafter Facebook page or Tweet pictures to @ucrafter.) Each square you share a picture of will count as one entry. One winner will be chosen at random on or about March 3.
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first get started crocheting?
Dora: When I was about 20, I lived in Amsterdam on a tiny little houseboat. It was the Age of Aquarius and everyone was getting crafty. I learned to crochet and since I had no background whatsoever, I just started making clothes without knowing what I was doing. But then I totally stopped for literally decades. I became a professional singer and that consumed all my time. I didn’t pick up the hook again until early in this millenium.
Dora: I wasn’t performing much by that time, and needed a creative outlet. I made a few sweaters and went to a CGOA conference, where I met Jean Leinhauser. She and Rita Weiss liked my stuff and bought several sweater designs for their books. Then Jean taught me how to write patterns, since I’d never followed one! (UC comment: Dora has a wonderful interview with Jean here.)
UC: Where do you generally find your creative inspiration?
Dora: So many places! Sometimes it’s a fashion silhouette, sometimes a yarn or stitch. I keep many swatches lying around and then one day I find the right project for them. I’ve also learned that once you’re a pro, you can’t sit around and wait for inspiration to hit, you have to be generating ideas constantly. I would also say my motivation often comes from wanting to continually grow as a designer, try new techniques and strategies in my work.
UC: Tell us about your motivation for launching Crochet Insider. What are some of the challenges and joys of publishing an online crochet magazine?
Dora: I haven’t really been publishing Crochet Insider as a magazine for a couple of years, it was just too much work once my design career really got going. But I loved doing it because of meeting and talking to so many interesting people. Challenges: it took huge number of hours and did not earn much, so it couldn’t continue indefinitely. There is still a lot of great content at the site and I wish more aspiring designers would read the interviews, because there is so much to learn. (UC comment: Besides the Crochet Insider interview with Jean Leinhauser I linked above, two of my other favorites are this one with Vashti Braha and this one with Myra Wood.)
UC: Your books place a lot of emphasis on teaching techniques and skills, along with the inclusion of patterns. Tell us about your decision to work this way rather than through pattern collections or historical work, which you’re also known for.
Dora: Many of these decisions are economic. I would love to publish a book on crochet history, but can’t afford to do so without a publisher. But no publishers wants such a book, because it will not sell in the numbers they need to be profitable. It’s sad but true. I try to get as much history into my books as they will tolerate. Hey, I’d love to go around the world and make film about crochet traditions, but again, where’s the funding? Publishers have been interested in my books that combine good designs with educational material, and I love teaching and empowering, so that works for me. In addition to being a designer, I teach singing and have for many years, so teaching comes naturally to me.
UC: You design mostly women’s garments and accessories. What appeals to you about designing wearables?
Dora: This comes back to my background in crochet, or the total lack of it! I never was exposed to afghan making, thread crochet, or any of those fine American traditions. My parents were WWII immigrants and craftiness was not their heritage. I live in NYC and never had the chance to shop at big box stores, which didn’t even exist here until a few years ago. I do love fashion and had discovered for myself that crochet could make great wearables. It was shocking to encounter the yarn industry’s negativity about crochet wearables. So I’ve been very motivated to change that viewpoint with my work. And I’m in some very fine company there of course.
UC: You’ve had a variety of roles in the crochet industry, including designer, writer, teacher, publisher, and social networker/community builder. What advice do you have for aspiring professionals?
Dora: I would say to aspiring designers, don’t be naive about this industry – it’s very tough to make money, very competitive, and takes tremendous perseverance and drive. I’ve done all these things to build my career and earn money. And I enjoy all of them too. But I’d be happy to restrict my activities and lead a more sane life if it were possible.
UC: What are your favorite crochet books (besides yours, of course) in your collection?
Dora: The books I bought when I started getting serious, about 10 years ago, are still my favorites. They are “vintage” ’70s and ’80s books by designers like Jacqueline Henderson, Sylvia Cosh, James Walters, Judith Copeland. (UC comment: I love those books, too! I shared several from my collection in my Vintage Needlecrafts Pick of the Week series.) I adore Japanese pattern books, and the Ukrainian magazine Duplet — I stocked up on about 100 magazines when I visited the Ukraine! I also use stitch dictionaries, any I can get my hands on, including the huge Linda Schapper book, the old Harmony Guides, and Japanese stitch dictionaries.
UC: Do you have any crafty websites or blogs you frequent for inspiration or community?
Dora: I have a crochet reference book coming out in the fall of 2014 by Storey Publishing. The working title is The Crocheter’s Skill-Building Handbook. They are fantastic publishers, I’m very excited about it. A reference book not just for beginners but for intermediate crocheters too, with lots of information on working stitch patterns, shaping, construction, colorwork, and flexible tension. What I mean by the latter is the ability to control tension so you can really sculpt stitches.
Crochet Insider will get a facelift soon and I will be enlarging my indie pattern line and store at the site. I also plan to develop video classes, sort of like Craftsy, but as an indie venture so I can go direct to students.
I’m excited to interview Monica Rodriguez Fuertes, a Spanish crochet, knitting, and sewing designer. You may be familiar with Monica’s designs from Crochet Today!, or through the Etsy shop she shares with her mom, HandMadeAwards. (You can read more about her in this Crochet Today! Designer We Love interview.)
By the way, Monica asked me to share a special thank you with her mom, Loly Fuertes. Pictures are used with permission and link to the pattern pages.
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you learn to crochet, knit, and sew?
Moni: When I was a little girl I was always painting and making little pompom animals and sewing dolls with fabrics.
My mom, Loly Fuertes, is an expert knitter and crocheter. She taught to me a few years ago at her home, and my great-grandmother taught her in the garden on a summer afternoon when my mom was a little girl.
Both my mother and I started HandMadeAwards.
The art of creating lovely and unique items has been always present in my family. I grew up all around this fantastic environment.
UC: What inspired you to start selling your patterns on Etsy?
Moni: I thought that Etsy was the perfect site to sell my patterns because all the crafters enjoy using Etsy to find and shop for their treasures.
UC: In addition to selling your patterns on Etsy, you also design regularly for Crochet Today! What do you enjoy about working with the Crochet Today! team? How does it compare with self-publishing?
Moni: The Crochet Today! team are fantastic and really professional and I always feel very comfortable and happy working with them. They are a great support for new designers.
Crochet Today! magazine has lovely ideas, and I make the items they love in real life with my own style. The difference when I design and create a toy [for self-publishing] is that this new toy is my own idea from the beginning until the end (colors, materials, size, style…).
UC: You’ve had success in selling your patterns on Etsy. What tips do you have for a new Etsy seller?
Moni: The most important is believe in, love, and enjoy your own work. This is the secret for having success. I always try to make each handmade piece delicate and unique.
UC: You’re originally from Santander, Spain. What was the yarn crafting scene like there when you were growing up? Has it changed since then?
Moni: Yes, I was born in Santander, Spain, and I grew up in a big home near the beach with my adoring family: my parents and my grandparents, Cris, my little sister, and my uncle, who is a brilliant architect. My grandfather is an expert in old Hollywood movies. The women of my home were always crafting, making amazing quilts, designing clothes and dresses, cooking cakes, making new clothes for toys and dolls for my sister and me, making beautiful garlands for parties…
My favourite scene that I remember is the living room in the afternoons, full of colorful yarns with my mom and grandmom knitting or sewing dresses and dolls for my sister and me. I would sit on the floor, playing with some of their strands of wool for making little pompom chicks or bunnies, with chocolate cookies and a glass of milk.
I’m very lucky because nothing is different today around me, my sweet grandmom that spends her afternoons with us having a cup of tea although today she can not make all those pretty things that she usually did…but our home continues to be full of vintage treasures such as old ribbons, hundreds of colorful yarn skeins, glass beads, beautiful scraps of fabrics, and all the pretty things for crafting.
UC: Does your cultural background influence your crafting? If so, how?
Moni: Absolutely yes! I grew up in a family that loves art in all the expressions, and the person that I’m today is a reflection off all of that. Finally, I decided to study Applied Arts and I’m an interior architect.
My sister and I owned a fashion shop for several years with the most beautiful dresses and bags that we bought in Milan, Italy, and our shop was recommended in Vogue magazine six times.
Thanks so much for stopping by, Moni, and sharing your story!
The next interview in the series will be posted on September 26 with Daniela Montelongo/Pompon’s Party.
UC: You’ve had success in selling patterns on Etsy. What tips do you have for a new Etsy seller?
Karla: Work very hard on your pictures, that is the first thing that a potential buyer will notice.
Promote your shop via Facebook, Twitter or your blog.
Be patient. Sometimes it takes a couple of months to get that first sale.
UC: Tell us about the yarn crafts scene in Mexico. How important were the yarn crafts during your childhood?
Karla: I always saw ladies here in Mexico crocheting or knitting as a hobby.
My grandma is an avid crocheter, and she also likes doing embroidery. I think she is the one that inspired me to get into crafts. First I started making clothes for my dolls, then I took sewing classes for three years, and in 2006 I learned to crochet.
Now I’m enjoying knitting too, it is very relaxing.
I love the fact that more people are interested in the art of crochet, it was becoming a lost craft and thanks to the internet it has become more accessible to learn and practice.
I guess it’s obvious if you’ve been reading my recent reviews that I have more crochet hooks than most. That doesn’t stop me from wanting to collect even more, though!
I love perusing Etsy to check out beautifully made, wooden crochet hooks. I confess that I’ve only bought hooks from one of the vendors, Sistermaide. Both hooks were delightful, so I included her in the Treasury twice. (You can link directly to this Etsy Treasury here.)
What’s your favorite source for unique or handmade crochet hooks?
It’s a very straightforward little leaflet aimed at the multi-crafter who likes lace. And edgings.
It has crochet edgings…
and more crochet edgings…
and specialized crochet edgings…
and knit edgings…
and tatted edgings.
Although these are all done with threads of various kinds, you could obviously create the same designs with larger hooks, needles, and… tats? Ok, time for a confession. I know nothing about tatting. I did a web search about it for this post to discover that you can tat with a shuttle or a needle. If you’re interested in learning more about it, Marilee Rockley offers a class on shuttle tatting on Craftsy.
If any tatters are reading, tell me how you learned :).
About a month ago, I had the pleasure of checking out Vogue Knitting Live with a press pass. I actually recorded three different interviews at the event, and I’m pleased to share one today.
Joan McGowan-Michael is the designer behind White Lies Designs. In addition to her extensive collection of (mostly) knit (with some crochet) designs, she is also a nationally recognized knitting and crochet teacher and author, and has appeared on Knitty Gritty and Needle Art’s Studio with Shay Pendray.
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you get started knitting?
Joan: I was taught to knit as a child, to keep me busy and out of trouble. I’ve been knitting for over 40 years.
UC: You don’t look it!
Joan: Thank you. Thank you very much. But I have. I was not horribly young, not kindergarten age, but, in the first grade, second grade and I was very fascinated by it. My mom, however, had very little patience for certain things. She taught me how to knit but not to purl. She taught me how to cast on but not how to bind off. I was just dying to get into it, so I would just invent these ways to finish off things.
It’s really interesting. I recently cleaned out my parents’ house and found a little shoebox of some of the little doll clothes I made. And the little vests started ok from the bottom, but as they got towards the top I just ran thread through the loops! It looked a little weird but it worked.
And the other thing that was interesting is, at the time, in the ’60s, those big window pane vests were kind of hip, with the big holes in them. I was dying to make one of those for my dolls, but did not know how to do a yarn over. So I had to figure out how to make a hole in the fabric that wouldn’t run. What I came up with was knitting each stitch 3 times and then moving to the next stitch – passing it back and forth, almost crocheting. This made a nice little hole. So I found these things and I went, “I remember how I did that. That was kind of clever.” I tried it up again and so I sell stockings now – fishnet stockings – using the mind of a 7 year old or an 8 year old that made up this stitch. I’ve never seen this stitch anywhere else.
UC: It’s true, we have the ingenuity to figure things out. Before there were stitch dictionaries, people had their own ways of making it happen.
Joan: They got where they wanted because they wanted to get there.
UC: Yes, through trial and error. How did you first get started designing?
Joan: I actually went to fashion design school. I had always been fascinated with fashion design. I was one of those people that knew what they had to do with their life. To me, it’s very strange when you have a person that’s an adult and says I don’t know what I want to do with my life. I knew, always, what I wanted to do. That must be an odd feeling, to not know.
In any event, I was always making my own clothes and when I got to college level, I did Costume Design. They have very good pattern drafting classes and you get to do weird shapes if you’re costuming plays, or super intricate historical things. A lot of what I’d learned previously was confirmed when I was in design school – that this was the right way to do things.
I had done work for OP Sunwear and others, but the most important was Frederick’s of Hollywood. I worked for them for three and a half years. That’s really where I got my hands into stretch fabrics, and close to the body type garments, and realized that knitting and stretch fabrics had so many of the same properties that you could almost interchange them. So I filed that away in my mind for later use. There was no knitting career on the horizon at that time.
Things happened, I got married, moved north to Sacramento with my husband, and was really having trouble settling into the city up there. It’s a different vibe and you really have to try to integrate yourself. I can imagine New York’s not that way, but it is in Sacramento. So I joined the local knitting guild there and found it to be rather cliquish and really also hard to integrate into. I said, “Maybe this is a mistake.” But before I left that first meeting, somebody shoves a little notebook at me and says sign up to bring cupcakes sometime during the year. So, I turned to the last page (December) and I write my name in December and I close the notebook and I forget about it.
December rolls around and I get a call, “It’s your turn to bring the cupcakes.” Oh, crap.
UC: To those people?
Joan: Exactly. I could just blow them off or I could do some boxed cupcake mix and drop them off and come back home. It wasn’t that far from where I lived, so I thought, yeah, I’ll do that. So, I make the cupcakes and I go down there. The speaker that month was a woman who was putting together a company to do knit kits. She was doing marketing surveys. She was showing people a Vogue Knitting magazine and asking if this is something you would make, and if you were going to buy a kit, how much would you pay for it, and what would you expect from the kit.
As she was talking about this, I got this hot feeling, this freaky hot feeling. It’s the finger of God coming down and going, “You need to go this way, young lady.” Before I knew what I was doing, I went up to her and said, “I need to offer you my services as a designer. I don’t design knitwear but I do design and I do knit. That must mean something!”
And sure enough, it did. And the first sweater that I did for that knit kit company was fantastic. It had bobbles, it had cables, it had lace, it had button bands, a high collar. It had everything. It was angora.
UC: You put all of your years of knitting experience in one sweater.
Joan: I did! I really did. And forgot to take any notes.
UC: Oh, God!
Joan: It was really hellish. Through tears and fire, I recreated the pattern somehow and it was just hellish. But it became their best selling item. They had me under contract for about two years. During that time, I found the hole in the contract. It said what I could not do, but I saw what I could do. What I could do was submit designs to magazines and that’s what I did. I submitted something to Interweave Knits. The first thing I submitted was on the cover.
Joan: So I knew I had something going on there. In the meantime, the other people who I was under contract with were not very happy about me finding the loophole.
UC: They wanted you exclusive?
Joan: They wanted me exclusive or first right of refusal. The suit that I did was on the cover of Interweave and my boss saw it.
UC: It would be a little hard to hide it.
Joan: It was. It was hard to hide. Especially when you’re in that business. I just didn’t think I needed any permission to do anything like that. I did not like the way it went and I terminated my contract a little early with them.
So anyway, it was fine. I went on to do a few more things for magazines. By that time, I’d become divorced and my new boyfriend said, “You know, if you would like to start some kind of a little publishing thing, you have some designs here, you’re writing them anyway. Why don’t we publish them for you and sell them yourself? Why sell them off to a magazine?” The man has vision and that’s why I married him!
UC: Sounds like a good business decision.
Joan: It really was and that’s really how we got started. He works with me in the business now. We travel and do shows like STITCHES and Vogue Knitting Live and whatnot, and it grew into a business from there. I took a lot of the experiences and things that I’ve done previously.
For example, when I was at Frederick’s of Hollywood, I just had the foresight to trace off the patterns that I was cutting on brown paper and just archive them – keep them in a big box, kept them with me whenever I moved, kept them in the attic. Then came the opportunity to do my book, Knitting Lingerie Style: More Than 30 Basic and Lingerie – Inspired Designs. Melanie Falick at Abrams publishing, she had heard in an interview from me somewhere that I did used to work for Frederick’s of Hollywood and she said would you like to do a book about lingerie?
UC: That was going to be my next question. How did you get into the lingerie?
Joan: There it is. I went up to the attic, and got my big box down, and said, “Well this would work! This would work, too.” I had really the basic pieces all there. It was just a matter of transfering them to knitting – knitting the shapes instead of cutting them out of fabric – and assembling them like I would have if I had cut them out of fabric. Consequently, I was able to use a bra wire that I had designed when I was working for Frederick’s. It was a w – a continuous underwire.
UC: Wow, one piece?
Joan: Yes, the reason I designed it that way was I always have my wires popping either in the center or at the side.
UC: Yes, I think everybody has that problem. Well, not everybody, but most of us with the regular bras.
Joan: With the big boobs.
UC: The combo!
Joan: Well, the weight of them makes them float around inside their channeling. And the w wire stays right where it is. The breasts are holding them in place, then you have this v coming up in the center, they can’t go anywhere. This is just the perfect wire for long wearing bras. Don’t know why I don’t see it more.
UC: I don’t know either, I would love to see this more because I have the same exact problem!
Joan: So anyway, we went into that project using so many of the ideas from Frederick’s, but my dear editor kept me from doing sequined pasties or anything like that. She let me do a few things that were a little on the risque side, but for the most part she kept me under her thumb and on the right side of the line of good taste.
UC: Can you just talk a little bit about what you’ve been doing here at Vogue Knitting Live?
Joan: I’ve done a Crochet for Knits class. It’s very interesting. My classes that people choose sometimes have nothing to do with knititng. One of my most popular classes – unfortunately, we didn’t do it here this time since we didn’t have room in my schedule for it – is Whip Your Knits into Shape. What we do is take copious measurements of the student’s body and then we transfer those to brown paper. Now we have an actual flat pattern.
UC: Kind of like a sloper?
Joan: Yes, a sloper. And then, without having to know anything about pattern making, they can just start knitting. If they’re knitting the back of a sweater, compare it. Oh, too big, I’ve gotta rip back. Before you get finished, you know it’s fine.
The other thing, I do a 6 hour class of Whip Your Knits into Shape where we take those measurements, do the brown paper patterns, and then we learn to design with them. It’s a really very popular class and a lot of poeple have had their aha moments. When they’re in the class saying why doesn’t this fit me – well, you can’t see yourself from the back.
UC: Absolutely, you don’t see what’s going on back there.
Joan: Too many people don’t want to know, either. The other classes that we’ve done this time was Bead Embroidery for Knits which was based on my little collection of 1950s beaded sweaters. I have 4 or 5 pieces that have fabulous beadwork on them. There was one in particular that I took and made into a chart and we just copy that essentially and I teach them how to do the beadwork without having to do it one by one by one.
UC: Oh, that’s awesome.
Joan: It’s not done that way. They can take that skill and use it for Christmas ornaments or decorating clothes, t-shirts, jeans jackets. I’m a child of the ’70s, it’s going to be my flares, man! It’s a very fun class for everybody and it has nothing to do with knitting – you can do it on anything.
The other class, Crochet for Knits, is fine finishing touches that you can use for your knitting, to keep edges from rolling, to be decorative, to join things together, just learning how to handle a hook when you’re a die-hard knitter. They’re a little afraid of that.
UC: Yes, it’s interesting because people are always saying crocheting is so much easier. But I’ve found, now that I’ve started knitting, that a lot of knitters are really intimidated by crochet.
Joan: Very. You should have seen the big eyes in my class.
UC: So what do you do to put them at ease because I know crochet’s a phobia for a lot of knitters.
Joan: We just jump in. I ask them how do you hold your hook? Some hold it like a spoon, some hold it like a pencil. And as soon as I start requiring them to use it, they do. They just do because they have to. I have them do a chain with their fingers first so they can get the structure of the stitch and then stitch the hook in and continue. Now they’re getting comfortable and we can roll from there. It’s just getting them comfortable and not afraid of the hook. And you can rip it out so easy! They go, “Hey, there’s only one stitch at a time that you have to worry about!”
UC: That is a huge plus of crochet.
Joan: It’s quite a revelation.
UC: Yeah, when you’re knitting and it’s really stressful to do that (pull out stitches). Since you also crochet… I’m sure you have not too much down time when you can actually make your own projects, but if you do, do you have a preference between crocheting or knitting? Or do you have a totally other craft that you do to relax?
Joan: You know, I would love another craft. That I use to relax? I do sew. And I have to sew, because I’m a hard fit. So I do sew and I make things for myself on the sewing machine. And after so many years of knitting, sewing seems so easy and fast! Instant gratification. Putting a pair of pants together – no sweat. Lining a coat – not a problem. Things that would have been really daunting before, now that you put three weeks into a sweater, I can put ten hours into a coat – that kind of thing. I guess I want to say sewing is my other, non-professional hobby.
UC: It sounds like it’s also utilitarian – it’s not just for fun.
Joan: Sometimes it is. Sometimes I just want something knew and I just whip up a little knit top or something. I also do machine knitting and sometimes I will combine that with fabric and sewing things together. It’s kind of automated – it’s not hand knitting – and it’s very fast. You can do a front or back of a tank top in literally twenty minutes. That’s really instant gratification. Yep, sewing is pretty much the other white meat there :).
UC: You’ve had a lot of experience in all different aspects of the yarn industry and the fashion industry. Do you have any advice for people that are considering trying to come into the yarn industry?
Joan: Boy, keep your day job. At this moment, keep your day job. Didn’t use to be that way, but things got really rough here for the economy. Putting out a few patterns may or may not be something that becomes viable, but the main advice is have somebody read your patterns. Tech edit your stuff or test knit your stuff. A lot of people maybe have done that for themselves, and they can’t see the forest for the trees anymore when they are working with their own pattern. There’s just nothing more off-putting then buying a pattern from a new designer and finding it not working. To keep your reputation good, take that extra little step and have somebody read it, tech edit it, something. That’s really one of the most important things, I think.
UC: Do you have any upcoming activities you’d like to talk about?
Joan: Yes, I’m going to be doing some classes on Craftsy in the upcoming months. I’m actually looking for Stephanie Japel today because she’s the acquisitions editor there now. I will definitely be doing a Continental Knitting class, which may be one of the free ones. It just introduces you to the teacher and how their teaching style is, but there will also be others on fit most definitely. So look for me in about four or five months on Craftsy. (UC comment: You can now find Joan’s Feminine Fit class for sale on Craftsy here.)
We always do STITCHES West at the Santa Clara Convention Center. I always have a booth there, so people can come by and see the garments that I do in person. I’m about to pitch another book. I’m not going to say what it’s about, but it’s along the lines of Knitting Lingerie Style, so it’s more romantic, kind of sexy, pretty things.
UC: Good luck! More pretty stuff is definitely needed. Anything else you’d like to share?
Joan: I also have a pretty good blog. I’m running a fitting series which started last Monday (UC comment: on January 14, 2013), so anyone can go to my blog and check out the first installment of Knit to Fit. I wrote about the five different mistakes knitters make in terms of fit. I’m going to expand that because the reaction to that has been really positive. I’ll possibly do an e-book with that.
UC: There’s a lot of fears and concerns and horror stories surrounding knit fitting – and crochet fitting, too.
Joan: And wasted money and disappointment. I’m all about avoiding disappointment, especially when you’re working on something you think you’re going to love, and then you put it on and go, “Oh, that looks awful!” If I can help anybody avoid that, I’m all over it!
Thanks so much, Joan! I really appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule at Vogue Knitting Live to meet with me!
Through my travels through the internet, I often come upon interesting designers. Cheezombie is one such talent. She is one of the (relatively) few knit amigurumi designers I’ve come across, and her work has a distinctive style. Cheezombie is shrouded in mystery, so I’m honored that she stopped by for an interview (but don’t expect a picture!). You can find Cheezombie online on Etsy, Twitter, and Ravelry (as cheezombie, in her Slug Love group, and on her designer page). All pictures are used with permission and link to the patterns.
Underground Crafter (UC): What inspired you to start designing?
Cheezombie: I found other knitters online (thank you Ravelry!) who wanted to make the same wacky stuff I did. So I put out the patterns. Then all these people take these patterns & turn out amazing, creative things I never would have thought of in a million years. I am continually astounded at how a few written lines & silly pictures can spark a veritable flood of awesome. So THE PEOPLE are why I design. Shout out to EVERY SINGLE PERSON WHO EVER KNIT A CHEEZOMBIE PATTERN. I love you all. You blow my mind on a regular basis.
UC: How did you develop your Knitting Manifesto and how does it connect to your designs?
Cheezombie: The Manifesto is what all cheezombie patterns strive for: brevity, clarity, & fun. It’s serious stuff. Sort of. Plus it’s good to have a manifesto. Everyone should have one. (UC comment: If you aren’t familiar with Cheezombie’s manifesto, check it out in this interview she did with FreshStitches!)
UC: Your work is primarily self-published. Can you talk about your decision to focus on self-publishing rather than on designing for other publishers?
Cheezombie: What can I say, they’re my babies. I’m a bit retentive about how they’re presented to the world, and retaining all rights to the designs is very important to me, and it’s gotten so easy to self publish with all the pattern sites popping up all over, it just makes sense. I’m not opposed to publishing for others, and I have and will continue to do so, but I’m super picky about where I submit designs. It’s like interviewing daycare centers, it has to be a perfect fit.
UC: What are your favorite knitting books in your collection?
Cheezombie: The book collection has gradually dissappated what with virtually endless online resources. Knittinghelp.com & YouTube have changed my life. but I still have a Kaffe Fasset book (for the colors of course!), and I regularly check out Mochimochi books from the library just to read them over & over like picture books.
UC: Your business name is awesome. How did you come up with it? (Or will you have to kill us if you tell us?)
Cheezombie:Take a gaming avatar (unabashed nerd here) that looked like a zombiefied piece of cheese. A cheese-zombie, if you will. Add a midwestern twang and it becomes a cheezombie. Add a bunch of starey-eyed animals of ridiculous proportions and a bunch of slug loving creepy cute obsessed knitters and you get cheezombie patterns.
UC: Do you have any crafty websites or blogs you frequent for inspiration or community that you would like to share?
Cheezombie: Ravelry is my people! It amazes me that I can immediately connect with like minded knitters from all over the world, anytime. We have the Slug Love group for sharing photos, swaps, & general squeeeing, I post sneak peeks, coupons, and gratuitous cat photos there too.
I also like Craftsy for cruising projects from crafts of all types, from sewing to jewelry & all kinds of other fun stuff.
UC: Tell us about your newest patterns.
Cheezombie: The newest pattern is Splat Cat & I have one coming out in an upcoming issue of Knitty.
We had a lot of fun during the Chubby Sheep CAL, and now that it is over, I’m happy to announce the winner of the January giveaway. But first, let me share the awesome sheep that were finished this month!
All of these sheep are so cute (well, except maybe the Evil Chubby Zombie Sheep – which is scary with a side of cuteness) so I’m glad that I’m choosing the winner randomly. I numbered each project by the order it was posted to the giveaway thread on Ravelry, and according to Random.org, the winner is #5…
Relodie’s Chubby Sheep for Dad!
Congratulations to Relodie, the winner of a $15 Etsy gift card which can be used to purchase more amigurumi supplies or other fun stuff from Etsy. And thanks to everyone who entered and participated in the CAL! If you’d like to make your own Chubby Sheep, you can download the free pattern here or as a Ravelry download.
And, if you’re looking for another CAL to join, I’ll be hosting one starting on February 15 for my latest free pattern, the Pineapples for Everyone Shawl. More details will be posted soon and I hope you’ll join in!
Needlecrafts, handmade creativity, and other good stuff