Tag Archives: frida kahlo

Hispanic Heritage Month 2013 Interview Series: Cirilia Rose

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Today’s Hispanic Heritage Month interview is with Cirilia Rose, a Mexican-American (and Italian/Irish-American) knitting designer, author, and creative director.  Cirilia’s work has been published in magazines including Interweave Knitstwist collective, and Vogue Knitting, as well as books such as The Knitter’s Book of Socks, November Knits, and Weekend Hats, and by several yarn companies.

Cirilia can be found online on her blog, as well as on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.  She is also on Ravelry (as ciriliarose and on her designer page).  All pictures are used with her permission.  Click on the pictures to link to the pattern pages.
Cirilia Rose, wearing her Harpa scarf pattern.  Photo (c) WestKnits.

Cirilia Rose, wearing her Harpa scarf pattern. Photo (c) WestKnits.

Underground Crafter (UC): How did you learn to knit?
Cirilia: I definitely learned to crochet first, maybe from my grandmother, Maria Barelas, but I can’t really remember learning. I moved onto knitting when my nana, Irene Rose taught me. I cemented those skills with the Vogue Knitting encyclopedia and later, Stitch ‘n Bitch, so Margery Winter and Debbie Stoller played a part as well.
I’m still learning, though! I’ve never met a knitter who feels like they’ve conquered the craft, and I have met some pretty accomplished knitters. That is what I love about the most about knitting.
UC: What inspired you to start designing?
Cirilia: I have probably been designing since the moment I was aware of clothing, to be honest! As a young girl, I was always fascinated with costumes and textiles. I would collage and sew and devour every book and magazine I could get my hands onto. The very first sweater I designed was an attempt at a Kurt Cobain style cardigan, knit in black acrylic yarn on straight aluminum needles. Never finished it…
Dolores Camisa.  Photo (c) Hill Country Weavers.

Dolores Camisa. Photo (c) Hill Country Weavers.

UC: What is your cultural background?  How important were the yarn crafts in your childhood?
Cirilia: I am Mexican-American on my mother’s side and Italian-Irish on my father’s side. I was born in San Antonio, Texas but, apart from a few years there as a child and a recent visit to Austin, I haven’t spent much time there. The Italian, Boston based part of my background has dominated most of my life.
Now that I am getting older and living on the West Coast, I am exploring the Mexican side of myself. I’ve moved around quite a bit and speak German, but no Spanish at all. I am also quite obsessed with Nordic culture and trying to learn Icelandic. Romance languages and I just don’t get along, I’m afraid!
Sagrada Familia Cardigan, published in Knitting Architecture.  Photo (c) Joe Hancock/Interweave.

Sagrada Familia Cardigan, published in Knitting Architecture. Photo (c) Joe Hancock/Interweave.

UC: Does your cultural background influence your knitting? If so, how?
Cirilia: Perhaps. I find myself seeking out artifacts and places that will help connect me to my Mexican heritage. Mexico has an incredible textile tradition and Frida Kahlo persists in being a compelling example of that. I love her irreverence and overt femininity. I sometimes channel that when I’m styling or modeling, or if I just need a boost of badass confidence in my daily life.

I love the sisters behind Rodarte, and they happen to be Mexican, Italian and Irish just like me. I feel a kinship with their cinema and nature obsessed process, and the way they favor artistry and history over trends. They’re true bricoleurs, which is something I strive to be. I love following the crossover success of Mexican filmmakers Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuarón, and Alejandro González Iñárritu. All of these artists and creators share a certain elemental darkness, but also a reverence for quotidian beauty. This is something that reverberates in the Italian and Irish parts of me too, and in the adopted Nordic cultures I study. When I’m in a forest or at a museum, gazing at a tree or a simple folk costume, I feel like I’m in church.

I’ve only referenced my background in my work a handful of times, with my Sarape Shopper, Dolores Camisa, and Sagrada Familia Cardigan, but I can see using more Mexican inspiration in the future, especially if I have a chance to visit one day. I’m a bit obsessed with Oaxaca and the practice of dyeing with purpura pansa, snails that release purple ink.


Sarape Shopper, published by Berroco.  Photo (c) Berroco.

Sarape Shopper, published by Berroco. Photo (c) Berroco.

UC: You’ve held a lot of roles in the yarn industry, including designer, author, and Creative Director at Skacel Collection. What advice do you have for aspiring or emerging yarn industry professionals?
Cirilia: People keep asking me where I see the industry heading and it’s a very difficult question to answer, because for most of my time in the industry, sales have been sluggish. Knitting does tend to have peaks and valleys and we’re all waiting for another peak, so I would just say, try to stay positive, and humble. Know your knitting history, and figure out what your contemporaries are doing well now. Try to stay connected to your passion for the field. I will sometimes feel disillusioned with the industry, but then I see something incredible that makes my fingers itchy to knit, and I’m in love with it all over again.
UC: Do you have any favorite Spanish or English language knitting or craft blogs to share?
Cirilia:  I confess I am a bit more into Instagram these days! I really enjoy Beatrice Valenzuela‘s feed. I have a bit of a leather obsession, and she designs gorgeous shoes that are made in Mexico City. I also love Meghan Fernandes‘ magazine, Pom Pom Quarterly.   She’s not a knitter, but there are few people I admire more than Nina Garcia.

Thanks so much for taking time from your schedule for this interview, Cirilia.  I wish you great success with your upcoming book! 

The next interview in the series will be posted on October 13 with Paula Prado/De Origen Chile.

Hispanic Heritage Month 2012 Interview Series: Vanessa Laven

This post contains affiliate links.

This post is part of my 2012 Hispanic Heritage Month interview series.

I’m thrilled to interview blogger Vanessa Laven today.  Vanessa was actually the first person I interviewed on my blog and I’m a regular read of her own wonderful blog, Mixed Martial Arts and Crafts.  Vanessa is also Cuban-American and from the NYC area, so I feel a strong connection to a lot of the stories that she shares about growing up and her family life.  In addition to her blog, you can find Vanessa online on Ravelry, Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter.

Vanessa Laven in one of her knit cowls. (Click for blog post.)

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

Vanessa: My mother had taught me how to knit but it never really stuck, ditto for crocheting. I picked up the Klutz book about crochet and suddenly it clicked with me. I fell in love and I joined a Stitch n Bitch group. I decided to give knitting another try and this time my mom’s advice stuck. My sister, Maritza, taught me how to embroider when I was in the fourth grade but again, it never really stuck. My mom kept nagging me to not embroider all the time because it would ruin my eye sight, so I dropped it. In college, I bought Jenny Hart’s book and kit and this time it stuck. I embroidered a bunch of doodles on to a pair of old jeans and while it looked super cool, I never wore them after that. Plus my hands were killing me. I didn’t know at the time that I should have used a better needle!

Vanessa’s multi-crafty Frida Kahlo doll. (Click for blog post.)

UC: You are multi-craftual. What is your favorite “go to” craft these days?

Vanessa: I find my knitting to be the most portable project, so it’s the one I do the most often. While I do like to crochet, I find that sometimes my crochet stitches end up coming undone if I try to tote it around with me. Plus, I have to look where I’m crocheting. I knit so much that I can do it by feel now, which has become a “party trick” of mine. I once managed to play Texas Hold ‘em Poker and knit at the same time. It was less impressive than it sounds because I really don’t know how to play poker all that well. Embroidery has become a sort of “in between projects” project, mostly because I tend to make much smaller pieces. Plus, it satisfies that part of me that still likes to color in coloring books.

Vanessa’s Lily Owl. (Click for blog post.)

UC: We both have parents who were born and raised in Cuba.  Tell us a bit about your background and the crafting scene at that time.

Vanessa: I grew up in Union City, NJ. At one point, Union City was called “Havana on the Hudson” because we had more Cubans living here than in Havana. (UC comment: Yes, this is where most of my Cuban extended family lives!) When I was growing up, I would say that 98% of my classmates were Hispanic. We had a few Indian and Egyptian students but they were the exception rather than the rule. I don’t remember many people outside of my family crafting, but there were a few businesses advertising hand painted signs. My niece Olivia took a bunch of photos of these signs.

Apparently, most of them have been taken down. I love the look of the lettering but I’ve never really seen them outside of the greater NYC area.  (UC comment: Olivia has a great website of her own here.) 

My town does have an interesting crafty history. Starting in the late 1880s up until the 1990s, there were tons of embroidery factories. My parents worked a few, actually, particularly during the Viet Nam war. The factory they worked at made military insignias like company badges and rank stripes. They would take the big sheets of these home to cut out and got paid for so many that they cut.

My mom also worked in clothing factories. It’s where and how she learned to sew. My father was part of the book binder’s union thanks to one of the places he worked at. He later stopped factory work and became the superintendent of the buildings we lived in. He wasn’t the best handyman but I think part of him really enjoyed it. He used to build and set up model trains and also enjoyed photography, though he was terrible at it.

Vanessa’s Featherweight Cardigan. (Click for blog post.)

UC: Tell us about your blog. How did you get started blogging?

Vanessa: My husband bought a “Mixed Martial Arts and Crafts” t-shirt for me and thought the name would make a great blog for me. I had just finished up chemo two months before and I needed an outlet. He encouraged me to blog about the things I made during treatment. I was really shy about it at first but I quickly dove in. I had a Live Journal account for years so the idea of blogging wasn’t new to me. I’m glad that I listened to hubby because I love to blog like this! It’s given me both an outlet and a sense of purpose which is what I needed especially so soon after being so sick. (UC comment: I’m glad you listened to him, too, because your blog has a really unique perspective to offer!)

Vanessa’s hexipuffs. (Click for blog post.)

UC: You share some of your personal life, including your experience as a cancer survivor and posts about your family, on your blog.  A lot of crafty bloggers struggle with how much is enough/too much to share of your personal life.  How do you find the balance between being part of a community and maintaining your privacy?

Vanessa: I try to keep my personal stories focused on either crafting or cancer. With my cancer experience, I felt best to share the good, the bad and the really ugly because I wasn’t prepared for most of what happened. And if I felt that way, chances are good that someone else does and hopefully I can better prepare them.

I do share a lot about my family’s history partly because I think it’s a unique story, particularly how my parents met. And it’s the easiest way to share with the rest of my family since we’re all around the world at this point. Thanks to Facebook, lots of cousins and uncles (my father’s half brothers) are coming out of the woodwork and finding us. Most of them are still in Cuba but a few are in Miami and Venezuela. My mother’s family are in Cuba but do have internet access so it’s been nice to share with them as well. I’ve often thought about turning some of their stories into a novel, so I try to write those entries as creatively as possible. I also feel like everyone has a great story. Hopefully, I can encourage other people to put the tales of the past down on paper to preserve them. I do regret that I didn’t get more memories out of my father before he passed away.

Vanessa’s Wurm Hat for Olivia. (Click for blog post.)

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

Vanessa: I’m not sure if I can say that there is a direct influence, but it certainly is a passive influence. Whenever I pick up my needles (be it to knit or sew or crochet) I feel like I’m part of the past. My mother remembers that her mother, sister, and later, her step-mother, would spend time making bobbin lace when they weren’t busy making clothing for the family. Her friends tell me that they were all taught to knit socks before they were taught the alphabet!  My parents didn’t have a lot of schooling (my mother left school around the 4th grade and my father the 6th) but they both learned trades. My mother’s was more domestic (making clothing for the family and housewares and how to cook) but my father was a cobbler. I think about them when I’m working away and I laugh. What today is considered “hip” and “novel” and “crafty” was, once upon a time, part of a normal education. I remember trying to sign up for Home Ec in High School only to be told that they changed the class format. It was now a parenting class for the girls (and boys) who were expecting. I’m very sad to hear that this isn’t something that was unique to my public school system. If we bring back these skills, I’m sure we’ll see an overall increase in math and reading scores. (UC comment: I agree, Vanessa. We use math all the time in the needlecrafts!)

Some of Vanessa’s embroidery. (Click for blog post.)

UC: You recently moved to Hermitage, Tennessee from the Northeast.  What’s the crafting scene like down there?  Do you have any favorite spots to share?

Vanessa: I’ve noticed that quilting tends to be a lot more popular in the South. I’ve been able to find more fabric shops than local yarn stores. Also, the big box stores like Joann’s tend to rule. Since I’m not really a quilter, it’s been difficult for me to find my niche.

Vanessa’s childhood kung-fu ID card. (Click for blog post.)


UC: One of the things that’s unique about your blog is your combination of needlecrafts with martial arts and self-defense.  (One of my favorite guest posts on your blog is by Packing Pretty.  Thanks for introducing me to someone who so stylishly conceals weapons for personal protection!)  Tell us about your interest in martial arts.

Vanessa: I started martial arts when I was in the first grade. My parents put me in ballet and I hated it. Then they tried tap dancing and I hated that, too. The last thing on their list was the kung-fu studio that was near. My brother had taken lessons with Sifu Vizzio and suggested that they sign me up. They did and I loved it! I was finally in training to become a Ninja Turtle. Unfortunately, I had to stop thanks to homework overload but I always carried that regret. I tried some other styles as an adult but it wasn’t the same. I missed Sifu and I missed Fu Jow Pai.

For me, martial arts helps me relax and focus on my goals. The philosophical aspect of it has also spoken deeply to me. I’m not sure I’ve discovered the meaning of life but it’s helped me really think about what I’m doing here. I come out of class feeling like I’ve honed both my body and my mind and I’ve got them working together.

UC: What are some of your favorite Spanish or English language craft blogs to share?
Vanessa: In Spanish, I love Che Crochet. She’s an Argintine crocheter and makes some really nice stuff. Of course, I also have to mention FreshStitches as an English crochet counterpart. Stacey’s designs are fun and really modern. Mighty Distractable also makes me feel better for having a thousand interests and a short attention span.

I also read Craftzine to keep up to date on the latest crafting news. And I love to listen to CraftLit while I’m busy. Heather Ordover is a great hostess and knitwear designer in her own right. She’ll be starting Jane Eyre (my favorite book), which has wonderful knitting references, in October. I think I’ll work on something lacey and fancy while I listen.

UC: What’s next for Mixed Martial Arts and Crafts?
Vanessa: I do have some pieces in the works of my own. I’m currently designing a cancer awareness hat that should be released in November. And I’ve got some more book reviews and tutorials in the pipeline so keep your eyes peeled in the next few weeks! I’m not quite sure what next year has in store for Mixed Martial Arts and Crafts, but I’m always open to suggestions.


Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your story, Vanessa!

An interview with crochet’s queen regnant, Gwen Blakley Kinsler

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I’m excited to be joined today by Gwen Blakley Kinsler, founder of the Crochet Guild of America, as part of my ongoing series about teaching needlecrafts. I met Gwen (online, of course) in the Crochet Instructors Lounge group on Ravelry.  In addition to being a nationally known crochet teacher, Gwen is a designer, a crochet artist, author of Crocheting (Kids Can Do It), and the editor of DRG’s Talking Crochet newsletter.

Gwen, also known as Crochet Queen, can be found on her website, her blog, her Flickr photostream, her Facebook page, her Twitter page, or on Ravelry (as crochetkween or in her Rav group, Cro-Kween Designs).  She is a proud lifetime member of the Crochet Guild of America.  (All images in this post are viewable on Gwen’s Flickr photostream and are used with her permission.)

Gwen, the Crochet Queen (or Kween, as the setting dictates).

Underground Crafter (UC): What first inspired you to teach crochet?

Gwen: My passion for crochet got me started.  In 1982, I had two little children and decided to offer crochet classes at a local park district.  It was something I knew a lot about and cared about and it got me out of the house a little bit.

Gwen’s “garden path rock.”


UC: Has teaching crochet impacted your own personal crafting?

Gwen: Oh, most definitely!  I learn so much from my students.  I keep my ears open and listen to what they share.  There is often crossover in their interests in crochet and other crafts.  I think mixed-media work is the “hot” new thing right now and it is my new “frontier.”  (UC comment: Gwen has some very interesting mixed media work for sale on her website.  In particular, I was struck by her pieces incorporating photos of Frida Kahlo and prints of Kahlo’s paintings.)

UC: Do you have plans for expanding your teaching?  What goals do you have for the next year?

Gwen: I plan to search out a new venue, such as a fiber fest or sheep and wool fest.  I like teaching at venues that are bi-stitchural.  The students come with good handwork skills and also a sense of mystique about how to crochet.  I like to birth new crocheters into the world!  (UC comment: Note to self: Now I will have to find some sentences to use “bi-stitchural” in… here’s my first one:  In addition to Gwen’s classes at various regional and national venues, she teaches at her local bi-stitchural yarn shop, Fuzzy Wuzzy Yarns.  If you are in the Chicago area, stop by for one of Gwen’s bead crochet, flatwork bead crochet, symbol crochet, or crochet socks classes this fall.)

Gwen will also be teaching “Bead Crochet Basics” as a Market Session class at Stitches Midwest.

UC: What are your favorite things to teach?

Gwen: Bead crochet and freeform crochet.

Another example of Gwen’s freeform work.

UC: What are you hoping no one will ask to learn? :)

Gwen: Fridgies!!  (UC comment: Gwen and I must be kindred spirits.  We both love to crochet, we appreciate the work of Frida Kahlo, and we are both, er, um, disinterested in fridgies.)

UC: You are a CYC certified crochet instructor.  What did you find most useful about the program and how did it prepare you to teach?

Gwen: I have been CYCA certified since 1996 and it is kind of hard to remember what was most useful.  Back then, the teacher came to us and it was a group class and 2-day session.  I think the manual and the practice teaching, plus the use of the certification beside my name, have been the most useful.

There is still work to be done, though.  No one ever asked me if I am certified or otherwise qualified in any way in all the places I have taught.  I think CYC needs to promote the importance of teachers who are certified and educate the venues to expect this level of quality in the teachers they hire.

UC: You founded the Crochet Guild of America (and, as a member, let me say thanks!).  Tell me about that.

Gwen: I was at the right place at the right time with a little entrepreneurial spirit and perseverance thrown in for good measure!  I wanted to be able to share and to be part of a group with other crocheters.  I wanted to learn from experts.  I had a crochet party and 90 crocheters came to the first conference (1994).  Those in attendance voted to create a national organization.  More details are at www.crochet.org.

Gwen’s “Alan rock.”

UC: What advice do you have for emerging crochet professional designers and teachers?

Gwen: Do your homework and don’t jump in before you are ready.  Hone your crochet skills and specialize in one aspect of crochet and strive to make a name for yourself in that arena.

Bead crochet is one of Gwen’s teaching specialties.

Thanks so much for stopping by for an interview, Gwen!  In addition to the two Market Session classes mentioned above, Gwen will also be teaching Irish Crochet on Steroids and the Posh Post Stitch at STITCHES Midwest in August.  If you are in the area, you should check out one of these classes and support crochet at the STITCHES events.