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Interview with Kathryn Vercillo, author of Crochet Saved My Life

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 World and 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.

Kathryn Vercillo.

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!

 

Crochet Saved My Life.

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!

 

Kathryn wearing a thread crochet necklace of her own design.

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.

 

Kathryn's Edgy 1970s Crochet Designers series is one of my favorites!

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!)

Another big change on the blog is that I’m trying to include more inspiration posts where I do a roundup of 10 or more (sometimes as many as 100) items in a specific category. Some examples of that include 20 Ideas for Combining Crochet with Fabric, 15 Fun Projects for Button Lovers who Crochet, 10 Ideas for Upcycling Denim with Crochet, and 100 Unique Crochet Scarves.

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.

 

 

Kathryn's Designer Crochet series explores the use of crochet in the work of many fashion designers.

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!