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!).
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.
I’m really excited to interview Charles Voth, also known as Stitch Stud, today. Charles is a crochet and knitting designer and tech editor. (If you’re not sure what a tech editor is, you may want to check out this interview with Juanita Quinones. And if you get really excited about tech editing, you may want to sign up for these upcoming tech editing classes Charles is teaching at online at Crochet Insider.) Charles is an active participant in several online forums for crochet designers, and over the years I’ve seen him generously sharing his knowledge with more junior designers (including me!). In the past year, I’ve had the great pleasure of getting to (virtually) meet Charles when he tech edited one of my patterns. You can find Charles online at his website, Charles Voth Designs, on Ravelry (as StitchStud and on his designer page), and on Twitter. All photos are used with permission.
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you learn to crochet and knit?
Charles: When I was 5, a woman visiting my mother was crocheting a blue hat. I was fascinated with the movement of her hands and that a 3-d object was appearing from a piece of yarn. I asked her to teach me. She taught me to finger chain that day, and came back another time to teach me how to use a hook. What I made after with the basic stitches I learned, I can’t recall. I remember making a doily in thread following a pattern when I was 8 or 9. I had no-one to help me crack the code of pattern text and abbreviations, but somehow with the photo and the index of stitches I figured it out. When I was 10 or 11, I saw some Guambiano tribesmen knitting and spinning with drop-spindles (in Popayan, Colombia) and I asked my dad what they were doing. He explained what it was and I asked him if I could learn to knit. Fortunately, my grade 5 teacher was a knitter and my dad asked her to teach me. He bought me my first yarn and needles. I am a “thrower”, and faster at it than at “picking”, but when my Russian-born grandmother saw me throwing upon my visit with her in Canada, she was dismayed, and tried to get me to knit Russian-continental. Which I can now do fairly well, but at that age, I found it hopeless to change over.
UC: What inspired you to start designing?
Charles: The yarn store I frequented in Medellin, Colombia only had yarn, no pattern booklets. The women would sketch a schematic, do a swatch, and figure out the sweater. They taught me how to do that so I could make my mom a sweater and a vest. But I wanted to knit something for myself. Fortunately, another expat woman lent me an English pattern book with women’s patterns. I analysed the shaping, schematic, gauge, etc, and with the help of my math teacher I designed a men’s sweater based on the woman’s pattern, making it more masculine. I even got a home-ec credit for that. I just kept going from there and only stopped during the first 10 years of my kids’ lives. I was the full-time stay at home parent for half of those years and just didn’t have time.
UC: Many of your patterns are available in both English and Spanish. Tell us about your decision to offer your patterns in both languages. Are Spanish language patterns universally understand by Spanish speakers, or is there a great divide like we see between U.S. & U.K. terminology? If so, how do you address that in your work.
Charles: I wish I could spend more time writing my patterns in both languages. I know that Spanish-speaking knitters and crocheters don’t cling to patterns the way English-speakers do…and seem to thrive on the “swatch, and follow a schematic” formula, but there are many learners and intermediate crocheters who perhaps haven’t benefited from a relative who could teach them the intricacies of shaping, etc, and they do look for patterns. The many Spanish groups of Ravelry who translate with designers’ permission are a testimony to this growing need. While there are differences in the names of stitches, for knitting needles, the crochet hook, and even yarn, the labels do seem immaterial to Spanish-speaking crafters. Rather than stigmatizing one set of labels as incorrect or inferior, each geographic region is happy to use what they know and even to borrow from each other. It’s rather refreshing. The other mentality that I enjoy and return to often for a breath of fresh air, is that there is no knit-crochet dichotomy like in North America. In Colombia, as in many other countries, the word “tejer” is universal for “weaving, knitting, and crochet” and the tool that is used is given when the activity is being described. So I would “weave with a loom,” “weave with 2 needles,” or “weave with a hook,” for example. I use the words that I was taught in Colombia and the terms and abbreviations I first found when I found other Hispanic bloggers and stitchers online.
UC: In addition to your crochet life, you’re also an ESL teacher. Does your teaching experience impact your design or pattern writing process, and if so, how?
Charles: Second language learners struggle constantly with accuracy and fluency, and the two aspects of language compete with each other. Either one can talk with native-like speed and tone yet have many embedded grammatical or micro-level pronunciation errors, or one can speak/write accurately, with near perfect grammar and spelling, but it takes forever and the speech is robotic and the writing painfully slow. Crocheters and knitters, depending on their exposure to patterns and the time they’ve been stitching, and what kind of support they’ve had, and more importantly, what kind of learner they are (visual, aural, kinesthetic, text-biased) often struggle with the same fits and false starts when they encounter pattern instructions and charts until they are more experienced, but if a stitcher works faster than they are ready to, things get missed and frogging is more common. I have written patterns that bore the experienced knitter/crocheter to tears because they are full of pedagogical text, and I’ve written patterns that are so sparse that a newbie takes up hours of my time on Ravelry giving pattern support. I’m a visual learner, so I’m fine with a chart, a schematic and minimal text, yet I know that if my patterns were only like that I’d loose 75% of stitchers out there, so I now try to find a happy medium.
UC: You were born and raised in Colombia. What was the yarn crafts scene like there when you were growing up?
Charles: From what I recall, different tribes of pre-European Colombians have a vibrant craft movement and the lore is well documented and perpetuated. Colombia is the textile centre of Latin America, and Medellin, where I grew up, has many textile corporations. The tallest sky scraper in the city is actually a stylized sewing needle. When I was there, mostly grandmothers were the knitters and depending on the social class, younger women either learned out of necessity (to make blankets and clothes for themselves and/or for sale) or if they were middle or upper class, they just dabbled in it once in a while. I’m not at all in touch with the current knitting/crochet culture in Colombia. Colombians on Ravelry appear to come from all age groups. When I lived there, the main yarn purveyors were the French company Pinguoin, and Cisne yarns (from Chile), and I believe Coats had and still has a line of yarn with Spanish labels. These yarns were in the store at the mall near my house. The yarns were mostly acrylic. My favourite store was a different one, 15 blocks from my house and it was frequented mostly by little grandmothers from working class families. The store consisted of a small room with walls made of cinderblock and red-clay brick; it was poorly lit, and had a very sparse non-yarn décor. But it had wall-to-wall cones of what now would be deemed lace-weight acrylic yarn in about 100 colours. I would go there, ask for 15, 23, 60, or any number of grams of yarn, and I could specify the number of strands they would hold together and wind off into cakes. 4 yarns together worked great on my 3.5mm or 4mm needles, so it must have been somewhere been a sport or DK weight. I’d ask for 3 strands together to make baby booties and 6 strands together to work at a worsted weight gauge. It was VERY splitty, naturally, but I think my getting control of this was what really helped me develop a very even tension. (UC comment: This sounds like a really fun store!)
UC: Does your cultural background influence your crafting? If so, how?
Charles: The deepest influence my cultural heritage gives me is my sense of colour and of proportion. I know it’s nothing unusual now, but when I first arrived in Canada and made things with orange, fuschia, and red right beside each other, I sure got looks. Naturally, when I discovered Kaffe Fasset at 19 and saw that colours transcended culture, I feel liberated. I don’t know whether I can say this here, but as a teenage boy interested in the local beauties, I was drawn to girls that had curves, naturally, but it was the relative proportion that mattered. The guys and I would comment on how North American models were twiggy and sickly and we were never surprised that Miss Universe was often won by a South American beauty queen. To be beautiful in our eyes, a girl had to have calves and thighs, but it was just as important to have narrow ankles and knees, and so on—proportion was key. This definitely has influenced my design aesthetic, when designing women’s garments, because I like to accentuate curves and relative differences in proportion rather than create the baggy box or the wraith-like sack-on-a-scare-crow look. You could say that my muse for women’s designs is “la belleza latina.” Of course, for men’s designs, I now consult my 2 teenage sons and what they and their friends would wear.
UC: You’ve held a lot of roles in the yarn industry, including designer, podcaster, tech editor, and magazine editor. What advice do you have for aspiring professionals? Charles: I would say,
“Don’t ever think you’re too young to start, or too old to start.
Don’t give up, take small steps, be humble amongst the great talent that’s around you, but don’t hide your skills and art out of sight.
Don’t have a sense of entitlement, accept rejection without tears. A rejected design only means your creation doesn’t fit in someone else’s big picture creative concept; it doesn’t mean it’s a terrible design.
Act professionally, and as much as you can, don’t let emotions cloud business matters, particularly in public.
Befriend many, but give to many in return.
Find one or two trustworthy and extremely honest (even painfully so, sometimes) mentors to guide you and to listen to your emotional venting privately.
Most of all, enjoy creating, have a knitting or crochet project that doesn’t have a deadline, and is just there to be savoured, touched, and to fill the senses.
If you have a life-partner, engage in, and support his/her passion without expecting the same in return.
Lastly, be a life-long learner.”
UC: Do you have any favorite Spanish or English language crochet or craft blogs to share? Charles:
Charles: I’m busy tech-editing mostly. A few designs in the works, but nothing I can talk about at the moment. (UC comment: And if you’re interested in becoming a tech editor, don’t forget to sign up for Charles’s upcoming classes at Crochet Insider!)
Thank you, Charles, for sharing your thoughts with us, and for giving some great advice!
Linda Wyszynski has been a freelance needlework designer for over 20 years. Her work has appeared in countless books and magazines, including Cross-Stitch and Needlework, Crafts ‘ n Things, and Cross Stitcher. Linda also taught needlepoint, silk ribbon and needlepoint canvas painting earlier in her career. Linda can be found online at her website, Hearthside Creations. Pictures are used with her permission. (Project pictures are the property of the publishers.)
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first get started with needlework?
Linda: My paternal grandmother began teaching me needlework when I was 8 or 9. We didn’t have any iron on patterns and I wanted to learn to stitch. Grandma would take a piece of fabric, lay it over the bottom of the cast iron frying pan, and place a piece of her finished embroidery work face down on the cloth that covered the frying pan. She would then run a wooden spoon over the back of the needlework. The design would magically appear on the fabric that was next to the black cast iron. In my early twenties, I rediscovered needlework, and realized how much I loved to stitch.
UC: What originally inspired you to begin designing?
Linda: In the ‘80s, I fell in love with needlepoint, and wanted to stitch a painted canvas. As I was still a novice in needlepoint, I felt the pre-painted canvas cost was too high to justify purchasing one. Since I had taught Tole (decorative painting) and reverse painting, I decided to give canvas painting a try. To my surprise, it turned out great, and I took the painted canvas to a local shop to pick out threads. The owner liked my canvas painting and asked me to do custom canvas painting for her customers. I began Hearthside Creations LLC, and the next thing I knew, I was designing plastic canvas and needlepoint designs for magazines.
UC: Where do you generally find your creative inspiration?
Linda: Design ideas come from all around me: nature, floral gardening books, home décor magazines, catalogs, antique embroidery work, shopping, even watching TV or movies. I have always loved magazines and subscribe to many different types. Sitting and leafing through them, I’ll see a painting or floral fabric or rug – there is always something to give me an idea. One thing I do not do is look at craft magazines to see what others are doing. I don’t even visit websites or blogs often. Our mind is always storing things and it would be way to easy to create a design like someone else without even realizing it! Observing the copyrights of other designers’ work is very important to me – just as I would like for others to observe my copyrights.
UC: Your latest book, the The Complete Photo Guide to Needlework, was just released. How did you approach the challenge of writing such a comprehensive guide covering several needlecrafts, and what was the overall writing and development process for the book?
Linda: Actually, this is my first authored book. I have been published in twenty multi-authored needlework books and in magazines for many years. For this book, lists were made of things I would like to see in a technique book, along with list of the stitches for each chapter. The gathering of the “types of information” we wanted to discuss or show in the book took several weeks. Once the lists were complete, and a schedule was in place, the rest was much easier to accomplish.
This book needed to have an edge the other published technique books did not have. It needed to show the stitcher through the photographs how the piece looked completely stitched, how it looked as you stitched each step, and, most of all, to have clear, easy to follow graphs. Dennis, my husband, who has created my graphs for years, worked hand in hand with me. He took the step-by-step photographs and created the graphics for each stitch. Having him to discuss the vision of the book and to help accomplish that was the greatest!
We wanted to show through photographs a close up of each strand of each type of thread, each tool, type of scissors etc., so when the stitcher is learning this craft, they are not in the dark about what to use and how to use the information given. Being a self-taught needle artist, this was important to me. The techniques chosen for this book are all related. Many of the same stitches are used for each technique. It was a hard decision to show the same stitch for several techniques. In the end I did do that so the stitcher would understand that once the rhythm of the stitch was learned it could be used in many forms of needlework. When using silk ribbon or embroidery floss or yarn or beads, a simple stem stitch will take on a very different look.
UC: You are obviously multi-craftual, but what is your favorite “go to” craft when working on projects for yourself?
Linda: I rarely have time to do something for myself, but I do enjoy hand quilting. I have only completed a small lap quilt. Currently, I’m working on creating quilted placemats from die cut pieces. It may be years before they are completed. I don’t worry about how long it takes to complete projects because it’s relaxing and fun to quilt by hand! My favorite color is black, so these will be black, white and red.
UC: What are your favorite needlework books in your own library (besides your own, of course)?
Linda: I love antiques and old books, so I lean toward books from the early 1900s forward. I have so many books, it’s really hard to define favorites! If you asked next week, my list could easily be different.
The one book I have used most in my library of over 800 books is A Pageant of Pattern for Needlepoint Canvas by Sherlee Lantz with diagrams by Maggie Lane. I love to just look at the graphics and envision what the stitch looks like when worked. This book is out of print. It was given away in grocery stores when you bought a certain item back in 1973. It took me years to find a copy – costing me $75, which was inexpensive at the time. It was selling for around $200. Now there are copies turning up in used book stores for far less. It was well worth the cost!
UC: Do you have any favorite craft or design blogs or websites to share?
Linda: There are so many wonderful bogs and websites it hard to decide which to share. I check out these designs once in a while.
Linda: Needlework is a love I’m sure I’ll have the rest of my life. Times in my life I have missed not having a needle in my hand. I usually have work with me even on vacation. The highlight of my career was being asked by Creative Publishing to write a book on something I love, that was the greatest. Having control over the development of the book was very exciting. Most of all, being able to share my love of needlework with my husband. He has a logical mind and understands how to work the stitches without ever picking up a needle. Let me tell you that has come in handy with some of the more difficult stitches since I tend to transpose numbers!
Thanks so much for stopping by for an interview, Linda!
The Book Review
About once a year, I decide that I’m going to take up embroidery again. This is usually triggered by seeing a super cute image on someone’s blog, or the discovery of a masterpiece in the closet by my grandmother or MC’s mother. Then, I try embroidering for a few hours and realize that I don’t have the patience (or the eyesight) for needlework. It was in this vein that I requested a review copy of The Complete Photo Guide to Needleworkfrom Creative Publishing International.
The book is organized into seven main sections:
ABCs of needlework,
Silk ribbon embroidery,
Cross-stitch (called “Cross-stitch basic” in the table of contents), and
There is also a resource section and a detailed stitch index in the back.
What I like about this book:
The ABCs of needlework section is extremely thorough. Not only is there a picture of each different tool, but there is a clear explanation of the major equipment. (Finally, I can understand why I might select a milliners needle!)
There are wonderful tips peppered throughout the book. (My personal favorite is this reminder: “For safety’s sake, always rescue the (lost) needle.” My family is notorious for losing needles, so Linda’s recommendation to keep a magnet on hand is much appreciated.)
Each technique section includes detailed information about appropriate fabrics and threads to use.
In addition to the detailed illustrations you would expect from a needlework book (indicating the numbered steps of each stitch), there are many pictures of the finished stitches. While there aren’t complete step-by-step photos, there are usually 2-4 progress photos of each stitch showing how the needle is inserted into the fabric. Most people I know seem to have an easier time learning techniques from photos than illustrations, so this combination will likely be helpful to new needleworkers.
The book is well organized.
What I didn’t like (or what’s missing):
I didn’t see projects that I was interested in making. I think the book could have benefited from involving multiple designers creating the projects so that there would be a diverse range of styles. (Two other CPI books, The Complete Photo Guide to Crochet and The Complete Photo Guide to Knitting by Margaret Hubert, include a range of designers for the projects.)
While Linda’s introduction is very informal and welcoming, later in the book there are times when the language seems overly formal and a bit clumsy.
Overall, I found the book to be an excellent resource which clearly explains the differences between the different types of needlework, identifies the appropriate tools for different tasks, describes different techniques for image transfer, and presents a detailed stitch guide with both illustrations and photos. The projects are fairly classic/standard, and don’t display a range of styles. I think this book would be quite helpful for a needlework newbie who is looking for a resource and technique book to grow with. While at certain points, the text is not as graceful as I would like it to be, the pictures and the illustrations do most of the talking anyway. I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars.
Full disclosure: A free review copy of this book was provided by the publisher. Although I accept free books for review, I do not accept additional compensation from the publisher, nor do I guarantee a positive review. My reviews are based entirely on my honest opinions. This also post contains affiliate links. You can read my affiliate and review disclosures here.