Every Monday during National Crochet Month 2013, I’ll be interviewing crocheters. Today’s interview is with Johnny Vasquez, a crochet teacher.
As a crochet and knitting teacher, I’m constantly looking for online resources to share with my students so they have additional supports when I’m not around. I can’t remember how I first came across New Stitch A Day, but I regularly refer my students (and my crocheting and knitting friends) to it. Today I’m excited to share an interview with Johnny Vasquez, the Founder of Craftory Media.
I should mention that Johnny offered to use his technological abilities to set up a Skype video interview, but I wasn’t able to figure out scheduling on my end, so he was gracious enough to do a regular interview via email.
You can find Johnny one the New Stitch A Day website and blog, Twitter, Facebook, and Ravelry group. You can also find him online as JohnnyVasquez or on his designer page on Ravelry, at Fiberstory.tv, and at Yarn Nation (coming soon). The pictures in this interview are used with his permission.
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first get started crocheting and knitting?
Johnny: My great grandmother was big into the fiber arts. She was a weaver, a spinner, knitter, and hand dyer. She’s gone now, but my dad still has her spinning wheel and loom.
My grandmother, on the other side of the family, worked as a seamstress for years and has been knitting and crocheting most of her life. I often got crocheted afghans for Christmas. But they were exactly what you would think they would be like: Red Heart scratchy yarn in horrible color combinations. Basically whatever colors were on sale at the local craft store.
The funny thing is, even though yarn craft was all around me, I never had an interest. I thought knitting and crochet was for old people.
Then I heard about this Kickstarter project by Rebecca Burgess. She wanted to source all of her clothing for a year from within 150 miles of her home. The idea was to be more connected to the people who are involved in making these garments that are so intimate to our lives.
She documented going to an organic farm to plant the indigo dyes, buying waste wool from a sheep stock rancher, and working with an old mill to process that into yarn. She took that yarn to a local knitwear designer and had it turned into a hat. (UC comment: You can read more about Rebecca’s Fibershed Project on her website here.)
At that moment a light clicked in my head. Something about the story of how that hat was created really resonated with me. I decided I wanted to knit a sweater so I could be more connected to my clothing.
But first I needed to learn to knit. So I went Walmart, bought a teach yourself to knit kit, two balls (skeins I found out later) of Simply Soft, and the rest is history.
UC: What inspired you to start teaching?
Johnny: I’ve been teaching in different capacities most of my life.
I started teaching bible study in Jr. High.
In high school, I directed plays and was section leader in choir. I also started an alumni chapter for a leadership program that had all of LA county as its jurisdiction.
In my college years, I was a substitute teacher and taught an after school drama program.
So I’ve led and taught for a long time. When I learned to knit and crochet, the transition was pretty natural.
Johnny juggling (or, is he just throwing the yarn in the air?).
UC: Why did you launch New Stitch a Day?
Johnny: That’s a LOOOONG story.
I was in Chicago at a yarn store called Loopy, and I was chatting with this lady about knitting. I had only been knitting about 6 weeks. She was looking at one of those perpetual knitting calendars and mentioned that it would be cool to knit one swatch a day for a year from the calendar and then turn it into a sampler afghan. I thought . . . “that would be cool . . .”
A few months later at Christmas, my mother-in-law gave me a couple of stitch dictionaries. At the same time I had been following another blog called New Dress a Day. The girl who ran that site gave herself $1 a day to make a new piece of clothing out of stuff she got from the bargain bin at a local thrift store.
I thought that was a great project and I was reminded of that lady in Chicago and her stitch a day calendar. I figured it would be cool to do my own blog to help me become a better knitter and I would call it New Stitch a Day.
That thought festered in my mind for a few days, until I was trying to knit a particular stitch out of one of the books and I couldn’t figure out the instructions. I tried going online to find a video to help and there was none for that specific stitch.
I’ve been doing stuff with video since I was a pre-teen. When I was a freshman in high school, I made a short film instead of writing a final project in English. I’ve worked on a reality TV pilot, some short films, and an indie music video.
I knew I could put together better videos than a lot of what I was seeing and I had an HD camera in my iPhone. I figured it wouldn’t be that hard to put out a new video tutorial each day. But I’m also the kinda of person who thinks, sure, I can do a triathlon with three months of training. My ambition is often bigger than my ability.
Johnny’s mustache cowl.
UC: Tell us about how it’s grown since then.
Johnny: I started doing 1 video knitting tutorial every Monday through Friday.
The first video took me 8hrs to complete. I got that down to about 4 hours per stitch, but for the first year and a half I never did get a stitch a day out.
Eventually I added one crochet stitch video on Saturdays, but that was pretty sporadic.
One day in the spring of 2011, my wife and I were in New York for work and we tweeted to the Lion Brand people that we wanted to visit their store, which also happened to be their offices. They said to let them know when we dropped by.
When we got there we were greeted by Jessica, who handled their social media at the time. She let me know they loved what we were doing and wanted to know how they could help. A few months later, they were our first official sponsor. They provided yarn and paid a small advertising fee to have their product featured in our videos.
That’s the first time I thought this could be a real business. By June, my wife was graciously working a couple part time jobs and both our parents helped out from time to time so I could work full-time on the site.
New Stitch A Day is a family affair. Here’s a yarn monster concept sketch by Johnny’s brother, Donnie.
By the next June, I was getting a bigger and bigger vision for what I wanted to accomplish, but I didn’t have the man power to do it. My wife, Lacie, was pretty tired of living in CO where it was actually cold during the winter. So I convinced my brothers to help out. We sold pretty much everything we couldn’t fit in a couple suitcases and moved back to Los Angeles.
Today we put out 1 knitting and 1 crochet tutorial every Monday through Friday and it takes us about 2.5 from start to finish for each. And they’re completely free to watch. In fact, all of the more than 500 videos we’ve made so far are Creative Commons, so people can use them on their sites and even sell them in their patterns for free.
One thing we started at the beginning of 2013 is our Yarn Craft Academy, which is our premium education classes. This is where we go in depth on topics like double knitting, Tunisian crochet, and making amiguriumi toys. The classes last between an hour to two hours and most come with two practice patterns to test out your new skills.
The coolest thing though, is we do a free version of every class about once a week. We do this through a live Ustream event and I actually get to interact with people all over the world in real time through the chat room. If they want to watch the class again, they can purchase a recording that has a bunch of bonus content. We also have an all you can eat option where people can pay per month to access all of our classes.
Another cool thing is everyone gets to vote on what classes we do next. Every couple of weeks we have a survey where we post 8 options for future classes. These come from suggestions from our audience in previous surveys. They pick their top 3 or 4 and we turn them into classes.
We’ve only been doing those for about 5 weeks, but we’ve had an average of 1,000 people register for each, often in as little as 36 hours. (UC comment: That’s great news, Johnny. It’s wonderful to see your site expanding.)
Check out Johnny’s live free classes every week.
UC: What are your favorite crochet books in your collection?
Johnny: I actually don’t own a lot of crochet books. I have four and they’re all stitch dictionaries. My favorite of those is The Complete Photo Guide to Crochet. (UC comment: My review of this book and an interview with author Margaret Hubert.) But Erika Knight recently put out a book called Simple Crocheting and I’m really eager to pick that up. Actually, I think I’m gonna order that as soon as I’m done with this interview . . . (UC comment: My review here.)
Side Note: Erika Knight edited the Harmony Guides, which we use all the time for New Stitch a Day. I met her a couple weeks ago at TNNA. (UC comment: The National NeedleArts Association trade show.) She’s super cool and very British. I love her sense of style, especially the neon pink tennis shoes she wore with her pant suits every day.
Johnny Vasquez in his MailChimp hat.
UC: What advice do you have for others who want to follow in your footsteps?
Johnny: Well, first, don’t call your site “(Something Random) a Day”. It’s a huge commitment and for the most part unnecessary. If I were to start again I’d call it knitting stitch weekly, or crochet stitch a week. There are advantages to posting content on a daily basis, but it’s very taxing if you’re doing it by yourself. I’m lucky to have an uber supportive wife and a brother who gets the vision.
Two: Building an email list is incredibly important to communicating with your audience. If you visit our site, we call people who join our email list VIPs and they get special benefits that random visitors to our site do not get. Things like free patterns, invites to live classes, special discounts, and contests and giveaways.
Email is really important to interacting with our community, so we have lots of opportunities to sign up on our site. If you don’t have an email list, it’s free to start one through MailChimp. (Disclaimer: MailChimp did give me an awesome crocheted monkey hat to say that.)
Three: Don’t be afraid to put stuff out there for free. And by free I mean people don’t pay you money for it. We give out free patterns all the time, but you have to be on our email list or share it on Twitter, Facebook, or Pinterest in order to download it (see Sidewinder free for an example).
Four: Community is essential to success.
If you’re a designer, feature some of the projects people have posted on Ravelry of your stuff in a monthly newsletter.
If you own a yarn store, pick a customer of the week and put them on your Facebook page.
If you blog, ask your audience who they want you to interview or what questions they want you to answer. Better yet, interview someone from your audience!
When people feel involved in your process they will help you succeed. We have rarely done advertising for New Stitch a Day but we’ve grown to almost 17,000 email subscribers through word of mouth because we make people feel like family. (UC comment: Thanks for sharing these great suggestions, Johnny!)
Sign up for an early invite to Yarn Nation.
UC: What is next for you and New Stitch a Day?
Johnny: For New Stitch a Day we’re working on a new year long Knit and Crochet a Long we call the New Stitch Afghan. We’re planning a monthly design contest where our subscribers have to use a stitch from our site to make a 12 x 12 inch afghan square. We’ll put three up for a vote on Facebook and the winner each month will win a prize of some sort from one of our sponsors. That should get started in late March.
But what I’m super excited about is our newest venture called Yarn Nation. This is going to be the heart of a new network of sites we’re developing for the yarn craft industry.
Want a sneak peak? Here’s some of the stuff we’ve got planned:
- Fiberstory.TV – Interviews with People doing cool stuff with yarn
- Yarn Tripper – A travel show for fiber enthusiasts
- Knitting Helpline – A live Q&A show where you get your knitting and crochet questions answered by industry professionals (preview here)
- Yarntreprenuer – Business advice for designers, yarn store owners, and fiber arts professionals of all kinds
- Yarn Review Daily – Daily video product reviews
- The Yarnist – a new kind of online magazine for yarn lovers.
Yarn Nation will be a community that connects these awesome sites together and will let you share your passion for yarn with people all over the world. You can sign up for a free invite by visiting YarnNation.
We’ve got some other cool stuff planned too, but I’ve already said too much!
If you want to become a New Stitch a Day VIP sign up for our email list and get free tutorials in your inbox every day plus a bunch of other cool stuff.
Thanks so much for having me! If you have any questions put them in the comments. I’d love to chat with you all!
Thank you for stopping by for an interview, Johnny, and for sharing such great resources online. (Hint: New Stitch A Day will be featured this Sunday as one of my favorite online crochet resources.)