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Interview with Kathryn Vercillo, author of Crochet Saved My Life

This post contains affiliate links.

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!

Interview with Sandie Petit, founder of Crochet Cabana

This post contains affiliate links.

In the early 2000s, when I first learned to read crochet patterns, there weren’t many good crochet websites.  One that I would visit time and again for help understanding a new technique was Crochet Cabana.  Even now, as a crochet teacher I often refer beginners to this wonderful site.  So I’m really excited to interview Sandie Petit today, the founder of Crochet Cabana.

Besides the Crochet Cabana website, you can find Sandie online on her blog, her Facebook page, her YouTube channel, her Etsy and Ravelry shops, and on Twitter.  She is less frequently seen on Crafty Corral, her first crochet blog, and Tumblr.  You can also buy Crochet Cabana items at Cafe Press.  All pictures and logos are used with her permission.

Sandie Petit.

Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first get started crocheting?
Sandie: In the summer of 1980, I went on vacation with some girlfriends in Mississippi. They pulled out their hooks and started crocheting and offered to teach me. That got the ball rolling. When I returned home the local TG&Y became my primary source for patterns, yarn, and hooks. The yarn was Sayelle at the time. For many years I thought Boye was the only kind of hook manufactured! With the advent of the Internet a whole new world opened up to me and I now have quite a nice hook collection! My house is often overrun by yarn and I have more patterns than I could complete in several lifetimes!

First Crochet Cabana banner.

UC: What was the original inspiration behind Crochet Cabana?
Sandie: Crochet Cabana began in 1997 as a couple of pages on my personal website, Sandra’s Backyard. The original purpose was to have an area where I could jot down what I knew about crochet for my own reference. I also wanted to provide information for those just learning to crochet. I wanted to write it all down, with pictures, in a way that I hoped could be easily understood. All of my first tutorials were written with the new crocheter in mind. As I learned more myself – both in the field of crochet and also in web design – more was added.

In my wildest dreams I never imagined the site would get so large. As I got requests for information on this or that topic, I would add those topics also to the site. In 2001, my husband purchased a domain name for Crochet Cabana as a gift for me. Then in December 2004, we decided to purchase hosting space so I wouldn’t have to keep moving the site as it grew too large for the present host.

 

Current Crochet Cabana banner.

UC: Where do you generally find your creative inspiration?
Sandie: For designing, inspiration is everywhere. The world around you. Television. The Internet. Sitting in a doctor’s office or in traffic I might notice a particular color or pattern that is intriguing. Quite often it is a matter of need. I need a gift and I have xx amount of time (usually a very short window). It’s actually quite difficult to come up with something new and I always wonder if someone else has already done it. There are so many wonderful designers out there! I don’t feel that I do that much designing really, but when I post a picture of something I’ve worked up I know someone will ask for the pattern as soon as it’s posted.

As to inspiration for tutorials and videos, that generally comes from visitors to the site who inquire if I can show them how to do this or that. If enough people seem to be having the same problem or are interested in a particular technique, I consider adding it to the site. I do fairly often get requests for me to do a video or tutorial on how to work a particular pattern. That is something I cannot do because of copyright issues.

(One of Sandie’s videos.  We start our foundation chain the same way!)

UC: You are a true pioneer of the DIY/craft scene on the internet. What were the benefits of establishing yourself online early, and what are some of the changes you’ve had to deal with in recent years?
Sandie: How nice of you to say! When I first began, I had no clue how to put up a website. My husband created the original site and showed me how to update it. Since then, I’ve done most of the work myself though my family, who are much more computer literate than I, have been a great help over the years. My daughter created the logo presently on the Cabana.

One of the benefits of being established so many years ago is that I can appreciate the technological advances available today. I clearly remember having to move the site over a dialup connection! What took many hours then would take mere minutes now. I am still using the same program to update the site (Microsoft Front Page). It is no longer supported so I will eventually have to find a new program to use – which is something I dread.

In those beginning days, way back when, one didn’t have to worry about Internet theft. In recent years, there has been a problem with people taking the work of others and claiming it as their own. Just a few months ago I found photos lifted from one of my tutorials on which the person had placed her own name right on the photos and put them on her site as her own. It was a foreign site and though I requested she remove them, that didn’t happen. You really have no recourse in these situations and it is quite discouraging since it is a lot of work to take photos, edit them, and add all the text to a tutorial, as well as making videos. Sadly, this has also happened to other designers. Sometimes you will even find people selling your patterns on Ebay, particularly if they are free patterns. They just copy them and sell them. It’s really terrible. In fact, I removed all the patterns I had on the site after one such incident. Since then, I’ve put a few back and opened Etsy and Ravelry shops. There are still quite a number I haven’t put up anywhere again. I am really torn about what to do as I love sharing my work with others. (UC comment: What a shame!)

Another change is that people are more and more moving to video teaching. I LOVE video teaching. It is amazing to me that I can create a video demonstrating how to do something, giving the tips I’ve learned through the years, and have someone in another country watch it and learn the technique. I guess I am showing my age here, but it just fascinates me. I often wish I had my own video studio and staff! I still have much to learn. I hope the industry doesn’t change too much while I’m learning!

Yet another change I have seen is the availability of e-books and e-patterns, both free and for sale. Being able to get a pattern you want immediately certainly has its up side. One thing I like about this is if I sell a pattern this way, I know exactly who purchased it and if I update it or find a significant error, I can let them know quite easily. Along with this is the self-publishing industry, such as Lulu, which has grown tremendously in the past few years.

The problem with all this availability is that much of it is free. This hurts the designers for whom crochet sales are a significant part of their earning power. I think this may be why we are seeing more complex designs as magazine publishers have to find a way to entice people to spend their discretionary income. It’s a dilemma I’m sure we will be addressing for some time to come as the industry works to find a balance between paper publishing and e-publishing.

One of Sandie’s charity scarves, donated to Knit Your Bit.

UC: You do a lot of charity crochet. Can you tell us about some of your favorite charity projects, causes, and organizations?
Sandie: There are so many worthy organizations out there. I find that people generally gravitate toward a cause that is in some way meaningful to them. For example, I have lost many loved ones to cancer so if an opportunity arises I might donate to that cause. I had two preemies so I will occasionally donate preemie hats and afghans.

I also like to help out organizations that are based in my own state when I can. I also love to make scarves and squares. Those things came together for me in Scarves for Special Olympics where I could donate to the Louisiana branch of their organization. I was even able to deliver the scarves and meet the people there. That was rather exciting. They do require you to use particular brand and colors of yarn and there are size specifications, but I find that a challenge. I like to try and find different ways to make the scarves unique within those boundaries. This is an annual project so if you haven’t participated in the past you can always pick up and join in the next go round.

Then there is the National WWII Museum’s Knit Your Bit which is also located nearby and accepts scarves. I have had many family members in the military, including my son, and I am happy to be able to do something for the soldiers who put their lives on the line for us. Knit Your Bit gives a bit of a thank you to those soldiers. They accept any pattern, any color so it’s very easy to participate. Most of the vets are men so colors tend to lean in that direction.

I also like to be sure my work makes its way to the people for whom it was intended. With that in mind, I am cautious about sending to people I don’t know. I have known Sandy Holladay for many years and have no qualms about sending items to her for The Bridge and Beyond Project, which helps the homeless. She accepts many different items including scarves, mittens, and socks. She does amazing things with donated squares, putting together afghans which are then given to one of several local missions. Each day I am thankful that I have a roof over my head, clean clothes, and food to eat. It’s a shame there are so many who don’t have these basic needs met.

Heartmade Blessings has been around quite a number of years. They accept 12” squares which are put together into comfortghans. Several people I know personally have benefited from this effort.  (UC comment: I’m actually working on several squares right now to donate to Heartmade Blessings as part of the Crochetlist March charity challenge.)

Crafting for a Cause is a wonderful group that supports our Native Americans. Most of the items made are sent directly to the reservation so you can be sure they are getting where they are needed.

In addition to official organizations, I like to donate where I can locally. As time goes on, postage costs for mailing packages has gone up so anything I can deliver is a plus.

That said, I occasionally like to send to SIBOL, way across the pond from me. I just love to go to Sue’s blog and Flickr page and see all the beautiful things. Everything is so artfully shown. She accepts 6” squares which are joined into lapghans for nursing homes in her area. Her challenges are fun too!

One of Sandie’s charity scarves, donated to Knit Your Bit.

UC: You are a CGOA Master of Advanced Crochet Stitches and Techniques and a CYC Certified Crochet Teacher. Tell us why you decided to pursue these certifications and how/if they’ve been helpful to you.
Sandie: I am going to share with you my REAL reason for taking these courses. Shhhh. I never think my work is good enough and I thought that if I took these courses someone else could tell me if I was doing things correctly and, if not, I could learn the proper way. Having the certificates does not mean that I am a wonderful crocheter, but it does mean, to me, that I’ve run the course and persevered to complete it successfully. I may have a tiny bit more confidence than I had before since I did pass the courses.

I also thought that having the certificate would give a bit more weight to my qualifications as an instructor if I decided to teach community education classes or even paid classes through a craft store.  (UC comment: I am also a CYC Certified Crochet Instructor and Teacher, and will actually be attending classes this weekend to become a CYC Certified Knitting Instructor and Teacher.  For more discussion on the pros and cons of certification, see this post.)

The two courses are very different. I did learn some new techniques through my work on both courses, particularly the CGOA course because it covered more of a variety – like hairpin lace, which I’d not done a lot of before.

I find that every step you take is one step closer to your goal. You mentioned knitting. I’ve been trying to learn to knit for many years. I can cast on and I actually can knit, but if I drop a stitch, that is it for me. However, every time I try I get a little bit further in my understanding. It is the same with crochet. When I did the CGOA course, I did not work much with thread and I had to complete a filet thread project with thread, which I did successfully. I did not pick it up again until recently, but those things I learned at that point have come back to me and I find I just love filet!

I don’t know if the certificates mean anything to those who look at my work. I think your work really has to speak for itself. When I pick up a magazine or look online at a pattern I may purchase, I don’t know if that person has a certificate or not. I just like the pattern, the colors, and the way it was photographed, perhaps the stitches used or the yarn. I think taking the course was for me more than anything.

I would dearly love to take Pauline Turner’s course. I understand it is difficult and I think if I passed that one I would really feel like a crochet master.

UC: What are your favorite crochet books in your collection?
Sandie: There are so many! Those that jump right to mind are Quick and Cozy Afghans which I use quite a bit; the Vanna books, particularly Vanna’s Afghans A to ZDonna Kooler’s Encyclopedia of Crochet; and Margaret Hubert’s The Complete Photo Guide to Crochet. I have dozens of pattern and reference books and leaflets though. That just scratches the surface. One of my recent purchases was Super Finishing Techniques for Crocheters by Betty Barnden. Her Filet Crochet book is great also.

One of Sandie’s charity scarves, using the “V for Victory” pattern by Rachel Vives, donated to Knit Your Bit.

UC: Do you have any favorite crochet websites/blogs to share?
Sandie: I don’t get around to the blogs as much as I used to, but here are a few that I visit often:

Generally, I look at my blogroll to see who has updated and I will visit the top five or ten of them and sometimes the sites they recommend in their blogroll.

After reading other interviews on your blog, I also started following Vashti.   (UC comment: Thanks Sandie!  I am honored to have you as a reader.)

 

Thanks so much for stopping by for an interview, Sandie!