I’m sharing the sixth interview in this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month series with Ana Silva from Children Pictures Creations. Ana is a Dominican-American crochet designer and photographer. I’ll also be including a roundup of my 5 favorite crochet patterns from her collection!
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first learn to crochet?
Ana: I went to the Dominican Republic in ’94 and my cousin tried to teach me. I was somewhat interested but it wasn’t until ’02 that I began to be really interested. I started collecting patterns and books. Back then, YouTube wasn’t around or as popular, so it was pretty hard learning from books. I got discouraged and stopped altogether for about 18 months. But my persistent nature wouldn’t let me quit so I picked it up again and haven’t stopped since.
UC: What inspired you to start designing?
Ana: It’s pretty funny because I never had any interest in designing. I would just gather the free patterns that I liked and would make them. Then one day, I was watching the new Strawberry Shortcake cartoons and decided to make the hats and leg warmers based on them. I figured it couldn’t be too hard. Boy was I wrong! Writing those patterns was a nightmare. I knew what I wanted to say but it was hard to write it well enough for others to understand it. Eventually after many days of testing, the patterns were released and were quite successful.
UC: Your designs are entirely self-published. What do you enjoy about the self-publishing process?
Ana: I think the freedom of it. You go at your own pace and don’t have to be pressured to write patterns by a certain time frame.
UC: You’re also a wedding and portrait photographer. Without giving away all of your secrets (smile), can you share some tips for crocheters who want to take great pictures of their projects?
Ana: It’s all about the light! You don’t have to have a live model, though it really helps because people are better with visuals. But if you don’t have a model, at least make sure that you take the pictures with a lot of light so the details show.
UC: Where do you generally find your creative inspiration?
Ana: Anywhere. I’m constantly thinking and designing in my head. If I were to write everything that comes to my mind, I’ll be writing forever, lol. When I watch TV, I think about how I can make whatever I’m watching into a pattern. My husband says that’s all I think about. And he’s sort of right, ha ha.
UC: You were born in the Dominican Republic. Were you also raised there? What was the crochet and yarn crafts scene like in your community when you were growing up?
Ana: I lived there till I was 12 years old. I didn’t know about crochet much other than the beautiful tablecloth we had at home. I always found it fascinating but never questioned how it was made. Then I came to the U.S. and never saw that kind of work, so I forgot about it.
UC: How does that compare to the crochet/yarn crafts scene in Philadelphia today?
Ana: Though I can’t really compare, Philadelphia has a lot of yarn shops. When I go to the city, I always pass by and wish I could buy them all! Of course, I have to curb myself or hubby would kill me.
UC: Does your cultural background influence your crafting? If so, how?
Ana: Not really. I had just gotten pregnant and just wanted to make something for my baby. I remember those little baby outfits when I was little and found them so adorable. So I wanted to make cute stuff for my baby girl.
UC: What is your favorite crochet book in your collection?
Today, I’m sharing an interview with Gale Zucker. Many knitters know Gale as a knitwear/knitting photographer, but Gale is also a designer, teacher, and photojournalist. We attempted to meet up for an interview at Vogue Knitting Live back in January, but schedules were too crazy all around, so we opted for an email interview instead. (Gale was nice enough to stop by and say hi while I was working a shift at the Michelle’s Assortment booth, so we did get to officially meet.)
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first get started knitting?
Gale: I grew up in an extended knitting family. You’re female? You knit..and crochet, embroider, sew, you name it. The sound of needles clicking (always the metal ones) is the sound of my childhood. I really don’t remember who taught me first, it was either my grandma or mom. I knit as a little kid (poorly and impatiently), and then off and on through high school. Crochet was really big then for me, too. I did a lot of other crafts also. I like to make stuff. In college, knitting settled in as my go-to habit. I have been known to go off on other crafting binges, but I always have something on the needles. And..even though I keep saying knitting in answer to the questions in this interview, I also mean crocheting. Not trying to dis my hooking friends!
UC: What first drew you to photography and photojournalism?
Gale: Here’s another “since I was a kid” answer, coming right up! I’ve always loved the storytelling power of photography, and memorized Life magazines that were around when I grew up. I started college majoring in Environmental Sciences but spent more time playing around in a darkroom than in a science lab. I switched to journalism school, with a photojournalism major. I wanted to be a newspaper and magazine photographer, which is what I did for many years before switching over to more commercial work.
UC: When did you first combine your interests in knitting and photography?
Gale: I used to keep the two separate, although I kept on getting travel magazine and New York Times (at one time, my main client) assignments on farms. I jokingly started a portfolio called She Shoots Sheep Shots. Little did I know it would become part of my identity! In the early 2000s, I was doing a lot of work photographing youth at risk, youth in the judicial system, foster care for books and non-profits—and it was knitting that I turned to to de-stress when it got grim. I discovered knitting blogs and the new wave of knitting stores in 2004, so I started a knitting blog too and connected to new friends. (She Shoots Sheep Shots became my blog name).
In 2005, a book editor client asked me if I had any ideas for a book. She was expecting me to suggest some visually stunning social issue topic but instead, I blurted out that I wanted to travel around the country photographing fiber farms and show where yarn comes from, intentional lifestyles, and have knitting patterns at the end of each chapter. (The idea was met by dead silence and an incredulous “no..really? you don’t…..knit??!!) The timing for my idea was good, so we put together a book proposal that ended up becoming my book Shear Spirit: Ten Fiber Farms, Twenty Patterns, and Miles of Yarn from Potter Craft. Since then I try to bring knitting and photography together as often as I can.
UC: You’ve collaborated with Joan Tapper on two books. How did you two come to work together? What was the development process like for the two books (or was each one quite a different process)?
Gale: As I was developing the idea and book proposal for Shear Spirit, I needed to bring a writer on board. I truly believe in recognizing your strengths and collaborating with others. I approached a very talented travel writer I’d worked with on some longer magazine assignments, and he agreed to jump in. Just as we were going to send the book proposal out to publishers, he called to say he’d had a great offer for two book contracts, and he needed to pull out of my proposal. He felt so terrible about it that he said was calling his former editor at National Geographic Traveler. He promised she would look at our idea and match me up with someone good, since she had the bead on all the top travel writers working. I was totally intimidated by her reputation. Ten minutes later, the phone rang. It was Joan Tapper, the editor from NatGeo saying “I love this idea! I’m not passing you on to anyone, I want to work on it with you!”
It was the best professional “blind date” ever – we work together really well and have become close friends. She lives in Santa Barbara, California; I’m in Connecticut. We email a lot, and talk on the phone, as we develop material. We have very different styles of working and organization but it make for harmony. (and she deserves an award for patience with me). Craft Activism: People, Ideas, and Projects from the New Community of Handmade and How You Can Join In was put together the same way Shear Spirit was–we research and compare notes via email and phone, we break down the tasks of making/producing a book and share them, we travel together to some of the subjects and separately to others. I am in awe of her writing and editing talents, and we have a very similar take on what we encounter.
UC: How did you get started teaching photography classes for fiber enthusiasts?
Gale: After Shear Spirit was published in 2008, I received photo questions regularly from knitters saying how frustrated they were with their photography. It was at about that time that prices dropped on good quality digital cameras, and faster online connections became the norm for knitbloggers, and Ravelry started–so there was a real interest in better, bigger, eyecatching images for knitters & crafters. I noticed a lot of horrible photo information online–from overly tech-y talk that focussed on equipment more than vision, to outright misinformation, and mean-spirited blabbing.
I’d taught photography before at a community arts center and as a college level guest lecturer, so a workshop where I combine my two passions? No problem! I started teaching at some yarn shops- which I still do, all anyone has to do is email me and ask–and now I teach at knitting events, like VK Live and fiber festivals, and retreats. I’ve done two live webinars for Interweave, which were recorded and are available to watch and learn at your convenience.
UC: Without giving away all of your secrets, can you share a few tips for those among us whose photos never quite live up to the beauty of our finished fiber objects?
Gale: My mantra: Keep shooting. Pixels are free. Which means, keep shooting, trying different angles, compositions, more shade, less shade, even if you think you’ve got the shot, try it from a different perspective. Don’t stop at “eh that’s good enough.”
The other most important tip is turn off your flash! There’s always a way to use natural light and keep that straight-on harsh flash from ruining your photos. Look for open shade, and light coming from the side to bring out texture.
UC: What are your favorite knitting and photography books in your collection (besides your own, of course)?
Gale: I have many photography books, and many knitting books but few that combine the two to suit my picky picky picky tastes. I had an Alice Starmore guernseys book that I loved–it didn’t matter that I’d never knit any of the sweaters in it, I wanted to be the woman in the images, on the rocky UK coastlines, and in pubs with sailors wearing oversized guernseys. That’s the kind of knitwear photography I love, that tells a story. Can’t take the photo journalist out of the knitter! The Brooklyn TweedWool People publications are gorgeously produced and I enjoy looking at Stephen West’s more recent images. They’re leaning more toward performance art with sweaters than anythng else, and are so very entertaining. And Carrie Bostick Hoge’s style is awesome. It’s way more quiet and subdued than I am, but I love it. I like anyone who creates a look and visual stamp–I find a lot of knitwear photography to be super formulaic. (Wow, I sound like a grouch. I’m not. You asked!)
UC: Do you have any crafty websites you frequent for inspiration or community?
Gale: SO MANY! Working from a home office, the online crafting community is my virtual coffee break and offers world-class procrastinating opportunity to this world-class procrastinator. These days Pinterest is often my launch pad to explore other sites, I follow a bunch of designers & artists who lead me all over. I still read a lot of blogs. I love a well-written blog.
UC: What are you working on now, in the crafting/knit world?
Gale: So much! I feel like spring has sprung and I’m busting out!. I’m shooting more for indie knitwear designers and sweater companies. I’m incorporating some video work in, as I did for my client, Camp Kitschy Knits. I am pretty sure that is the first and only retro knitwear stop action video with original banjo-uke and concertina soundtrack.
I’ll be at TNNA, so anyone interested in talking to me about a photo project or workshop or something new and different can grab me there–I think I may even book some location photo shoots while in Indianapolis. And I’ll booth sit for friends at the show.
I’m still editing and getting out a book from my epic photo shoots at the NY Sheep & Wool Festival in 2010 and 2012. Pretty sure it’ll come out by the end of summer as an ebook and print, perhaps in an unorthodox format. Sneak peek video, here.
Joan Tapper and I are brainstorming new book ideas. Stay tuned there!
Today, I’m interviewing Guatemalan crocheter Ana Contreras, the bilingual blogger behind Lanas & Hilos. I’m a big fan of Ana’s blog and the great pictures she shares of her projects. Ana, also known online as AnaBC on Ravelry, is also a crochet (and, occasionally, knitting) designer. Her patterns can be found online here. All pictures are used with Ana’s permission.
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you learn to crochet?
Ana: My mom taught me how to crochet and knit when I was a teenager. I continued learning through books and magazines. The funny thing is that now my mom calls me “teacher,” because I am sharing with her new techniques that I have been learning through my reading and internet research, which is mostly in English (and my mom is not so fluent in it).
Lately I have been crocheting more than knitting, maybe because I find it easier and faster. But I actually love both. Each has its own charm.
UC: What inspired you to start designing?
Ana: I would define my inspiration in two words: easy and modern.
EASY. I confess I don’t like “difficult” when it comes my yarn crafts. It has to pleasurable for me…it is a hobby, not torture. Therefore, I am always looking for ways to make things easier and likable.
MODERN. I am always looking for modern options of classic or old-fashioned styles. Yarn pieces don’t have to be boring.
Both goals have kept my mind in a creative mode.
UC: Tell us about the crochet scene in Guatemala.
Ana: In general, here in Guatemala, crocheting and knitting are considered crafts for grandmothers and older people. But I think things are changing. Younger people are wanting to learn to knit or crochet, because nowadays there are more modern patterns and options in the yarn crafts. The yarn stores are now offering classes.
The problem that we have here in my country is that there are not many yarn stores; and the variety of yarn available is very poor. But we learn to work with what we have, and make the most of it. Personally, when I have the chance to travel, I love to make a stop at a yarn store and buy something special. (But, how much yarn can you bring in a suitcase? Not much!) (UC comment: I love visiting yarn shops when I travel, too! You can find shop reviews from my last trip here and here, and my Visitor’s Guide to New York City Yarn Shops here.)
UC: Tell us about your blog.Why did you decide on blogging in English and Spanish, and what are some of the challenges associated with bilingual blogging?
Ana: I started my blog a few years ago. I named it “Lanas & Hilos” which is Spanish for “Yarn and Thread.” I started blogging in Spanish, my native language. But later I started to connect and follow other bloggers in the world (from England, Germany, Holland, U.S., Canada, Israel, and Greece). Then I thought of adding an English version to connect and share with them.
I kept the Spanish version because I know many of my Latin friends don´t speak English. But adding English opened up the world for me.
UC: You have some great photos on your blog, and your own style of watermarking them that doesn’t look tacky. Do you have any advice for aspiring bloggers, especially on photography for those who struggle with capturing those perfect pictures?
Ana: From experience, I have a few tips for new bloggers:
Keep it clean and simple.
Show big pictures and keep the text short. Most people don’t have the time to read long posts.
Take your photos with lots of light, but not direct light. Later, you can always PhotoShop them. If you don´t have a computer program, there are a few free photo editors online, such as FotoFlexer, LunaPic, and PicMonkey (this last one is the one I usually use, and I love it). (UC comment: I use PicMonkey a lot too, and it is really fun!)
Watermark your photos (with the photo editor), preferably with a fading effect in order not to spoil the picture. Believe it or not, people “steal” photos in the internet, and the watermarks is a deterrent.
Share details of the pieces you are showing that might be interesting to readers, such as the pattern you used, and where you can get it, as well as yarn type, hook number, colors, etc.
UC: Do you have any favorite Spanish or English language crochet or craft blogs to share?
Ana: There are too many to even mention. Among my favorites are the ones I have on the sidebar of my blog.
I highly recommend searching blogs beyond “your circle of friends,” because there are a lot of new and interesting blogs opening every day. Side bars are very useful in this way. When you visit blogs, leave a comment. Many of them will visit your blog in turn, and that is a great way to meet new bloggers and make new friends. (UC comment: I completely agree. It’s actually through a German blogger, Barbara from Made in K-Town, that I discovered Ana’s blog. Barbara hosts a great monthly link party on The Crochet Boulevard and it is a great way to find crochet bloggers from all over the world.)
UC: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Ana: Probably most people think of me as a crocheter, but I love knitting as well. Actually I have been working on a knit scarf pattern, and I will share it with all of you soon!
Thanks for stopping by, Ana, and we’re looking forward to seeing that new knitting pattern soon!