Thank you to Underground Crafter for the invitation to write a guest blog. I’m delighted to have the opportunity to share my thoughts on Tunisian crochet.
First, a little bit about me. I became a crochet designer in a roundabout way. After writing several travel guides for Stackpole Books, editor Kyle Weaver asked me to do another guide to an area about ninety minutes away from my home. It just wasn’t the right project for me. My children were little, it would have involved a lot of commuting, and I didn’t have the essential insider knowledge that the book deserved. However, we really liked working together, and Kyle mentioned that Stackpole had just started a craft line. His exact question to me was, “Can you do anything?”
When I was browsing through a stitch dictionary while designing for Beyond Basic Crocheting, I came across something I hadn’t seen before: Tunisian crochet. I didn’t have a long Tunisian hook, but I tried a few stitches on a regular crochet hook. Wow! I had never seen fabric like that created with a crochet hook. It immediately hit me that Tunisian crochet was the perfect solution to the problem I refer to as “rivers of double crochet.” That look does not have much to commend it, in my opinion, and I am always disappointed when I see it in today’s designs. (I think when people disparage crochet, that’s the style they’re reacting to. Can’t blame ‘em.)
Anyway, Tunisian had none of that “loopy” look. I started with a swatch of Tunisian simple stitch. It went so fast! I remember laughing out loud because it was simply so much fun to do. Soon I grabbed some scrap variegated yarn to see how that would look. The way the colors on the return pass appeared between the vertical bars of the forward pass…it was stunning. In short order I tried every single Tunisian stitch pattern in that book. Wait a minute: you mean I can make fabric that looks knitted and purled? Lace? Cables? Relief stitches without having to work around a post? And I can do all of that with a crochet hook? I’m in!
After putting one Tunisian pattern in Beyond Basic Crocheting, I started thinking about a book with all Tunisian patterns. With the right size hook and the right weight of yarn, Tunisian didn’t have to be bulky or just for blankets. It was perfect for garments and accessories as well. I wanted to call the book Tunisian Crochet: Not Just for Afghans Anymore! but Stackpole preferred the more sedate Tunisian Crochet: The Look of Knitting with the Ease of Crocheting.
At that time is wasn’t unusual for crocheters to say, “Huh?” when I mentioned Tunisian crochet. But everyone I taught it to was crazy about it. This was near the beginning of what I happily think of as the Tunisian crochet renaissance. Other designers were discovering or re-discovering Tunisian and doing fantastic things with it.
Fast forward to today. The Tunisian crochet group on Ravelry has almost 5,000 members—we’re waiting for you! Major magazines now feature Tunisian patterns as a matter of course. And the books! Scads of books either exclusively Tunisian crochet, or with a substantial number of patterns. The Tunisian Crochet Group on Yahoo is an excellent resource and a place to get questions answered. And, of course, you can check YouTube for tutorials.
One indefatigable proponent of Tunisian crochet is Kim Guzman(interviewed by Marie here). I think I have all of her Tunisian crochet books. Kim wrote a wonderful post encouraging all of us to be Tunisian crochet cheerleaders. You can read it here.
The book opens with a stunning image of a stack of red crocheted items, and then shares a thumbnail of each of the designs in the table of contents. Not surprisingly, the book then launches into a series of notes, forewords, and prefaces (by the director of the Heart Truth, Deborah Norville, Vanna White, and Laura Zander), each of which discusses women’s heart health.
The next section of the book, Projects and Profiles, includes 30 patterns. Each pattern includes a designer profile. In many of these, the designer shares their own story related to heart health. Most patterns also include a health tip from the designer, such as their favorite heart healthy foods or exercise. Most patterns, especially the wearables, include multiple views of the project. The exceptions are the two wraps, neither of which is shown on a model, and the smaller projects, like the mitts, which just include one picture. The garment patterns also include schematics (in red, naturally). All patterns are written in U.S. crochet abbreviations, and five patterns also include international stitch symbols.
The next section, Heart-Healthy Living, includes a variety of information about heart health, such as self test, exercise recommendations, tips for staying motivated about healthy lifestyle changes, and nine recipes.
The Crochet Know-How section shares the standard “back of book” information like a glossary of abbreviations, hook sizes, yarn weights, and a US to UK abbreviation conversion chart. It also includes short photo tutorials of the basic crochet stitches (chain, single, slip stitch, half double, and double crochet) and the adjustable ring for crocheting in the round. The book ends with a bonus pattern, a list of yarn suppliers, and an index.
Throughout the book, images of mountains of red yarn, piles of red crocheted fabric, and models in red garments are presented against mostly white backgrounds. The contrast creates a really beautiful effect and you just want to keep flipping through the book. The layout is particularly helpful in the Heart-Healthy Living section because it contains a lot of text. The contrasting colors and the images break up the wall of text and keep the book visually interesting.
Overall, the book includes 31 patterns.
Women’s top (cardigans, tunics, shrugs, pullover, etc.): 9
Although this book has a stunning layout and a great collection of patterns by many of today’s most popular designers, there are a few things I wish were done differently. I would have liked to see the wraps on models, particularly since they can be challenging to style. I think many crocheters would want to see more patterns with international stitch symbols. Most of the garment patterns are in 3-4 sizes and some crocheters will be looking for more. The Heart-Healthy Living chapter is a bit lost at the end – putting it up front would have made everyone look through it and would probably have a greater impact on awareness. I wish there was more information about how much of the proceeds were going to The Heart Truth. (Is it a percentage? A fixed amount per book? Is there a maximum donation? etc.)
This is a surprisingly affordable collection of patterns, particularly since there are so many garments. I would give it 4 out of 5 stars for a crocheter who likes pattern collections and who enjoys crocheting projects for women.
Full disclosure: A free review copy ofCrochet Redwas provided by Sixth & Spring Books. Although I accept free products for review, I do not accept additional compensation, nor do I guarantee a positive review. My reviews are based entirely on my honest opinions.
Today’s Hispanic Heritage Month interview is with Teresa Alvarez, a Spanish crochet designer. Teresa primarily self-publishes and last year had her first designs published in magazines.
Teresa can be found online on Ravelry (as teresacompras and on her designer page) and on Twitter. All pictures are used with her permission and are copyright Teresa Alvarez unless otherwise noted. Click on the pictures of the designs to link to the pattern pages.
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you learn to crochet?
Teresa: I suppose this is a classic answer: I was taught to crochet by my mum. I’d been watching my mum knitting jumpers for my sister and myself for several years and I was intrigued by how to transform a skein of yarn into something so different. Now, let’s relate this to the summer I learnt to crochet…
I’ve always lived in cities where you have all sorts of shops and amenities, but when I was a child, my family used to spend a month in a small (really small) village in Castille. Imagine for a 10 year old girl spending 30 days without friends, playing all day with her younger sister, running out of books and comics and no bike! Let’s say it was exciting to learn how the cereal crop was harvested or looking for ant’s nests, but … there was something missing for me. So, one afternoon we went walking to the neighboring village (even smaller than the one we were holidaying!) to visit one of my mother’s aunts, and there I saw a scene I will never forget: all the old ladies were sitting on chairs outside their houses chatting and knitting … no!!! they were not knitting, they were crocheting!!!
I was intrigued and I said: I want to learn, who can teach me, please? And that’s how it began. My mother taught me the basic stitches: single crochet, double crochet and a new world opened for me. The remaining weeks were spent crocheting dresses for my dolls and for my sister’s dolls and for my aunts’ dolls. In fact, my aunts have kept the dolls with the dresses and when I visit them, they show them to me.
Then, I stopped crocheting. At the age of 15, I decided I wanted to knit, so I spent the summer knitting, then, guess? I stopped until 11 years ago, when I was pregnant with my son: I decided I wanted a blanket, a very colorful blanket…so I picked up my needles again…and I didn’t finish the blanket before he was born. Two years later, my daughter was born and then I decided that I was going to crochet again. Why? Well, I wanted to make toys for them and bags for me…and a crochet hook is safer than a knitting needle (at least that is what I think!).
The only thing that saddens me is that my mum hasn’t seen what I’m doing now, because she passed away 8 years ago. I would like to let her know, that I would never forget what she taught me. Now that my girl is learning the basic stitches, I feel like I’m continuing with something beautiful, something that bonds generations and people from all ages. I’ve tried out with my boy, but he prefers football (soccer!).
UC: What inspired you to start designing?
Teresa: My way into the designing world is curious. I’ve been up in Ravelry for some time. I uploaded my finished projects and I was delighted when someone favorited any of them. One day, I received a message from one guy working at Inside Crochet, asking if they could show one of the finished pieces in the reader’s section. Of course, I agreed.
When I saw the photo in the printed magazine, I was so delighted that I said to myself: ‘Tere, you have ideas, write them down, upload them to Ravelry and see what happens.’
In my own way, I’m a creative person. I don’t paint or make sculptures, but I’m a computer engineer, I’m used to ‘creating’ programs to solve problems and to writing papers about computers and routers (‘boring stuff’). I think that writing down a pattern is more fun than writing about the Internet.
The next step was to send patterns to magazines. When Inside Crochet accepted the Vintage Granny Clutch, I was jumping like crazy! But it was even better when the Abracadabra Bag was accepted for publication. Call it the luck of the novice! But it was very gratifying.
UC: Most of your patterns are for toys and bags. What appeals to you about crocheting these items?
Teresa: When I re‐entered the world of crochet, my son was almost 3 years old, and his sister was a few months old (a chubby baby!!!). I bought Ana Paula Rimoli’s book of amigurumi and a grey elephant was born. After several toys, I gained enough confidence to make a dress for my daughter, and many projects later I felt it was time to write my own patterns.
It seemed logical to go for toys and bags: the toys had two avid children waiting for them,whereas the bags had a bagaholic wanting to wear them(myself!!!!). Moreover, I usually crochet while my children are doing their homework, so I need something that is not very complex because my abilities of multitasking are quite limited: going through multiplications, sums, orthography, and the water cycle is not very compatible with designing a dress. Moreover, if they see me crocheting a toy, I can blackmail them: finish the homework and then the doll/monster/fish… will be yours!
Most of the bags I design were made for me, although my sister usually ‘borrows’ them and I end up without them, which is a good incentive to design a new one. You know! A woman cannot have enough bags!
UC: Most of your current patterns are self-published. What do you enjoy about being a self-published designer? What are some of the challenges?
Teresa: Designing is a hobby for me. My day job is at the University and I love it. I teach/lecture future Engineers, and research about congestion in Internet. Although secretly I would like to be a full time designer, I’m not. Truly, I do not know if I should say I’m a designer…I see my patterns as a way of tidying up the ideas I have in my head.
Self‐publishing is faster and I can publish all the weird ideas I have. Some designs are better than others. I wouldn’t even dare to send one of my monsters to amagazine, but I like them and I like to share them. So, when Ravelers send me messages telling me they like this or that toy, it’s rewarding.
My self‐published patterns are free. I think I will go on like this, self‐publishing, and from time to time, publishing in a magazine. However, I have to reckon that a book full of my toys would be a dream come true!
UC: You’re originally from Gijon but now you live in Valladolid, Spain. What was the yarn crafts scene like in Gijon when you were younger? How does it compare to the current scene in Valladolid?
Gijon and Valladolid are two middle size cities: there are around 300,000 inhabitants in Gijon and 400,000 in Valladolid. They are 240 km apart. The first is in the coast and the other almost in the center of Spain. I was raised in Gijon. Thirty years ago, there were quite a few yarn shops in the city. Knitting was more fashionable than crochet. Crochet was made by grannies. The pieces were usually bedspreads and tablecloths in white using a very fine thread. No fantasy there!
However, my mum made some crocheted clothes for my dolls. Knitting was a different matter: scarves, pullovers, coats, jackets,… Maybe, times were different and knitting garments was at the same time fun and a necessity. Slowly, yarn shops closed. Only those where the owners had a very good knowledge of knitting and crochet resisted the passage of time. Nevertheless, the variety of yarns decreased. Now, I lived in Valladolid. My mother-in-law has told me that the scene was the same as in Gijon.
UC: What about in 2013?
Teresa: I can say that both cities have evolved in the same way. There is a new interest for crochet and for knitting. Maybe, the newcomer is crochet: there is the possibility of attending courses of amigurumi, fabric yarn (trapillo in Spanish), and there are more varieties of yarns, but British and American shops (at least online) have more things to offer.
I think that this new interest has grown exponentially during the last two years. The first time I used the word amigurumi, no one understood whatI wassaying. If we talk about
hairpin crochet or Tunisian crochet, the same story… And, if we talk about tools: soft grip hooks, Tunisian hooks, it was like asking for an impossible mission. Now, some Clover hooks can be bought locally.
Five years ago, if I wanted a good selection of yarns or tools, I had to go online. Now, I can find more things locally. Even, I can buy online in Asturias (Gijon’s county) top‐end yarn brands. The same applies to Valladolid. We are talking about two medium‐sized cities, they are not Madrid or Barcelona. But I can say we have great expectations!
UC: Does your cultural background influence your crafting? If so, how?
Teresa: I think that I’m not a typical Spaniard, let me explain this: Although I’ve lived most of my life in Spain, I’ve spent several short periods living in the UK after finishing my degree. These stays have broadened my mind. So, when I began to crochet again and I couldn’t find what I was looking for in Spanish, I turned to the Internet and Amazon, and searched for patterns and books in English. Funnily enough, I learnt the term Tunisian crochet in English and then found the translation into Spanish: ganchillo con horquilla. I am more familiar with crochet terms in English (American and British) than in Spanish. A shame!
UC: Do you have any favorite Spanish or English language crochet or craft blogs to share?
I also visit their pages, follow on Ravelry and buy their books: Ana Paula Rimoli, Stacey Trock, Dora Ohrenstein, Doris Chan, Kristin Omdahl, and Robyn Chachula. Each of them is different: Paula’s designs are beautiful in their simplicity. Stacey’s toys are unique with the blo sc stitch. And what can be said of those dresses without seams by Doris. The designs of Dora, Kristin and Robyn are impressive! I cannot decide!!!!!
Thanks so much for stopping by Teresa! (And yes, I do think you can call yourself a designer!)
The next interview in the series will be posted on October 10 with Cirilia Rose.
Every Monday during National Crochet Month 2013, I’ll be interviewing crocheters. Today’s interview is with Mary Beth Temple, crochet designer, author, podcaster, teacher, editor, and publisher.
I’m thrilled today to present my interview with Mary Beth Temple. Like many crocheters, I first became aware of Mary Beth through her Getting Loopy podcast. This interview has been a long time in the making. Mary Beth was kind enough to sit down with me – twice – during Vogue Knitting Live back in January. We spoke at length about some of her current projects, trends in the crochet industry, and our mutual buddy, Charles Voth. (Charles is my cyber friend, and he is Mary Beth’s friend in real life.)
Much of the interview was informal and chatty, so I’ve edited it down for the blog today. Mary Beth is often known online as Hooked for Life (her publishing company) and she can be found on its website, Facebook, Patternfish, Twitter, and on Ravelry (as MBTemple, on her designer page, and in the Hooked for Life Publishing group). Archived episodes of her podcast, Getty Loopy, can be found on Blog Talk Radio. I somehow forgot to take a picture with Mary Beth at Vogue Knitting Live (chalk it up to being starstruck), but she has granted me permission to use pictures from her designs and website in this interview. Unless noted, pictures are copyright Hooked for Life, and will link to the pattern page on Ravelry.
Underground Crafter (UC): You’re pretty outspoken about including crochet at knitting events, and the extent to which people sign up for crochet classes (versus their level of complaining about the lack of crochet at an event). Can you talk about how you first got into that role as the crochet advocate at knitting events?
Mary Beth Temple (MBT): Part of it was because I had the Getting Loopy podcast. I don’t produce new episodes anymore but there are over a hundred episodes still available at Blog Talk Radio. I wound up speaking to a lot of people in the industry, not just in my role as a designer and an editor, but also in my role as podcast host. Getting Loopy won three awards, we had thousands and thousands of listeners – not as big as some of the knitting podcasts, but at the time, Getting Loopy was really the only ballgame for crochet only. There were other podcasts that addressed crochet, that were crochet inclusive, but we were it for crochet only.
I found myself really advocating as the leader of the Loopy Groupies. It was something that was a problem. I would sit at The National NeedleArts Association (which is our trade association), and we would go to the Yarn Group meetings and they would go, “The knitters…” and I would yell, “And crocheters!” People got sick of that so now they say knitters and crocheters.
There is no one right answer to this. On the one hand, I would like the knitting shows to be more supportive of crochet. On the other hand, the crocheters have to step up. On the other hand, there are crocheters that say, “Well, I can’t afford to go these big conferences.” Sometimes I feel like, particularly near the end of Getting Loopy, I was preaching to the choir. I mean, the people that were listening to Getting Loopy were advocating, they were the people taking classes and buying patterns and whatnot. So I couldn’t very well go on the show and rant that crocheters were not supporting the shows, because, of course, my listeners were, by and large.
So I get it – not everybody has unlimited funds. I get that there’s a swath of the market that does not want to be preached to about having to support the shows when they don’t want to. I’m not here to put a gun to anybody’s head. And I think that’s different for me. I think I was a “gun to the head” person five years ago and then the recession happened. If you can’t afford a $90 class – or, it’s not even an affordability issue, if you choose not to spend your money that way – it is not up to me to tell you how to spend your money.
I do think if it is not an affordability issue, and somebody is coming into your town or to your show, and you’re going to be there anyway, and it’s something you’re interested in, you should make a little extra effort to support that person. I’ve taken classes from teachers I admire that I didn’t even particularly care about the class subject, but I wanted to support the event.
So here at Vogue Crochet (laughs)… Vogue Crochet – Trisha [UC comment: Malcom, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Knitting] will kill me! Here at Vogue Knitting Live, in New York City, because I am local, there is somewhat less pressure on me to sell out because I don’t require an airline ticket and all that other stuff.
I will say, without pandering, Trisha Malcolm has been trying every year. This is never going to be a 50/50 crochet and knitting show, but that’s not what it’s meant to be. So let’s just say that in the same way that a girl doesn’t have to join the Boy Scouts, not everything is for everybody, and I do understand that. But we’ve tried different crochet classes every year, and we’re getting the hang of it. We’re starting to find out what works in this venue, and once we figure it out, we’ll get to do more.
UC: I know, I actually registered for her class last year and they contacted me and said it was cancelled.
MBT: And that had nothing to do with Jennifer. I had someone come up to me yesterday and say that Jennifer Hansen cancelled. Jen Hansen didn’t cancel – she would have been here! But at that point, it’s dollars and cents.
Again, I have a little more latitude because I’m not as expensive at this event for them. We’re trying new things. I’m teaching Bead Crochet tonight, we’ve never taught that here, so I don’t know. I’m teaching Tunisian Crochet Basics – that is a guaranteed sell out every time I teach it. I’m teaching Crochet Entrelac for the second time – that was very successful last year.
The other thing that I’m sort of interested in is using the numbers from this show. For example, last year, Crochet Entrelac was on the schedule and when we went into the final week, we had 11 students signed up which is not wonderful, but it’s ok – nobody’s unhappy with 11. 23 showed up.
UC: Hmm, so a lot of people registered on the day of the class or that weekend.
MBT: Right. To the point where we had to go find another room, because the room I was in would not accomodate 23 people, even with additional chairs. We did a little Girl Scout field trip through the hotel, looking for a ballroom, which again, Vogue Knitting was right there. They got us a bigger room, they helped us move everybody, I offered to stay late, so that nobody missed any material, and we did it.
That is a very small study. Extrapolating that data, I wonder if crocheters are not necessarily cheap so much as slower to sign up.
UC: Are you finding that most of the people in your classes identify themselves as crocheters, as bicraftual, or as knitters looking to learn crochet? Who do you usually attract at these more knitting focused events?
MBT: Tunisian, believe it or not, is mostly knitters.
UC: I do believe that, actually.
MBT: The other classes are, by and large, knitters who crochet. Now, again, shout out to the local guilds, because they do put their money where their mouth is. If I’m going to be anywhere within a 5 hour drive – God Bless the New York City guild, the Long Island guild, and the Connecticut guild. Now are they all coming to Crochet Entrelac tomorrow? No, because they took it last year. But that class is selling very nicely. So I’ll find out tomorrow if they’re knitters or crocheters or people that identify as bicrafty. It’ll be interesting.
I’m teaching Bead Crochet, tonight, and that’s new, and I happen to know that has a lot of guild members in it. That’s something new that they can take from me that they haven’t taken before. Tonight, we’re experimenting with shorter classes, sort of entry level, that are two hours, they’re less expensive, it’s not as big of a time commitment, they don’t have homework, and they only accomodate 20 people. It would be an easier sell out. As of yesterday, the class was not sold out, but as of tonight – you never know what you’re going to get when you walk in the room.
UC: I’m wondering about your new book, Curvy Girl Crochet: 25 Patterns that Fit and Flatter. Again, I feel that you’re the torchbearer. There are so few books about garment design – not just patterns – for crocheters. Can you tell me a little about the process behind this book and how it came to be?
MBT: Curvy Girl was an absolute labor of love. When I agreed to write… You know, there’s a whole process for getting books to market. The publisher has a vote, the sales department has a vote, the author has a vote, you know, everybody’s got what they want. A successful book is one where everybody goes in, if not happy, then at least content with how things worked out.
When we were negotiating to do Curvy Girl, [there were] two things that I felt very strongly about:
That we did not have size 8 models and call them plus sized. I wanted actual size 22 models in the book. And I felt strongly enough that I might lose that battle that I made sure we talked about it going in. This was not an adversarial thing, but I wanted to make sure that everybody was on the same page, that when I said plus sized, I don’t mean the size 6 girl that won America’s Next Top Model. I wanted actual adult women who wear larger sizes.
The other one, and I was fairly insistent, [was] that I be given the real estate to get that modification in there. I’ve said this 18 times, but I’ll probably say it 100 more: If you put five size 0 women in a room, they’re built very similarly. If you put five 2X women in a room, they’re not built very similarly. Beautiful plus sized patterns are one thing, but for the vast majority of that audience – including myself – it’s not going to fit right without modifications.
The thing I’m leading the torch on now [is] I think there are hundreds of thousands of competent crocheters who stick to scarves and blankets and hats because they’re afraid that they are going to spend a lot of time, or a lot of money, or a lot of both, and come out the other end with a garment that does not suit them. And that’s not just plus sized women, that’s everybody.
If you want to know what torch I’m carrying around now, it’s to try and convince some of these rectangle and square crocheters that they can dip their toe in the garment water and it’s not so scary as they think. It’s not scary because they don’t have the skills; it’s scary because they didn’t have the information. And now they do.
UC: They tried that pattern that didn’t have enough information, and they couldn’t resize where they needed to.
MBT: Or, it was boxy, or it was bulky, or both. So here [in Curvy Girl Crochet, you have]: lightweight yarns, elastic stitch patterns, waist shaping – or take it out if you don’t need it. Here’s how you measure you arm and find out how your sleeve needs to be.
You don’t want to measure yourself because that makes you uncomfortable, for whatever reason? Go to the store, buy a sweater that fits nice on you, take it home and measure it. Take it back, if you need to. I’m trying to put every trick in there that I have to take the stress level off garment crochet.
UC: Can you talk about what motivated you to start the Getting Loopy podcast, and your reasons for deciding to finish it?
MBT: This sounds kind of silly, but I had seen an advertisement for Blog Talk Radio (it was new at the time), and I thought, well that looks like fun, I want to play with it! Our first couple of shows were on Monday afternoon at 2 p.m., because when you’re new to Blog Talk Radio, before you’ve developed a following, you can’t get the prime time hours. And I thought, I’m going to talk about crochet, because that’s what I’m interested in.
Our first guest was Amy O’Neill Houck, who is now in Alaska, who is a designer friend of mine. I called up and said, I want to do this thing, and she said, “I’ll do it!” So the first six or eight episodes were mostly my friends. Somebody said later, why do you have so many designers on the show? Well, who else am I going to torture but my friends? (laughs) That’s how it got started and the first episode had like 37 listens that week, and it went on from there.
We moved to the prime time spot on Monday night. The fun thing about Getting Loopy was the chat room. There’s a group of people that still talk to each other because of the Getting Loopy chat room. They call themselves the Loopy Groupies. They’re all over. It’s really cool to go out into the world five years later and they’re like, “We’re Loopy Groupies!” and they’re there and they’re waiting for you.
The downside to that is it committed me to Monday night at 9 p.m. I did Getting Loopy for three years, I did over 100 episodes, and it got to the point as my design career started to take off, that… I hate to put everything down to money, but it’s a lot of time to run Getting Loopy. So then Blog Talk Radio said the only way that I could keep my time slot now that I had made it valuable was to pay for it. So a year before I was ready to end the show, some of the Loopy Groupies got together and did a pledge drive, and raised the $500 I would have needed to keep the time slot. So I ran it one more year, and [the fee] was going to roll around a second time, and they offered to do it again, but… I’m gonna offend some people here.
It’s much like public television, in which the same 50 people would have contributed again, and the other 23,000 that had listened to the show were not going to chip in a dime. Again, I didn’t want to charge for it, and I know some podcasters have gotten sponsors. I never wanted to go that route. The only way that I could manage Getting Loopy on my schedule was to do whatever the heck I wanted. I just didn’t want to take to take money from a yarn company or a magazine or a publisher, because no matter that they said you can keep control of your show, I would have felt in the back of my head that it might have changed my outlook on things and I never wanted to do it. That is not to say that people who take sponsorship are bad – I don’t mean that.
UC: Right, it’s just not your personal approach.
MBT: It just wasn’t for me, and in addition, it would have had to be managed. Somebody would have had to deal with the artwork and putting up ads and collecting the money, and really this is the stuff I have no time for.
So we ended when we did because the money that they had fundraised the year before had run out. And even so, that money only paid for the Blog Talk Radio fees, but it didn’t pay the website hosting, or the graphic design, or all that other stuff. I had a totebag sale and that raised some money. But it got to the point where I’d rather be designing new projects than running fundraisers for Getting Loopy.
In addition, I also felt toward the end like I had said everything I had to say. I found myself repeating a little bit. And then it suddenly turned into we were plugging whatever the new book was, which doesn’t interest me. As a platform, I felt I was getting ranty, and nobody listens to you when you rant. I just felt like we were done.
I have had many, many requests to bring the show back. I would consider doing it monthly, and I would more than likely tape in the afternoons to avoid the fees. So is it dead forever? Absolutely not. And there’s 115 episodes that people can still listen to. It amazes me that I still get emails from shows that I taped four years ago. People will say, “When you taped that episode, I was not interested in that topic, but as I’ve grown as a stitcher, I’ve gotten interested. And I can go to Blog Talk Radio and I can listen to the show you did on that topic, and now it’s really relevant for me.”
And, we used to host the Flamie Awards, so we would do a huge 2 hour extravaganza with people calling in from all over the world. So it was fun, but as my business has grown, I don’t have the time to give it the attention it needs, and it doesn’t earn enough money for me to hire somebody to do the scut work.
UC: Considering that you’ve worked in so many aspects of the industry – as a designer, podcaster, self-publisher, author, tech editor, etc. – do you have any tips you would give someone that is considering coming into the yarn industry as a professional?
MBT: The reason I do so much, and the reason I do what I do, is multiple income streams. And that makes me sound like a Amway salesman, but there’s going to be an ebb and flow in the natural dynamic of any small business. You’re going to have a hit pattern that sells 1,000 copies in two weeks, and the next four patterns are not going to sell at all, or they’re going to sell slowly, or they’ll sell a year later, and you cannot predict that.
So my theory is if there’s magazine money coming in, and there’s indie pub money coming in, and there’s book publishing money coming in, and then there’s royalty checks coming in, and then there’s a kickback from KnitPicks coming in from their IDP program, and then I get a teaching fee, it all balances out.
UC: So you would basically recommend that people diversify their income.
MBT: Yes. That said, I don’t want people to feel like they have to start doing everything at once. I mean, I started out doing magazine work, and then said, well that’s not enough money so I started Hooked for Life. Hooked for Life is very well established right now, so then I added the teaching.
UC: So you staged your growth.
MBT: Yes, but not on purpose. That’s just how it worked out.
UC: What’s next for you?
MBT: My next booklet that’s coming out the first of a series I’m writing for SoHo Publishing. It’s called Easy Cowls to Crochet. It will be out January 27 and it will be exclusively available at Jo-Ann Fabric for six months. (UC comment: Ravelry members can see patterns from the booklet here.)
There’s some new Hooked for Life stuff coming out. The Hooked for Life website has been upgraded and there’s a store coming with crochet kits.
I have a series of beaded jewelry designs that are being released over the next few weeks, some of which made their debut here at Vogue Knitting Live.
I’ll be at the Knit and Crochet Show in October. That’s a biannual event, but I’m not going to [the summer show in] Indianapolis. I’ll be teaching four classes in October.
I haven’t sold my next book yet, but I’m doing three more booklets for SoHo Publishing that will come out in 2013. I’m also a contributing pattern editor for the next Vogue Crochet issue with Charles Voth. We come as a team. And Robyn Chachula is also a contributing editor. We’re helping put the issue together. We don’t pick what goes in, but once they’ve made the selections, Charles and Robyn and I help them make the magazine, and that’s actually a lot of fun.
UC: Did you work on the last issue of Vogue Crochet?
MBT: Yes, I did. I had one design in the last one, and I’ll have two in the next one.
UC: That’s great. I heard the last issue sold out.
MBT: In about a minute and a half. (UC comment: Issues are still available for the iPad here.)
UC: People say that those special issues won’t sell, but I think people are starved for fashion crochet.
MBT: Well, here we’ve been saying for all these years that crochet doesn’t have to look crappy. So let’s get some crochet stuff and give it to a Vogue stylist! The stuff looked awesome. Even if it wasn’t your personal style, looking through that issue was like candy.
UC: That’s definitely Vogue’s strength in terms of how they present their look. It looks great, and you might want to make it. Sometimes the pattern can be great, but it looks frumpy the way it has been styled.
MBT: It also looked fashion forward. We’ve been saying for years that crochet can be fashion forward – because it can be! I mean, look at the runways! But if you style it on someone with too much hairspray, in a turtleneck under a corduroy blazer, then it looks old, like it’s old fashioned. And that’s what we’re trying to avoid. That’s the ballgame, so far as far as I’m concerned – to make this stuff look as good in the craft magazines as it does on the runway.
Thanks so much for spending time talking to me at such a busy show, Mary Beth! And for your patience in waiting for me to publish this interview :).
It’s been almost 6 weeks since I last participated in Work in Progress Wednesday and Yarn Along. Life got very busy and I was mostly working on secret projects, so there was nothing too exciting to share. I’m happy to be back with a (very) little something and am looking forward to checking out what everyone else is up to, also.
As far as reading, I finished up How To Love Your Job Or Find A New One by Joanna Penn a few weeks ago. I love her blog and was very excited to receive a review copy. (You can read my review here.) Right now, I’m about a third of the way through The Last Man by Mary Shelley. Mary and her mother are two of my favorite historical figures, and Frankenstein is one of my favorite books of all time. So far, I’m loving the experience of being immersed in Mary Shelley’s “future,” which seems to me so clearly in the past! (I especially love how the super futuristic mode of transport is the “sailing balloon.”) Nonetheless, I’ve been completely sucked into the book and have been snatching little reads every night.
(Join along with me any time if you need a head start or moral support for your holiday crafting. You can read more details here.)
I was feeling really good about my Holiday Stashdown progress last week, when I somehow completed an entire gift in one day.
But then I happened to look at a calendar. You may remember that my personal Holiday Stashdown deadline is Sunday, November 18 because I hate shopping after Black Friday. Well, since that date is only about 11 weeks from now, it looks like I need to get moving on these holiday gifts.
Most of my projects are small and can probably be completed within a week if I create a schedule and stick to it. I decided to look at my list – again – and think about the order. I’m currently working on an infinity scarf using the Bruges lace pattern I designed for one of the ladies in my dad’s family.
I think I’ll work on the remaining projects in this order:
Week of 9/3: Knit a cabled for my dad’s partner.
Week of 9/10: Finish the hexagon Christmas stocking for my grandfather.
Week of 9/17: Crochet a scarf for another lady in my dad’s family.
Week of 9/24: Knit a hat for my uncle.
Week of 10/1: Crochet a scarf for another lady in my dad’s family.
Week of 10/8: Make a hat or a pair of house slippers in charcoal grey for my special guy. I’m not sure yet if this project will be crocheted or knit, or what pattern I’ll use.
Week of 10/15: Crochet the last scarf for a lady in my dad’s family.
Week of 10/22: Make something for my sister. I’ve thought about using these slipper soles I bought for her a few years back, but I’m not sure if that will be too warm for her since she now lives in New Orleans?
Week of 10/29: Crochet a scarf for my high school BFF, CG.
Week of 11/5: Knit a hat for my other high school BFF, JM. I’ve been thinking of using this pattern since he’s a coffee fiend.
Week of 11/12: Finish the Pineapple Doily Shawl, which I can give to my mom since it is made with yarn from her mother’s stash.
Week of 11/19: If everything on this list is completed, start working on pet gifts at a leisurely pace.
This sounds really (perhaps overly) ambitious, but I am going to go for it! If you are working on your holiday gifts now, have you had to switch around your priorities as the summer comes to an end?
Feel free to share your progress on your personal holiday gift making journey in the comments!
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I’ve been really trying to reduce my yarn stash this year. But, you also know that I find giveaways very hard to resist – and I’m kinda lucky.
So when I saw this giveaway on Robyn Chachula‘s blog, I had to enter. In my defense, it wasn’t clear exactly how much yarn would be in each of the five goodie bags Robyn was assembling. Even after winning, I was blissfully ignorant for the next few days.
And then, this arrived.
And when I opened it, this is what I saw.
I may have lost consciousness for a few seconds. But then I came to and took some more pictures. Here’s what I found inside the box:
A notions case - I’ve been using this to store all the goodies for the socks I’m making for the Ravellenic Games. It is the only one I have long enough to fit the size 1 double pointed needle I’ll be using as a cable needle.
A circular Susan Bates Velocity knitting needle – This looks like just the right size for subway knitting.
Thanks, Robyn, for sharing all of these wonderful goodies with me! It certainly didn’t help with my stashbusting efforts, but I’m thrilled nonetheless.
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first get started crocheting?
Sharon: I always liked arts and crafts. When I was little, I used to make mosaics from kits, do paint-by-number, and make what we used to call “horse rein”–I think the device is called a “Knitting Nancy” or something like that. My mother taught me to knit, which I didn’t do very well, then she taught me to crochet when I was 7 or 8. I loved it from the beginning.
Sharon: I often made up my own patterns for home decor and accessories, but never considered myself a designer. For my first crochet title,Basic Crocheting, I needed a sweater pattern. I hired a designer to provide one, but it wasn’t what I was looking for. I thought to myself, “Well, you’ve made so many sweaters over the years from other people’s patterns, how hard can it be to come up with one yourself?” I developed a chevron sweater pattern that was easy to scale up to various sizes. It had some simple shaping so it fit well. It was at that point that I started to think of myself as a designer.
UC: Where do you generally find your creative inspiration?
Sharon: Inspiration is everywhere! I get ideas from nature, architecture, artwork, furniture, fashion…and sometimes from what’s missing in my closet. You know the scene in The Sound of Music where Maria looks at the draperies and thinks, “Play clothes!”? Sometimes it’s like that for me. I see the colors in a flower or the shape of a cabinet pull, and I can picture a crocheted item based on that. I often feel like a crochet engineer.
My esthetic at home leans toward the Japanese style, with clean lines, a few carefully chosen embellishments, and a minimum of clutter. I appreciate subtlety in design, which I suppose is why in variegated yarns I prefer ones that change slowly around a strong central color rather than the more rainbow-y colorways.
UC: Your newest book, Crochet Scarves: Fabulous Fashions – Various Techniques includes scarf patterns using crochet, Tunisian crochet, broomstick lace, and filet crochet. You also work with some unusual yarns (such as a woven yarn). What was the design process like for this book?
Sharon: My overall goal was for crocheters to have an excellent experience with the book, and to find interesting patterns they could successfully complete and would be proud to wear or to give as gifts. I wanted to make sure that newer crocheters would find friendly patterns and would be comfortable enough to extend their skills, and that experienced crocheters would find fun and intriguing designs to hold their attention.
Within that framework, I had several design goals for the book. The scarves had to be variety of shapes, textures, colors, and techniques. There are skinny scarves, chunky scarves, a shaped collar, a turtleneck cowl, solid colors, variegated colors, stripes…some are for warmth while others are purely for fashion.
I wanted to introduce crocheters to some wonderful hand-dyed yarns, like those from Space Cadet Creations and from Kangaroo Dyer. I also use some high-quality mass-produced yarns. Price can be a consideration, even for something like a scarf that does not use a tremendous amount of yarn, and I kept that in mind when I was sourcing the yarns.
Woven yarn is one of those products that seems impossible to figure out at first glance. I kept looking at the knitted sample in the yarn store, and realized that if you can knit with it, you can crochet with it, too. The funny thing about that yarn is when non-yarn folks see your creations, they gasp, “You MADE that?” They think you made the yarn itself! It’s actually quite easy to work with, so I included a scarf that uses woven yarn to create a beautiful ruffle.
As for the variety of techniques, my Tunisian Crochet book got a lot of interest so there is definitely a need for more Tunisian patterns. Seven of the twenty-one scarves in the new book are Tunisian crochet. I’ve been intrigued with broomstick lace for a while, so I included one broomstick lace design. Filet crochet is another technique that I think everyone should try. The right filet crochet design makes a gorgeous garment–it’s not just for tablecloths and doilies.
UC: You have a lot of step-by-step photos and picture tutorials in the book. Tell use about your decision to include those.
Sharon: Ideally, I would be able to look over your shoulder while you crochet so I could answer questions and offer guidance. “Put the hook here, not there.” “Remember, in Tunisian crochet you don’t turn the work.” “Pull the fringe through from the right side.” Since I can’t be there in person, I want the written instructions, technique photos, and charts to be my surrogate. I try to anticipate where a crocheter might get tripped up, and insert a photo to clarify things.
It takes a lot of time and planning to think all of that through and to get the step-outs ready. Alan Wycheck, the book’s photographer, is terrific at capturing motion in still photos.
This is the first book in which I’ve included symbol charts. A lot of people are visual learners who appreciate charts to supplement written instructions. I responded to this need by developing the charts.
UC: You’ve had a variety of roles in the crochet industry, including writer, designer, writer, teacher, and TV star. What advice do you have for aspiring professionals?
Sharon: Ha ha, TV star! I don’t think that three appearances on HGTV‘s Uncommon Threadsqualifies me for that title, but maybe I’ll make your compliment come true one day!
My advice for aspiring professionals:
Get organized. Find a way to keep track of your work, your proposals, your finances.
Hone your crocheting and your pattern-writing skills. Take classes. Attend conferences. Study magazines and books to learn the proper format. It is ESSENTIAL to write your patterns as you go along, not to try to figure out what you did when the item is all finished. Believe me, I know how tempting it is to crochet something to completion and not take the time to write down the row-by-row instructions, but that is the path to pattern doom.
Have your patterns edited and tested. You can start by asking friends do this for you. Remember that making something and writing the instructions for someone else to make it are two very different skill sets. Don’t assume that everyone using your pattern will know what you do–make the instructions complete.
Take advantage of the resources available to you, including the Crochet Guild of America, Ravelry, books, and websites. (UC comment: I have to second Sharon on this one. I had a wonderful mentor, Mary Nolfi, through CGOA’s mentoring program.)
Assess your skills and potential realistically. If you are fantastic at making things but hate writing patterns, maybe you are better off selling your finished items than doing design. Just because you love crocheting, doesn’t mean you can make a living at it. But that’s okay, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing: many designers have family responsibilities and/or other work to supplement their crochet business. There’s nothing wrong with having a hobby that earns you a few extra dollars now and then.
Be professional and respectful. When approaching people in industry, be it designers, editors, or yarn company representatives, keep in mind that their time is their most precious resource. Don’t ask them to create your business plan. Don’t ask them how to get started–it’s your job to figure that out. Book and magazine publishers have guidelines that potential contributors must follow. Research those before you approach an editor with a submission, and make sure you follow their procedures. That said, most people in the industry are happy to help. Ask a specific question rather than an open-ended one, and you will most likely get a useful answer. Follow up with a thank-you when you get a response.
ALWAYS respond calmly and constructively to a question or criticism, even if the person asking is completely off-base. Keep any indignation and sarcastic thoughts to yourself! I’ve had someone complain about a book because she was disappointed that it didn’t contain a design for a purse…when in fact there is a pattern for a clutch! (Maybe she didn’t realize that a “clutch” is a kind of purse…?) You can’t get too worked up about stuff like that. Be gracious if someone finds a mistake in your work, and correct the error immediately. Keep things professional, not personal.
Keep track of your expenses as well as your income. It may feel exciting to be offered $300 for a pattern, but that has to be examined in the context of what you spent–including your time. If you paid $40 for yarn, $10 on shipping, 30 hours crocheting and writing up the pattern, and $25 to a friend to test it, $300 of income might not seem so great.
(UC comment: Wow, thanks, Sharon, for being so generous with your advice. Many newbies have to find out these things the hard way!)
UC: What are your favorite crochet books in your collection (besides your own, of course)?
UC: Do you have any crafty blogs or websites to share?
Sharon: StitchDiva has excellent patterns and online tutorials in several techniques including Tunisian crochet, broomstick lace, and hairpin lace. NexStitch also has very helpful videos. Everyone should check out Craftsy. And your blog and others like it are wonderful resources for crocheters! (UC comment: Aww, thanks, Sharon!)
UC: What are you up to next?
Sharon: During the next few months I’ll be doing the blog book tour for Crochet Scarves. I’ll be at the Lion Brand Yarn Studio in NYC–in person!–on October 4 for a talk and book-signing. Anyone who is interested in the event should sign up on the Studio’s mailing list.
I’m currently evaluating my short- and long-term business plans. With so many free patterns available, it’s important to consider whether selling patterns is a viable long-term proposition. In the meantime, I have several book and leaflet ideas that I’m working on. Some of my patterns have been chosen by a yarn shop owner who is packaging them into kits–I hope that venture is successful. I’ll share more about that when her business is up and running.
I’m also in discussions with interior designers who are interested in high-end custom crochet pieces for their clients.
I love to teach (especially Tunisian crochet) and am open to invitations from any group or shop that wants to host!
Most of all, I want to express my appreciation to people who use my patterns. I enjoy hearing from them and hope they will share pictures of their work.
Thanks so much for stopping by for an interview, Sharon, and for sharing your advice with us!
The Book Review
Although I generally prefer “technique books” to “pattern books,” I was eager to check out my review copy of Crochet Scarves: Fabulous Fashions – Various Techniques from Stackpole Books. On the surface, this seems like it would be a straightforward book of scarf patterns. Instead, it is chock full of step-by-step tutorials and lessons for different crochet techniques.
The book includes 21 scarf patterns. The patterns use Tunisian crochet, broomstick lace, filet crochet, and “standard” crochet techniques like increasing and decreasing, bobbles, and post stitches. The patterns includes a range of skill levels (4 easy, 11 intermediate, and 6 experienced). Each pattern is introduced briefly, shown in a photograph (usually on a mannequin), and then presented as a pattern. Even the simpler patterns include several photographs of the stitches being worked, and the more complicated patterns include several pages of step-by-step photos. The progress pictures are presented before the pattern instructions, which are shown using both U.S. crochet terminology and international stitch symbols.
Although all of the patterns are for scarves, Sharon manages to keep the styles diverse enough to hold your attention. My favorite patterns are Accordian Arrows, Changing Tides, Diamond Loop, Grecian Ladders, Premium Cable (which includes a great tutorial on Tunisian cables), Monet’s Village, and Sea Splash. This is a book that you can definitely grow with, as there are plenty of techniques and stitches to learn. There is even a Techniques section in the back which includes step-by-step photos of all the basic crochet and Tunisian crochet stitches, as well as tips on pattern reading. At the end of the book, there is a small photo of each pattern with the corresponding page number, so it is easy to find your favorites.
There are a few things that could be improved. The book is a paperback, and, like most paperbacks, doesn’t lay flat when open. This makes it challenging to read along or look at the step-by-step photos while crocheting. The projects are shown on mannequins and against neutral backgrounds, but it would be helpful (and more attractive) to see the scarves on people. Finally, I don’t agree that the Cactus Lace broomstick lace pattern is at the experienced skill level. I think that designation may scare off a relative newbie to crochet, when broomstick lace is actually quite simple (especially with Sharon’s step-by-step photos).
Overall, I would give this book 4 out of 5 stars. I recommend it for beginner and intermediate crocheters who want to make relatively simple projects while also learning new skills. An adventurous newbie who learns well from photographs could use this book to learn to crochet. And, of course, if you like making scarves, this is definitely the book for you.
The nice folks at Stackpole Books have been generous enough to donate a second copy of Crochet Scarvesfor this giveaway, so I get to keep my review copy :). This giveaway is open to all readers. Enter by 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday, July 19, 2012.
Leave a comment telling me about your crochet scarf experience. Do you like to make scarves for yourself or for gifts, or are you new to crocheting scarves?
Last year, I (briefly) met Tatyana at the Crochet Master Classbook signing at the Lion Brand Yarn Studio. I had the choice of taking her Bruges crochet class or a woven crochet class with Jenny King, who was visiting from Australia. I knew that Tatyana also teaches at Knit-A-Way, the LYS around the corner from my Dad’s apartment, so I decided to take the class with Jenny. Recently, my work schedule seemed to match the Knit-A-Way class schedule, so I called the shop to sign up for the class. After several conversations about the time and dates with the owner (more about her in this post), I started what has turned out to be a series of private lessons with Tatyana (!) last week.
It’s been a great experience to interact with Tatyana as a student. I try to see take a class with another teacher at least once a year (more about why here), and Tatyana is truly a master teacher as well as a master designer. She brought so many amazing pieces of her Bruges crochet work with her, and I was incredibly inspired.
I assumed the shop required me to buy yarn there and I got a bit overwhelmed when I entered the shop five minutes before class. (I’ve been on a yarn diet for so much of this year that I now feel that every yarn purchase needs hours of contemplation!) I wanted to buy a natural fiber that didn’t require winding so I could start crocheting right away. I ended up getting a skein of Lamb’s Pride Worsted from the Brown Sheep Company. I’ve never used their yarns but I’ve heard a lot of positive things. On the shelf, it appeared to be more of a lilac color, but it magically transformed into pink once I sat down with Tatyana. (Ok, the colorway is called Victorian Pink. But I didn’t notice that on the label when I bought it!) The yarn itself is lovely, but I should have purchased a lighter weight yarn so the lacy aspect of Bruges crochet would be more evident.
I actually didn’t need much yarn for this first class anyway, as Tatyana brought several samples of partially completed “tape” that she showed me how to join. My homework is to make my own samples of the Bruges crochet curve, square, and oval, and then to create the “tape” for specific lengths that will transform into the circle and the wave pattern in the next class. I’m now on the lookout for something lighter weight to use for the samples and in the next class. Does this mean I get to go yarn shopping again??
I am so excited to share an interview with Vashti Braha today. I first learned about Vashti’s work because, as you know, I love Tunisian crochet, and she has designed some amazing Tunisian crochet patterns. I’m a devoted subscriber to her Crochet Inspirations newsletter. If you love to crochet, you should sign up, too. Vashti’s newsletter somehow simultaneously looks at crochet with the fresh and inspired eyes of a precocious newbie and the wisdom of an ancient master. Every time I read it, I am inspired to pick up my hook!
All pictures in this interview are used with Vashti’s permission.
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first get started crocheting?
Vashti: My earliest memories are of my Mom crocheting, knitting, and embroidering. I would sit with her for hours and try to untangle the yarn in her yarn basket while she crocheted on the couch. It felt very natural to learn how to crochet from her one day when I was nine. This was 1973. I remember thinking “Aha! Now I have the power to make anything I need to survive.” I was thinking of Tarzan, Gilligan’s Island, and Hodge Podge Lodge at the time–I imagined crocheting myself a hammock, tether, sack, or other survival item.
The first things I made were clothes and accessories for my younger sister’s dolls. (Her passion at the time.)
UC: What inspired you to start designing?
Vashti: Until I was 30-something, somehow I never noticed that real people wrote patterns for crochet designs! I changed as a crocheter when my son was born in 1999. I set new challenges for myself, took on ambitious projects, and read new kinds of crochet books and patterns. I started noticing how each designer had a different style. That’s when I imagined what I might design some day.
Thanks to the new online crochet world that was developing at the time, I learned about the CGOAChain Link conferences. At a conference in 2004, I unexpectedly sold my first designs and was on my way.
UC: You originally started your crochet career selling your designs to other publishers. Now, you are almost entirely self-published. Can you talk about that shift – what inspired it and what are some of the challenges and rewards you see as your own publisher?
Vashti: I became an independent designer and publisher due to a combination of factors. Freelancing (selling designs to other publishers) was not a perfect fit for me. Then, as the industry changed, I reached a breaking point with it. I’m glad to see that more recently it has been improving in some ways for freelancers.
I’m going to rant a bit now, and I’m only speaking for myself. Every designer is unique, so I don’t pass judgment how any other designer goes about their business. Also, a few of the issues I list below have improved since I started publishing independently, and I do still freelance here and there.
For years, the print publishing industry in general has been battling rising print costs, a rigid and bloated hierarchy of middlemen, and new forms of digital competition. Crochet publishing has also been promoting outdated assumptions about crochet and about intellectual property rights. Until very recently, I think every new crochet designer started out freelancing. As far as I know, being published (in a print magazine or book, or by a yarn company) was the only game in town.
Unfortunately, some time after I began designing, the publishers’ rising costs were being passed along to the designers: in other words, pay rates for designs started stagnating. I’d like to know if the amount paid to the production staff, the printing presses, the postal services, etc., was also flattening and drifting downwards!
Not only that, we designers were also supposed to work harder for the same or lower pay: write the pattern for 4 to 6 sizes instead of 1 to 3; provide schematics and stitch diagrams; add special tips and swatches in alternate colors; etc. All this, and still keep the pattern short!
Do you know what kinds of designs meet these requirements the best? The ones made of a few big squares. For a designer, that’s a rudimentary way to design a fashion item! It also limits the development of crochet’s potential. For the rest of the industry, however, this kind of crochet pattern seems to be the favored way to sell yarn. Well, I don’t go to the trouble to design something, and write up the pattern for it as clearly and accurately as possible (in 5 sizes, with diagrams, etc.) so that I can sell someone else’s yarn and lose all rights to my intellectual property as a bonus LOL!
I’m hearing from designers that with a few exceptions, companies have been slow to take the edge off for a pretty essential part of the industry, the designers! Instead, to add insult to injury:
Sometimes contracts have not been provided even when requested; if so, nothing is negotiable;
It’s breezily mentioned that your projects were stolen or given away;
Big and obvious project photography notes from the designer are disregarded so that the project is photographed inside out or upside down;
The pattern is redesigned without permission from the designer, usually by the tech editor (who can be quite surly!).
Yarn companies need designs to sell yarn. What are pattern magazines, leaflets, and books without patterns? But not just any patterns! New ones, distinctive ones; yet some publishers recycle the same design with no additional compensation to the designer. What crocheter wants to pay for a design twice? Even if the publisher changes the yarn, crocheters still know it — this means that good design matters to crocheters.
There reached a point when it stopped making sense to me to pursue freelancing. More crochet was appearing on fashion runways, and I was teaching trendy crochet design. I couldn’t see submitting trendy design proposals, then waiting 6 months to find out if they would be published 6-12 months after that, when I could publish them myself online in as little as a few hours. Almost every day a new way to publish and go directly to fellow crocheters presented itself. I remember when Etsy happened, and free blogging, and then…Ravelry!
I keep the proposal deadlines in mind of some of the larger publishers. So far, I’ve been preoccupied with my own learning curve -learning how to produce my newsletter, use SEO and analytics, understand Facebook’s latest changes, etc. Before I know it, a freelance deadline has passed me by, so I look to the next ones. A design of mine is in a new book, Simply Crochet: 22 Stylish Designs for Everyday. Another one is in a forthcoming Tunisian crochet book by Dora Ohrenstein.
UC: I love the Designing Vashti newsletter, especially how you share your inspirations and explorations of different techniques. How did you decide upon using that format to share your adventures in crochet?
Vashti: Thanks so much! I feel honored when a crocheter is interested enough to say, “You may email me every two weeks.” It makes each issue a special occasion and I want to make the most of it. I have a sense of intimacy with my subscribers and this causes me to write about crochet in a contemplative way.
I chose the newsletter format for two main reasons:
It’s the easiest and best type of “headquarters” I could create for people who want to know when I come out with new designs, offer classes, and other news.
I made a commitment to my inner crocheter to do for crochet, and for fellow crocheters, what I wish were already being done. I like thinking about crochet. I get plenty of newsletters in my inbox about yarn, crochet, or knitting, and I always hope they’ll give me something to think about. My subscriber list has grown constantly since the first issue in October, 2010, so I’m not the only one out there who likes to think about crochet!
A great fringe benefit of the newsletter is that it disciplines me as a writer. I like finding out what newsletter topic inspires me every two weeks.
UC: In the last few months, you have talked a lot about slip stitch crochet. What do you enjoy about this stitch?
Vashti: It gives me a fresh new experience of crochet. I’m discovering a whole microcosm in the seemingly simple and limited slip stitch, sort of like the Horton Hears A Who! story, or like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. My inner crocheter is startled and fascinated — and amused that crochet books are still being published that state authoritatively, “The slip stitch is not for making fabric”! The slip stitch results in some amazing fabrics, but aside from that, scratch its surface and it reveals a lot about crochet itself.
UC: What are your favorite crochet books in your collection?
UC: What are your favorite types of yarn to work with?
Vashti: I almost always like a z-twisted yarn (the plies of the yarn are twisted to the left) instead of s-twisted (twisted to the right). I crochet right handed, and my yarn overs don’t unwind a z-twisted yarn, so it doesn’t get “splitty” on me. I like how my really tall stitches look in smooth z-twisted yarns because the multiple yarn overs don’t make them look stringy. (UC comment: Doris Chan recently wrote a detailed blog post explaining the difference between z- and s- twisted yarns, if you’d like to know more.)
Lately I’ve been fascinated by alpaca. It’s hard for me to resist sparkly yarns, like silk and mohair spun with metallics and little sequins or beads. Handspun angora is a special kind of magical.
UC: You’ve had a variety of roles in the crochet industry – designer, teacher, writer, and now publisher. What advice do you have for aspiring professionals?
Vashti: Each of us is designing our business and crochet lifestyle, as well as designing crochet patterns. Thanks to the digital revolution and to the multifaceted nature of crochet, we have more choices than it first appeared back when I started designing. I continue to be inspired by how each designer makes her or his own path with it.
The three things I’d most like aspiring professionals to know are:
1) Join up with others and compare notes. It’s easy to miss opportunities, or to be taken advantage of, or to lose perspective, because this is a solitary job for most of us in this industry. Find a fellow professional you can call periodically, just to chat about the biz. In addition, meet up as a group online. Crochet designers need to meet up with each other, separately from tech editors who also need meet up with each other for example, or teachers. Ravelry groups help make this possible, but they are public. It’s better if you meet privately (I speak from experience).
2) The designer creates new intellectual property. The designer and only the designer starts out with all rights to the property, unless she or he chooses to let others have some. No one protects this property better than the originator of it.
It’s easy to lose sight of this simple fact.
I wish someone had made it clear and simple for me years ago. I still would have sold some or all rights to some freelanced designs, but with eyes open.
I’ve learned that a huge amount of people seem to prefer to profit from other people’s intellectual property instead of create their own, whether they can pay enough for it or not. I’ve wondered, why is it so many people, when they could create their own stuff and then do anything they want with it? After having designed a lot, I’ve concluded that it’s because it’s actually really hard work to create something out of nothing all the time. It’s much easier if someone else does it!
So, I’d say to aspiring professionals: don’t underestimate how eager people are to legally take your property off of your hands, even while discounting its value. I’ve heard this from several publishers: “It’s just one design. What’s the big deal? Why hold onto it forever? You’ll have plenty more.” If it’s such a burden, why dothey want it so much LOL?
3) Rather than feel flattered or important when given yarn to design with, I wish designers would expect it. Designers are already paid too little for a living wage. Yarn companies need designers much more than designers need any particular yarn. It should be the other way around: a yarn company is lucky when a designer chooses their yarn to design with, to blog about, or to recommend!
UC: What are you planning for 2012 and beyond?
Vashti: I’m looking forward to teaching several crochet classes both nationally and locally in 2012. I love teaching and getting to know students, and am very patient. Some crocheters who have had trouble learning in the past just need to find a calm and patient teacher.
I post updates in my newsletters as classes are scheduled. I can announce the classes I’ll be teaching at national conferences as soon as the schedule is posted for the summer and fall.
I want to try online classes too, though that might have to wait until 2013 or late 2012.
The Crochet Inspirations Newsletter has its own Facebook page that has been coming in handy. I originally set it up as an experiment with Facebook pages, but I go to it to scroll through the archived issues, to post follow-up info to an issue, and to answer questions.
For example, in the newest issue I talked a lot about my mannequin, Lindsay. Several readers emailed me to ask where I bought it, so I posted the link at the FB page. One week I forgot to include an important photo in the newsletter before I sent it out, so I posted it on the Facebook page for that issue. Come to think of it, I think I should remind my subscribers about the Facebook page.
Wow, Vashti, thank you for being so generous with your time, so detailed in your responses, and for offering some great advice for aspiring/emerging designers.
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