At Vogue Knitting Live 2013, I had the pleasure of meeting Laura Watson from Full Moon Farm. Laura’s yarns were extremely colorful – and so was she! – so I was immediately drawn over to her booth. It was wonderful to learn that she’s a New York State local (about 90 minutes north of New York City). I ran into her again at 2014′s event, and she was kind enough to take some time from the busy lifestyle of a farmer/shearer/spinner/dyer/entrepreneur to share an interview.
You can find Laura online at the Full Moon Farm website and their Facebook page. You can find out more about their yarn and fiber here and learn where to buy their products here.
Underground Crafter (UC): Besides shearing, spinning, and dyeing, do you also crochet, knit, and/or weave?
UC: Tell us more about your motivation for starting Full Moon Farm, and about its expansion.
Laura: I grew up on a sheep and beef farm. I (like all my siblings) moved away from the farm but then, in the end (like all my siblings) I returned to farming. I stuck with the sheep. I like them and can manage them, physically, without assistance. My flock started with 1 bred ewe, Border Leicester. I added Corriedale and then Merino, so now my flock is a motley mix with decent body size for meat, and nice, fine wool for spinning and felting.
UC: Some of us urban dwellers have fantasies about moving out to the country and starting a farm. Can you tell us a bit about the realities of farm living and working?
Farming is a 24/7 life. One must be prepared for fencing or haying a field in the heat of the summer or checking on the flock in the middle of the night in the cold during lambing season. The benefits are the beauty of the pasture or hay field, the coziness of a full hay loft, new born lambs – so sweet and bouncy – and fiber.
UC: One of the things that struck me about your booth at Vogue Knitting Live was your colorways. Where do you find your inspiration as a dyer?
Laura: I love color and have so much fun dying my yarns and spinning fiber. I usually go with colors I like. I am not afraid to combine colors and just go with my gut to choose what combinations to make. I have recently started trying to be more focused and going with a theme such as “Mom’s Flower Garden” or “Field of Sunflowers.”
UC: You have the opportunity to travel to many fiber related events. Tell us about some of your favorite fiber festival experiences.
Laura: I love going to fiber festivals because I know that the people attending are there because they love (or like a lot) fiber, so we already have something in common. I like to see what the other vendors are doing too because there is such versatility in wool and other fibers. It makes me smile just writing about it.
My favorite event is a little fiber festival in Clermont, NY at an historic site. It is called The Chancellor’s Day Sheep and Wool Festival. The setting, on the banks of the Hudson River, is idyllic, and they do historic re-enactments, such as shearing sheep using an antique shearing machine. It has grown in size and popularity over the years but remains small, quaint, and very friendly.
Thanks so much for stopping by, Laura!
By the way, I love the look of the skein I bought from Laura in 2013. It has since been wound into a yarn cake and is awaiting transformation into a beautiful project!
Today, I’m interviewing Paula Prado, a multi-talented Chilean yarnie.
Paula can be found online in her Etsy shop, De Origen Chile, her website, and on Flickr. All photos are copyright De Origen Chile. Click on photos to link to the product pages on Etsy.
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you learn to spin, knit, and dye?
Paula: I learned how to dye – tie dye really – when I was 12 years old. Then, after school I took a Natural Dyes class that my dad was going to take but couldn’t because of work, and I loved it. After a while, I got a job dyeing for a a store that sells cross stitch and wool yarn. My dad taught me all about dyeing with colorants and creating colors. I had already opened the store by then, and asked my grandmother to teach me how to knit. I used to knit these long skinny scarves, but I didn’t know how to cast on so she would do that for me :).
The spinning part came out of frustration, As I was no expert knitter, I wanted interesting textures so the knits were simple but original because of these awesome yarns I had in my mind, and I couldn’t get anyone to make them. Spinners, especially countryside ladies here in Chile, are so traditional, so then I understood I was almost offending them. I made a drop spindle with a knitting needle and a weight I took from a knitting machine, and taught myself how to spin thin and thick yarn, using wool tops. I fell in love with spinning. Then, I started developing art yarns, and bought some books, I couldn’t find anybody in Chile spinning these yarns. So I spent a lot of time on my wheel, creating textures than I can apply to my production. And I even had the opportunity to travel to other cities to teach these techniques to traditional spinners and even give a workshop to teachers of Textile Design at a university in Santiago. There is no doubt that spinning is what I enjoy the most about textiles.
I also hand felt, like two weeks of the year. It’s so fun. I try to always have some felted pieces at the store, and Merino scarves, cowls, and shawls.
UC: What inspired you to open De Origen Chile on Etsy? Do you sell elsewhere, too?
Paula: I was inspired by the idea of giving value to handmade, which is hard in Chile. We are just learning to do that as a country. Lots of people think because you handmade your items, they have to bargain.
On Esty you see how people really give value to their work and give positive feedback or advices so you can improve. I sell at my workshop in La Ligua and a few stores carry our yarns and knitting tools across the country. I also sell at different yarn and crafts events.
UC: In addition to yarn, you also sell knitting needles and crochet hooks. Do you carve those yourself or do you work with another artisan?
Paula: Every tool in the shop Is made at the workshop by Osvaldo (my boyfriend and now business partner). He also makes spinning wheels and looms, and any knitting and spinning related tool our clients ask for.
UC: You’re coming to Chicago for Vogue Knitting Live in November. Tell us a bit about what you’ll be selling and why you decided to be a vendor at this venue.
Paula: I am spinning a limited edition art yarn, mixing natural fibers (Corriedale, Mohair, Merino, linen, and silk), hand dyed linen, viscose and wool yarns, and the giant knitting and crochet tools that go from 6 mm to 40 mm.
I’ve been going as a vendor to yarn events in Santiago and getting really good results. The biggest one is organized by a knitting magazine, Tejidos Paula. I thought since I was selling on Etsy, and some of the clients want to really touch and squeeze the yarns, it would be a great idea to travel to an event organized by a major knitting magazine and meet those clients so they can see the quality of the products, then come back and develop new lines based on the experience.
UC: You were born and raised in Chile. What was the yarn crafting scene like when you were younger? Has it changed much over the years?
Paula: It has changed a lot! I always saw my grandmother knit and my mom crochet. People in La Ligua used to finish a lot of the sweaters using crochet. But knitting in general was an old women thing. Since 2003, lots of young people started knitting and crocheting. Men, kids, and women would meet to knit at cafes. There are stores only selling yarns now, and it’s growing :).
UC: Does your cultural background influence your crafting? If so, how?
Paula: I think that working with natural fibers is the way my background has influenced my work from the beginning. I can’t think of working with other materials, they don’t talk to me. I don’t feel like spinning a bunch of nylon, for example, but I am obsessed with wool or alpaca or mohair or cotton. And then I can see my grandmother’s knit sweaters, my mom’s crochet cotton curtains, and my dad talking about natural fibers.
UC: Do you have any favorite Spanish or English language crochet, knitting, or craft blogs to share?
Here in Chile, I love:
Camila Larsen’s blog, Corriendo con Tijeras. It’s really fun. It has tutorials and teaches some classes I hope I can have the time to go to soon!
Debbie’s blog, Daiverdei. She crochets really cool amigurumis.
Patricia from Pupol spins art yarns and hopefully she will travel with me in November to Chicago for Vogue Knitting Live.
I also read some fiber artists’s blogs, like the felter Andrea Graham, and the wooldancer blog. She is such an inspirational artist.
But nowadays, I spend a lot of time on Tumblr and Facebook. I’m more of a visual person :).
Thank you so much for stopping by, Paula, and I wish you the best at Vogue Knitting Chicago!
The last interview in this year’s series will be posted on October 15 with Celia Diaz/Abejitas.
While at Vogue Knitting Live in January, I was introduced to a local, New York State Capital region yarn vendor, Yellowfarm. The Yellowfarm booth had an interesting display featuring “long locks” art yarns. The display really highlighted the beautiful fiber from Yellowfarm’s longwool Wensleydale and Teeswater sheep.
Today, I’m interviewing Virginia Scholomiti from Yellowfarm. You can find Yellowfarm on their website, Etsy, and Facebook. All farm pictures are (c) Yellowfarm and are used with permission.
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you get started with yarn crafts?
Virginia: I started knitting as a child. My mother and grandmother both knit, and of course I wanted to be just like them. I was never a very good knitter, but always enjoyed the process. Later on I learned to crochet, but just the basics. It wasn’t until I was much older that I really delved into fiber arts.
I love to knit, and somehow seem to go through periods of no knitting, and then I reacquaint myself with my needles, and really enjoy remembering how much I love the process. Right now I am playing with some Wensleydale lace weight yarn and working on a lace shawl. I have done some weaving on a triangle loom, but never attempted the real thing with all its intricacies. That is something that I have on my list of things I want to spend some time learning.
I also find freeform crochet extremely appealing, and hope to be able to concentrate on learning more crochet stitches and techniques to perhaps enable me to play with that too!
UC: Tell us about how you became involved with Yellowfarm.
Virginia: Well, our two girls were grown and we decided to look around to see if we could find an older property that would offer us the country lifestyle we have always yearned for. We saw this farm and fell in love with it. It has served us well so far. Both our mothers came here to live out their last years on the farm and now we have two granddaughters that relish coming to visit the farm.
UC: Some of us urban dwellers have fantasies about moving out to the country and starting a farm. Can you tell us a bit about the realities of farm living and working (the good and the bad)?
Virginia: My husband grew up in the Bronx, and I grew up outside of New York City. My first career was riding and teaching hunter seat equitation, show hunters and jumpers. I have worked on farms and managed stables just about all of my life, but never owned one.
You are absolutely right about the plusses and the minuses involved. Once you involve yourself with keeping animals on your property, you assume a responsibility that must never fail. No days off, no skipping work, or heading off on a spur of the moment whim. There are animals that need you to feed, water, check for any health issues, administer medications, treat wounds, give shots, or call a vet if the situation warrants. Not to mention the physical necessities of farm life: the fences that need fixing, the fields that need tending, manure that needs spreading. There is ALWAYS a list of things that you just can’t quite finish that are waiting for you to do.
The flip side is that you get to watch lambs being born and help them to stand and nurse for the first time, see stars that you didn’t know were there, and appreciate the seasons with the amazing changes they bring to the farm.
UC: Yellowfarm raises American Wensleydale and Teeswater luster longwool sheep.Can you tell us a bit about the yarn properties from each of these animals?
Virginia: The Wensleydale and Teeswater sheep produce long lustrous ringlets of fiber. The breeds are quite similar and stem from the same long wool lines as the Lester Longwool and Cotswold breeds. What distinguishes their fiber is the silky handle, the intense sheen and the fabulous curl. We are breeding both as we have yet to discern which fiber is superior. If processed in a traditional way, the fiber results in a strong, silky yarn. Worsted yarns have an incredible drape, and a bit of a halo. Hand spinners adore these fleeces as they can be used to create amazing textured art yarns. The longer locks from animals allowed to grow for a longer period are perfect for tailspining. The integrity of the lock is incredibly unique.
UC: One of the things that struck me about your booth at Vogue Knitting Live was your “yarn locks” art yarn. Can you tell us about the difference between your standard and art yarn? What are the processes they go through?
Virginia: More traditional yarns start with raw fiber that is then washed, picked (fluffed to open the locks and allow vegetable matter to drop out), carded (or combed), and spun by hand (or commercially at a mill) into strands which are then plied together to form various weights of yarns. This is what you are used to seeing as a skein of yarn. In this form of processing the fibers have been made smooth, and lie next to each other forming a uniform strand.
Art yarns and textured yarns are hand spun yarns. They allow the spinner to create unique and individual yarns with all varieties of textures and colors using an array of techniques. The yarn may be spun directly from the lock of wool in a way that retains the characteristics of those amazing fibers. It also can be lightly carded with a wide range of add ins that give special texture and glitz to the finished yarn. Each skein is completely individual and a reflection of the spinners imagination and spinning prowess. A work of art.
UC: Where else can people buy your yarns and meet with Yellowfarm?
Virginia: I sell online via Etsy, but to be truthful, don’t get a chance to update very often. We are highlighting the luster long wool sheep, the Teeswater in particular, at STITCHES East this fall. NYS Sheep and Wool is the granddaddy of fiber festivals in the East. We bring sheep to show there, and are unable to also man a booth. We always welcome people to come up to the sheep barn and say hello, and see where their fiber comes from!
mYak is small company that works with cooperatives in Tibet and Italy to produce wonderful products from yak fiber. Recently, they added a yarn line. You can find out more about mYak on their website, Facebook page, or Twitter account.
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you get involved with mYak?
Paola: I’ve been working on the Tibetan plateau, in Tibetan areas, for the last 13 years of my life. I’ve always been interested in Tibetan culture. I worked a lot with a non-profit organization working on development activities and a development project and that brought me to live in Tibet for many years.
I lived in Llasa for about 6 years. With the project that I was involved with, I came in contact with nomadic culture. I did a lot of activities there within different contexts – educational and work development – and really fell in love with the nomadic way of life, the traditional way of life. I could see how it slowly was on the verge of extinction because of what was happening there, and with the resettlement – the government wants them to resettle, the nomads want to stay on the grasslands to be with the animals.
So we were trying to find a way to give them an income for something they believed in, to maintain their culture, to maintain their traditional way of life, but to be able to send their children to school, to be able to pay for health care, and to have some spare money for whatever necessities they had. And what they have is really the yaks. The yak is their wealth, it is their treasure. From the milk, to the meat, to the hair, the fiber. So we started looking at the yak fiber.
There’s a lot of yak fiber on the market, but it’s a bit coarse, it’s a bit rough. Slowly because I spent so many summers with the nomads in their tents, I just fell in love with the yaks. And I saw that the little yaks, by touching them, they were softer.
UC: The baby yaks?
Paola: The baby yaks. After two years, I went with someone who became a friend of mine, Andrea, who is an Italian veterinarian and a fiber expert. So we were looking at the animals, we were taking care of the animals, we were doing some veterinary training for the nomads.
We took some samples of this fiber and we had it analyzed in Italy, where we are both from. We slowly realized that the actual undercoat of the baby yak was very, very soft. Basically, we felt it was softer and we wondered whether we could do something from it. We also realized the nomads were selling this wool at a very cheap price to these middlemen.
UC: Do they use the wool themselves?
Paola: They have much more than they can use.
They were really getting hardly anything. There were middlemen and middlemen and middlemen. It was a long chain, and they said it’s not worth it for us almost to even collect this fiber.
But then when we looked at it, and we looked at the quality, to us it was not just a natural fiber, but a precious fiber, too. Looking at it under a microscope, it had so many similarities, in terms of microns and everything else, it’s very similar to cashmere. So we said, ok, let’s try and do something. Of course, because it’s shorter, we wanted to see the resistance. We did a lot of tests. It took almost two years, back and forth, to think about it.
Then we said, it’s a cool fiber, it’s fun, it’s natural. So what can we do? We came up with the idea of why don’t we form a cooperative of nomads, in Tibet, we buy the fiber from them, then we form a cooperative in Italy, we export it. There are some companies that do some things in Tibet, but we really wanted to use the traditional fibers with artisanal quality. So we searched long in Italy to find where we could produce the things. We wanted to find a company or companies that had the same ethics, the same methods, and the same interest in the environment, so we selected a couple of these companies. They recycle the water, for example.
We started to make a few samples. The first samples we made were accessories to keep it simple because we didn’t want to think about sizing. So we started doing some scarfs, and some home decor, some blankets. Then we came up with the name, we came up with the branding, and we started working that way. And that is really how it all started.
UC: At that point, how was the fiber getting to Italy? Was it already spun?
Paola: We tried to do as much as we could in Tibetan areas, in the Tibetan plateau, so one of us is there at the selection process. We take it to a de-hairing factory, we wash it and we de-hair it to get the coarse fibers out of the way, then we ship it to Italy.
UC: So the spinning is done in Italy.
Paola: Yes, that is really what makes mYak different from the other types of yak yarn. Because of the artisanal spinning, they can spin it much thinner than other people can do. And then we started doing it much thicker. The thick style was for accessories that were machine knit. And when I started looking at it, when we started making a little thicker fiber for some of the thicker accessories, I took a ball home and I said, “Boy, I wonder what I can knit with it.”
So I start trying to make things. I’m not a great knitter, I’m a very basic knitter, but I tried to do something. I did a little scarf. I showed it to some friends and they said, “Can we get some yarn? Can we knit with this?” and they seemed quite interested.
We launched mYak in 2011, so it’s very, very young, and then I started talking to people in the U.S., and they all said, “Why don’t you try to approach the people at Vogue? They have this Vogue Knitting event.” At the time, I didn’t have any yarn. I talked to them, and they were super nice, and they were really helpful, and they said, “Send us some samples.” So we did. We took some of the fiber, we spun it into yarn, and I got it to Vogue Knitting. I got the yarn from Italy three days before the Vogue Knitting event.
UC: A little stressful!
Paola: I was literally designing the labels and trying to understand how it worked. That’s why Vogue Knitting was great. We had such great reaction from people – we had mixed reaction, to be honest. I think people loved it, but people were saying, “Ok, but what are the colors?”
UC: I think that’s one of the interesting things when you have an undyed, natural fiber, because some people come to the yarn like this is the natural state and other people are like where are the stripes?
Paola: Yes, and we have chosen to maintain the natural colors, not to have chemical dyes. Can we afford to keep that forever, I don’t know. We tried to use natural dyes, but [the yak] is so dark.
UC: It must be very hard to get it light enough to dye it in a natural way.
Paola: The good news is that the yaks come in different shades, so they have the dark brown, they have a grey, a light brown, and a white. So what we did, we went back to our cooperative in Tibet, and we said, “Can you collect a little bit of the lighter grey and the white.”
UC: So at least you can have two or three colors.
Paola: Exactly, and if we were to naturally dye the white, it’s much easier. So we are looking into that at this point. (UC comment: Since the time of this interview, mYak has added burgundy and several other natural/undyed colors to its yarn line.)
UC: People are accustomed to this huge range of colors, and not everyone is accustomed to working with undyed yarns, so I’m sure that can be a challenge. Where do envision the yarn part of mYak going at this point? Are you trying to sell direct to consumers, wholesale to retailers, or are you still thinking about it?
Paola: We are at the stage of figuring it out. Vogue Knitting Live was the platform for me to understand that there is a future. I love it, but me and my family loving it was not enough. And our friends, because we have our mothers and friends knitting for us. We’ve paired with a very nice US based designer. But then at Vogue Knitting, people asked, “Where can I buy it?” So we saw that there is a future, there is potential.
What I’m trying to do is understand more about the market, who are our competitors.
UC: I think the cooperative piece is a big distinction. Other companies who sell yak yarn don’t have a cooperative.
Paola: Yes. Then I need to understand what is the best way to contact or approach yarn shops in the US and also internationally to see if they are interested. I get different input from people. Some people are telling me I should just try and call them, but I don’t have any associates – my family’s in Italy and I’m here.
UC: Have you guys thought about TNNA?
Paola: And the second option is TNNA. I’m trying to understand whether with my little brown color, is it worth it for me to go there? That’s something I’m trying to understand, too. (UC comment: mYak did end up exhibiting at TNNA‘s summer show in Columbus, and their yarns will soon be distributed in several yarn shops throughout the United States.)
UC: I definitely think your perspective is really unique. I feel like there are people who would be more interested in the yarn because of it. Have you thought about men’s related designs at all? It seems to me that the brown is a natural fit with men’s designs.
Paola: Yes, we have, in fact, some of the patterns that we have developed are for men. We have a reversible hat and some of the scarves are more unisex. It was interesting at Vogue Knitting because we had a few men that purchased the yarn themselves because they were knitters, and then a few men who came and liked the yarn, and then they dragged their wives back and said, “I’m buying the yarn because I want this made (for me).” It was really nice.
I’m also debating about whether to put it on our website or not. It would be difficult to ship from Italy, but because I have the yarn here in NY, I was thinking about opening an Etsy shop, and trying to understand more about Ravelry.
UC: Are you going to have a social media presence?
Paola: We do. We have a Facebook page and a Twitter, too. I hope to be more active definitely. I was just sort of waiting to understand more about the yarn, to reach out to people, get a mailing list collected, and let people know where we are.
UC: Do you sell the accessories directly on your website?
Paola: Yes. The prices are in Euros.
I think what is very interesting is how we are following the entire chain from the production to the end user, which is very short. There’s the yak, the nomad, then we come in and we bring it out and we spin it.
We are also planning to prepare bags for spinners because a lot of people have asked me that so we are thinking about the roving.
UC: When you are in Italy, are you working with many mills, or one mill?
Paola: Right now, we’re working with one mill.
UC: So you really have a hand in every aspect of the production.
Paola: Yes, we actually physically take it there and then to whoever does the machine knit, because the machine takes time and we have a couple of them. One does the scarves, one does the blankets, and the clothes based on what their expertise is.
And we’re also trying to work with small, family-run companies, which means we can give them a job because the economy in Italy is so bad. We have the Italian element of the company and we want to maintain that.
It would be much cheaper to have it made in China. A lot of the yak yarn is made in China, and unfortunately the main one sold in the US is made in China. When we say 100% baby yak, we know, and there’s no filler, there’s nothing in there.
I’m trying to develop a baby line. Some of the things that Tom Scott, the designer, developed for us were these little baby hats. We have a set with blankets and baby hats. And I want to be comfortable in saying to a mother, if you make these for your child, it’s warm, it’s natural, it’s hypoallergenic. If I were to have a child, that’s what I would do myself.
The next thing I want to do is take knitting classes because my knitting is so basic. A friend of mine just made these.
UC: That is so cute! Do you hear people saying they don’t want to handwash, especially items for baby?
Paola: Actually people ask. This is other yarn, combined with our laceweight. Yes, but actually all the things that I knit and the textiles, I did put them in the machine. I did wash put it in a pillow case, and I did wash it on cold, on handwash.
UC: So you’ve had good success machine washing. The nice thing about brown is that goes with so many colors.
Paola: And also it can be for a boy and a girl, a woman and a man, there really is no distinction.
One of the great things about the brown [yak fiber] is that it’s one of the warmer ones. It’s actually warmer than cashmere. Some of the accessories that we have are so thin, like the stole, that you can wear them in the summer, too. They’re very breathable and especially in the air conditioning. I use it in the plane.
Thanks, Paola, for stopping by to tell us more about mYak and your yarn production!
Way back in January, I had the chance to meet Lindsey Rice from Bartlettyarns at Vogue Knitting Live. The Bartlettyarns booth was stocked with some great wool that was produced in the U.S.A., and I soon learned that they are the oldest operating woolen spun mill in the country.
I also got to talking to Lindsey about crochet and he mentioned that “[C]rocheters are rediscovering us and that this art form seems to be making a great return.” I knew then that I had to interview Lindsey and his wife, Susan, about this awesome bit of American yarn history. You can find Bartlettyarns on their website, Facebook page, and Ravelry yarnie page.
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you get started in the yarn industry?
Bartlettyarns (BY): Lindsey was enrolled as a 4-H member in New Hampshire and he had a sheep project. Eventually, we met as teenagers in 4-H (long story). Lindsey began a sheep shearing business throughout New England and we got married. Sometimes we got paid for shearing and other times we were given the wool. With several hundred pounds of wool, we ventured to Bartlettyarns to have it processed. We picked out eight colors and started our business attending sheep and wool festivals and farmers markets.
During one trip to Maine, the pulley system that runs the Mule was broken. The owner of the business was explaining the situation to us and Lindsey (a Marine) stated he knew how to splice it back together. Within fifteen or twenty minutes, it was back in operation.
Fast forward many years, many trips to Maine, and a good friendship later, we got a panic call that the Mule was broken again. The owner was in California on vacation and it was broken for two weeks so they were unable to produce yarn. We arrived to the rescue the next day and fixed it once again.
We always had joked with the owner that someday he would retire and what would he do with the business. We received a phone call two weeks after this and we were offered the business. How could we say no??
The Bartlettyarns Mule in action.
UC: Tell us more about the history of Bartlettyarns and the Barlett Mule.
BY: Bartlettyarns was established by Ozias Bartlett in 1821. His great grandson, Harry, took over the business at age 16 and it remained in the Bartlett family until 1947, when it was sold to owners outside the family. It was originally a water-powered mill, as it sits along the Higgins stream in Harmony. It was converted to electricity in the ‘40s. Today, it runs much like it did then.
UC: One of the things that struck me about your booth at Vogue Knitting Live was your displays of the mill. Where do you find your inspiration as a dyer?
BY: An excellent piece on the mill was done by WCSH in Portland. They have a show called 207 and they produced an eight minute segment about us. It originally was supposed to be just two or three minutes long, but turned into a whole show for them.
Our Mule spun yarns are not skein dyed, but rather we stock dye the fiber and then it is blended to make our colors. As for the hand dyed yarns, those are skein dyed and Susan does those. She has an eye for color and she is like a witch with her brew. She tends to dye with colors of the season, prefers to dye on crisp, sunny days for clear, bright colors and on overcast days tend to bring more muted colors.
UC: To what extent is Bartlettyarns a local product?
BY: We are vey proud that we work with local producers to source our wool, and that the scouring and dyeing is also done here in the US. We are definitely a “made in the USA” company and one that has been continuously run for over 190 years.
UC: You have the opportunity to travel to many fiber related events. Tell us about some of your favorite fiber festival experiences.
BY: Well we do Maryland, New York, TNNA, and a few local fairs. Our children are involved in their spare time and try to come to the larger shows to help us. One child is definitely the salesperson, so he handles the booth, and the other enjoys talking with wool producers about their custom processing options. We enjoy the educational process with people and how our mill is different, being spun on the woolen vs, worsted system. People enjoy the history and the videos we show at the booth – the noise of the machinery captures their attention.
Probably the most amusing, is when the wife is dragging the uninterested husband around looking at yarns and has the totally bored look on his face. Oops, he hears machinery clinking and clanking, where is that sound coming from??? He sees machinery and mechanical parts moving, he is hooked. The wife gets time to look around, she purchases yarn and is ready to move on and then she has to wait until he is done watching and asking questions and all of a sudden the role is reversed.
UC: Where can people buy your yarns?
BY: We have three different segments of our business. We have wholesale accounts, which are primarily yarn shops who carry our yarn. Next, we have custom processing which allows fiber producers to turn their raw fibers into roving or yarn. We have options that allow them to get their very own fiber back. Lastly is our retail component where you can come to the mill and purchase directly and get a free mill tour, order from our web site or visit us at one of the shows we attend. Our website lists the shows and dates.
Thanks so much for stopping by for an interview, Lindsey and Susan!
(As a side note, this interview has taken so long to write up that I can no longer say that both Danielle and I live in New York City – since our interview, she has relocated to Long Island. On the other hand, now I can share that her Mackinac Tank pattern made the cover of the summer issue of Knitscene!)
Danielle has generously shared a coupon code for any of her self-published patterns with my readers! (Read on for more details.) All pictures of Makewise Designs patterns are used with Danielle’s permission.
Underground Crafter (UC): Can you tell me first how you got started knitting?
Danielle: Growing up, my mom always knew how to knit and crochet, and I started doing it all the time, but I wasn’t really all that interested.
When I went to college, I lived in a dorm that had a community setting, and one of the people in my dorm wanted to do the Warm Up America program where you knit blanket blocks and then they’re sewn together for charity and donated. For some reason, at 20, all of the sudden I wanted to learn how to make these blanket blocks, whereas I’d never wanted to do it before. So, she taught me garter, stockinette, whatever. I don’t know why, but the fabric started growing off the needles and it was like magic. I thought to myself, “All of these wasted years!”
UC: Well, you have the (knitting) genes, obviously.
Danielle: Exactly. It just started from there, so it’s been going on 15 years at this point.
UC: Did your mom get mad that she wasn’t the one who taught you, or was she like, “Finally, you’ve taken it on!”
Danielle: No, just the opposite. She was thrilled. She still does quite a bit of knitting and crochet. Since then, she’s taught me how to crochet. She’s totally embraced it and we love to share tips, share things we’ve learned, and have a conversations with each other in that language that only two knitters are going to understand, like “I moved that ssk…” and people are just like, “What are they talking about?”
UC: That’s awesome, now you guys have a secret language. How did you get started designing?
Danielle: I love to follow other people’s patterns. I love to see other people’s creative processes. At some point a switch just flipped and I thought, I’m looking for this thing, I didn’t find it anywhere, I didn’t find it on Ravelry (which is probably a representative sample of the knitting universe, at this point). I just thought, “Well, I’ve taken a lot of math, I know how stockinette behaves and garter.” There’s certainly still a lot of trial and error involved, but I thought why don’t I just try it?
I’m definitely kind of a Type A person, kind of I’ll do it myself, self-starter kind of person so I gave it a whirl. I gave it a shot and tried it and it was that same rush that I felt the first time [knitting]. Oh my gosh, the fabric, it’s growing off these needles, and now there’s that extra element of, and, it’s working out the way I expected in my head.”
UC: And that doesn’t always happen. You left out the part where you have to tear out the thing…
Danielle: Well, I’m trying to glaze over those parts! I actually just was working on a design where the downside of being a Type A rears its head. Take it out, take it out, to the point where I think one of the most important things that any really successful designer has captured is not only knowing themselves, but knowing their style and knowing when to stop designing a piece. Don’t keep designing, and don’t over design it. You don’t need to add that one more textural element, it doesn’t need that second lace pattern. What you’ve done is what should stay. It’s the editing process – that’s what I call it in my head.
UC: Where you keep out those extra pieces that are overkill.
Danielle: RIght. So when you look at something by Debbie Bliss or Jared Flood or Hannah Fettig (who’s one of my big favorites), lots of times you can look at their pieces and know that’s one of their designs because their internal editing is so strong. So for me, this internal editing is what I find the most challenging obstacle. When is it exactly what I have pictured in my head? Have I tried to overdesign it? Does it need to be that complicated? That type of thing is tough. That’s the learning curve for me.
UC: Related to that, I’ve noticed that your designs are primarily self-published or though some branch of Interweave. I’m wondering if that’s a conscious decision or did it just work out that way based on where you’ve submitted?
Danielle: I think it’s a blend. Self-publishing, a lot of designers will tell you, has a liberating aspect at the end. You miss that deadline, something comes up – personal nature or professional (your day job) nature – then you bump your publishing deadline a week, that’s life.
For me, I am a good deadline person, I’m a good time manager, I always have been, so I wanted to reach out for that third-party publication recognition and also wanted to challenge myself in that way to be working with a reputable publication, work with the yarn that they’ve chosen on their timeline. Working with Interweave, I’m just really familiar with their publications. I’ve long loved Knit Scene, one of my very favorite magazines, so I think I was specifically targeting them. I really wanted to part of that family because I love their style, their ethos, their way of expressing themselves.
UC: You could see yourself fitting into their publications.
UC: So what was that like the first time you have your printed pattern in one of their publications? Did you frame it on the wall?
Danielle: When you get something published in their magazines, they send you a copy of the magazine, but then they also send you copies of pages that were not inserted in the magazine – printed copies – so I put those in plastic sleeves because… Type A.
UC: That’s really nice of them. A lot of publishers don’t do that.
Danielle: So you get the bound copy and then you get the flat copy as well. But it wasn’t so much seeing it in print as it was getting that email from the editor saying that they would love to take the design and put it in.
The first time that happened to me, I think I looked at the email and thought, “This is a hoax!” Or, “Wait a minute, they didn’t mean to send this to me.” There’s that moment of self-doubt, and then your second thought is “Oooh, that is so cool!” My very first design for Interweave was for Interweave Knits and it was pillows. They were wool, bulky gauge, and I had to do it in July. It was a little bit of a steamy process, but it worked out.
UC: Do you have knitting books, for your own collection, or do you do everything online?
Danielle: When I need technical resources from the technical planning/pattern writing side of things, I much prefer written resources. I like to have them out in front of me. Obviously, stitch dictionaries. Interweave has a lot of publications that include charts for sweater sizing in different yarn gauges.
When I have the time to knit anything, other than what I’m hopefully designing for myself, I love online PDFs because I can keep them all in one place. The wealth of choices is overwhelming so I try to balance between the two, but I find that if I need a technical resource, I need it printed out.
Danielle and I bonded over our love of the Kinokinuya bookstore booth at VK Live.
UC: I know people think it is weird when you publish your patterns online that you don’t personally do everything online, but I feel the same way. For patterns, it’s one thing, but I want a tangible thing I can flip back and forth. Do you have any favorite stitch guides or books in your collection that you always go back to?
Danielle: You probably hear this a lot, but I love Kinokinuya, the Japanese bookstore that’s exhibiting here at VK Live. I love Japanese stitch dictionaries. I find that they include a lot of complex patterns, and sometimes I think my designing tends more towards simplicity, so sometimes I use those stitch patterns as a jumping off point and then I think, “Could I take out an element? Can I thin that idea out?” Because their patterns have cables, lace, and bobbles all in one stitch pattern, but maybe I just want the lace.
Lots of times, nothing ever comes of that brainstorming, but at the same time, I think it’s instructive. If I do want to edit that stitch pattern, how am I going to do it? If I take that cable out, what’s going to happen to the gauge and what’s going to happen to the texture? I think you can never get enough of that. I think it’s just like an established designer saying if you want to learn about designing and learn about the business, the best thing you can do is read patterns. Read other people’s patterns. Some people are going to shape that shoulder with a bind off and then seam that edge. Some designers are going to shape that shoulder with short rows and then do a three needle bind off. Why do you choose between them? Does it depend on the fabric, does it depend on the shape, does it depend on the style?
UC: Speaking of the Japanese stitch guides, do you have a preference for written patterns or charted patterns? Some people seem very committed to one or the other.
Danielle: I think that goes to my inherent way of learning, which is to write things down. I retain things better if I write it down myself. For me, written instructions make more sense to me than charts lots of times.
UC: So if you see it in the Japanese stitch guide, you’re writing it down for yourself.
Danielle: Often. And even, look at the chart, decipher what I think is happening in the chart, knit, and write it down at the same time – because even if I successfully translate it from the chart into actual knitting, a week later, I’ll forget half of what I did. I’m looking at it saying, “How did I manage this?”
UC: While you’re here at Vogue Knitting Live, what exciting things are you planning to do?
Danielle: I took a seaming class with John Brinegar – I think a refresher course is always valuable. I’m taking a steeking class this afternoon with Ragga Eiríksdóttir. I’ve never done it, and she’s teaching it in the round. Usually for me, knitting in the round is greater than or equal to knitting flat, so I’m going to try that. Tomorrow, I’m going to work for the String Yarns booth all day because I used to work for them.
UC: Do you have any exciting yarn store employee stories to share, or can you talk about how that influenced you as a designer?
Danielle: I think the influence is huge because you’re looking at different yarns from different manufacturers. On your feet, you need to know the gauge; the construction of the yarn – is it plied, is it a chainette, is it a single ply; you need to know how it blocks; how to treat it after it’s been knitted; what the construction of the ply is – 2 ply, 4 ply, 6 ply. It just exposes you to the entire world of options. So if you are comfortable working with a smooth Merino superwash, you don’t always spring to a Shetland wool option. You think it’s scratchy or something like that. But the upside of Shetland is it’s incredibly hard wearing and durable with really reliable gauge.
I think it broadens your horizons, it shows you what the options are, and it is really a good education into what you need to know as a designer. If you get into a third-party publication, they’re going to send you the yarn that they’d like you to work with it, and it might not be something you’re familiar with. You need to be able to look at it and say, “Oh, I see it has this construction, these many plies, these care instructions…”
UC: And even on proposals, you can say, I’m looking for an x type of yarn because you have that background knowledge.
Danielle: Yes, I think it isn’t just what comes in so you’re prepared to work with it, but exactly like you said, it also informs your choices of when you even make a submission, to a magazine or something you want to produce yourself. You make that educated decision about this design really isn’t good for a single ply yarn. I really need a plied yarn for this.
UC: That’s great. A lot of people just learn that through arduous trial and error, and you got paid to get that experience!
Danielle: And I got to touch a lot of really nice yarn, too.
UC: String has a fancy collection!
Danielle: Yes, the beautiful cashmere that comes in from Italy is amazing.
Danielle: I have some publications coming up this year for different outlets, and that’s really exciting. I always try to blog about anything that I’ve done that’s new. I try to expose a little bit of the thought process behind it – the inspiration, or a spot where I struggled – because I think that designing, even for somebody who is really experienced, is so much of a journey. I mean, sure, there’s a lightening strike of inspiration from time to time, but it’s also a very measured, thoughtful, mechanical process of needle selection, yarn selection, seamed, or unseamed, lace, texture, and that type of thing, and that’s what keeps me so excited about it still.
There is so much to learn and I frankly think I’ll never learn it all. Somebody will always know more than you about a specific thing, but it’s that excitement of learning it and trying to make myself better, while at the same time producing something with my own two hands that at the end of the day, I can actually hold it and touch it. That’s what’s most gratifying.
Danielle has offered a 20% discount on her self-published designs for my readers through midnight Eastern time on Saturday, July 20, 2013. Just use the code MAKEWISE in her Ravelry shop or on her website.
Thanks, Danielle, for taking the time for the interview, and for sharing the coupon code!
Back in the winter, I received a review copy of Knitting with Icelandic Wool by Védís Jónsdóttir from St. Martin’s Griffin. I was immediately drawn in by the stunning photography and the beautiful designs. The nice folks at St. Martin’s Griffin were also kind enough to share another copy which I’ll be giving away today at the end of my review, so read on for more details.
Some of you may be wondering why I would review a book about (mostly) sweaters towards the end of May, but to my mind, summer is the perfect time to get started on a larger, cold weather project!
Knitting with Icelandic Wool is the English translation of Prjónað úr íslenskri ull, an Icelandic pattern book published in cooperation with Ístex. The book opens with two historical essays, “The Origins of Icelandic Knitting” and “The Wool Industry in Iceland.” Both are interesting for those of us who are needlecrafts history nerds.
After the essays, the book dives into the pattern collection, which includes 25 garment designs for women (mostly sweaters, with two dresses, two vests, a skirt, and a slip), seven sweaters for men, seven unisex sweaters, 10 children’s sweaters, and 19 “miscellaneous” patterns (mostly accessories for women and children, along with a dog coat and a girl’s dress).
Each pattern is presented with a full page photo, often in a beautiful outdoor environment, an introductory paragraph, a detailed materials list and sizing information, and a note about construction. Pattern instructions then follow. In most cases, a flat picture of the item with measurements is presented (instead of a schematic) along with one or more color charts.
I shared with her my concern (fear?) about making one of these beautiful designs, and she reminded me that Icelandic sweaters are simpler to make than they appear. Most of the instructions for these patterns are only 1 page long. Many are constructed in the round in stockinette stitch with minimal shaping. While most of the patterns feature exquisite colorwork, it is typically confined to the yoke or trim.
The book ends with a short Information section, that provides brief instruction on stranding, swatching for gauge, care of Icelandic garments, and finishing/detailing techniques.
In general, the photography is wonderful, the patterns are beautiful, and the instructions are written clearly. The book is a hardcover, and feels and looks like a classic that you will return to time and again for wardrobe staples.
I would have liked to read more about the unique properties of the Icelandic wool, or about the process used for felting (since it is mentioned that Icelandic sweaters are sometimes felted). The book is clearly marketed towards intermediate knitters and there is no skill level listed on any pattern. I think it would have been helpful if the translated version included a page of tips for working in the round and colorwork prior to the introduction of the patterns. While I agree with Vedis that the projects are straightforward in terms of construction, I think that the apparent complexity might scare away some knitters who could be easily converted with just a page or two of information.
All of the patterns are quite striking, but I was particularly drawn to Bláklukka, Dropar, Fjara and Vormorgunn, Keđja, Klukka, Kria, and Útjörð. There was even a sweater that MC could appreciate, Strax, because of its masculine simplicity. (Ravelry members can view most the patterns on the book’s source page here.)
Most of the patterns in this book are available elsewhere, as they are part of the large Istex pattern collection. As I mentioned, though, there is something wonderful about having these patterns collected into a sturdy hardcover book, that can lay flat while you are working on one of the classic projects.
I recommend this book for knitters who like the classic Icelandic sweater look, who enjoy (or who want to venture into) stranded colorwork, and for those looking for a pattern book that will outlast the latest trends in knitwear.
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 :).
About a month ago, I had the pleasure of checking out Vogue Knitting Live with a press pass. I actually recorded three different interviews at the event, and I’m pleased to share one today.
Joan McGowan-Michael is the designer behind White Lies Designs. In addition to her extensive collection of (mostly) knit (with some crochet) designs, she is also a nationally recognized knitting and crochet teacher and author, and has appeared on Knitty Gritty and Needle Art’s Studio with Shay Pendray.
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you get started knitting?
Joan: I was taught to knit as a child, to keep me busy and out of trouble. I’ve been knitting for over 40 years.
UC: You don’t look it!
Joan: Thank you. Thank you very much. But I have. I was not horribly young, not kindergarten age, but, in the first grade, second grade and I was very fascinated by it. My mom, however, had very little patience for certain things. She taught me how to knit but not to purl. She taught me how to cast on but not how to bind off. I was just dying to get into it, so I would just invent these ways to finish off things.
It’s really interesting. I recently cleaned out my parents’ house and found a little shoebox of some of the little doll clothes I made. And the little vests started ok from the bottom, but as they got towards the top I just ran thread through the loops! It looked a little weird but it worked.
And the other thing that was interesting is, at the time, in the ’60s, those big window pane vests were kind of hip, with the big holes in them. I was dying to make one of those for my dolls, but did not know how to do a yarn over. So I had to figure out how to make a hole in the fabric that wouldn’t run. What I came up with was knitting each stitch 3 times and then moving to the next stitch – passing it back and forth, almost crocheting. This made a nice little hole. So I found these things and I went, “I remember how I did that. That was kind of clever.” I tried it up again and so I sell stockings now – fishnet stockings – using the mind of a 7 year old or an 8 year old that made up this stitch. I’ve never seen this stitch anywhere else.
UC: It’s true, we have the ingenuity to figure things out. Before there were stitch dictionaries, people had their own ways of making it happen.
Joan: They got where they wanted because they wanted to get there.
UC: Yes, through trial and error. How did you first get started designing?
Joan: I actually went to fashion design school. I had always been fascinated with fashion design. I was one of those people that knew what they had to do with their life. To me, it’s very strange when you have a person that’s an adult and says I don’t know what I want to do with my life. I knew, always, what I wanted to do. That must be an odd feeling, to not know.
In any event, I was always making my own clothes and when I got to college level, I did Costume Design. They have very good pattern drafting classes and you get to do weird shapes if you’re costuming plays, or super intricate historical things. A lot of what I’d learned previously was confirmed when I was in design school – that this was the right way to do things.
I had done work for OP Sunwear and others, but the most important was Frederick’s of Hollywood. I worked for them for three and a half years. That’s really where I got my hands into stretch fabrics, and close to the body type garments, and realized that knitting and stretch fabrics had so many of the same properties that you could almost interchange them. So I filed that away in my mind for later use. There was no knitting career on the horizon at that time.
Things happened, I got married, moved north to Sacramento with my husband, and was really having trouble settling into the city up there. It’s a different vibe and you really have to try to integrate yourself. I can imagine New York’s not that way, but it is in Sacramento. So I joined the local knitting guild there and found it to be rather cliquish and really also hard to integrate into. I said, “Maybe this is a mistake.” But before I left that first meeting, somebody shoves a little notebook at me and says sign up to bring cupcakes sometime during the year. So, I turned to the last page (December) and I write my name in December and I close the notebook and I forget about it.
December rolls around and I get a call, “It’s your turn to bring the cupcakes.” Oh, crap.
UC: To those people?
Joan: Exactly. I could just blow them off or I could do some boxed cupcake mix and drop them off and come back home. It wasn’t that far from where I lived, so I thought, yeah, I’ll do that. So, I make the cupcakes and I go down there. The speaker that month was a woman who was putting together a company to do knit kits. She was doing marketing surveys. She was showing people a Vogue Knitting magazine and asking if this is something you would make, and if you were going to buy a kit, how much would you pay for it, and what would you expect from the kit.
As she was talking about this, I got this hot feeling, this freaky hot feeling. It’s the finger of God coming down and going, “You need to go this way, young lady.” Before I knew what I was doing, I went up to her and said, “I need to offer you my services as a designer. I don’t design knitwear but I do design and I do knit. That must mean something!”
And sure enough, it did. And the first sweater that I did for that knit kit company was fantastic. It had bobbles, it had cables, it had lace, it had button bands, a high collar. It had everything. It was angora.
UC: You put all of your years of knitting experience in one sweater.
Joan: I did! I really did. And forgot to take any notes.
UC: Oh, God!
Joan: It was really hellish. Through tears and fire, I recreated the pattern somehow and it was just hellish. But it became their best selling item. They had me under contract for about two years. During that time, I found the hole in the contract. It said what I could not do, but I saw what I could do. What I could do was submit designs to magazines and that’s what I did. I submitted something to Interweave Knits. The first thing I submitted was on the cover.
Joan: So I knew I had something going on there. In the meantime, the other people who I was under contract with were not very happy about me finding the loophole.
UC: They wanted you exclusive?
Joan: They wanted me exclusive or first right of refusal. The suit that I did was on the cover of Interweave and my boss saw it.
UC: It would be a little hard to hide it.
Joan: It was. It was hard to hide. Especially when you’re in that business. I just didn’t think I needed any permission to do anything like that. I did not like the way it went and I terminated my contract a little early with them.
So anyway, it was fine. I went on to do a few more things for magazines. By that time, I’d become divorced and my new boyfriend said, “You know, if you would like to start some kind of a little publishing thing, you have some designs here, you’re writing them anyway. Why don’t we publish them for you and sell them yourself? Why sell them off to a magazine?” The man has vision and that’s why I married him!
UC: Sounds like a good business decision.
Joan: It really was and that’s really how we got started. He works with me in the business now. We travel and do shows like STITCHES and Vogue Knitting Live and whatnot, and it grew into a business from there. I took a lot of the experiences and things that I’ve done previously.
For example, when I was at Frederick’s of Hollywood, I just had the foresight to trace off the patterns that I was cutting on brown paper and just archive them – keep them in a big box, kept them with me whenever I moved, kept them in the attic. Then came the opportunity to do my book, Knitting Lingerie Style: More Than 30 Basic and Lingerie – Inspired Designs. Melanie Falick at Abrams publishing, she had heard in an interview from me somewhere that I did used to work for Frederick’s of Hollywood and she said would you like to do a book about lingerie?
UC: That was going to be my next question. How did you get into the lingerie?
Joan: There it is. I went up to the attic, and got my big box down, and said, “Well this would work! This would work, too.” I had really the basic pieces all there. It was just a matter of transfering them to knitting – knitting the shapes instead of cutting them out of fabric – and assembling them like I would have if I had cut them out of fabric. Consequently, I was able to use a bra wire that I had designed when I was working for Frederick’s. It was a w – a continuous underwire.
UC: Wow, one piece?
Joan: Yes, the reason I designed it that way was I always have my wires popping either in the center or at the side.
UC: Yes, I think everybody has that problem. Well, not everybody, but most of us with the regular bras.
Joan: With the big boobs.
UC: The combo!
Joan: Well, the weight of them makes them float around inside their channeling. And the w wire stays right where it is. The breasts are holding them in place, then you have this v coming up in the center, they can’t go anywhere. This is just the perfect wire for long wearing bras. Don’t know why I don’t see it more.
UC: I don’t know either, I would love to see this more because I have the same exact problem!
Joan: So anyway, we went into that project using so many of the ideas from Frederick’s, but my dear editor kept me from doing sequined pasties or anything like that. She let me do a few things that were a little on the risque side, but for the most part she kept me under her thumb and on the right side of the line of good taste.
UC: Can you just talk a little bit about what you’ve been doing here at Vogue Knitting Live?
Joan: I’ve done a Crochet for Knits class. It’s very interesting. My classes that people choose sometimes have nothing to do with knititng. One of my most popular classes – unfortunately, we didn’t do it here this time since we didn’t have room in my schedule for it – is Whip Your Knits into Shape. What we do is take copious measurements of the student’s body and then we transfer those to brown paper. Now we have an actual flat pattern.
UC: Kind of like a sloper?
Joan: Yes, a sloper. And then, without having to know anything about pattern making, they can just start knitting. If they’re knitting the back of a sweater, compare it. Oh, too big, I’ve gotta rip back. Before you get finished, you know it’s fine.
The other thing, I do a 6 hour class of Whip Your Knits into Shape where we take those measurements, do the brown paper patterns, and then we learn to design with them. It’s a really very popular class and a lot of poeple have had their aha moments. When they’re in the class saying why doesn’t this fit me – well, you can’t see yourself from the back.
UC: Absolutely, you don’t see what’s going on back there.
Joan: Too many people don’t want to know, either. The other classes that we’ve done this time was Bead Embroidery for Knits which was based on my little collection of 1950s beaded sweaters. I have 4 or 5 pieces that have fabulous beadwork on them. There was one in particular that I took and made into a chart and we just copy that essentially and I teach them how to do the beadwork without having to do it one by one by one.
UC: Oh, that’s awesome.
Joan: It’s not done that way. They can take that skill and use it for Christmas ornaments or decorating clothes, t-shirts, jeans jackets. I’m a child of the ’70s, it’s going to be my flares, man! It’s a very fun class for everybody and it has nothing to do with knitting – you can do it on anything.
The other class, Crochet for Knits, is fine finishing touches that you can use for your knitting, to keep edges from rolling, to be decorative, to join things together, just learning how to handle a hook when you’re a die-hard knitter. They’re a little afraid of that.
UC: Yes, it’s interesting because people are always saying crocheting is so much easier. But I’ve found, now that I’ve started knitting, that a lot of knitters are really intimidated by crochet.
Joan: Very. You should have seen the big eyes in my class.
UC: So what do you do to put them at ease because I know crochet’s a phobia for a lot of knitters.
Joan: We just jump in. I ask them how do you hold your hook? Some hold it like a spoon, some hold it like a pencil. And as soon as I start requiring them to use it, they do. They just do because they have to. I have them do a chain with their fingers first so they can get the structure of the stitch and then stitch the hook in and continue. Now they’re getting comfortable and we can roll from there. It’s just getting them comfortable and not afraid of the hook. And you can rip it out so easy! They go, “Hey, there’s only one stitch at a time that you have to worry about!”
UC: That is a huge plus of crochet.
Joan: It’s quite a revelation.
UC: Yeah, when you’re knitting and it’s really stressful to do that (pull out stitches). Since you also crochet… I’m sure you have not too much down time when you can actually make your own projects, but if you do, do you have a preference between crocheting or knitting? Or do you have a totally other craft that you do to relax?
Joan: You know, I would love another craft. That I use to relax? I do sew. And I have to sew, because I’m a hard fit. So I do sew and I make things for myself on the sewing machine. And after so many years of knitting, sewing seems so easy and fast! Instant gratification. Putting a pair of pants together – no sweat. Lining a coat – not a problem. Things that would have been really daunting before, now that you put three weeks into a sweater, I can put ten hours into a coat – that kind of thing. I guess I want to say sewing is my other, non-professional hobby.
UC: It sounds like it’s also utilitarian – it’s not just for fun.
Joan: Sometimes it is. Sometimes I just want something knew and I just whip up a little knit top or something. I also do machine knitting and sometimes I will combine that with fabric and sewing things together. It’s kind of automated – it’s not hand knitting – and it’s very fast. You can do a front or back of a tank top in literally twenty minutes. That’s really instant gratification. Yep, sewing is pretty much the other white meat there :).
UC: You’ve had a lot of experience in all different aspects of the yarn industry and the fashion industry. Do you have any advice for people that are considering trying to come into the yarn industry?
Joan: Boy, keep your day job. At this moment, keep your day job. Didn’t use to be that way, but things got really rough here for the economy. Putting out a few patterns may or may not be something that becomes viable, but the main advice is have somebody read your patterns. Tech edit your stuff or test knit your stuff. A lot of people maybe have done that for themselves, and they can’t see the forest for the trees anymore when they are working with their own pattern. There’s just nothing more off-putting then buying a pattern from a new designer and finding it not working. To keep your reputation good, take that extra little step and have somebody read it, tech edit it, something. That’s really one of the most important things, I think.
UC: Do you have any upcoming activities you’d like to talk about?
Joan: Yes, I’m going to be doing some classes on Craftsy in the upcoming months. I’m actually looking for Stephanie Japel today because she’s the acquisitions editor there now. I will definitely be doing a Continental Knitting class, which may be one of the free ones. It just introduces you to the teacher and how their teaching style is, but there will also be others on fit most definitely. So look for me in about four or five months on Craftsy. (UC comment: You can now find Joan’s Feminine Fit class for sale on Craftsy here.)
We always do STITCHES West at the Santa Clara Convention Center. I always have a booth there, so people can come by and see the garments that I do in person. I’m about to pitch another book. I’m not going to say what it’s about, but it’s along the lines of Knitting Lingerie Style, so it’s more romantic, kind of sexy, pretty things.
UC: Good luck! More pretty stuff is definitely needed. Anything else you’d like to share?
Joan: I also have a pretty good blog. I’m running a fitting series which started last Monday (UC comment: on January 14, 2013), so anyone can go to my blog and check out the first installment of Knit to Fit. I wrote about the five different mistakes knitters make in terms of fit. I’m going to expand that because the reaction to that has been really positive. I’ll possibly do an e-book with that.
UC: There’s a lot of fears and concerns and horror stories surrounding knit fitting – and crochet fitting, too.
Joan: And wasted money and disappointment. I’m all about avoiding disappointment, especially when you’re working on something you think you’re going to love, and then you put it on and go, “Oh, that looks awful!” If I can help anybody avoid that, I’m all over it!
Thanks so much, Joan! I really appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule at Vogue Knitting Live to meet with me!
I completed some major (mostly top secret) crochet and knit projects in January, and even used up over 4,500 yards of yarn.
Unfortunately, none of it was stash yarn. Some of you that design for publication may know about yarn support. This is the yarn that a designer is sent for free in order to crochet or knit a sample. Back in December, my buddies in the Surmount the Stash group on Ravelry helped me to realize that unused yarn support does eventually become part of my stash. (I know it’s obvious, but I was secretly hoping to just avoid its existence forever!) I ended up adding about 1,620 yards of unused yarn support into my stash.
And then, there was Vogue Knitting Live…
So I ended the month with about 1,800 more yards officially in my stash than I started with, but I also actually moved out a lot of yarn. I’m back down to 4.5 plastic tubs instead of 5 overstuffed plastic tubs.
My goal for February is to use up stash yarn and free up more space in my yarn bins. I’m hoping to get some charity projects done and really work through my acrylic yarns, which now fill the smallest (half-sized) yarn bin that I have. Not very tangible, I know, but for February I’ll need to take stashbusting one day at a time!
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