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I’m thrilled to post an interview with designer and author Ellen Gormley.  I love crocheting afghans (in fact, at one point, I made nothing else for about 3 years straight!) and recently heard about her new book, Go Crochet! Afghan Design Workbook, on the Getting Loopy podcast.  I then read more about it through Ellen’s blog tour for the book.  Finally, I was convinced to part with my hard earned money and check it out.

This post is long, because I’m including my interview with Ellen and my review of the book.

The Interview

I’m having a hard time remembering the first pattern of Ellen’s which caught my eye, but I eventually began to notice that many patterns that I liked were written by her.  I love her afghan patterns, but Ellen designs many other things as well which you can see on her Ravelry designer page.   Ellen has been a designer for about seven years and, according to her blog, is also a mom and a lover of chocolate (who isn’t!) and Jazzercise (er, um…).

Ellen Gormley

UC: How did you get started designing?
Ellen: I had made 2 blankets for a friend’s wedding… his and hers mirror images, one was gray with white for him, and one was white with gray for her.  I had so much fun using the technique that I went ahead and practiced making the strip technique into rectangles.  It became the first pattern I ever sold, to Leisure Arts, in 2004. I never saw where the finished blanket ended up. When I sold the very first project I had ever designed, I knew I was on the right path and began truly researching how to make it a business.

UC: When I first became a CGOA Associate Professional member, you were the person who assigned me to my mentor, Mary Nolfi.  Tell me about how you became involved with the CGOA mentor program, and some of the benefits of having a mentor.

Ellen: I searched for crochet on the internet and found the Crochet Guild of America.  When I found out that there was a mentor program, I knew I needed the resource. Tammy Hildebrand was assigned to be my mentor. Soon after that, she became the Mentor Coordinator.  During our work, she had a personal crisis come up and asked if I would help her out temporarily with the Mentor Coordinator tasks.  Later, when it was time for her to move on from the position, she asked if I would take over, considering I had already learned the ropes when I had helped her.

Recently, I passed the torch to Renee Barnes, who is the current Mentor Coordinator.  The program is great because it gives a one-to-one contact for the burgeoning professional to get a ‘reality’ check and ask for guidance.  Still, no one can build your career for you, and the Mentor is there to support and encourage you along the way.

(UC comment: The CGOA mentoring program is really a wonderful opportunity for anyone attempting to enter the crochet industry.  Yes, there are other more informal resources such as the Ravelry Designers group available.  But having a one-to-one relationship which is private and not on a public forum really can’t be beat in my opinion.  The best part is as the mentee, you are really expected to guide the process by asking questions, providing updates, etc., rather than sit passively while your mentor does all the work!)

UC: Crocheters and afghans (and crocheted afghans) sometimes get a bad rep.  When you’re designing afghans, do you feel additional pressure to break those stereotypes?

Ellen: In some ways designing afghans feels less ‘prestigious’ than designing garments; however, research shows that consumers make more afghans than any other type project.  Blankets fit without needing bust darts or specific measurements. They are awesome to give as gifts. You can take color risks with blankets that you might not want to take with a garment and blankets are easier to donate and are easier received than garments. Blankets are easier to hand down from generation to generation than garments. Blankets get used, which is the biggest compliment you can receive, to have your handmade item used.

UC: I recently bought a copy of your book, which I’m really enjoying.  What was the design process like for this book?

Ellen: Thank you!  I contacted the company with my resume and list of achievements and told them that I wanted to write the book.  I submitted the first several designs for them to consider. After the contract was signed, I started in earnest to design in batches of 8-10 motifs until all 50 were complete.  At the same time, I was noting which ones that I enjoyed the most that I would make into final projects.  Each motif had a hang tag and the editor would write comments about the color choice on the tag and return them to me.  On a few, we went back and forth with colors, sometimes even changing yarn brands until the right color combination was chosen.  Others we agreed on immediately. We wanted to have a bright, consistent color scheme, but at the same time knew we wanted a variety of styles to help every reader find something that appealed to them.

UC: Where do you generally find your creative inspiration?
Ellen: Generally it’s the yarn. Generally, I just grab the yarn and start and see what happens. Sometimes I start with goals or an idea of what I want to create.  I rarely “see” the finished project in my mind before I start.  I often see color combinations and patterns in clothes, wrapping paper, flowers, that inspire me.

UC: What is your favorite crochet book in your collection (besides yours, of course)?
Ellen: I love books!  I have many, many books.  I love my The Complete Book of Crochet Stitch Designs by Linda P. Schapper.  I go back to all my Encyclopedia type books, 101 Easy Tunisian Stitches, and The Encyclopedia of Crochet Techniques. There are too many good ones to list.

UC: Do you have any favorite crafting blogs or websites you’d like to share?
Ellen: I love Vashti Braha’s blog.  Of course I love Doris Chan’s blog. For a variety of crafts, I enjoy Brett Bara‘s Manhattan Craft Room. I just came upon Craftsy.com and I think the classes on there could be really worth seeing.

UC: (Insert your own question here.)

Ellen: People frequently ask me how to make crochet their profession and I remind them that it is a career. It takes study, it takes research. It’s not easy to get a book deal. Many very successful crochet designers have never written a book or wanted to write a book.  Be professional always. Never miss a deadline. Always tell the truth. Do work you are proud of. Learn from your mistakes. Every colleague you meet today could be an editor or publisher tomorrow, so use good manners.

Thanks so much Ellen for sharing this great advice and for taking the time to join me for an interview.  And now, on to…

The Book Review

Go Crochet! Afghan Design Workbook is a really fun book.  It is a great introduction to personalizing your own crocheted afghans and also features 50 different motifs and 10 projects.

The book is organized into three sections:

  • Ready…Set…Go Crochet!,
  • Motifs to Go, and
  • Afghans to Go.

There is also an appendix which provides information on yarn weights, hooks, and crochet terms including comparisons between the US and UK terminology.

Ready…Set…Go Crochet! has a nice introduction to supplies including things like digital cameras and blocking boards which aren’t on the standard list of tools included in most crochet books.  It also reviews pattern abbreviations and international stitch symbols.  There are a few pages explaining the stitches used in the book, complete with instructions and diagrams.  This includes the basic stitches (sc, dc, etc.) as well as clusters, popcorns, and several types of decreases.

My favorite part here is the six pages devoted to “Creating Your Own Designs,” where Ellen talks about pattern modification, color, layout, and assembly.

I love Ellen’s discussion of color and yarn selection.

As someone who teaches a lot of beginners, I really enjoy the conversational tone Ellen uses as well as the information she shares.  She anticipates a lot of the questions that beginners or those who are just becoming intermediates have about yarn, terms, etc.

Motifs to Go includes ten designs each in squares, rectangles, triangles, hexagons, and octagons.   Each motif includes a small introduction about the pattern or colors by Ellen.  The colors are vibrant and the pictures represent the blocks well.

I particularly like that each motif includes five potential “Mix and Match” partners – especially since the partners are not always the same shape!

Before the patterns for the motifs of a particular shape, Ellen has a page which discusses – and illustrates – different potential layouts for blankets using that shape.  This is one aspect of the book that I think really separates it from other similar books.  For example, in Beyond the Square Crochet Motifs by Edie Eckman, you would find more motifs and equally great information about color and various techniques.  However, if you were trying to piece together an afghan from the different shapes, you would suddenly be presented with watercolors, which might make it tough for you to visualize a final project if you are a relative beginner.

From Edie Eckman’s Beyond the Square Crochet Motifs.

The final section has ten afghans using great color combos and different joining techniques to bring the patterns to life.

This isn’t a book where all the motifs will end up the same size or are easy to combine together – the All Call pattern, which includes every motif in the book, looks like it was a struggle to bring together!  If you are looking for a book like that, there are others on the market.  I definitely recommend Go Crochet! Afghan Design Workbook to anyone looking for another crochet motif book to add to their collection, to crocheters who want to branch out from following patterns completely to modifying patterns to personalize their finished projects, and to anyone who enjoys crocheting afghans.  In addition to all the content I’ve mentioned, the book is spiral-bound so you can lay it flat when working on a project, it includes a section on conversions from US to UK terms, there are both pattern abbreviations and stitch diagrams, and the motifs and blankets are beautifully photographed.  I gave the book 5 stars in my review.

Go Crochet! Afghan Design Workbook: Interview with Ellen Gormley and Book Review
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