Interview with Val Pierce, book reviews, and giveaways

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Today, I’m interviewing Val Pierce, reviewing two of her recent books, and hosting a giveaway for both books!

Val Pierce is a knitting and crochet designer living in the U.K. Her designs have appeared in Knit Today, Knitting, and Let’s Knit.  She’s also a prolific author, and has had 9 pattern books published in the last two years! You can find Val on her website, Crossed Needles or her Ravelry designer page.  All photographs included in this interview are used with Val’s permission.

Val Pierce, doing what she loves!

The Interview

Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first learn to crochet and knit?

Val: I began knitting at the age of five when, after watching my mother knitting a pink, fluffy rabbit hot water bottle cover, I just had to do the same.  It was actually my Dad who taught me to knit. Whilst sitting on the floor between his knees, he patiently helped me to learn the way to cast on, knit and purl, and cast off.  Once I got the hang of it, I never looked back. I took my knitting everywhere with me — on the school bus, on holiday, and I have to admit that I was once caught knitting during a lecture at school and had to stay in during break times for my trouble!!  I used to use my pocket money to buy yarn on a Saturday, knit all day until it was gone, and then I had to wait a whole week before I could go and buy some more.  As I got older, I could never pass a yarn shop without going in to look at the wools on display, and rarely came out empty handed.  After all, those couple of balls of yarn might just come in handy one day!!   As a result I have ended up with a stash of yarn large enough to stock my own store.  All the ladies in my family were accomplished needle women.  They either sewed, knitted, or did crochet or embroidery, so I am sure that many of my skills are inherited.

Some of Val’s accessories designs.

UC: What inspired you to start designing?

Val: For many years, as well as knitting for myself and  my family, I began knitting for various yarn companies, checking their patterns, and knitting garments for photography. I also worked for many designers.  It seemed a natural progression that I should try my hand at designing, so I began experimenting with my own ideas. There were many mistakes, as well as successes, along the way, as you can imagine. Eventually I felt confident enough to approach a knitting magazine, and to my delight, they accepted my design and it was published.  As a result of that I began to get commissions from many different magazines which was wonderful for me.

Under the Sea from Let’s Knit.

UC: You make a lot of toys, bears, and bear clothes. What is it about designing toys and bear clothes that you enjoy?

Val: Designing toys was probably my least favourite of all to begin with. It entailed so many fiddly small parts and seemed to take forever!  However, I have to say that it has “grown” on me, and the more toys I make, the more I love doing it. I research the actual animals or birds that I make and study their colours and stance, also the way they look. I then add to this some cute features and try to bring my creations to life, whilst still keeping them uncomplicated enough for knitters of all abilities to make. My teddy bears are all special to me,  Some were actually based on real friends and family, so have their own little characters.  I love giving them expressions too.

Freddy Football and Olivia Sweetheart from Knitted Bears: All Dressed Up (Twenty to Make)

UC: Your Knitted Baby Bootees (Twenty to Make) is being released this October. What was the design process like for this book?

Val: Baby Bootees was a delight to work on, although it was a little daunting at the beginning to try to come up with 20 new designs that were different to the already huge amount of designs that had already been done before. I also wanted to make some designs aimed specially at the little boys.  There always seem plenty of pretty, pink frilly ones around for baby girls, but baby boys are just as special and need their little feet looked after too!!    Seeing 40 tiny bootees all lined up on my table was a delight to behold.

UC: You had five (!) books released this year. What advice do you have for an aspiring needlearts writer?

Val: If you have a passion for a particular pastime, something that you live and breathe, as I do with my knitting and crochet, then follow your heart and your ambitions.   There will be plenty of times when things don’t go right, publishers refuse your ideas and you don’t hear back from places you have written to, but never give up trying.   Above all, enjoy what you do.  It really doesn’t matter what other folks think, as long as you are happy with the work you produce. One day, someone will notice your work and give you the much longed for break you desire.

Another one of Val’s adorable creations.

UC: What are some of your favorite crochet and knitting books (besides your own, of course)?

Val: I have a huge selection of all kinds of books which I have collected over the years. I admire so many other designers’ work, all of whom have their own special style. Kaffe Fassett is one of my all time favourites as is Sasha Kagan. These particular designers have a fantastic talent for the use of patterns and colours that I love.  I also appreciate the hours of work they must put in to their designing process.  I love Fair Isle work myself and hope to introduce some of this type of colour work into one of my next books, Cutest Ever Toddler Knits, which will be published in early 2013, God willing.

UC: You are obviously multi-craftual. What is your favorite “go to” craft when you are working on personal projects?

Val: I suppose I am a lover of all crafts, ranging from knitting, crochet, embroidery, card making, scrap booking, and last, but not least, sketching and water colour painting.  I also love to write poetry, too.  Probably the one that I would turn to for complete relaxation would be my water colour painting. I can lose myself for hours when painting a bird.  I love fine detail and am able to express just that when working on feathers and eyes, or the plumage colouring in wild birds.

UC: Do you have any crochet, knit, or craft blogs or websites to recommend?

Val: Web sites that I would recommend are those of some of the magazines I work for, such as Let’s Knit and Knit Today. Search Press also have a lovely web site to enable browsing of the wonderful books they publish.  It is not only full of new publications, but also gives free projects and ideas each month, so is well worth a visit.

Thanks, Val, for taking the time to stop by for an interview!  Val’s publisher, Search Press, sent me review copies of four of her latest books.  I will be reviewing two today and two in a future post.  Now on to the book reviews…

Book Review: Crocheted Bears (Twenty to Make)

Juan the Flamenco Bear graces the cover of Crocheted Bears (Twenty to Make).

Crocheted Bears (Twenty to Make) is part of Search Press’s Twenty to Make series.  The book features a basic bear pattern and 20 variations which include different detailing/facial characteristics and outfits with accessories.  My favorites are Mazzy the Keep-fit Bear (who is dressed like she is in a Richard Simmons video, complete with legwarmers, head band, arm bands, and gym bag), Paul the Panda Bear (with his very own bamboo shoot), and Roz the Artist Bear (complete with beret, canvas, easel, and palette).  As you can see from the cover, the basic bear is more of a classic teddy bear style than an amigurumi style.  The bears remind me of the awesome bears my grandmother used to make, but with better accessories ;).

I think this book would be great for someone who likes to crochet gifts.  There is a basic pattern for the bear, which you could learn to do quickly without much attention to the pattern after many repeats, but then there are 20 variations which each have a personality, so you could easily customize your gifts.  After working through all twenty, you could probably come up with your own variations of different themes within the book.  The book is small and portable, and is reasonably priced at $9.95.  The book uses U.S. pattern abbreviations but also includes U.K. terminology in parenthesis.

There are some things about the book that could be improved.  The book emphasizes U.S. pattern terminology with U.K. terms in parenthesis, while the yarn weights are frequently in U.K. terms (e.g., “4-ply yarn”) and the measurements are listed first in centimeters and then in inches.  I think the book suffers from a bit of an identity crisis and can’t decide if it is primarily geared towards an American or U.K. audience.  Also, there is really one main bear pattern and twenty outfits, not twenty bear patterns as the name suggests.  These things aren’t deal breakers for me, but might bother another reader.  Additionally, while the small, thin size of the book is great for crocheting on the go, the binding makes it challenging to hold open, so you would probably need to crack the spine to read while you are crocheting.

Overall, I would give the book 4 stars for a crocheter comfortable with basic pattern reading who wants to get more experience working with thread and thin yarn, loves to make critters, has a long gift list, and/or enjoys working with variations on a theme.

Book Review: Knitted Bears: All Dressed Up! (Twenty to Make)

Knitted Bears: All Dressed Up! (Twenty to Make) is another book in Search Press’s Twenty to Make series.  The book features a basic bear pattern and twenty variations in clothing and detailing.  My favorite bears are Toby Toddler Bear, Barney College Bear, and Emily Knitting Bear.  I don’t really know what to say about Sophie Bikini Bear ;).  In comparison to Crocheted Bears, I would say that the knit bears are generally more elaborately dressed/decorated and all use bead eyes while in Crocheted Bears, all of the bears use embroidered or crocheted features.

There are some things about the book that could be improved.  The book includes translations from U.S. to U.K. pattern abbreviations but generally uses U.K. terminology exclusively for yarn and materials, and primarily for measurements.  Consistency would be helpful here.  This is a minor detail, but the bears without shirts and shaped bodies appear to need more torso stuffing.

Overall, the book is quite inspiring with many interesting costumes such as pumpkin, bee, and strawberry “suits” to go over the bear.  Again, I think this book would be fun for a knitter with an extensive gift list (though not including any toddlers, since the eyes can be eaten) or who likes working with variations on a theme.  I would give this one 4 stars as well.

Full disclosure: A free review copy of each book was provided by the publisher. Although I accept free books for review, I do not accept additional compensation from the publisher, nor do I guarantee a positive review.  My reviews are based entirely on my honest opinions. This also post contains affiliate links. You can read my affiliate and review disclosures here.


I’ll be giving away my review copies of Crocheted Bears (Twenty to Make) and Knitted Bears: All Dressed Up! (Twenty to Make), courtesy of Search Press.

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