Interview with Creativity Coach, Carlota Zimmerman

Today’s interview is with Carlota Zimmerman, a Creativity Coach in New York City.  Carlota and I actually went to high school together, and we have since kept in touch as her journey brought her to Wellesley College (class of ’96), working and traveling in Russia, a career in network news, and then a J.D. from the Maurer School of Law at Indiana University (Bloomington).  She is also an accomplished playwright and blogger.  Check out her website at Carlota Worldwide.  (You can also check her out on the Huffington Post.  And, if you or anyone you know is considering going to law school, you must read her “Top 5 Reasons Not to Attend Law School” article first.  Just to be sure you’re on the right path…)

In the last few years, she resettled in New York and launched her Creativity Coaching business.  Carlota is particularly good at bringing her clients’ (and her friends’)  creativity to the forefront, and that is what we are discussing today.

UC: How did you get started blogging?

Carlota: I’m actually a produced playwright, with one play currently on tour, and another one almost done, so while I love writing, blogging did not come naturally. I think if you don’t have a “message” to get across (such as, say, a business, or a passion), it can actually be quite distracting. I really only started blogging once I became truly serious about my creativity coaching business. I wanted to use the blog as a format…

(I hope.) I might however blow their mind, and make them feel invincible…if I do my job right!

UC: Do you have any tips for a newbie blogger in terms of finding a voice, choosing which blog host to use, etc.?
Carlota: Well, in blogging, like anything else, you must accept that at first, you probably won’t be very good at it…and that’s fine. But you must commit. You must blog regularly, since the more that you write, the better it’ll become. Try not to despair when some of your friends’ blogs have a hundred followers and you have yourself…and the cats. The cats have excellent taste!

(UC comment: I know mine does!)

Also, consider the blog, and consider what audience you’re attempting to connect with, that will help focus it. But at first, yes, it might just be you and some dear friends reading it. (And buy those people a drink for supporting you!) But it will get better as you figure out more about yourself and your goals.

I personally use Blogger, since they make it so easy to Tweet/Facebook etc. the posts.

UC: What led to you becoming a Creativity Coach?
Carlota: My obsession with getting every single person on the planet to fully utilize their potential. Wasted potential makes me cranky. (UC note: Trust me, you never want to see Carlota cranky.) And I speak from personal experience; before I started this business, I spent eight years in network news, working for all the networks, except CBS, in Moscow, Russia, New York and Washington, DC.  Name a show and I probably worked for it. I did everything: White House producer; operations producer for ABC News; assignment editor for CNN; had a famous national correspondent throw a water cooler at me; threw phones at incompetent producers; made writers cry…yes, I brought joy wherever I went. But I was excellent at getting stories on the air and that’s all that matters.

So then, obviously, I got burned out. I had experienced tremendous success, and since prestige at that point was more important than values, I thought, “Oh! Law school!” (Those people who also went to law school, are probably choking on their bitter laughter right now. I don’t blame them.) I went to law school…and it wasn’t super fun. Not the most wonderful three years of my life, for which I take full responsibility, since I hadn’t researched it, nor did I really know myself. So for me, law school was three years of trying to force a square peg (moi) into a round hole (law school)…you can imagine how much fun that was. For both of us.
I did have some interesting experiences, such as the summer practicing law in India, and the second summer interning in Senator Clinton’s immigration department, but by the time I graduated in 2007, I knew that I didn’t want to practice law. But…what did I want to do? There appeared to be no money to be made in napping on the sofa, with the cats.

Through trial and error, I started slowly, very s-l-o-w-l-y working as a creativity coach, by which I mean, I was helping friends figure themselves out. (I was also bartending and doing various odd jobs for cash.) And then, in midst of all this, I was contacted by the Brazilian government regarding a play I had written at 17, which had won the Young Playwrights Festival when I was 18. The Brazilians wanted to stage a nation-wide tour of the play to encourage a national dialogue on the issue of prisoners’ rights. (*sound of head exploding*) The play is now on the second year of it’s tour…mother’s so proud!

That was for me a true galvanizing moment about the necessity of doing what you love…and how it makes things work. I started writing again, wrote a new play, got a great agent, and the ideas just started flowing.

So when I say I’m obsessed with every single person on the damn planet using their full potential…I AIN’T KIDDING! Because when you do…its extraordinary what can happen. And when you don’t…

UC: Without giving away all of your trade secrets (which we should be paying dearly for), can you share some tips for yarncrafters in a creative rut?
Carlota: I prefer to work with people on a one-on-one basis, and help them build personalized and creative strategies, based on their needs and personalities…but off-hand, I would suggest: return to your roots. Why did you start crafting in the first place? Why is it important to you? Consider why you might be in a rut: is it time to undertake a project you think might be beyond your skills? Also, start seeking out inspiration in very new places…

UC: Any tips for emerging desigers/authors on dealing with rejection?
Carlota: My all-time favorite story in this regard, is about the author Kurt Vonnegut. After he passed, I went to an exhibition honoring his life, and among all of his manuscripts, and photos…was a pile of rejection letters. 800 rejection letters. He had received the slips, saved them…and kept on writing. Kept on writing at what he believed in his heart to be valuable, till he finally broke through. I was deeply impressed. He knew his talents…and that’s all that mattered to him. Is he my favorite author? No, not at all…but my respect for his courage and perservance is off-the-charts.

UC: As a playwright, where/how do you find inspiration?
Carlota: Ugh: everywhere. I have to finish the final polish on this play by August 1, so I can send it to my agent, since I have two book proposals I want to sell, and then a third play I want to start writing December…but that’s also because I’m very driven and after so many years of not writing, my business has unleashed my creativity in extreme ways. But I personally believe that this period of fertility, could NOT have happened, had I not had years of feeling completely at loose ends, and understanding that I had to fight it out and figure myself out…or else, that period would have never ended.

Carlota has definitely given me some inspiration.  I don’t know if I will be keeping my rejection letters until I collect 800 like Kurt Vonnegut, but it is helpful to be reminded that everyone goes through that experience!

Updated August, 2014: For anyone in need of more one-on-one work to get you out of a rut or onto the next change in your lives, you can contact Carlota to learn more about her services and her current pricing here.  Although her home base is in New York City, she also offers phone/video chat services for clients living elsewhere.  As a satisfied customer myself, I will tell you that if you need your butt kicked into shape, Carlota is the right coach for you!

Crochet Book Review: Crochet Compendium

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Today I’m reviewing Crochet Compendium: The Ultimate Collection of Crochet Techniques, edited by Connie Ellison.  I have recently updated my crochet book collection, which is why you are seeing so many book reviews!  The Crochet Compendium is an interesting book for the crocheter who is looking to branch out and learn new skills. It is basically a compilation of many DRG crochet books. DRG’s Annie’s Attic books often feature an innovative approach to a crochet technique, or a re-introduction to a lost crochet art.

The chapters in this book are:

Broomstick lace
Crocheting doilies
Double-ended crochet
Filet crochet
Crochet with fleece
Mosaic crochet
Hairpin lace
Learn to crochet socks
Symbol crochet
Wiggly crochet
Crochet basics

Each chapter includes an introduction to the technique and one or two patterns. I happen to own two of booklets exerpted in this collection, Learn to Do Hairpin Lace and Learn to Crochet Socks the Toe Up Way! by Kim Kotary.

I compared the original books to see what is actually included in the Crochet Compendium. The Crochet Compendium includes the entire set of instructions for each of those two books, so I assume that it includes the full instructions for the other books in the compilation as well. The benefit of this, of course, is that you have all of the same technique/skill information in this one book as you would get from purchasing about fifteen or so booklets. In addition to saving you money, having the one book saves some room on the bookshelf and you can actually find it later since there is a name on the spine (which the booklets lack).

I’ve always found the DRG booklets helpful for explaining techniques because they use a combination of illustrations and photographs showing exactly where the hook should be placed. This book continues that tradition (because all of the content is previously published). The Crochet basics section would be helpful to a beginner crocheter and reviews the basic stitches as well as simple color changes and finishing techniques. This is definitely a book that a crocheter could “grow” with since many different skills are included.

On the other hand, you have one or two patterns for each technique instead of the 5-10 included in the original booklet. I tend to rely less on patterns and am more interested in learning different techniques (I have been crocheting for 27 years after all!), so I don’t personally have a problem with that aspect of the book. The patterns are typical of what you would expect from DRG booklets (i.e., primarily using medium/worsted weight yarns from big box stores, clear instructions, and not particularly groundbreaking from a style or fashion perspective). Again, this is alright for me but this isn’t the book for you if you are expecting trendy designs with luxury yarns (or fitted fashions with a lot of drape). Rather, it is a book that emphasizes technique with a pattern or two to help you apply the technique. If you are the type of crocheter that really needs to work through several patterns to get comfortable with a new technique, this book may not include enough patterns for you.

The booklets were thin enough to lay flat when reading so you would be able to look at photos and diagrams very easily when learning a new technique; in book form, it is actually rather difficult to do that. The hairpin lace section, for example, is near the center of the book. Hairpin lace is a technique that is increasingly popular and I imagine many readers may want to learn it first. You would basically have to damage the spine in order to spread the book out so you could read the instructions and look at the visuals while you work. Your alternative would be to keep flipping to the book, working on your crochet, opening the book up again, etc. This is no different than most crochet books, but it is a definite disadvantage compared to owning the booklets that are compiled in this collection.

Is this book a must-have? I don’t think so. Is it a nice addition to your crochet library? Probably. Someone who has been crocheting for while and likes to shop at Annie’s Attic may already have several of these booklets in his/her collection. If you are interested in learning many of the techniques featured in the book, there is a definite cost savings compared to buying each booklet (and some are out-of-print or difficult to obtain). From that perspective, the book would save you some money and you would probably be willing to deal with the binding (no worse than most crochet books, just not as easy to use as a booklet). The book would also make a nice gift for a crocheter who is trying to learn new things – it includes some of the hottest techniques and skills in crochet right now (e.g., broomstick lace, hairpin lace, symbol crochet, crochet socks, and tunisian crochet) as well as others which are really fun.  I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Crochet Book Review: Everything Crochet

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Today I’m reviewing Everything Crochet: A Must-Have Reference Book for the Serious Crocheter!, edited by Carol Alexander and Connie Ellison, a new crochet guide (with the subheading “A must-have reference for the serious crocheter!) published by DRG as an Annie’s Attic book.

Everything Crochet is a book book I would recommend to one of my beginner crochet students as s/he builds a reference library to help improve and expand her/his own crochet skills.  It provides an in depth review of some of the great mysteries of crochet that most of us learn over time through trial and error and an introduction to many of the lesser known crochet techniques.  The book aims to bring you from beginner through crochet professional as a detailed reference book for crochet.  In the note from the editors, Carol Alexander and Connie Ellison announce, “At last, here is that one, must-have guidebook that will become a much-used and treasured staple in any crocheter’s library.”  I’m not sure any book can live up to the standard of being the one book that every crocheter will need, but this one definitely covers a lot of areas usually ignored in other crochet guides.

The book is organized into 17 chapters:

  1. Stitch Basics
  2. Weights & Measures
  3. Reading Patterns
  4. Special Helps
  5. Crochet Hooks & Tools
  6. Yarns 101
  7. Getting It Together
  8. The Right Fit
  9. Working With Color
  10. Professional Touches
  11. Reinvent and Recycle
  12. Not Your Ordinary Crochet
  13. Crochet Care
  14. Getting Organized
  15. Teaching Kids to Crochet
  16. The Business of Crochet
  17. Tips from the Pros

The book fills a gap that many self-taught crocheters may have by having several really strong sections.  Chapter 1 provides detailed explanation of the basic stitches, with diagrams and swatches.  It actually explains (visually) how to count your stitches and rows, which is something that often confuses beginners. (And how can you check your gauge if you can’t count your stitches?)  Similarly Chapter 3 really walks you through understanding not just the pattern abbreviations but what different expressions actually mean.  The gauge section in Chapter 4 really demonstrates the benefits of checking gauge and swatching.  For your inner nerd, Chapters 5 and 6 go into the history of crochet hooks and the process of making acrylic yarn, respectively.  Chapter 7 does a great job of showing different seaming techniques and their impact on the finished piece.  Chapter 8 walks you through creating your own project based on the shape of an existing garment (in this case, a skirt).  It also has a nice sock section – great news since crocheted socks seem to be all the rage these days.  Chapter 10 reviews several finishing techniques, like buttons, pockets, and fringe.

Chapter 12 provides an introduction to many techniques that usually left out of other crochet guides, like felting, fair isle, mosaic, filet, beadwork, tambour crochet, and crocheting on fabric, as well as Swedish embroidery.  Chapter 13 gives clear instructions on taking good care of your creations so they can have a long life.  Chapter 15 and 16 are helpful if you are considering teaching or designing.  Chapter 17 provides (unsorted) tips from (anonymous) pros.  These tips are very helpful overall.

On the down side, Chapter 2 feels like a print out from the Yarn Standards website without much added.  Chapter 11, which I thought might focus on using upcycled materials for crocheting, actually emphasizes attaching applique to fabric and looks pretty dated.  Chapter 9 does a great job of explaining color theory but doesn’t provide enough details about the techniques of color changing for a beginner.  Chapter 14 doesn’t seem as valuable to me as the other chapters – I would have left it out to add more details on colorwork or specialized techniques.

The book also relies heavily on illustrations rather than on photographs.  I know I personally find photographs easier to understand, and most of my students do too.  Some of the swatch photographs appear messy and unblocked.  In general, the patterns seem a bit clunky and not very fresh.  The designers’ names are not listed so it seems like these may be recycled patterns from other Annie’s Attic books.

Overall, for the price, Everything Crochet is an excellent value.  This is definitely a solid reference book that a beginner, advanced beginner, or intermediate crocheter can learn a lot from and refer to many times.  The book is especially valuable for a largely self- or internet-taught crocheter (sorry internet!) who hasn’t had a teacher there to guide them towards learning specific skills or techniques.  If the patterns are not your style, there are great patterns elsewhere but it is hard to find an inexpensive book that can teach you this much in the way of technique.

In my Amazon review, I gave it 4 out of 5 stars.  It is currently on sale at Annie’s Attic in both PDF and book form, as well as on Amazon.

Book Review: The Knitgrrl Guide to Professional Knitwear Design

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Today, I finished reading Shannon Okey’s The Knitgrrl Guide to Professional Knitwear Design.

The book is a primer for getting started as a (hand) knitting or crochet designer.  It addresses the business end of designing (e.g., writing up, testing, printing, marketing patterns) and is not a guide on how to design.  Shannon compiles information from her own career; from extensive interviews with designers, editors, tech editors, publishers, and others in the industry; and from a range of web resources into an easily digestible package.  Her writing style is both conversational and professional.  The book provides many links to further reading on the internet.

The first section of the book discusses different aspects of being a professional designer.  Shannon shares her own opinions and also seeks out tips from others in the industry.  The chapters in this section are:

  1. What does it mean to be professional?
  2. Social media
  3. TCB, No PB&J Required, or: The Business Side of Things
  4. Send in the lawyers
  5. Writing patterns
  6. Making sales
  7. Proposals and Publishing
  8. Advertising
  9. Further education
  10. Professional organizations and associations
  11. Standing out

The main themes Shannon emphasizes in this section are behaving professionally, promoting yourself and your brand/business, understanding your strengths and limitations (and therefore how and when to get help), and staying true to your own values.  For example, is it more important to you that you have full control over your patterns or would you prefer to design while others deal with photography, distribution, and/or tech editing?  While she clearly presents her own opinions, Shannon makes it clear that people can find success through many different paths so you will need to find what works for you.

This section is slightly more than half of the book.  Shannon doesn’t claim to have invented the wheel, and much of this information is freely available online – she even provides links for you.  You will probably consider this part of the book successful if you believe that:

  • as an emerging designer from outside of the industry, it would take you more time/money to gather this information on your own than to buy and read Shannon’s book,
  • Shannon Okey as a success in the industry, and
  • you can trust Shannon and thereby, her advice.

On the other hand, if you feel like Shannon is just building up her “cult of personality” through this book, or that she hasn’t enjoyed the type of success you envision for yourself, or you are already aware of the many resources she includes in the book, then you may feel cheated.  As a recent knitter, I am not as familiar with Shannon Okey (gasp!) as I am with many of the crochet designers profiled in the next section, so I started the book without a bias towards or against her.  I did, however, play the mental game of wondering how I would have responded to the same material if it was presented by Crochet Designer X or Crochet Designer Y, and I know my response may have been different if another author presented the same information.

The second section of the book, The interviews, includes profiles of over 30 professionals with various roles and tenure within the industry.  The consistent messages in this section are about remaining professional and realizing that this is an industry where you are expected to work hard and long hours but may not reap financial rewards in proportion to those efforts.  The interesting thing about this section is that, because so many voices are “speaking,” there are many different messages.  In a sense, this section reinforces the early point about staying true to your own values.  I found the interviews fascinating – the “horror stories” in particular are real learning lessons.

The final section of the book includes two appendices (book proposal and class listing templates) and yet more links to various resources.

I would recommend this book to an aspiring/emerging crochet/knit designer.  I personally had the benefit of a fabulous mentor, Mary Nolfi, through the Crochet Guild of America‘s mentoring program, and I still learned a lot from reading The Knitgrrl Guide to Professional Knitwear Design.  Yes, the information presented in the book exists out there in the world, but if you don’t have it at your fingertips during the early stages of your career, you might make devastating mistakes.  With that said, I do have some complaints about the book.  In the second section, the editing changes.  Sentences suddenly end without periods, or even mid-thought.  It isn’t clear to me if this is because the interviews were conducted online and Shannon is keeping them in the original, grammatically incorrect format, or…?  I also had some issues with the formatting of the book in general.  There are more blank pages than I’m accustomed to seeing.  In the interview section, there are many parts where it seems like a page break was incorrectly inserted or removed.  These weren’t deal breakers for me, but contrast with Shannon’s presentation of herself as a detail-oriented self-publisher.  It would have been helpful to include a short chapter, or at least some discussion, about damage control if you’ve made mistakes early in your career (i.e., before reading this book) since there is a lot of talk about people who behave unprofessionally or act like divas.

Crochet Classics Book Review: Donna Kooler’s Encyclopedia of Crochet

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Donna Kooler’s Encyclopedia of Crochet

This is one of the first books I bought for my teaching library after becoming a CYC certified crochet teacher and instructor.  The book was published in 2002 and is part of a series of books by Donna Kooler that cover various needlecrafts. I recommend this book for many reasons but there are four elements of this book that really make it stand out as a classic.

  1. It is organized in a “beginner friendly” manner.
  2. It includes both left- and right-handed instructions, with illustrations.
  3. It provides a thorough overview of various techniques and materials.
  4. It allows you to grow from a beginner to an advanced intermediate crocheter within the same book.

The book is organized into five sections: Beginnings, Crochet Basics, Beyond the Basics, Pattern Gallery, and For Your Information.

The Beginnings section has a very interesting history of crochet in Europe and America.  Donna also includes a great photograph in this section with crochet hooks from different time periods.  This section is one that I read with fascination but it could easily be skipped by those who aren’t history nerds ;).

The Crochet Basics section is designed to explain the hows and whys of everything from patterns to materials to basics stitches to a beginner crocheter. One of the best structural aspects of the book is that this section starts with a key to crochet pattern abbreviations and symbols.  In contrast, many crochet books put this information towards the back in an appendix.  If beginner crocheters aren’t accustomed to this formatting, they are immediately turned off to the entire craft!  And why not, since if you don’t know how to translate the abbreviations and symbols, how can you move ahead through the patterns presented in the book?

Donna also explains how to read patterns.  Many books, even those designed for the beginners, provide a list of abbreviations and assume that the reader will know what to do when they see (instructions between parenthesis) or *inside of asterisks.*  These are precisely the aspects of pattern reading which most people find confusing.  Donna discusses gauge in detail, rather than just reminding you to “check your gauge.”  She provides a thorough review of different materials including yarn fibers, caring for your crochet fabric, and the purpose of various notions.  This section includes a lot of information that even some more advanced crocheters may lack (e.g., which fibers are most elastic and things to consider when substituting the yarn for a pattern).

The section continues with illustrated instructions for forming all of the basic stitches of crochet.  As noted above, Kooler includes both right- and left-handed instructions with illustrations.  The end of this section includes several simple patterns by a variety of designers (ok, mostly by Melissa Leapman, but you get the point).

The Beyond the Basics section provides an overview of colors and various colorwork techniques, thread crochet (including filet and motifs), and what Donna calls “specialty crochet” but what I call “the stuff that isn’t usually in the big, expensive crochet books so you have to buy another book to find out about it.”  Here she provides an introduction to bead crochet, wire crochet, and Tunisian crochet, and has a small section on finishing details like pockets.  This section also includes a number of patterns by various designers.  In general, the patterns aren’t really my style, but each one emphasizes specific techniques or skills.  The patterns here are more oriented towards building the skill set of the reader than towards being extremely fashionable.

The Crochet Pattern Gallery section is my favorite.  This is basically a stitch guide.  The stitches are crocheted in attractive colors and photographed clearly.  The patterns include both abbreviations and symbols.  And, as if those things weren’t enough, Donna includes alternate names for stitches, when appropriate, and variations of the stitches.  The stitches are organized as:

  • Simple Combinations,
  • Fans & Shells,
  • Lace Patterns,
  • Waves, Ripples & Chevrons,
  • Angled Patterns,
  • Spiked & Crossed,
  • Post Stitches,
  • Bobbles, Popcorns & Puffs,
  • Tapestry, Jacquard & Mosaic,
  • Net, Mesh & Trellis,
  • Motifs,
  • Filet Crochet,
  • Edges, Edgings & Insertions, and
  • Tunisian Crochet.

The final section, called For Your Information, includes a resource list which is obviously outdated, footnotes, an excellent bibliography, a standard index, and a pattern index.  The pattern index is quite detailed – for example, cluster stitches are listed by name and under cluster stitches as well.

To keep my review balanced, I will mention a few things that make it less than perfect (egads!):

  • This is a classic, not a trendy book.  The patterns are conservative and not all of them are “current” styles.
  • It doesn’t provide much detail on designing your own projects, particularly clothing, which is something that many crocheters are looking for today.
  • It doesn’t use a binding which allows you to lay it flat when reading.
  • While the illustrations are better than those in most crochet books, most beginners would probably find it helpful if there were more photographs in the Crochet Basics section.

Donna Kooler’s Encyclopedia of Crochet really is a stand out as an all around reference book for crochet. It has excellent photographs and clear illustrations.  It is a softcover, which allows you to carry it around without throwing out your back.  I highly recommend it for the library of any beginner through advanced intermediate crocheter.

Updated 8/10/2014

Encyclopedia of Crochet revised

This book is now available as an ebook, and there is a revised edition (pictured above) available in print and as an ebook.