Interview with Margaret Hubert with Book Review

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This must be my lucky week!  Just four days ago, I posted an interview with Ellen Gormley.  Today, I’m excited to post an interview with Margaret Hubert.  If you have been crocheting or knitting for any length of time, you have probably come in contact with one of Margaret’s books or patterns.  This post includes my interview with Margaret and a review of one of her recent books, The Complete Photo Guide to Knitting.

The Interview

A few years ago, I learned that the New York Public Library allowed card holders to search for and request books from any branch.  These books would be delivered to your local branch for pick up.  I was surprised to find out that the libraries have a pretty good collection of crochet books.  It was about this time that I was first noticing the names of different designers.  I was introduced to Margaret through the Hooked series of crochet books that I checked out from the library and had great fun making her bags and hats.

Margaret is also one of the designers featured in Crochet Master Class.  According to her bio in that book, her career has spanned various aspects of the needlecrafts industry, including owning a yarn shop, owning a hand knitting business, teaching needlework, writing crochet and knitting books, and teaching at local, regional, and national crochet and knitting events.  Her blog bio mentions that she has also published cross word puzzles and is a member of a Shakespeare club which is over 110 years old.  You can visit Margaret’s website, blog, or Ravelry designer page for more information.

 

Margaret Hubert in one of her beautiful free form garments…
…and the Free Form Raspberry Jacket in all its glory!

Underground Crafter (UC): Who first taught you to knit and crochet?

Margaret: My mother taught me to knit at a very young age.  I do not even remember learning.  According to my Mom, I used to try knitting with 2 pencils, and she decided that she should teach me the proper way.  I learned to crochet when I was 19 from the owner of my local yarn shop. I had knitted a sweater that needed a crochet border.  My Mom said that she couldn’t help me as she wasn’t a very good crocheter, so I asked for help.  Mrs. B. put a crochet hook in my hands, taught me to single crochet, and I haven’t stopped since.

UC: Since you are multi-craftual, what is your favorite “go to” craft these days?
Margaret: I love both knitting and crocheting, which I do constantly. I also do some sewing, quilting, and needlepoint, but do not have a lot of time for much of this any more. My most favorite thing to do, is to combine both knit and crochet in one-of-a kind free form garments. In fact, I do a workshop teaching this method, and it has become my all time most popular class.
Margaret is teaching her Combination Free Form Crochet and Knitting class at the NYS Sheep and Wool Festival in October.
UC: Where do you generally find your creative inspiration?
Margaret: My garden and the woods surrounding my home have a lot of influence on my creativity. I love flowers and use them a lot in my work. Living in the North East, every season brings its own fabulous array of colors, which are my greatest inspiration. Spring with its pastels and greens in every hue, summer brights, colorful fall leaves in yellows, orange and red, and even winter, all are so beautiful.
This Floral Quilt highlights some of the beautiful flowers Margaret enjoys making.
UC: I recently retaught myself to knit after about 25 years of avoiding it.  I found your The Complete Photo Guide to Knitting to be a really helpful resource.  What tips do you have for people returning to knitting or crocheting after a long absence?
Margaret: My tip would be to start with something quite easy, with very little shaping and finishing, perhaps a hat or scarf.  I would use a smooth yarn in a medium weight. Once your brain and fingers begin to remember the motions, then you will be ready to tackle something a little more involved.
UC: What are your favorite crochet and knitting books in your collection (besides yours, of course)?
Margaret: I have seven of the Mon Tricot series of knit and crochet patterns that are so tattered and torn, but I love them and use them a lot. I also love The Batsford Book of Crochet by Ann Stearns, A Treasury of Knitting Patterns and A Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns by Barbara Walker. There are many more, but these are my favorites.
UC: You’re teaching several crochet classes this summer at ChainLink in Minneapolis and at the NYS Sheep and Wool Festival in October.  What do you enjoy about teaching?
Margaret: Of all the hats that I wear, I love teaching the best. I love the enthusiasm of the students, I love the look on there faces when they “get it”, I love how  they like to share and send me photos of their finished projects. Whenever I am at a conference several attendees will come up to me wearing one of my designs, they are so proud and it never fails to excite me.  Most of all, I do love sharing my knowledge and doing my bit to keep the needle arts alive.
Margaret is teaching Learning to Master Bavarian Crochet, Finishing Like a Pro (Crochet), and Oops How Can I Fix That? (Crochet) classes at ChainLink in July…
…and Bavarian Crochet, Intermeshing Crochet, Combination Free Form Crochet and Knitting, Free Form Crochet, and Entrelac Crochet at the NYS Sheep and Wool Festival.
UC: Do you have any favorite crafting blogs or websites you’d like to share?
Margaret: I don’t have a lot of time to read many blogs, or even write many blog posts myself, but I do like to check out Lion Brand’s, Vashti’s and Crochet with Dee.
UC: (Insert your own question here.)
Margaret: If you were to ask me what I thought the most important thing that I could teach someone was, it would be how to properly check gauge and to instill in them the importance of checking gauge before starting any new project. It is so important that I can not stress it enough. It makes such a difference in the finished garment/item and there would be so much less frustration and disappointment.
I can’t agree with Margaret enough about the gauge.  Most of my students who struggle with patterns have it much easier once they begin to swatch and check their gauge! I know Margaret is a busy woman, between designing, writing, teaching, traveling, and the rest of her life.  Thanks for stopping by Margaret!  And now on to…

The Book Review

After about 25 years away from knitting, in the last year I decided to conquer my fears (of making enormous trapezoids) and start to knit again.  Perhaps my motor skills are better now, or I understand yarn and needlecrafts better, or I’m just more patient, but this time it “stuck.”  An invaluable tool that I picked up along the way was Margaret Hubert’s The Complete Photo Guide to Knitting.  I recommend it to my beginner knitting students and think it is a great resource for your knitting library for several reasons.

The book is organized into three major sections: Knitting Basics, Stitch Patterns, and Specialty Knitting Methods.  As the title suggests, the book is heavy on photographs and light on illustrations.  (Sidenote: I personally find it impossible to learn anything new from an illustration, but can use illustrations as reminders for techniques I’m already familiar with.)  Margaret opens with a brief history of knitting, and then jumps into the Knitting Basics section.  This section includes a review of tools, pattern abbreviations, and provides an explanation of how to read patterns in addition to the abbreviations.  At this point, the book jumps into various techniques for casting on (5 options), forming the knit and purl stitches (2 methods each), and binding off (3 options).  Each technique includes multiple, large photographs which are clearly lit.  Margaret then goes on to display several shaping methods.  This is followed by knitting in the round, again including photographs with double-pointed needles, one circular, and then two circular needles.  As you might guess from the interview, Margaret also emphasizes gauge!  There is also a nice piece on finishing.  This section has many photographs, but the text is rather brief.  If you are a visual learner, this is probably an ideal reference book for you.  If you learn best from reading descriptions of the process, this section is lacking some detail that you might need.  For example, there is no discussion about choosing yarn, or how to hold the needles, or the usual debate between the continental and the English knitting methods.

The next section, Stitch Patterns, is like having a stitch guide embedded in the book.  There are 185 stitch patterns, arranged by type:

  • Basic stitches,
  • Light textures,
  • Medium and heavy textures,
  • Laces,
  • Ribs,
  • Honeycomb and brioche stitches,
  • Eyelets,
  • Ripples and chevrons,
  • Slip stitches,
  • Color combos,
  • Motifs, and
  • Cables.

I love the way the stitch patterns are organized – like most knitters/crocheters, I hate seeing a wonderful stitch and then never being able to find it again.  There is also a difficulty rating for each stitch (using the Craft Yarn Council standard skill levels).  The swatches are beautifully photographed and are quite large, so you can see the detail.  The colors Margaret uses for her yarns are also lovely.  There are several project patterns in this section, generally following the type of stitch that is used in the pattern.  This section is worth the price of admission alone for me, since it is a great stitch guide.  However, if you are looking for stitch symbols, there are very few in this book – most patterns use abbreviations only. (The cable stitches in this section all include symbols though.)

The final section, Specialty Knitting Methods, introduces (or reminds!) the reader to (of) various techniques and includes at least one pattern along with a description of the method.  The methods included are:

  • One-Piece Knitting,
  • Entrelac Knitting,
  • Freeform Knitting (clearly one of Margaret’s favorite techniques!),
  • Crazy Lace Knitting (pattern by Myra Wood),
  • Knitting with Beads (pattern by Judy Pascale),
  • Intarsia Knitting (pattern by Sasha Kagen),
  • Twined Knitting (pattern by Beth Brown-Reinsel), and
  • Ouroborus Kntting (pattern by Debbie New)

The Crazy Lace, Intarsia, and Twined projects include charts in addition to pattern abbreviations.  As with the rest of the book, the projects are beautifully photographed and the colors and layout really bring the projects to life.  In the last section, the photographs are of the projects, not the methods for creating the projects.

Overall, I recommend the The Complete Photo Guide to Knitting to a beginner knitter looking for a book to “grow” into an intermediate knitter with.  I also recommend it as a stitch guide – it doesn’t have as many stitches as some guides, but the organization, skill levels, photographs, and yarn colors are superior to most on the market.  There are also projects included so you can try the stitches on something other than swatches if you aren’t at the stage of designing your own creations yet.  The photographs are great for visual learners.  On the other hand, there are few stitch symbols in the book, which didn’t bother me since I prefer pattern abbreviations, but I know that many knitters prefer symbols.  This is really a comprehensive visual reference rather than a thorough written treatise on knitting.  If you are looking for a wordy text, go for the Knitter’s Handbook.  Because of the visual cues, it is also a great book for a more advanced knitter who needs a quick photographic reminder (“Oh, right, that’s how to do the provisional cast on!”) before starting or while working a project.  I gave the book 5 stars.

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

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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.

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
Beading
Crocheting doilies
Double-ended crochet
Felting
Filet crochet
Crochet with fleece
Mosaic crochet
Hairpin lace
Intarsia
Slip-stitch
Learn to crochet socks
Symbol crochet
Tunisian
Waffle-weave
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.