Interview with Amy Shelton, CGOA President and Crochetville Co-Owner

This post contains affiliate links.

Today, I’m interviewing Amy Shelton, the co-owner of Crochetville and the current President of the Crochet Guild of America.  Amy is obviously a big supporter of the crochet community, both online and “in real life,” and she happens to be a pretty busy lady, too 😉 – so I’m really glad she had some time to share her thoughts.

You can find Amy online as AmyS on Crochetville and Ravelry, on her Ravelry designer page, and on Twitter.  You can find Crochetville online at the main site, the pattern store, on Facebook, and on Twitter.  All photos are copyright Amy Shelton/Crochetville and are used with permission.

Amy Shelton.

Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first get started crocheting?

Amy: My third-grade teacher taught all the girls in the class how to crochet.  (The boys weren’t interested.) We sat on the back steps of the elementary school during recess and learned how to make the basic stitches. My mom and grandmother were both skilled crocheters, so they helped me further my skills and knowledge at home. By the time I was in 8th/9th grade, I was making all sorts of thread projects using my mother’s Magic Crochet and Decorative Crochet magazines.

 

UC: Many crocheters know you as one of the owners of Crochetville.  How did you go from being a member to a co-owner?

Amy: It’s sort of a long story. Are you sure you really want to know? Actually, I think it’s a pretty interesting story, and I’m happy to share.

In 2004, my aunt sent me a gorgeous purple scarf using four or five different novelty yarns that she had crocheted for me as my Christmas present. I hadn’t crocheted much for several years, but the scarf made me pull out my old hooks. I searched for online crochet message boards and came across Crochetville in January, 2005.

At the time, there were fewer than 800 members and the site used free message board software. In February of that year, Donna Hulka (co-owner of Crochetville with me) had to move Crochetville to a new site host and new message board software due to the number of members and site visitors. I didn’t post much at the time, as I was admin for a message board for a small indie business in another industry.

In 2006, I became involved in helping run the site when someone with extensive message board admin experience was needed to help Crochetville make the transition from being a small site where everyone knew each other intimately to a much larger site with new members joining on a regular basis. Within a month of my involvement, Donna made me a co-administrator of the site.

As 2006 progressed, Crochetville continued to grow exponentially. The number of concurrent members and guests on the site meant we had to move from a shared server to a dedicated server, because our site volume was crashing the entire server. Crashing the sites of those businesses that share the server with you doesn’t tend to make you a lot of friends!

Dedicated server hosting plans are quite expensive. Donna and I decided it was time to turn Crochetville into a business so it could pay its own bills. We could no longer justify paying Crochetville’s operating expenses out of our personal household budgets. In January of 2007, we took the plunge and formed the legal entity of Crochetville LLC. We’re pleased to say that Crochetville LLC has been profitable from the very beginning!

We now have over 63,000 registered members and an average of 123,000-170,000 unique site visitors each month. Our periods of heaviest traffic tend to be the months of October through February.

 

Amy’s version of the Collette Poncho by Jenny King Designs. (Click for pattern link.)

UC: Sometimes joining an online community can be a bit overwhelming.  What suggestions do you have for a newbie who wants to get her (or his) feet wet on Crochetville?

Amy: Crochetville is now so large (with over 2.4 million posts) that it can definitely be a bit overwhelming for people new to the site, especially if someone is also new to message boards in general. Crochetville is a very friendly community thanks to all of our wonderful members who spend time there every day. Here are my tips on how to make friends and begin to feel at home at Crochetville:

  1. If you’re new to message boards in general, take the time to read our FAQ document. It has lots of information on how to navigate the forum, respond to a discussion thread, start your own discussion thread, and more.
  2. If you’re just new to Crochetville, spend some time on the main page of our site. Make note of the different sections into which the site is organized. Read the folder descriptions so you’ll know where you’ll be able to find certain types of information. That will also help you know the best place to start a new discussion thread.
  3. Before making your first post, spend some time reading through current posts on the forum. Once you’ve got a feel for the atmosphere of the forum, jump right in and post a thread to introduce yourself. Jump into any other discussions of interest. Our forum members are some of the nicest crocheters I’ve found. They’re always happy to welcome new members, answer questions, help direct you to patterns.
  4. If you have a crochet business, take some time to read our general advertising policies. If you have an indie crochet business (pattern designer, hook maker, yarn dyer, etc.), read our free advertising policies. There are many different ways you can promote and advertise your business for free on Crochetville, getting your name out to hundreds of thousands of dedicated crocheters throughout the year. Indie businesses frequently have very limited advertising/marketing budgets, if they have one at all. We know it’s difficult to get the word out about your business, so we’re happy to provide an easy, free outlet to help you reach your target market of dedicated, enthusiastic crocheters.  (UC comment: Thanks for sharing this great resource for indie crochet entrepreneurs!)

 

Amy’s Dreamcatcher Crystal Earrings design.

UC: You’re currently the President of the Crochet Guild of America – thanks for your volunteer efforts on behalf of the crochet community!  How can crocheters become more involved with the CGOA or local chapters?

Amy: Serving on the board of the Crochet Guild of America has been an amazing experience. I’ve truly enjoyed the opportunity to help promote CGOA’s mission to preserve and advance the art of crochet. I encourage everyone to join the CGOA. The cost is only $35 per year and many benefits come along with membership.

For more information on CGOA, please visit the website.  You can check out the list of member benefits here. One of the best things about CGOA is Chain Link, our crochet conference. Held twice a year, the conference offers crochet classes to suit every level of crocheter. There is also a show floor with vendors selling yarn, patterns, hooks, tools.

For those aspiring to become a crochet professional, CGOA offers a free mentor program to members. You can be paired with a crochet professional who will provide information, assistance, and encouragement to you.  Members can also become involved at the national level by serving on various committees.

There are also many CGOA local chapters around the country. Most chapters offer monthly meetings where you can meet with others who share your love of crochet. Some meetings are informal sit-and-stitch events while other meetings may include classes, workshops, and other in-depth instruction.  Many chapters also contribute to various crochet charities on a regular
basis. To find a chapter near you, visit this page. If there’s not a chapter near you, consider starting one. You can find information on how to start a chapter here.  (UC comment: I also recently learned about the Cyber Crochet online/virtual chapter on Ravelry when I interviewed crochet tech editor, Juanita Quinones.)

 

Amy’s Midnight Relaxed Cardi. (Click for free Red Heart pattern.)

UC: I’m sure it is hard to find time to crochet for yourself with such a demanding schedule.  When you do have a few moments to crochet, what are your favorite types of projects to make?

Amy: It is sometimes difficult to find time to crochet, but I do my best to work crochet time into my schedule as often as possible, even if it’s only a short period each day. Garments and accessories are my absolute favorite things to crochet. I love to make tops, sweaters, jackets, shawls, scarves, and handbags.

 

Amy’s Business Card Case design.

UC: You’ve had a variety of roles in the crochet industry, including community builder, designer, and teacher.  What advice do you have for aspiring professionals?

Amy: Don’t quit your day job right off the bat! Most crochet professionals are in the business because of their deep love of crochet, not because it’s a get-rich-quick industry. It takes a lot of effort and time to create a regular, sustainable crochet income.

If you want crochet to become your full-time job paying you a full-time living wage, be prepared for a lot of hard work. Most professionals find that in order to make a full-time income from crochet, they have to wear many different hats: selling designs to publishers, independently publishing patterns, teaching (locally and/or nationally), writing books and pattern leaflets, tech editing, and more. The more you can diversify with different income streams, the more financially successful you will be. The number of people who can make a full-time living from crochet is quite small indeed when compared to all those who consider themselves crochet professionals or aspiring professionals. I don’t want to discourage people or crush anyone’s dreams, but it’s important to recognize the current reality of the industry.

If all you want is some extra income as a supplement to your other income, then things will be much easier for you.

Social media is becoming more and more important as well. You need to have an outlet to reach customers and build a relationship with them. Having a presence on Crochetville, Ravelry, Facebook, and your own blog or website is imperative. Be careful with what you post. Customers want to feel a connection to you, but you don’t need to draw them into the minute details of your personal life.

The best piece of advice I can give is to take advantage of CGOA’s free mentor program. The professionals who volunteer their time to serve as mentors are doing so because they love this industry and they want to give back some of what was given to them on their way to professional status. I think it’s pretty amazing that they’re willing to train and instruct their future competition, all for free, don’t you?  (UC comment: I participated in the mentor program a few years ago, and learned so much from my mentor, Mary Nolfi.  I can’t speak highly enough of this opportunity!) 

Do a lot of research and network with other professionals. Attend Professional Development Day at CGOA’s Chain Link conferences. You’ll get to meet and talk with many other professionals in pretty much every crochet discipline. At Chain Link, designers can also participate in Meet-and-Greet sessions with crochet editors on Saturday. It’s an excellent opportunity to show your portfolio to editors face-to-face, a chance that you’ll only find at this conference.

 

Amy’s version of Doris Chan’s Lipstick on Your Collar.

UC: What are your favorite crochet books in your collection?

Amy: My crochet friends who know me well can tell you that I have a love for making garments designed by Doris Chan. The first conference I attended, I think 90% of my crochet wardrobe were pieces designed by Doris, and I hadn’t even realized it at the time! So I’d have to say my favorite crochet books include all of Doris’s books.

For reference books, I love Edie Eckman’s books, Margaret Hubert‘s The Complete Photo Guide to Crochet (which I have on my iPad), and Lily Chin‘s Crochet Tips & Tricks. Dora Ohrenstein’s books are also a valued part of my collection as well as several different Japanese stitch dictionary books.

 

Amy’s version of the Circle Vest by Kimberly K. McAlindin.

UC: Do you have any crafty blogs or websites to share?

Amy: Crochetville will be unveiling our new blog in the near future. (If we haven’t done so by your time of publication.) The blog will provide us an ideal format to post our own articles about the crochet industry, crochet tutorials, book and product reviews and more. We have many exciting things planned for the new blog in 2013!

I really enjoy reading Vashti Braha‘s crochet newsletter. She includes wonderful insights into her design process and detailed information about stitches or techniques she’s currently working with. You can sign up for her newsletter here.  (UC comment: I’m also a huge fan of Vashti’s newsletter, and I interviewed her about it here.)

Doris Chan’s blog is another favorite full of crochet information.

 

Amy’s Ladybug set for the PJ party at STITCHES Midwest 2012.

UC: Besides the blog, what else is new at Crochetville?

Amy: Crochetville has undertaken a new partnership with Red Heart Yarns this past year. We have joined together for a vendor booth at the Chain Link conferences/Knit and Crochet Show events as well as STITCHES events across the country. We currently plan to have a booth at these six shows per year, and we’re looking to expand our travels.

You’ll find a variety of Red Heart’s yarns in the booth, especially Boutique yarns, Aunt Lydia’s bamboo threads, Luster Sheen, and other yarns that are sometimes difficult to find in your local stores. We also carry a good selection of Susan Bates crochet hooks and tools. If you live anywhere near one of these conferences, come by our booth for the perfect chance to see and touch the yarns in person.

Our booth also features exclusive crochet kits, crochet books (and author book signings), custom-made jewelry, shawl pins,and buttons in colors designed to perfectly match/coordinate with Red Heart yarns, Dreamz interchangeable flexible Tunisian crochet hook sets, and something new: access to our digital pattern store.

You can purchase digital patterns right in the booth, print them in the booth, then log in to your account later to download your pattern to your own computer or mobile device. This makes it so easy to buy and print a pattern, buy the yarn and other supplies you need, and take everything with you so you can start your project immediately.

We do our best to make our booth the most fun booth at these events. Drop by to play our game show called “Let’s Make You Squeal.” Drop by many times throughout the day to see what will be on sale for a 15- to 20-minute period during our special Flash Sales.

 

Thanks for stopping by, Amy, and sharing your advice with us!

 

 

I’m  blogging daily throughout October.  Visit I Saw You Dancing for more Blogtoberfest bloggers andCurlyPops for Blogtoberfest giveaways.  Search #blogtoberfest12 on Twitter.

Interview with crochet designer, Vashti Braha

This post contains affiliate links.

I am so excited to share an interview with Vashti Braha today.  I first learned about Vashti’s work because, as you know, I love Tunisian crochet, and she has designed some amazing Tunisian crochet patterns.  I’m a devoted subscriber to her Crochet Inspirations newsletter.  If you love to crochet, you should sign up, too. Vashti’s newsletter somehow simultaneously looks at crochet with the fresh and inspired eyes of a precocious newbie and the wisdom of an ancient master.  Every time I read it, I am inspired to pick up my hook!

Vashti has been designing professionally since 2004, and is also a writer, a teacher, and publisher of her own designs (and of DJC Designs, Doris Chan‘s pattern line).  Her Designing Vashti blog won the Crochet Liberation Front‘s Flamie for Best Crochet Blog in 2010.  Vashti can be found online at her Designing Vashti website, her Ravelry designer page, her Designing Vashti: Crochet Inspirations Facebook page, and as Vashtirama on Twitter.  She also blogs at Vashti’s Crochet Pattern Companion and Toy Designing Vashti, and with several other crochet designers at The New Crochet Cowl Scarves.

All pictures in this interview are used with Vashti’s permission.

Vashti Braha.

Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first get started crocheting?

Vashti: My earliest memories are of my Mom crocheting, knitting, and embroidering. I would sit with her for hours and try to untangle the yarn in her yarn basket while she crocheted on the couch. It felt very natural to learn how to crochet from her one day when I was nine. This was 1973. I remember thinking “Aha! Now I have the power to make anything I need to survive.” I was thinking of Tarzan, Gilligan’s Island, and Hodge Podge Lodge at the time–I imagined crocheting myself a hammock, tether, sack, or other survival item.
The first things I made were clothes and accessories for my younger sister’s dolls. (Her passion at the time.)
Although Vashti is primarily known for her fashion pieces, she also has fun, children’s patterns like the Teacher’s Gallon Friend classroom toy pattern.

UC: What inspired you to start designing?

Vashti: Until I was 30-something, somehow I never noticed that real people wrote patterns for crochet designs! I changed as a crocheter when my son was born in 1999. I set new challenges for myself, took on ambitious projects, and read new kinds of crochet books and patterns. I started noticing how each designer had a different style. That’s when I imagined what I might design some day.
Thanks to the new online crochet world that was developing at the time, I learned about the CGOA Chain Link conferences. At a conference in 2004, I unexpectedly sold my first designs and was on my way.
Vashti is one of the designers that contributed to the Pam’s Comfort Cables benefit pattern, available through KnitPicks. Here is her Brighid’s Willow block.

UC: You originally started your crochet career selling your designs to other publishers.  Now, you are almost entirely self-published.  Can you talk about that shift – what inspired it and what are some of the challenges and rewards you see as your own publisher?

Vashti: I became an independent designer and publisher due to a combination of factors. Freelancing (selling designs to other publishers) was not a perfect fit for me. Then, as the industry changed, I reached a breaking point with it. I’m glad to see that more recently it has been improving in some ways for freelancers.
I’m going to rant a bit now, and I’m only speaking for myself. Every designer is unique, so I don’t pass judgment how any other designer goes about their business. Also, a few of the issues I list below have improved since I started publishing independently, and I do still freelance here and there.
For years, the print publishing industry in general has been battling rising print costs, a rigid and bloated hierarchy of middlemen, and new forms of digital competition. Crochet publishing has also been promoting outdated assumptions about crochet and about intellectual property rights. Until very recently, I think every new crochet designer started out freelancing. As far as I know, being published (in a print magazine or book, or by a yarn company) was the only game in town.
Unfortunately, some time after I began designing, the publishers’ rising costs were being passed along to the designers: in other words, pay rates for designs started stagnating. I’d like to know if the amount paid to the production staff, the printing presses, the postal services, etc., was also flattening and drifting downwards!
Not only that, we designers were also supposed to work harder for the same or lower pay: write the pattern for 4 to 6 sizes instead of 1 to 3; provide schematics and stitch diagrams; add special tips and swatches in alternate colors; etc. All this, and still keep the pattern short!
Do you know what kinds of designs meet these requirements the best? The ones made of a few big squares. For a designer, that’s a rudimentary way to design a fashion item! It also limits the development of crochet’s potential. For the rest of the industry, however, this kind of crochet pattern seems to be the favored way to sell yarn. Well, I don’t go to the trouble to design something, and write up the pattern for it as clearly and accurately as possible (in 5 sizes, with diagrams, etc.) so that I can sell someone else’s yarn and lose all rights to my intellectual property as a bonus LOL!
I’m hearing from designers that with a few exceptions, companies have been slow to take the edge off for a pretty essential part of the industry, the designers! Instead, to add insult to injury:
  • Sometimes contracts have not been provided even when requested; if so, nothing is negotiable;
  • It’s breezily mentioned that your projects were stolen or given away;
  • Big and obvious project photography notes from the designer are disregarded so that the project is photographed inside out or upside down;
  • The pattern is redesigned without permission from the designer, usually by the tech editor (who can be quite surly!).
Yarn companies need designs to sell yarn. What are pattern magazines, leaflets, and books without patterns? But not just any patterns! New ones, distinctive ones; yet some publishers recycle the same design with no additional compensation to the designer. What crocheter wants to pay for a design twice? Even if the publisher changes the yarn, crocheters still know it — this means that good design matters to crocheters.
There reached a point when it stopped making sense to me to pursue freelancing. More crochet was appearing on fashion runways, and I was teaching trendy crochet design. I couldn’t see submitting trendy design proposals, then waiting 6 months to find out if they would be published 6-12 months after that, when I could publish them myself online in as little as a few hours. Almost every day a new way to publish and go directly to fellow crocheters presented itself. I remember when Etsy happened, and free blogging, and then…Ravelry!
I keep the proposal deadlines in mind of some of the larger publishers. So far, I’ve been preoccupied with my own learning curve -learning how to produce my newsletter, use SEO and analytics, understand Facebook’s latest changes, etc. Before I know it, a freelance deadline has passed me by, so I look to the next ones. A design of mine is in a new book, Simply Crochet: 22 Stylish Designs for Everyday. Another one is in a forthcoming Tunisian crochet book by Dora Ohrenstein.
Vashti’s Slip Tectonics Cowl pattern.

UC: I love the Designing Vashti newsletter, especially how you share your inspirations and explorations of different techniques.  How did you decide upon using that format to share your adventures in crochet?
Vashti: Thanks so much! I feel honored when a crocheter is interested enough to say, “You may email me every two weeks.” It makes each issue a special occasion and I want to make the most of it. I have a sense of intimacy with my subscribers and this causes me to write about crochet in a contemplative way.

I chose the newsletter format for two main reasons:
  1. It’s the easiest and best type of “headquarters” I could create for people who want to know when I come out with new designs, offer classes, and other news.
  2. I made a commitment to my inner crocheter to do for crochet, and for fellow crocheters, what I wish were already being done. I like thinking about crochet. I get plenty of newsletters in my inbox about yarn, crochet, or knitting, and I always hope they’ll give me something to think about. My subscriber list has grown constantly since the first issue in October, 2010, so I’m not the only one out there who likes to think about crochet!
A great fringe benefit of the newsletter is that it disciplines me as a writer. I like finding out what newsletter topic inspires me every two weeks.
Vashti’s Rimply Tunisian Neckscarf.

UC: In the last few months, you have talked a lot about slip stitch crochet.  What do you enjoy about this stitch?

Vashti: It gives me a fresh new experience of crochet. I’m discovering a whole microcosm in the seemingly simple and limited slip stitch, sort of like the Horton Hears A Who! story, or like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. My inner crocheter is startled and fascinated — and amused that crochet books are still being published that state authoritatively, “The slip stitch is not for making fabric”! The slip stitch results in some amazing fabrics, but aside from that, scratch its surface and it reveals a lot about crochet itself.
Thirsty Twists Bathmat.

UC: What are your favorite crochet books in your collection?

Vashti: I have a gazillion and couldn’t part with any of them! I love all of my stitch dictionaries, especially: the Harmony Guides Volume 6 & Volume 7, several published in Japan, and Robyn Chachula‘s new Crochet Stitches VISUAL Encyclopedia.

Undaria Flutter Scarf pattern.

UC: What are your favorite types of yarn to work with?

Vashti: I almost always like a z-twisted yarn (the plies of the yarn are twisted to the left) instead of s-twisted (twisted to the right). I crochet right handed, and my yarn overs don’t unwind a z-twisted yarn, so it doesn’t get “splitty” on me. I like how my really tall stitches look in smooth z-twisted yarns because the multiple yarn overs don’t make them look stringy. (UC comment: Doris Chan recently wrote a detailed blog post explaining the difference between z- and s- twisted yarns, if you’d like to know more.)

Lately I’ve been fascinated by alpaca. It’s hard for me to resist sparkly yarns, like silk and mohair spun with metallics and little sequins or beads. Handspun angora is a special kind of magical.
Tunisian Shakti Scarfythings.

UC: You’ve had a variety of roles in the crochet industry – designer, teacher, writer, and now publisher.  What advice do you have for aspiring professionals?

Vashti: Each of us is designing our business and crochet lifestyle, as well as designing crochet patterns. Thanks to the digital revolution and to the multifaceted nature of crochet, we have more choices than it first appeared back when I started designing. I continue to be inspired by how each designer makes her or his own path with it.
The three things I’d most like aspiring professionals to know are:
1) Join up with others and compare notes. It’s easy to miss opportunities, or to be taken advantage of, or to lose perspective, because this is a solitary job for most of us in this industry. Find a fellow professional you can call periodically, just to chat about the biz. In addition, meet up as a group online. Crochet designers need to meet up with each other, separately from tech editors who also need meet up with each other for example, or teachers. Ravelry groups help make this possible, but they are public. It’s better if you meet privately (I speak from experience).
2) The designer creates new intellectual property. The designer and only the designer starts out with all rights to the property, unless she or he chooses to let others have some. No one protects this property better than the originator of it.
It’s easy to lose sight of this simple fact.
I wish someone had made it clear and simple for me years ago. I still would have sold some or all rights to some freelanced designs, but with eyes open.
I’ve learned that a huge amount of people seem to prefer to profit from other people’s intellectual property instead of create their own, whether they can pay enough for it or not. I’ve wondered, why is it so many people, when they could create their own stuff and then do anything they want with it? After having designed a lot, I’ve concluded that it’s because it’s actually really hard work to create something out of nothing all the time. It’s much easier if someone else does it!
So, I’d say to aspiring professionals: don’t underestimate how eager people are to legally take your property off of your hands, even while discounting its value. I’ve heard this from several publishers: “It’s just one design. What’s the big deal? Why hold onto it forever? You’ll have plenty more.” If it’s such a burden, why do they want it so much LOL?

3) Rather than feel flattered or important when given yarn to design with, I wish designers would expect it. Designers are already paid too little for a living wage. Yarn companies need designers much more than designers need any particular yarn. It should be the other way around: a yarn company is lucky when a designer chooses their yarn to design with, to blog about, or to recommend!

Sparkle Love Knot Lariats pattern.

 

UC: What are you planning for 2012 and beyond?

Vashti: I’m looking forward to teaching several crochet classes both nationally and locally in 2012. I love teaching and getting to know students, and am very patient. Some crocheters who have had trouble learning in the past just need to find a calm and patient teacher.

I post updates in my newsletters as classes are scheduled. I can announce the classes I’ll be teaching at national conferences as soon as the schedule is posted for the summer and fall.
My first local class this year is Introduction to Slip Stitch Crochet on February 4 in Sarasota, Florida. I teach Advanced Slip Stitch Crochet on February 11. In March, I’ll be teaching Tunisian lace and crochet jewelry.  I’ll teach more topics in April. These classes all take place at my favorite yarn shop, A Good Yarn in Sarasota, Florida (941-487-7914).

I want to try online classes too, though that might have to wait until 2013 or late 2012.

 

Eva Shrug Slip Stitch Rib pattern.
The Crochet Inspirations Newsletter has its own Facebook page that has been coming in handy. I originally set it up as an experiment with Facebook pages, but I go to it to scroll through the archived issues, to post follow-up info to an issue, and to answer questions.
For example, in the newest issue I talked a lot about my mannequin, Lindsay. Several readers emailed me to ask where I bought it, so I posted the link at the FB page. One week I forgot to include an important photo in the newsletter before I sent it out, so I posted it on the Facebook page for that issue. Come to think of it, I think I should remind my subscribers about the Facebook page.
Wow, Vashti, thank you for being so generous with your time, so detailed in your responses, and for offering some great advice for aspiring/emerging designers.