Today, I’m excited to be part of the blog tour for Amy Gunderson’s new release, Knitted Mitts & Mittens: 25 Fun and Fashionable Designs for Fingerless Gloves, Mittens, and Wrist Warmers. I’ll be sharing an interview with Amy and offering a giveaway of the book, so read on for details!
Amy is a (mostly) knitting designer who is also the creative lead for Universal Yarn. Previously, she was the design coordinator for both Universal Yarn and Premier Yarns. Amy can be found online on Ravelry (as AmyGunderson, on her designer page, and in the Amy Gunderson Designs group), on her blog, Get Off My Lawn Designs, and on Twitter as @gundersonamy. All images are used with permission, and are copyright Burcu Avsar unless otherwise noted.
Amy Gunderson. Image (c) Sarah Heady.
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first learn to knit and crochet?
Amy: When I was about 20, I had a job cooking pizzas back in Iowa City, Iowa, home of the Iowa Hawkeyes (University of Iowa). Our busiest times were after 1 am when drunken college kids are in their prime (joke). But when it wasn’t bar time, things could get very quiet. Crossword puzzles entertained me for only so long, so I decided to learn how to crochet. My grandmother crocheted but her Alzheimer’s got the better of her before she was able to teach me. I picked up a “how to crochet” booklet at my local craft store and took off from there. I learned the basics from that little booklet but “invented” everything else I did. I’m so happy that was the way I learned, because it taught me to be in tune with what I was doing, and that nobody could tell me I was doing something wrong. I totally thought I had come up with a brand new idea which I eventually learned was called tapestry crochet. Ha!
Fast forward about 10 years, when my (now) husband and I owned our own pizza place. He delivered the pizzas, I cooked them. This was in the same college town with the same sort of down periods when college kids weren’t living it up. I unsuccessfully tried to learn knitting a couple of times before it finally clicked. Because I was a crocheter first, the throwing method of knitting where yarn is tensioned with the right hand just didn’t make sense to me. I found a video online that demonstrated continental knitting and I was finally able to “get it”. I delved into as many aspects of knitting as I could and drowned myself in technique knowledge. I did eventually learn how to throw-knit when I got into stranded knitting. Being able to hold one color in each hand makes the job much faster.
Twisted Brown Sugar pattern.
UC: What inspired you to start designing?
Amy: My answer is probably very similar to a lot of knitwear designers out there. I would have in my mind this perfect sweater that I wanted to make and would scour the internet for such a pattern. When I couldn’t find what I wanted, I’d end up starting out with a base pattern and then adding my own modifications. It was soon clear that I didn’t really need that “base” pattern to start with, and that I could simply start from scratch. Ravelry makes it possible for someone like me to write up a pattern and offer it to the world, so that’s what I did. It was this combined with my incessant need to be “making stuff” constantly that led me to design knitwear. Ravelry also made it possible for me to have a place to house my portfolio. When I made my first submissions to Knitscene, Lisa Shroyer was able to see what I had done previously and that I actually know how to knit.
Gradient Flip-Top Mittens pattern.
UC: You’re currently the design coordinator for Universal Yarn and Premier Yarns. Tell us how you entered that work. What are your favorite aspects? What are some of the challenges?
Amy: I’d been knitting for a couple of years and designing for maybe 6 months when I saw a post on Ravelry advertising for the position. I asked Kirk (my husband) how he’d feel about moving to North Carolina before applying for the position. I’m sure neither of us imagined I’d actually get the job, but after an interview process, I did! I don’t have a design degree or formal training. Being formerly self-employed taught me a lot about understanding people on both sides of a situation. In addition to crochet and knitting, I have a sewing background (self-taught) that has been instrumental in garment construction, shaping, grading etc.
I feel like the luckiest person in the world to have my job. I get to help develop yarn, pick colors, name them, draw, knit, etc every day. I just got back from our mill in Turkey where I was able to learn more about exactly how our various yarns are produced. After that, I was in Cologne, Germany at the annual Handarbeit craft trade show where I was overwhelmingly inspired for a couple of days by all the up and coming trends and new products in the craft world. I also feel lucky that I actually still love to knit and crochet, even though it’s my job!
Although I work for a yarn company, we’re not this huge corporation. The number of people in the office is actually very small. It can be very challenging to be constantly creative and have good ideas. The trick is realizing which ideas are not so great and trying to forget I had them! But that’s a joke, really. It’s a process, this creative thing is. And it’s important to keep an open mind and explore all options. Another thing that plagues me are pattern mistakes. Everyone who writes and edits patterns has them from time to time. I do my best to make sure the patterns I’m responsible are as accurate as possible, but they still work their way in some times. When I field a phone call or email from a customer with a pattern problem, I always take it fairly personally and feel awful. I know what it’s like to be confused in a pattern and wonder if it’s me or the pattern. It stinks!
Swedish Mittens pattern.
UC: Your first solo book, Knitted Mitts & Mittens, has just been published. What was the development process like for this book? Will you take a mitt(en) hiatus after this, or are you more excited to knit them than ever?
Amy: Pam Hoenig, the craft editor at Stackpole Books, gave me great freedom with the projects in this book. It was basically just like, make 25 fingerless gloves and mittens, I know you’ll do a great job. And that was it. I thank her in the book for this liberty and I will thank her again now: Thank you Pam for your trust! Limitations can be helpful, but it was great to not really have any with this book. This was a liberating experience! Obviously, that all the patterns are for mitts/mittens are a limitation in and of itself. But I can’t lie, there were times when I wondered if I could possibly come up with another idea for a fingerless glove. In those times, I’d do what I usually do when I’m blocked about something in life: forget about knitting completely and do something else (possibly involving a glass or two of wine). It’s fun how one idea can lead to another. I think it’s so important to keep an open mind in designing. If I’ve imagined something and sketched it out and my stitching ends up going a different direction I let it take me there if that’s where it needs to go. I try not to robotically do things, but to be mindful of each step and detail.
I naturally am drawn to knitting garments. What can I say; I love clothes! But doing all these small projects that can be completed in such a short period of time have made me rethink my garment love. Yes, I’m excited to make more fingerless gloves. I forgot how nice it can be to start and finish a project over the course of just a day or two!
Boutros the Beetle pattern.
UC: What are your favorite knitting books (besides yours, of course) in your collection?
Amy: I actually own almost no knitting books. I have the first three books in Barbara Walker‘s library which I love to refer to from time to time. The most recent knitting book I purchased was Cast On, Bind Off by Leslie Ann Bestor. (UC comment: You can find my review for Bestor’s book here.) I’m always most interested in finishing details and other persnickety things in knitting. (I’ve been trying really hard to find a good reason to use “persnickety” lately).
Energy Mitts pattern.
UC: What’s your favorite fiber to work with and what do you love about it?
Amy: Linen, definitely. It just feels good. I read lots of complaints by people who don’t like working with it. Certainly, it’s not as pleasant as knitting with springy wool. Soaking linen (and letting dry) helps the stiffness. The drape and breatheability of linen are just unbeatable. Something about the raw natural texture draws me in like nothing else. Plus, it only improves in softness each time it’s washed and dried!
UC: Are there any crafty websites/blogs you visit regularly for inspiration or community?
Thank you for stopping by Amy!
Are you ready to win your copy of Knitted Mitts & Mittens: 25 Fun and Fashionable Designs for Fingerless Gloves, Mittens, and Wrist Warmers, courtesy of Stackpole Books? This giveaway is open to all readers with an email address. Enter by 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday, April 22, 2014.
- Check out Stackpole’s lookbook and leave a comment telling me which pattern you’d knit first and why.
- For additional entries, like Underground Crafter on Facebook, follow Underground Crafter on Twitter or Pinterest, join the Underground Crafter group on Ravelry, and/or share a link to this giveaway on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or your blog. (And then, leave a comment here, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in the Ravelry group letting me know what you did!)
- One winner of will be chosen at random on or about Thursday, April 24, 2014.
Today, I’m excited to share an interview with a fellow New Yorker, Michele Wang. Michele is a knitwear designer, and if you’re a fan of Brooklyn Tweed, you’ve definitely seen her work before. In addition to appearing in numerous BT publications, Michele’s work has been published by Vogue Knitting, Quince & Co., knit.wear, and amirisu, and she also self-publishes as mishi2x. By strange coincidence, we both recently had a pattern published in the same issue of Pom Pom Quarterly (her Aureus cardigan and my Vintage Bullion scarf).
Michele can be found online as mishi2x on her website/blog, Flickr, Instagram, Pinterest, Ravelry, and Twitter. She can also be found on her Ravelry Designer page and in her Ravelry group, mishi2x by Michele Wang Fans. All photos in this post are are copyright Michele Wang unless otherwise noted and are used with permission.
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first get started knitting and spinning?
Michele: I first started knitting at a friend’s suggestion. I had just ran my first (and only) marathon, and wanted to do something less physical to allow my body to heal. Since I had always been interested in fashion, textiles, and working with my hands it seemed to make sense. Of course now, not only does it make sense but I wonder why I didn’t take it up earlier in life. And spinning is a much more recent fascination. I think like most knitters, what hypnotized me at first was the sheer variety of yarns available. I would buy yarn because of the color and its softness. But once I learned more about different fibers and how they behaved I really became fascinated by untreated wools, different breeds of sheep and the beauty in their subtle differences. And this is what led me to spinning. I think yarn manufacturers are educating knitters more by specifying breeds that they use, but generally you see that it’s “wool”. I loved how roving is sold by breed and how I can spin up exactly the yarn I want.
Seedy Scarf, a free knitting pattern by Michele Wang.
UC: What was your original motivation to start designing?
Michele: My original motivation was the “cowl.” It’s so funny to think about that now since they’re so popular, but when cowls really hit the media in 2008, there weren’t a lot of fashionable cowl patterns out there. So I designed my first piece, the Eternity Scarf, which is a simple cowl and threw it up on Ravelry simply because I wanted to make one that I liked. After that, an editor at Vogue Knitting contacted me because I had been doing sample knitting for Shirley Paden. She asked if I’d be interested in submitting a design. Without her prompting, I probably would have never submitted a design to a magazine. But with her encouragement, I took the chance.
Eternity Scarf by Michele Wang. Photo (c) Brooklyn Tweed.
UC: How did you become involved with Brooklyn Tweed?
Michele: Jared Flood contacted me through Ravelry, and the rest is history. Sometimes I can’t believe how simple life can be, because usually it’s pretty difficult! But at the time I was working in technology at a law firm, and not very happy. Jared reached out and asked if I’d be interested in doing a design for his new yarn line, Shelter. The timing was perfect. I dug right in and ended up designing Perry for his very first edition of Wool People. Since we both live in the NYC area, we met up for coffee a few times and he mentioned creating a Design Team to put out seasonal collections. And it just evolved from there. Soon I couldn’t handle both jobs, so I left my career in technology and focused on designing for BT.
Fade by Michele Wang. Photo (c) Brooklyn Tweed.
UC: Where do you generally find your creative inspiration?
Michele: I would say half of my inspiration is found online and on the streets in NYC. I do love fashion and I love seeing what trends are introduced on the runway, and what eventually sticks around and ends up on the streets for the everyday. I can spend hours on sites like Pinterest just flipping through pictures and creating fantasy moodboards. I also try to people-watch as much as possible. It’s easy to bury my nose in a book on the subway, but I try to take a look around and find design elements here and there. And, the other half would be the traditions and history of knitwear. I love flipping through old knitting books and looking at fisherman or icelandic yoked sweaters. My latest obsession is Designs and Patterns from Muhu Island. I am completely blown away by the use of color, and the intricate hand work. For someone like me who shies away from colorwork, this book has been very inspirational. It’s truly a celebration of color and I hope to incorporate more colorwork into my designs.
Wickerwork by Michele Wang. Photo (c) Carrie Bostick Hoge. Published by Quince & Co.
UC: You mention your love of wool on your Ravelry profile. Tell us what you enjoy about working with this fiber. Do you have a preference for working with any breed-specific yarns, too?
Michele: I love wool for so many reasons. The first thing that comes to mind is that it’s sustainable and earth-friendly. It’s just something you can’t ignore these days. Also, I love the life in it. It has just enough elasticity. It blooms to perfection after just a little light blocking. The bit of lanolin left on your hands while knitting is a natural moisturizer. And with minimally processed wool, I find that it ends up being softer than anything else. Too many yarns are soft in the skein, and then completely lifeless after it’s knit up. And, of course, I just love sheep. They’re absolutely adorable, and with so many different breeds you could never get bored knitting with just wool. When I went to Rhinebeck a few years back, I bought a few ounces of Ronaldsay. I didn’t know much about this breed, but I liked the color. So after I brought it home, I looked up the breed online and found out that it’s a sheep that lives mainly on seaweed. Of course, this breed fast became one of my favorites. But, as for spinning, I really enjoy working with Jacob. It’s an ancient breed and the resulting yarn is so textured and beautiful. (UC comment: You can read more about breed specific wool in this interview with Karia from Kouture Crochet, and, specifically, about the North Ronaldsay yarn and Jacob fleece I received in a wonderful swap from the owner of the Nude Ewe, a non-profit yarn company.)
Cables and Lace Beret by Michele Wang.
UC: What are your favorite knitting books in your collection?
Michele: All of my Japanese stitch dictionaries. I live dangerously close to Kinokuniya and go there often. I love swatching, and I can sit and swatch the stitch patterns from those books endlessly. (UC comment: I’m glad I don’t live dangerously close to Kinokuniya, as I’ve already demonstrated my inability to pass their booth at any event without buying books!)
Stonecutter by Michele Wang. Photo (c) Brooklyn Tweed.
UC: Do you have any crafty websites you frequent for inspiration or community?
Michele: I really enjoy Fringe Association. It has the perfect balance between modern and tradition, and Karen has such a beautiful aesthetic. But to be perfectly honest, most of the crafty websites I frequent are more focused on sewing and quilting. I love the Japanese Sewing Books blog, and Sew Mama Sew. They have really great tutorials, tips and sew alongs.
Thanks for taking the time out for an interview, Michele, and for sharing your love of sheep and wool!
This month’s giveaway sponsor is Bending Flow Designs (formerly known as Alchemic Viscera). Jesse sells blown glass and wire wrapped creations on Etsy. In addition to the Etsy shop, Jesse can be found on the Alchemic Viscera Facebook page.
I asked Jesse to share a guest post today, so we could all learn a bit more about the creative process behind Bending Flow Designs and the origins of those glass knitting needles! All pictures are copyright Bending Flow Designs and are used with permission.
Riding the Glass Ship
Guest Post by Jesse W. from Bending Flow Designs
Glass Daisy by Bending Flow Designs.
How to begin to explain my journey into the world of glass is a feat in itself. One thing, though, that I can say is that journey has been an inspiring, enlightening, humbling, and an extremely engrossing experience. Art, sculpture, and creating has always been a part of my life. I have been creating and conjuring since I can remember. Whether it was weird paper sculptures constructed of used loose leaf paper and Elmer’s glue, skate ramps built of salvaged wood, or clothing and bags made of scrapped remnants from an upholstery factory my neighbors owned, I was always creating something. Most of the time it was out of some salvaged material, but the satisfaction of finishing a piece that was built from “garbage” and being able to wear it to school the next day kept my drive alive. I also loved that I was able to create something with my own hands and energy, and I could enjoy it or even use it throughout the day. I just kept creating; flitting from project to project, medium to medium. Eventually, after trying many different mediums (metals, textiles, ceramics, etc.), I came across the wondrous medium of glass and got on board the “glass ship.” From there on it’s a continuous story that keeps unraveling itself as my life goes on.
Glass fish in glass fishing net by Bending Flow Designs.
Throughout my journey on the “glass ship,” I have created many different things. Many of them custom orders, and all of them drawing inspiration and building confidence. Working with both hollow and solid glass forms, I started to build knowledge and explore the parameters. Doors just kept opening, and I kept discovering more and more of what was possible. Making the glass daisy and the fish in the fishing net pictured above have really helped show me how much I was able to push the limits of glass.
Boulder and fire opal sterling silver wire wrap pendant by Bending Flow Designs.
My work does not trend towards an specific style. I just really like to create things that can be worn or are useful. I like to use mixed media for some of my pieces. Intricately wrapping them with wire to see how I can accentuate features. And sometimes not using glass at all, and just using metal and minerals. High energy and the relentlessly turning gears in my mind are constantly driving me to create. Everything that’s built is derived from that ruthless energy, and I have learned over time, not to fight it. If there’s a project that I don’t want to give my time to, but I have already conjured it up and started it; I found that it’s best to just go with the flow and stick it out. Some of my best work has resulted in this. This was how the glass knitting needles were born.
Beach glass and sterling silver wire wrap pendant by Bending Flow Designs.
With all the different types of arts and crafts that I like to explore, I decided one day that I wanted to make myself a scarf. To challenge myself, I decided to try to knit this scarf. I do not have the most extensive background in knitting as I somewhat do with crocheting, so naturally all I had laying around the house were several different size crochet hooks. Though they are nice hooks, and have helped me along many times before, they were not going to aide me in my knitted scarf journey.
Tourmaline aquamarine ring by Bending Flow Designs.
That’s when it began. I started to search the house for long slender items that could substitute for knitting needles. Well, I tried chopsticks, pens, pencils, smooth pieces of drift wood; nothing worked.The diameters weren’t right with some, and the others weren’t long enough. I started to get frustrated, and wanted to quit even before I started. Then it dawned on me, I had piles of clear glass stock in my studio in whatever diameter I wanted. I ran down to my studio and made the first pair, let them cool, and started knitting with them. AMAZING! They were the smooth and exactly the length that I wanted them. They helped me so much with my project that I decided to make more of them, and share them with whomever was interested.
Black and white glass knitting needles by Bending Flow Designs.
Since that point in time, I have been making more and more of them and selling them in stores around my town and in my Etsy shop, Bending Flow Designs. I have been getting great feedback on there design and function. I am going to continue to come up with more styles. I have several different styles of toppers now, but I enjoy getting custom orders from people because they open up my mind to new things.
Colorful glass knitting needles by Bending Flow Designs.
Art, glass, and the process of creation has always been something that has intrigued me. I love the way that you become fully entranced by the beauty as you first see a piece that draws wonder, and audible ooohs and aaahs. The connecting energy between myself and the piece seems to be stronger when I am using it. I appreciate fine arts and the beauty that can send your mind swirling, but the appreciation that I get out of a piece of art that I am able to use everyday, and at the same time its upholding its own beauty is enchanting.
Jesse will be providing the winner’s choice of a set of swirl top knitting needles in US Size 10 (6 mm) or US Size 11 (8 mm). The winner can also choose from a blue, green, red, purple, orange, yellow, or pink color blend in the swirl top.
To enter the giveaway, post a picture of any 2014 Sampler Mystery Knit-A-Long sampler square you knit during April in the relevant spoiler thread on Ravelry by 11:59 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. (KAL participants who are not Ravelry members can instead share pictures with the Underground Crafter Facebook page or Tweet pictures to @ucrafter.) Each square you share a picture of will count as one entry. One winner will be chosen at random on or about May 3.
I can’t believe the last day of March is already here! I had so much fun celebrating National Crochet Month, and I’m happy to end the festivities with an interview with crochet designer and blogger, Tamara Kelly.
You may know Tamara from her blog, Moogly, or from crocheting one of the more than 130 designs she has published since 2008. Besides her blog, you can also find her online on Ravelry (as tamarairene or on her designer page), on Facebook, on Pinterest, and on Twitter as @mooglyblog.
All photos are used with permission and are copyright Tamara Kelly unless otherwise noted.
Tamara Kelly. Photo (c) RSH Photography.
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first learn to crochet?
Tamara: I tried to teach myself in my early twenties from a pamphlet I’d picked up at a craft store – what a disaster! And it didn’t help that I’d decided on a super fuzzy chunky boucle and a Tunisian hook (not that I knew the difference). I set it aside, thinking crochet wasn’t for me, until a few years later. At that point I’d gained a baby, as well as a sister-in-law who’d been crocheting for years. She showed me how to chain and single crochet, and in those 5 minutes I was “hooked!” I taught myself the rest from a stitch dictionary, and crochet quickly became my favorite craft!
UC: What inspired you to start designing?
Tamara: I made many projects from other people’s patterns, but I often found I was making my own changes and improvements. When I started doing commission crochet work, other crocheters asked me to share my patterns – and I found I liked the design side better! With designing, I get to crochet what I want, when I want it, and never have to make the same thing twice if I don’t want to.
UC: You self-publish all of your work. What do you see as the advantages and challenges of self-publishing?
Tamara: The advantage is definitely control – I love being my own boss! All my deadlines are ones I set, and if I need to take a week off, or scrap an idea completely, or change directions, there’s no one telling me no. The challenge is not having a team – people to bounce ideas off of, people who are media and promotion experts. Luckily, I’ve been able to join a community of other crochet bloggers, and we support each other and help each other out.
Moroccan Midnight Cowl. (Tamara also designed a matching pair of fingerless mitts and slouch hat.)
UC: You’ve undergone a few transformations online – from a mommy blogger, to a maker, to a designer/blogger. How did you make the decision to focus on designs, and then to offer your patterns free on your blog?
Tamara: I love new challenges, and I love being my own boss. When I tried mommy blogging, I got bored – it just wasn’t for me. When I started taking commission work, I loved getting paid for my hobby, but I didn’t love making the same things over and over again – and suddenly I had a whole bunch of bosses, with their own unique demands! When I design, I design for myself, for my kids, to my own tastes. I always love what I’m doing, and I think that that’s what comes through on the blog! I decided to make most of my patterns free, for several reasons. During the 10 years I spent crocheting as a hobby, free patterns were almost all I could afford. Additionally, I have a husband who works in the advertising field, so that model was familiar to me. By having ads on my blog, I’m able to provide free patterns, and give back to the community, while still earning a much needed income for my family – everybody wins! And that makes me happy.
UC: Do you see yourself primarily as a blogger, designer, or publisher, or do you wear all three hats equally?
Tamara: Definitely a blogger and a designer – and blogging and social media certainly take more actual hours of the day… but I’m always designing in the back of my head at the same time. I crochet in my sleep! Publishing is a side effect of running a blog I suppose, but it’s not something I think about too much. I just love putting together a great blog and fun patterns, and sharing them with others!
UC: What tips or advice do you have for emerging crochet bloggers?
Tamara: Keep it positive, and be true to yourself and your own voice. Don’t worry too much about what will “sell” – share the things you love, and let that love show. Be generous with your time and talents, and find like-minded bloggers to network with. If you have a question, someone else has likely had it too!
UC: What are your favorite crochet books in your collection?
Tamara: Hands down my favorites have to be my stitch dictionaries. I have big ones, little specialized ones, and I hope to get some Japanese ones soon! The Harmony Guides 300 Crochet Stitches Volume 6 is what taught me how to read a pattern, how to read charts, and what amazing things crochet can do! (UC comment: This is one of my favorites, too, because it is so thorough. I’m also a stitch dictionary junkie, and you can see my reviews of this book and 20+ other crochet stitch guides here.) It is sadly out of print, so I had my copy specially spiral bound to preserve it. I still use it regularly!
UC: Are there any crafty websites/blogs you visit regularly for inspiration or community?
Tamara: So many! Ravelry is a great go-to of course, as well as The Yarn Box and All Free Crochet. I visit dozens of other crochet blogs every week, including Stitch 11, Repeat Crafter Me, Petals to Picots, Fiber Flux, The Crochet Lounge… and so many more!
UC: What plans do you have for the rest of 2014?
Tamara: There’s so many exciting things happening this year – not all of which I can talk about yet! I’m always planning new crochet and yarn related giveaways – and I love promoting small businesses that might be interested in giveaways, including other designers, indie yarn dyers, hook makers, you name it! Also in 2014, I’m leading the Moogly Afghan Crochet-a-Long, where we crochet a different 12″ square every 2 weeks from now until November – that will give us enough for a 4′ x 6′ afghan at the end of the year, and the month of December to put it all together in time for gift giving! It’s not too late to join up, and it’s all free. (UC comment: There’s an unofficial Moogly Afghan CAL 2014 group started by fans on Ravelry, too.)
Thanks for stopping by for an interview, Tamara!
I’m continuing the (Inter)National Crochet Month festivities today with an interview with Australian crochet designer, Sarah Jane. I was first introduced to Sarah Jane when I saw her beautiful Frostberry Hat pattern during the Indie Design Gift-a-Long last fall. (And, after reading through Sarah Jane’s pattern descriptions, I learned that we frequently share the same tech editor, Juanita Quinones, who I interviewed here.)
You can find Sarah Jane online on Ravelry (as SarahJaneDesigns or on her designer page), Etsy, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter as sjjack44. All pictures in this interview are copyright Sarah Jane Designs and are used with permission.
Underground Crafter (UC): How did you first learn to crochet?
Sarah Jane (SJ): No one in my immediate family crocheted but Mum was always a knitter. Once, at a family function when I was about 4 or 5, I was completely fascinated by a great Aunt who was crocheting an intricate doily. Amazingly she was blind! She was kind enough to take the time and show me the basic stitches and send me away with a hook and some yarn. After that I never stopped. Mum kept me in yarn and I used the same hook for years…
Acacia Cloche pattern.
UC: What inspired you to start designing?
SJ: I never learned to follow patterns until I was an adult, so I guess I was always designing. I saw a small ad on a yarn website here in Australia for crochet designers/testers and emailed them. They were kind enough to take on an inexperienced designer and I did some work for them. When I came across Ravelry in a pattern search, I decided it was a match made in heaven. I haven’t looked back since!
The Perennial Bag pattern.
UC: You primarily self-publish your designs. What do you see as the advantages and challenges of self-publishing?
SJ: For me there are some great advantages in self-publishing – the flexibility being the main one, as I have a large family. It’s great being able to set my own schedule. I also like having control over the final product and the look of the patterns.
The disadvantages for me are mainly promotional. I’m not very good at promoting myself, and this year I intend to focus on that more. I can be a bit scattered if I don’t set myself targets and goals, so I have to be careful to do this. Otherwise I end up with lots of WIPs and no written patterns.
I have submitted to a few magazines but so far without much success…maybe this year will be the one!
Frostberry Hat pattern. (A matching Frostberry Cowl pattern is also available.)
UC: Most of your designs are hats, neckwear, and bags. What do you enjoy about these types of projects?
SJ: I like the smaller type projects for now because there is less of a time commitment involved. They are easier for me to complete while also looking after my family. My absolute favourites are hats. I love them, and here in Brisbane, where it’s often not cold enough for other crochet, you can always wear a hat! I would like to expand my range to include a few more garments in the future though.
Clio Hat and Cowl pattern.
UC: You also knit. Why did you choose to focus on crocheting for design?
SJ: While I love to knit, I am very slow so any knit designs would take me a year to complete. Crochet has always been my first love and I do feel that there are far more knit designers than crochet designers so I have chosen to focus on the crochet for now. I like to believe that I can offer something to enhance the crochet pattern market.
Serpensortia Hat pattern.
UC: What are your favorite crochet books in your collection?
SJ: Goodness, there are so many I don’t know how to pick! For inspiration though, I love magazines and will spend far too long looking at all the pretty pictures.
Asperous Hat and Cowl pattern.
UC: Are there any crafty websites/blogs you visit regularly for inspiration or community?
SJ: Aside from yours, you mean ….
I spend a lot of time on Pinterest and Ravelry looking at all the pretty pictures.
Cottage Garden Beanie pattern.
UC: What are you planning for the rest of 2014?
SJ: I have quite a few designs in the works at the moment, it is always a busy time of the year for me as we are heading into winter here. I am lucky to have been given yarn support for a Steampunk themed collection so I am very excited for that and can’t wait to get it started!
Thanks for stopping by, Sarah Jane (and for the kind words about my blog!). Best of luck with your upcoming designs!
This week, I’m releasing another square pattern inspired by the Spring Garden theme of Crochetville’s National Crochet Month Designer Blog Tour. I’m sharing one new pattern a week during NatCroMo, and these new patterns are available as free Ravelry downloads through March with the coupon code NatCroMo14.
I call this square Gerbera. Unlike the other 3 square patterns, it isn’t inspired by childhood memories but just my love of gerberas and daisies!
I used Lion Bran Heartland in Shenandoah and Joshua Tree for this sample. (As an aside, I love that these yarns are named after American landmarks and natural treasures.) I had some left after working on a big project, and I just loved the colors! I had to think about which yellow flower would look best in them – so I guess you could say the yarn inspired the block.
Download the pattern here. Use the coupon code for the discount through March, 2014!
Recently, I was invited by astridl on Ravelry to review a set of blocking wires from her company, Lazadas. Since, like many crocheters, I have a love/hate relationship with blocking, I thought I’d share the review as part of my celebration of (Inter)National Crochet Month.
When the package arrived, I discovered that Lazadas Knitting Accessories is based in Israel. Not to worry, as their products ship worldwide with a flat $5 fee.
The sets come in small packages with snap closures and handles.
The set package has a gusset so it can stand on its own.
I tried out the Mix Set, which includes four 35″ (90 cm) blocking wires, three 70″ (180 cm) blocking wires, and 30 nickel plated T-pins.
There are three other sets available. The Short Set includes ten 35″ (90 cm) blocking wires, and is recommended for shawlettes, sleeves, sweaters, and cardigans. The Long Set includes five 70″ (180 cm) blocking wires, and is recommended for stoles, big shawls, and baby blankets. Both sets include 30 nickel plated T-pins, and, like the Mix Set, are priced at $28.90. The Deluxe Set includes ten 35″ (90 cm) blocking wires, five 70″ (180 cm) blocking wires, and 60 nickel plated T-pins and is priced at $56.
The wires are coiled and the package (wisely) advises you to carefully open them.
So… back to my love/hate relationship with blocking. I only started blocking my crochet a few years ago when I started designing. As I’ve mentioned before, I prefer spray blocking. I don’t like my projects to get that “overblocked” look, so I generally avoid wet blocking and “killing” the fabric with steam. (If you’d like to try either of those methods, Tamara Kelly shares tutorials on wet blocking and steam blocking on the Moogly blog.)
To test out the wires, I chose this version of my Pineapples for Everyone Shawl pattern (available for free here in English and here in Italian). This shawl is crocheted with SHOKAY Orient in Cerulean. As you can tell from the pre-blocking picture above, it is a bit “squishy” looking and the pineapples aren’t very opened up.
Thankfully, simple instructions are included in the set as I’d never used blocking wires before.
In the past, I’ve applied seemingly endless amounts of pins across the edges of my projects. For this shawl, I used one 70″ (180 cm) wire for each side. (If you look closely at the bottom of the picture above, you can see the excess of the wires sticking out.) With the wires, I could pin to shape just a few times and let the wires do their work. I was also able to bend the wires on the bottom edges and pin them to allow the pineapples on the edges to fan out.
Here’s the shawl after blocking. You can see that the edges are more defined, and it is less “squishy.”
The pineapples are completely opened up and they look great.
I have since used these wires to block several other projects, including two baby blankets, which I can’t share on the blog yet. In each case, I found the process significantly easier than pin blocking alone, and the results were much neater looking.
I would highly recommend Lazadas Blocking Wires. The package is small enough to be portable – with the gusset folded flat, it can easily flat. At the same time, it stands up so you can find it on your shelf. The wires are very flexible and easy to uncoil and recoil (carefully, that is). The T-pins can easily be positioned so that they hold the wires in place. The instructions are straightforward and effective.
As for sizes, thus far, I have used the 70″ (180 cm) wires for everything except for squares/motifs. I like having extra room on the edges, so the 35″ (90 cm) wires feel too short for most of my projects. I have used the 35″ (90 cm) wires to block several squares at once.
I should also note that with one particularly fiddly blanket that I blocked, I needed more than the 30 pins in the set, so I used the quilting pins that I relied on previously to pin the rest of it.
If I were buying a set, I’d probably purchase the Long Set or the Deluxe Set, but if you mostly make smaller projects, the Short or Mix sets could work. Thanks to the Lazadas Blocking Wires, I am now leaning much more closely towards a love/love relationship with blocking!
Edited to add: You can also find Lazadas on Etsy. The Etsy shop includes the blocking wire sets and other knitting accessories such as stitch markers, sock blockers, and needles. (There are even a few crochet hooks.)