Interview with Miss Julep: tips for budding designers

I get a lot of questions from budding designers wondering, “how do I get started designing?” or “how do I break into getting published?”. I’m a designer, but since I mostly self-publish and write books, I don’t have a lot of experience (or wisdom) about submitting to magazines or ‘getting published’.

So I thought, “who could I turn to for help with an awesome blog post aimed to help newbie designers?” Instantly, I thought of Miss Julep (real name: Nancy Anderson). We’ve been ‘online friends’ for a little while now (she was even a stop on my Cuddly Crochet Blog Tour in 2010). She’s a fabulous stuffed animal designer (the reason I found her) as well as making oodles of cute accessory designs in both knit and crochet. And, she’s published and famous… and I knew I had found my girl!

Here’s the interview:

You make the cutest animals in both knitting and crochet! (LOVE bi-craftual designers!) When did you learn to knit? What about crochet?

My mother taught me how to do basic knit & purl stitches when I was in grade school but I didn’t keep it up. About 5-6 years ago I got the urge to learn crochet so I purchased a “How to Crochet” kit and taught myself. Then around the same time, after watching my sister work on a knitted project I picked the needles back up again. With her encouragement and armed with Debbie Stoller’s “The Knitter’s Handbook” I was able to re-learn basic knitting skills. And I have been hooked on both mediums ever since.

Photo of Nancy’s studio
For your ‘personal crafting’ (i.e. making things for yourself), do you find yourself gravitating more towards crochet or knitting? What’s been your favorite project? Who are some of your favorite designers?
Whether I crochet or knit has to do with my mood and the project I want to complete. One of my favorite projects was a granny square throw I made last spring. Even though granny squares are the epitome of crochet I had never made one. It was fun and very satisfying and I will definitely make another.

My favorite design style is anything that is whimsical and sometimes silly. There are so MANY talented designers on Ravelry. I love your designs, Stacey! They are the perfect mix of colorful whimsy and I love how you keep mixing it up by designing extra large huggable toys, teeny tiny ones & in-between sizes. Here are a few more of my favorite whimsical designers; Kahra Grae (aka Cheezombie), Wendy Phillips, Susan Anderson, Claire Garland, Katie Starzman, Anna Hrachovec & Carey Huffman.

Ooh! I love Anna and Cheezombie! (insert shameless plug: Cheezombie is coming over to give an interview, too! Yay!)

Okay, onto our topic: designing. You’ve got some amazing credits to your design name: Petit Purls, Crochet Uncut and Creative Knitting (magazines) as well as regular designing for Red Heart, Coats and Clark and Debbie Stoller. How did you get started designing? When did you decide to turn it into a business? What was your first accepted design?

Thank you. Ravelry played a huge role in getting my design(s) published. A few years back I was playing around with some crocheted puppet designs and shared the photos. Fellow Ravelers gave me good feed back and suggested that I try to get them published. After giving it a bit of thought I decided to give it a try.

Once I had decided to “go for it” I sent a private message to a designer, whose work I admired and she gave me the contact information for a yarn company. After completing the proposed design, I took careful, well lit photos using only my little 8 megapixel digital camera and emailed those photos along with a short letter of introduction and a brief description of my design, in terms of yarn & hook used, target audience and so on to the yarn company. See photo of my puppet scarf – these are the pictures I sent with my letter

To my delight they liked the design which was the puppet scarf that I designed for Coats & Clark.

After that design I submitted a few more ideas here & there to Coats & Clark, many of which were not used. Then I started getting requests from Coats & Clark for designs. Don’t know if it was because I kept bringing my work to their attention or what and I didn’t ask. I was just so happy to be getting some work. I still don’t ask them “Why” they are hiring me I just say “Yes” when they ask. I will always love Coats & Clark for giving me my first chance. They are wonderful to work with.

As for design being my business, it isn’t my day job, unfortunately. On the other hand I am happy to have a day job but would love to have the freedom and flexibility of full time freelance work due to a variety of family issues right now.

You bring up a couple of points that I hear over and over again. One, don’t be afraid to approach a ‘famous’ designer that you admire. Most designers are really nice people who will be happy to give you a pointer in the right direction. Two, be persistent!

You also self-publish designs. What are the pros of self-publishing? What are the advantages to having a published design?
One major pro of self-publishing is the freedom to go a bit wild. I sometimes like to incorporate a variety of mediums in my design such as tattoo embellishments or wooden armatures or feathers ,baubles & felted pieces. Things like that. I think that yarn companies want a more streamlined materials list and I really see their point as it can be frustrating looking for obscure items that may not be called by the same name in certain areas.

On the other hand commercially published designs are wonderful because they have teams of people to make you look good. They have professional photographers & models & sets & editors. And they have more exposure to potential customers. With self-publishing you have to wear all of those hats.

So true! Self-publishing can be very costly when you’re the photographer (or you need to hire one) and you need to find your own technical editor. Looks like you’ve found a perfect balance by having a bit of both in your portfolio!

Would you be willing to share a sketch (that you submitted) of a published design? Talk us through the design process with that example.

Yes, please see the submittal for my Maggie Bean doll.

Oftentimes the publications will provide sample submissions for the potential designer to model their own submission after. But with toys there are special considerations. How do you swatch a toy? Rather than provide a square swatch I like to make the head of the toy and use that as my swatch. This is especially important when the company is not familiar with your work. Later, once a reputation is established, a simple sketch outlining the design specifics will suffice, unless otherwise indicated.

This particular sample submission was a bit complicated. It was a first submission from me to Petite Purls. They didn’t know me or my work and the doll in question was a conglomeration of materials and techniques so it was a bit hard to be concise. Also included in this submission was a full body sketch of the doll.

Here are some general items to always include in your submissions;
short description of the project pointing out any special features, yarn, (particularly the weight & style), needle/hook size, size of finished project, target age group, special techniques & materials used and of course your contact information, (on every sheet).

Finally it is important to keep things as simple & concise as possible as editors often have so many submissions to look over.

Thank you so much for sharing that! No wonder Petite Purls accepted your design… not only is the design beautiful, but your sketch is lovely and very detailed. I think you give a perfect example of how important it is to present a polished, detailed sketch when you are submitting.

Any tips to budding designers that you’d like to share?
Don’t be afraid to submit your design. No one has ever been rude or hurt my feelings, even when they didn’t accept my design. Sometimes the design just doesn’t fit the “vibe” of the publication. I have made this mistake more than once. Keep trying.

When you’re getting started (and even when you’re an experienced designer), rejection is part of the business. Any tips for not letting a ‘no thanks’ letter get you down?

First of all you will be disappointed. It’s a fact. But don’t let that devastate you. That rejection has nothing to do with you as a person or a designer and some publications get hundreds of submissions. The best thing I can suggest is to get back on the horse. Don’t be afraid to ask advice from fellow Ravelers about your design. Sometimes, as I stated earlier, it’s the fact that the design just isn’t what the publication was looking for. So take that “rejected” design, tweak it if necessary and either re-submit it to a different publication or publish it on your own.

In short. Never give up, don’t let your creative passion get extinguished by a rejection letter. Be pro-active. Learn about the publication(s) in terms of style and what they are looking for, which they often will publish prior to the deadline. Learn to take good pictures. There is a lot of information about this on the internet, specific publication sites & Ravelry.

Such amazing advice! Thank you!

Thank you Stacey for inviting me! I have enjoyed chatting with you!

Where can we find you?
Ravelry: missjulep
Twitter: missjulep
Blog: yarnjulepsontheveranda


  1. Great interview! I love that Nancy included details of her submission (fabulously done by the way) as it’s great info for aspiring designers.

  2. I loved this interview! I love both of your designs. 🙂

    I have a post on blog today about your interview…I know, shameless plug…I know. 🙂