Giveaway: "Mini Knitted" Book Series + Interview with Sahiyo Ishii

Mini Knitted Books

I have an amazing opportunity for you today! Search Press (the publisher of the adorable Mini Knitted series) is giving one reader 5 books, including:

Keep reading for details on how to enter! Sachiyo Ishii is the author of 4 of these books, and she’s joined us to tell us a bit about herself and her process!

Each book is packed with projects (more than 25 patterns per book), using a variety of techniques with simple knitting stitches.

Interview with Sachiyo Ishii


Sachiyo is the prolific author of 4 of the Mini Knitted books, and I was delighted that she took the time to come talk to us! Welcome, Sachiyo!

How did you begin knitting? And when did it take a professional turn?
I took up knitting in my 30’s after my second son was born. I could not knit a stitch until then. I thought dressing my boys in my handmade clothes was trendy and very Yummy Mummy, but soon discovered that knitting requires skill and patience. With my friend’s help, I did achieve my very first piece, but the stitches were messy and uneven, and the sleeves came out in different lengths.

It seemed to me that I had a very long way to go until I would be able to knit a decent garment. I almost gave up knitting altogether, however, I discovered that you can make small toys with basic skills. I practiced published patterns for some time and then, I started creating my own to add personality. I knitted many animals and proposed my current publisher, Search Press the idea of the knitted animal park. It is great to find a channel that I can put my effort into.

You’ve written so many books! Where do you find your inspiration?
I get inspiration from everywhere. When I walk in town, looking through books and magazines, shop windows, everywhere! I am constantly thinking of new designs no matter where I go or what I do. Illustrations and cartoons, felted work and sugar craft are a good source, too. They are already in simplified forms and it is easy to make them into my craft projects.


What do you like to do in your free time?

I enjoy attending fitness classes and swimming. When I get stuck with a project, swimming can be the best solution to get a fresh idea. I don’t do enough but I like visiting craft shops and fairs. I guess I cannot completely be free from crafting.

What is your favourite yarn/knitting needle/craft supply?
For many years, my favourite yarns are Rowan. I love felted tweed especially. It is such a delight to knit with quality yarn.
I have been using bamboo needles since I took up knitting. They are less slippery and keep stitches well and the best of all, they feel great in hands. If you are still new to the skill, bamboo needles are must. I have been using Clover Takumi needles.
My favourite is Clover products. My mother loved them for many years and recently I inherited them all. Some are bought over 30 years ago but still in very good condition.

Is there a favourite piece you’ve made? Perhaps for yourself?
It is hard to say since I have many favourites, but I love the knitted carousel. I have a whole set of amusement park in knitting and would love to do a book someday. Most of my creations are for myself except occasional gifts to my friends. It is great to be an author. You get to keep all samples!
knitted carousel Sachiyo Ishii

Thank you, Sachiyo!

Find Sachiyo!

Website: www.Knitsbysachi.com
Instagram: knitsbysachi
Facebook: www.facebook.com/KnitsBySachi/
Ravelry: sachiyo-ishii
Pinterest: knitsbysachi
Twitter: Knitsbysachi

Enter to Win!

You can enter to win ALL 5 of these books! Just leave a comment (including your email address) by the end of day, October 18, 2017. A winner will be randomly chosen on the 19th and contacted via email. Because of the weight of these books, entries open to those living in the US, only.

Meet Noah from YOUnique Crafts!

I’m so excited to have Noah from YOUnique Crafts on the blog today. I stumbled upon his amazing amigurumi creations and original designs on Instagram… and then saw that he’s only 17! What an inspiration!

I really enjoyed chatting with Noah, and I hope you enjoy meeting him to! Pop to the interview below.

Find YOUnique Crafts on:

Whoa! You’re only 17! Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get started crocheting?

As you can probably tell, I’m not the typical teenage guy! Crocheting is my favorite way to create art, but I really love it all! When I was about 11 years old, I began looking for knitting tutorials online. After trying over and over again, I still couldn’t get the basics down.

Noah from YOUnique CraftsLuckily, I found an old crochet kit that had been gifted to me a while back. At that point, I had never even heard of crocheting, but after doing a little research, it seemed like so much fun! I looked up some tutorials on the basic crochet stitches and quickly caught on.

It sounds like someone thought to give you a fabulous gift! When did you get started creating your own designs?

Pretty soon after I got my start with crocheting, I began exploring with my stitches, learning as much as I could as quickly as possible. So I guess you could say I started creating my own designs as soon as I learned!

Carroll Koala from YOUnique Crafts

Do you do other crafts as well? What draws you to crochet?

As I mentioned, crocheting is my favorite form of art. There is just something so special about creating an inanimate object and yet being able to give it a character and a personality that almost reflects myself. With that said, I do still enjoy sketching every now and then, but it’s mainly to get ideas for new amigurumi designs.

Do you have a favorite crochet tip to share?

My best crochet tip: Explore! That’s how I started and that’s how I continue to do my work. I recently made two different designs by coming up with “new” stitches/techniques that I could have only learned by exploring. Take that crochet hook on an adventure!

Joke Monkey by YOUnique Crafts

What’s your favorite yarn to work with?

My absolute favorite yarn is “I Love this Yarn.” (Kind of ironic, isn’t it?) It comes in so many simple, bright colors – perfect for amigurumi!

I found you on Instagram… did you begin designing first and then start promoting your business on social media? Or did you post your work first and think, “Hey, I could sell patterns!”?

When I first began designing, I was only 12 years old. At that point, I didn’t have any form of social media. I asked my mom to post on her Facebook page a few pictures of me with my creations, which generated an interest with some family friends. With some encouragement, I opened up my own online shop which later turned into YOUnique Crafts.

Fall Bear by YOUnique Crafts

It sounds like your family is really supportive. Tell us more!

I’ve been home-schooled my entire life, and I absolutely love it! Homeschooling has given me so many great opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I have been blessed with parents who love the Lord and desire for my brother and me to know Him and love Him as well. They have always been so supportive of me going where God leads – without them, YOUnique Crafts wouldn’t exist! “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”-Colossians 3:15-17

And you’re in a book! Tell us a bit about that process.

I still can’t believe one of my designs is in a book. Ever since 2013, amigurumipatterns.net has hosted an annual amigurumi design contest, each year with a different theme. The theme of the first contest was “Amigurumi Animals at Work.” After that, I had the opportunity to test one pattern from their then upcoming book that consisted of designs from the previous competition.

Boomer Bird by YOUnique Crafts

This past year (2015), I entered two designs into their “Amigurumi Circus” themed contest. Surprisingly, my Boomer the Cannonball Bird was hand chosen out of over 200 fantastic designs! “Amigurumi Circus” was such a pleasure to be a part of, and it was such an honor to have one of my designs among 12 other designs with some of my favorite artists!

Want to grab the book? Amigurumi Circus is available on Amazon!

Do you have any advice for designers just starting out?

Don’t be afraid to try new things! I remember looking for some kind of “extended double crochet” stitch and just tried a bunch of new ways to make a taller stitch. Later, I found out that I had unknowingly created a treble stitch! If I had not explored and tried new things, I would have missed out on some of the most fun stitches to make that can really add to designs. Always have an adventurous spirit!

Chipster Bird by YOUnique Crafts

Tell us a few of your favorite amigurumi blogs/accounts to follow!

I have had so many crochet artists who have inspired me and some who have personally helped me through this designing journey. Among my favorites is Serah of Tales of Twisted Fibers. When I started creating my own designs, Serah helped me more than I could have asked for, from helping me with pattern layout and picture taking to even helping proofread my first pattern! Other artists that have been huge inspirations and great sources of encouragement have been Dennis of Dendennis, Theresa of Theresa’s Crochet Shop, and Ilaria of Airali Design.

Those are all such amazing feeds! Thank you so much, Noah, for coming by and talking to us!

Interview with Amigurumi Maker, Petit Remy

Crocheter Petit Remy makes gorgeous plush robots (using the FreshStitches Sprocket the Robot pattern!) and donates a portion of her sales. I love watching these cuties pop up in my instagram feed, so I asked if she could come over to the blog and tell us a bit about her process!

FreshStitches Sprocket crocheted by Petit Remy #crochet #amigurumi

Can you tell me a bit about yourself?

Hey! My name is Theresa Cassar, I’m 32 years old from Toronto, Ontario (Canada). I’m a wannabe knitter and avid crocheter. Seriously, I bring my WIP bag with me pretty much everywhere just in case I can sneak in a few minutes of crochet wherever I’m at! I am also a mom of two little boys, hence the trying to fit in making time in small increments, or at night when they’re sleeping.

How did you get the idea to make robots and donate a percentage?

I took an amigurumi class at a local yarn shop called The Knit Cafe in Toronto. The class project was making your robot plushie pattern! Thank you for your clear, easy to understand patterns!! So the robot was the first amigurumi I made. I posted a picture of it on my personal Instagram feed and had a lot of friends start asking me if I could make the robot or other items for them. So I started making a few as gifts and then thought that I’d love to give a little bit of each sale to a cause near and dear to my heart.
adorable amigurumi robot by Petit Remy pattern by freshstitches
In fact, one of my friend’s sons was among the first to receive a robot and was the one who named him Derek. Also, my shop, Petit Remy, is named after my dog Remy who was a rescue and survivor of Hurricane Katrina. My original intention was to have a percentage of items I sold be donated towards animal rescue organizations, but for the robot, autism seemed like a better fit. I will be releasing a toy this Fall that will be animal rescue focused!

That’s so awesome! Can you tell me a bit about the cause?

For the robot I chose The Carson Foundation, a local charity founded by my husband’s cousin which supports families affected by autism spectrum disorders with funding for therapies or resources that they need. I love that I know exactly where the funds are going and that they are in really good hands.
FreshStitches Sprocket crocheted by Petit Remy #crochet #amigurumi

Any tips for people looking to sell their plushies?

My biggest advice is to learn to take great product photos. You may be the best crocheter or toy maker, but if that doesn’t translate into how you present the work then the reality is people aren’t going to look twice. Everyone has their own aesthetic so play around to find yours! I struggled with this when I first started out, but feel like it has evolved over time and I’m finally hitting my stride. Generally though, good lighting is important and experiment with photo editing apps to make your photos really shine!
FreshStitches Sprocket crocheted by Petit Remy #crochet #amigurumi

That is such a great tip! It’s so important to convey the feel of the piece in a photo… the customer can’t feel it themselves! What do you like most about making softies?

I think making soft toys is really gratifying! They are usually quicker to make than a large scale project like a blanket, as you make a bunch of small pieces first to then put together. I also love that each toy has subtle differences, so they all kind of have their own quirks and personality to them. To me, it makes each one special.
FreshStitches Sprocket crocheted by Petit Remy #crochet #amigurumi

Thanks so much! Find Theresa at the links below!

Instagram: @petit.remy
Facebook: Facebook.com/petit.remy.shop
Etsy: etsy.com/shop/petitremy

How to string seed beads quickly and easily!

It’s a new Coffee with Stacey!

I got a really fun new toy: the Darice Bead Spinner, which promises to speed up the stringing of seed beads.

review of the darice bead spinner by FreshStitches

I string a lot of beads for bead crocheting, so I just had to give it a try!

review of the darice bead spinner by FreshStitches

Watch the video to see me using it in action, as well as a little update about my current bead crochet project!


Other Links you might Love:

Zoom Loom Review (and coupon!)

I knit. I crochet. I spin. I’ve tatted. I’ve tried almost every needlecraft I’ve ever heard of… except for weaving.

Why the gap in my fiber experience? I’ve always thought weaving was a little bit scary. There’s a warp, a weft and a lot of technique. It all seemed really complicated. And looms are usually big and non-portable.

That’s why I was super excited when I got a chance to try the Zoom Loom.

Schacht Zoom loom

The Zoom Loom is a portable weaving loom. It’s fitted with pins that (along with the instruction manual) tell you exactly how to wind your yarn and where to do the weaving.

Zoom loom progress

Look at me, I’m weaving!

Why I love the Zoom Loom

The instruction booklet that comes with the Zoom Loom is easy to follow, and I was super excited to weave an adorable little square on my first try!

zoom loom finished weaving

Isn’t it pretty?

The great features about the loom are:

  • it is small
  • the pins on the loom show you exactly where/how to do the weaving
  • each square requires a precise amount of yarn, meaning you can wind small balls in advance
  • the instructions are very easy to follow!

But… it’s not a complete substitute for a full loom

I enjoyed making my small square, and The Woolery’s webpage has suggestions for turning these squares into bigger projects.

However, the Zoom Loom isn’t a substitute for a full loom. Some things I noticed:

  • because the pins are fixed, each ‘weave’ is a fixed space apart. My piece made with sock-weight yarn feels a little flimsy, and I suspect a bulky would not fit.
  • if you’re looking for a project to throw into your purse, you might be disappointed. Although more portable than a regular loom, you cannot simply stop in the middle of winding the warp and head out.
  • you are limited to 4″x4″ squares. Although there are project suggestions, every project is composed of small squares.

Get yours!

Sound fun?

The Woolery is kind enough to offer a special discount on the Zoom Loom to all FreshStitches readers!

Use the code 1368ZOOM when you purchase Zoom Loom and get 15% off through March 25th!

So, go forth and start weaving!

disclaimer

Interview with Heidi Bears!

If you’ve been on Ravelry or Pinterest, you’ve probably seen Heidi Bears‘s gorgeous stuffed animals! She creates totally unique designs using the African Flower Motif.

I’ve been a fan and I’m thrilled that Heidi agreed to come over and have a chat with us!

Hippo by MissWorld

Hippo by Ravelry user, MissWorld

Interview

Stacey: I have to say, your concept of putting the African Flower Hexagon together to make animals is absolutely stunning! When did you first get the idea to experiment with the technique?

Heidi: Thanks Stacey! I think it came about as I was fiddling around with the basic hexagon pattern to see if I could make a pentagon and other polygonal shapes. Some of these were quite different in 3D shape to the hexagon, and while sitting in my kitchen one day, I thought, “Hmmm…. what if I combine this polygon with this polygon, maybe I can make it look like something…”

This led to an enormous amount of testing, crocheting, frogging, re-testing until I finally put together the pattern for Lollo Bear. I had spent several years as a Teddy Bear pattern designer and maker, which I think helped with the ability to “see” how different parts would fit together. Naturally (since I love and collect artist bears), my first design idea was for a teddy bear.

Heidi Bears Lollo

From the time I released Lollo Bear, my day job started demanding much more time, so my designing took a back seat. At the beginning of 2013, I had the opportunity to take a break from my regular job and concentrate solely on designing. At that point the kinds of items made from crochet motifs, seemed to consist of bags, blankets, scarfs and hats with the odd clothing item thrown in.

With so many amazingly talented people in the designing world, it can be extremely hard to produce something completely different, unusual and original when trying to establish a name for oneself as a designer. With the background I had in writing the pattern for Lollo, it appeared that there was nothing else on the Internet that I could find that was similar to my motif toys idea, in my style, so I decided to try and pursue that avenue.

Hippo from Ravelry

Hippo from Ravelry user, SteffiFalun

It took me several months to put together the pattern for Happypotamus, but during this time I learned a lot about polygons and how they act and what works and what doesn’t when putting them together. I like designing toys as they are smallish projects and when made well, appeal to both child and adult alike. I will branch out into other kinds of items when the time comes, but at the moment I still love thinking up ideas for animals, so until that well of inspiration runs dry, toys are it!

Your style is certainly unique… I can’t picture anyone doing a better job of creating an original design niche! What attracted you to the African Flower pattern over other motifs?

I love symmetry and balance in design. I can’t stand seeing a skew picture or lamps that are not symmetrical…the flower is both pretty and appeals to my love for symmetry…

African flower from Heidi Bears

Were you nervous about taking the step of writing up the instructions? I mean, it’s a lot of steps!

Absolutely! My previous profession had nothing to do with my current work, so I had no experience in writing a crochet pattern… I pretty much winged it, hoping more than anything, that I hadn’t left any important bits out.

thumbnail

My goal was to provide a really detailed newbie’s guide to making Lollo, and from the feedback I have received over the years, it seems to have done the trick. However, I have since developed a much more streamlined approach, which, although it still has all the detail a crocheter may need, doesn’t run to such a big pattern anymore!

Can you tell us a bit about the yarn culture in South Africa? Is crocheting and knitting popular? What are yarn stores like?

Yes, knitting and crocheting are very popular here! Over the last few years, we have seen a wonderful increase in local indie dyers providing us with gorgeous and affordable natural fibre yarns that come in a much bigger range of colors than can sometimes be found in retail lines. I use yarns from two amazingly talented and lovely ladies, who use local merino and other fibres to dye up the full range of colors you see in my animals.

Similarly, there are more “indie” yarn shops popping up. There are a couple of traditional LYS too, but the growth has certainly been in the online indie shops!

I know that you’re also a sock knitter… what’s your favorite method for knitting socks?

Definitely toe-up two-at-a-time with a short row type heel.

toe up sock knitting from Heidi Bears

My favourite is the Sherman heel… hides any holes perfectly! I am experimenting with all kinds of new heels and toes (just for fun), but knitting them in baby sized socks. They are from a wonderful new ebook teaching just that.. sock anatomy and all the variations you can get for heels and toes… learning is growing, so I like to keep trying new techniques!

Tell us a bit about yourself! Hobbies? Family? Pets?

Well, I am very happily married to the most awesome guy… we’ve been married for 20 years and are still best friends. We live in beautiful South Africa. We have two lovely (and adored!) girls and a pitbull, who is, if the truth be told, is more like a cat in many ways. Likes his comforts, worships the girls and gets spoiled waaaay too much.

I love learning new things and over the years have tried pretty much all the different types of hobbies you can find… I quilt, sew, paint, knit, lampwork, make stained glass… at one stage I ran a photographic studio and at one time even tried my hand at carving full sizes rocking horses! I am terrified of being bored, so I like to have loads of stuff on the go at the same time. I love the color pink, use only natural fibre yarns and have a stash that is shameful (except I can claim I neeeeed all that yarn for my work 😉 ).

I hear you… I’m a bit the same way with hobbies! Your new sea turtle is fabulous! What animals are on your brainstorming list?

Heidi Bears Sea turtle

Thank you very much! I have a string of designs all worked out and ready to write up…the problem is the pattern writing takes a tremendous amount of time. I take around 500 photographs for each pattern that I write. I then edit the best ones for colour, focus, composition etc. I then annotate each one. Then I start the actual pattern writing, which also takes a lot of time, so the write-up is essentially the delaying factor.

I am currently writing up the pattern for what I think will be a very popular animal and have also test crocheted two completely new and different bear patterns. I love bears! Everyone loves bears! I had read a comment by someone that a bear is a bear is a bear… this couldn’t be further from the truth! It’s like saying “a human is a human is a human… they all have two arms, two legs and a head…” Obviously people are incredibly different despite having the same basic anatomy, and bears are no different. These bears (plus two other totally different bears which will follow) will be focused on making what would traditionally be called an “artist bear”. The regular crocheted and knitted bears have been seen by some as the “humbler cousin” …something I really want to change. The cleverness of the first two designs is that they are self-shaping. I have purposely created them in such a way that they have a little hump (as bears do), they have fat tummies and shaped limbs…all of which is achieved by simply constructing the bear as directed. The patterns will have a whole section devoted to finishing techniques, which will allow the bear maker to create something unique and of artistic quality. Yes, of course it may just be for a grandchild, but it will be the best bear anyway!

I also have plans to release my first shawl pattern this year. It’s for a really unusual geometric pattern that creates a shallowish triangular shawl. I am very excited about it and have started dyeing and testing up yarns and yarn combinations for it… also there is a secret line of new toys that is in the process of being created. This is something I am sooooo looking forward to seeing as it’s a totally different take on my current line….

Thank you so much for joining us, Heidi! Be sure to check out all of Heidi’s amazing designs on her Blog & Pattern Shop!

All photos courtesy of Heidi, unless otherwise specified.

Addi's new Sock Rockets!

Have you heard of Addi’s sock rockets?

Addi Sock Rockets

They’re a line of circular knitting needles from Addi that are pointy like their line of lace needles, but with a nickel finish like their Turbos.

Until now, they’ve only been available in ‘sock’ sizes (size 0-2), but I just found out that in August, Sock Rocket needles will be available in sizes 3-13!

Addi sock rocket

You may recall me saying previously that I really disliked the brass finish on the Addi Lace needles (because it made my hands smell all brass-y), so I’m pleased with this nickel coating.

If you already own the full line of lace needles, I’m not sure it’s worth splurging on the new sizes of Sock Rockets. However, if you want a pointy tip and are in the market for new needles, you might want to wait until the new Sock Rocket sizes come out and give them a try!

No word on whether Addi will change the name of the line, given that they’re no longer only for socks! Giggle!

Interview with the Shibaguyz!

Today, I’m excited to have Shannon and Jason Mullett-Bowlsby (aka, the Shibaguyz) over for an interview! This dynamic duo form an awesome design team, designing knit & crochet wear (Shannon) and putting it together in lovely photography and design (Jason). They’re the designers of Urban Edge (previously chatted about here), a new book called Moonstruck and oodles of other designs. Oh, and they’re wonderful guys, too!

The ShibaGuyz website banner

So, hang out with us and peek into our chat. Be sure to check out the Shibaguyz website for all of their designs!

All photos courtesy of the Shibaguyz

I love your new book, Moonstruck: Ten Sensuous Knit Patterns Sized Small-5X. All ten designs are beautiful. How do you begin the process of putting together so many designs? Does the theme strike you first? Does the yarn speak to you? Do tell!

Thank you so much! We’re happy you like Moonstruck. The process of making this book started over a year before it was published. I began rolling ideas around in my head right after we finished up our last book. I knew I wanted to do a collection of knit garments, and I knew I wanted the yarns to be something really special. Since we had been doing so much work with Mango Moon Yarns, we approached them with the idea of doing a co-published book and, fortunately, they were as excited about the project as we were!

As far as the actual designs go… let me start by saying that I sketch a LOT when I am putting together a collection of designs. Basically anything goes and will find myself sitting there with 50, 60 or even a 100+ concept sketches. It really can be overwhelming sometimes. In this case, I knew Mango Moon’s yarn line very well and started pairing up my design sketches with the yarns I thought would create the best fabrics.

Then the hard part started. Going through my sketches and picking some while leaving others behind is such a gut wrenching experience for me. Sometimes I just sit for hours and stare at sketches without moving. The Shibakidz come in and out of the studio and give me odd looks and Jason does a lot of running up and down the stairs (his studio is one floor down from mine) helping me decide which neckline looks better with this or that sleeve length. After the first cut, we were able to narrow our choices down to around 30 or 40 designs. We let that set for a while… like a few days I think… then narrowed it down again to the final 15 or 20 designs we wanted to present to Mango Moon. This final decisions making part of the process can sometimes be a little touch and go too because the “designer ego” can get in the way and I start having a conversation in the back of my mind about why the client didn’t like that neckline that I thought was FREAKIN’ GENIUS!! Fortunately, in this case, we were all coming from a very similar design esthetic and the folks at Mango Moon know their product intimately so the whole process was a lot of fun. There was yarn being thrown around from shelves across the room and there was some general mayhem… but what happens in production meetings stays in production meetings so I can’t tell you any more than that… just sayin’… We knew we wanted a collection of designs that were modern without being trendy, classic without being stuffy, and, generally, garments that would make women feel good and look FAB when they put them on. Four of us sat down, talked about fabrics and shapes, laughed a lot (a LOT), and the next thing we knew we were headed out for a celebratory dinner!

Deva-3_medium2

After we returned home and we had the overall feel for the collection, I had the daunting task of picking which yarns I wanted to work with. As I said, we had been working a lot with Mango Moon’s yarns and they know their yarns very well. My hardest job was swatching with all of the yarns at my disposal in all of the different stitch patterns I wanted to use to create the fabrics I needed to create the garments in my sketches. Generally, we knew which yarns would work the best for some fabrics but there are always a lot of decisions that have to be pried out of me because I just can’t let any of them go! It’s a good problem to have… I suppose… but it is what keeps me up at night sometimes… that and the occasional odd craving for fish and chips at 1:30am.

The theme of a collection is actually a critical component when it comes to anchoring all of the workflows of creating a book. From final design choices to the photography and layout off the books, if I don’t have that anchor to come back to, I could easily spin out of control and be overwhelmed with ideas and concepts. In the case of Moonstruck, the theme just seems to follow the flow of my sketches. Generally, as we put together groupings of sketches that work well together and balance well, it sometimes becomes immediately obvious. In the case of Moonstruck, the overall theme emerged as the collection was narrowed down to the final design choices and really became clear as we sat and talked about fabrics. Once that anchor was set, we were able to really move forward pretty quickly. That said… I’m not saying I never move my anchor… there has to be some give and take there or I would feel boxed in and my designs would be flat and stale with no life at all. For the most part though, a strong sense of what I am trying to achieve in a book is a vital part of what I do.

Does the yarn speak to me? Why, can you hear the voices too?? Oh… nevermind…

Jason put it best when he said the yarn might speak to me but I have to interpret what it says. That’s a really beautiful way of saying I do a lot of swatching and we do a lot of staring at swatches and pinning swatches to dress forms, and, sometimes, going back to the drawing board and picking a new yarn or tweaking a design. There have been times when a yarn is so inspiring to me that I will design pieces that show off it’s best qualities and I feel like my pre-knowledge of Mango Moon’s yarn line really gave me an edge when narrowing down which designs to present for this collection.

Each pattern is sized from small to 5x, which is really rare in patterns, mostly because it’s a lot of work to calculate such a wide range of sizes. Folks may or may not know, but you can’t just add an inch to a small to get a medium… there’s a lot of complicated calculations involved to make sure that an item fits *the shape* of a larger size. Can you tell us a bit about that process, and why it was important to you to include such a range?

Sizing and fit were a MAJOR theme in this book and, as we talked about earlier, that theme guided all of final choices for all of us. In that first meeting, all of us, Jason, me and Laurie and Sue from Mango Moon, really felt strongly that this book shouldn’t be a book of designs that fit one narrow range of sizes… that meant it would not cater specifically to one size range more than any other. We all knew this was a big ol’ hunk of work to chew on but we all felt so strongly about it that we were willing to put our time and money where our hearts were and produce a book we felt really great about. I was quoted in Moonstruck: “All women deserve to look FAB and feel special in their clothes.” That about sums it up.

Cordelia-1_medium2

As I said, this is a major undertaking. From the designs themselves, to the patterning, to the sample making, photography, book layout. The time, effort, and cost of doing type of a project is why most folks can’t or won’t tackle it. Designs have to look good on all the sizes presented in the pattern, twice as many samples have to be made, twice the models, and the book layout has to be modified. One of the reasons we capped the number of designs at ten was because we knew we needed the extra space in the book for the additional pattern writing and for the additional photos. If we had gone with as many designs as we wanted to, the book would have been too expensive to produce and sell. We had to find a balance if we wanted to do this the right way.

Sizing and grading are one thing, but to preserve the true fashion, fit, form, and function of a garment over eight sizes was critical to this book. You’re right, you can’t just make the numbers bigger or smaller and expect the design of the piece to remain true. Here is where our tech editor, Kj Hay, was vital. We had been working with Kj for a little over a year when we started this project so she knew our design esthetic very well and she also knew how to interpret my designs and pattern writing when it came to grading the sizes and making them fit. Kj understands garments and how they fit on the body and we did a lot of back and forth over different elements of the designs to determine what would fit best where and how. This part of the pattern writing was so crucial… if folks couldn’t make the sizes and have them actually fit… we would be in big trouble.

Garments get a bad rap for being ‘hard’. What are the skills a knitter should have before attempting a garment. Any tips for success?

I think the reason folks think garments are so hard is because if this whole “advance” versus “beginner” thing we use to describe our stitching skills as crocheters and knitters. Someone who was born with a hook and needle in their hands but has never made a garment before, has no better chance at achieving success that a person who just picked up their hooks and sticks a few months ago. Basically, if you can read a pattern and make the stitches happen, you can make fabric. One person can certainly be better at making that fabric than another but that has little to do with making a garment.

But, yes, this thought that making garments is “hard” does ring with a bit of truth. Heck… nobody has this innate knowledge of how to make a piece of clothing. Those of us who do it had to learn how to do it at some point. I have to say, though, it really isn’t any more difficult than taking a hook or a set of sticks and some string and making beautiful objects with them… just sayin’… Truthfully, every time we write a pattern it is of the utmost importance to us that someone can sit down and, with some figurin’, work it all out in the end… otherwise we don’t feel like we’ve really been successful.

In Moonstruck, short of actually being a text on how to make and construct garments, we have supplied stitchers with every little piece of information we could get into those pages to help them have a positive experience whether this is their first or fiftieth garment.

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The first thing I would tell folks to do is look at the garment they are wanting to make and read the entire pattern through from start to finish. Make sure they understand all of the terminology, stitches, increases, decreases, and generally make sure they can read the pattern through without getting too lost.

If they do have questions as they read through the pattern, we have supplied a very detailed Stitch Guide in the front of the book as well as sections on best practices for increasing and decreasing, and some notes on finishing. Also, for any of the patterns stitches that might be a little tough to figure out, there is a chart supplied with the individual patterns where they are needed. We wanted to write in these parts of the book so completely because we wanted folks to be able to easily access the information and advice without having to do an internet search right away. Certainly, people don’t have to do everything using the exact techniques that we did, but, if they need the help, it is there.

Next, if the stitch pattern for a particular garment looks a little daunting, each pattern has the pattern stitches used in that garment laid out in full detail just like you would see in a stitch dictionary and, again, there are charts included where applicable. Each of the patterns also has detailed info on the Blocked Gauge for each swatch. This information can definitely be used as a guideline for making your swatch and then can be used for checking to see if your fabric is going to be the same as my fabric in the finished garment. Make the swatch as a way of practicing the new skills you need to be able to complete the garment. If you work your way through the swatch first to get the techniques for that particular stitch pattern down, you can then use your swatch to practice any other skills like increases or decrease or slopped bind offs that might come up in the written pattern that you haven’t done before. We all know it’s all about the practice when it comes to a physical skill like crochet and knitting. If we don’t practice… we ain’t never gonna get it right… right?

Once you feel confident with the stitch pattern and you know you can meet the gauge the fabric is written for, just start with Row 1 and work through the pattern one row at a time. I know that sounds overly simplistic but that’s the great thing about these patterns. If you go along step by step and check the Stitch Guide and technique notes, you can, most likely, get all the way through your garment without a lot of the wailing and gnashing of teeth we hear folks talk about.

Finally, for assembly, each one of these garments has a detailed schematic with the piece of the garment clearly marked. Basically, they fit together like a big ol’ puzzle. Take a close look at the clothes you have in your closet right now and you will find the same basic components of a front, a back, two sleeves, and, maybe, a collar. If you’ve not had a lot of practice sewing this kind of fabric together, that’s where your swatches come in handy again! Use them for sewing practice!

Basically, if this is your first garment, take it a step at a time. Read through the instructions thoroughly, PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE any stitches or techniques that might be new to you, then really get into the pattern and work through it a step at a time.

It’s not as easy as falling off a log, but you’ll be sooooo happy and sooooo satisfied the first time someone comments on the beautiful piece of clothing you are wearing and you can tell them YOU made it! Really… it’s worth the effort.

Can you talk about how the characteristics of the yarn work in a garment? As an example, can you pick one pattern and describe how that yarn’s characteristics contribute to the drape/stitch pattern/vibe?

I could spend a week on this subject! Don’t test me… you KNOW I could! Hehehe… In fact, I teach two different classes on it the subject of hand crochet and knit fabrics. The yarn and stitch you use will create the “fabric” for your garment. That is the very core of crochet/knit garment construction. We get to create our fabric instead of having to buy it on the bolt! How uber cool is THAT?!? The way we create this fabric is with our yarn choices and the stitch patterns.

You would not walk into a fabric store and buy a heavy canvas cloth to sew a spring skirt. Why would you then use a bulky yarn in a thick heavy stitch to make a summer jacket? You just wouldn’t.

I spend a lot of time swatching and blocking different yarns in different stitches for each pattern I release. I look for the way the fabric drapes and hangs, the way the color works up in pattern, and I picture the final product in that exact yarn. Mind you, I’m talking about minimum swatch sizes of approx 6×6”. Anything smaller and I can’t even begin to get a sense of what type of fabric that yarn is going to produce.

A great example of this in the book is “Chandra” the drape front cardi in Moonstruck and Portia, the tunic length vest with the toggle closures. Chandra uses Mango Moon Nirvana which has a content of 84% recycled viscose, 11% acrylic, and 4% nylon. Portia uses Mango Moon Mantra with has a content of 30% recycled viscose, 67% cotton, and 3% spandex. Basically, these two yarns are sisters! They have a similar colorway and look very similar but MAN-OH-MAN was there a big difference when I worked them up for these two garments.

Chandra

I love both yarns… I really do… and I was waffling back and forth and back and forth on which yarn to use for these two garments. I did probably a dozen swatches in each yarn for both designs because I really needed to see how they both acted when worked up into the different stitches.

Chandra is all open work stitches and needed to move and drape and feel comfy and soft and Portia is all stockinette stitch and needed structure and body to the fabric without being stiff. As I said, I did a lot of swatches in the different stitch patterns I wanted to use and using different needle sizes. I needed to see how each fabric was going to act when it was worked in Stitch A with Needle Size X versus Needle Size Y. I did this in combinations of yarn, stitch pattern, and needle size until I finally was in a happy place and I was confident the fabric would do what I needed it to do to meet each of these garment’s design requirements.

It really is that FAB thing of creating our own fabrics! As a cut and sew designer, there are just so many fabrics out there to choose from then you are done. If you want something custom made for your designs, you have to pay the big bucks to have it custom made. As crochet and knitwear designers, we really do have a luxury not all designers have.

This is probably a funny question… but what’s it like to be a guy in the world of woman’s fashion design? Do you get surprised looks? I would suspect that you have a broader base of opinions, since you’d be forced to chat to women about issues like fit (instead of relying on your own views on fit… which is tempting for women!)

I have been dressing and designing for women for over 20 years now. I understand and have studied (and continue to study) how women’s bodies fit and move inside their clothes. You have to understand this in order to design garments… at least garments that women will actually wear. When someone gives me a “surprised look” when I say that I design women’s garments I just smile and secretly look for their Jimmy Chu Shoes, Marc Jacobs skirt, Calvin Klein Blouse, or Michael Kors Jacket. Then again, mostly if they are giving me a surprised look it is because I look like a lumberjack most of the time… but that’s another story…

Men have been designing fashion for women since we were sewing pelts in caves… as have women been designing for men. Nowhere is it written that you must be a woman to design for women any more than you must be a Poodle to design dog clothes. HA! Sorry… I made myself laugh there… Designers design… it’s the nature of who we are whether we are men or women.

And yes, I have very strong views on fit and fashion. I am always developing my design eye and feel like I am always learning more and developing those view on making clothes. I have my own views… not everyone agrees with them… but they are my views. Which is the way is should be. I have my voice in my designs and that voice grows strong with every piece I design and with everything new I learn. It is an exciting business and I feel like there is plenty of room for men and women to design with many different voices for any gender. Some women are drawn to the Chanel style, others love Betsey Johnson’s flair. The same goes in the world of crochet and knit design. It would be a very dull world if we all dressed identically.

What’s next for you?

We’ve just signed on to do a new book of designz! WOOHOO!! That is as much as I can tell you… no… really… don’t ask anymore (It’s a crochet book)… I shan’t be persuaded.

Thank you so much for coming by, guyz!

Learn to be a rock-star teacher!

Today, I’m really excited.

You see, Gwen Bortner is a buddy of mine. And she’s legendary for her amazing classes on teaching (and the business advice that goes with teaching as a profession)… but these classes are often at national conferences that can be tricky for some folks to travel to.

So why am I so excited?

Because Gwen has just released How to Teach It on Craftsy! Which means that everyone can easily access Gwen’s awesome-sauce tips! And, today, I have an interview with Gwen for you! And I have a link that’ll get you 25% off the class! Whoa!

See… I told you I was excited!

About Gwen

Gwen and I initially bonded over a conversation about the amazing-ness of Craftsy’s makeup artist, Danica. (I mean, you’ve seen my Craftsy photo, right? Glance over to the sidebar… there it is. Danica works magic!)

Since then, we’ve been able to meet up at events (TNNA and Stitches), where I’ve been lucky enough to pick her brain about teaching as a career. I’m primarily a designer, but am steadily growing the amount of teaching that I do. And let me tell you: Gwen’s a smart chick.

Gwen Bortner from Craftsy

Not only is she smart, but she draws from a deep well of teaching experience: she’s been teaching full-time at the National level for a decade.

You want to be around her. You want to take classes with her. And you want to follow her around and mop up the little tidbits of wisdom that fall from her mouth. Trust me.

About How To Teach It

I watched the whole course, and even though I have a fair bit of experience teaching, I learned new stuff. In my opinion, that’s the sign of a good course!

How to Teach It is especially designed for folks who are looking to get started teaching, or who have local teaching experience and are interested in growing teaching as a business. I recommend you have a peek at the trailer for an overview… I’m going to jump right in and tell you what I think are the juiciest bits of the course.

With all Craftsy classes, one huge benefit is that you can ask questions directly to the teacher, so you’ll be sure that the course provides what you’re looking for.

Emphasis on the business of teaching

Many of us (myself included!) start teaching at a local yarn store without much of a plan. Someone asks if you can teach a course, you agree… and you’ve got a booking!

If you’d like to turn teaching into a substantial part- or full-time gig, then it’s important to focus on the business details of teaching. Do you need a contract? Do you have a policy in case the store cancels your class? Are you keeping track of your expenses?

These things can be scary (and boring), but Gwen provides handy checklists and a sample teaching agreement. She also provides a list of people you may want to talk to (such as an accountant or attorney) and discusses the cases you might want to use them. It doesn’t need to be insanely cumbersome to ‘do teaching as a business’, but there are a few particulars you need to think about, and Gwen gets you going in the right direction.

Gwen Bortner's knitting bag

How to enter sustainable relationships with shops

When teaching at shops, it’s important that you work to build a productive and successful relationship.

Creating a successful relationship requires doing a little preparation and planning. Some of it is common sense… but some might not be. For example, Gwen explains why it’s often not in the best interest of the teacher to take 100% of the class fee.. Deep thoughts.

You only get this kind of advice from someone who’s been around the block.

Practical advice for teaching

Did you know that there are actually a few well-defined types of courses? And each type calls for slightly different preparation and course outlines?

And how do you plan what happens during the course?

Oh, Gwen will tell you! She also has great advice on ‘personal practices’: tips for professionalism and conduct that will not only help your class run smoothly, but are necessary to develop your professional reputation.

How to teach it with Gwen Bortner

Marketing your classes

You want list a class and magically have oodles of people sign up? Yeah, me too.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Gwen chats about how to market your class (whether it’s a class at a local shop or away from home) so that it can be as successful as possible.

Interview with Gwen

The course sounds great, right?

Gwen was sweet enough to answer a few questions about teaching… enjoy the interview!

Stacey: There are lots of folks out there who are skilled knitters/crocheters/sewers who might be thinking of getting into teaching. What skills do you need to make the jump from ‘good knitter’ to ‘good knitting teacher’?

Gwen: I think one of the most important skills for a teacher to have is the ability to break down any task or step into its simplest components. And then once you break it down, be able to provide directions on that activity in multiple ways. For example, think about tying your shoelaces. How many steps is that REALLY?! If you think about it, you may discover that there are several more little steps that you were just taking for granted. A teacher needs to be able to identify all of the steps and be able to explain them. So as you might guess, that also means you probably need to be patient and willing to slow down.

What are some common stumbling points for new teachers?

I think the most difficult thing for most folks is dealing with the business stuff. Because we are in a creative industry, often the business aspects don’t come quite so naturally. For example, negotiating and making an agreement (some might call it a contract) is often considered very scary. But that is why there is an entire lesson in the class on the business stuff as well as lots of sample materials including teaching agreement that can be used as a jumping off point for anyone who doesn’t yet have an agreement of their own.

What is the best approach for teaching a class of mixed abilities?

I always try to establish minimum requirement so at least the base level of skills is the same. Even so, most classes of more than a few folks will have some variance of abilities. Early in the class (during the introduction) I explain that some folks will be faster, some slower, but it isn’t a contest and that I will try and run the class for the majority of the students. This means that some will have to wait and some may be a bit behind. For those running a bit slower I either provide options to skip ahead or give some additional help when they get to the next step. Either way, I try to be supportive and encouraging, after all, we are not saving lives – it is just a hobby!!!

If someone has been teaching on the local circuit for a while, how do you go about making the jump to ‘national teacher’? What are the differences between teaching locally and at large events or traveling to guilds?

One of lessons is focused specifically on this topic and includes a two page sheet of the pros and cons for each level of teaching. The key to “moving up” is about developing some skills and a bit of a reputation as a good instructor. The key to being able to move up is being prepared to teach larger classes. In the knit and crochet world, this would be 20 students or possibly more. You also need to be able and willing to teach several days worth of classes. Lastly, the format for most events (guilds or conventions) is either 3 or 6 hour classes. So you may have to tweak your class offering to fit this requirement.

What’s the best thing about being a teacher? What’s a downside/difficult part that folks may not expect?

The best part is easy – the people! You meet wonderful people teaching since most everyone in class wants to be there. And if you start teaching at larger events, the friendships you can make with other teachers is truly amazing. The downside for local teaching can be the disappointment when you prep for a class that doesn’t go. But don’t give up, sometimes it just is a timing issue – don’t assume that it is the topic (although that might be the issue too). As you move up to regional and national teaching the travel and requirement to plan your schedule months in advance can often prove to be challenging.

What’s your opinion on teaching as a full-time career? Is it possible? Or is it more practical to have a career teaching + designing?

Although I describe myself as a Professional Knitting Instructor and I teach much of the year, it just isn’t quite enough for a full-time income. Even so, I am still trying for that because it is by far my favorite aspect of my business. But the truth is, I still do some amount of designing to help supplement my business. Other folks use tech editing, sample making or other aspects of the industry to create a full-time income. For most folks, teaching is actually the supplemental part of their income while their primary income comes from some other source.

Your class includes a section on marketing, which is a crucial part of any business. Can you tell us (during your week) approximately how much time you spend marketing? Is it possible to teach without doing marketing?

Marketing is such a broad term and I do all sort of marketing activities (including answering questions for a blog interview)!!! However, I focus a minimum of 2 – 5 hours every week on specifically marketing activities for the teaching portion of my business. This looks different every week but might include things like e-mailing potential venues, sending out marketing materials for a new gig, filling out request for proposal forms for national events, following up on contacts made at an event, printing class catalogs or updating my class offerings. I suppose it might be possible to teach (or do any business for that matter) without marketing, but I can’t imagine how it would work for long or ultimately be successful!

Want to learn how to teach it?

If you’re looking to get started teaching your first class… then this course is definitely for you. And if you’ve been teaching for a little bit, but feel like you could ‘polish’ your skills and work a bit on the business/marketing stuff, then this class will help you oodles, too!

how to teach it Craftsy coupon

If you click on this link, you’ll get 25% off! Yipee!

Happy learning and teaching, everyone!

Find Gwen

Aside from Gwen’s Craftsy class, you can find her over on her website and blog.

disclaimer

The making of a finely-crafted crochet hook…

So often, I get asked, “how did you start designing?” or “how did you start crocheting?” I’ve told my story on the blog… so I thought it would be fun to interview another artist about how they came to their calling!

I wanted to find someone who did beautiful work, but maybe someone you hadn’t met before. Then it hit me: Harrison Richards.

Meet Harrison


In the crochet world, we tend to think about the pattern designers, indie dyers (of yarn) and folks who do the crocheting. (Right? That’s who you think of, isn’t it?)

But what about the artists who make crochet hooks? Harrison Richards is the woodcarver (and founder of) Furls Crochet Hooks (pictured above). I describe these hooks as the ‘Rolls Royce’ of crochet hooks: stunningly beautiful, but also built for performance.

Furls crochet hooks are crafted to be ergonomic and are custom made for your hand size. The design of the hook is made to fit comfortably in the palm of your hand, so that you can comfortably crochet for hours on end.

How do you start designing custom crochet hooks? For Harrison, a master woodworker, the journey began with the goal helping out a crocheting friend stricken with sore muscles from a conventional crochet hook.

I asked Harrison to come over and tell us his story… and to talk about his start & inspiration.

Harrison’s Journey, in his own words

It’s 4pm on a Wednesday after school, and the last bell rang a while ago. Sitting on the front porch of his school, a 16 year old boy patiently watches his high school sweetheart crochet as they both wait for their rides home.

Stitch by stitch, she lovingly loops each length of fiber into a soft circular cap, soon to be a crocheted beanie. She’s been at it all day, and her hands are starting to tire, her stitches are getting tighter, and holding the tiny, florescent pink metal crochet hook in her hand is feeling more and more tense. He notices her straining wrists, and the small clicking sound coming from her knuckles every so often. Eventually she has to take a break, otherwise she knows her hand will cramp up. Their rides arrive, they exchange a high school kiss and go their separate ways.

She goes home and crochets. He goes home, and he can’t stop thinking about her hook. “I hate it”, he thinks. He knows that there has to be something better for her. “She deserves so much more”, he yells in his head, “she shouldn’t have to endure pain just from doing something she loves!”. He jumps on the internet, and tirelessly searches until stumbling upon ergonomic crochet hooks.

These aren’t for her either: they’re all alien looking, she deserves something beautiful. She is the absolute dream of this boy and he refuses to settle for less then perfect. Armed with his dad’s blunt Swiss Army knife and no woodworking experience, he sneaks into his family’s garage-turned-woodshop and starts to carve. “This will be the most beautiful crochet hook on earth…no one will have another like it… and it will fit her hand perfectly”, he muses. In that tiny woodshop, as the sun began to rise early the next morning, after hours of recklessly attacking an young oak twig until it resembled a crochet hook, he had finished with her hook and Furls Crochet was born.

Years later, Furls Crochet still furiously strives to provide every crocheter with what they really deserve; a perfect crochet hook. You craft moment by moment, stitch by stitch. You are not a machine. You are a human being who delights in every turn of the hook, every pull on the skein and every completed row. You are an artist. I treasure that about crocheters, and I want every crocheter to have a hook that reflects who they really are.

They say that you can tell a lot about someone by the character of their lover. I believe the same can be said for crocheters and their hooks. There is a romance between your hand and your hook that is an expression of who you are as a crocheter. This is why, years after a high school romance, every Furls Crochet hook is still made by hand, one by one, hook by hook, to exacting artistic and ergonomic standards out of the most gorgeous pieces of wood on earth. I believe that you deserve a crochet hook that is as unique and beautiful as you are.

– Harrison, founder of Furls & the ‘grown-up’ high school Romeo

Did you just get goosebumps?

The mark of a true artisan is that they’re obsessively passionate about their work. Had you thought about your hook as a finely crafted tool before? Maybe not… but after reading Harrison’s words, I’ll bet you will!

Even though Harrison is a woodworker and I’m a designer, to me, it seems that our stories are the same. I love stuffed animals. I’m excited about stuffed animals… and I want everyone in the world to make them. Harrison loves his hooks.

Isn’t it beautiful?

Thank you so much, Harrison, for coming by and sharing your story with us!

Find Harrison

Want to learn more about the object of Harrison’s love, Furls crochet hooks? You’ll want to visit the Furls website and find Furls Crochet on Facebook.

Happy crocheting, everyone!