Tuesday, October 24, 2017

My Needle Arts Journey

Good Morning Everyone,

 I put a kind of a "Throw Back Thursday" picture on Facebook yesterday, and it received quite a bit of attention. Several people have been asking me how I got started in this business and I remembered that I did this blog post a while ago, so instead of re-writing the whole thing, I updated it.

My son likes to say, “My mom is an overnight success after only 45 years in the business.” This is not far from the truth. My life in the fiber world has been an odyssey—a long, adventurous journey, woven throughout with beautiful textiles. The journey began when I was about 5 years old and my mother taught me to knit. My mother, who was born in Italy, also learned to knit as a very young child.
She told me that their knitting was done strictly for utilitarian purposes and she was knitting her own stockings when she was about 9 years old. The beautiful yarns of today and the fabulous garments that are made from these yarns, always surprised her. My mother and I made all the garments for my first book.

I have no memory of these early lessons, but my sister recently told me that I would sit for hours making doll clothes. As I grew older I learned to crochet, sew, and quilt. I loved it all. I learned to crochet at 19, when I really goofed up the front of a sweater that I was knitting. The local yarn shop owner told me not to rip it out, that she could help me fix it with some crochet. When I told her that I did not know how, she put a hook in my hand and said, "you will learn now".

While I initially learned all these crafts at a very young age, my successes in the world of knitting and crochet came much later, with helping hands from lots of people. People have always had to drag me kicking and screaming into each new adventure. Through the years I have owned a yarn shop, I was a needlework instructor for Bloomingdale’s, and a partner in a hand knit sweater business.

When my children were very young, I had a little knitting group that met in my house, just for fun. One night I mentioned that when my children were older, I would love to open a yarn shop.
The next day, my friend and neighbor called and said "why wait, why not open that shop now, I will partner with you and help".  I thought that she was a bit nutty, I had four small kids. When I told my Mom, she said "do it, I will help with the kids. Four months later Sit 'n Knit was born.
I was in the shop for 12 years, and they were fun, a great learning experience and lots of work, but unfortunately we were not making much money, and I now had college looming for 4 kids. I saw that Bloomingdale's was looking for a needlework instructor, so I left the shop and got the job at Bloomingdale's.

At Bloomingdale’s, a yarn representative from Brunswick Yarns, saw a sweater that I had designed. He was impressed by my work and gave me the name of  an executive at Brunswick Yarns and encouraged me to go see him.  I had never even been to NYC by myself, so my oldest son, who was 20 at the time, escorted me into the city. It was the seventies, and I was making crochet bikinis with cover ups. When I met with this gentlemen, he said "I like your work, but you are a little risqué for Brunswick", my son, who was sitting in an outer office, almost fell off his chair laughing when he heard this.   The exec, then picked up his phone and made several phone calls to the editors of McCalls, Ladies Home Journal, Woman's Day and Good Housekeeping, telling them that they should see my work. He made appointments for me with all of them, that very afternoon. We walked the city, from office to office, my son pep talking me the whole time.  The very first day that I met with all the editors, I sold 5 designs. I was elated, floating on cloud nine and could not believe it. That was the day that this incredible journey began.

I was at Bloomie's for 9 years, and while there I met Dorothy Gusick, we became very good friends. I had been designing and had already written two books by then. Dorothy convinced me that I should be doing other things, and suggested we go into business. She told everyone, once again, that she had to drag me kicking and screaming into business, soon after that, Mme DeFarge Handknits was born and we were very successful for quite some time and eventually sold the business. Dorothy and I wrote two books together. Dorothy retired, but like the energizer bunny, I keep on keeping on. Unfortunately Dorothy passed away a short time ago, and I miss her.

My work has been a great source of pleasure in my life and I feel very fortunate that I love what I do, and at my age, I can still do it. In 45 years in this business, I have had over 31 books published, countless designs in magazines, and contributions to many other publications. My first book called ONE PIECE KNITS, published in 1978, was a big hit, and I still get letters about that book to this day. My Most recent book is a newer, up to date book on one piece knitting. For the past 15 years I have worked with Quarto US, and editor Linda Neubauer, who is the best ever. Linda, along with my family, has helped me navigate the transition to doing everything digitally—years ago I did everything on a typewriter and had to mail all entries into editors, or take a trip into the New York City to have meetings in person. During this process, my brain was often overloaded, but I am getting better at it every day.

I think part of my success, in addition to having been blessed with helping hands and opportunities offered by so many people,  is the fact that I am very versatile in my designs. I have designed everything from doggie sweaters to men’s extra large - but my main focus has always been women’s fashions. I get genuine pleasure from the feel and texture of the lovely materials available to us today.  While most of my designs are classic, I do dabble in flights of fancy every so often, and my passion is free form crochet.

One of my favorite things to do is teaching workshops. About 20 years ago I was invited to speak at Professional Development Day at the Crochet Guild of America Conference in Chicago. This was a huge eye opener for me. I had no idea that these events even existed. Seeing so many avid crochet fans, gathered in one spot, taking classes, sharing stories, enjoying each other’s company, it was mind boggling. The following year I proposed classes to teach at several venues and another whole new world opened. Many students tell me that, while they love the idea of making a uniquely handmade garment that fits and flatters, either for themselves or as a gift, they find the process difficult. I love teaching them how to achieve this. One of my most popular workshops is “Customize your Knitting or Crocheting.” The response has been so great that I recently did two books on the subject. I get emails from students all the time telling me of the great satisfaction they feel when they can accomplish this. They always include pictures of their work, which brings me joy. My other most popular workshop is Free Form Knitting and Crochet. Students love this class and we have so much fun creating fabulous items. In the Free Form workshop, I give students some homework to complete before class, and something really unusual happens. Fifteen people, working from the same set of written instructions, come into class and every one of their pieces is totally different. I have actually been criticized for writing instructions for “Free Form”, but I feel by giving people a little jumpstart, their imagination takes over and amazing things begin to happen.

There is something very calming about working with your hands, and it has helped me immensely over the years. It is very therapeutic and can be a great stress reliever. Many tell me that their handwork helps them to cut down on various addictions. At the end of a busy day, what could be better than picking up some knitting needles or a crochet hook, some beautiful yarn, and creating something lovely. Crochet has saved my sanity more than once, through my husband's illness and losing him, through cancer, now through our new upside down world, my family is the best, my work keeps me together. AND I recently learned to ZOOM. 

All my books in one place

My very  First book 1978, I always hated this pic, when my Mom saw it she said "well at least you are on a book cover."

My Latest Book (40 years later)

Among my first designs, the ones that labeled me risqué


My first Free Form Jacket, combining knitting and crochet.

 Crochet Quilt done for Alchemy Yarns using almost all of their yarns in one project.

Autumn in New York Shawl inspired by my yard in October.

Made the cover of CROCHET! magazine They took a chance on a free form look.

My experiment Embellishing a mesh base, Using several different yarns, making a lighter weight free form garment.

Mme Defarge did a wonderful project with Fantacia Yarns

Right now I am still working on designs for magazines and I am currently working on several designs for CROCHET!, CROCHET WORLD, and SIMPLY CROCHET. 

I hope that you had fun taking my journey through the years.

Have a great day!