#CrochetSummer2014: An interview with Kim Werker

When brainstorming ideas for #crochetsummer2014, I immediately thought about getting in touch with Kim Werker, as she stands out to me as someone who has been in the crochet trenches for a while. I wanted to find out a little but more about her past life as editor of Interweave Crochet, and her current role as “writer, editor, crafter and speaker” and how that translates to her year-long promotion of crochet as a craft - despite not being as directly involved in the industry. Her Craftsy class, Crochet Basics and Beyond, was just released, so I knew that we had to get in touch! Below is our interview. Enjoy! - KGO

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Kate Gagnon Osborn:  Hi Kim! Thanks so much for joining us as a part of Crochet Summer ’14. You have been a big proponent of crochet for…well, as long as we’ve known you...and we’re delighted to have you on board as a contributor. In your Craftsy class, you mention that you had to learn crochet three times before it stuck. Why do you think the first two times it didn’t “stick”, and why did it finally stick on the third? What made you want to keep learning?

Kim Werker:  I’ve thought a lot about this over the years, and I’m not really sure why it didn’t stick the first couple of times, but I’ll take some guesses. When I was a teenager, I don’t think I even knew that what I was learning was called crochet; all I knew was that I was learning to make a yarmulke. I made one out of orange thread for my best friend, and I found it pretty tedious. I had a hard time counting the tiny stitches, and my finished project was a little wonky. I didn’t mind the wonkiness and neither did my friend, but I hadn’t enjoyed making it, so I suppose, like any good teenager who would grow up to be an advocate for making stuff as a fun and satisfying thing to do, I just stopped doing it since it was neither fun nor satisfying.

(I did recently make my son a yarmulke, out of sock yarn. Not wonky this time. :) )

When I learned to crochet again in college, it was during a pretty tough time. I was happy to have a hobby that could keep my hands busy when I was otherwise inclined to be too caught up in late-adolescent angst, and I started working on an enormous blanket. Every row was different, and that challenge kept me focused. But my yarn was truly hideous, and the blanket pattern wasn’t any more attractive. So though I found the activity to be very satisfying, I think the project lacked the visual interest I’ve since learned I value tremendously.

(Turns out what I really love making are very simple projects. I’m into the rhythm and the relaxation. Occasionally, I’ll tackle something that makes me think, but usually I avoid thinking. For my Craftsy class, I designed – which really just involved choosing a colour scheme and writing instructions – an enormous granny-square blanket. It’s simple enough for beginner crocheters to make, and it’s also the kind of thing I love making though some people might call me more of an “expert”.)

By the time I learned to crochet for the third and final time, I had already learned to knit. I understood yarn and I understood the potential that any craft has for making anything I want – that it’s not limited to the three books I might find on the shelf at the craft store. I was more emotionally mature and secure, too – I was less inclined to assume I couldn’t (or shouldn’t) be able to do it.

And really, I think I was just finally ready to stop fretting over feeling like I wasn’t creative, and just start making things. It would be years, still, before I made sense out of that experience and was able to put it into words (in many ways, my new book, Make It Mighty Ugly, is an exorcising of those demons I carried around for a very long time that told me I wasn’t creative and I had no talent and I would spend my life envious of all the artistic people I couldn’t help but surround myself with). Becoming a writer (or, more accurately, discovering that I’ve always been a writer) was a huge part of this. If you haven’t noticed, I do a lot of figuring-out-of-things through writing.

KGO: Your first big gig in "our" world was  working as editor of Interweave Crochet from 2006-08. You also founded CrochetMe.com, a site that is now a part of Interweave, and have authored and edited many crochet books. As both a knitter and crocheter, what made you want to focus on showing crochet "off at its best"?

KW: I learned how to knit in 2003, which was the dawn of the blog age. Knit blogs were starting to really pick up steam, and knitty.com was already publishing patterns, so I had grown to count on online information and patterns and community. When I learned to crochet (again), I went searching for the same kind of thing for this other yarn craft, and I found nothing. Like, zero things. And I didn’t understand why, and the more I found nothing about crochet, the more angry I got. And I do good work when I’m angry.

So I started CrochetMe.com on a lark one afternoon, in a fit of pique. I was all, Let’s do this crochet thing, kids. And to my surprise, a few people were all, Yeah!

The more entrenched I became in the crochet world, the more I learned about the styles and history of the craft, the more I realized it’s often been treated as second-class to the more, shall we say, valued and respected craft of knitting. People have some very rigid prejudices about crochet – that it’s bulky and unpleasant, that crocheted sweaters are shapeless and unfashionable, that all crochet is in some way dated – and that has always struck me as odd. Like, why spend energy railing on an entire craft you happen not to enjoy? And anyway, why don’t you enjoy it? Is it because you’ve tried it and found it impossible to make something you liked, or because you assume it’s awful and will be ugly and so you refuse to try?

Anyway, I refused to accept a random prejudice, so I decided to address the possible roots of it. And what I realized right away is that there’s been a lot of ugly knitting out there over the decades (there’s a lot of ugly everything out there, which is normal and to be expected). But rather than dismiss knitting as being an Ugly Craft, knitters have focused a huge amount of energy on educating themselves and others about how to make beautiful knitting. How to balance yarn and gauge to create fabrics that drape and wear well. How to make sweaters that fit to flatter. How to choose colours that go well together.

Obviously, the exact same considerations can be made for crochet, and I set out to raise people’s consciousness about this. Ugly is as ugly makes. The onus is on each of us to make what we want to make, how we want to make it, and to experiment till we get it right. There weren’t many resources around that addressed crochet in this manner, so I set out to make some. 

KGO: You mention one of the stigmas with crochet is that crocheted sweaters are “thick, and bulky, and ugly, and a little bit like body armor.” Why do you think this is the case? Which patterns/designers/companies do you think are successfully reversing this perception?

KW: I addressed the first part of your question, I think, in my last rambling answer (sorry about that!). I think a tremendous amount of progress has been made over the last decade. Both Interweave and Vogue have featured stunning crochet in their magazine pages. And though I think a lot more work can be done in book publishing – I see so many new books that contribute little more than previous books have already contributed – bloggers and indie designers are picking up some of that slack.

And, not to be too cheesy about it, yarn companies like yours are coming around to crochet, too. When I was editor of Interweave Crochet, I was so surprised (well, maybe not really surprised) and disheartened to encounter yarn companies that wouldn’t touch crochet with a ten-foot pole. Why? WHY? Isn’t the point to sell yarn? Don’t we all know that patterns help to sell yarn? Don’t we all know that supporting independent designers helps to sell yarn? I shouted into the void for a long time about this, and am really happy to see more and more crochet around.

(I’m intentionally avoiding naming names, because I know I’d forget people and companies who do amazing crochet, and I don’t want to leave any off a list!)

KGO: I had the opportunity to watch your Craftsy class, and it is an invaluable resource for those looking to learn crochet or, if you’re someone like myself, add skills to your repertoire. What do you find is the biggest “hang up” people have when learning to crochet, or learning new skills?

KW: Lots of people (myself included) have a hard time taking risks when it comes to learning new skills, and especially crafty skills, since we’re told all over the place that what we make is some kind of precious piece of self-expression. It can be embarrassing and even crippling to feel uncomfortable trying to make your hands do something they’re not used to doing. That’s why one of the first things I show in my class is how to rip out a swatch. One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in my creative life (and it’s a lesson I’ve only really come to embrace fully pretty recently) is that the failures that come with learning something new can be fun. You just have to force them to be fun. You have to force them not to be the end of the world, not to be seen as an expression of your self worth, not to feel like a reflection of your potential.

This is one of the roots of Mighty Ugly – throw the first few tries under the bus! Make them awful on purpose! Then at least you can feel a little more in control as you flail around feeling uncomfortable. After a few ugly messes, you’ll find you’ve gained enough familiarity and comfort to try making something not-ugly. I’ve found this approach has bled into all sorts of uncomfortable situations for me – I’m less uncomfortable in overwhelming social situations, for example, because I’ve come to realize that being a wallflower is a fine way to get through the night, but if I take a risk to meet some new people, I usually have a much better time.

Crochet can be an awkward thing to get the hang of. It takes practice to hold the working stitches in one hand and the hook in the other (especially for Continental knitters). So try hard to embrace that awkwardness – it’s worth it to get to the other side. And it’s awkward for everyone.

(And it’s okay to hate it once you get the hang of it. It’s okay to prefer painting or drawing or knitting or macramé. Just try it before you hate it, you know?)

KGO: How has your new project, Mighty Ugly, influenced how you crochet, or is your approach to crafting as described in Mighty Ugly the same as it has always been?

KW: I think Mighty Ugly was lurking under the surface of my brain for a very long time before it finally made itself known (back in 2010). I’ve always been inclined to encourage people to take creative risks, and to try new things. Mighty Ugly is my way of giving us all something to do that’s specific, because waving my arms around and imploring everyone in the world to make stuff isn’t as effective as saying, “Here, make this. Make an ugly thing. Make it ugly on purpose, so you don’t feel any pressure to make something perfect, and so you can pay a little more attention to how you feel and what you think when you make stuff so you can maybe address any patterns of defeatist thinking you do, and so you can have fun making something without worrying about the end result so much.”

Mighty Ugly has helped me accept that though I have some skillz, I prefer making simple things – that I shouldn’t force myself to make certain kinds of things because I think other people expect it of me or because I feel like I’m wasting skills I’ve taken time to develop.

I’ve always been inclined to accept opportunities or challenges I might not actually be ready to tackle, and Mighty Ugly has led me to see that as a tremendous strength rather than some odd quirk that needs to be fixed. By getting really comfortable with what I’d ordinarily consider failure, I’ve become more comfortable in my creative desires, needs, and commitments. I’m going to fail sometimes. It’s inevitable for all of us. By knowing that feeling well, by embracing that it’s an important part of any creative exercise, it’s not longer quite as scary a possibility.

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Thanks so much, Kim! For more Crochet Summer, check out our other blog posts here, or check out all the lovely Instagram posts here!