Designer Interview | Irene Strange


It’s time for my first Designer Showcase of 2017! Even before I started creating my own patterns I was curious about the process of designing crochet patterns and in previous posts I’ve really enjoyed getting to know some other fabulous fibre artists!

Today I’m excited to be speaking to Irina aka Irene Strange.

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Irina is a bit of a amigurumi expert whose fabulous designs have featured in the popular Zoomigurumi books (1, 4, 5 and 6!) and in popular publications like Let’s Get Crafting: Knitting and Crochet, Inside Crochet and Crochet Now magazines.

Irina has a wonderful eye for amigurumi and creates wonderfully cute characters – I recently completed her little ‘Blossom Bunny’  for Little Miss and I’m seriously in love with her Clara The Unicorn pattern and her free Gracey the hippo ballerina

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It was great to get to speak to her and here’s what we chatted about…

Why are you called Irene Strange?

I used this name when signing up for my first email address all the way back in 2000,
my step-dad’s family name is Strange (what a cool name, right?) and Irene is an English version of Irina – we just moved to England and at the time it felt like a fresh start in a new millennium and a new land. I guess it just stuck! 

How did you first discover crocheting and amigurumi?

My grandmother taught me to knit and crochet when I was little, I picked it up again
when studying for my degree. I was writing a paper on how brands use mascots and characters and came across some crochet toys on Flickr. People kept referring to them as ‘amigurumi’ so naturally I had to find out more about that! I tried making my own, a funny little mouse, and discovered I really enjoyed crocheting toys – from then on I was hooked.

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How did you become a crocheting designer? Is it your real job?

To start with I released a few patterns on Etsy just to see what happens, then an editor from a crochet magazine approached me and asked to feature some of my work. Then another editor asked if I’d be interested in writing some patterns to which I said yes, of course! At the time there wasn’t as many amigurumi designers in UK, at least not on-line, so one commission followed another quite fast. For a good few years I was writing as a hobby alongside a day job. After having kids I wanted to focus on crochet more, so now I write patterns in between playing with Lego and watching cartoons.

Where do you get your inspiration from? 

It’s quite hard to pinpoint what inspires me most; I collect all sorts of objects, prints and photographs of animals or dolls – anything curious. I have to say seeing what other designers and artists share on Instagram across different crafts is also very inspiring, it is amazing how many creative people are out there.

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Tell us a bit about your design process…

When designing something for my pattern shop I might get an idea seemingly out of nowhere, which I will then sketch and mull over for days or even months. I will sketch the design many times, thinking about best way to make it. Then I make prototypes and sometimes get it right on first or second try.

Often a particular project will stay in my head for weeks, almost like an obsession – where I’ll keep coming back to it in-between different makes, trying something out and abandoning it, until I get it right.

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Many of your creations are animal themed amigurumis – are they your favourite things to make?

Oh yes, I adore all animals! Growing up in a big city not many people we knew had pets, so encounters with animals became very special. I love watching documentaries about the Earth, it’s simply amazing how many different creatures call it home!

Do you have a favourite creation that you’ve designed?

I’m still exploring different styles and ways to make an amigurumi, looking for a balance of an object that’s interesting to look at but not too complicated for others to make. I think Hopscotch Bunny is the closest to what I like making.   

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Do you have go to hooks and yarn?

I have a strong preference for natural fibres, especially alpaca and cotton. Cotton is so durable and versatile, but alpaca gives the make a much more natural and soft look. As for hooks, I always use Clover Soft Touch.

Who gets your creations; you, your family, your friends?

At the moment my daughter is very quick to claim anything I make, often even before it’s finished. The rest gets given away to friends and family. If a visitor likes a particular toy most of the time they take it home with them.

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Where do you work? Do you have a studio space or do you work from your living room chair?

I’m a bit of a messy creative (just ask my husband!) so things end up scattered all over the house. We share a room as a studio where I have a wall of yarn to inspire me, and a desk for pattern writing and research. Curling up on a sofa with a cup of tea, a sketchbook and a film in the background is my favourite way to work.

What can we expect to see from you in the future?

I’m planning to make many more cute and unusual animals, but also some home accessories and decorations – there’s a book full of ideas just waiting to be made into new patterns.

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Tell us a bit about yourself – what do you do when you’re not crocheting?

When I’m not crocheting… I love going riding my bicycle, foraging around local woods for berries, visiting museums and fairs or just spending the day holed up out of the way somewhere reading a good book.

Finally finish the sentence … I love crochet because…

I can make anything that comes into my head with just a thread and hook – it’s a bit like magic!

I’d just like to take this opportunity to thank Irina again for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer these questions. I’ve really enjoyed getting a better understanding of what’s involved with in her designing process and hope you have too. I hope you will pop along to her website and ravelry page to see all of her great designs!

 

Designer Interview | Kerry Lord from TOFT / Edward’s Menagerie


I’m thrilled about my next designer interview because I actually had the pleasure of meeting her in person!!  Kerry Lord is the author of the extremely popular Edward’s Menagerie series which feature her designs of extremely cute animals, Birds and, in her new book: Imaginarium, all sorts of fabulous creatures.  She is also a busy working mum and the founder of British luxury yarn brand TOFT which specialises in alpaca yarn.

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Recently I attended TOFTfest, which celebrated the 10th birthday of TOFT yarn (which I blogged about here), where I met Kerry and I thought I would see if she would kindly let me find out more about her designing process – to my delight she said YES!  Here’s what we chatted about…

How did you first discover crocheting and amigurumi?

When very pregnant with my first child Edward I decided to teach myself to crochet in order to distract me from going back to work. As soon as I had mastered the double crochet stitch an elephant flew off my hook and into existence. I think the Edward’s Menagerie shape had been living in my head for a while but my knitting skills didn’t allow me to achieve them.

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How did you become a crocheting designer? Is it your real job?

My real job is running the company TOFT and everything that this involves. Designing crochet animals and clothing patterns is part of this role, but by no means all – I have to source and design the yarns first!

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I get lots of my inspiration from feedback, both from my family, colleagues and customers.

Tell us a bit about your design process…

I usually just pick up my yarn and start making when designing amigurumi. If designing something to wear it’s a far longer process as I sketch and swatch first before doing calculations to work out the pattern.

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Many of your animals, birds and creatures have names (like Georgina the Hippo), how do you come up with them? Do you get people requesting names?

Some of them are people I know, whereas others are truly fictional characters. This is the most fun part of my job!

Do you have a favourite creation that you’ve designed?

I am very fond of Blake from Edward’s Menagerie, but Kerry the Chameleon from our recent hand-dyed project makes me feel very proud.

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Do you have go to hooks and yarn? I’m guessing TOFT yarn is your favourite; but can you pick a favourite TOFT yarn?

I am lucky enough to design my own yarns and hooks, so of course I choose our own ones. My favourite TOFT yarn to make things for myself to wear is our DK Silver.

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Who gets your creations; you, your family, your friends?

The studio!! Most of my crochet goes on display, but every now and again I find the time to make something for my children.

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Now we’ve had animals, birds and imaginary characters can you tell us what might be next for Edward’s Menagerie?

I can’t let that secret slip just yet, but book four is well underway!

Where do you work? Do you have a studio space or do you work from your living room chair?

I do have my own room of yarny chaos (and lots of cacti), but more often than that I’ll work from the sofa.

Tell us a bit about yourself – what do you do when you’re not crocheting?

When not at work or crocheting I am having fun with my family. We enjoy muddy walks around the farm and plenty of messy crafts.

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Finally finish the sentence … I love crochet because…

It makes other people very happy.

I’d just like to take this opportunity to thank Kerry again for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer these questions. I’ve really enjoyed getting a better understanding of what’s involved with in her designing process and hope you have too.

Until next time; keep calm and crochet on my friends xx

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Designer Interview | Lucy Collin aka Lucy Ravenscar from lucyravenscar.blogspot.co.uk


I’m extremely excited about my next designer interview!! It’s with the one and only Lucy Collin!!!

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Lucy Collin aka Lucy Ravenscar of lucyravenscar.blogspot.co.uk is well known for her cute fantasy and science fiction themed Amigurumi many of which feature on her blog. She’s the author of the VERY popular book Star Wars Crochet, which pretty much sold out on Amazon UK as soon as it was listed (thank goodness I got my copy!), and the creator of over 70 fabulous patterns. She also published another book called Hollywood Crochet which includes instructions on how to make your very own crochet celebrities like Marilyn, Audrey Hepburn, Leo and Kate in Titanic, James Bond and Elvis and had patterns published Inside Crochet & Crochet Gifts magazines.

Recently I have made LOTS of the fabulous Star Wars characters from her book (which I reviewed here) and I thought I would see if she would kindly let me find out more about her designing world – and she said YES! Here’s what we chatted about…

How did you first discover crocheting and amigurumi?

I learned to crochet when I was about 8 years old, taught by my grandmother, and I had a go at making a few things, including a cardigan I designed myself when I was about 12. Then I forgot all about it until I wanted to make things for my children’s school Christmas bazaar about ten years ago. I was searching for ideas online when I came across some cute little crocheted animals. I found it surprisingly easy to start crocheting again, and after following a few patterns to get the hang of the amigurumi style, I started creating things myself.

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How did you become a crocheting designer? Is it your real job?

The internet has a lot to do with this. I found sites like Craftster where I could look at things other people had made, and share the creatures I made. Then people started asking if I had patterns for them, so I tried writing them out and posted them online. They were very popular, and I came to realise that people would actually pay for amigurumi patterns, so I started to put them up for sale on sites like Etsy and Ravelry. I was doing all this when I’d stopped work to have children, so it was easy to fit in designing and selling patterns around whatever I was doing with the kids. They’re older now, and designing is my job, but it’s flexible enough that I can still be available at home.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

Initially my children, or at least they gave me the impetus to make cute little toys that they would like. I love science fiction and fantasy, so I would introduce them to my favourite films and TV shows, and then they would ask me to make a character that they liked. That evolved into making classic fantasy creatures such as dragons, and creating my own fantastical creatures. I also love animals, so I really enjoy making crocheted versions of my favourite wildlife.

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Tell us a bit about your design process…

I have a very long list of ideas that I want to make that I’m constantly thinking about, so first I have to decide which idea I’m going to work on first. Depending on how clear the idea is in my head, I might do a few sketches of how I want it to look, then I start crocheting, writing down every step. There may be a lot of false starts getting the shape and size right, but once I’m happy with what I’ve made I’ll turn my notes into a proper pattern. I work from that pattern and make the toy one or more times until I’m totally satisfied with the design. I tend to like to make quite a few variations, so I might go through the whole process several times.

Do you have a favourite creation that you’ve designed?

One of my first designs, that I made available for free, was the Fierce Little Dragon, and I’m really fond of this design. I love dragons, and he sits on top of my computer screen and keeps me company. What’s really nice is that so many people have made dragons using the pattern, and I love seeing all the different yarns they used to make them when they post photos up on Ravelry.

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I’m also very fond of my fantasy character designs, particularly the Dwarf patterns that I finished fairly recently. I ended up making five different versions, both male and female, with different looks, and I really enjoyed the way they came out, especially the female warrior dwarf.

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Do you have go to hooks and yarn?

I started off using basic aluminium hooks, the ones my grandmother gave me in fact, but in the last year or so I’ve upgraded to Tulip hooks in the sizes I use most often, and a full set of Clover soft touch hooks. For small amigurumi, and ones with lots of colour changes, like the fantasy characters, I use decent but fairly cheap acrylic yarn, particularly Hayfield Bonus and Robin DK because they’ve got lots of colour choices, and acrylic works well to make toys with. For larger figures, especially animals, I like to use acrylic yarns with some wool or alpaca in the mix, such as Hayfield Bonus with wool, Sirdar Country Style DK and Stylecraft Alpaca DK, which worked beautifully for my Bracken the Fox pattern.

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Who gets your creations; you, your family, your friends?

I used to make them for my children, then when I started turning my designs into patterns I would keep the things I made in case I needed to photograph them again, or check them if anyone had any questions. I would give the unsuccessful versions to my younger son, and he would get quite upset when I would refer to them as ‘rejects’! I’ve also made quite a few, especially of the Star Wars characters, as presents for friends and family.

Now we’ve had Hollywood Celebrities and Star Wars figures are we going to see other well known characters in the future?

I’m quite keen to come up with my own designs for patterns to sell online, but I’d love to make more famous characters if a publisher asks me to do another book. It would be great to do Star Wars designs from the new film, and it would be fun to do a book of Game of Thrones patterns.

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Where do you work? Do you have a studio space or do you work from your living room chair?

Living room chair, I like to be as comfortable as possible, and I have all my bits and pieces nearby. I’ve recently got all my yarn organised into a spare room so it’s easy to find what I want, and when I start a project I get all the yarn I need and put it in a large bag so I can have it close to hand in the living room. At the moment I’ve got several projects on the go – new patterns, presents, a blanket for my son – so the room is a bit full with bags of yarn!

Tell us a bit about yourself- what do you do when you’re not crocheting?

As I already said I’m a big fan of all sorts of SF and fantasy, so I like to watch films and TV, but I can crochet at the same time, so maybe that doesn’t count! I try to read as well, but it’s difficult to find the time when the crochet is calling me… I love taking my dog for a walk every day, it’s great to get out in nature, whatever the weather.

Finally finish the sentence … I love crochet because…

With just a hook and some yarn I can turn the ideas in my head into reality.

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I’d just like to take this opportunity to thank Lucy for taking time out of her busy life to answer these questions, I’ve really enjoyed getting a better understanding of what’s involved with in her designing process and hope you have too.

Designer Interview | Dedri Uys from lookatwhatimade.net


I’m so excited about my first designer interview! With the one and only Dedri Uys from Look At What I Made!!!  

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If you don’t know already Dedri is a busy working mum / crochet artist extraordinaire! She’s not only the author of a popular blog, Look At What I Made, she’s the author of a remarkable book of Anamani Puzzle Balls and the creator of over 60 fabulous patterns – some of which are the most awesomely inspiring motifs I have ever seen such as the Sophie’s Mandalas, Sophie’s Garden and now Sophie’s Universe. Translated into seven different languages crotchet-ers all over the world (including me which I blogged about here) are enjoying joining in with the Sophie’s Universe CAL which started in January and has just finished (though that stage might be a bit longer away for some of us i.e. me!)

Photo credit to Esther from itsallinanutshell.com

Photo credit to Esther from itsallinanutshell.com

Hot off the back of having a go at creating my very own large motif square and with an even greater appreciation of her talents (if that’s possible!) I thought I would see if she would kindly let me grill her on the process she went into when designing Sophie’s Universe – and she said yes!!! I’m super excited to share with you what we chatted about.

What got you started on the Sophie’s Universe?

Sophie’s Universe started with Chris Simon’s Lace Petals Square. When I was making the Lace Petals Square as part of last year’s Block a Week CAL, we were visiting my parent-in-law on their farm in South Africa.

unnamed (3) I don’t know if it was the actual pattern or the process of making and photographing it there that made it feel so special to me.  I contacted Chris to see if I could modify it and use it to create a mandala. She very kindly said yes. And so I started on my Sophie-journey.

What motivated you to do Sophie’s Universe as a crochet-a-long?

Kimberly Slifer (Admin for the Official CCC Social Group on Facebook and from http://www.justagirlandahook.com/ ) approached me to ask if I would consider “growing” Sophie’s Garden into a full-size afghan for a CAL. I immediately said yes, because I had already been working on the afghan design anyway. The CAL provided a brilliant way for people to tackle the pattern bit by bit, without being daunted by the magnitude of the project.

This is particularly important to me, because this pattern is specifically aimed at beginners (despite its complexity), and had we published it as a complete pattern, a lot of beginners wouldn’t have had the guts to try it.

Do you have testers doing each part as you go along or did you do it all in one go?

Kimberly Slifer tested the whole pattern before we started with the CAL. As I do the photo tutorials (about 10 days in advance), I send them on to the rest of the testers and translators and they then test it again to make sure that the instructions are correct and easy to follow. We change whatever needs to be changed before I publish each part.

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Did you have a concept in your head of the finished design or did it evolve organically?

Once I had a square, I still didn’t want to stop, but by this point lots of people had started growing their Sophie’s with optional rounds, so I knew that I would have to think outside of the box if I wanted to continue growing her in such a way that the design remained distinctive.

The actual design sort of evolved organically, but I had a general idea of what I was aiming for.  I decided that I would flip the garden into a central diamond. I must admit that I was scared, right up until the CAL started, that I had made a huge mistake in doing so.

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About a month before the CAL started I had to frog EVERYTHING back to the garden due to a fatal design flaw. I rewrote the whole pattern. Poor Kimberly had to frog a significant part of her work as well!

What comes first; stitches, colour or yarn?

Stitches and colour happen simultaneously. It is very hit and miss and I spend a fair bit of time frogging and re-making, both with different stitches and different colours.

In this case I made the prototype out of cheap acrylic yarn so that I wouldn’t feel bad about all the yarn I wasted during the design process. Once I’d completed it, I realized that I wanted to use a yarn that would last (and last well) for years. If I was going to invest over a thousand hours in a project, I wanted an heirloom at the end of it. I chose Scheepjeswol for all 3 my Sophie’s.

How long do you think it has taken you to design Sophie Universe altogether?

To date I have spent 1033 hours on this design and the related admin (checking videos, checking translations, designing, making, etc). That doesn’t include the time the translators, testers, Facebook admin, Jenny, and Esther have spent on it.

Do you have a favourite part of the Sophie Universe or a section that you are particular pleased with how it turned out in the end?

The corners in the original garden remain one of my favourite parts of the whole project. I am also very pleased with the central flowers on the “short sides”, the “diamond band” and the Scallops.

My most favourite part, though, and the bit that makes me smile every time I look at it, is the roses. I am absolutely thrilled with how they came out. I think they are well worth the hours (and hours) they took me to figure out.

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Where do you work? Do you have a studio space or do you work from your living room chair?

Hehe…I work from my dining room table. My “photography corner” is set up in the children’s playroom (conservatory), which doubles as my “studio” and general dumping ground. In the summer it is too hot to work in, and in the winter it is too ridiculously cold!

Where do you get your inspiration from?

Everywhere and anywhere! Street signs, fabric, tessellations, flowers, photographs (of anything). I always look at things and try to see what I can see in them that other people wouldn’t notice. I like thinking outside the box.  Pinterest is an amazing source of inspiration and eye-candy. So is nature!

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Now we’ve had Sophie’s Universe are you going to have a rest from large motif’s or do you see more in your future?

I am going to have a good long rest. I have promised the boys that I won’t be spending every Saturday and Sunday “working”. I have promised Christiaan that I won’t spend every evening “working”. So for now I am going to allow myself some time to crochet for fun. In a month or two I will start working on my next big project. I have 3 afghan designs I really want to get done, but before I do, I have to publish the rest of the Little Zoo Animals Anette Bak and I are working on. And hopefully write up a few more Amamani patterns.

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I’d just like to take this opportunity to thank Dedri again for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer these questions, I’ve really enjoyed getting a better understanding of the process and I hope you have too!

Sophie’s Garden | Work In Progress Update


So I recently came to the (semi) end of a most enjoyable crochet journey!   I finished up the Sophie’s Universe CAL to Sophie’s Garden stage.  For those of you that don’t know Sophie’s Garden (and all the other Sophie’s variations of Mandala and Universe) is the genius creation of Dedri Uys from Look At What I Made.  And if you LOVE crochet then you seriously need to give this pattern a go; you won’t be disappointed! 01+Logo

You may remember I started work on it in March and it’s been my work in progress when I’ve had some free time since then.  I didn’t tell you the colours before did I.  Well I was concentrating on using up some yarn I had in my stash and eventually choose Sidar Hayfield Double Knit in Golden, Classic Red, Cerise, Claret, Grass, Lime, and Bottle Green and I used a 4mm (US size G) hook. It’s a completely different colour palette than I’ve used before – a real experimentation with shades! I think these particular yarn tones give the finished Sophie a kind of medieval feel.

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It really has been such a delightful experience working on this pattern.  I have really found crocheting each round to have a really soothing effect.  On nearly every round there is something new to keep the interest of any crocheter.  The pattern is written with a photo tutorial too which makes what looks like a complicated round much easier to understand – this is not a pattern to be scared of because it looks difficult!

And here she is! Sophie in all her splendour!  I plan to at some point continue with her into the Universe stage, but you have to agree she’s looking pretty lovely as she is for now.

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Crochet Book Reviews | Star Wars Crochet by Lucy Collin


Disclaimer: This book / pattern is one I have purchased (or used) for my own benefit.  I have not been financially compensated by the book company or the designer to write this review. All opinions expressed are my own and based on my own experiences of using the book / pattern.

Shopping for crochet books?  I do so love a good crochet book and certainly have LOADS on my shelves so I thought I would share my recommendations for crochet lovers out there.  

I decided that my first review would be about the new crochet book / kit that arrived for me to play with on Bank Holiday weekend (well actually I brought more than one but that’s another story).  

Last year I wanted to make a couple of Darth Vader‘s for my nephews for Christmas, I’d had a pattern, by the extremely talented British Crochet Designer Lucy Ravenscar (aka. Lucy Collin), saved for awhile on Ravelry but then when I came to buy it there was a message on the pattern to say that it was no longer available for sale!  In Yoda-speak ‘devastated was I’ but all was well as Lucy was just putting all her awesome Star Wars amigurumi’s together into a book.  So stalking her (in a nice way) I have been waiting for the book to be published since last year and now it’s HERE! If you LOVE Star Wars then this is definitely the book you are looking for! It’s AMAZING! Seriously! And the author’s passion for designing these Star Wars character’s definitely shines through.

So excited that it's finally arrived! #lucyravenscar #starwars #crochet

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Lets start off with the kit first, well the price you pay for the kit and book is worth it for the book alone so don’t let my next paragraph put you off…  

Unfortunately I found the kit itself not as good as perhaps it could have been though the idea for the kit and contents are a brilliant concept. In the kit you get yarn enough to make an amigurumi Yoda and a Stormtrooper. You get 2 pairs of safety eyes, a metal yarn needle, a basic aluminium 3.5mm (US E/4) hook and I was rather impressed that the kit also contained some stuffing – so literally everything you might need aside from some stitch markers and pins (which aren’t included).  However I found yarn was a bit on the thin side for me (think a light DK / sport weight #2 or #3) and I found that it split easily. The safety eyes were just AWFUL; both me and my husband struggled with trying to put them on as the washers were an odd shape and seemed too small. The hook was servicable and the needle / stuffing both fine, but I have spoilt myself using Clover Amour hooks so in the end I gave in and used my own stash and accessories and then I had no issues.  

In the end I chose some yarn from my stash; Stylecraft Special Aran (Worsted weight #4) Meadow, Dark Brown and Camel for Master Yoda with a 4mm hook (US G) and some 9mm eyes.  This made my Yoda about 5 inches / 12.5 cm high.

Crocheting Yoda am I #crochet #yoda #starwars #lucyravenscar

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The book includes instructions for 12 Star Wars figures: Yoda, Stormtrooper, C-3PO, Princess Leia, Wicket the Ewok, Luke Skywalker, R2-D2, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Darth Vader, Boba Fett, and Jabba the Hutt. 

I wouldn’t say that the book is geared for a beginner crocheter though it does contain some basic how-to-guidance at the front of the book.  It’s perfect for someone who has been crocheting for awhile that already has a gist of crochet stitches and techniques.  

The book is written in US Crochet Terminology (though there is a conversion guide supplied in the front of the book) and as a whole the book is well illustrated throughout with photographs not only from the pattern but from the film (which is a nice touch) and each pattern has clear instructions.  

As you can see my Yoda turned out AWESOMELY and I can’t wait to make some of the other characters. My recommendation? The force is strong with this one! Buy this book! You won’t regret it!

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