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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Interview with Mary Jane Hall - Bella Online

 Below is my interview with Kate Pullen, which took place shortly after "Positively Crochet!" was released. She asked many questions about my designing career, so this may be helpful to any aspiring designers out there! The interview was before "Crochet That Fits" came out in the fall of 2008. If you prefer to read the interview online here's their website: Link

How long have you been crocheting and how did you get started? Well, I was 18 and in collage. This was 1969 when crochet was all the rage (just like today) and I wanted to learn to make those long crocheted vests. I think I made 10 of those for my friends in collage that year for Christmas. I was obsessed and you guessed it! My grades went down as a result of spending more time on crochet.

What inspired you to start designing crochet items? A little over 2 years ago (2004) several teen girls and women ages 20-60 came to me asking if I’d teach them to crochet. They had started to see lots of crochet garments in the stores, including ponchos. These eager young girls wanted to make ponchos and I could not find very many patterns on the internet at the time. I decided to try my hand at designing some that were more updated such as the shorter ponchos and capelets. Then I decided to try selling some of the patterns on eBay and I sold 150 patterns in a 2 month period. At that point, I thought I’d see if any publishers were looking for new patterns. I had contacted Kooler Designs after seeing their email in a booklet called Ruthie’s Scarves. They liked my patterns and after showing them to Leisure Arts (their publisher) Donna Kooler called me to say that they wanted to publish not only one but two booklets of my designs! I was in shock and on cloud 9! They wanted to overnight all 14 designs to California. So I guess I was at the right place at the right time J After that, I began designing more crochet wearables and accessories, and Carol Alexander chose all 11 of the ones I had emailed her. (for Crochet! magazine and other DRG books) The rest is history! I have not even taken a break from designing since that happened 2 years ago.

You have had over 150 designs accepted for publication in 18 months – which is a major success story!  That works out at almost 2 designs a week - how do you approach the design process? The 150 designs accepted for publication include designs for my 2 Kooler Design/Leisure Arts booklets, (Crochet in Style and Crochet Young and Trendy) crochet magazines, crochet books of other designers, Fifth Avenue Magazine, a calendar, tear sheets, and 2 of my own books published by Krause Publications – a division of F + W. The book released in Sept. 07’ is called Positively Crochet! The other one has not been released yet, but will be later this year. I specialize in garments and accessories, so many of the designs I’ve had published were smaller items such as scarves, and purses. There’s no way I could have designed 150 garments in 18 months!

How do you split your time between designing and marketing your designs? Since I started designing crochet garments and accessories, I went ahead with a full throttle and got into it full time. Some weeks I may spend only 18 hours designing, but other weeks, I have spent as much as 40-70 hours, depending on deadlines. Even though it can get pretty stressful, I think I work best with deadlines. I do set goals of how many designs I want to finish in a particular week or month. Sometimes I meet those goals but sometimes I don’t. For a while there my goal was 1 garment a week, or 2-3 accessories a week. I work best at night when the phone is not ringing and I have lots of peace and quiet. Since I do mostly trendy garments and accessories I do spend a lot of time researching what the latest trends are. I do this online and by looking in the most popular fashion magazines and going to stores. I know I spend way too much time researching, but I think it’s important. I also have lots of teenage girls and young women in their 20’s and 30’s around me who are a huge help in keeping me posted on what’s in style and what they want to see in crochet patterns. As far as marketing, my publisher has done most of that, but I do help by contacting stores they haven’t made a connection with, and I contact people, well…like you, Kate!

What makes a good crochet design? Oh, this is a great question and I love answering it. A good crochet design is not a garment that uses cheap, stiff acrylic yarn that makes your design stand up on it’s on or one that feels like a straight jacket when worn! Crochet got a bad reputation back in the 60’s and 70’s because of this very thing. My favorite yarns are cottons, wool, silk, or anything that is natural, but there are some very nice (and soft) acrylics today, that I like. The yarn industry has changed tremendously since those days. A good crochet garment is also not one that is made with ugly colors that don’t match. There were some pretty ugly colors put together back then. Now I love color, as you will see in my books, but there’s a fine line between gaudy and tasteful colors. I do have a background and experience in color analysis, so this really helps me. I’ve learned though, that I needed to expand my horizons so to speak where some colors are concerned. I’ve never been crazy about really dull, muted colors, or orange, but I’ve learned to appreciate those colors being appealing when they are used in the correct color scheme. Now to the real answer, in my opinion, here’s what makes a good crochet design. Using smaller yarns and larger hooks than what most crocheters have been accustomed to. I almost never use the recommended hook size that is listed on a label. For example, most labels on a worsted wt yarn say to use a G or H hook, and that’s fine if you are trying to make something sturdy, such as a purse or maybe even an afghan. But when making garments I never use a hook that small. It just won’t be soft and drapable. But it also depends on the yarn and the content. Another example is that I like to use a larger size H, I or J hook even with a fingering or sport weight yarn. This makes the garment very soft and drapeable. I have not knitted in years, but I know that it is softer and less dense than crochet, because only 1 stitch is picked up at a time. That’s why many of my designs have stitch patterns that go in one loop only, making it softer and more stretchable, therefore more flattering and drapeable.

What are your favorite designs? My favorite kinds of designs are wearables for sure, along with accessories. To me, that’s fun. If I thought I’d have to make an afghan, that would be work to me. I love wearables and accessories, but also, anything that is quick. I try to come up with ways all the time to make crochet designs that are quick and easy. There are thousands of new, young crocheters out there (maybe millions) and so even though my books have many designs that are at an intermediate skill level, I have many beginner and advanced beginner patterns. I have been able to get many people (who have only made scarves, afghans or wash cloths) motivated to make their very first garment. They can’t believe how easy it is! This gives me a lot of joy knowing they can get the same pleasures I do from crocheting.

How did you go about creating your books, your most recent book, Positively Crochet has 50 designs which is a lot!  I have hundreds of sketches for designs I’d love to do, so I never run out of ideas. Yes, 50 is a lot, but it was very important to me to create a book that had as many patterns as some of the books from the 70’s.

 Why was publishing a book with so many different patterns important to you? My goal was to have 60 designs, and even though I designed that many, we had to cut some, because of space. I was thinking about how excited I would be when I’d look in my crochet books back when I was a young wife and mother. I get a thrill knowing so many young women (and older women) are getting the same pleasures from crocheting that I did when I first started. I still get a “natural high”, each time I design and create something!

Do you have more books planned for the future? I recently finished another crochet book and I’m about to burst wanting to tell you what it’s about. Of course, I can’t. I think I can say it’s also wearables and accessories, but this book is all about a new method.

You have been crocheting for quite a few years!   How important is being a good crocheter to creating good crochet designs? Oh, it’s extremely important. If a person is sloppy with things such as weaving in ends, not counting or paying attention to row, not swatching and getting the correct gauge, all these things  can really throw off a garment. And if a person who wants to design someday doesn’t practice up and learn the standard terms, a publisher would look at their pattern, and just laugh at it. I’m pretty sure that even though I thought my first written patterns were good, the tech editor probably laughed and was frustrated with my pattern writing. I learned in a hurry though, because I was serious about designing. A person can be a good designer, but not a good pattern writer. I am so thankful that the people at Donna Kooler Designs were patient with me on my first 2 booklets (published by Leisure Arts)

Can 'anyone' design crochet patterns? What skills do you need? People say to me all the time, “You are so talented!”, or “You have a special gift”, and my response is, “Thank you so much, but anybody can do this. It just takes desire and determination.” I am the kind of person who believes that anybody on this earth can do anything they set their mind to. Of course I have had good influences in my life. At an early age when I was growing up, my sisters and I had a singing group and we sang professionally (getting paid) by being regulars on a Saturday evening show every week, called “Country Junction”. We didn’t like country back then, but we sang folk songs with our guitar. Also as teenagers, we had our own weekly radio program and we also traveled all over the state singing and campaigning for a state representative. So we were told by our parents that we could “do anything we set our minds to do.” We were very successful as singers and also made a record and appeared on TV many times. Then when I left home and got out on my own, those principles stuck with me. I continued singing professionally at fairs and festivals (as well as other events) and that principle translated into other areas of my life. I have tried to succeed in anything I do. I think it is a mind set, and a decision that you make. It just took determination and a lot of work. Another example is that people tell me all the time, “You’re such a good cook. You are so talented. I wish I could cook like you”. I just laugh and say, “Can you read?” If they say yes, then I say, “If you can read a recipe, you can cook!” When I became a realtor in the 80’s, I was top sales person of the year my first 3 years. I do not say this in any way to brag or to boast. I am not any more special than any other human being. Anyone can do those things if they set their mind to it. Another thing is that I married a guy, Terry, who is one of the most talented motivational speakers you could ever hear. He has traveled all over the country giving his “Yes, You Can!” seminars to businesses, churches, and the chamber of commerce in different cities. What he says about life is very powerful and has substance. He makes people laugh and he can bring people to tears 2 seconds later. I have been surrounded by positive thinking most of my life, and so when you asked me “Can anyone design?”, I had to give you the background on where I am coming from and why I believe anyone CAN design. In fact they can do anything they want to do, as far as it’s morally right and legal!

Is it possible to earn a living from crochet design?  That question has been discussed over and over again in many crochet groups that I belong to. Everyone wants to quit their day job to have a full time career in crochet designing. Although it’s possible for some people to earn a living from designing, most use it as a second income. The ones who make a living at it also travel around the country speaking at the many conferences and workshops on crochet, knitting and other needlework. As designers, we all believe that we are underpaid for our work, so if we were paid what we’re worth, I do believe many more would be designing for a living.

You also teach, run classes and talk to groups.  Is this interaction with other crocheters important to you in the design process?  Oh, being with other people who crochet really gives me extra energy because I get to know what each of them wants in a design. I have actually done surveys on what people what or don’t want in a crochet pattern or book. The surveys have really helped me produce some designs that have been in demand. Being with other crocheters helps give me energy!
Is this an essential part of the process or does it eat into your design time? There are times when I go to my monthly local CGOA meetings or when I go to the crochet croup/class of my own, and I’m thinking I need to be working on my own crochet. Sometimes it’s frustrating trying to teach a 7 year old or a 60 year old to crochet, but I keep telling myself, “If you give to other people (especially yourself) it will come back to you. In other words, it’s the principle of sowing and reaping, set up by the laws of nature. You will reap what you sow, even if you don’t believe in that principle. So to answer your question, yes, it does eat into my design time sometimes, but I keep telling my self, “People are what’s important, and I will naturally be blessed if I invest my time in people.”  I always manage to get everything done, even if things are stressful.

What tips would you have for would-be designers? I’d say that if you really want to design, the best advice I could give you would be to first have your friends or family try to follow one of your patterns, and see if they can understand it. If they do, that’s great, but even if they do, that doesn’t mean your pattern writing skills are up to par. You need to look at publisher’s guidelines and study how they word their patterns. Every publisher does things a little differently, so you just have to adapt to their way, when you work with them. And the main thing is that if you have the desire to design, whatever happen, just don’t give up!!!!!!! The first thing you need to do is actually take the first step in submitting a design. You’ll never know until you try. Others may give up on you but never give up on yourself. Pursue your dreams. You will never regret having tried.

What are your plans for the future? I absolutely love designing and I have made so many wonderful friends in this business. (designer friends, editors, publishers and fans) This career has really enhanced my life, and I want to do it forever. I’ll do it till I’m 100 if I can! I like submitting designs to magazines, but I also love doing books. I don’t like all the pressures, but the rewards are great. And I’m not just talking about money J

Another note about the  book, Positively Crochet: (my reasons for adding Positive, encouraging words to each pattern page)
      I have spoken to many women's groups on relationships such as parenting, friendships and marriage. The powerful principles can really help to make a person's life better. Many of the powerful principles I learned from my husband, Terry, who has a nationally known seminar called "Yes, You Can!". He is one of the best motivational speakers around and has given these seminars to businesses,  chamber of commerce in major cities, singles retreats, and churches in just about every state. In a nutshell, he gives step by step ways to accomplish any goal and helps people to "be the best they can be" in their profession or as a human being. People all over the country "rave" about how he has helped them in their lives.
     Being the "positive" person I am, (trying to see the good in everything and everybody) I wanted to share some thoughts with readers to ponder as they work on their crochet projects. I wanted them to have the "warm fuzzies" after reading the "words of encouragement." My publisher was very excited about this and they have encouraged me all along!  It has been so rewarding to get hundreds of personal emails (and 5 star book reviews) from people telling me how the words of encouragement have changed their lives. One lady wrote," I have been a loner for years and I never go out of my house, except to the mailbox or the grocery store, but your book has made me want to go out more and reach out to other people." I share the feeling of what my husband had to say about this, "Now that's worth more than money!" The comments readers have shared with me are heart warming and have brought tears to my eyes. Their comments mean the world to me and it makes all the hard work worth it!


  1. Really, really great interview! I love your tip about using larger hooks than recommended - something I've noticed myself recently.

  2. This is the best interview with crochet designer I've ever read! Thank you! So many tips!
    If you could share what yarn you meant saying "some very nice (and soft) acrylics today", :))) I would appreciate it a lot! Thanks again!

  3. Great interview!!! You have a way of getting me all fired up!!! :)

  4. Natalia, I'll try to write a post on this as soon as I can. I'll have to look up the yarns I'm talking about, but they are out there. There are also lots of yarns out there that are blended with acrylic. My favorite yarns are Bamboo, Silk, Mercerized cotton, and wools (or a blend of these fibers)