I taught myself to crochet when I was in college. I took a course on needlework and handcrafts, including knitting, weaving, braiding, embroidery and crochet. I was too shy to go up to the teacher's desk with the other girls in the room, as they stood and watched her show them while looking over her shoulder. So I just sat back at my desk and taught myself from looking at the booklet we had been given. I'm glad I did this because it gave me confidence to read patterns. My very first project was a green potholder with hot pink popcorn stitches! Looking back, I'm really surprised the teacher had us start on a project with the popcorn stitch.
Over the years I made gifts such as scarves, hats, mittens, sweaters, slippers, and baby layettes when a baby shower came around. I never even thought about designing my own patterns though, until crochet came back on the scene in 2004. Several of my friends wanted me to teach them so we started a class. Ponchos were big that year and they wanted me to find some easy poncho patterns for them. Since I couldn't find the styles I wanted, I started designing several ponchos in different shapes. Some were made with the point in front and back, some were 2 rectangles put together, some were in the round, and I made an asymmetrical shape as well. I also designed some shorter ponchos that were more like capelets and decided to submit them all for publication and they were accepted. Those booklets published in 2005 are Crochet Young and Trendy and Crochet in Style, published by Kooler Design Studio. Of course I was shocked but so excited! I decided to keep doing it!
What is your biggest source of inspiration?
I love doing trendy designs so my inspiration comes mostly from current styles, which I find on the runways and magazines. Sometimes I do classic styles too, but my passion is doing trendy styles, because I think that's what a lot of people want. There is a demand for popular styles but most publishers do not want to do trends because they say they go out of style too soon and they want the designs in a book to appeal to people for a long time. But I think if a book has what is in demand, it will sell better. The designs in my first book, Positively Crochet, were popular in 2007 when it was published, but the book is still very popular today - 8 years later! I was happy that Interweave allowed me to include several trendy designs in the new book, Colorful Crochet Lace, such as the Ooh Là Là Flared Dress with a flare at the hem and also the Haute Couture Peplum Top. Peplum's are still very popular today as much as they were 3 or 4 years ago when they came back on the fashion scene. Others that are hot in today's market are the Tunique Unique Pullover (longer on the sides) and the Brigitte Wide Belt. As designers we have to know what styles are going to be popular 2 - 4 years from now and there are ways to find out.
I really love designing trendy garments and accessories, but do design other types of projects occasionally.
What is a technique you particularly like to use in your patterns?
I like all kinds of crochet techniques and have dabbled in them all (hairpin lace, broomstick lace, tunisian, top down, bottom up, in the round, vertical rows, etc.), but I love doing lace. It's always been my favorite. I made lace projects in both Positively Crochet! and Crochet That Fits, but decided I wanted to do a whole book on crochet lace garments and accessories.
Tell us about your new book, Colorful Crochet Lace--how did you choose the theme?
Since I'm crazy about lace, I've been wanting to do an all lace crochet book of garments and accessories. I waited 5 years from the time Crochet That Fits was published till I started working on the lace book. I love anything feminine such as Victorian clothing and decor, and some of my favorite crochet stitch patterns are lacy fans and shells. As far as the Parisian theme, I wanted to do this because I love Paris with sidewalk cafés, gardens and coffee shops.
Since I've authored other crochet books, I knew what to expect, but normally you are given 9 months to finish your manuscript. Most would expect their book to be published the next year, but with this one, even though I began working on it in the fall of 2013, it was not scheduled to be released until July of this year (2015). It seems like it took forever for that date to arrive.
Working on a book can be very stressful with all the deadlines plus trying to choose the right yarns, in the right color with the right fibers. That's not as easy as you'd think. It's also hard to balance your time between working on a book and spending time with family, which is very important to me. I've always said I wouldn't allow my designing to get in the way of my family. Since I do have so much more going on in my life, this time I had to hire some people to stitch up some of the patterns that are in the book. I'd much rather do this all myself and have done that in the past, but I had no choice this time. You can't do that with every pattern because most of the time I'm designing as a I go and write the instructions down as I make it. I am truly grateful for my crochet friends in coming to my rescue when I was in a crunch to get everything finished in time. Then when you send in your manuscript, the process is not over yet. You get a few weeks break but after the tech editor has checked the patterns, we then have to start the stressful process of making sure there are no errors. Sometimes you get the patterns back several times before it finally goes to print. Of course words can't describe the excitement you have when the book is actually in print and you can hold it in your hands!
Which of your designs is your favorite? (if you had to choose...)
I am most proud of the Haute Couture Peplum Top shown on the front cover. It's one of my favorite colors and I love feminine peplums, and fitted shapes. The top part is worked with my signature Graduated Stitch Method of making shaped garments and accessories without having to use increases or decreases, which is easy enough for a beginner. I like all the projects but my other favorites are the Tunique Unique Pullover, Parisian Gardens Circular Shawl, La Fleur Doily Bag, Ooh Là Là Flared Dress, Au Naturel Cropped Top, Isabelle Sleeveless Tunic, Très Chic Neck Warmer and the Juliette Scarf.
I have always loved Doris Chan's style, which is lace, of course! I've been able to hang out with her a few times over the years, and she's a very nice, sweet person who you love to be around. Another designer I have admired for years is Nicky Epstein, and I love her style and can relate to her esthetic.
Any upcoming projects you can give us a hint about?
I just finished a couple of designs that will be in a magazine next year, since they are 9 months ahead. I decided I need to take a break from designing because the deadlines put me under so much stress and pressure, but I am itching to do more designs. I would start another book, right now, this minute if I had the time and energy. I'll have to hold off on that, but am thinking about self-publishing a small book. My son has been after me for years to do that. I like the fact that the publisher does so much of the marketing and advertising. Since I'm more known now and have been designing professionally for 10 years, I think I'm ready to try that to see how it goes. I love the 70's styles and want to do a book of Boho styles. I have my sketches all done and this is the best time to share that 70's style with everyone. If I do this Boho book myself, I'll be able to share it much sooner than if I go with a publisher.
Thank you so much, Mary Jane!
Mary Jane's blog
Mary Jane's designs on Ravelry
Mary Jane's Ravelry Group
Mary Jane's books, Positively Crochet!, Crochet That Fits, and Colorful Crochet Lace
Photos in this blogpost copyright Joe Hancock