Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Skill, Design … and the Voie de Vie Questionnaire (2KCBWDAY2)

While I’ve recently written about my creative process, I’ve not really dwelled on my crafting skills. There is no doubt, however, that 2010 saw my crochet and, to a lesser extent, knitting skills go through the roof.

I’ve always considered myself a better crocheter than knitter. Don’t really know why, but I just always have. There is no doubt that crafting 10 shawls last year for Ravelry’s 10 shawls in 2010 challenge took my crochet skills to the next level. Creating crochet lace, using beads, matching the right yarn with the right pattern, getting to know designers’ patterns inside and out, presenting my FOs in an appealing way, all came as a result of my participation in the challenge. It gave me the confidence to tackle other advanced and non-traditional techniques, including Tunisian crochet.

One particular designer has been one of my most vocal supporters, and I’ve watched her over the last year create some of the most beautiful crochet shawls out there – Sharon Hernes Silverman. I’m currently working on one of her designs, the Moonmist shawl, which I know at this time last year I probably never would have attempted. It’s got it all: skinny yarn, a big crochet hook, an intricate pattern with advanced stitches. It’s also a very fun design. So, instead of reading my blather about skills, I thought you might appreciate an inside look at one of the most talented and gracious designers around (and, psst, she’s nominated for several Flamie awards for her designs as well as her latest book) – so here’s the second installment of the Artfully Voie de Vie Questionnaire:

The Artfully Voie de Vie Questionnaire
With Crochet Designer Sharon Hernes Silverman

Can you tell us a little bit about your background before you started to design crochet garments and accessories?

I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1981 with a major in English and minors in chemistry and biology. My first job was in science publishing, then I moved into technical writing, then corporate communications. In 1987 my freelance article about area wineries was published in The Philadelphia Inquirer. That was the beginning of my travel writing career! Two months later I quit my job at Du Pont and became a full-time freelance writer focused on travel, publishing hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles and several guidebooks and for three years I was the country inn columnist for Maryland Magazine.

On the crafting side, I've always liked to make things. Over the years I've done a lot of yarn arts including needlepoint, counted cross-stitch, rug hooking, a little bit of knitting, and of course, crocheting. One of my early crafting memories is accidentally sewing a cross-stitch pillowcase to my pants leg.

When was the moment you knew you wanted to become a crochet designer?

After I finished writing the Brandywine Valley guidebook, the editors at Stackpole Books wanted me to do another guide, but my boys were young then (now they are 17 and 15), and we couldn't come up with a destination that would fit with my family schedule. Stackpole had just started a "Basic" how-to craft series, and the editor asked, "Can you do anything?" When I told him that I love to crochet, my transition to crochet designer began.

For that first book, Basic Crocheting, I designed some of the patterns myself and purchased a few from other designers. The sweater pattern I commissioned just didn't work—it was far too complicated to be "basic" and far too uncomfortable to wear (all very tight single crochet). Even though I had never designed a sweater, I took a deep breath and said, "Okay, Sharon, you can do this." I picked a wavy chevron stitch pattern, worked out the math for several sizes, and was very happy with the resulting sweater pattern. That gave me the confidence to think of myself as a designer and I have never looked back.

Purple Rain Tunisian crochet
scarf, my interpretation of a
Sharon Hernes Silverman pattern

Can you describe your personal crochet design philosophy?

On the clothing side, I strive to create garments that fit well, pair yarn and stitch patterns harmoniously, are fun to make, and look beautifully hand-crafted (rather than "home-made"). With the amazing fibers available today, and the way crochet has advanced, there is no excuse for shapeless, boxy garments that use rivers of double crochet—we had enough of that with vests back in the 1970s! Tunisian crochet stitches provide an excellent alternative, since the stitches are connected to each other horizontally as well as row by row—it's not all loopy. I love the many looks of Tunisian fabrics.

For home decor, I love to design pillows and blankets that give a room an instant lift. I favor clean lines and natural materials; my home has an uncluttered Japanese aesthetic, and my crochet work is consistent with that.

No matter what I'm designing, I like to experiment with yarn—I'll try anything as long as it doesn't shed. You'll notice that my designs specify some mass-produced products and some hand-dyed fibers at a variety of price points. It's nice to have the opportunity to try things out, and to introduce my readers to new products.

The beginning of my Moonmist Shawl, a recent
Sharon Hernes Silverman shawl pattern

I think my real strength is in the way I write patterns. My background as a technical writer probably helps. Too many times I have attempted to crochet something using a published pattern, only to find the instructions unclear. Just as bad, sometimes a pattern is technically correct, but not helpful. I like to provide a road map so crocheters know where they're going, and how they will get there. Otherwise it's like someone dropped you in a car and yelled, "Drive!" You may get where you're going, but you have no idea what to expect along the way. It's unsettling.

I'm also a big proponent of including technique photos so crocheters know exactly what I mean: "put the hook here, not there." I want everyone to have a great experience when they make a Sharon Silverman project.

What is your greatest crochet (or design) memory?

Being invited to appear on three episodes of HGTV's "Uncommon Threads" with my friends Julianne Eisele and Naomi Ramos.

If you could have dinner with any three designers, dead or alive, who would they be, and why?

Coco Chanel, because of the way she revolutionized 20th-century fashion with simplicity and clean lines; Jane Slicer-Smith, because her knit miters are incredible and I would love to have her explain their construction so I could apply that to crochet projects; and Rita Weiss, past president of the Crochet Guild of America, to hear about her vast experience and her insights into the future of crochet.

Pencil or knife grip?


It’s your last object to design (or make). What is it, and what fiber do you use?

A Tunisian crochet blanket in Plymouth Royal Llama silk with an intarsia heart and the words "I love you" so my family can cuddle up and have nice memories of me.

What trait do you most admire in designers?

Their energy! Designers are always thinking about fibers, patterns, construction...dealing with editors and deadlines...working out the math for multiple sizes...frogging when things don't turn out right...helping each other with questions...preparing patterns for publication...and doing the hundred other things that come with the territory. Sometimes I wonder when my colleagues sleep! I deeply appreciate the warm welcome I have received from the design community, and I am inspired by their tireless creativity.

What trait do you most detest in designers?

The arrogant way some of them write patterns. Sometimes I think that they assume everyone is as fluent with a technique as they are, and they don't really care about taking the time to provide some helpful information. This especially pains me when the designs are brilliant and beautiful, yet the patterns are unfriendly. What a waste.

You are recommending a design gift in response to a friend’s inquiry. Other than your own designs (which, as everyone knows, are quite beautiful!), what would you recommend?

Anything designed by Kim Guzman.

My sincere thank you to Sharon for answering my questionnaire. You can learn more about Sharon and her designs from her website, and more about the Flamies here.

Finally, I hope each of you has a favorite designer who has supported your crafting efforts. If so, let me know in the comments section below ... and happy Day 2 of the second annual Knitting and Crochet Blogging Week!


  1. What a great post and a totally different angle to answering the question. I count myself lucky to have an amazing knitting designer nearby so I totally get you having the crochet inspiration.

  2. What a wonderful way to interpret today's prompt! I love this!

  3. I'm intimidated by skinny yarn too...

    Very cool that you have direct access to a designer.

  4. Great post! I'm more of a knitter than a crocheter. I'd love to improve my crochet skills to move 'beyond the granny square' by this time next year!

  5. @wonderwhygal: Inspiration close at hand can do all kinds of awesome things to increase skills. Good on you ... and your inspiration.

    @dani: Thanks so much! I actually immediately thought of it when I read the topics. I've had this post (at least the subject matter) all worked out for a little while.

    @ac: I've yet to tackle cobweb - but I will. Yes, yessirree.

    @josiekitten: And I'm in the process of expanding my knitting skills. It's all good. :)

  6. I am so tickled that you'll be posting daily this week! I love your photos and style! Happy Day 2!

    Oh and to answer your question... even though I haven't made anything by her yet.. I really enjoy the designs of Vickie Howell!

  7. Awesome post!! Your moonmist shawl is looking beautiful already. 10 shawls in 2010 is quite the accomplishment!

  8. Oh, I love Sharon! Isn't she great!?!

    This year, I really fell in love with Kate Davies designs... I made her Manu, and the construction was fabulous!

  9. You are just creative to your toes!!!! I SO wish I could crochet, really! I'm 12 thumbs! Who has inspired me creatively? In different categories, Christy Tomlinson in mixed media, Elizabeth Zimmerman in knitting, and Nigella in the kitchen! ;)

  10. Wonderful post! :)

  11. What an inspiring interview! Thank you.

    I like crocheting, I started crocheting before I took up knitting again in the 90's. But I found it a little limiting - it's people like Sharon (and yourself) who inspire me to question that beleif and explore the possibilities.

  12. @Nicole: This is turning into a very fun week! I'm also learning lots - an added bonus.

    @Julie: Thanks - and I honestly didn't think I could make 10. Of course, I then committed myself this year to making 11. Gah!

    @Stacey: Yes, Sharon is awesome. I'll need to check out Ms. Davies' designs - but glad you found a designer you like.

    @Tina: Well, thank you. Hey, if crochet ain't your thing, it ain't your thing. :) I'll have to check out your mixed media inspiration. I'm definitely in the learning phase with these particular artists.

    @sallysbackyard: Thanks so much - but the really thanks go all to Sharon.

    @knitabulous: I completely understand your statement. And while I disagree (of course!), it's crocheters themselves that will dispel that myth by just going forward with rockin' design. Keep your crafting mind open, and give it another shot.

  13. I'm really loving this week. It's such a great way to find new inspiration if you actually go out and read what others are linking up/writing. And what an awesome post. Hope you're good with me adding you to the links on my blog. I don't have much readership but I want to keep track of you. (adding you to my google feed, too)

  14. @kinniccrochet: That's fine, thanks for asking. My blog can be a little scattered in terms of focus, so I hope you'll find multiple sources of inspiration. :)