I have a confession. When I received a copy of Austentatious Crochet to review, I was nervous… I’ve never read Jane Austen! I was worried that I wouldn’t ‘get’ the designs, not being a fiction-reading sort. My fears were assuaged when I opened the book: the designs are beautiful, modern and very tempting for a crocheter- even a non-Jane Austen fan like me!
Two things instantly struck me as I opened the book. One, this is a big book! It’s over 200 pages long, and is jam-packed with patterns (it contains 36, which is a lot for books these days!). Two, there’s a great variety of projects! I had expected mostly garments, but this book contains patterns for garments, accessories, home accessories (there’s a throw rug I have in my queue), children’s clothes, and even nighttime wear.
As part of the review process, I like to make something from the book. I crocheted the Regency Hat, an adorable newsboy hat with a crocheted flower and leaves. The hat’s adorable (of course) and the designing is very creative… taking advantage of techniques that I’ve rarely used. (although, as with all patterns, be sure to check the errata before starting… typos happen, and you don’t want them to slow you down!)
What’s an example of the creative techniques used? In the Recency Hat, the pattern instructs you to work a bulky yarn on a small hook for a stiff fabric that stands on its own (I was SO relieved to not have to cut cardboard to insert in the brim like some patterns require!), which I think is a wonderful idea. The pattern also makes use of Tambour Crochet (a technique that was popular in Jane Austen’s time) to create a lovely vein pattern along the leaf. Even though the pattern wasn’t difficult, I learned new techniques (and yes, even a bit about Jane Austen!).
I was delighted by the attention to detail that was put into each pattern (all 36 of them). Every pattern contains:
- a website address, so you can go online and view a video of the stitch used in the pattern.
- a description of the special stitches at the front, which is very handy.
- row by row instructions that are well-written.
In addition to the patterns, the book contains:
- wonderful quizzes and facts about Jane Austen’s books… something I’m sure any Austen fan will appreciate.
- an ‘Essentials’ section, so that if you’re unsure about your standard stitches, you can still get back on track.
- stitch patterns that are both charted and written line-by-line, so you can read the pattern in whichever method you prefer.
I would definitely recommend this book to any crocheter who has command of the basic crochet stitches, and is looking for some lovely clothing and accessory projects. And of course, if you’re an Austen fan, then you’ll love all of the added quizes and facts. Personally, I was thrilled to learn new stitch patterns and techniques… and I think I’ll be making more projects from this book!
Interview with Melissa Horozewski
Congratulations on a fabulous book! It has lots of beautiful patterns, and the book itself is lovely. A little bird told me that you weren’t just the designer, but the production manager for the book. Tell me a bit more about all of the different hats you wore while making the book.
I wore so many hats during Austentatious that my home could of well been mistaken for a millinery! But seriously, from the beginning I had a very strong artistic vision for Austentatious Crochet and Running Press recognized and appreciated that. I was contracted to be the production manager, so in addition to the regular designer tasks of selecting yarn, making the designs and writing the patterns and the book (which in this one included little fictional vignettes, facts & trivia, etc.), I also interviewed various photographers, chose models, scouted locations, hired a make-up and hair stylist, and selected coordinating clothing and accessories and props to go with the designs. There were a lot of logistics – scheduling was very difficult, especially when you hire a busy (but good!) photographer. Do the days she’s available coordinate with the days the models I want are available and then are the locations available those days? It was incredibly demanding but I don’t think of I would of wanted it any other way as the end result was a book that is everything I visualized to be at proposal. It was a great growing experience for me.
How long were you working on the book, after all of the designs were done?
I had 7 and a half months from the time the contracts were signed until I had to hand in everything and that included the photos. I lost a month because I was diagnosed with a liver issue and so the next six were a whirlwind. Because it was such a large project with such a small window of time, I really had to be multitasking the entire time. We photographed half the designs in August as we needed to take advantage of the beautiful gardens before the flowers died and the foliage turned brown which is very early here in Wisconsin. September ushered in fall which was ideal as it provided another backdrop for the book. From the very beginning I was purchasing coordinating accessories and props to go with what I was making, looking at model portfolios, etc. And on days when I needed some time away from the hook and book, I would take my family out and we would look for various locations that had the backdrop I was looking for. I was working on patterns and designs up to the night before we would shoot, so once production was done, I had relatively little to do but to select the photos to send off to Running Press, create all the stitch charts and edit the text before handing in the manuscript.
Do you have any funny stories/mishaps during the photo shoots?
Not outrageously funny… more like mortifying. The day before our photo shoot, I saw that one of the selected models had recently bleached her hair! They didn’t bleach hair during Regency days so she was out and I was scrambling to find another experience model that had the right Austen who was also by chance available for the next day’s shooting.
The day of our outdoor shoot, the gardens had double booked a memorial service to be happening a few hours after we arrived (we had booked the location for all day). I had never felt so conspicuous in my life traipsing all around with this entire entourage and equipage while people were trying to have a time of remembrance. We tried to be as quiet as possible but it was really difficult.
Was managing the photographer easier or harder because you were the designer? Do you feel like being attuned to design details allowed you to bring out the best in the piece during the photos? Or, did knowing the pieces so well get in the way of the ‘setting’ of the shot?
Managing the photographer was interesting. Though I interviewed several photographers and selected the one that I felt had the best grasp of my vision (and would be the most helpful), we still were coming at the task from different perspectives. She only wanted to work with certain models (and Madison is a very small talent market so has limited selections to begin with) and I wanted models that had the Austen look I was going for. The photographer thought we should have an even more contemporary look to the book – such as throwing in a pair of jeans, but we didn’t have the time and money to try it out so I vetoed that and stuck with what styling I knew for sure would present the Austen look but be wearable today. That was the advantage of being the production manager, but it’s a fine line to walk when you have two artists putting their name on the project as well as a publishing company as well.
As far as design details, I knew what I wanted to highlight with each piece. The photographer was looking to achieve a beautiful picture. I wanted that, but also wanted to ensure design details were prominent. One of the obstacles is that you only have so much print space to work with and written patterns take up a lot of space, so one has to be selective about photos and views and while I know stitchers want to see designs from many angles, it was important to showcase the Austen theme. Therefore we always photographed a distance shot to anchor the design in the setting and then a few close-ups to focus on stitch detail or a particular design element if these were notable. We worked hard to marry artistically beautiful photographs with the design necessities and Running Press was very pleased with the end results. In fact, the Bridgeman Arts Library just ran a feature article on Austentatious Crochet for its use of illustrations, design and photography to represent Jane Austen’s wide popularity in today’s age. I couldn’t have asked for a better art director at Running Press than Corinda who beautifully laid out the book.
I do feel that knowing the design details, along with the story behind each design was critical. This book has a definite spin and had I shipped off all the designs to someone else, unless they knew Austen, her characters and the Regency period really well, (and I have been surprised during the creating of this book how few people know who Jane Austen is) I’m not sure it would of turned out the same. Designers often don’t get a say in how things are styled, so I am very fortunate to have been able to because often when I think of an idea for a design, I am already beginning to conceptualize who will wear it, what will it be worn with, etc… and I have that all figured out before I am even done stitching it. If a designer’s mind works like that, it only makes for a better end product if the publisher taps into that well spring of fashion artistry.
The houses photographed in the book are beautiful and very Austen-esque. Are any of them your home? Can you see an Austen-era design aesthetic in your daily surroundings?
I wish one of the them was mine! That would of made things so much easier. I had to scout around to find locations that had the look I wanted and it wasn’t easy. Very few locations I found acceptable wanted to put their guests or customers out even for a daily rental fee and acknowledgement in the book so I was often told no, but finally I found a beautiful inn owned by Trek Bike Corporation and an outdoor garden that had some of the features we wanted that were both willing to rent space to us.
Do I have an Austen aesthetic around me? Well, I don’t have a Victorian home or furnishings, but I do love lace work. However this is my husband’s home too so lace is allowed only in areas he doesn’t really pay attention to. But I do find inspiration through reading about past eras, and we live in the country and have a 1/2 mile long dirt drive way with fields on both sides. When I walk it, I am almost always transported to feeling like I live in the past or am walking between English meadows. I just purchased a very old fashioned bicycle with a basket just to deepen that connection.
What’s your favorite design from the book?
I am so very indecisive, to choose just one is hard – that’s why there ended up being so many projects in the book! The Felted Austen Cap is one of my favorites for sure. My daughter modeled that design in the book and now that fall is here she wears it every day.
I love that design so much that I think I want to design an adult version for myself and was just asked by a friend to write an adult sized pattern for her. But you must use the flecked Donegal wool. I have always liked to felt, but now I LOVE to felt as it creates such a depth like none other when you felt with a tweedy wool.
What design do you wear most often?
I love the All Buttoned Up Shawl and wear that in several different ways as much as I can as all the tiny buttons often draw comments from people. The Lace Mantelet is another favorite of mine. Now that fall has arrived I like to wear the floral cravat with my grey wool coat and I’m also a fan of wearing the cute cropped jackets with jeans and boots. But to be honest, my favorite design is always the next one. I get most excited about what I am making or about to make. Wearing it is an afterthought.
What’s next for you?
Professionally? I am trying to design a way to add about six more hours into my day! If anyone figures that out how to stitch up some extra hours please let me know. A second book is in the works. I also hope to do some more production work and styling. Overall though, I am just trying to determine what aspect of the crochet industry is the best fit for me.