The Best Thing You Could Do

“In our world, being an artist was the best thing you could do. That was my parents’ version of me being a dentist or a doctor or a lawyer.”

—Livia Cetti, in an interview with Martha Stewart Living


A new visitor to Abrams might be struck by the number of paper flowers in the office—cherry blossom branches are tucked into odd corners, and roses sit in pencil cups alongside prints by Robert Indiana and Fletcher Martin.

These were taught to us by Livia Cetti, whose first paper flower book was published here in 2014, and whose second—brighter, bolder—title is released this week. Livia describes The Exquisite Book of Paper Flower Transformations as “more me”—a quote she delivered along with a box of hand-dipped tissue paper and a bagful of clipped wire in the midst of an early-March snowstorm.

If that is the case, we are grateful for it! The startlingly realistic blooms are photographed by Kate Mathis against vibrant (near-neon) paint-spattered backdrops created by Livia herself, with the result that the book is as visually energizing as it is informative.

After a chapter on the deceptively simple dipping, cutting, and wrapping techniques that form the basis for each bloom (the most complicated items on a spread of tools are a hot glue gun and Fiskars zigzag scissors), readers learn step-by-step methods for 26 different flowers—from the globe-shaped Eden Rose and Hydrangea, to the arcs of Honeysuckle and Lily of the Valley, bells like Crocus and Narcissus, saucers, and even spikes: Delphinium, Lupine.

Eden Rose by Livia Cetti, photograph by Kate Mathis

Eden Rose by Livia Cetti, photograph by Kate Mathis

From there it’s on to a dizzyingly beautiful “Part 2” filled with decorative projects: garlands, wreaths, a Blooming Chandelier, and even a Dutch Still-Life Centerpiece.

Cetti credits her success as floral designer to her time spent observing nature over a childhood in the mountains outside of Santa Barbara, and now in her own yard in the Bronx’s Riverdale neighborhood. It’s a causal sequence that perhaps only sounds startling to city dwellers—we recognize her work from magazines and John Derian shops, ad campaigns for Burt’s Bees, or luxurious displays at Tiffany and Co. and the French ceramics boutique Astier de Villatte. But Cetti’s familiarity with her muses shines through on every page.

Author, floral stylist, and paper flower artist Livia Cetti 

Author, floral stylist, and paper flower artist Livia Cetti 

Pore over a sample of The Exquisite Book of Paper Flower Transformations below, or try your hand at two of the simplest projects here, or at The House that Lars Built.

We are also giving away several of her paper flower kits on Instagram! Until Friday, April 7 try The House that Lars Built, and check back over the next few weeks with Paper Trail and Flax and Twine



Spring is Here Over at Abrams!

Well... not quite, but even with some snow in the forecast, we're looking forward to sharing our exciting list of spring books with you!

We've been working hard to bring you a fresh crop of the beautiful and inspiring books that have long been a part of our fiber as an imprint of Abrams.

Below is a sneak peak of the books debuting in the coming season. Click through each cover to read more on our website, and stay tuned for exciting updates here— catch our authors as they visit a city near you, follow along on blog tours, and stay tuned for sneak peeks, contests, giveaways, guest posts, and more!

Wishing you a happy and productive season.

—your friends at STC Craft / Abrams

GUEST POST: Gretchen Hirsch on her inspiration for 'Gertie's New Fashion Sketchbook'

I’m so excited about the release of my new book, Gertie’s New Fashion Sketchbook! Over the past several years, I’ve been busy writing sewing technique books with an emphasis on retro design (see Gertie’s New Book for Better Sewing and Gertie Sews Vintage Casual), so this is a bit of a departure for me. Today I’m going to share the inspiration for the sketchbook and why it was such an important project for me. 

Sewists often think of sketching as something that “real” designers do. But everyone who sews is a designer! The simple act of matching a fabric to a pattern is designing. Even picking out a zipper is a design choice. Every choice you make on a project is part of its design. With so many little decisions to make, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. That’s why sketching is such a helpful tool: you can map out your ideas visually, easily changing them if necessary. 

A wonderful tool for sketching fashion ideas is the croquis, a body figure template. That way you don’t have to be able to sketch a realistic figure from scratch! And nowadays it’s easy to go to a bookstore and buy a fashion sketchbook filled with croquis, ready to go. However, the problem with the available fashion sketchbooks is that the figures can look a little bizarre: they’re strangely elongated and spindly, and twisted into strange poses that I like to call the "broken doll" or the "sad alien." That's because fashion people work with a concept called "nine heads," where the figure is nine head-lengths tall. To put this in perspective, actual people are only seven to eight heads tall. Here's an interesting image that breaks it down:

One of my missions over the years has been to write about sewing and fashion in a body-positive, feminist way. So these nine-head ladies were bringing me down. And so the idea for this sketchbook was born and brilliant illustrator Sun Young Park brought it to life. Here's how it works:

The figures are presented in a "nested" configuration (almost like a sewing pattern!), so that you can follow the lines (bigger or smaller) to represent different figures. You can make the figures smaller on top or bottom to replicate a woman's actual curves and proportions. I tested the whole thing out with some wonderful sewing friends, and it really works! But my favorite thing about it is that the height of the figures is actually realistic. And that’s a beautiful thing.

Do you enjoy sketching ideas for your sewing projects? If so, I hope you love this new sketchbook! 

It's HERE! STC Craft's Spring 2015 Catalog Has Arrived!

We're thrilled to present our fabulous spring 2015 lineup! We're proud of this spectacular list of innovative and gorgeous books, and it's our pleasure to share them with you! Click here to see the full catalog.

We'll begin with a burst of ingenuity. Rebecca Ringquist's Embroidery Workshops: A Bend-the-Rules Primer is a guide to embroidering free of traditional restrictions (and it comes with a cloth sampler for you to stitch yourself!). Sherri Lynn Wood paves the way for quilters to toss their rulers and templates and forge their own unique patchwork path in The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters: A Guide to Creating, Quilting, and Living Courageously.

Victoria Hudgins (of A Subtle Revelry) introduces Materially Crafted: A DIY Primer for the Design-Obsessed. Jamie and Jacinda, the ladies of Pretty Prudent, share a treasure trove of easy and budget-minded home decor tips and projects in Pretty Prudent Home: Your Ultimate Guide to Creating a Beautiful Family Home.

And some of STC Craft's bestselling authors are back with new books. Knitting superstar Amy Herzog follows up Knit to Flatterwith Knit Wear Love: Foolproof Instructions for Knitting Your Best-Fitting Sweater Ever in the Styles You Love to Wear and Natalie Chanin and the Alabama Chanin team add to their elegant clothing collection with Alabama Studio Sewing Patterns: A Guide to Customizing a Hand-Stitched Alabama Chanin Wardrobe, which comes with a CD that includes all of the sewing pattern for this book and the first three books in the Alabama series. 

If a creative jumpstart is what you're looking for, illustrator John Hendrix is ready to guide you with Drawing Is Magic: Discovering Yourself in a Sketchbook, and art journaling champion Dawn DeVries Sokol showcasess inspriation from around the globe with A World of Artist Journal Pages: 1000+ Artworks, 230 Artists, 30 Countries.

We're also excited to announce that Abrams has just launched a new gift and stationery line, Abrams Noterie. View their full catalog here.

Keep an eye out for more on these books throughout the season!

All books are available for preorder on the Abrams website or wherever books are sold.

Two Days at Simon Leach's House

Almost exactly one year ago, I got into a car wtih Jared Flood and Karen Schaupeter, both of whom I had brought on board to photograph and style Simon Leach's Pottery Handbook. We were headed to Simon Leach's house in rural Pennsylvania, and I must admit, we didn't have much of a plan. Many people know Jared Flood as the creator of the yarn line Brooklyn Tweed, but what many don't know is that he is also an amazing painter and a fantastic photographer--a true lover of art and master of light. And for the styling, Karen Schaupeter is our go-to girl, always adaptable, versatile, and loads of fun to have on set. Basically, I had my pottery photoshoot dream team, and we were headed to the countryside to shoot on the fly. We had a one-page shoot list that broke down the book by chapter, and we had a pretty good idea of what we hoped to photograph when we arrived, though we had no idea what would actually be waiting for us when we got there.

When we pulled up to Simon's house and saw the amazing stonework of the building, the lush green of the hillsides, the decked out studio in his garage, the throwing-wheel set-up on his front porch, and the rows upon rows of ceramics in various stages of completion, we knew it was going to be a fun time.

One of the first things to catch my eye when I entered Simon's studio was this set of teaching tools meant to illustrate the eight steps of creating a cylinder. He had them casually set up on a shelf near the wheels, and in just a matter of minutes, Karen had scooped them up and artfully arranged them on a ware board on the floor of the garage to create this stunning chapter opener.

Throughout the day, as Karen consulted with the authors, Simon Leach and Bruce Dehnert, about the objects for the still lifes, Jared roamed around shooting the myriad beautiful items in their organic settings, like this table full of bisque-fired pottery that was sitting by the kiln.

In this photo, Karen works with Simon to set up a still life of tools used to decorate and glaze pots.

And once they were happy with the arrangement, they called Jared over to weigh in on the framing and snap the shot.

And of course, a trip to a pottery studio wouldn't be complete without a little fire and smoke (or a lot, in this case). At the end of the second day, as Simon removed the scorching hot pots from the raku kiln and dropped them into hay-filled buckets to cool, Jared donned a respirator so he could get in for the tight shots without bursting into a coughing fit.

And I would say the resulting dramatic photos were worth it!

One year later, with the book completed, printed, and on sale, it's funny to look back on our process. At the time, it felt like a dizzying amount of planning and organizing, mixed with a big dose of improvisation. But now, when I look at the finished book, it all seems so neat and orderly, so pretty and calm. It reminds me of something Simon said to me when he first saw the designed pages of his book after working on the manuscript for such a long time:

"It reminds me of the analogy of a Persian carpet in the process of being woven. On the top side you see a harmony of patterns being woven, very orderly, very neat, beautifully crafted...on the underside you see a whole load of tangled, knotted loose ends!!  In fact what appears to be total chaos. Clearly you guys have been busy weaving!"

To see more of Jared's fabulous photography from Simon's book, be sure to check out the gallery here.

Pottery Class - Part 2

About two months ago, I left the safety of my orderly desk and ventured into a cermics studio for the first time, determined to learn the craft of turning clay into tableware. It's an art form that I have long admired, but the opportunity to learn how to do it never presented itself...that is, until I started working on Simon Leach's Pottery Handbook (a comprehensive guide for making wheel-thrown pottery, which we're editing now and planning to publish in Spring 2013). Now that I've completed my beginner's course, I can attest to the fact that a lot happens to clay on its way to becoming a pot: After its first spin around the wheel, the pot is deemed a "keeper" or a "do-over." If it's a keeper, then you set the pot under plastic for a few days or a week until it has firmed up and dried out a bit, at which point you put it back on the wheel and trim away excess clay, carving the bottom into a delightful shape. The pot is then bisque-fired in a kiln (which is sort of like prebaking a dough), and then it gets dipped in glaze and fired at super-high heat in a kiln, and this is where the glaze turns to glass, coating your creations in the most fascinating ways.

See how much I've learned?

I must be honest--I didn't know how much I would love seeing the finished product. As you may recall from my first post, as a beginner I was happy just to see the wet clay become a somewhat symmetrical shape. But the first time I saw my clunky little freshly glazed pots, I breathed out a sigh of wonder. Oh, would you look at that glossy finish!, I thought, when I first saw the little blue bowl above. Or, when looking at the bowl below: How fascinating that the turquoise came out so matte, with so much gray and deep navy blue...

My proudest achievement (so far, anyway) has been the little creamer below. When I first threw this pot, I had in mind that it would be a little bud vase, but then I looked at its rim and thought, if I squeezed the clay just so, I could create a spout. (For the record, the act of creating that spout required a fair bit of courage since it was a nice bud vase as it was, and some things really are better left alone.) But now that it's glazed, I can't imagine it any other way.

Admittedly, I seem to have a fetish for finger bowls, and my favored palette appears to be distinctly Mediterranean. I supposed it's a good thing I love olives and roasted almonds, since it looks like I'll be serving a lot of these at my house! And yes, it's true that almost every one of my pots is wonky, but that doesn't bother me too much. In fact, I now look at the ceramics sections in stores and cannot believe that there are potters out there who can throw tableware so consistently. Someday, I think, if I keep practicing, I might be able to do the same. But for now, I'm thrilled that I have challenged myself to learn something new, and I have the good fortune of being taught by and working with some of the best potters in the world as we develop what will truly be an amazing pottery book. And finally, I hope that this post inspires you to try your hand at something new--until you try, you'll never know what exciting, wonderful, and wonky creations will spring forth from your own two hands. What is it that you have always wanted to learn? Please share in the comments section below!

Behind the Scenes: Choosing a Cover for Modern Quilts, Traditional Inspiration

The title of Denyse Schmidt’s Modern Quilts, Traditional Inspiration perfectly expresses the book’s aim: to explore the traditional roots of a gorgeous collection of modern quilts. When we were deciding on a cover for the book, we knew we wanted this melding of modern and traditional to come across loud and clear.

Throughout the book, John Gruen’s beautiful photographs show Denyse’s quilts in contemporary interior settings, disputing the notion that quilts make an old-fashioned statement. So our graphic designer, Brooke Hellewell Reynolds, started our cover experiments with a simple and lovely photo of the Shoeman’s Puzzle quilt in a clean setting.

It’s a bit quiet, which is part of its appeal, but it doesn’t have the star power necessary for a cover. Luckily, it’s pretty and soothing vibe worked perfectly for the back cover of the book!

Denyse herself steered us in the right direction. She sketched up a vision she had: a super close-up photo of a quilt, stripped bare of the interior settings. 

Here are Sawtooth Stripe and Irish Chain. We were getting warmer!


Ocean Waves is a quilt that many pick as their favorite from the book. Unfortunately, there's no room for type!

The winner: Courthouse Steps. The diagonal design gave us both intense color and clean white space. Paired with the modern type, it looks graphic and fresh. But the blown-up stitches remind us of quilting’s traditional roots.

What do you think? Is the final cover your favorite?

Behind the Scenes on The Shape of Knitting Photo Shoot (plus Interview with photographer Thayer Gowdy)

Thayer (right) and stylist Karen Schaupeter on the photo set for The Shape of Knitting

Thayer Gowdy is a superstar at STC Craft. She’s an incredibly talented photographer who has shot a whopping 11 of our books, including Knitting Nature, The Repurposed Library, Printing By Hand, Reversible Knitting, and many more. I recently got to interview Thayer after she sent us some fabulous behind-the-scenes shots from Lynne Barr’s upcoming book, The Shape of Knitting (to be published on our Spring 2013 list). Read on for Thayer’s take on working on craft books, spontaneity on set, and incorporating confetti (lots of it!) into your life.

What was the theme of The Shape of Knitting shoot and how did you decide on it? Did the fact that you shot Lynne Barr's previous book--Reversible Knitting--affect any of your choices?

The theme was fun and chic and colorful, but also very clean. I’ve also been addicted to confetti lately, so that was a huge part of it! We had so much confetti; it was crazy. Reversible Knitting was a bit quiet and we shot it in a studio so it was very clean. I wanted to keep that thread for The Shape of Knitting, so we shot it in a studio again for a sophisticated look, but I also wanted to make it more colorful and playful.



You've shot quite a number of craft books for STC Craft/Abrams. What do you like best about these projects? What are some of your favorite memories from these shoots?

I love the creativity involved. Melanie gives us a lot of freedom and says “go for it.” I also love working as a team with stylist Karen Schaupeter. We come up with a vision, do research, and work together on the imagery. It’s all about creativity.


One of my favorite memories is when we shot the book The Repurposed Library. We shot the book in real homes that belonged to people I found online. One snowy day we ended up in the home of a retired writer and his wife, a children’s book illustrator. They made us a huge feast for lunch, including homemade soup. It was so welcoming. Most of my favorite memories come from people we meet along the way like that.


You seem to capture so many spontaneous moments. How do you encourage that spontaneity on set?

You have to leave room for things to happen. I like to keep the energy fun and playful, so people feel they can be spontaneous. It’s important to leave room for curiosity rather than trying to control things too much.


You shoot all over the world. What are some of your favorite places? 

Bali is my favorite place to shoot. It’s a melding of cultures, and it’s so visual. But it’s all the smells, the scents, the sights. Everything combines to create a beautiful sensory experience.


What do you like to do when you're not shooting?

I love to surf, and I’m about to plant a vegetable garden, which is really exciting. I love to travel; I can’t get enough of seeing new places. My boyfriend and I just got back from Mexico, and we’re excited to try making piñatas.

Which means you can use more confetti!

Exactly! I won’t be done with confetti any time soon.



Tiny World Terrariums: A Twig Terrariums Party Report from Assistant Editor Wesley Royce

Last Friday night Twig Terrariums had a launch party for their book Tiny World Terrariums: A Step-by-Step Guide to Easily Contained Life. Katy and Michelle are two of the sweetest, and most enthusiastic, people I’ve had the good fortune of working with while here at ABRAMS, and their launch party was so much fun, filled with great food and drinks. When I received the proposal for Tiny World Terrariums last spring I was so excited. We had been on the lookout for a terrarium book for a while; a tip from our sales department let us know that some accounts had been requesting one, and I immediately knew that this was the book we had been looking for. The terrariums at Twig are fun and unique, filled with scenes that open up the tiny worlds and pull people in to take a closer look. In the book, Katy and Michelle take readers through each step of creating a happy, healthy terrarium so even those with a black thumb can keep theirs alive. If you’re feeling especially motivated you might even want to take one of Twig's NYC workshops. Terrariums make great gifts, and honestly thrive on neglect; I’ve had one living in my windowless office for a year and it is still doing fine.

Inside Twig's amazing studio

Twig's creations on display

Authors Katy Maslow & Michelle Inciaranno brewing their signature "Twig Juice"

Found objects make each terrarium unique

The happy crowd

Green-themed treats

[Photos by Ellie; check out the rest on our Facebook page]

 Want to learn more about Tiny World Terrariums?

Find the book on our website.

Check out our image gallery.

Visit Twig Terrariums online here and here.

The Alabama Studio Sewing + Design Cover: Behind the Scenes

We’re thrilled to be publishing Natalie Chanin’s third book, Alabama Studio Sewing + Design. One of the hardest parts of the process was choosing a cover from all the gorgeous images we had! We knew we wanted the cover to look “of a piece” with Natalie’s previous books—Alabama Stitch Book and Alabama Studio Style--but not too similar. And we wanted to convey what the book is: a collection of basic clothing patterns that have endless variety when paired with hand-embellishment techniques.

We’ve used a photo grid design for Natalie’s other books, so we started there. This design made it far into the selection process, with its gorgeous fashion photo of a peachy dress and several close-ups of bead and applique embellishments.



The designer tried a couple more gridded designs that mixed model shots with embellishment details.



But in the end, it was something completely different that won out: a single image of two models in an embellished bucket hat design. It felt both striking and fresh, and it set this new book apart from the others in an elegant way.


What do you think? Which would you have chosen?


Knitted Dinosaurs Take Manhattan

This summer, we were thrilled to have some visitors join us at STC Craft headquarters in New York City. Tina Barrett, author of our new book Knitted Dinosaurs, sent five of her favorite prehistoric pals to hang out with us for summer vacation.

Truth be told, we had requested the samples for a sales meeting in July, but once we saw how amazing the dinosaurs were in person—just as detailed and nuanced and cuddly and ferocious as they appear in the book—we were reluctant to send them back. What can I say? We were smitten! Knowing that we couldn’t keep them forever, we decided at the very least to take some photos. For starters, Ellie arranged them on her desk (above).

And I couldn’t help but pose with a few, taking photos on my Mac with Photo Booth…after all, it’s one thing to tell your friends that you have a group of knitted dinosaurs on your desk. It’s quite another to send them a photo of a T-Rex attacking you at your desk!

And while I love each and every one of them, I do believe that the Triceratops has stolen my heart.

Since our dino friends were visiting from the UK, we thought it was only right to take them on a little field trip around the city. Here Parasaurolophus takes in the splendor of the Empire State Building just outside our STC Craft office on 6th Avenue.

Of course, now that we’ve shipped the dinosaurs back home, we’re going to have to fill the void by making our own buddies to keep. And as of this week, you can make your own dinosaur buddies, too! We’re thrilled to announce that the amazingly adorable Knitted Dinosaurs is now in stock. To see photos of the rest of the dinosaurs in the book, be sure to check out the will not be disappointed. And if you DO make a dino, we would love it if you shared a photo with us on our Facebook page or tweet your photos to @STC_Craft. (If you couldn't already tell, we love seeing photos of knitted dinosaurs!)

Behind Every Great Knitter...

Back in August, Larissa Brown, author of My Grandmother's Knitting, wrote a guest post for our blog. In the spirit of her new book, Larissa asked the question: Who inspired you to knit? 

There's a story behind every knitter's first stitch, and Larissa had the idea--inspired by this legendary video--to celebrate teachers and mentors with a collective photo album. Participating is easy: Just find blank paper and a bold marker, write down the name of your special person, hold up your sign, and take a picture. Then add your image to the growing collection on the My Grandmother's Knitting Facebook page

I have the pleasure of working with many creative types, so last week I brought my camera to the office and got started on STC Craft's contribution to this project.

Liana and Melanie were the first to pose:

Even seasoned knitters like Melanie had to begin somewhere!


Did Liana's friend Susi know she'd inspire a hobby and a career?

Some of my crafty colleagues in the marketing department also proudly held up signs.  Ashley Rich: Marketing Manager by day, knitter by night.

I even snapped photos of some rather famous visitors. "Kaffe Fassett is here," Melanie casually mentioned as she passed by my office. "He's available now if you want to take his picture."

Sure, no big deal--I photograph world-famous artists all the time. I immediately scrambled for my camera and followed Melanie to a table where Kaffe, Brandon Mably, Liza Prior Lucy, and graphic designer Anna Christian were studying potential layouts for Kaffe's upcoming autobiography.

An impromptu photoshoot ensued. Here are just a few of the highlights:

Kaffe hints at the contents of his next book...


Not only is Brandon talented--he's also crazy photogenic! (Click on the photo to enlarge so you can read Brandon's message.)


Brandon and Liza horse around for the camera. Priceless.


Now we know who's behind Anna's many talents!

Check out the My Grandmother's Knitting Facebook page here. One click of the "Like" button and you can download a free pattern from the book, admire other knitters' photos, and hopefully share one of your own!

Shooting Heather Ross's Book at Melanie's House

Over the years I have worked at STC Craft, many photos for many of our books have been photographed at Melanie’s house. (When I’ve seen these photos after the shoot is finished, I’ve actually found myself thinking “and now it’s really a Melanie Falick Book.”) From Sewing Green to Knitalong to Weekend Sewing, Melanie’s home makes numerous appearances. And if you look closely, in almost all of these books, you’ll even see the infamous grass-green cabinet. (It’s shown above on the lefthand side, though the cover of Sewing Green is where the cabinet makes its most prominent appearance.)

And so, as we set out last week to do a final day of shooting for Heather Ross’s upcoming book, Heather Ross Prints (due in stores in fall 2012), we decided to keep things easy and head up to Melanie’s house in Beacon.

One thing that is great about shooting at Melanie’s house is that she has loads of antiques and interesting home wares, many of which we integrated into the shots. For instance, the Anthropologie dishes in the photo above are shown along with her grandmother’s silver--together they make a fabulous not-too-matchy match with Heather’s tablecloth and napkin projects.

But of course, if you know Melanie at all, you know that she is a Tab soda fanatic. And so, along with the antiques, we had to give Tab a cameo in a detail shot of the sarong project (the sarong is on the chair, just out of frame). I snapped this low shot while the real shot that will be in the book was being set up.

While every person at a photo shoot plays a key role, from the photographer (of course) to the person who goes to pick up the food for lunch (a VERY important job), our stylist, Karen Schaupeter, was a huge player. From keeping us on schedule to beautifully matching Heather’s prints within a setting, Karen moved quickly and kept things fun. In the photo above, she’s actually texting while ironing—talk about a multi-tasker!

As the stylist, Karen is in charge of bringing every possible prop we might need that day and organizing it so it will be at the ready. Shown above is just a small portion of the props spread out amongst the projects.

And here are two adorable pincushions that Heather provided as possible props. They may not have made it into the book, but they did make it onto the blog.

Shooting in a house can give you a world of options, but it can also have its limitations. For this shower curtain shot, Karen, the stylist, and John Gruen, the photographer, had their work cut out for them. Not only is the bathroom so small that you can’t possibly shoot a shower curtain from inside of it, but there wasn’t even a shower rod (only a tub). With some lighting poles and studio magic, we were able to fabricate a curtain rod and get just the right angle out in the hallway, producing what turned out to be one of our favorite shots. In fact, we liked the light in the bathroom so much that we wound up moving a table in there and shooting some still lifes on it.

And of course, on a photo shoot there are three things that you’ll see people doing a lot: checking their phones, snacking, and huddling over the camera to see how the shots are turning out. In this photo, Karen, John, and I gather around the camera to flip through the apron shots. And that’s right, I’m the one wearing the apron. (Again, when you shoot at Melanie’s house, you use the props on hand—including people.)

But the best part of shooting at Melanie’s house, aside from the great hospitality and the unlimited Tab, has to be her loyal companion, Molly—one of the sweetest dogs I’ve ever met. I love how you can barely see her tail in this photo because it’s wagging so happily. Aside from a bit of dog hair that needed to be lint-rolled off of the projects now and then, there’s nothing like a sweet pup to make a day of shooting that much more fun.

Custom Knits Photo Shoot

What you see when you look at a knitting book is the finished product: patterns that have been exhaustively reviewed; graphic design that has been overhauled nine times until every detail—from fonts and palettes to captions and dingbats—is exactly right; and beautiful photography, which is one of the most challenging (and important) aspects of the book-making process. Photography makes the first impression and sets the tone for the whole presentation. And that, of course, is why photo shoots can be so stressful—for the author, for the photographer and stylist, for the editor, for everyone. Everything you’ve been working on has built up to this moment, when every participant must tap into his or her most creative and fashionable resources, work together as a team, and record the garments in a matter of just a few days. And if you don’t get it right? Well, you either decide you can live with it or you find the time and resources to shoot it again. But the underlying tone of every photo shoot is this: Get it right.    

So when it came time to photograph the garments for the third book in the Custom Knits series—a book that will be entirely devoted to accessories—I decided to fly out to Los Angeles and station myself on set. The role of the editor on a photo shoot is fairly straightforward: Make sure that the knits are being photographed from every important angle, make sure that the right side of the garment is facing front (really!), and regulate anything that may look silly in the end. Like shiny pants on men. Or a model wearing yoga pants and a luxurious bouffant up-do. But most importantly, an editor must do all of this while giving the creative people space to do their thing.

On the first day of our shoot, our lovely, talented, and hilarious author Wendy Bernard (see above) pulled out her needles and started working on a fingerless mitt. We had forgotten that we needed one more basic example of a glove type in the book, and so there she was, knitting a mitt that would be photographed the very next day. Red Dodge, our fabulous makeup and hair stylist, looked on with a sort of disbelieving amusement.

Our amazing stylist, Mark Auria, pulled out all the stops when it came to wardrobe. Mark stationed his racks of clothing—a mix of vintage dresses and lovely new items—on the porch at the house where we shot the first day, and between shots we would run to the garment racks and play with ideas, oohing, aahing, and vetoing until we found the perfect outfits for our darling models.

When you look at the final photos in a book, you’d never guess that there was a whole crew of people surrounding the model. Below are some of my behind-the-scenes shots: photo assistants holding reflectors, the stylist on hand to adjust the garment if it starts to go wonky, Wendy or I nearby to make sure the stitch pattern is showing, the makeup-and-hair whiz on hand to fix errant locks, and always someone in the background munching on a cookie, slurping a Coke, or fussing with a cell phone.

In the photo above, Mark, the stylist, adjusts the model’s scarf, as Joe Budd, our photographer, checks out light levels.

A group assembles around a 1950s Chevy (above) as the model drapes herself over the  steering wheel for a coy beret shot.

After taking the photo of these legwarmers (above), we decided that the white wall behind her was too cold and bare. So we moved the whole set-up across the patio so that we could use a wall with a little brickwork.

One of the most memorable days of the shoot was in Marina del Rey, out on a sailboat. It wouldn’t be a Custom Knits book without models in bikinis wearing knits, right?

It was a chilly day by California standards, with lots of wind creating some mighty big waves. Our model was an absolute pro, so when you look at the photos, all you can see are her beautiful smile and Wendy's shawl in the golden glow of sunset—thankfully, you don't see her goose bumps or her trepidation about the boat tilting wildly from side to side.

Between shots, she wrapped herself up in a big, comfy sweatshirt and Joe, the photographer, showed her the photos so that they could talk about facial expressions and best angles before shooting the piece again.

For the shot below, inspired by the cover of the May 2011 Anthropologie catalog, we went below deck. I love the dramatic way light is filtering through the shawl.

Once we set out to sea, we had quite the rollicking time. Amidst the huge waves, a bikini-clad model wearing a poncho hung onto the boat for dear life, and out of ten people on the boat, only three of them turned green during the ride. Oh, what we won’t do for a really great photo! And while I won’t share with you that particularly epic poncho shot just yet, I will share this photo of me and one of our male models (or M.P., a name we made up for the Custom Knits books which stands for “male prop”), laughing and laughing because we can’t believe how big the waves are and how much the boat is rocking.

When it was all said and done, we couldn’t have been happier with our gorgeous shots. And we can’t wait to share them with you in a couple of seasons! In the meantime, keep your eye out for the next beautiful book in the series—Custom Knits 2!—which is due to hit bookstores this October.

Full Circle with Loop-d-Loop Lace

About six years ago (or was it seven?), I quit my job as an editor of physics books to pursue a more creative life. I had many ambitions, including finishing my novel, drinking more coffee, writing more songs, knitting a lot, eating breakfast with friends frequently, and trying to publish magazine articles. And so, it was on one of these lovely unemployed afternoons that I found myself at Borders in San Francisco's Union Square perusing the magazines. Stacked nearby on a rack all of its own was the book Loop-d-Loop by Teva Durham. To be honest, I was not immediately sure that it was a knitting book. I had never really seen anything like it before. The styling was so other-worldy, yet absolutely pretty and captivating. The book's paper was so thick! The dimensions were so large! It was the first knitting book I had ever seen that felt more like a coffee table book—an art collection, really—than something that a person would use in a utilitarian fashion (i.e., to knit from). Little did I know that this would be the beginning of my obsession with high-quality craft books.

Through a series of amazing incidents, fateful coincidence, and just plain luck, I found myself in New York City two years later, working as an editor at STC Craft (Teva's publisher). When I first arrived, Melanie and Teva were just wrapping up Loop-d-Loop Crochet, and were just beginning to talk about doing a third book, Loop-d-Loop Lace—a book that I wound up editing. It's rather surreal when you can actually recall the moment you first saw a designer's work—where you were, how it felt, the impression it made on you—and then later you find yourself working side by side with her.

As we planned the photo shoot, Teva and I sat in my office with the book’s amazing photographer, Adrian Buckmaster, admiring the garments and contemplating abstract hairstyles and wondering: To loop, or not to loop? The first book was chock-full of interesting hairstyle choices, which, over time, became a signature of Teva's brand. We laughed, because I have been looping my hair up into twists not unlike the model shown above (from the first book) for years. I had to wonder if I had been subconsciously inspired by Teva's first book. To my surprise, when Teva published a pattern called Lady Lovelace on a few months ago, she asked me to lend my hair twists to the photo shoot. I agreed, and after a quick and chilly shoot with Marianne Rafter (the result of which is shown below), here we are. Full circle.

Loop-d-Loop Lace picks up where the other books in the series left off. We wanted to maintain the edgy, modern feel from the first book, but integrate a slightly softer touch to complement the pretty lace stitches. As you can see, we’ve continued the loopy hairstyles (as shown below), but we kept them a bit tousled to go with the feminine styling. And while the garments may have a contemporary aesthetic, Teva’s thoughtful essays and pattern introductions root the lacework in history, reminding us where lace came from and why we still love it today. To see more images from this pretty book, click here.


Oliver + S Paper Dolls: Another Day at the Office

Obviously, the main attraction of Oliver + S Little Things to Sew is Liesl Gibson's impeccably designed sewing patterns for children. But a major perk are the charming paper dolls that come with it--a boy and a girl, which you'll find on a piece of perforated cardstock at the back of the book. To dress the paper dolls, you (or your kids) can cut out the "clothing" from the book's jacket.

We spent a lot of time working with our printer to get the cardstock just right--it's never fun to play with a flimsy paper doll! Another consideration was the lamination on the jacket--too much lamination and the tabs on the clothing wouldn't bend properly; too little and they might tear. When we thought we had the balance just right, we felt it was only prudent to have someone take the dolls and clothing for a "test run." (Also, don't we all need an excuse to play with paper dolls at work?) We asked Wesley Royce, an assistant editor at STC, to take on this very important job, and we certainly didn't have to ask twice.

Wesley happily set about her task, cutting out clothing and dressing her dolls, and lthen we played with them at our desks, pleased to confirm that all of the tabs bent back just so and the dolls stood tall and proud. Another day at the office.

I'm Feeling Lucky

Do you know about Petite Purls? It's a really nice online magazine devoted to publishing patterns for modern, stylish projects for babies and children, plus related articles and book and product reviews.  For their blog, they run a feature called Renaissance Moms in which they interview working mothers. And I'm the subject of today's post. Click here to check out the blog and the magazine and to read a short Q&A in which I answer questions about my background and my daily life as a working mom. When I see the words and photos together, I'm reminded of how lucky I am. Even though I struggle like everyone with day-to-day challenges, when I take a wider view, I see that I have a pretty good life.


Meeting Kaffe Fassett--And a Sneak Peek at His Newest Book

Back in the early 1990s, I was working as a freelance writer and editor and got the idea that I wanted to focus on crafts. I started seeking out and pursuing opportunities and was lucky enough to be invited on a trip to the Shetland Islands in order to write articles for a few different magazines. One of the featured guests on the trip was Kaffe Fassett, so I made arrangements to interview him. A short version of the interview was published in Fiber Arts magazine and a longer version in the Rowan magazine. I remember being nervous about the interview but, when it was over, thinking it had gone pretty well. I found Kaffe to be warm and friendly and was impressed by the articulate, clever, and poetic way in which he described the beautiful landscape surrounding us. I must have made a decent impression on him because I am now proud to say that, all these years later, I am the editor of Kaffe's upcoming book Kaffe Fassett's Simple Shapes Spectacular Quilts. In SSSQ, Kaffe demonstrates how basic geometric forms--squares, rectangles, triangles, diamonds, circles, and quarter-circles--found in natural and manmade environments inspire his quilt designs. During our interview in Shetland, Kaffe said this to me: "I spend my life wanting to stand up and yell 'Hey! Look, we're passing through Paradise.' But everyone's too busy reading newspapers." Today he might say people are too busy texting or checking their email. SSSQ is definitely a wakup call. I guarantee that once you experience it you'll feel inspired to look up from your newspaper or whatever screen is absorbing you to see the beautiful shapes and colors around you. If you're a quilter, you'll likely want to incorporate that beauty into your quilts. But even if you're not a quilter, I think you'll still be inspired. SSSQ will be in stores in March. Today I'm happy to offer you this sneak peek.

Our First Peek at 2010 -- Alabama Studio Style by Natalie Chanin

We will be releasing 5 new craft books in the spring of 2010. Above is a sneak peek at the cover of the first one, Alabama Studio Style by Natalie Chanin, the creative force behind Alabama Chanin and the author of Alabama Stitch Book. Click here to see a sampling of the beautiful inside spreads. I love hand-stitching--and wearing--Alabama Chanin clothing. Earlier this year I wrote about my experiences stitching a camisole dress and a corset.