How I Got Started As A Crochet Professional
I often get asked when I meet crocheters, how I got started with my business in Crochet.
I have a degree in Business Administration, with an emphasis in Management Information Systems. When / how did I move from a corporate career to owning my own crochet design and education business?
Well, let me tell you the story!
When I was a little girl back in 1974 – I was seven years old – my Nonna thought I watched way too much television.
One summer afternoon, when my mom brought my 5-year-old sister and me over to Nonna and Nonno’s house while she went to a doctor’s appointment. Nonna sent Diane out with my Nonno to play in the yard and proceeded to give me a red plastic US Size G/6 (4.0 mm) crochet hook and some of that old 1970s acrylic yarn in typical colors of the era – deep green, gold, and rusty brown – where she proceeded to teach me to crochet the basic stitches.
Over the course of the next couple of hours (and yes, I was hooked from the first and had the attention span of a saint!) not only did I learn to chain, single, double and triple crochet, I also completed my first project. I covered a coat hanger with double crochet stitches. I even learned to weave in ends and seam with a whip stitch. I still have that hanger AND the hook she gave me!
Nonna spoke very little English, and most of it was broken, so I learned to crochet in Italian. She couldn’t read an English pattern, so when I went to the store with mom to get a pattern to make items for the family, Nonna and I would take a magnifying glass to the photo and figure it out by what we now call reverse-engineering.
When I was about 12, my mom put me in a crochet class at a local yarn shop. I was already so far ahead of the other beginners that the instructor asked me to pick out a pattern to make from the rack in the shop. I chose a Leisure Arts Leaflet that had a whole lot of patterns in it but specifically wanted to make a hooded sweater for my oldest cousin who was going to be having her first baby that year. Interestingly enough it was a pattern by the late, great Jean Leinhauser who I can say became a friend and mentor early in my career.
I only ended up participating in two classes because I really wasn’t getting much help. But that book I bought in the shop was how I learned to read patterns. I am completely self-taught. If you have been with me for a while, you can see that my pattern structure has come out of how I learned to crochet from all the LA leaflets I have used over the years
I would make more and more items from books and magazines (mom got me a subscription to Annie’s Attic Hooked on Crochet when it first started). But with every project, I would tweak something. Sometimes Nonna would help me, other times I would do it myself. But inevitably I would change something, and I truly believe that is my Nonna’s doing. Because she couldn’t read the patterns and taught me to reverse engineer, my mind would work as a designer even back then.
Fast forward to the early 1990s. I was crocheting all these years from patterns still. I was newly married and working full time, but I picked up crochet again much more seriously in the evenings. It was relaxing after a day dealing with computers and customers. When we got our first internet account right after I quit my job to become a stay-at-home mom in 1996, (remember CompuServe?) I found a group called Crochet Partners on that platform. I had NO IDEA that there were crocheters worldwide that enjoyed it as much as I did! It was awesome, and amazing, and wonderful!
I joined the group and stayed a part of it for many years. It was through that site I met my first crochet mentor, Terry Kimbrough. She is an amazing designer and has many, many leaflets with Leisure Arts.; She saw my work on my blog. Back then I would just post photos of completed projects. She and I struck up a friendship that we still have today. (Both of our youngest children were born on the exact same day!) Terry told me to submit designs because she saw how I was making my own things up rather than using patterns by then. I submitted 3 washcloths to Annie’s Attic (now known as Annie’s) and they bought them! And that was the start.
My children were 2 years old and 6 months old at that point. So my design work was limited to submissions only 2-4 times a year for a while. Anything I didn’t sell would be self-published and sold via PayPal on my blog, Crochet Legacy. Then in early 2001, I had a series of baby afghan designs that I decided to self-publish in a leaflet format. Those 5 afghans became the start of my “Simply” series of books. There were 4 of them, three I self Published and a 4th that was picked up by a Canadian company called Kustom Krafts. All are currently out of print, but I have plans for some of them to be revived!
Over the years my business name changed; Crochet Legacy (1998-2010); KRW Knitwear Studio (2010-2015); Karen Whooley Designs (2016-present), but it grew with my children.
As they became school age, I would have longer periods of time to work on new designs. In 2001 I started teaching consistently at a local chain called Pacific Fabrics, and then in 2004, I was asked to speak at Professional Development Day at the Crochet Guild of America’s Chain Link Conference that year. Along with that all-day teaching session on self-publishing (team-taught with Carolyn Christmas and Janet Rehfeldt), I taught other classes at my first National show.
Below are some of the logos of my business over the years.
I have taught at many shows including Stitches West, DFW Fiber Fest, Interweave Yarn Fest, and more. I have designed more than 400 patterns to date, and as of June 2020, I will have 23 books published.
I don’t think I have ever posted anywhere or spoken in an interview about my career in this much detail. There are a few things I have left out but that is how I got started as a designer in a nutshell!