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.

Karen and Her Nonna

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!

Karen's covered coat hanger and first ever Crochet Hook

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.

Karen's First Sold Designs, Three Floral Dishcloths

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.

Crochet Legacy Logo
KRW Knitwear Studio Logo
 Karen Whooley Logo

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 any 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!