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Editorial blog

Jane Crowfoot - Conscious crafting and ditching the granny image!

15 Oct 2019

Angela Sara West chats with crochet icon, Jane Crowfoot, about the ethical use of yarn, teaching at Vogue Knitting Live Show in New York, her new knitting and crochet holidays in India in collaboration with Knit for Peace.

Keen to rid crochet of its ‘Granny’ image, Jane Crowfoot enjoys giving crochet creations a modern-day spin, alongside passing on her passion for the craft through teaching and educating on the downsides of fast fashion and the importance of sustainability.

Well-known in the craft world as Janie Crow, although she originally trained as a machine knit designer, Jane defected to crochet design around a decade ago and attributes her ‘crochet gene’ to her great grandmother, Alice. Having been taught to knit as a child, after discovering her flair for art in school she went on to complete a foundation course in art and design before doing a degree in textile design at Winchester School of Art, where she specialised in constructed textiles.

Now both an accomplished knitter and crocheter, she specialises in contemporary crochet design, having established her successful crochet and knit company, Janie Crow, in 2011, while her activities as a freelance designer and design consultant for the past 15 years have seen her work closely with Debbie Bliss and Rowan Yarns. With a main focus on designing items for the home, from beautiful blankets and comfy cushions, to sensational shawls and throws, she adores adding pops of colour, beads and stitch combinations to her beautiful creations.

What’s more, she’s also a bestselling author, having written a number of popular craft titles including ‘The Ultimate Crochet Bible’ and ‘Homespun Vintage’ (both published by Collins & Brown), ‘Kaleidoscope’ (Inspired Minds Publishing), ‘Finishing Techniques for Handknitters’ (Barron’s Educational Series) and ‘Two Stitch Knits’ (Reader’s Digest Association). Voted the ‘UK’s Favourite Crochet Designer’ at the Craft Awards 2018, more accolades and honours have been rolling in over the past year, including Runner- Up - ‘UK’s Favourite Crochet Designer’ at the Let’s Knit Knitting and Crochet Awards.

Tell me a little about your love of crochet

I really love designing for the home interior - things such as blankets, cushions and accessories like bags where I can throw loads of design aspects and colours in without having to consider how the items might look on a body! Current fashions in knitwear are quite pared back and plain with intricate stitch details and texture, so I am not sure that my technicolour designs would fit into a fashion market!

Where do you source inspiration?

I am inspired by art, design and surface pattern, often basing my designs on specific themes and visual imagery. I believe in the importance of teaching and passing on knowledge, so I also tutor workshops, give demonstrations and inspirational talks, and also exhibit my work.

You recently split Janie Crow from the larger enterprise you previously ran with your husband. How has that worked out?

Making the decision to split Janie Crow from the bigger business that I previously ran with my husband, Andy, was a big decision, but I have already seen many positives and hope that the move means there is a clearer perception of the Janie Crow brand.

Tell me about your new website

Early this year, I launched a new Janie Crow website which acts as a showcase for my design. The site focuses on my projects and includes patterns and my blog, alongside lots of other exciting areas, including Crochet Along (CAL) projects for crafters all around the globe. The site is more of a ‘welcome to the world of Janie Crow’ than a retail selling site, and I have invited other retailers to stock my products rather than actively sell yarn kits, hooks and notions myself. This means that stockists within the business can stock my patterns to accompany yarn packs and to support crochet sales. We have a couple of areas on the site that can help retailers and customers, too, such as free downloadable colour sub documents for some of my designs, free technique downloads and links to YouTube videos.

You focus a lot on conscious crafting and the ethical use of yarn. What would be your message to readers about making better crafting choices for the sake of our planet?

As a crochet designer, I am not a yarn producer, but I am supported by quite a few; some of whom are mainstream, and some of whom are smaller indie dyers. I am conscious of making the right decisions about yarn and packaging going forward and, while I do not create an actual item, I do, via my crochet and hand knit patterns, create a reason for people to want to purchase yarn. So, this is a huge dilemma for me.

I totally understand the backlash against man-made fibres, but this topic is a real minefield and I am constantly hearing things that change my mind about what is ethical and what isn’t. Within my business, I meet and hear from people who won’t use yarns that have come from animals, that are heavily processed or made from synthetic fibre, or are intensively farmed (such as cotton). Fibre choice is very personal and I am happy that crocheters and knitters can make their own decisions about which yarns they want to use to make my projects. Handmade items tend to have a longer lifespan than ‘throw away’ fashion, and I think that items for the home, such as blankets and cushions, create little impact whatever the yarn choice is as they have an ‘heirloom’ quality and thus have long lifespans and are rarely washed. Designs like mine, which include lots of techniques and more complicated stitch combinations, will also take longer to complete than more straightforward patterns, so I see this as a benefit, too.

What other eco-practices do you have in place?

My work creates lots of dilemmas in regards to making green choices and I have been looking at various other ways of lowering my carbon footprint. We have recently introduced paper packaging and have ditched the plastic mail bags for almost all of our post. We also reuse a lot of the packaging that comes into the studio and I am hoping that download patterns might further reduce our use of paper. However, it is at home that I have been making the biggest changes and, I have to say, it has been incredibly gratifying to see the difference these are making.

What trends have you been seeing coming through lately in the crochet world?

Cake-style yarns that change colour as you work have been really popular over the last year. Many hand-dyed colour effect yarns don’t work for crochet as the change in shade is often too short to get a nice effect, so crocheters have been looking at yarn sets or large balls that can offer transitional colour changes to make shawls, in particular.

I think the skill level of crocheters is improving and that hopefully the ‘Granny’ image is less and less prevalent. Many crocheters are now looking for complicated and intricate designs that will push them technically and help them build on existing skills. Crochet Along projects, although available in abundance, are still really popular.

Crochet features quite heavily in beach fashion trends and this has led me to question the ethics of buying handmade crochet items, so I wrote an article on this on my blog. I have also introduced a new feature, entitled ‘Discovery of the Month’, which focuses on ethical ‘everyday’ items, as well as knit and crochet-related things that I have found over the month.

The advertising for the current fashion for net-like crochet items, which feature heavily in the trends for this summer, make a point of them being handmade. Crochet can only be mimicked by machines and not reproduced as an exact copy like knitted items can. Sometimes, things are described as crochet when they are, in fact, a form of stitching and overlaying, a little like fake lace, but it is a sad fact that when you see a crochet item in store that says ‘handmade’ it will have been. I say ‘sad fact’ because when you think about the price point on many handmade items in relation to the amount of time they have taken to make, it doesn’t take a maths genius to work out that the person who handmade the item will not have been paid adequately for their time.

The textile industry is the second largest polluter on the planet, so perhaps the point I am best to make here is that if you fancy a lovely beach sun-top or lacy cover-up, rather than go out and buy a crochet item, you would be better off, in mind, body and soul, to have a root through your stash and make something yourself. There are loads of inspiring images of sun-tops and beach wear, with many patterns showing up on free online pattern sites. You could also take a look through old pattern books and magazines.

You’re now stocked internationally and also teach overseas. How did the Vogue Knitting Live Show in New York go?

Teaching at VKLive New York was a long-standing ambition of mine, so having a stand at the show, too, was like the icing on the cake! It was really interesting to see the differences between a UK, European and US show – we had a stand at KreaDoe in The Netherlands in the autumn. Doing shows outside of the UK has been really beneficial to the business, especially as a large percentage of my web traffic comes from overseas. We have spent the last year updating my patterns to UK and US terminology and have also translated many of them into the Dutch language.

Tell me about your collaboration with Knit for Peace, and the exciting knitting and crochet holidays in Mysore, India, that you have planned for crafters next year

I’m a big fan of the work of Knit for Peace – it’s great to support a charity that aims to help so many diverse groups, rather than focusing on one - and I love the fact that the knitters and crocheters who donate items to be sent to where they are needed also benefit via the therapeutic and beneficial effects that their crafts have on them whilst they create.

I have taught on this trip twice previously, and am really looking forward to going to Mysore again in January 2020. We stay at the beautiful Green Hotel, which was previously a royal palace, and knit and crochet in the garden each weekday morning before heading off to sight-see or visit some of the charity’s projects in the afternoon. For 2020, I am going to prepare two small projects; one knit and one crochet that include lots of techniques. There are still spaces on the workshop so please do join us! https://knitforpeace. org.uk/mysore-india-2020/

Finally, what’s next for Jane Crowfoot?

I’m considering doing a workshop tour next year, should any retailers want to hold group tuition in store. I also have a forthcoming Climbing Rose CAL. The design is based on William Morris fabric designs and I have been looking at the Arts and Crafts movement for many of my current designs. I think Morris’s ethics link well into all the things going on at the moment – with a move away from mass production and fast fashion!

I’ve also started work on designing a new blanket crochet along project for Stylecraft Yarns, which will be available in spring 2020. I love designing CAL-style projects and really enjoy the learning aspect of them, with many less able crocheters being enticed in by step-by-step images and detailed pattern instructions to attempt projects that they may have seen as out of reach in regards to their skill levels. I’m also hoping to design some smaller ‘stash busting’ style projects over the next year or so!

For further information, visit Jane’s website: www.janiecrow.com

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