Interview: Claire Montgomerie, Inside Crochet

It seems that the awesomeness of Crochet Camp simply couldn't be contained in 4 weeks!  This week, I have some bonus posts for you and some ideas of where to go next with your crochet. First up, today we have an interview with the rather lovely Claire Montgomerie - author, designer and editor of Inside Crochet. Claire talks about her very interesting career and work, but also gives some tips for new designers.

Inside Crochet Issue 35 #-124
Inside Crochet Issue 35 #-124

Photo copyright Britt Spring

Claire, you are an author, designer, stylist and magazine editor. Looking through your site and your work, I am amazed at the sheer quantity of you have produced and do on a daily basis. Can you tell me a bit about your background? What would you say is the theme that connects your career?

I studied constructed textiles at Middlesex University, then did a masters in knitted textiles at the Royal College of Art. When I graduated, I looked back on the work placements I had completed, including at Pringle of Scotland and realised that the fashion industry wasn't for me. I wanted to actually work with my hands and use the skills I had learned and mastered. I did get the opportunity to interview with Rowan for a full time designer position just after I graduated from the RCA, but I turned it down as I didn't want to leave London for the wilds of the countryside at that age, which is a bit of a regret now that the countryside is more of a pull ten years on with a child in tow. ;) So, while I was out of work for about a year after graduation, I began to make creatures and accessories out of recycled and vintage fabrics and jumpers, with knitting, embroidery and crochet, with a view to selling independently. Since then, I have worked in loop yarn shop, taught textiles at many different institutions, and written contributed to and consulted on craft books. If there is any theme it is that I like to always be busy, and have too many ideas - a lack of focus perhaps! I usually work at least 2 or 3 jobs or projects at the same time. The magazine editing came about really out of a realisation that I can't do everything: the mag allows me to work alongside very talented designers, editors and artists to create a contemporary collection every month. I also love to work with others and although I usually have some kind of vision for each issue, I get inspired by the diverse and unusual ideas and contributions of the people I work with which is usually far more rewarding than working alone.

Claire's Walton Top IC43 Copyright Britt Spring
Claire's Walton Top IC43 Copyright Britt Spring

The change in Inside Crochet over the last year has been truly remarkable. The magazine as it stands today is a very fashion forward, engaging monthly, with beautiful styling and interesting features. What was the motivation for the change? Thank you!  The magazine is finally the publication I have always wanted to produce. I have always felt that there was a gap in the UK market for a contemporary crochet magazine with desirable patterns that is also a joy to read and look at - a hard task! The right images are key, and finding Britt, our photographer was an alleluia moment as she produces images that are just what I was after. I really wanted to have images and styling that were contemporary and fashion forward while also being pretty, approachable and achievable. The writing is the next thing. I enjoy reading the magazine each month - which is quite a big thing, as I have found in the past that I would always buy magazines to look at the pictures and glean inspiration but not to actually read. The Laura Ashley one by our deputy Editor Lindsey Harrad in the August issue had me engrossed for a good half hour when I should have been checking through it for grammar mistakes. I like to include features that are not necessarily too crochet based, but are of interest to our often 'multicraftual' readers. The columns and features are now, I think, really interesting and often humorous, while the tech features have had a lot of positive feedback too, which is great. The team working on the magazine now are fabulously talented, professional and supportive of my ideas, while bringing their own original ideas to the table too. I enjoy working with each of them, which helps. Everyone also seems to be on the same wavelength and we all share a similar final vision for the look and feel of the magazine.

It seems to me you have a very clear vision for Inside Crochet. How do you stay true to that vision when working with so many different contributors, advertisers, designers and other competing interests?

I am very lucky that finally Inside Crochet's team do have a very similar vision to myself and we try to talk over what is needed for each issue regularly, even if it is only over email (we all work remotely, which can be hard!). I also plan up to 6 months in advance for the magazine, so I have a long time to make sure that all the elements come together and work well. I am still trying to perfect this and hope to continue improving the look and feel of the magazine constantly.

Claire's Patsy Wrap IC33 Copyright Britt Spring
Claire's Patsy Wrap IC33 Copyright Britt Spring

One of the most remarkable things about Inside Crochet as it is now, is that it is going against the tide of crochet that is focussed on Granny Squares, afghans and stuffed animals. The pages are full of wearable garments and move well beyond the basics of crochet. How do you find the balance between what is popular and showing the versatility of crochet?

Haha! It is funny that you say that, as we have a granny special issue coming up in September! Although, I was adamant that even that issue would still be modern and relevant to readers who can do a granny in their sleep (sometimes I do dream about crochet - is that normal?!) while also appealing to beginners. I know from a lot of experience teaching beginners crochet that everyone always wants to be able to make a granny square as there are so many desirable granny projects out there now. So we have some really colourful, simple home projects in the issue alongside some more adventurous, wearable patterns.

I apply the same desire to do everything all at once to Inside Crochet that I have in my own work, I want to include everything, I have so many ideas for it. I love showing people just how versatile and simple crochet is and showcasing its most interesting techniques as well as the simple stuff. Luckily, we now squish so many projects and features into the magazine (while giving them room to breathe and hopefully with enough informative images) that there is room for both simple projects and more advanced ones and when planning an issue, I do try to get a balance of both. I know you can't please everyone all of the time, but I do feel that we appeal to a wide range of readers and want to make sure we are catering for them all. I am also passionate about including garments that are actually wearable, as the perception is that crochet is quite stiff and uncomfortable and you can only make simple, geometrically shaped, unfitted garments. I love showcasing garments with drape and pretty details and that can rival knit in the wearability stakes.

August's Cover Poncho. Copyright Britt Spring
August's Cover Poncho. Copyright Britt Spring

Many of the readers will be people who want to design for magazines, I'm interested to know what you look for in a design submission. What recent designs in Inside Crochet made your heart skip a beat and how did they compare to the initial submissions?

Oh gosh - that's hard! There are so MANY! It is so exciting to have parcels arrive at the door. I generally always love each of the cover garments, which is how I decide to shoot them for the cover. The August issue has a poncho by Joanne Scrace on the cover. When I commissioned it, I loved the stitch and the yarn, but was a little worried about how I would style it and how it would sit in high summer as it wasn't something I could imagine wearing myself. I was commissioning more on how others would like it, which I knew they would. However, when it arrived, the stitch was more stunning than I thought it would be, the drape so pretty and lightweight that I thought I had to do it justice as I think it will be popular - it is so versatile and seasonless. We styled it in a festival style, I fashioned a daisy chain for Damaris, the model's hair, and suddenly, it had that hippy chic style that I love, I could imagine wearing it and I knew we had to shoot it for the cover. Also, Liz Mouter's Dahlia stole from the June colour issue had so many problems with yarn I thought it would never transpire. However, the bright shades I finally managed to order look so great together and Liz made it impeccably. Added to this, the pretty dress I styled it with and the sunshine coming out for the beach shoot made for a stunning set of images. I love that Liz's initial idea for the stole is so simple and quite traditional, but also very striking, which made for a great project.

Copyright Britt Spring
Copyright Britt Spring

A huge favourite with all on the shoot was your own geometric wrap, which was only shelved as a cover item as it looked a bit too autumnal when we tried it out for the June issue. Love the bright colours and sharp colourwork - so many people think that crochet can't do fairisle, but this proves them wrong. Also love Vicki Brown's work for this reason - her cute kids sweaters, the heart and robot one, and the gorgeous women's heart yoke top from issue 34 are so striking. She also has a cowl coming up in the autumn which is going to be fab, there is an animal involved, can't wait - watch this space! I suppose you could say that I love colour....!

As someone who is passionate about collaboration, I am really interested in your ongoing work with your photographer Britt Spring. How did you come to work with her? How would you describe your working relationship?

When I took on the editor's post with Tailormade publishing shortly after I had my daughter, my first task was to find, interview and test a photographer. I knew the sort of look I was after, and a browse of the internet later, we found Britt. She lives not far from me so I went to meet her and luckily we got on really well and had a really exciting brainstorm over coffee and cake. I never had to look at another photographer, she is amazing, comes up with fab ideas and locations and manages to take on board my own vision and suggestions and just make the initial idea even better. We are really, really lucky to have found her.

Copyright Britt Spring
Copyright Britt Spring

I think that Britt, Nicki, our MUA, and I work together instinctually which is great and we laugh so much on every shoot! The shoot days and getting the images back are the highlight of the job for me, bringing all the elements of the pattern side of the magazine together.

Claire's Walton top form IC43 on one of her other creations. Photo by Claire Montgomerie
Claire's Walton top form IC43 on one of her other creations. Photo by Claire Montgomerie

Talk me through what is a typical day for you.

Erm - that's hard, they are all so different! Generally they all start very early with a poke in the face or a MUUUUUMMY from my little girl. I usually spend most of the morning with her, then if it is a work day, will take her to play with her cousins or my mum while I work, then it's emails, planning, looking through magazine pages, searching the internet etc etc until she comes home for dinner. After she has gone to bed, it is either more emails or some crochet/knitting time generally until much later than I originally planned!

cat
cat

What's next for you?

I would like to have the time to self publish a book - after having so much creative control over the magazine, it is hard to offer up the samples you make to a publishers and have them rejected or tweaked or changed into something you had not planned, then often shot in a way you had not envisaged. I feel that all the work I have done over the past ten years or so has made me realise what I like, design wise, and what sort of projects I like to work on, meaning it is harder to give up that creative control on an idea that was originally my vision. I would love to work on a book with Britt and a designer I trust to create something more collaborative and hopefully therefore more interesting, so that might be the next thing in the pipeline. If I ever get time, maybe when the littlun is at school (only 3 more years..!)

Inside Crochet is giving away a year's digital subscription to one Slugs Reader!  Just tell me what the next project you are going to be hooking up with your mad crochet skills.

- Competition open worldwide.

- Winner will be chosen at random.

- No members of the Slugs household are eligible.

- Competition closes at 9pm, 20th of August 2013 BST.

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