Cast on a spell and crochet some witchy projects with Alicia Kachmar.
Alicia Kachmar is a freelance writer, blogger, Etsy seller and crafter who found her creative calling through the art of crochet. As Alicia writes on her blog; “girl gets debilitating disease, girl picks us crochet… life changes forever” and so she creates cute and thought provoking crochet creatures mostly themed around happy or frowning food (and sometimes the ulcerative colitis that she suffers from).
In her latest project, the book Witch Craft, co-edited with Margaret McGuire, Alicia shares patterns for making ghoulish treats and creepy crochet for Halloween, her favourite holiday. We caught up with Alicia to find out more:
Make your own Witch Craft projects:
How did you first discover your passion for crochet and crafting?
I grew up in a very crafty household--I think I learned how to sew before I knew how to hand-write. I only picked up crochet when I was in my mid-twenties, and as a direct result of getting diagnosed with a chronic digestive disease that forced me to leave a teaching career and left me pretty housebound/bedridden. Physically and mentally, I was pretty much in shambles. I felt very useless being so sick, so I wanted so badly to create something. I noticed crochet items on Etsy and was curious about it. My mom bought me a how-to book for Christmas and I just took to it! I started crocheting "frowny foods," because I was sick of seeing all the smiley ones out there, because I was sick in general, and because I liked thinking of inanimate objects as having feelings, much like kids do. Like, how does that marshmallow you're roasting over an open Fire feel? Sad!
Which of your patterns would you recommend as a good introduction to crochet for a beginner, like me?
The safety cone is a good one because it only uses very basic crochet stitches, but involves both rows (linear) and rounds (in the round). The peas in a pod are pretty simple too!
Can you tell me how your new book ’Witch Craft’ came together?
I was contacted through my Etsy shop by Margaret McGuire, who is the co-editor of Witch Craft and a full-time editor at Quirk Books. She asked me to contribute a crochet project to the book, and I, of course, said yes. We fell into an instant email rapport, with me telling her about various Halloween crafts and memories. My birthday is November 2, so I often had elaborate Halloween-themed parties, and, in general, autumn is my favourite season, Halloween my favourite holiday. After some emailing, she asked me to be co-editor of the book because of my "family-trained crafter's eye and thoughtful words."
The book contains more than cute-creepy crochet; I loved the vampire bite necklace and graveyard cupcakes for example! How did you select the different ‘treats’ featured in the book?
When I [became] co-editor, about half of the projects were already in place. As for the rest, Margaret and I would throw around ideas, trying to hit all the big Halloween images--vampires, pumpkins, ghosts, and witches--and then searching Etsy, my craft contacts and other online avenues to try to find an eclectic mix. Recipes seemed important because Halloween is so much about treats! And there are very crafty ways to come up with Halloween treats, like the cupcake graveyard that you mentioned.
What is it that you love most about Halloween?
I'd have to say the costumes! Perhaps that's the kid in all of us, wanting to dress up and be someone else. I always looked forward to going to the fabric store with my family and spending an hour or so pouring through the big pattern books, searching for that year's Halloween costume. And then to pick out the fabric and watch my mom make it from start to finish--it was amazing! My teacher mom sewed all of our Halloween costumes and made a lot of our clothing, and in addition, she is all-around very crafty. Because she had the summers off, my sister and I got a lot of crafting (and baking) time with her.
Do you find crafting to be a cathartic experience? I’m thinking of the ulcerative colon crochet…
Cathartic, yes, absolutely. I always crafted for fun, but only after I became ill did I really find that it's very cathartic indeed. Crochet in particular kept me occupied, even in times of pain or when waiting in doctor offices all the time--I just wanted to keep doing it, creating patterns, trying out new stitches. It helped pass the time and I had something to show for it. Ahh yes, the crochet colon! My doctor, who I am very close to at this point, is very familiar with my work and he once said, "When do I get something crocheted from you?" I promised I'd make him a crochet ‘frowny colon’ in response to my having ulcerative colitis.
Do you make crochet gifts for the people in your life?
Yes, not as many as I’d like though! I give out safety cones more than anything, and every Christmas I donate crochet items to the prize table, because instead of gift-exchanging at my extended family's we play bingo and get to choose prizes. I will admit, however, that I get burnt out from crocheting; my hands literally ache from this one-woman operation, so I've been buying more gifts of late.
Is promoting the 'handmade revolution' important to you?
The handmade revolution is important to me; I love Etsy and the variety of goods out there. I'm much more interested in the fact that all of these independent designers, artists and crafters can create and sell their wares, get across some vision, interact with customers online and carve out a life that is hopefully, very creatively fulfilling. I always want to learn how to make everything myself, from crafting to cooking, and I think this is what the handmade revolution has made apparent--YOU can make these things! That's why I like selling or blogging my crochet patterns--you're passing on the ability to make something to someone else.
You have collaborated on a ‘craft-o-tron’ machine which dispenses handmade creations and can travel between venues. How did you get involved?
Yes, The Travelling Pittsburgh Craft-O-Tron Machine! I recently moved from New York City to Pittsburgh, where I was born and raised. As soon as I got to Pittsburgh, I started looking into the craft community and local Etsy seller groups [and] I found the Steel Town Etsy Street Team. Soon after I joined this street team, one of the members, Lynne Kropinak, read about turning old cigarette machines into dispensers of art/crafts, so she looked into getting one and the rest is history! I was ecstatic when she first mentioned it and excited to see where it travels. Members decorated the outside and inside is handmade art from us at $5 a pop. The stock will change as it sells out and the machine will travel around to museums, galleries, bars, radio station lobbies [and] shops, as well as singular events like a small press festival and art night. It's such a fun way to shop handmade and local, as well as get a taste of what we're doing creatively for only $5.
What are The Storque and the Steel Town Etsy Artisans and how do they support you as an independent artist?
The Storque is basically Etsy's online newspaper or blog. There are tons of articles everyday, spotlighting individual sellers, about the handmade movement and events, round-ups of themed items, updates about the site, etc. It's a good way to stay in the know about what's happening with Etsy at large. The Steel Town Etsy Street Team, as I mentioned above, is a group of us Pittsburgh Etsy sellers. On the Team's website is a lively forum where we alert each other about upcoming craft shows, openings and events, ask questions about where to find certain supplies, bounce ideas off of each other, and plan meet-ups like potlucks and coffee chats. It's a great resource for bringing together us independent artisans--I have met really amazing people and it's nice to attend craft fairs and events and see familiar faces.
Which of your crochet creations is your current favourite and what does it represent?
Oh my, how to choose? They're like children to me! Safety Cone is probably my favourite because [he] has a cute background story. Well, maybe it's not that cute: I designed my first safety cone for an ex-boyfriend who wanted to take a ‘break’. As the domestic head of the household who kept things together, in many ways, I thought he'd need a safety cone upon moving out. Safety Cone developed into something much more than that, really resonating with people. I started writing stories called Safety Cone Adventures that stemmed from taking my ear flap-hatted Safety Cone with me places. I liked the idea of this little object that stands for safety, who warns against dangers like broken sidewalks, but who also has a playful, child-like spirit, who wants to go on adventures too! He is my alter ego; I was a teacher of small children, but at the same time, I had a wild streak in me after I left the classroom. How do you find that balance between being responsible and cautious, and being adventurous and experiencing life?
What is next for you on the path to crochet world domination?
Ha ha! I always have a lot of design ideas up my sleeve, especially frowny items like a dropped ice cream cone, weeping willow tree, a mad appendix, a decayed tooth. More broadly, I would love to write some crochet books of my own, particularly one that includes all the cute stories and inside jokes my customers send me about my crochet things. I would also love to teach crochet to kids and adults! And perhaps somehow use the crochet colon as a springboard for talking about chronic illness, processing feelings of sadness/anger, finding comfort in a soft plush thing. I also want to design an entire crochet alphabet and make some bobble clutches.