How to Become a Crochet Designer

As promised, The Animator’s Wife met with crochet designer Stacey Trock last week to discuss her first book, Cuddly Crochet. Thank you so much to everyone who submitted questions. It was great to see how many aspiring crochet designers are out there--most of your questions seemed to be related to that subject! Let’s hope this interview inspires you to get creating.

I didn’t get to go because I get carsick, but The Animator’s Wife says Stacey is a very sweet lady that was fun to talk to. And of course, she crochets, so she sounds like my kind of lady!

Stacey & Stacy

(That’s Stacey on the left, with The Animator’s Wife on the right.)

Stacey was very gracious about answering all of your questions, and without further ado, here are her responses.

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@EmmytheCat: Who first taught you to crochet?

Stacey Trock: My mom taught me to crochet when I was about six years old, and she only makes ripple afghans, so she taught me how to increase and decrease, and that’s where it ended. But she got me started, and then I started picking up books from the library.

The Animator’s Wife: So have you surpassed her in skill now?

Stacey: Well I can make something that’s not a ripple afghan, so I think I surpassed her a while ago. I somehow taught myself how to read patterns, and I think that was the breakthrough, because then I could just do whatever the books told me I could do.

@RoadToGrinnell: When do you get most of your crocheting done, and how much do you crochet each day?

Stacey: Well I crochet and knit, so I go through phases because I do both knit design and crochet design. Usually about two weeks every two months I have my crochet “spurt,” where I’ll crochet about 10-12 hours a day. It’s any time I’m sitting down and not doing something like typing.

@RoadToGrinnell: How often do you come up with a new design?

Stacey: Right now I’ve already planned my designs for the next year. I go through bursts where I come up with tons of different designs I want to do, and then I have to actually “catch up” with doing them. So it’s sporadic.

@haleyshandmades: How do you come up with new designs?

Stacey: Good question. I’m actually not sure. It sounds cliché, but they actually just come to me. Sometimes I’ll see a cartoon or a sketch or a real-life animal and I think, oh my gosh! That’s just a head with a huge snout and some floppy little ears on it. And that’s how I come up with it, and then I’ll sketch it down.

DeAnna Dixon: Where do most of your inspirations or ideas come from?

Stacey: Well sometimes things randomly come to me, but let’s say I want to make a cheetah and I don’t know the best way to do it. I usually go and I Google image “cartoon cheetah” and I look at the Microsoft clipart for cheetahs, because cartoons are always animals broken down into the important parts. And then I’ll make a little photo gallery, and I can see most cartoon cheetahs have a white snout, and they have the spots. So whenever I get stuck, I get cartoons for basic parts and it helps me through.

Aunt Debbie: Do you actually see the finished design in your head, or do you start crocheting and see what develops?

Stacey: I do pretty much know what it’s going to look like. When I start crocheting, I have a picture of how I want it to look, and that’s what I start crocheting. And sometimes it doesn’t happen on the first time. There are a couple of times when I’ll crochet, say, a lobster tail, and I’ll think, that doesn’t look like a lobster tail at all. So I’ll rip it out until it does look sort of what I wanted it to look like.

BearyAnn Pawter: How on earth do you write your patterns—while you are making the pattern or afterward?

Stacey: I have my own notations, like crochet shorthand, and I jot down the crochet shorthand before I start. Then I crochet the animal, and if I made any changes (like the disastrous lobster tail not looking right), then I jot it down on the paper. And then I save the paper, even though it’s really messy, until it’s time to publish the pattern. So sometimes there can be a couple of months when my illegible shorthand is sitting around.

So it’s two phases. There’s the sketching/note-taking phase, and then I actually type them up when it’s about to be the month that I’m publishing the pattern.

The Animator’s Wife: So do you kind of have the pattern written out already before you even start it?

Stacey: Yeah, I have a pretty rough sketch of the pattern before I start. There could be one piece that I’m not really sure how it’s going to turn out. Like if something has some sort of funny nose, I might have to play around a little bit to see if it’s just the right amount of pointy, or round, or whatever, and I would make notes as I go instead of ripping it out and redoing it. But most of the animal I have written down before I start crocheting.

Alesha: When did you start writing your patterns? I love to try new things, but putting together an original pattern seems so foreign and scary to me.

Stacey: The way I started was I finished school and I realized I didn’t want to do it anymore. But I needed a job and I loved crocheting, and I just thought, if you want to do this as a job, you have to really do it seriously. So I just made myself do it. The first couple of animals I designed, I thought, okay, now I have to write down the pattern. If I want to make this a business at all, I’m gonna have to do it. It was scary.

The Animator’s Wife: So did you start by submitting patterns to magazines before you jumped into the book?

Stacey: No, I just started self-publishing. I submitted some designs to magazines and I haven’t been very successful, because a lot of times they’re looking for something specific. Sometimes maybe my animals are too big and that doesn’t fit in with what they’re doing, or they’re too complicated, or for some reason they’re just not what they’re looking for. I’ve had a lot more success just doing self-publishing. All of my designs are on my website, FreshStitches.com, but I also have an Etsy shop, and some of my patterns are also on other online retailers.

Teresa: On the average, how many hours do you spend perfecting your pattern to where you know longer feel you need to make a change here or there in it?

Stacey: I feel bad saying this, but I usually only make the animal once and I’m happy with it. Let’s say I’m making a leg. I don’t finish the whole leg and then decide that it looks a bit funny and start over again. I usually start going, decide it looks funny, and so I’ll never finish a weird-looking leg. Usually by the time I’ve finished an animal, it’s the way I want it to be and I just have to make sure I type up the pattern carefully. It’s probably a few hours of typing and proofreading.

Teresa: Do you ever run into not being completely happy with your end result after working on it so long?

Stacey: Sometimes. Sometimes I think, “That looked a little cuter in my head.” But the one thing I realized about designing patterns is that everyone has their own ideas of what they want. I don’t publish anything that I think looks terrible, but there are some things that aren’t the kind of cute that I was thinking of, but other people like them.

AuntyM: How do you test your pattern directions? Do you use test crocheters?

Stacey: No, I test crochet them all myself. Because I publish three patterns a month, I started not being in a timeframe where I would be able to have someone test crochet and get it back to me in enough time for me to keep publishing them. So I started out just doing it myself. A lot of them have the same arm, so that part doesn’t need to be test crocheted over and over again. Of course I wish that I had an infinite amount of money. I would love to pay five test crocheters to do every pattern for me, but it’s really just not plausible. It’s a tough situation because you can ask for volunteer test crocheters, but then you can’t be very demanding. Or you can pay someone, but then you’re going to have to charge more for your patterns because you’re paying a lot of money for each pattern to come out. I guess it’s just a decision I made early on that I would just try my hardest to be really careful.

AdrianandLisa Johnson: Where do you get most of your ideas from? For example, are animals based on your pets?

Stacey: I don’t have any pets. I kind of get ideas from a couple of different places. Sometimes I’ll go to the natural history museum and look for different animals, because I’ve made a lot of animals by now and I need something a bit different. I’ll go and I’ll look at an orangutan, or something that’s not what we usually think of as animals, and sometimes I’ll get inspiration from that, or from going to the zoo.

Jessica: How did you come up with the great idea of making a set of projects that each have a matching toy?

Stacey: Martingale’s a really great publishing company. It’s been so great working with them. It was actually their idea to do that. They really liked my animals, and they said we think it would be great if there were also some baby items to go with the animals. I had already been designing animal hats that were in the same vein as my animals, and they said we think your hats are cute. Would you mind pairing them up with the animals? And I thought it was a great idea, too.

The Animator’s Wife: I really like the kitty one. But then, I’m rather partial to kitties.

Stacey: Oh, thank you!


(Photo courtesy of Martingale Publications)

dragonlady: Congratulations on the book! Was the book idea something you quietly worked to, or was it a “wow” idea?

Stacey: I totally just did it on the spur of the moment. I mean, I put time into it, but I just decided one day that I really want to do a book, and this was the proposal they wanted me to fill out, and I just sat down and I worked on it for days until it was done. And so I really did it all in one fell swoop.

I sent my original proposal, and like I said, Martingale said, can you do these pairings? So I already had the animals in my head, but I had to come up with the matching items, and those didn’t come all at once. It was really important to me that all the accessories hit different skill levels and different kinds of assembly techniques, so it took me a little while to come up with exactly which designs would be the best.

Zoe: As an inspiration from your blog world tour have you thought of doing a range of country specific designs? I love the Koala and could see some great dot painting inspirations being designed, or NZ has some great unique inspirations too, like the kiwi, pukeko, silver fern, etc.

Stacey: I do think about what countries the animals come from. All the animals are named for a cricketer that’s from the continent that the animal is from. So the koala’s named Ricky the Koala because there’s a cricketer from Australia named Ricky, and the things from Europe are named after English cricketers, and all the American animals are West Indies cricketers, so they all are very connected to where they come from.


(Photo courtesy of Martingale Publications.)

I’ve been wanting for a long time to put on my website a map of the world and have you click where the animals are from, but it’s kind of messy organization-wise. So I definitely always think about where they are from and I try and make sure I have each month different animals from different places.

Laane: Sometimes the need for perfection and creativity clash. Are you one of those people who undo all they have, just cause there’s a simple mistake somewhere back at the beginning?

Stacey: I can think of two ways to answer that question. From a design perspective, it is really hard for me to accept that not everything will be perfect. Sometimes a typo happens, so from that point of view, it’s really hard for me to get over. But eventually you have to be like, okay, no one’s perfect. Just do it anyway. Do the best you can, that’s all you can do. You can only check it 10 times.

But when I’m personally knitting for myself, I totally don’t care if there’s a mistake. This is a sweater I’m wearing, and this was the first sweater I knitted, and the increases left little holes. I was forever along before I even noticed, and I just left it. It’s fine, and everyone always asks me when I wear this, is that a design element? And I’m like, not really, but we can pretend they are. People ask me, what should I do about this one stitch that looks terrible, and I’m just like, oh just keep going. But when it comes to my patterns, I am really picky about trying to make sure that they are as close to perfect as they can be before they go out.

Tasia Hooper: How do you stay motivated in the middle of a large project, such as an afghan?

Stacey: I’m one of those people that’s always really motivated by the finished project. I really do just want to see it finished, so that’s a little bit motivating. But also, usually when you’re doing something as big as an afghan, there’s something sort of easy about it. You learn what you’re doing and it’s a little repetitive, so you can watch TV and you’re not focused on it as much because you’ve been doing it for so long and you’re in a rhythm. Then it’s kind of easier for me to stay motivated because I can do it while I’m watching TV. There’s a bit of a trade off that happens because the bigger it gets, in a way the easier it gets because you don’t have to pay attention to as many of the details. And then sometimes I just move on to something different for a break.

Marjorie Dawson: I saw the astonishing crochet reef on Ted.com some time ago. Is there any limit to size of things you would personally enjoy crocheting? When would size stop being fun and start being more of a skills or design challenge?

Stacey: I love the coral reef. I think it’s really interesting, but it’s made by thousands of different people crocheting pieces that are assembled. I may be wrong, but I don’t think anyone got really bored making something huge. But I have seen people crochet 30-foot tall elephants, and I’m not sure what my limit is, but I think that’s definitely too much for me. Anything bigger than an afghan or a piece of clothing I think would be tedious and kind of out of my realm of comfort. And really, when it’s that big, I’m just using worsted weight yarn. I don’t want to make a whole dress out of fingering weight yarn.

Meghann LittleStudio: I wonder how serious crocheters like yourself avoid wrist and hand strain from hours of repetitive crocheting. Do you take rests? Do special exercises? Wear special supports?

Stacey: I wonder how I avoid it, too! I worry that I’m about to run into some very bad wrists soon. But I think switching between crocheting and knitting helps a little bit, because if I am crocheting only for 8 or 10 hours straight, then my wrists do start to feel a little cramped. But in my typically day, I crochet some, I knit some, I type because I’m answering emails or fixing my website, so I hope I do enough to avoid hurting my wrists. I’ve seen some people wear wrist guards, and I guess that helps, and there are ergonomic hooks. Are you a pencil or a knife holder?

The Animator’s Wife: Knife.

Stacey: Me too. I feel that the ergonomic hooks help pencil people better. When I hold the hook like this, there’s not much room for improvement.

@stitchtacsew: Do you have any suggestions for aspiring designers? How to get started on making your own patterns?

Stacey: I think you just have to start. That doesn’t sound like spectacularly good advice, but there’s so much fear involved. At least, I was scared starting. You really just have to try it and do it. Just put a free pattern on your blog and try it. You have to write a couple of patterns first before you get into the rhythm of writing it and before it gets easier for you.

P: Whose design? If you use a pattern as guide, but make it into something else entirely different, is it then your design? For example, using a ball pattern, but turn it into a snowman.

Stacey: Those questions are always so complicated because there’s a lot of copyright issue everywhere. Of course there are some basic techniques that everyone makes in amigurumi pieces. Everyone increases to make the same kind of circle, everyone single crochets in every stitch to make it not increase, we all decrease in pretty similar kinds of ways, and I think there’s laws about what percent has to be original. That’s actually one reason I try not to look at a lot of other amigurumi designers when I’m designing. Those issues are so touchy, I just don’t want to accidentally be doing what someone else does. You just have to do what you’re inspired by and come up with it yourself.

Karen Swiggum: Do you have any important lessons you’ve learned the hard way, somewhere along the line?

Stacey: I think one thing I’ve learned is to try to read a lot of patterns to see what the standards are. It’s fine to do things differently than other people of course, but if you increase differently than other people, or you decrease differently, or you call things different names, it’s really helpful for you to say that up front. I learned to crochet from my mom, so I learned to crochet through the back loop, and at first I thought that’s just what everyone does. But now I know that’s slightly strange, so at the beginning of all my patterns I say this is how I do it.

Karen Swiggum: Do you have any funny memories about things gone wrong?

Stacey: Is it bad if I don’t? I’ve done some things that just didn’t look right, and I can’t remember any specifics, but sometimes they’re just a little tragic, not really funny. Usually what happens is I make something and I set it on the table and my boyfriend comes home, and if he can’t tell what it is, then something’s gone a little awry. There have been a couple of times I’ve assembled something and taken its head back off, but nothing that really stands out.

Karen Swiggum: What are some of your favorites, i.e. supplies, techniques, shortcuts?

Stacy: I always start out with what I call a Sloppy Slip Knot. It does what the Magic Loop does, and I always do that to start working in the round because it eliminates the hole.

Susan Bates crochet hook is my favorite. It has just the perfect amount of gap in the hook for me, and it catches the yarn just right. And I like using 100% wool yarn for my animals. I don’t know why. I like the feel of an acrylic that’s really soft, but there’s something about the sturdiness and the naturalness of the wool that I really like. I guess those are my favorite things.

Karen Swiggum: Do you have any advice on what not to do?

Stacey: From a business perspective, I think it’s important to not be mean to people. Everyone’s so connected now. It’s really easy to go on Ravelry and be on the discussion board and yell at someone, and I think now that we’re all so connected you’re always representing your company, you’re always representing your business. So I think it’s important for us to not be mean to people, because that’s what people think about you.

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Well, Ms. Trock, rest assured that we don’t think you could possibly be mean to anyone! The Animator’s Wife really enjoyed chatting with you, and we’d like to thank you for taking the time to answer these questions for all the aspiring crochet designers out there.

And that brings us up to the moment we’ve all been waiting for! Who is the lucky crocheter who gets a free copy of Stacey Trock’s new book?


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Drumroll please…


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It’s Zoe! Congratulations! Please send your shipping info to selenak {at} crochetkitten {dot} com and we’ll get it out to you right away.

And for everyone else who is interested in the book, you can pick up your own copy on Amazon.