"I was attending a series of lectures being given by Rock Brynner (Yul Brynner's son). His lectures were on literature, but he started his first lecture with a speech about conservation. He described our planet as a giant sweater, and here and there and everywhere people were picking at stitches, and soon the whole thing would unravel. Some one in the audience, knowing that I was there, said 'give it to Margaret, she will fix it.'"
According to her son, Margaret Hubert is â€œan overnight success after 40 yearsâ€. Margaretâ€™s journey in the world of fiber art began in the early 1960s when she owned a yarn shop in Yonkers, New York. She published her first book, One Piece Knits That Fit, in 1978, and she still gets fan mail about it! Margaret wrote a total of four books on knit and crochet patterns for Van Nostrand Reinhold, and after taking a writing break for a few decades, she then published two booklets for Annieâ€™s Attic on freeform crochet, and she has recently written five books for Creative Publishing International. Her newest book, Plus Size Crochet, is now being printed, and she is working on yet another title for CPI that is â€œstill under wrapsâ€.
Margaret has been busy traveling to various fiber events, teaching classes and signing books. I recently caught up with one of the hardest working women in the fiber business between her many engagements, and she spoke to me from her home in Pawling, New York.
Margaret, how old were you when you learned to knit? To crochet? Who taught you?
I do not remember learning to knit. My mother used to tell me that I would bring her two pencils and ask her to put stitches on for me. I was very young and I took to knitting and loved it, and still do. My mom did not crochet, so I did not learn as a child. When I was 19, I found a yarn shop not too far away, and the shop owner taught me to crochet. I love to crochet also, and I am a faster crocheter than a knitter. I never was caught up in the speed thing though, as I enjoy the process and I do not like to be rushed.
What was your first big professional break? When did it happen?
My first big professional break happened while I was working for Bloomingdales, in White Plains, New York. It was a brand new store, and I was the needlework instructor. The yarn rep from Brunswick Yarns noticed something that I had made using their yarns, and he asked me if I would like to design a few things for them. He called a few of his design people and set up interviews for me. I will never forget that day. I went into New York City, accompanied by my 20-year-old son (I had never been to the city by myself). When I met with their design person, he thought that my things were too risquÃ© for Brunswick. Remember, it was the â€˜70s and I had designed a bikini and a cover-up. He liked my work, however, so he called a few more editors and made appointments for me. That very same day, I met Cecelia Toth from Good Housekeeping, and Erica Goodman from Ladies Home Journal. I do not remember the train ride home; I was floating on air. I had sold $1,000 worth of designs to two magazines and I was called risquÃ© all in the space of a few hours! (she smiled) Shortly thereafter, while still at Bloomingdales, I met an author of a craft book. She suggested that I meet with her editor, and three weeks later I had a book deal with Van Nostrand Reinhold. I went on to do four books for them.
How did you come to free form crochet?
I was in a hand knitting business called Mme DeFarge Handknits in New York. My partner and I formed the company in 1979 and we were quite successful. Our things were being sold in major department stores and boutiques literally from coast to coast and in some other countries. Along with the success came the inevitable "knock offs". We found out that our things were being copied, and sometimes sold in the same stores, ours in the designer sections, and the copies in the less expensive departments. Needless to say we were very upset, but did not have the "know how" or the means to fight this kind of thing. One day my partner said to me, "Can't you design something that would be impossible to copy?"
For me, that was the beginning of Free Form, although I did not know it at the time. I designed three pieces that were really great and one became our signature piece. The problem was that I created things that were very difficult to reproduce, so production was limited.
I was in such a busy time in my life at that point and did not know about the free form movement that was swirling all around me. I had never even heard the words Free Form Crochet, and was not familiar with the pioneers doing this kind of work.
Later, when I retired from the business, I still loved the playing with yarns and stitches in unconventional ways. I was in a quieter time in my life; all my children were married, my husband and I were enjoying life, enjoying our grandchildren, spending winters in Florida, golfing and doing a little traveling. I still taught classes locally, and submitted some more conventional designs to magazines. As often happens, just when I thought life was grand, my husband became ill. Ten months later he was gone, and my life was forever changed.
That year, my oldest son gave me a computer for a Christmas gift. I did not want a computer and did not want to learn to use it. He tells everyone he dragged me "kicking and screaming into the new century". Almost immediately someone suggested that I join Crochet Partners and Knit List, two online lists. I had no clue that my life was about to change yet again. I could not believe it. In addition to "meeting" so many new fiber friends, I soon discovered Google. I found out that I was listed on Google. My first books, that were done in the late '70s and early '80s for Van Nostrand Reinhold, were there. Mind boggling, me on Google! One day, I posted on Crochet Partners that I taught crochet in my local yarn shop. That day opened more doors than I can list. The very next day I received an e-mail from Barbara Hillary Van Elsen, inviting me to teach at the New York City Crochet Guilds retreat that was being held right in my very own town. In the same day's mail, I received a note from Bonnie Pierce (Elegant Crochet) asking me if I did Free Form. I replied that I was not sure, but I sent Bonnie a picture of my work, and she wrote back, "You do free form". Bonnie invited me to join the International Free Form Internet list and the rest is history. Through this list I have met so many wonderful, creative people. In addition to Bonnie, I have come to know Prudence Mapstone, Jenny Dowde, James Walters and Myra Wood, just to name a few. I have traveled more in the past five years than during my whole life, attending fiber conferences and teaching in Australia, England, Illinois, California, New Hampshire, Indiana, Minnesota, Texas, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania.
While attending the Chicago conference, I was wearing one of my free form jackets. Deborah Hamburg, then the editor of Crochet!, asked me if I could write down what I do. When I said "Yes", she asked me to do a free form book for Annie's Attic. When Deborah left the company, I stopped working on the book. After a little while, I received an e-mail from Carol Alexander asking where I was on the book, as they wanted me to continue. Carol is so great to work with. She never even asked to see photos, colors or anything, she just left me on my own. The very day after I sent in the finished projects, Carol asked me if I could start a second one. How To Free Form Crochet and Fun With Free Form Crochet were the result, and I loved the way that they turned out.
I have my own web site and a blog. (I cannot believe the word is even in my vocabulary). The blog came about through the patience and help of Dee Stanziano (www.crochetwithdee.com). My current publisher, Creative Publishing International, found me through my web site. On March 31, 2005, over the phone, they offered me a multi-book deal. I was not even sure that I could do it, so it was suggested that I start with one or two. Two years and three months later, I am on my seventh book for them. These books have included Hooked Bags, Hooked Hats, Hooked Throws, Hooked Scarves, Hooked for Toddlers, and Plus Size Crochet. The seventh title will be announced at a later date.
In between books, I have had designs in quite a few magazines and hard cover books such as: Crochet!, Interweave Crochet, Crochet Fantasy, Belle Armoire, Quick and Easy Crochet, Creative Knitting, 101 Granny Squares, Easy Living Crochet, Big Hook Crochet, New Ideas for Today's Crochet, Free Form Knitting and Crochet, 100 Purses to Knit and Crochet, and Vogue Bags On The Go.
More designs are in the works, but not out as yet.
Have you ever encountered any obstacles along the way? If so, what were they? How did you overcome them?
I really cannot say that I have encountered obstacles. Recently, I had two unpleasant experiences in the industry, but I consider myself lucky that there have been so few.
If you could go back and do anything differently, would you? If so, what?
I have met so many wonderful people in this industry, and as I said before, I have been lucky. The Internet has opened my world so much, and if I could change any one thing, it would be to have been on the Internet sooner.
Whatâ€™s the weirdest thing youâ€™ve ever made?
The weirdest thing that I have ever made is five horse masks. Pawling, New York, is â€œbig timeâ€ horse country, but I had moved here from a small city, and had never seen a horse mask before. A customer walked into my local yarn shop while I was in there teaching a class. She had this thing in her hand and asked if anyone could duplicate it for her. It was the oddest thing that I had ever seen, with pointed ears, crochet and fringe, really strange. She went on to say that she had bought it in Germany, and it worked so well for her show horses that she wanted five more just like it.
I took the job; it was very successful, and I had a very happy customer.
What has been your biggest thrill, professionally?
Nothing beats the thrill of signing that first book deal. (Well, maybe walking out on the runway at Chain Link and hearing hoots and hollers and your name being called out!)
Whatâ€™s your favorite thing about teaching?
My absolute favorite thing about teaching is seeing the â€œlight bulbâ€ moment in a student, especially when they come up with something innovative and exciting and surprise themselves.
Do you ever dream about knitting or crocheting?
I have dreamed about knitting and crocheting; I have odd dreams a lot. Not bad or sad, just odd. Some of my designs have been the results of my dreams.
Do you admire, or are you inspired by, other designersâ€™ work? If so, who?
I admire lots of designers. I am especially awed by the Fair Isle Knitting of Sasha Kagan, the Free Form Crochet of James Walters, Sylvia Cosh, and Prudence Mapstone, and many others.
What advice would you give to aspiring knit and crochet designers?
My advice to aspiring designers is to make their proposals as professional as possible and adhere to designer guidelines for each publication. Mount swatches, label everything as to content, stitches used, and any information you can give. Make your sketches neat and concise. You do not have to be an artist, but you must be able to get your ideas across to the editor. Put your name, address, and phone number on everything. Last, but by no means least, hone your pattern writing skills. Study books and magazines, learn the format that a publication uses and follow it.
How have I seen the industry change over time?
I am not sure that the industry has changed all that much. The Internet has made our world very small and so the way that we communicate with editors/yarn companies has become so much easier. I still submit swatches and sketches when proposing a new design or idea. I still wait to hear if my idea is accepted. One thing that has changed is the speed in which things get done, and the amount of patterns that the consumer has to choose from.
I have been very lucky in this business and with the exception of two "not so nice" experiences, I have loved it all.
The one major thing that has changed for me is attending lots of conferences. Years ago I used to attend a TNNA (The National NeedleArts Association) trade show once in awhile, but now I feel it is a must to attend as many events that I can . The networking at these events is invaluable for a designer. You must continue to meet and talk to, and listen to, the people who will be publishing/making your designs. It is also important to be seen and I believe in wearing my own designs whenever possible.
Of course we have many more wonderful yarns, in a wide range of fibers and price points, at our finger tips. The magazines and books try to keep up with the trends. In the years that I have been in the business I have seen many highs and lows in this business. I have managed to keep busy when things are riding high and have learned to accept the slow times as part of it all. My fingers never stop working, though!
About two or three years ago, Mirjam Bruck Cohen, who is a curator for a museum in Haifa Israel, a fellow fiber artist and member of our Free Form group, was mounting a fiber exhibit. She asked several of us in the United States to create pieces for her. The theme was "figures" in any way that we wished to interpret them. I almost backed out because I don't "do" figures, my thing is fashion. Anyway, Mirjam asked me to please reconsider. I could not come up with any ideas at all. As luck would have it, at around the same time, I was attending a series of lectures being given by Rock Brynner (Yul Brynner's son). His lectures were on literature, but he started his first lecture with a speech about conservation. He described our planet as a giant sweater, and here and there and everywhere people were picking at stitches, and soon the whole thing would unravel. Someone in the audience, knowing that I was there, said "give it to Margaret, she will fix it". Everyone laughed and we got on with the program. I don't remember exactly when it happened, but Rock's analogy of the world as a sweater popped into my head, and from that grew the idea of woman of the world being connected by their love of crochet. And "Connections" was born.
When I finished, I thought my piece was too childlike to send for the exhibit, but Mirjam said to let her be the judge. The piece was shown in Haifa, at Chain Link the following year, and at Craft Adventure in Massachusetts. It became the logo for a woman's group.
The base is about 12-1/2" X 8-1/2". It is a rough globe of the world, and the figures are about 4 " tall, and are dressed in costumes representing different cultures. Each one holds a tiny crochet hook in her hands.