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Behind The Stitches: Vickie Howell

I've been so excited to post this interview from the moment that I hung up the phone. This week's Sunday inspiration comes from Vickie Howell. Knitter, crafter, and DIY expert Vickie Howell. I had a really hard time editing this one because every step of her crafting journey is integral to understanding the bigger picture. A big reason why I'm able to do what I'm doing now is because of people like Vickie doing what they did first. I honestly feel so grateful to have this interview on the site and I can't wait to hear what you take away from her story.

(original post date June 16th, 2019)

"It was sort of that day that I got that knitting was more than just knitting. It could be a through-line for communication and community"

Sam: Who taught you how to knit?

Vickie: Well, my mom tried to teach me when I was nine and I hated it. She taught me how to crochet, so I did that. But, I actually didn't learn how to knit until I was maybe twenty-seven/twenty-eight. I was pregnant with my second son and this was around 2001. I had a friend who dragged me kicking and screaming to a knitting store. I had the same sort of misconceptions that I think people still do today about what it is and who does it. But I had never been into a real yarn store before. I walked in and saw all these amazing fibers that I didn't even know existed. 

My background at that point was in the entertainment industry. I started working in the television industry when I was nineteen. Women are not very kind to each other in that industry. Or at least they weren't in the late 90s early 2000s. I don't know about now. So I walk in and I see this table of women. There's a grandma, maybe obviously maybe not. But there's also a female director, a young ingenue, a trophy wife, a business owner. There was this group of women who may or may not have anything else in common. They were sitting and they were hanging out in a completely unthreatening environment and it was sort of that day that I got that knitting was more than just knitting.

It could be a through-line for communication and community. Then also, of course, creativity and self-expression. The owner of the store is Edith Eig, and this is a store in Los Angeles called La Knitterie Parisienne, where a lot of celebrities learned how to knit. So the combination of all of those things got me started and I have not stopped since.

"Little did I know I had to move to Texas to get a job in LA"

Sam: So it sounds like it was really the sense of community that drew you in initially?

Vickie: I think it was a combination of things, but yeah absolutely. I was a newish mom. I had, at that time, an eighteen-month-old at home with my second on the way. I had left my career and my career path in the entertainment industry to stay at home with the babies. I had been creative and crafty since I was a toddler. But I didn't have a huge community surrounding that. So yeah, I think it was absolutely a combination of community and creativity coming together.

Sam: You mentioned that this shop was in LA. Were you based in LA at the time?

Vickie: Yes, I grew up in Southern California.

Sam: What made you decide to move to Austin?

Vickie: My now ex-husband is from Austin. We had these two babies at home in a small apartment in Torrance, California and at that point, it seemed apparent that I wasn't going to go back to the entertainment industry. Little did I know I had to move to Texas to get a job in LA. I got Knitty Gritty just a year after that. But we realized that we could have a nice sized home in Austin for the kids for the same price that we were paying for a not so nice apartment in California. So we just decided to do it.

Sam: Do you still have your first WIP and what was it?

Vickie: I don't still have it. I believe that I tried to make a baby bunny hat. Martha Stewart used to have a Martha Stewart baby magazine. It was a great magazine. I loved it! It was like her magazine now, but it was all for kids and baby stuff. There was a hat in there that was just a plain beanie that had bunny ears. I did something wrong. I think I twisted all of the stitches. It was not successful, but shortly after that I made a pullover for my older son and then a little cardigan for my newer baby son and I believe they were both Debbie Bliss patterns.

Sam: How do you prefer to organize your yarn stash? By color, texture, or no rhyme or reason?

Vickie: Oh, so funny! How do I prefer it or what's the reality is the real question. How I would prefer it is by color because I like to mix and match stuff all of the time. I like mixing different textures or doing triple-stranded things. But because I'm perpetually running at 150 miles per hour it really just sort of looks like a fiber factory vomited in my studio at any given time.

"I have an idea I pitch it and see where I can go with it. See where this wonderful journey will take me, because it's not necessarily normal… the things that I've gotten to do from knitting."

Sam: Can you walk us through your crafting journey? You kind of started to get into it in terms of your Knitty Gritty show. But what came first and how did you get to where you are now?


Vickie: As I mentioned I was really seeking community. I had started a Stitch'n Bitch group in Los Angeles. It was shortly after maybe the first Stitch'n Bitch books came out by Debbie Stoller. There was a whole call to action to start your own Stitch'n Bitch group. So I started the first one of the time, of course, our foremothers in the sixties were doing it way before then, in Los Angeles. It was just so that I could just have some form of community. I was also checking out a bunch of other groups. There was a church of craft group. Anything that I could find in a magazine I was checking out. So I started this group and I created a logo for it. 

I've been working really since I was in middle school. It was just weird for me to not have something else. Not that motherhood isn't a job. I was so used to having a creative outlet. I had started an online craft business and this was way before blogs or Etsy. There weren't a ton of e-commerce sites in general at the time. It was just sort of a handmade business for moms and their babies. 

Then when we moved to Austin I started another Stitch'n Bitch group and then a secondary site. That was for refurbished vintage stuff, like hand-dyed vintage slips and embellished this and that. But on those sites, I put the logo or banner I had designed for the Stitch'n Bitch groups, the LA one and the Austin one, because at the time I was still sort of moderating both boards. A producer, I say googled but it must have been Ask Jeeves it was so long ago, something about "young hip knitter". This must have been in 2004.  At the time we were trying as young women to kind of "reclaim the craft". So I think that I probably did reference hipness or youth. I don't remember what it was. But because there weren't a ton of sites out and there was no social media, my tag line came up for this producer in California. She sent a Dear Sir or Madam email to my little Ruby Goes Retro vintage site. 

When I say “business” it's the loosest sense of the word. It was really more of an outlet. She said, "Do you know anybody who would be interested in hosting a knitting show?" It was like all of the things that I had done for years and years were coming together. I knew how to pitch myself because I had worked for one of the three major talent agencies. I had worked at a production company. So I knew what they were looking for and I had seen other people audition. I called and I pitched myself. This was also the exact same time that I had my first design ever up on knitty.com. It's a guitar strap and it's still up to this day. I think it's called Siouxsie, after Siouxsie and the Banshees. So I had something up to actually show that I did know how to knit.

The producer, her name is Alessandra Ascoli, she said can you get yourself to LA to audition? I had already had a ticket bought for two days later. I was flying out to meet my best friend for a trip that we were going to take.

Sam: NO WAY!



"If you stay true to the things that you're really passionate about, in whatever scope you are able to do it that fits in with your life, these things will come to you. You have to be open to them. And you can't be open to them if you aren't leaning into the things that really matter to you."

Vickie: It was just one of those things where everything aligned. When you're offered an opportunity like that one from the universe you hold onto it as tight as you can and then run with it. So I did all of that. I pitched my first book within months of that as well. Mind you I was not a knitting expert... then. I had never written a book. I had never hosted anything before. I learned how to do all of those things while I was doing them. That's sort of how it started. Now, whenever I have an idea I pitch it and see where I can go with it. See where this wonderful journey will take me, because it's not necessarily normal… the things that I've gotten to do from knitting.


Sam: I find that so interesting. Everything that you had done throughout your career found a way to weave itself together.

Vickie: Well, it's a message that I really like to spread whenever I'm giving talks too. I believe that if you are staying true to your passion... we can only do what we can do we're all so slammed. So maybe it just means doing a little something every once in a while. Because I felt the need to creatively nurture myself and also give myself some form of... I don't want to say career, but something else that was mine and that I could feel a sense of success with. I kept doing that but for no other reason than that I needed that community, I needed to be creative, I needed something that I could call my own. Because I did that even though none of those things seemed related at the time it was opening myself up to whatever the universe, or whatever it is you believe, it was all opening me up to be able to receive the bigger picture. So if you stay true to the things that you're really passionate about, in whatever scope you are able to do it that fits in with your life, these things will come to you. You have to be open to them. And you can't be open to them if you aren't leaning into the things that really matter to you.

"I could tell myself that I couldn't do it. But when I really looked within it was because I didn't want to put the effort in that it would take to sort of climb that particular mountain."

Sam: Another point is that you seemed to really say yes to opportunities that other less confident people would say no to. I think that a lot of people would have doubts about their abilities and talk themselves out of taking those opportunities. Where do you think that confidence came from?

Vickie: Well, first of all, I don't think that I thought that I had a lot to lose. I had completely left my career. I was on track to be a television producer. All of a sudden I'm in this crazy Texas place (laughing). I was just like "well, what am I going to do now? Go back to school? Maybe I'll study female studies and publicity. I don't know what I'm going to do".

Part of it is that I was just raised by a very independent woman and tenacity was probably the floor that my guidance was raised on. So I didn't really have a lot of "I can't do this” mentality. I definitely know my limits, but I don't remember ever thinking that I couldn't do something if I just really really tried. I could tell myself that I couldn't do it. But when I really looked within it was because I didn't want to put the effort in that it would take to sort of climb that particular mountain. But the mountains that I was willing to strap my boots on and try I would find that it was doable. Maybe not the way that I pictured it. But that's the other thing. My goal that I thought that I had that I was reading the books on and following the path for, that isn't the one that I ended up grasping. But when I let it go a little bit, because I had no other choice I had left everything, then there was more room for that path to lay itself down. Then I ended up back where I wanted to be. Now I am producing. I love hosting even more than producing. Now I'm doing both. But it was such a long strange trip. That's a really long way to answer your question. So part of it was that I had nothing to lose and the other part was that I've just always been really driven to at least try.

Sam: I love your point about staying open. Because it might not look the way you think it's supposed to look, but at the end of the day it will look the way it's supposed to look.
Vickie: Yeah, and if you do that it takes a lot of the fear away. Because the fear is "what if this doesn't happen this way? What if I fail? What if this doesn't..." but if you don't know exactly what that failure or success would look like then it's less scary to think that it might be different.

That is not something that I had inherently within me at twenty-five. Make no mistake. I had all the same fears that everybody else does. I'm forty-five now and I'm seeing that more than ever. But my circumstances put me in a place where there really was no other choice. I wasn't out there pounding the pavement. I was raising these little babies and trying to figure out how I was going to creatively fulfill myself. How am I going to help contribute financially to this family? Because I wanted to. Not because it was demanded of me. I have always wanted to financially contribute to my relationships. I've always wanted to have that independence. So because I had those goals, that are very misty more general goals, there was more room. Your "ness", or whatever you want to call it, your essence isn't so crowded with details. So there's room for things to flow towards you. If that makes sense?

Sam: That makes a lot of sense actually. I'm going to have to put that on a loop and play that over and over again. So then jumping forward, what made you decide to start The Knit Show?

Vickie: So hands down Knitty Gritty, the show for DIY gave me my career. This version of my career. It has been the biggest gift professionally that has been given to me. It was the project that has resonated with the largest amount of people. Ten years after the show had aired and probably five years after it had stopped airing I was still, almost on a daily basis, hearing about the effect that show had on people. So I spent a lot of years trying to figure out how I could recreate that. Not only is DIY programming my passion, but I thought that was where I could do the greatest sort of service to the community. Helping to introduce people to the next great designer. Or these amazing fibers. Or helping others rise. There are a million better designers than I am, but I think that as far as communicating and building a community that's where I really thrive.

Now at the time television was the way to do that. If you had a television show why would you start your youtube channel? Now the people who started their youtube channels, in a lot of ways, are in a lot better standing. But everything changed. It's all about advertising dollars. There just was not a place for this programming. So I did another show in between for PBS. There wasn't the reach and unfortunately, that model is still very archaic so it didn't really translate to the digital world that we all live in now. But I was just trying, behind the scenes, to figure that out again. There came a point when I just sort of said, "You know what I had DIYd my entire life. Why not DIY my own DIY show and do it the way I know that people want it to be done?". So I made the decision that I could create something that was equal and maybe even better than Knitty Gritty. For this time, not better than it was then. I think it was exactly what it needed to be then. But that also wouldn't have the socioeconomic problems... meaning not everyone can afford cable. Or the geographic limitations... meaning not just in the US.

What social media gave me, and that's not something that existed when I started, was the ability to reach people globally. I really felt that after I started my Facebook live series, Ask Me Monday, three and a half years ago. Actually, I think it will be four years in August. It was then when I had people watching me in Great Britain, Australia, Italy, Lebanon, and Turkey that I realized there were limitations to what I was pitching. But look, if NBC had called me up and asked me to do a craft show, of course, I would have said yes. You would have heard the tires screeching. 

I also realized that there were limitations on the old school platforms. For me, I wanted to start it on Youtube because again everybody has access to Youtube. Even if they can't afford the internet they can go to the library. So I wanted to experiment with making something that was very accessible for everyone while still being very high quality. We shot it in 4K, we had twenty separate guests, we offered free downloadable digital patterns. So that was the inception of The Knit Show. It was made for the community by the community is what I always say. We had 1,200 backers help pay for that show.

Sam: That's incredible.

Vickie: Now starting in about a month, you'll be able to watch it on Roku on its own Roku channel. Which I think will be a completely different audience. So that's another great experiment. We're working on an experiment with a software company that's doing coding for us because they think that there's growth there too. It's a lot of being on the pioneer front of where programming is going and just experimenting. That's not something that I would be able to do if I didn't own the programming myself. So that was another reason that I wanted to do it myself. Again I've got nothing to lose. We've got these ten beautiful episodes. So sure yeah, air it here. Let's try it. Let's see what happens. Then eventually when I get a moment to breathe let me write a business plan and let's raise money to make more seasons. 

Sam: Where did the idea for the knit hive come from?

Vickie: In Knitty Gritty there was something called the knitsters and it was a group of people that would hang out. They would be making the project that we were making that day. But throughout the years whenever I would go to conferences people would come up to me and say "I was one of your knitsters" or "I had always aspired to be a knitster". Or people would say they had girls trips where they traveled to be a knitster. I loved that. I loved that people felt like they were a part of something. And people felt like they were a part of something just from watching it. Which was such a gift! I wanted to bring in that community aspect to the show. I sort of mixed in what that was with the sort of hive mind mentality that we have today by just all being connected by the internet. So I just combined the two and called it the knit hive.

"I could either walk away and some people in my position did walk away. Or I could just learn how to do it myself."

Sam: When do you think we are going to be getting more full episodes of The Knit Show?

Vickie: You know it's funny I would have thought that we would be shooting already. But shortly after the first season, I was commissioned to write a book which was supposed to be The Knit Show book and then it evolved into something else kind of bigger and maybe more beautiful, called The Knit Vibe. It was a monster book. A 55,000 word monster of a book. So I had that. But also shortly after the show aired a company called Cratejoy found me and asked me if I would be interested in having my own subscription box business. At the time because I had all of that on my plate and I was going to go right into pitching the show to someone bigger like Amazon or Netflix. Or try to figure out how to fund without crowdfunding, because that's by far the hardest thing I've ever done, professionally, in my life. That was what I originally planned, but this opportunity to start this business came to me.

It was kind of the ideal thing. Retail was the only gap in my overall business. I really didn't have any reason to drive traffic to my own site. I had spent so many years driving traffic to other people's sites as a spokesperson. But I just felt like there was a big disconnect. So I had this opportunity to team up with this company and they were going to do all the heavy lifting. They were building the site, handling all the back end fulfillment, they were financing it. The idea was that I would curate it, do all of the marketing and social media, and I would get a commission essentially. Otherwise, I would not have started a business and it would have been irresponsible.

I had to put a lot of my own money into The Knit Show as well and I still had all of these other financial obligations. I'm sort of answering a question that you haven't asked to answer the question that you did ask so I promise I'll get there. A week after we pre-launched the business Yarn Yay the company, Cratejoy, called me and said that they were closing that arm of the business.

So I had to make a decision and I already had two hundred people signed up to potentially buy these Yarn Yay boxes. So I had to make a decision and it was the worst possible time. But going back to the Universe thing and being open, I never would have started my own business, that actually brought in any money on its own, without them. They had already built the site, they had already ordered product for the first couple of months. So I could either walk away, and some people in my position did walk away, or I could just learn how to do it myself.

So there was this sixty-day onboarding off boarding period where they were helping. There was a really stand up guy that was running that department, Mario Barrett. Still to this day if I'm stuck on something I can text him and ask him "how the hell do you do this?" because I knew nothing about the subscription business. I knew nothing about running a small business. Arguably I'm my own business. But I mean one where you actually have to monitor cash flow. So this business sort of overtook my life.

It's also been really successful. Most subscription boxes that are small don't last a year and we just celebrated our year anniversary. We had the biggest month we've ever had. So there's something there. But while I figure it out it has overtaken all of the time that would have been spent trying to fundraise for the show. I'm working on getting all of that settled. I have two women that are working with me on Yarn Yay now. Within the next few months hopefully, I can spend 50% instead of 90% of my work time on that particular business. Then I can get back to what I truly love which is DIY programing.

But as a side note and maybe this shouldn't even be a side note, what drives me for Yarn Yay is that for so many years I've been able to support other independent businesses verbally and by using my face. But now I can actually place cash money orders to small businesses and make an impact that way. My business model is to introduce small bits of products to a larger community and then encourage them to go and purchase larger bits from their local yarn stores or directly from the independent companies. For me, it's all a part of a bigger picture which is rising tide.

Sam: How do you decide what products go into your subscription boxes?

Vickie: It starts with the yarn and then I see what budget I have left. I try to also support another independent company that's not yarn-related as well. Maybe that means it's a Cocoknits accessory. Or maybe it means teaming up with a designer that's not in the knitting industry like Rachel Denbow of Smile and Wave to come up with some special shibori indigo dye kits that are just for us.

Also, I invite all of our vendors to come into our community boards that are a part of the Yarn Yay membership. We do live interviews where they can talk about their products and also any products that they have that they want to promote.

Sam: These sessions are included in the membership?

Vickie: Yes, as a member you get more than what's in the box every month. You get this whole community behind it. So you get access to our private Facebook group. On there I do video tutorials for the projects that I designed. We do the events that I was just referencing and during those events we also do giveaways. We also knit-a-long or crochet-a-long together. Any vendor from that month, who wants to, is given the opportunity to come in. Some are camera shy and they can just do a giveaway. I had the women from Loopy Mango in last month. They were showing all of the garments that could be made with more yardage of the big cotton that we used. But they are just special events that people can comment on in the comments section and get feedback on. It's just another bonus of being a part of the community.

Sam: That's really cool. You kind of mentioned this before, but what can you tell us about this new book that’s coming out in the fall?

Vickie: It is called The Knit Vibe, but the subtitle is a knitter's guide to creativity, community, and well-being for mind, body, and soul. For me, it started out as a love letter to the community. It really grew into what I've come to call The Knit Vibe. It's all of the “other”. All of what knitting can represent. There, of course, are patterns, beautiful designs, contributions, and go-to gifts. That goes without saying. But there's also a bunch of different interviews and essays from designers. There's a community section where I try to take a sampling of the breadth of our community and show that there isn't one single face of what a knitter is. There are a ton of stories of people who are using knitting as a vehicle for change and enrichment.

But the section that I'm most proud of is called the intention section. It's all of the ways that we use knitting...or that knitting uses us to feed ourselves spiritually, mentally, physically, and creatively. Whenever I do talks I draw a little diagram with three points and arrows that connect them. You can think of it like the recycling diagram. The three points are your knitting, physical health, and mental wellness. Because when you knit a lot you feel better mentally. But a lot of times your body doesn't feel better physically, because you're putting it through all that wear and tear. So you need to stop so that you can take care of your physical body so that you can start the whole process over again.

In this chapter we have yoga moves for stretching, exercises to keep your core strong and support your back, and a nutritionist that talks about what you can eat to promote bone and muscle health. Then we move over to a therapist that talks about the mindfulness of knitting and crochet. We have a knotting ritual for an antianxiety knitted rope that you can use that has an "all will be well" mantra that goes with it. We go a little woo-woo. We talk about crystals and astrology. Then we take it a step further and we talk about faith and more deity based spirituality.

I don't have a religion, but I'm fascinated by and interested in knowing how people use their faith to navigate their lives. Often you can use your fiber practice to relate to your spirituality. I met this rabbi out of New York who did her rabbinical thesis by translating part of the Torah using knitting. She gave her entire thesis to me. Each yarn and color represents a different element. She also talks about how in the Torah it goes into the direct link between creativity and the Divine.

I also interviewed an extraordinary devout Catholic. There’s a ritual called the eucharistic adoration ritual and during it, you use a rosary while you're repeating these prayers. Well, this particular woman uses her knitting instead. It's really about getting to the place mentally where you feel like you're in a meditative state.

Really it's all of the "other". I believe that the needles are the antenna and the yarn is the conduit for how we communicate and navigate our lives if you are a knitter or crocheter. By the way, I think that whatever tools that you choose to be creative with you could just sub that. I happen to use knitting or crochet. But you could sub in playing music, painting, writing, or whatever it is. It's just the lens that you see the world through and the conduit for how you communicate.

Sam: I'm so excited for this book!

Vickie: Aww, thank you! It comes out in October and it's up for preorder on Amazon now. But in October I'm going to be doing a little bit of touring for it.

"I made a conscious decision to work towards hustling less and flowing more"

Sam: With everything that you have going on how do you achieve a work/life balance?

Vickie: As I'm getting older I'm realizing that all of the pride that I took in hustling, which I think is really important when you're younger, was misplaced at this stage in my life. I was really just attracting more hustle. So I made a conscious decision to work towards hustling less and flowing more. What that means is saying "no" sometimes and delegating. Which has always been very hard for me. I've always had this work ethic where I believed that I could do everything on my own. So right now it's about being ok with saying "I want to work less and make more". Now am I there yet? I'm definitely not. The exchange of energy is not even yet. I'm still working so hard and so much. But I can feel the shift and I can feel what needs to happen. That's a long way of saying I haven't figured it out yet. But I think part of figuring it out is just being conscious that you want to be. That's where I am now. I'm in a place of being conscious of that desire.

Sam: Since this is Bobble Club House I always have to end with this question. What do you like to binge-watch or listen to while you craft?

Vickie: Oh my gosh, so many things! I don't know if you know this but I have a podcast called Craft-ish. For the last season, I had a whole segment on this subject. Of course like everybody else I've watched a bunch of stuff and I've listened to a bunch of stuff. I started Handmaid's Tale last night. I binge through a bunch of stuff. I'm listening to a book called The Orchid and the Dandelion. It's a book about the different types of personalities in children. I love Chambers on Netflix. I just finished Dead to Me with Christina Applegate who is so good. I really loved that. I listen to a lot of podcasts like Pop Culture Happy Hour. I listen to a lot of NPR podcasts, to be honest with you. I'm super into this woman whose name is Abby Jeanne. She mixes pop-rock and whatever Adele's music is called. She's kind of a hybrid. Basically, I consume a lot of programming.

Sam: As you should!

Big thanks to Vickie for taking the time out of her schedule to talk to me. I feel like I learned so much from speaking with her. Not only about her incredible journey, but also about how I approach my own crafting practice. I can't wait to get my hands on her new book this fall! You can follow her journey at @vickiehowell and @theknitshow.
.......... 


As always if you have suggestions for whom I should talk to next leave a note in the comments section. I’m always on the hunt for inspiring crafters. Also, don't forget to follow along on my Instagram account @bobbleclubhouse for your daily dose of all things knitted and to stay up to date on our upcoming NYC events. Until next week, happy crafting!

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