Lily Chin

Lily Chin above [photo by Jayne Wexler]

Lily Chin above [photo by Jayne Wexler]

Fashions from Lily's <a href="">Couture Crochet</a>, released this year by Interweave Press [photos by Joe Coca]

Fashions from Lily's Couture Crochet, released this year by Interweave Press [photos by Joe Coca]

Fashions from Lily's <a href="">Couture Crochet</a>, released this year by Interweave Press [photos by Joe Coca]

Fashions from Lily's Couture Crochet, released this year by Interweave Press [photos by Joe Coca]

Detail from one of Lily's afghans in Mosaic Magic, published by Leisure Arts

Detail from one of Lily's afghans in Mosaic Magic, published by Leisure Arts

Lily's designs featuring <a href="">her own line of yarns</a>

Lily's designs featuring her own line of yarns

Lily's designs featuring <a href="">her own line of yarns</a>

Lily's designs featuring her own line of yarns

Lily's designs featuring <a href="">her own line of yarns</a>

Lily's designs featuring her own line of yarns

"I always tell crocheters, don’t be fearful, what’s the worst that can happen?  If it doesn’t come out right, you can always rip.  Where else in your life, when you make mistakes, can you start over?  . . . When we were little children in kindergarten we were always given play time to develop.  Development shouldn’t stop because we’re adults.  Set aside some time to doodle with yarn."

I met Lily downtown at Manhattan Mini Storage, where she keeps her truly enormous stash as well as the many and diverse garments she’s made over the years. She was pulling a very large duffle bag on wheels. In it she packs, unpacks and repacks knitwear to bring along on her teaching trips. Later we moved to a chic Soho chocolate shop, and then ended at Lily’s cozy Greenwich Village apartment, where she lives with her husband, and which also serves as her workspace.

Lily shows me a hook and needle case which she crocheted with knitting hooks, to be shown on "Knitty Gritty."

DORA:  How did you do this with knitting needles?

LILY: Watch the show!  Treble  and single crochet you can do with knitting needles. You don’t have to touch a hook in order to do this.  Some people feel uncomfortable using a new tool. I decided to take that anxiety away by making something easier.  (As she’s searching through the vast numbers of bags and balls of yarn in the storage space she says) I’m looking for a particular color mohair.  Here it is, take one!

DORA: Oh gorgeous!   I love it!

LILY: It’s very reasonable, $7 for 153 yards of mohair wool blend.

DORA: How are the yarns doing?

LILY:  All yarns right now are somewhat depressed.   But we are coming out of a really crazy time, when they couldn’t keep enough yarns on the shelves.  These things are cyclical of course.  Now yarn sales have slowed.

DORA:  Funny, because now is when all the books are coming out.

LILY:  They're lagging behind a little.  There are lots of theories, for example, people now have accumulated large stash.  I do expect one more blip before it all goes away for another twelve years.   Julia Roberts’ Friday Night Knitting Club -- she was producing the movie but I’ve heard she’s four months pregnant, we’ll see what that’s going to do to production.  When it does come out, it will inject some spirit into the industry.  But let’s face it, things got out of hand. Yarn stores were popping up like weeds, everyone got on the bandwagon.  Many people didn’t do a business plan.  It’s  a hobby and a lot of people treat their business as a hobby.  That’s the crazy thing about these leisure arts, not just knitting and crochet.  Really good business people run successful shops, but they never have time to knit or crochet.  It’s about doing the books, keeping inventory, taking care of health care plans, restocking.

DORA:  Do you run into some of the same problems having your own yarn line?  Or do you have partners who help you?

LILY: I am a good business person but I’m only one person.  Nobody can do it alone.  Luckily, I have good distributors, good backing.  Well, a couple of them have turned out not to be so good, that’s the bane and scourge. When you rely on other people and when they fail you you have mud all over your face.  Unfortunately I have suffered from shipping issues and from pattern errors.  Oh my God!  We had three people editing those patterns but the coordinator sent the wrong file to my printer -- things like that!  I’ve never worked so hard in my life before.  Coupled with what’s going on in my personal life --  I’ve taken care of my mother for 8 years.  Imagine doing that and trying to keep up.

DORA:  Lily, some people know you lost in your mother in January and then your sister died completely unexpectedly soon after.  I’ve heard so many expressions of concern for you.  How are you doing?

LILY: I’m trying to keep as busy as possible so I don’t cry all the time.  It’s been hellish.  Sometimes I break down when I’m on the airplane, that’s when you’re able to think again about what life is really all about.  Work helps.

What I’m doing right now (as she move things in and out of her duffle bag)-- out with the old show, in with the new show.  I was in Florida two weeks ago and had to pack for classes there. I go through this almost every weekend.  I go away three weekends every month, and when I say weekend I mean leaving Thursday returning Monday.  I bring on board with me 125 pounds of garments.  This is my class right here.  I pride myself on having lots of things for people to touch/see/feel.  Every time I come in here I have to know what to put away and what to pack for the next class. I have a whole data base for that.  Right now I’m putting in California -- Stitches West.

DORA:  Tell me about your training.  You wanted to be in the design business that’s why you went to FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology), right?

LILY:  Not really.  I just grew up in it.   I did not get my degree at FIT, I got a liberal arts degree at Queens College. I managed to get credit for FIT classes at Queens College. When you have a liberal arts education you fall back on what you know.   I took the FIT courses for my own edification, because I loved it.  I was working in sweatshops starting at age 13.  My mom and sister were doing it.  That’s why I feel tremendous loss, because they are responsible for my career path.  They were the forelady and bookkeeper of the plant and I would go there during the summer and after school.  I learned everything from the ground up.

DORA:  We have some parallels.  I’m a first generation American like you.  My father worked for his own family in a factory that produced men’s sportswear.  Since it was my dad, I didn’t get firsthand exposure, like you did with your mom.  You were fortunate to have that.

LILY:  I’m finding more and more that teaching is where a lot of my passion lies.  In teaching you’re giving back something.  Yes, some people can make my patterns, but teaching is so mano a mano and I like that interaction.  I am very proud of my teaching skills.

DORA:  You should be. In the book too, everything is so clear.

LILY: That’s the teacher in me talking.  I’ve not always been a good teacher, when I first started out in 1989 I was so green and so insecure, I really had to learn to be a good teacher.

DORA:  We all do.  Especially when you know something and it comes easy to you, you have to learn to break it down into smaller steps for other people to get it.

LILY:  People think just because you’re a good designer you can pass the skill on. Communication is a different kind of skill.   A lot of people can’t verbalize what they do.  I’m probably as well known for my teaching now as my designing.  And I’m proud of the fact that I can convey what I do and am perpetuating the craft.

DORA:  When you got out of school, did you immediately start to work in the industry?

LILI:  I was waiting on tables.  Fancy restaurants in Soho.  Its a funny story.... While I was still in school, I had my first published designs in Women's Day in 1982.  I published designs to help pay for my tuition and books. Later, when I was waiting on tables I thought to myself, well, I’ve always done this, let’s see if I can’t get some more stuff published. All the magazines at that time were in New York.  The funny thing is, I was working in Soho, living in Little Italy, and Vogue Knitting was not that far away. I had met with them the previous week, showing them my stuff, and then who would come into my restaurant, seated at my section but the whole staff -- aaagh! (laughter)

DORA:  Oh my!  I did waitressing too for a while.

LILY:  Of course, it’s like that story:  “What do you do? Oh I’m an actor.  Oh what restaurant do you work at?”  Let’s face it, this is not a high paid business, like  investment banking.  You’re always going to be struggling.

DORA:  I’ve always wanted to write a piece about this for one of the magazines, the real life of a designer.  Maybe I’ll just write it for CI.

LILY:  You’d be doing everyone such a service --  demystifying things,  the notions that people have.  I see them when I do Designer Day for the Knitting Guild, people have stars in their eyes about what a career as a designer is. It’s a constant struggle really, I have to work one and half times harder than most people, and I’m one of the lucky ones who does make a living at it.

DORA: I’ve seen people get totally burned out.  I’m trying to figure out myself how to make more money at it.

LILY:  I started out as a chemistry major.  I thought I was going to be a chemist. I was good at math and science. Let’s face it, it’s the Asian genes.  But that’s not where my heart was.  It’s a big plus to have that mathematical ability.  If you don’t have that, another artistic medium, like music, is helpful.

DORA: Yes. because it’s all about elements, working with different elements and bringing them together to create a whole work.

LILY:  To know basics of design, color theory, composition, line.

DORA: Do you go to museums, study painting?

LILY:  Oh yes,  I studied art history too.

[We now enter the chocolateria and sit at a table to share some cookies and coffee.]

DORA:  You’ve not gone down the road of web sales

LILY:  You have to remember that I started out in the olden days when there was only publishing, no web.  I got my start very early, back in 1982.  I didn’t have the opportunity, keeping in print always kept me busy so I didn’t need to. Also I know what’s it like to edit, photograph and all the rest.  It’s better to dole it out, you only have so much time.  It would be too much effort.  I admire people who can do that.

DORA:  How did you start in publishing?

LILY:   I was already working with manufacturers, designing for them.  I would do the original pattern, and they would dole out the work to people in the outer boroughs and suburbs.  Caroline Amato --  she’s in Macy’s and Bloomingdales. She was paying $25 for an original hat pattern, the pattern and the actual hat. .  I decided one day, hey, I’ve been following these patterns in Women's Day forever, I can do the same thing, why don’t I try to sell it to them? What I was getting $25 for from a manufacturer, Women’s Day would pay me $150.

DORA: What were those first designs?

LILY: Accessories -- crocheted hat, crocheted scarf, crocheted belt, that sort of thing.

DORA: People were not making garments at that time?

LILY: I started with that because they were quick and easy, I could do it on my way to school, I had just started college.  I needed the money to pay my bills.  In 1988, I was still waiting on tables and I thought, let’s see if I can do this full time.  That first year, I didn’t make too much.  But you keep at it and you do it because you are passionate about it and you have no other marketable skills.

DORA: You have to be in it for the long haul.

LILY: Some people do it for mad money, they don’t have to make a living, they can use it as supplemental income.  If you want to make a living at it, you really have to take some flak.  I have my hands in several pies -- the books, the yarns, the teaching and I’m still designing for publication. Occasionally I work for Seventh Avenue, runway pieces.

DORA:  How did you get into the high fashion world?

LILY: I had been doing manufacturing in the 80s and word gets around. I have to stress that, your reputation -- you have to put your best foot forward every time, make sure the garment is exactly what they’re looking for, the garment comes in on spec, because otherwise your name becomes mud.  People talk.  When you do good, same thing.

DORA: Who was the first of the big names you worked with?

LILY: Isaac Mizrahi back in ‘95.

DORA: And when you work with people at this level, how does the concept evolve, part his, part yours?

LILY: He starts with a drawing, and he knows the mood he wants, what the piece should be about.  I have to develop the stitches that will match that vision and marry it to the shape.  The yarn choice -- that’s mostly him, he knows what it should like.  It might be stuff that’s like working with twine.  It’s not about how it feels but how it looks.  It’s a visual medium and when you see a piece walking down the runway, you’re not touching it. Isaac was a doll.  There are some SOBs in the industry you don’t want to work with, but he was a really nice guy.

DORA: Anyone else in that league you can tell about?

LILY: Diane von Furstenberg has been really nice to me.

DORA: Isn’t she someone who is not really trained as a designer?

LILY: Not trained as a pattern maker, but she has the eye.  You could call her a taste maker.  Vera Wang  -- I’ve never gotten to meet face to face, her other people handle that.

DORA: Is there a lot of back and forth?

LILY:  Oh yeah, you come in and they change this or that.  You often don’t get it in one shot.  Although I’ve gotten to the point  where I can be a one-shot wonder and get it the first time, if they give me everything they want at the beginning. Other changes they want to do subsequently they have to pay for dearly, it’s not like I can just take that middle section out.

DORA: Right, you can’t cut it like fabric.  Is it better pay than in publishing?

LILY:  I do get paid much better.  And I love not having to do the directions in five sizes.  But it’s only twice a year, when they do the fashion shows, and everyone wants their pieces at the same time.  So sometimes it’s impossible.  There have been times when I’ve been up three days straight.  You put your life on hold to get this done.  I don’t have children and I have a very loving and supportive husband, but I don’t know how other people would be able to manage that if they have others who depend on them.  I don’t know how many gray hairs it’s given me, but it’s very high pressure.  They need things in less than a week.  I’ve had deadlines of two days to do a whole dress.  And that’s where my speed comes in too.  That’s helped me in the industry too -- not only my know-how, my talent -- I was also willing to sacrifice sleep.

DORA:  Crochet is not really on the runway anymore.

LILY:  That’s right, It’s the cyclical thing. Though you may find the occasional crochet piece.  And also people don’t really know the difference between knit and crochet, they’re constantly confused in catalogues, as every knitter and crocheter knows.

DORA:  The things you see in Anthropologie -- who’s designing them?

LILY:  Sometimes it’s outsourced, some of that goes to China.  Many of the designers are Russian, many are Asian. But most of them are not publishing because there’s a language barrier.  They don’t have mastery of the English language, so we don’t have access to their brain and their work.  Of course they could write it out in stitch diagrams.

DORA:  But it’s part of their tradition, I think, people just look at a piece of crochet and copy it -- even if slightly flawed (both chuckling).

LILY:  I’ll tell you an interesting story about China.  There was a lot of pressure.  When you do the samples, if you make a mistake they would copy this mistake over and over.  I was doing a garment with fully fashioned bust darts in the Catherine Wheel Stitch , and I was worried -- are they are going to be able to duplicate this?  It came back flawless and I was floored!

DORA:  Amazing!  Have you gone over there to see how they do it?

LILY:  I’ve gone over several times but not into the factories.  But like you say, it’s in their tradition, they can do this complicated stuff.  The kind of thing you’d never see in publication because the directions would be fifty pages.  Short rows in a ripple stitch, you know.  I applaud that.

DORA:  I fantasize about going over there and taking photos of factories.

LILY:  Unfortunately you may run into things that aren’t so pleasant.  And they might not be factories, they might just be people’s homes.

DORA:  I found this beautiful Chinese website, stunning sexy fashions, not tawdry at all.  What led you to doing this book, why did you want to do it?

LILY:  I wanted to show that any person can do this.  I felt that all my training and experience could be distilled so that the average home crocheter can take from it , and I wanted to show the secrets I have learned along the way,how to make crochet garments more easily and palatable to others.  And I think I’m one of the few people on earth who can give you that type of a background.  Even though I know a lot of people might do what I do, it’s the verbalization, the communication.  I really feel like I want to see people in better-fitting crochet garments.  I want to dispel those notions about crochet we hear over and over,  the ugly stepsister to knitting.  I defy anybody to say you can’t crochet decent garments.  When people say -- that’s crochet? I can’t believe that’s crochet.  You just want to hit them!

DORA:  It’s amazing to me that it still has to be defended.  There’s so much beautiful crochet fashion out there now -- with Interweave Crochet and what Carol Alexander is doing these days in Crochet! magazine. Crochet garments, Irish Crochet for example, it’s the most stunning thing you’ve ever seen!

LILY:  But it’s not out there. You know as well as I do, thinner is better, the finer your yarn, the better looking your crochet.   Let’s face it,  if  you’re publishing and you have three weeks to make something, you have to do it fast.  So a lot of the things that are published do not use finer yarn.  Not only that, but worsted weight has been the standard for afghans, and for many people, it’s the only thing they want to work with.  It’s perfectly fine for certain things but . . . you see what I’m saying?

DORA:  How do you get drape with a worsted weight?

LILY:  Read the book, it’s all in the book!  It’s also part of my class on designing better crocheted garments which I taught at CGOA last year.  I’ve taught it in years past as well. Of course you go up a hook size, there are  certain stitches that are better suited:  single crochet is not very drapy.  There are many ways to infuse drape in worsted.  And not all worsteds are created equal. Some are slinky rayons, and others are stiff as wire. The content, the way the yarn is constructed -- that’s all in the book.

DORA:  I notice there are very classic garments in the book, and I assume that was your intention.

LILY:  Well you’re not going to find trendy things that will only be good for half a season.  That because we put our hard work, guts and blood, sweat and tears in it and we want it to last.  That’s not to say things aren’t fashionable.

DORA:  Oh I agree.  I think it’s a very wise choice.  That’s a great balance to strike.

LILY:  I was tired of seeing all those flashy bikinis and halter tops.

DORA:  How many people can actually wear that stuff anyway!

LILY:  I’m also very proud of the fact that I write it up to at least five or six sizes.  My sizes go up to 56 or 58. From teaching across the country at least 3 times a month,  I know what the average American woman looks like.  And I’ve fitted the super models.  They’re really skeletal, very scary.  I know the broad range and have seen the whole gamut.  I didn’t want to go that trendy route -- Hoochie Mama kind of thing.  I’ve done the string bikini for Sports Illustrated, didn’t need to go there again.

DORA:  How was your experience with Interweave, were they on board with your concept from the outset?

LILY:  I will say one thing about Interweave, actually a few things.   First of all they are a dream to work with.  This is my second book with them and I’m sure it  it won’t be my last.  They have supported me every step of the way.  But  I’m easy to get along with, I’m not a diva. However, they do have to give me a color palette.  Their book designer has to make sure everything goes together and looks cohesive.  They don’t want any jarring colors together.  If you look at the book you’ll see there’s a real flow to it in terms of color, the blues into the earth tones into the pastels.   Some people have criticized my colors, but quite frankly they’re not my colors, they're the book designer’s colors.

DORA:  You would have done it differently?

LILY:  Me personally, my color palette is much stronger, more bright vivid colors.  They wanted a more sophisticated look, more subdued.  You have to remember there are many people constructing a book, one of them being the art director. I had to stick to their palette. She gave me these little color chips and I had to find yarns to match those color chips.

DORA:   There’s still this rap you hear from publishers -- crocheters aren’t interested in fashion.  There seems so much pressure to mainstream and dumb down, and I’m glad that Interweave doesn’t buy into that.

LILY: That’s the beauty of working with them.  They’ve been in crafts for a long time.  It’s not like the new kids or the Johnny-come-lately’s on the block who jump on the bandwagon because it’s the trendy thing to do.  Those who are new to the field are the ones doing that dumbed down kind of thing.  But when you have the reputation, like Interweave, that this is your niche, that’s one of the reasons I’ve worked with Interweave, because they’re willing to go that extra mile.

DORA:  And their audience is more sophisticated too.

LILY:  It’s the hard core audience, not the here today gone tomorrow folks.  You have to also remember that they put out books that have shelf life.  Their books don’t go out of print.  They let very few titles go.  They’re in it for the long run and so they try to put things out that will be relevant in ten or twenty years.

DORA:  When you conceive your designs, where does the idea start.

LILY:  From everything!  Take a look at the pretzel in the box.  That’s a shape I can use for a neckline, see that?  Even the branches over there, that would be a nice cobwebby fabric to make.  It’s all out there, you just have to be able to find it, see in a different way maybe.  Of course I’m always inspired by fashion, I’ll see a coat that’s not done in crochet, but I’ll translate the silhouette.  I am very fashion-oriented, I read Vogue and all that.  The yarns will always speak to me.  You’re always inspired by yarn so you always have to get more, right?  And the yarn will tell you what it wants to be.

DORA:  When you start with a new yarn, you swatch it in different stitches?

LILY:  Absolutely.  Or sometimes I look at a yarn and think, hey, that will look really nice with this particular stitch.  Or it might be the other way around, I might start with a stitch dictionary and think, let me find the yarn that will work with this stitch.  Inspiration is the easy part, it’s application that’s the challenge.  I do a whole inspiration talk open to big audiences, up to 200 people.  I give them a piece of inspiration and they tell how to translate it.

DORA:  Fantastic!  What led you to develop your own line of yarn?

LILY:  When you think of who has the designer brands of yarn, they come from Denmark, Australia, the UK, Ireland, and I noted there were no Americans with their name on the label.  I thought, why is that, because we have fine American designers.  I’ve always thought American designers are grossly under appreciated.  We have to do something about this.  I will set the trend and others will follow.  And you will see others doing this and gain more appreciation of the American designers.

DORA:  Are the yarns sold internationally?

LILY:  Yes, though not too many other countries.  It’s also a matter of control.  Things started to get a little crazy in the high end market with, I kid you not, eighty-nine dollar skeins of yarn. And I thought, c'mon,  where’s the middle ground?  I wanted to make things moderate again.  My yarns retail at from six to eight dollars a skein, which, for the LYS, is a range that is sorely lacking.  I didn’t want to do a craft yarn, because I wanted it to have a lasting quality.  But I’m not such a snob, I do have acrylics mixed in my yarn line, and acrylic is not a bad thing.  It can make things washable, make them lighter weight -- the blend is the key.

DORA:  That’s a whole other kind of expertise, isn’t it?

LILY:  I have the experience.  I don’t know how to spin, but I know how it’s done.  I know the techniques of spinning and what goes into a yarn.  I was showing a class and was amazed, people don’t know how to look for quality in a yarn.  If you run your finger up and down to see how well it abrades, sometimes it sheds on you right away!  I tested over three hundred types of yarns, made swatches out of each of them, put them in my pocket, stomped on them, washed them and dried them.  I want to give value and quality.  I hate to say this, because some of the yummiest things on earth -- cashmere, you know it’s going to pill.  It has to because it’s a short staple fiber, but people put up with it because it feels so nice. There are some cashmeres that are better quality than others depending how they're spun.  It’s smoke and mirrors sometimes, people are taken in by the color and feel and they forget there’s a whole lot more going on.

DORA:  When you design the yarns, did you dictate all these elements:  I want this content, spun this way.

LILY: Yes, I have a merino, merino is like cashmere, short staple fiber and it will pill. But you spin it tight and it is pill resistant, not pill free. Do a tighter spin and make it smaller plies.  More plies make more drape.  I’ve been to several mills, I visited them.  In the past, out of curiosity.  One should always seek things out, just for your own edification, knowledge is power.  I was always a curious person, the kid who pulled apart the toaster oven, gee how does this work?  The more knowledge you garner the more find it comes in handy.

DORA:  How many yarns did you launch with?

LILY:  In the summer of 2005 I started with six yarns and in the spring I added another five, and then the next summer another two, so there are thirteen yarns in the line.  You can visit at  Everything’s up there, the yarns, patterns and colors.  It was a labor of love.  The financial return is not as great as people think.  But that’s the story of our industry, I hate to say.  In every aspect of the industry.

DORA:  Do you think designer’s are underpaid?

LILY:  Grossly, are you kidding?

DORA:  Is there anything we can do about it?

LILY:  It’s the nature of the business.  I knew full well going into it that it was never going to be a high paying industry.  It’s just a fact of life.

DORA: It seems to me maybe a lost cause.  In the case of musicians, they’ve banded together and their lives have gotten better.

LILY:  It’s what the market will bear.

DORA:  I don’t know, is it cheap to put out these magazines?  They have a staff, everyone is making a living except the designers.

LILY:  As long as you have people willing to do it for nothing or very little.

DORA:  Are they the best people?

LILY:  Some people don’t care.  You have tons of stuff on the web for free. And now I’m going to get into some feminist politics. Banding together in a sisterhood --  that’s not always the case.  It’s a women’s industry and a home craft,  so there will always be people with the attitude, hey it’s OK, I just want to share.  I don’t need the money, my husband supports me and I can take only a hundred dollars for that design.

DORA:  My generation, we fought all those battles.  We need to educate those women, in a kind way.  We are worth more.

LILY:  Trust me I’ve tried, mano a mano, going up to people, but they still come up with the excuses. -- “Oh, I just can’t do it. “ The best thing I can do is to set myself up at an example.  If I can’t be a shining example, I should stand as a warning (hearty laughter all around).

DORA:  A little bit of both maybe.  I’m sure you’re commanding better fees than most of us, and on the other hand you’re killing yourself to make a living.

LILY:  In a similar vein, just as I would hope to set an example for people to value themselves and get to a certain point, you have people cutting down each other.

DORA:  I haven’t seen much of that, it’s such a sharing caring community.

LILY:  Unfortunately I have seen too much of it.  Not just against myself but others too.  Like in the case of Martha Stewart or Rachel Ray. The minute a woman stands out, people want to cut her down.  Why do they cut Martha Stewart down and let Kenneth Lay go?  It’s a feeling that women should not be too aggressive, ambitious, so much at the forefront.

DORA:  Do you think this younger generation is different?

LILY:  I am hoping it will be different soon and we are making some inroads.

DORA:  The college age girls I teach, these young women are born into a world where they see women in power, and they’re more comfortable with the idea of having a career.  But in terms of sexual identity -- they are so much defined as sexual objects, and I think that eats away self-esteem in an insidious way.  I thought my generation had fought and won that battle, but it’s back again with a vengeance.

LILY:  I know, it’s that reptilian brain thing.  It’s really disgusting.

[Lily and I are now walking north on Varick Street.]

LILY:  Would you like to see my work environment ? You have to promise not to scream-- it was clean once, when I moved in.  I live there with my husband, an architecture critic.  He’s  a writer, between the two of us we’re the privileged poor.  We live beyond our means through other people’s money.  We both get paid to travel all over, we accumulate mileage for our vacations.  We get to go to functions, like the reopening of MOMA.  Here I am -- look there’s Spike Lee! Oh, I’m talking to John Waters!

DORA:  I got some of that when I was touring with Philip Glass - I did that for ten years.

LILY:  Oh get out!  I adore Philip Glass.  He’s one of my favorites! Did you do Koyanisqaatsi?

DORA:  Oh yeah we toured that for years, I sang one vocal part and played the rest on keyboards.

[Lily starts singing from that Glass piece (she has a lovely soprano), and I harmonize with her as we are walking down the street -- a moment to remember and I’ve got it on tape!]

LILY:  I am enthralled!

DORA:  But Glass isn’t the nicest guy.  He’s a serious Buddhist, but still very self-centered, like most big names in the music business.  Narcissistic - single minded, that’s how they get to where they are.  Steve Reich too.

LILY:  Maybe they feel they put in so many dues that it’s their due?

DORA:  Oh I don’t know, haven’t we all put in dues?

LILY:  Who’s the nicest?

DORA:  There are some really great people too.  John Adams, the other minimalist, he’s a wonderful man, very supportive. The young composers who are the best hustlers are the ones who get their names out there.  They are flattering the right people, showing up at the right events -- that’s the music business.

LILY:  I hate to say it, but that carries over into other areas to a certain extent.  There are people with fabulous reputations -- Deborah Newton, Nora Gaughan, they’re relatively quiet. I have to say that I have played the personality card very often.  If I’m meeting with an editor I try to make myself memorable in some way. One of the first things I did, at Women’s Day, and they are talking about it to this day, was on 1981, when I went to them with my collection of G-strings. To make yourself known, it’s part of that, don’t you think?

DORA:  If we’re serious about having a career, you have to get your profile out there, not just your work. That’s why so many people have a blog, and that’s one of the reasons I do CI.

LILY:  Exactly.  Let’s face it, we live in a celebrity society.  It doesn’t hurt to have that little bit of outspokenness. Of course you have to have something to back it up, if you’re all talk, that doesn’t cut it.

DORA: Absolutely!  But I find some women don’t have the confidence.

LILY:  How do you build confidence?  That’s a good question.  You have to start out small.  You have to learn how to deal with rejection.  You have to know what you’re doing and love it to death.

[We enter Lily’s apartment -- there is nothing to scream about, it’s quite orderly in fact and has a lovely view out back.]

LILY: I have six knitting machines. It’s a great adjunct, you can knit the sleeves or the body and crochet the borders or the front.   I use this when I’m designing for manufacturers, because it has to work on the industrial knitting machines.

DORA:  You generally do the fashion industry shows twice a year?

LILY:  I didn’t do it this year because of my mom and sister. . . I can pick and choose to a degree.  I stay away from certain tasks, like fine thread work is not my thing.

Here are some pieces from the book.  I adore this -- top down seamless, fully fashioned darts.  C hook, four-ply.  This yarn I created specifically for crochet, Chelsea yarn, I use it in three of the projects.  It’s a sport weight yarn, one third merino, one third cotton and one third acrylic,  wool for warmth, cotton for cool and acrylic so you can throw it in the washer.  It’s seasonless, because of its content and it’s easy care.  Six dollars gets you a 191 yards.

DORA:  Great value.  So your considerations for making it ideal for crochet, were the weight, the fiber content and affordability.

LILY:  Yes, because crochet requires more yarn.  Sock yarn is great for crochet.  They are pretty and they’re great weights for crochet.  Chelsea, has great stitch definition. I like a good high twist because it will wear well, and it doesn’t split either. This Chanel jacket, the yarn is very drapy, it’s made with a F or G hook. This meiko -- Nolita, a K hook, considered a bulky but because it has poly/rayon component, it drapes very well. The sleeve is an indented square.

DORA:  With all your years in the industry, where do you see it going?

LILY:  You might see another little blip upward, and then it will remain semi-dormant for a few years.  You will still have a certain hard core. Knitting and crocheting will never go away because you will have people devoted to it -- the cult following, but not necessarily the mass following. Which may not be such a bad thing, because in those slower periods, that’s when you might see some real innovation.

DORA:  Will we be able to sustain the number of magazines?

LILY:  We’ve already had the demise of three crochet magazines, but  some of the knitting magazines will pick up the slack.  Vogue Knitting had some crochet patterns in there, also Knit 1, Interweave Crochet is expanding.  I ask this of crocheters -- this might cause some controversy.  Crocheters have the reputation of being a little cheap.  They go through yarn faster because crochet is faster, and it takes more yarn. I am a proponent of quality not quantity.  Rather than making three sweaters, make one that is really special.  In order to see real growth in the industry you have to put your money where your mouth is, don’t complain about yarn stores closing, go shop there.  And it’s not just personal shopping, it’s your duty to make converts.  Get others into the fold and increase the numbers.  Buy the magazines that already exist, get others interested in them.  It’s a grassroots approach -- supply the need and others will follow, it’s simple economics.

DORA: Do you think crochet has become a fashion statement, or is it still going to remain mostly an outlet for afghans?

LILY:  The latter, but one of the goals of the book is to show, you can do this.  Those of you who are afghan makers for life and are fearful, I’m taking the fear factor and the mystery out,.  Any woman of any size, and guys too for that matter, no matter what their proportions, can make something that is elegant and fitting in crochet.

DORA:  And it’s not that hard.

LILY: I always tell crocheters, don’t be fearful, what’s the worst that can happen?  If it doesn’t come out right, you can always rip.  Where else in your life, when you make mistakes, can you start over?  I wish I could rip out my ex, c’mon!  A lot of people fear it’s a waste of time, but it’s not, it’s an education. People are often too goal-oriented -- I’ve got to finish that sweater, they don’t give themselves play time.  When we were little children in kindergarten we were always given play time to develop.  Development shouldn’t stop because we’re adults.  Set aside some time to doodle with yarn.

DORA:  Do you do that?

LILY:  I doodle with swatches all the time.  It’s not just the fear factor, it’s also body image.  When you know the average American woman is 5’ 2 1/2 and weighs 150 pounds, they have a problem making something for themselves, their afraid it won’t look good on them.  I’d like those people to start celebrating -- when you have someone like Oprah or Rosie, you have more women of a certain size more visible, they’re celebrating, big is beautiful.  If you dress well, you can look great.

DORA:  Look at Jessye Norman! She is larger than life but she owns it.

LILY:  The way she carried herself, the attitude.  And her clothes fit nicely.

DORA:  Do you think the DIY thing can be part of upgrading women’s self-esteem?

LILY:  I’d like to think so.  Creation is very powerful.  When you’re creating it’s like having children.  The things you make are still there when you’re long gone.  Gosh, I’ve thought about the mortality thing quite a lot.  Like Sondheim says in “Sunday in the Park with George,” art and children that’s what we have to leave behind when we’re long gone.  A little piece of ourselves.

DORA:  Also the education, sharing it with the next generation.  Someone has to remind our society that there are nobler things to do in life than strive for more money.  That’s why I love teaching singing, just to show the younger generation that there was a Mozart, there was a Schubert. Humanity can aspire to great things.

LILY:  You don’t have to strive for art with a capital A.  Anything you do that’s creative, whether it’s a toilet paper cover or potholder, you put in a little piece of yourself.  That’s considered folk art. As for  selling out -- you can find a balance between art and commerce.

DORA: I don’t think people realize what a sacrifice one has to make to be an artist.

LILY:  We all could have taken the easy way.  I could have been working in Calvin Klein’s offices doing little sketches, the specs.  But that would be following somebody else’s vision, and that’s why I’ve stayed independent.  It would be comfy and cushy to have that regular  paycheck.  When I do the runway stuff, I don’t get credit or recognition, but it does pay the bills, and it’s a marvelous look into that world.  The stuff in my book, that’s pure me.  It’s influenced by many other things, I might have culled something from a dress I did for Vera Wang, but primarily it’s my inspiration. We all find our level of comfort in that struggle between art and commerce.

DORA: It’s a good struggle, because we learn about ourselves.

LILY:  You have to figure out what works for yourself.  You can ask a lot of questions about how different people do it.  But you have to find what works for yourself.


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Lily Chin's "gauge, gauge, gauge"

Truer words were never spoken, dear Lily!!!

Thank you for writing that to me . . . when you were here at the knitting guild meeting.

My recent entrelac shows that my gauge was exact!!  Yea!!!  Then I smiled and remembered you!