"The people we want to influence most are the yarn shop owners ...We want them to be just as open to crochet as to knitting, and to use crochet when itâ€™s best to use crochet. I think itâ€™s better to unite than to divide. I could see higher-end boutiques opening all over the country. Why not ride the trend, like knitting, and have crochet shops with fine yarns and fine gauges?"
DORA: Iâ€™m so glad we could make this work, I know you must be incredibly busy. Can we start with you telling me about your job?
MARGERY: Iâ€™m the Creative Director at Berroco. Iâ€™ve been here for about nine years. Itâ€™s the longest Iâ€™ve worked for any company. I direct all creative aspects of the design team, which consists of Norah Gaughan (design director),Taro Masuda (art director), Brenda York (instruction writer) and me. The design team develops and promotes through our website, www.berroco.com, our printed pattern collection, editorial features and advertising, a collection of yarns each season. A big part of the design teamâ€™s job is keeping our website up to date and creating the KnitBits Â® Newsletter thatâ€™s issued every week.
DORA: It sounds like a very demanding position. Do you have a target number of new yarns for each season?
MARGERY: No, it depends on the market, whatâ€™s doing well in our collection and what needs to be added or discontinued. The market and the trends, we try to keep a few steps ahead on that.
DORA: How do you do that?
MARGERY: Thereâ€™s a team involved in it. Part of it is logical business, and the bottom line is profit-making. Part of it is intuitive and creative. So itâ€™s a combination of people with very strong right brain and very strong left brain skills coming together in meetings. The design team meets weekly with Berroco's owners, Caroline and Warren Wheelock. We argue things out and follow through with decisions that are agreed upon for the good of the company and then action steps are taken. Our company is highly organized and schedules and tasks are outlined and constantly updated on Excel spread sheets.
DORA: It seemed when I got into this field, about three years ago, there was an emphasis on novelty yarns.
MARGERY: Yes, you got into it at the height of fancy yarns. That trend was driven by new knitters who wanted easy projects and were interested in churning out uber-fancy scarves. They learned to knit, but were not interested in anything further, not even purling, imagine!!! Many of them bought yarn at craft chains where they were anonymous yarn consumers who never connected to knitting on the same level as the yarn shop customer did.
DORA: Whatâ€™s happened since then?
MARGERY: The real knitters have gone back to their local yarn shops. It has gone full circle except there are a lot of new knitters on board and a lot of young people interested in the craft of hand knitting and making special things for themselves.
DORA: How has that affected your yarn choices at Berroco?
MARGERY: We have a lot of classic cotton and woolen yarns. We have expanded our classic ranges so that they are now the focal point of our collection. These yarns are spun to show ones needlework skills, evenness of tension and refined pattern stitch quality., really fine, well-rounded woolen yarns and sophisticated spun merino and alpaca blends that show stitch detail beautifully. Ultraâ„¢ Alpaca, Pureâ„¢ Merino are examples of some classic additions to our yarn range.
DORA: What do you think has been chiefly responsible for the change in attitude?
MARGERY: Theyâ€™ve had enough of fancy scarves. ltâ€™s like overdosing on too much desert, they donâ€™t need it and canâ€™t work it into their wardrobes.
DORA: My cousin who I saw this last holiday, thatâ€™s exactly her story, she had done lots of fancy scarves and now says â€œI have nothing to knit.â€ Iâ€™m trying to nudge her into new directions.
MARGERY: Some of our new knitters have decided they really love the process of knitting. They love the craft and have begun to collect books, build their skills and get much more sophisticated. Now we have some new people much more interested in pattern stitches and garment-making. We have more of them than we had before the fashion scarf craze.
DORA: So it ended up being a very positive thing for the industry. Can you tell me something about your background and training, and how you got where you are?
MARGERY: I graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design with a B.F.A. in Painting and an M.A. in Art Education. Then I went into the apparel industry and worked for India Imports of Rhode Island in the design department. I became the fashion coordinator for a retail and wholesale catalogue of the garments we designed and manufactured. This was back in the late seventies, a big time for Indian clothing. Iâ€™ve always made my own clothes, itâ€™s always been part of my creative life. I started knitting and crocheting when I was four.
DORA: What happened after India Imports?
MARGERY: While there I started designing freelance for some yarn companies like Reynolds, Bernat and Berroco. I had a photography styling background, and I did that freelance for some of these companies. The work that I did with Eleanor Bernat got me going in this industry, because I was styling her photo shoots and also designing some garments for them. Eleanor Bernat was the Creative Director for Bernat.
DORA: Iâ€™ve seen some of the older books from Bernat -- amazing stuff in there!
MARGERY: Yes, amazing.
DORA: Bernat was eaten up?
MARGERY: Yes, by Spinrite.
DORA: Is Eleanor still around? Is she an older lady?
MARGERY: Yes, she is around and in fact I need to call her. Weâ€™re all older ladies! Sheâ€™s a very dynamic person.
DORA: I'd love to meet her! What about colors for yarns, how do you choose?
MARGERY: We go to a market in in Florence twice a year and see fashion forecasts. We have other sources that we glean forecast information from, and we know our consumer. Our consumer who goes to a yarn shop is not a fashionista, generally, so we have to modify our thoughts. Itâ€™s a committee decision, usually, on what colors to go with, based on whatâ€™s sold well in the past. There are arguments and its interesting, because the fashion forward feelings that I have are often stifled by looking backward over what has sold before. You have to make compromises sometimes, and you may not have the colors that you need, but we try. When we feel really strongly about a color that might not have been selling well previously, we have to fight the good fight to get it in. Then it either fails or succeeds, so itâ€™s an ongoing process.
DORA: Thatâ€™s what youâ€™re there for, right, to make those decisions, and sometimes you have to take risks.
MARGERY: Right. We know at holiday times, black yarns and red yarns sell like crazy, so you canâ€™t have enough of that in stock, thatâ€™s a given. Then for fall you always go to autumn colors, specifically darker and deeper. The richer the color is in fall, the more itâ€™s attractive to a New England customer. If you take the same color cross country to California or Florida and look at it in that light and climate , it doesnâ€™t make the same sense. Likewise, the warm golden glow of Florence Italy influences my color sense whiles shopping for inspiration there. Iâ€™ve found itâ€™s really much more complex then simply whatâ€™s forecast in fashion magazines, thereâ€™s much more to be considered when we do a color line. The best thing is when we do a new yarn and we have the freedom to do fifty colors, then we can cover all our bases. If we do a line that only has fourteen colors, I always feel weâ€™re missing certain colors in my painterâ€™s palette.
DORA: In that case, do you try to come up with a few for each region?
MARGERY: Right now the strongest market is New England so we are focused on that. Wooly yarns and feltable yarns are very fashionable, and in fact the perimeter of the country is strong. Itâ€™s always been the strongest market. Back in the 80s the territories like Florida and Southern California werenâ€™t knitting anything until the fancy yarns came along, because they didnâ€™t want wool.
DORA: Iâ€™ve seen newsletter items about your trips to Italy and Iâ€™m always very envious!
MARGERY: Itâ€™s great to go to Italy. Part of the inspiration comes from Pitti Filati, which is a trade show, but most of my inspiration comes from the streets and the stores and the people of Italy. Also the tourists and how they dress. You try to spot whatâ€™s coming next.
DORA: Of course as a crocheter, I am curious about your thoughts on where crochet fits into the industry. I see more of it on your website and thatâ€™s great.
MARGERY: Iâ€™m a crocheter too, in that I will use it to finish my knitted garments. I can make anything with my hook but my poor instruction writer has to figure out what I did. I never understand how people can read crochet patterns, I never have.
DORA: Well, writing them is worse, let me tell you. You canâ€™t often say â€œwork until the piece measures 17 inches.â€
MARGERY: No, youâ€™re working in a whole other dimension.
DORA: How do you see it in terms of what you do at Berroco. Are you getting more business from crocheters?
MARGERY: We donâ€™t know, but we are getting a lot of response to our website from crocheters and a lot of response to KnitBits Â®. We canâ€™t follow through to find out if they are actually using our yarns to make the free patterns we post on line. But they are very interested and very vocal and we get a lot of feedback from crocheters. Thereâ€™s a schism between the knitters and the crocheters, the knitter who just doesnâ€™t want to see crochet, the crocheter who doesnâ€™t want to see knit, and Iâ€™m stuck in between. I have up on my dress form in my design room a knitted jacket that needs about 3 hours of crochet to finish it. Thatâ€™s the technique it needs, and I could compromise and do it all in knitting, but it wouldnâ€™t be what it needs to be. I think if you open your mind to letting crochet do what it does best and letting knitting do what it does best, every crocheter could learn to knit. Itâ€™s a simple thing, four year-olds learn to knit.
DORA: I know for myself I always want to learn, but itâ€™s the time.
MARGERY: Once you have both you really have a tool chest. Supposing your crochet fabric is too stiff and you want it to drape or bias, you want it to do something you canâ€™t get it to do, you have a million other choices if your a knitter.
DORA: I wouldnâ€™t argue with that. On the other hand, as a crocheter, I feel there always a way to make it drape. Part of the challenge in crochet is doing things that people say canâ€™t be done well in crochet. And thereâ€™s been a lot of creativity associated with that.
MARGERY: I can tell you from my experience as fashion director of McCalls Needlework and Crafts Magazine, we had more crochet readers than knitters there, and a large proportion of our editorial was geared to crocheters. We would always translate Aran sweater into crochet and to lift them off the table -- they were very very heavy! How many people want to add that volume to their figure? I understand that itâ€™s really fun to create look alike Aran stitches in crochet and make it look to a certain extent like knitting, but why not open your mind and allow it to be a knitted garment?
DORA: An interesting schism. Is it getting resolved, are people crossing over?
MARGERY: Norah and I are knitters and weâ€™ve learned to crochet. One hundred percent of our design staff is both knitter and crocheter. Thatâ€™s good enough for me, because thatâ€™s what influences the collection we put out.
DORA: Do you think the interest in crochet will be around for a while?
MARGERY: Yes I do.
DORA: Do you think the choice of one skill over the other has a socioeconomic background?
MARGERY: Not right now. At one time, when people were crocheting afghans to selling them at church bazaars, most of the yarns purchased were inexpensive acrylic worsted weight yarn from five and dime stores. That was a socioeconomic decision. But now I understand that there are crocheters who go into yarn shops looking for a higher end product because they want to make fashion items.
The people we want to influence are the yarn shop owners, because we want them to get on board with crochet. We want them to be just as open to crochet as to knitting, and to use crochet when itâ€™s best to use crochet. I think itâ€™s better to unite than to divide. I could see higher end boutiques opening all over the country. Why not make it a big movement like knitting and have a crochet shop with fine yarns and fine gauges.
DORA: Absolutely! What would go on your list of things that work great in crochet.
MARGERY: Lots of things. I love crochet garments. If you want something lacy in a garment, crochet is beautiful, or if you want lace trim on your garment. If you want to make a hat with some stiffness, crochet is fabulous. If you want a bag and want to build it up as if it were a pot, Iâ€™d go for my crochet hook, not my knitting needles.
DORA: One thing I find a little frustrating as someone who does work in crochet is the lack of thinner yarns. Thatâ€™s the secret to better drape in crochet garments.
MARGERY: I find that as a knitter too, Iâ€™m frustrated with the lack of finer yarns, as is Norah. We love the finer gauge, sport and fingering . Itâ€™s hard to find it because the market isnâ€™t asking for it. We could give it to you if people would buy it.
DORA: When you try it doesnâ€™t work?
MARGERY: We wouldnâ€™t try a finer gauge yarn. We are driven by what the shops are asking for. Thatâ€™s why I say, if there were more shop owners who crocheted . . . We have some finer yarns in our Lang collection, thatâ€™s a Swiss company we distribute. Right now we are able to do a lot with crochet using the yarns we have in our collection.
We sell Clover needles and in the Clover kit we sell thereâ€™s an ergonomic crochet hook with a rubberized handle. We donâ€™t have a finer needle in that set, which indicates that the whole industry is expecting the crocheter to want larger yarns. Why else would they make a crochet needle set with those hook sizes?
DORA: I love your idea about how we should get together to create the crochet shop.
MARGERY: If the yarn shop owner knew how to crochet and had beautiful stuff hanging in the shop, the customer would want to learn . Theyâ€™d have to teach it. There are a lot of knitting classes but I donâ€™t know how many crochet classes there are.
DORA: Well the yarn store in my neighborhood is changing, they are adding more crochet classes. When it first opened there was very little in the way of crochet books, but with all the new ones coming out, they are carrying much more.
MARGERY: I think thereâ€™s lots of room for growth there. As long as the crocheter keeps in mind whatâ€™s best to do in crochet, and also to embrace knitting too. I just donâ€™t think it should be divided.
DORA: It will be interesting to see how this develops. I want to ask you about the different markets, the LYS (local yarn store) vs. the chain store. Iâ€™ve heard that the yarn companies that sell to the LYS tend to be smaller because that market is smaller. Do you see it that way?
MARGERY: The chain store market is shrinking and I donâ€™t think the boutique yarn shop is shrinking at the same rate. In the chain stores, the real estate is so expensive that they canâ€™t afford to devote an aisle to something that isnâ€™t moving. The yarn shop is the yarn shop and it will always be there, but the larger stores are in touch with what people want when they go into that store, and itâ€™s not yarn right now.
DORA: How large a company is Berroco, in terms of the number of employees?
MARGERY: We have forty-one, which includes both in-house staff as well as outside sales representatives.
DORA: You and Nora do a lot of the designing, but do you work with other designers as well?
DORA: Itâ€™s just you two? Wow, thatâ€™s a lot of work.
MARGERY: Yes. We have an image weâ€™re creating together. Often times the person at a yarn company whoâ€™s in charge of putting their collection together isnâ€™t a designer or stylist, they might not have those skills, but we both have the background and the skills to do that job. We use many knitters because we canâ€™t possibly knit all those garments, but designing them and knitting them are separate issues.
DORA: Are you planning to increase the number of crochet patterns on the web?
MARGERY: Yes, we are. Every time we do something in a knit, we get requests for it in crochet, so often times we find ourselves discussing how to do that in our weekly KnitBits meeting. Sometimes we argue that it wonâ€™t work in crochet and sometimes we can win our argument.
Keep in mind itâ€™s called Knitbits. When I was editor of Vogue Knitting and we had one crochet item in there weâ€™d hear from all the knitters that they absolutely want only knitting in this magazine since they are paying $3 for it, no crochet. Itâ€™s like saying I donâ€™t want any buttons, only zippers. I only want knives, no forks. It makes you wonder what they are talking about.
DORA: Especially on the web, they arenâ€™t paying for it! Youâ€™re also selling patterns, right? Is that a big chunk of your sales?
MARGERY: No, we do patterns to sell the yarn, we donâ€™t produce patterns for revenue.
DORA: How do you feel about the internet and its influence on the industry.
MARGERY: I have mixed feelings about it, but itâ€™s here and we must embrace it. The yarn shop is our bread and butter, they pay our salaries, so we want them to survive. Our end customer, the consumer gets service from that yarn shop, they donâ€™t just sell yarn, they help the customer through a project. Therefore they have to mark their yarn up to provide that service, while an online company doesnâ€™t have the same overhead. Some companies on line go directly to mills and sell yarn at very low cost to consumers,and they are cutting the yarn shop out of the equation. Iâ€™m sorry about that for two reasons: one is that the yarn shop needs to survive for the industry to survive. Second, the consumer needs a place to meet, they need classes and a whole lot more than they can get mail order. If they are frustrated with their project, even if it costs them half of what it cost at the yarn shop, theyâ€™re not going to continue to knit. They may be frustrated with the yarn or with the instructions, and thereâ€™s no help anywhere. They canâ€™t ask for help from a yarn shop if they bought their yarn on line.
There are also some good things about the internet, for instance weâ€™re in touch directly with our consumer. So itâ€™s a mixed blessing. Iâ€™m afraid now I must go to a meeting that started five minutes ago. Did you get all the information you need?
DORA: Yes, thank you so much for giving me the time. I know readers will appreciate it too.