Interview with Lily Chin, Author of Couture Crochet Workshop
I first got to meet Lily Chin in person at TNNA in San Diego last month. I mean, I’ve seen her on TV and she’s the fastest crocheter in the world. Should I talk to her? Ok, I mustered up enough confidence to meet her before her booksigning at the trade show. In person, Lily Chin is stylish, down-to-earth, and downright personable. You can tell her passion about promoting the needlearts, especially knitting and crochet. Her new book, Couture Crochet Workshop, merges her modern fashion sense along with her keen pattern-making skills to help the rest of us understand the importance of fit. This is a must have book for any crochet lover. What I found useful were her foundation section and how to shape pieces. The charts and graphs throughout the book are helpful. The patterns are beautiful and I am in love with the cardigans and sweater dresses/skirts. This book will make you realize that crochet isn’t just about embellishment. Other things you can make are a halter top, bags, shawls, scarves, and lots more!
Lily Chin’s been around in the industry for nearly 25 years and her background in fashion has helped her move to where she is now. Since it’s fashion week in New York I thought we’d talk to Lily to find out why knits are so popular on the runway these days and her take on the fashion shows she attended this week.
Nat: You’ve worked with Ralph Lauren, Vera Wang, Issac Mizrahi, The Gap, and other top designers. Please tell as a bit about your background in the fashion industry.
Lily: I grew up in NY’s garment industry, working for sweatshops and working my way up. Thus, I learned patternmaking and clothing construction from the ground up. I took classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology and started to work with manufacturers while in college.
In the early 90’s, I did what are known as knit downs (making sample sweaters) and stitch development (coming up with swatch concepts and new stitch ideas). I’ve worked with designers of all stripes but the “biggies” began in the mid-90’s with Isaac Mizrahi. I crocheted a metallic string bikini that wound up in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. The rest, as they say, is history. I also did the Absolut vodka cozy prototype for their ads from Dec. 2001 by Cynthia Rowley. That was a lot of fun. Subsequently, I oversaw the manufacturing en masse in Shanghai and they were given away in the Sunday papers of some major cities like NY, Chicago.
Nat: What really goes into the process of creating a designer’s “handknit” look piece?
Lily: They usually draw me a pretty picture and I have to interpret and engineer it to see it become reality. Almost all the designers don’t knit or crochet and don’t really have a clue as to how it’s done. I develop some stitches for them to approve, then I have their patternmakers come up with either a flat pattern or a fabric mock up for me to follow. The biggest challenge is to insert details like that bust dart in a fancy allover stitch pattern. The designers are concerned with the visuals. How it’s done/how it’s achieved or the production process is not their problem.
Nat: Your new book Couture Crochet Workshop brings us fashionable crochet patterns and teaches us the importance of fit. What was your inspiration in writing this book?
Lily: I wanted to bring my experiences and my expertise to everyone. I feel that anyone can achieve the garment of their dreams but may be lacking the technical know-how. I wanted to reveal my secrets, if you will. There’s the adage about giving a man a fish … I want to teach everyone to fish. That’s why I see this more as a true how-to book rather than just patterns.
Nat: Why do you think crochet and knit wear have become so popular these last few years on the fashion runways?
Lily: Retro has been so hot over the past years. Lots of people think these age-old crafts harken back to that. Besides, the texture you obtain with yarn-crafts is not really easily obtainable in any other medium. Nat: Have you seen any interesting trends this week at NY fashion week that you can share? Any interesting crochet or knits? Lily: Volume is big – literally. You will see fuller skirts, kimono sleeves, egg or cocoon shaped silhouettes. Metallics are favored. The 80’s are back in a big way. Think oversized sweaters over skinny jeans or leggings. Layering continues to be key. Asymmetry still abounds, especially in necklines. Other neck treatments such as cowls or other collars are hot. A-lines and empire waists are also important. It just so happens I have an cowl-neck A-line or trapeze tunic in my book that’s right on target with these trends!
Nat: What are some upcoming projects we can expect from you in the coming months?
Lily: I’m on the road teaching a lot, so you may possibly catch me in a location near you. Go to www.lily-chin.com and hit Meet Lily. My schedule’s there. You’ll probably catch me on TV or in the newspapers as I continue the book promo. The media loves me as I’ve become a trained circus seal of sorts. I usually begin crocheting a project at the beginning of a news show, let’s say, and they track my progress. In the end, they see how far I’ve got then interview me. It’s become formulaic, and I admit I sometimes tire of this, but if this exposure puts the idea of knitting or crocheting into the minds of ANYONE in the general public, it’s well worth it. Most people have never seen anyone crocheting or knitting and maybe, just maybe, it may put the notion into someone’s head that he or she can do this as well. My mission is to make more converts. : )
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