Knitcircus Blog Tour: An Interview with Jaala Spiro…and a Giveaway!
Welcome! In Monday’s stop on the Knitcircus Blog Tour, Editor-in-Chief Jaala Spiro talked about the genesis of the magazine. If you haven’t read it yet, hop over and take a look before you read on — it’s great stuff. Knitcircus had a whole different reason for coming to life than any other knitting magazine you’ve ever heard of. The magazine is going online now, and that opens up many new possibilities.
Nosy me, I had to find out even more, so I was delighted that Jaala agreed to make a stop at the Mystery House and have a little chat. She has all kinds of ideas cooking, and has generously offered up a nice prize to give away, so be sure to read to the end to find out contest details. The train’s pulling in right now, and I’ve brewed up a pot of good Irish tea and set out a plate of chocolate eclairs…
T: Jaala, you’ve talked about why you started Knitcircus (a very cool reason indeed), but what about the how? Can you describe the very first issue?
JS: That’s a great question; it’s a shocking surprise there. When my friend and I started the magazine, we actually called it Koi Knitting–kind of a joke, like what is the sound of one koi knitting? The first issue had a gorgeous, but totally non-knitting cover, a painting by my good friend Amy of White Lotus Tea Shop.
It was pretty lighthearted, inspired by the comic-genius knitting zine Slave to the Needles; besides some knitting patterns,we had hand-drawn tutorials for making wristwarmers out of machine-made toe socks, a how-to for pompoms, a yarn-related ghost story for kids, an interview with genius spinner and now podcaster and teacher Jacey Boggs, and I can’t believe this now, but Jared Flood was actually generous enough to let us reprint his famous blog post with the two-color Noro scarf pattern.
It was totally old-school–we went to Kinkos and copied the text parts, then painstakingly printed, cut out and pasted every picture in and hand-bound each issue with yarn. I think we made maybe 60 copies? We didn’t negotiate rights with the designers at that point, so I don’t even know how much we could reprint now.
For the second issue, we got a little more serious; we couldn’t spend all of that time and energy for something that was not at all market-firendly, so we changed the name to Knitcircus and bought a laser printer. For Issue #2, we created it ourselves in color, still laying out and collating all of the sheets by hand on my bed (help us all if a kid or cat jumped onto it).
T: Is there anything you miss about the good old, bad old ‘zine days?
JS: It was a lot of fun to put together something so freeform, not worrying about the business part of it all, just learning the graphic design program, figuring out book binding, putting all the pieces together. We really had some great content in Issue #2, an interview with author Susan B. Anderson and some good knitting patterns; but I wouldn’t recommend knitting them as written, because we didn’t have a tech editor yet!
T: How did you make the jump from copying the magazine yourself at Kinko’s to creating an honest-to-goodness magazine professionally printed on glossy paper?
JS: Well, by the time Issue #2 came out, the friend who had started the zine with me decided to go back to work full-time (she’d been taking some time off to be with her kids, and I was working part-time and being with mine). It was kind of crushing when she left, so I just pushed through to get that issue out and have the launch party the Knitting Tree kindly hosted for us. I was pretty much ready to throw in the towel. Then Cindy Koepke (writer for Knitcircus) invited me to go see Stephanie Pearl McPhee at Borders. At the last minute, I threw a magazine in my bag to give to her. The Yarn Harlot liked the magazine, and mentioned it on her blog. The interest and sales that generated led me to get back on my feet and ask around on Ravelry for some help with the magazine. That’s why I’ll always be grateful to that hardworking Canadian author and how we got the talented crew we have now.
T: And what about those talented folks? Can you please say a little more about how you found them?
JS: The magic of Ravelry! I posted on the Madison group that the magazine was looking for people to help with layout, web design, tech editing, etc, and was lucky enough to net Ms. SABLE, our copy editor ChocolateSheep and Amy, our tech editor who has been working with Meg Swansen and Schoolhouse Press. This year, we added our second tech editor, who is awesome and lives in California. They’ve all been very generous with their time and expertise.
T: There are scads of knitting magazines in the world, and although there’s definitely overlap, each one seems targeted to a different audience. How did you find a niche for Knitcircus, and who do you see as your audience?
JS: I see our audience as young women, moms, multicrafters, kind of down-to-earth people, more experienced knitters. Because we primarily sold through LYS’s, our readers tended to be a little older as a group than the typical online audience, people who like and feel comfortable with a “real” magazine. We’ve also been able to showcase some more traditional or challenging designs, like Elizabeth Morrison’s beautifully-executed colorwork sweaters, but we always balance it with more on-trend and quick-to-finish projects like socks, hats, kids’ designs and wristwarmers.
T: Do you envision the audience changing as you establish a foothold online and reach more knitters?
JS: I’m sure the audience will change a lot as we’re able to see more younger and internet-savvy readers getting access to the magazine, and I look forward to integrating their likes and desires more into our patterns, while still staying true to who we are. One reason we chose to offer the whole pattern collection instead of individual patterns for sale is so that we can include patterns more simple or more complex than is the general rule, or with innovative or traditional techniques.
T: Did you ever imagine yourself being the editor of a knitting magazine? What did you do before knitting and the magazine took over your life?
JS: That’s so funny. I certainly never expected this, though I do have a degree in English Literature, so I’m using my university training at last. After that English degree, I was a professional bread baker, worked at Taliesin, and trained as a CranioSacral and massage therapist. I practiced happily for a decade, but finally the strain of having two small kids at home and working with patients wore me down. Now you know how I fell into the magazine, but now that my kids are in school I’m running it as a real business with copyright, sales tax, spreadsheets, the whole deal.
T: What’s next for Knitcircus, and for you?
JS: We’re working on adding the individual pattern store to the site, that’s the next piece of the puzzle, and are looking at publishing some Knitcircus books, special pattern collections; I can’t stay away from print entirely! Most of our focus will be in building the magazine’s audience and networking with other small businesses like the terrific Phat Fiber, Oliver and S and our indy yarn suppliers like Sophie’s Toes, Yarn Hollow and Stricken Smitten. We’re really excited about our move online and the chance to interact with a bigger slice of the knitting community.
I am, too! The print version of Knitcircus has been tremendously popular at my favorite LYS, so my guess is that the larger world of knitters will be thrilled to see it come their way. Thanks so much for visiting with me, Jaala, and — I know everybody’s been dying to get to this part — for bringing a very cool prize for some reader whose lucky number comes up:
Feminine Knits, by Lene Holme Samsoe. If you’d like a chance to win the book, leave a comment on this post, or send a message on Ravelry to: jaaladay. Here’s the thing, though — this is a lickety-split giveaway. We’re not waiting around while you dawdle — there’s knitting to do! You have from this very minute until 9:00 tomorrow morning, Central Time, to enter, and you must be located in either the U.S. or Canada to win. I’ll draw a number and announce the winner by noon tomorrow.
Okay, some quick reminders before you click away. The next stop on the Knitcircus Blog Tour will be at Caffeine Girl’s place on Friday, and it’s going to be good! (The complete list of tour stops is on the Official Knitcircus Blog.) Of course, I do hope you’ll have a look at the shiny new online issue when it launches on February 1st. I love Knitcircus, so don’t be too surprised if I remind you!
Also, and very important, Jaala and several other Knitcircus designers have been kind enough to include their patterns in the Help for Haiti fundraising drive on Ravelry. If there’s a pattern you’ve been wanting to knit, now is the time to buy it. Haiti needs more help than any of us, sitting comfortably and safely at our computers, can fathom.
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