Knitcircus new online format - blog tour kickoff!

Monday, January 25, 2010
When Knitcircus announced a change in format from print to electronic I had oh so many questions for Jaala Spiro, editor - and when Jaala put out a call for blogs to participate in a "blog tour" to promote the new electronic launch of the magazine, I knew this was my chance!  I'm excited to be the first stop on the tour, which will continue roughly until Valentine's Day.  Look for the launch to happen this weekend!

Also, we'll be announcing the winner of a book giveaway this evening - stay tuned! You have a few short hours to drop by the Knitcircus blog and leave a comment to qualify for a copy of The Yarn Girls' Guide to Simple Knits... winner will be announced at 10pm tonight!

Why did you start Knitcircus?

Knitcircus began when I read the Vanity Fair Africa special edition and went outside to sit on my front step, reeling at the need in the world. The seed of an idea started to create something fun and divert just a little of the resources I see around me to help families who need homes, schools and drinking water. How could I do it?

Then it hit me—knitters! Knitting and crafting people tend toward generosity (I know people who have given away almost every piece they’ve made) and can always find a little cash in the couch for a ball of yarn or a great pattern.

At the time, I and a small group of other women published a small literary magazine for mothers. Moving to a knitting/fibercraft magazine seemed a natural progression. So the first issue was printed in my basement on a laser printer and hand-bound with yarn, and sold at one store, the Knitting Tree in Madison. We didn’t end up making much for Heifer and KIVA, the charities I chose, but we received enough encouragement to keep going. (KT: Hey, I give to Heifer and KIVA too!)

Why do you contribute part of your proceeds to KIVA and Heifer? Have you done anything special for the Haiti earthquake?
My parents when we were growing up always emphasized to us kids how lucky we were, and that we had a responsibility to give back in whatever we did. Even though we didn’t have much extra, since my dad was an artist and our family income varied from year to year, we had a very close-knit family and a lot of fun. Those values mean a lot to me, so I look for ways to act on them in my life.

In giving, there’s always the question of whether to use your dollars locally or internationally— we do have plenty of hungry people in the USA. The question for me was how can we give our relatively small donations the biggest impact? I chose both Heifer and because, first, in most cases a dollar stretches further in the developing world, and second and most important, both of them empower the recipients to change their own lives for the better and pass on the gift again. KIVA makes microloans to small businesses worldwide—my favorite so far was a woman who sold popsicles out of her home—and as the loans get repaid, the same funds recirculate and are re-loaned to another business. I think it’s genius, and it’s fun as a lender because you get to choose which business you’ll support. Will it be a farmer in the Philippines, a tailor in Iraq or fruit-seller in Mexico City?

A third organization we’ve supported at different times is the Second Harvest Food bank here in Wisconsin, and we’ll continue to do that through special pattern sales and at our events.

For Haiti, I’ve put all of my own patterns for sale into the Help For Haiti list on Ravelry and am encouraging our other designers to participate and highlighting those that do in our Knitcircus group (KT: including me!). (Also KT: Including Jaala's Aden Hat). When I find other craftspeople helping, I try to pass along that info on the blog. We’ll have a link to Doctors Without Borders in our upcoming online issue, too to encourage people to give to them directly.

Why the switch in format to electronic?
Well, it’s the wave of the future, it’s better for the environment, we can reach many more people, including international knitters, and we simply couldn’t sustain the cost of printing and distributing a glossy paper magazine. Many of the magazines out there now are part of huge publishing companies who can afford to support that arm of the business with other revenue streams, and many well-respected magazines—Gourmet was one recent one—have ceased publication entirely in this tricky economy. We’re very small and proud of it, and glad to still be in business; this move just makes perfect sense for us.

The online format gives us more room to stretch out and really showcase our patterns and photographs—we couldn’t afford lush, full-page spreads in print, but now we can have as many as our pattern-loving hearts desire. It’s very exciting. Now knitters will be able to store and print the patterns they purchase at home and carry them around on handheld devices, nobody has to pay shipping or wait for delivery. It’s also more democratic in terms of letting people enjoy some of what we offer for free, where before they had to purchase the magazine to read the articles, etc.

Your compensation to designers has traditionally been generous for advertising, visibility, and copyright more than financially (thank you!). How will this change with the new model?
Thank you! We view our designers as key to our success—and our existence—so we like to share with them as much as we can given how small the business has been. We have taken steps to make sure that our designers’ copyright is protected in the new format by only keeping the patterns up while the issue is live, then all rights revert back to them just as before. Only now designers have the option to sell their patterns from past issues in our online store. They can sell them anywhere else they like or choose not to, too. We’ve done everything we can to protect our designers and current subscribers by keeping the model very similar to our print approach. For example, we’ve priced the pattern collection the same as the magazine used to be so our subscribers are getting the same value. In lieu of the articles which are now free, we’ve been able to add more patterns to the collection. I hope all that will change for designers is more exposure and, if things go well, the possibility of more pay in the future.

You have patterns for all types of people - which is great for those of us with young families. Why do you think your magazine does this well when so many of the others specialize in just one age/gender?
Thanks for noticing—that’s a conscious choice on our part. A simple answer is that all of us involved in the magazine are moms and know that kids’ and men’s’ patterns are important! We specifically look for patterns for those groups, most particularly kids from 3-12, for whom it can be really difficult to find good patterns.

If you could knit just one pattern from past issues, which would it be?
Oh, Crikey, I can’t pick just one! I think I have projects on the needles already from just about every issue! (I’ll send some pics of my favorites) (KT: They're sprinkled about). The highest on my list right now is the Offhand Gloves from Issue #8 because I need gloves!

What pattern has surprised you with its popularity?
Far and away the Kate’s Cardigan from issue 5, followed by the Indian Corn Scarf from Issue #7. I thought that pattern was really fun, but maybe too quirky for some knitters, but people just loved it!

Do you have time to knit any more?
Hee, hee. Good question. Not nearly as much as I’d wish, especially when we’re on deadline; I think I worked one round yesterday. But looking at pictures of knitting and knitting patterns all day makes a pretty good substitute.

Why recipes _and_ knitting? Will that continue?
Well, I love to knit, bake and sew; we don’t have crochet in the magazine yet, but I’d like to see some of that as well. I’ve noticed that people who choose to do one thing from scratch—like knitting—tend to notice, appreciate and try other crafts and skills. It’ll continue for sure; the Circus part of the title refers to a bigger umbrella of multicrafting. Also a little bit to how crazy it is being a work-at-home mom!

What do you want people to know about Knitcircus?
I’d like them to know that the desire to create something fun and meaningful drives the process. And that by purchasing the pattern collection, you’re making things a little bit better for a popsicle seller in Central America.

The next stop on the tour is Mystery House, the blog of the staff writer for the magazine.  She's got an interview with Lily Chin coming up, and is also announcing a book giveaway.  Busy woman!


  • jaaladay

    Thanks so much for posting this--it was so much fun to chat with you and I loved the questions--they really go me thinking!

  • Copyright Notice

    All content in this blog, including patterns and photos, is the intellectual property of Katherine Vaughan. All rights under US Copyright Law are reserved. Teachers, please direct your students to download/print out their own copies of patterns used in class. You are, of course, welcome to use items knit from any pattern for charity or sale, with the statement "design by Katherine Vaughan" appreciated.