Interview with Joanne Seiff: Day 6 on the Fiber Festival Blog Tour

Blossom in different yarns

Here is a scan from a picture of some swatches I did for Blossom, a scarf design I did for Joanne’s book Fiber Gathering. The yarn is Acero, from Brooks Farm Yarn. Not only are these very nice folks at Sheep and Wool festivals, but they also are at Stitches Midwest every year, which is where I happened to meet them. Not everyone has the opportunity to go to these types of events or to pick up the same weight of yarns so the picture illustrates how the lace looks with different weights of yarn.

On to my stop in the blog tour, an interview with Joanne Seiff, the author of the book:

JoLene: One of the things I like to do on my blog is talk about design from the perspective of business because there are so many new designers out there, or knitters interested in becoming designers and I feel that there is not very much information out there that is easy to find to help in that transition to professional designer so I would like to explore the process you went through with your book from that aspect.

1.    What were you looking for in a publisher? I know this is a very broad question, but the process you went through took you through more than one publisher. What made you ultimately settle with your current publisher?


It’s pretty hard to land a book contract with even one publisher! For this project, I needed to have the support of a publisher who shared my values. We needed to share the same vision for the book. There were a lot of issues to consider, but the first one was about compensation.

Publishers have different ways of “paying” for things. For instance, for Fiber Gathering, we (the photographer and I) had to travel a great deal, which is very expensive. The advance had to cover the expenses of the book. (An advance on royalties means the book will have to sell enough to cover that advance—sort of a loan– before I earn any more money at all)

Some publishers offer a large advance, but then expect the author to cover costs like paying for models or for multiple photographers, stylists and illustrators out of that advance. Other publishers offer a smaller advance, but they cover these costs from their own budget. In the end, I had to choose what made the best sense for this book.

There were other concerns, too. I wanted a rural feel to my book, and I had to argue for that rather than a slick urban look. One potential publisher wanted to only use models who were size 6-8, and no older than 23. I wasn’t willing to do this…I believe “regular” women are beautiful, and wanted a variety of ages and sizes in my book as well.

In the end, Wiley was the best fit for me. The editors there treated me with respect. We truly collaborated on the process. I felt great about my choice in the end, although it was a rocky journey to publication.

2.    When a designer has an idea for a book, what process do they go through in presenting their book to a publisher?


The short version is that you write a non-fiction book proposal. Your local library has books that explain how to do this. It’s like a 35-70 page term paper, explaining the book’s concept, the audience, why it will sell and how you will help to market it. The twist is that for a knitting book, you do all this and provide design pitches too, with sketches, concepts, swatches and other details. Most of this is done by email, so it helps if everything is available electronically. (swatches can be scanned!)

Some people have agents who represent them, and others contact publishers on their own. Landing an agent who’s effective and represents you properly is a difficulty in itself. In the knitting world, you can publish a book without an agent if you feel confident negotiating your own terms and contract.

3.    What were the most challenging aspects of your book project?


Finding a publisher I could trust and collaborate with was the most difficult.

– Traveling. Travel is expensive and very wearing. Even when going to fun events like festivals, it can be very hard on the body. It’s hard to stay healthy.

– Organizing 15 designers’ work. Designers are fabulous, creative people. When one combines frequent travel to 11+ events with organizing the designs, contracts, and designers, things were sometimes hard to manage. It turned out beautifully, though!

– I combined all this with writing my first book. I had no idea how working with a publisher went either, and that was challenging.

4.    What were the most rewarding?


-I had so many positive experiences with lovely people at fiber festivals. What amazing and kind people are involved in our community!

-Writing the essay drafts was a joy. Back at the hotel room, the words would pour out. I’d be grinning like a fool at the computer while I tried to describe it all.

-Seeing the galleys and holding the book in my hands for the first time were rewarding moments, too.

-Finally, every time someone says something positive about the book, it’s like they’ve given me a present!

5.    What were your favorite fiber festivals to visit? As much fun as it would be to go to sheep and wool festivals, was the travel for the book hectic and did you have to approach it from a different perspective since you were doing it for research for your book?


This sounds corny, but every festival was my favorite. There isn’t one best festival…there are special aspects to each event. The people are always fantastic-no matter the event- and the festivals all have important and unique regional differences. For instance, small festivals are less crowded and more intimate. You have more time to shop, learn from others, and have a relaxed experience. Don’t discount a small festival!

The travel was hectic and hard. For a while, we had no days off. For instance, in October 2007, we went to 3 festivals. When we’d get home late Sunday night or on Monday morning, we’d have to go to work right away. I’d have lots to do for the book, and my photographer (aka my husband, the professor) had to get back to teaching his Genetics lectures and running labs.

When you’re writing about and photographing a festival, it’s not like going to a festival for fun. We were at the fairgrounds by 7:30 or 8 in the morning, photographing things and interviewing participants before the crowds arrived. We then stayed for evening events to cover all the different aspects of an event that lasts only 2 days. A rainy day didn’t mean we could go home early—we still needed photographs and something to write about! Then, we’d often drive 2 or more hours back to an airport. Then we took flights back to our home airport, in Nashville. It’s another 70 mile drive from that airport to our house…and sometimes we did this 3 times a month.

6.    Do you have another book planned?


Yes! Knit Green: Twenty Projects and Ideas for Sustainability will be published in September 2009. This book has essays, much like Fiber Gathering, and the topics cover how to incorporate environmental sustainability into one’s knitting and fiber arts. I designed all the projects for this book myself and started working on it even before Fiber Gathering went to press. I’m very excited about Knit Green! 2009 is a big year for me!

If you’d like to know more about Knit Green’s publication, keep an eye on my blog,, and sign up for my newsletter on my website,

Next Stop on the Blog Tour:

April 9th           Cindy Moore, designer  –


4 Responses to “Interview with Joanne Seiff: Day 6 on the Fiber Festival Blog Tour”

  1. Donna Says:

    Love the interview with Joanne.

  2. Mickey Says:

    The swatches do look different. Are we talking lace fingering and dk weight or are they different fibers?

    • jolenetreace Says:

      I had to look it up in the book, as it has been so long since I did the swatches :O The Acero was the heaviest. The other two are Knitting Notions Classic Merino Lace, and Blackberry Ridge Silky Merino Lace (the Silky Merino Lace is the finest, at 24 sts in pattern over 4 inches, the Classic Merino Lace was 22 sts in pattern over 4 inches, and the Acero was 20 sts in pattern over 4 inches). Good question.

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