I’m not even gunna play…I feel so incredibly blessed and honored to have Toni as a guest on my blog today! To me, she’s the G.O.A.T. when it comes to crochet! When I first arrived on the crochet scene, her big, beautiful smile welcomed me through the little square doors of Instagram. She ushered me in with the tantalizing diversity of color on her grid and the genuineness in her voice. The fact that I found someone who was as fond of crochet blankets as I am, sealed the deal! Perusing her Instagram feed and eventually her website, she soon became my favorite crochet designer.
If you’re not familiar with Toni, a) why not!? and b) she is the crochet designer, instructor, and author behind TL Yarn Crafts. She creates beautiful modern crochet patterns and helpful videos that provide the best crochet content for aspiring and established crocheters! You can find all the links to Toni’s pages at the end of this post!
So, without further ado, let’s read our conversation and get to know the Queen of Tunisian Crochet, Toni Lipsey!
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Who taught you how to crochet?
I learned to crochet from my multi-talented mother when I was just 13 years old. I was home over summer break with too much free time and nothing to do. Seeing me aimless, my mother sought to remedy the situation. She was crocheting at the time and grabbed some camouflage yarn. She started a granny square, showed me the basics, and told me to “keep going”. I spent the summer side by side with mom, soaking in her stories and watching my blanket grow. The final product was riddled with mistakes and more than a little wonky. But my craft confidence was solidified. I was so proud of myself, for turning some string into a useable blanket. I’ll never forget that memory.
If you learned crochet when you were young, did you stick to it or was there a coming back to yarn moment?
I did drop crochet after that summer to get on with the business of being a teenager. But I picked crochet back up 10 years later, at just the right moment. I was in a bit of an emotional crisis. The year was 2010 and America was still on the mend from one of the worst financial crises in history. I had recently gotten married and moved to Ohio, away from my family and support system. I was a new wife, in a new city, unable to find work. I felt like I was flailing, and I needed a tether. After some unsuccessful crafty pursuits (anyone remember those Chan Luu bracelets?), I stumbled into the yarn aisle and it’s like the heavens opened. The familiarity of yarn filled me up and propelled me forward. I took my loot home and logged into YouTube for a refresher, and the rest is history.
I heard that a ghost taught you Tunisian Crochet? Is this true?
It’s true! Here’s the story. I went to Vogue Knit LIVE in NYC for the first time in January 2017. It was an amazing experience, as I got to meet so many crafty internet friends in person and they are my besties now. I had broken off from the group to use the restroom. As I made my way back into the convention, I ran across a woman outside of one of the booths. She had a massive knitting needle with a hook on the end. A CROCHET HOOK! I was mesmerized and asked, as politely as I could, if she could teach me everything she knew about this crafty magic. She kindly obliged and gave me a crash course in what I came to learn was Tunisian crochet. I thanked her and proceeded with my day. I went home from the convention, determined to learn everything else I could, but I hit some roadblocks. There weren’t many accessible resources for Tunisian crochet in 2017 and I committed to changing that. I started my YouTube channel and released a 5-part series of TC tutorials. They caught on quickly, and I moved into designing TC pieces and teaching in person. I made my way back to VKL the next year, hoping to find the women who’d opened me up to this whole new world. But she wasn’t there. And the folks running the booth where I went to find her said they had no idea who I was talking about. I like to say I learned to crochet from a ghost for laughs. But I truly believe that woman was placed in my path to spark that knowledge and set me on my creative path.
What was the process like moving from the corporate world to the crochet world? What were your biggest concerns or fears?
Making the decision to quit my day job was equal parts excitement and dread. I loved my day job as a recruiter at our local airport. It was fulfilling and I had the opportunity to help folks start or continue their careers. And I’d never balk at a steady paycheck. But I was at a crossroads, where TL Yarn Crafts was gaining steam, but an excellent opportunity for advancement was coming up with my day job. I had to make a choice. Thankfully, my endlessly patient husband helped me with a pros/cons list, and we landed on giving TLYC a go full-time for 1 year. Well, it’s been 5 years full-time now, so I’d say things went well. The deciding factor was “Of these decisions, which would I regret more in the long run?”, and I realized I had to bet on myself for a change.
What was your very 1st crochet design? Could you share the inspiration behind the design?
My very first crochet design was a total fluke. I was still early in my craft show vendor days, and I was looking for the perfect fall beanie. I wanted it to be extra slouchy with a pom pom, textured stitches, and a thick ribbed brim. I searched high and low for a pattern that fit these criteria and came up empty handed. By then, I was astute enough to understand the general construction of a hat, so I set off to create my own design. The finished hat was super cute, and I snapped a few pics for Instagram, encouraging folks to come see me at my next craft show. The response I received though, was more in interest of the hat pattern than purchasing the finished hat. I was really surprised and seized the opportunity. I started my Etsy shop with one listing: The Mega Pom Beanie. It took off like wildfire and is still one of the most purchased patterns in my shop.
Can you describe your design process?
Every design starts a little differently. I typically know what I want to make (a sweater, a hat, etc.), but the idea takes form based on the inspiration. Maybe it’s a color palette or a stripe pattern or the shape of a sculpture I saw in a museum. From there, I simply start stitching. I do a lot of frogging and adjusting as I go, writing down every single step.
Tell us about a time when you got “stuck” in the creative process. How did it challenge you and what was birthed from it?
This happens more often than I’d like to admit, lol. Most of my designs are commissions with partners, so I have to push past creative blocks. The typical solution is putting the project in timeout until the inspiration returns. If I’m having a particularly tricky time, I like to consult with my multiple group chats with other designers and crafty folks. They have an uncanny way of seeing the forest from the trees when it matters most.
What are your favorite crochet books in your collection?
My very favorite has to be The Tunisian Crochet Handbook! My very first book released in December 2021 and I’m still over the moon about it. Next on the list has to be Crochet Every Way Stitch Dictionary by Dora Ohrenstein, closely followed by Complete Crochet Course by Shannon and Jason Mullett-Bowlsby. Both of these books have made me a better crocheter and designer. I feel blessed to live in a time where these treasure troves of crochet knowledge exist.
How do you stay organized to balance life and yarny things?
With a hope and a prayer, most days. But seriously, there’s a lot that goes into developing a system to juggle the many facets of running a handmade business. I like to rely on a notes app on my ipad, as well as a series of post it notes and planners. Lately, I’ve been focusing on making more time for relaxation and personal creative pursuits, as those moments offer true inspiration and clarity.
Have you ever dealt with disappointment in the crochet industry? If so, how did you work through it?
Absolutely, I have. I was especially disappointed in the division that cropped up during the unrest of summer 2020 and beyond. As a maker of color, specifically a black woman, I hoped that my crafty community would rally around myself and others to ensure that we felt welcome and protected in this space that we offer so much to. I did not always feel welcome. In truth, there were those who would rather I not discuss my pain and anguish surrounding those devastating events. The phase “shut up and knit” perfectly sums up the sentiment at the time. In times like these, that mentality is antiquated and damaging to the true change that needs to take place in our community and broader society.
As a crochet designer, teacher, writer, and now author, what advice would you have for an aspiring crochet designer?
My advice is to get the first design out. Oftentimes, just getting started can be the biggest hurdle to chasing your dreams. Resolve yourself to the fact that your first design likely won’t be perfect – you’ll need to make revisions and that’s ok. Releasing that first pattern can open the floodgates to more inspiration and opportunity. Get the first design out of the way and continue to improve with each subsequent launch.
If someone is new to Tunisian crochet, which of your patterns should they begin with?
I think the Mesa Hat and Scarf is the perfect combo for a beginner in Tunisian crochet. You get to practice the basics of the craft, as well as color changes and shaping. Plus, the finished item is lovely in just about every color combination. It also helps that there are tutorial videos for each of the projects. Every Mesa set I’ve seen tagged on Instagram is stunning, and makers seem to really enjoy that one.
If you’re not aware, many makers and designers find you as a role model. Who, in your life, would you say is your role model and why?
That’s incredibly humbling to hear, and I don’t take that information lightly. My greatest inspiration and role model has to be my mother. She gave me the gift of craft and we continue to grow our bond through it. Besides that, my mother has made great sacrifices to be the best mom, wife, daughter, and friend she can be. She’s goofy, funny, kind, generous, and has more creativity in her well-manicured pinky than I do in my whole body. TLYC wouldn’t exist without her, and I’m grateful for every day that I get to learn more from her.
Do you know how to knit, cross stitch, or weave? If not, do you have a desire to learn a new fiber art?
I know how to knit, in theory. I’ve tried my hand at cross stitch, and I truly enjoy the relaxing repetition of it. I’ve taken classes in weaving, visible mending, paper piecing, painting, and many other crafts. I aspire to try just about everything when I get an ounce of free time, lol. But the next craft I really want to try is a massive modern weave to put above my bed.
Do you have a bucket list? If so, what are the top 5 things you want to accomplish?
My crafty bucket list is about as long as my arm, but a few things on it are:
- Start a business mentoring program for women of color
- Launch an accessory collection with a store like Anthropologie or Target
- Develop a boutique line of luxury fiber yarns
- Intern on an alpaca farm for the summer
- Be featured in O Magazine
What’s your all-time favorite movie? Book? T.V. Series? Podcast?
Favorite movie has to be Major Payne. We watched this movie incessantly when I was a kid, I know every line by heart. I read a lot of books and don’t quite have a favorite. But a great one I read recently was House in the Cerulean Sea. It’s heartwarming, magical, and a delight to experience from start to finish. Best TV series would be King of Queens. I love to laugh, and something about this couple reminds me of myself and my husband (in good ways and not so good ways). As much as they bicker, those two always find a way back to each other, and they’re stronger when they are together. I stray in and out of the podcast life, but I do stay up to date with My Favorite Murder. I love listening back to old episodes and soaking in the dynamic between the hosts.
If you could travel anywhere in the world (all expenses paid), where would it be?
I haven’t been on a proper vacation in ages, so I’d love to go anywhere with a beach and fun water sports. I’m not picky, lol
To find out more about Toni or to follow her on social media, please click the links below!
Thank you for visiting the blog today, Toni!
Friends, how many of you have made a crochet piece using one of Toni’s patterns? I’m currently making her Toni Cuffed Cardi and her Cole’s River Kerchief! Let know in the comments below!