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Friday, February 26, 2016

"Don't Do What You Love"

Last year I landed an enviable gig testing patterns for a crochet designer in Minnesota. Abbey Swanson, the creative force behind The Firefly Hook, sends me boxes of beautiful yarn along with instructions for new and amazing garments and accessories she’s designed, and all I have to do is work them up and tell her how the patterns treated me.
I’d like to share this amazing woman with you, because she has a message that anyone who’s ever been told not to pursue a dream needs to hear.
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“If you could do anything what would you do?”
Very pregnant with her first child, Abbey Swanson answered her husband’s question without hesitation: “Be at home with the kids, write, and crochet.”
So that’s what she did.
Tartan Wrap
Soon she attended her first craft fair, where people gave her money in exchange for her original, hand-made creations. “Granted, they were a steal since I priced them so low, but I was so grateful. That first venture gave me the confidence to keep crocheting.
Abbey began taking special orders and commission work, making up her own designs as she went along. Four years later, however, she realized she’d plateaued. She couldn’t crochet any more or any faster than she already was.
The time had come to ramp things up.
With the collaboration of two strategically talented friends—an editor and a photographer—Abbey started The Firefly Hook, a website dedicated to Abbey’s passion for yarn and design. “We’ve been running hard for three years now.”
“Don’t Do Anything Artsy,” Teachers Told Her
Anyone who’s ever had a talent or passion for something on the creative side has suffered the same well-intentioned, soul-crushing advice: “Don’t be an artist. There’s no money in it. It’s too hard to succeed.” And that’s exactly what Abbey heard in high school.
(Crocheters and creative types the world over are thrilled she didn’t listen.)
But, what does it take to succeed in the aesthetic arts? “Moxie. Lots of moxie,” says Abbey. “When you have the attitude that you can do anything, you don’t balk at rejection. But you don’t take success to heart, either. You create because that’s how you express yourself. You don’t need anyone else’s permission or affirmation. Your work comes out of your heart and soul.”
This sounds a lot like the advice Glennon Doyle Melton (of Momastery) gave a discouraged writer in her blog post Three Rules for Surviving a Creative Life:
God did not create the seas, then poll the internet about it. God did not create the land, then stand by the land making sure nobody looked sideways at it. God did not tap folks on the back asking them to “like” God’s light. God did not ask anyone outside of Godself if the creation was good enough. God made it—so GOD called it good. Then God moved on and created more good things.
“My teachers were right about one thing,” Abbey agrees. “It is hard to succeed. But if you have a skill – and you bolster it with moxie – you can do anything. Yes, a paycheck is nice and so is breakfast and a warm house, but those aren’t the reasons you create. They can’t be, or you will fail. But if you keep working hard and putting yourself out there you can create and eventually make a living off of it.
“What I wish my teachers said to me was, ‘You can be anything and succeed. You might need a job that can provide a paycheck while you work on your craft. But if you are willing to do that, you will succeed in life.’”
But She Does Wish She’d Listened to That One Teacher…
For Abbey, the most difficult part of her work is the math.
Yep, the math. It’s everywhere, kids.
“I can hear my high school math teacher saying, ‘I told you you’ll need this in real life’.”
Lucky for Abbey, she married a numbers guy. “My husband is my calculator who figures out my design equations for me. (Yeah, designs have equations. For real.) Some I don’t understand, like the expanding space of a circle, but some I can wrap my mind around like calculating how much yarn is necessary for various sizes.”
Abbey’s Public Service Message for the 18-and-under set? “Kids, stay in school. Do your algebra and geometry and trigonometry homework. Even artsy crochet designers need math.”
The Kicks & Grins
Abbey’s mom taught her to crochet when she was eight years old. “I will never forget the feeling I had when I started working on a blanket. Just simple single crochet stitches back and forth, back and forth. I am still fascinated by the way designs use space and texture to create.”
Nowadays Abbey gets to rationalize watching copious amounts of television while working/crocheting. “But that’s my down time. During the day I homeschool, am Mama to my three sweet kids, and work on the computer side of my business. Sitting in my comfy chair with yarn and hook is my reward at the end of the day.
Creating design books is one of Abbey’s favorite parts of her job. “First, I pitch a design idea (a single pattern or collection) to a yarn company. If they accept it they send me yarn, which is like getting Christmas delivered to my mailbox! Then I work up designs and write or outline the patterns. My photographer and I find a model and set a date for the shoot. I send a final draft with pictures to my testers and editors. Once the details are finalized my layout designer puts it all together. Then we release the pattern and let the yarn company know the links are live.
“Creating a book is exactly what a middle child was born to do. I get to work with a lot of people and be at the center of the hub communicating, delegating, arranging. All those involved in the process are very good at their jobs: testing, editing, photography, layout, modeling. It’s amazing to watch how people thrive when they can bring their own ideas to the project.
On Inspiration

Abbey’s designs are best described as eclectic. “I am inspired by things that I see and experience. Mountains. Skyscrapers. Wildflowers. Scotland. Movies. Bandits. Gentlemen. Gardens. Tea. My favorite breakfast place.
“My Open Sky Shawl is my favorite design. Usually when I work on a design, there’s a way it is in my mind, another way on paper, and yet another when the piece is finally worked up. I have an idea in my mind and don’t give up until it looks how I want it to look.”
Open Sky Shawl

Do What You Love
That’s Abbey’s ethos, not only with respect to crochet design, but about everything: “Don’t give up until it (whatever it is) looks how you want it to look.”
It’s what she did to create the life and career that she wants, and it’s what she encourages everyone with a creative bent to do as well. “Remember, if you have a skill – and you back it up with lots of moxie – you can do anything.”
* * * * *
Check out The Firefly Hook, and these fabulous design books Abbey has published. And for any crocheters out there, below is a quick and fun pattern from Abbey, just for you.

Nesting Bowls Pattern 

Happy yarning! (Now go do something you love.)


  1. What an inspiring story. I love her Wildflower throw...have you made that yet? This was a wonderful testament to someone who kept at it. Maybe if I keep making that fudge recipe, I can find a business outlet for it. ( :

  2. I love this interview! Thank you so much for posting a link so I can “catch up” on all the things I’ve missed before finding Abbey’s Firefly Hook AND YOU! I’m now a devoted fan of you both.