When the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival announced that the show would be canceled this year due to COVID-19, Shannon Okey, owner and publisher of the knitting imprint Cooperative Press, was concerned. “We do three festivals a year and that’s one of them, so losing that means losing a lot of income,” she says.
Soon, the event organizers regrouped, though, and announced that there would be a virtual event. Okey wanted to offer something exciting, but with relatively low risk, since the online show is new and she isn’t sure what the sales volume will be like. So, she decided to do what craft industry businesses do best: get creative.
Publishing a new book requires production time, so rather than make something brand new, she decided to rerelease something from the backlist. Doomsday Knits: Projects for the Apocalypse and After, edited by Alex Tinsley, seemed like the perfect choice.
Pent up demand
Originally released eight years ago, the book had become something of a rarity in recent years. Someone on Tinsley’s Instagram feed recently commented that she’d bought a copy from the rare books table at Powell’s in Portland for $60. Paperback copies are currently for sale on Amazon for $139. And Okey has regularly fielded emails requesting the book for years.
Plus, the book’s theme seems to capture today’s moment particularly well. The cover features a cowl worn with a gas mask surrounded by a hood. Tinsley says she found the mask at an Army surplus store. “It’s not functional, unfortunately,” she says. “I think I still have it in my basement.”
About one of the book’s patterns, Stephanie Villa on Instagram noted, “Guess right now would be a great time to cast on that Forager vest to wear on my grocery shopping days, huh.” Other patterns include the Utility Corset, a garment that features lots of hidden pockets and storage loops and is described as “ideal for the post-apocalyptic heroine who needs to keep her equipment to hand and her hands free!” The book includes 31 patterns in all designed by over two dozen designers.
Tinsley, who learned to knit in 2004, says she’s always enjoyed dystopian novels and movies and those were her inspiration for this pattern collection. “It was very much about the aesthetics for me. I could just picture having really cool designs and really cool photography. It was never a very serious thing, but just sort of like can we make it look like Mad Max.”
The photoshoot took place in Portland, a city Tinsley and photographer Vivian Aubrey chose because of its versatility of scenery. The models included the owner of Twisted, a college classmate, Tinsley’s sister, and the photographer’s baby.
Doomsday Knits was initially released into an environment very different from today. “It was the Obama administration, so we’re feeling pretty relaxed,” says Tinsley. “We were not actually worried about the apocalypse at that point.”
As a publisher Cooperative Press has a unique business model. They work with IngramSpark to print books on-demand, allowing for a nimble operation without the burden of managing inventory that may or may not sell. Now, this model is allowing Okey to revive an older product that resonates right now, driving sales at a time when business would otherwise be suffering, and taking advantage of a new online event by releasing a product that’s exciting to her market.
“I don’t have the money to put out for things that I can’t guarantee are going to be sold right now so print-on-demand is really the perfect solution for everybody,” says Okey. (She’s also reprinting Subversive Socks, a book that feels of-the-moment as well. “It’s probably very cathartic to knit swearwords into your socks right now,” says Tinsley.)
Okey posted Doomsday Knits on the Cooperative Press website last week to test the waters and so far, the reception has been impressive; the book has sold more copies in a week than it did when it was originally released. “We sort of just said, okay well hey let’s do it. Why not?” she says. “And the response was the shocking part.”
Doomsday Knits is available as a digital download from Alex Tinsley’s shop on Ravelry as well as from many of the designers who contributed patterns to the book. Print copies are available from Cooperative Press.
Abby co-founded Craft Industry Alliance and now serves as its president. She’s a sewing pattern designer, teacher, and journalist. Abby has an undergraduate degree in history from Johns Hopkins University and a master's degree in education from Harvard. She’s dedicated to creating an outstanding trade association for the crafts industry. Abby lives in Wellesley, Massachusetts, with her family.