Linda Ligon going through a stack of papers in the Interweave offices sometime in the mid-1990s.
In 2011 my book, The Artful Bird, was published by Interweave. The year prior I spent three days out in Loveland, CO, with my editor in Joe Coca’s studio photographing the step-outs. It was the first time my sewing was taken seriously. The technique I’d developed was honored by a team of creative and skillful people. That trip was a tremendous learning experience and a confidence boost. The publication of my book launched my career in the sewing industry and I’m forever grateful.
Now, Interweave is facing a very uncertain future. Its parent company, F+W, filed for bankruptcy in March and the search is on to find a buyer for the books division and the magazines by June. Before that happens, I thought we as a community could take a collective breath and look at the tremendous impact that Interweave has had over the last 44 years. This company has touched so many of our lives in meaningful, career-changing ways.
No End to Growth
Interweave was founded in 1975 by Linda Ligon, a high school English teacher from Fort Collins, Colorado who had learned to make publications by mentoring the high school newspaper staff. After taking a weekend weaving class taught by a local woman in a converted chicken coop, she’d fallen in love with the craft. While on maternity leave when her son was born, and finding herself “not good at being a stay-at-home housewife and mother,”
Ligon decided to start a regional weaving magazine that would serve the western states. The timing was good. Handcrafts were gaining popularity nationally and Ligon found she was uniquely suited to writing about the people who made them.
Linda Ligon and her son David. Interweave got its start on Linda’s kitchen table while she was rearing her young children in the mid 1970s.
“The cool thing about magazines is you’re always reinventing and you’re doing it on deadline so you can’t slack,” she told Syne Mitchell in an October 2008 podcast interview. “You always have the next chance to make it better. There’s no end to the growth you can experience personally. I just never looked back.”
The company’s original magazine, Interweave, was soon subsumed by the more popular, Handwoven. Spin Off magazine came next, and then she began publishing books. When Ligon’s husband quit his job, Interweave became their main means of support.
Over the next two decades, Ligon’s leadership proved fundamental to the company’s success. Renowned spinner and knitter, Jillian Moreno, worked at Interweave throughout the 1990’s. “Everyone did everything because of Linda. Linda could walk up to you and say, ‘You’re going to do this’ and you would say, ‘Absolutely yes,’” Moreno says. “She was the true visionary of the company. She not only had the ideas, but she saw how they could work all the way to the end. She absolutely loved the craft, and the history of crafts, and wanting to keep those crafts alive.”
Putting People First
Part of this was due to Ligon’s core value of putting people first. “Linda could really speak to the authors and they trusted her because they knew that she really cared about the community,” Moreno says. “At any meeting when we talked about new products — sure somebody had to run a spreadsheet in the end — but it was always about what people wanted and were interested in, how they learned, and how they could express themselves.”
This meant continuing to invest in the weaving and spinning magazines despite their small circulation when compared to knitting and crochet. And it meant spending time and money to make quality books for that market. Moreno explains, “There’s a book in the backlist called The Alden Amos Big Book of Handspinning which is 480 pages long. It took 10 years for him to write. No other publisher would have done that, but it’s one of the big references that exists in spinning. Almost every spinner has that book on their shelf.”
Putting people first also meant investing in staff. Although compensation was often not high, opportunities were plentiful. “I do think Interweave was responsible for giving opportunity to a lot of people,” Ligon told me over the phone last week. “That was something that was really important to me. People came on staff in a fairly subsidiary role and just rose on up because they were smart and they cared.” After all, she herself and her early editorial team came to publishing as novices and had taught themselves by emulating the best books they could find in various enthusiast markets.
Alden Amos explains spinning tools to Linda Ligon.
A Deep Love of Craft
Ligon’s love of craft could also be seen in Interweave’s dedication to quality photography, editing, and technical accuracy. “We always felt that presenting our material, whether it was about how to make a thing or presenting an artist, we always wanted it to be true and beautiful,” she says.
Interweave publications were top-quality teaching tools. A lot of that had to do with the step-by-step photography taken by Joe Coca. According to Ligon, Coca’s work played an integral role in the company’s success. “If we were going to be showing these beautiful pieces of work, we wanted the presentation to live up to the real thing,” Ligon says. “He totally got that.”
Behind the scenes at an Interweave Crochet photo shoot.
Photo courtesy of Kim Werker.
The photo stylist attending to the details.
Photo courtesy of Kim Werker.
Getting published required ingenuity and originality. “One of the most magical things about Interweave was that you had to be very good at your craft, and at conveying it, in order to get published,” says Kim Werker, who served as the editor of Interweave Crochet from 2006 to 2008. “You couldn’t just be shiny and pretty. It was a meritocracy. If you really worked hard you could get there. It was about substance.”
Weaver Liz Gipson, who began working at Spin Off magazine in 2000 and stayed on at Interweave in various editorial roles through 2009, put it this way: “Interweave was a literate effort at making craft presented.”
The company was dedicated to both preserving traditional crafts and to finding new audiences for them. Melanie Falick was editor for Interweave Knits from 1999 to 2003 where she says Ligon allowed her to bring human stories into the magazine; stories about the role that knitting played in people’s lives.
“Making has such a rich history that goes back to the beginning of time, yet there are so many people that just don’t respect makers,” Falick says. “Interweave was dedicated to making sure that this information wouldn’t be lost, or be boxed up in a museum. They brought it to the present and kept it alive. And they weren’t talking down to us. People loved Interweave because of that.”
The Dream Team
By the late 1990’s the company had so many product lines and divisions that Ligon felt ill-equipped to make all of the business decisions on her own. She assembled an all-female executive team (Marilyn Murphy, Linda Stark, Dee Lockwood, and Suzanne DeAtley), often referred to by employees during that period as “the dream team.” In 2000, at a time when only three Fortune 500 companies had female CEOs, a women-led publishing house was certainly an anomaly.
The “dream team.” Left to right: Linda Ligon, Linda Stark, Dee Lockwood (seated), Marilyn Murphy, Suzanne DeAtley.
Photo via the Cloth Roads blog.
By 2005 Ligon was in her mid-60’s and she and her team decided to sell Interweave to Aspire Media. “I wanted to get out before I got feeble,” she told Mitchell in the podcast interview. Ligon stayed on for six more years while CEO Clay Hall grew the company through acquisitions and expansion into new media, mostly in the spirit of Ligon’s core vision.
One of those acquisitions was Quilting Arts, a magazine and book publisher founded by Pokey and John Bolton. They’d turned down other offers, but knew that Interweave would be a good home. “When I thought of Interweave I thought of integrity,” Pokey Bolton says. “I told them I couldn’t go down in page count or paper quality. Those were things our readers depended on. And they were respectful of that.” Pokey Bolton came on as Editorial Director for the Quilt and Paper Division, a role she held for five years and one that allowed her to grow the brand to include new magazines and book titles as well as a PBS television show.
In 2012 Aspire sold Interweave to F+W where, unfortunately, top level leadership didn’t seem to value crafts or the people who made them, and failed to understand the crafts consumer. While the staff who stayed on tried valiantly to continue to put out quality publications, Interweave’s brand reputation was tarnished with each passing year.
Even so, Interweave continues to have meaning for crafter consumers and those in the industry. The decades of positive impact continue to reverberate throughout our making lives nearly every day. So many of the books and magazines we read, the relationships we’ve formed, and the opportunities we’ve been given, stem from this single company. And now we’re at this fragile moment.
Ligon hopes Interweave lands in the hands of a strategic buyer, someone interested in rebuilding the brand, and building a company that lasts. “That would be perfect, wouldn’t it?” she says. But she’s also a realist. “You know, if it goes away? Things do leave their mark and then they go away. That’s life,” she says. “We all die.”
Still, as she told Mitchell, she’s proud of the quality and the stature that Interweave products have had in the publishing and the craft community. “It’s the making of stuff and it’s the working with people to do it. It’s been very, very satisfying.”