Photo courtesy of Angela Tong.

Designer Meghan Jones woke up one morning in the spirng of 2018 with a sudden realization. “I wonder how you make a documentary because I want to make one,” she thought.

Jones has a BFA in Fine Arts and she loves knitting. She’s also always loved documentaries. As a kid she would spend her weekends crafting and “watching any documentary I could get my hands on,” she says. Now, she was struck with the desire to combine her passions and make a documentary about knitwear designers.

“People in this industry are so interesting and have really varied backgrounds,” she says. “And you really have to diversify what you do to be able to stay in it and make a living.” She wanted to tell their stories in film.

A high school friend helped her to connect with, Heather Taylor, a documentary filmmaker in New York and they set up a Skype meeting. Taylor expressed initial interests but became convinced  the idea was a good one when, a few days later, she was talking about the project to a friend at a coffee shop and a stranger tapped her on the shoulder.  “I’m sorry to interrupt,” the young woman said, “But I want to see that movie. That sounds amazing.”

“I was like, ‘Whoa, where did you come from?’” Taylor says. Her production company, Cereal Made, which she co-owns with filmmaker Hillary Nussbaum, decided to commit to the project.

Behind-the-scenes on the day of the filming.

Photo courtesy of Angela Tong.

The film crew consisted of five people and Tong was impressed with how considerate they were. 

Photo courtesy of Angela Tong.

The project

The project would be called Swatched and the vision was to create a series of short films that challenge the stereotypes that come to mind when people hear the words “knit” and “crochet.”

“A swatch is this little tiny thing that you make in relation to the finished object, but it has all the information in it that you need,” says Jones. “And that’s where we’re going with this, too. We’re taking somebody’s entire life and their entire history and distilling it down into eight minutes.” They drew inspiration from Chef’s Table, a Netflix docu-series focusing on the best chefs in the world. Taylor explains, “They talk about the food they’re creating, but also the impact they’re having on other people, on their community, on the design world.” The subjects of Swatched would do the same.

They quickly put together a proposal in time for Jones to go to TNNA in June to pitch to potential funders. “I took the proposal to the show and tried to talk to people about it to see who might be interested,” she says. She was able to connect with Felicia Lo of SweetGeorgia Yarns and Stephanie Palmer of The Knitter’s Planner, both of whom agreed to help fund a proof-of-concept video.

“When I heard about the project, I knew I immediately that our team would love to support it,” Palmer says. “There’s nothing like film as a medium to explore the complicated story of why we are driven to create. The filmmakers’ goal to tell the stories of knitters from a variety of cultures was exactly the kind of project that I value most as a fellow maker.” Cereal Made agreed to create promotional videos for each sponsoring company as a thank you as well.

The subject

The next task was to find their first subject. Cereal Made’s mission is to bring underrepresented stories to the screen and expose viewers to new characters and ideas. They needed to choose someone who would embody that idea, and who lived in the New York in order to save on travel costs. It was Jones’ job to identify possible candidates. “I spent a lot of time on Ravelry and looking at websites and Facebook pages, just bookmarking,” she says. The right person also had to have achieved a professional level of design work. She identified six potential subjects, then conducted pre-interviews with those who were interested. Angela Tong stood out from the rest.

“We felt like she had the most fascinating backstory. She really represents the kind of person that we want to showcase on this show,” Jones says. It helped, too, that Tong had designed patterns for SweetGeorgia and had a pattern in the Knitter’s Planner. “It all kind of came together in this beautiful package with a nice bow, actually.”

Tong was surprised and somewhat mystified as to why exactly she’d been chosen to be featured in the film. “I just really didn’t believe in myself to be in the pilot,” she says. “There are so many more famous people in the knitting industry, especially in New York.”

“I can count off a handful of people they could have asked. But they felt I had the right story. It’s nice to have someone believe in you and feel that your story fits their needs, you know?”

The mission of the filmmakers resonated with Tong who has worked to diversify the face of the knitting industry. She serves on the diversity council for Vogue Knitting Live! and says she’s had several frustrating experiences as an Asian American knitwear designer. At TNNA, for example, she’s been confused for Heather Zoppetti, a Korean American who owns the distribution company Stitch Sprouts. “We’re just lumped together. People come into the booth and assume I’m Heather. And we’re wearing name tags! We joked that we should get t-shirts that say ‘I’m not Heather’ and ‘I’m not Angela’. First of all, we’re from different countries. And when I go to these trade shows I really try to make an effort to get to know people. I see a ton of brunettes and a ton of blondes, but I don’t mistake them for each other.”

Early in the day, before it began to rain, the crew shot Angela’s projects outside. 

Photo courtesy of Meghan Jones.

Camp had just ended and Tong’s daughters were home the day of the filming. 

Photo courtesy of Meghan Jones.

The filming

The filming took place on an overcast day at Tong’s New Jersey home. Camp for her two daughters had just ended so they were home. Taylor and Nussbaum were excited to include them and Tong’s husband, who took that day off from work, in the film.

“We live in a very small home and even though the film crew wasn’t very big – it was maybe five of them – with the equipment we were walking on top of each other.” This was not Tong’s first on-camera experience (she’s filmed classes with Craftsy and Interweave), but she was struck by how polite the crew was. “They brought everything, from toilet paper to paper towels. They didn’t want to use anything of ours. They put up all their trash. I was like, ‘Wow, you guys are very considerate.’” The kids were mostly in the basement with their dad, but Tong’s eldest daughter was thrilled to be filmed weaving.

The crew took Tong’s projects outside to be filmed in nature. “When filming Angela’s story, I really wanted to focus on how to turn her pieces into works of art,” Taylor says. Each project is shown as a still shot, framed with a white border. “My editor and I went through a number of different iterations on what kind of frame we wanted to have to really hit home that we were displaying each of Angela’s pieces like art. We wanted to have something that looked lush and brought the art to the forefront, so decided on something simple and powerful (a thin white line) that let the art sing, but still kept the colors of the scene in the blurred out background so it didn’t feel jarring.”

Tong’s eldest daughter was thrilled to be filmed weaving at the loom with her mom.

Photo courtesy of Meghan Jones.

Next steps

The proof-of-concept video is eight minutes. Cereal Made’s next job is to secure production partners. “There’s not a lot of homes for short series,” Taylor explains. “We wish there were more. So we’re looking at something like three people’s stories in one 45-minute episode. That’s about standard.” They anticipate there would be six to eight episodes in the first season. They’re reaching out to Netflix, PBS, and British television, and will be attending a world media conference in Canada in the coming months. “The type of funding we get will determine the scope of the project so it could be limited to a specific area in a state, or a whole state, or North America, or worldwide.” Once the secure a good home for the project, they’ll reach back out to brands for the final bit of funding.

The air date for the segment was originally scheduled for the Friday before Rhinebeck, but Tong suggested they hold off until the event had passed. “They didn’t know about it. Meghan, being from the West Coast, had never been. I said, ‘you know, all everybody cares about this week is Rhinebeck. We’re going to be drowned out.” They chose to wait until after the weekend.

She says the response has been “really amazing.” It racked up 8,000+ views on Vimeo in the two months since it was posted.

“My story resonated with a lot of people I think, especially for Asian Americans. They can resonate with how I grew up.”

A viewer named Cassie Paul commented on the video, “What a beautifully thoughtful video. I’m excited to see this series come to life. I appreciated the quiet, peaceful moments you’ve captured–they reflect my own experience with fiber arts.” Another commenter, Erin Waterman, wrote in part, “I would love to see a series precisely like this pilot that weaves personal story with craft.”

Knitters are a ready audience for this kind of media, and in 2016 28.8 million Americans knitted or crocheted so the audience is there. “People are already ‘Knitflixing’,” Jones says. “They’re sitting there, watching while they’re knitting or crocheting, and they’re doing this every single weekend. If we could get into their living rooms and bring them these dynamic, fascinating people, it would show that this craft is more serious, complex, diverse, and worldwide than many people think.”

Tong saw the film before it aired publicly. “I saw it with my family and I started crying,” she says. “I was very emotional about it. I was like I can’t believe that’s me. And it is me. I was just overwhelmed.”

Want to support the making of Swatched? Watch the pilot and leave a comment. This helps to prove to production partners that there’s an eager audience for this project.

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