Liza Laird is a certified yoga instructor and retreat leader. She’s also a knitwear designer. Her two passions come together in the new book, Yoga of Yarn, which she self-published this year.
Photos courtesy of Liza Laird.
“I wanted people to have the ability to have a yoga and knitting retreat in their home every single day,” says knitwear designer and certified yoga instructor, Liza Laird. The upstate New York-based Laird is the author of the new book, Yoga of Yarn, which she self-published this spring. “Not everyone can go on a trip, and even if you do, you go home after four days, and then everything you did goes out the window. The question is, how do I do that at my house?” Laird wrote Yoga of Yarn to answer that question.
A psychology major while at Lafayette College, Laird figured she’d pursue a career as a therapist after graduation, but a job working in marketing at a fragrance and hair care company right out of college gave her a different perspective. “I was really stressed at my marketing job. I decided that I didn’t necessarily want to go the traditional route.” Instead, she decided to teach yoga. “At 23 I felt like I could do anything,” she says. She completed the required training and began hosting yoga retreats. Knitting, a hobby she’d pursued since childhood, was a hobby.
Laird’s yoga retreats were held in a variety of exotic locations including Peru, Thailand, Italy, and Bali. She attended retreats as a participant as well. One, in particular, held in Plymouth, Vermont, at a retreat center called Good Commons, stirred a new idea for her. The center’s cozy upstairs had a large fireplace, couches, and easy chairs was a perfect spot for retreat participants to gather in the evenings and knit together. She pitched the idea of a combined yoga and knitting retreat to the center’s owner and, in 2009, hosted her first knitting and yoga retreat at Good Commons, an event she’s held annually ever since.
In 2015, she founded a knitwear design business, Ragline Knits, with a friend and fellow designer, Kate Madden. They specialize in retreats, classes, and patterns with a yogic twist. Each business fed into the other in fruitful ways, and they came together in Laird’s mind as a unique idea for a book.
The book idea
Although Yoga of Yarn was published in 2022, Laird says she’s been working on the concept since 2008. Her idea was to take the yoga philosophy and translate it in a way that made it applicable to day-to-day life, including crafting.
“I look at the yoga sutras and the chakras as going beyond the yoga practice. When you make it really simple, it’s a philosophy people can use every day.”
Laird knew right away that retaining complete control over her vision for the book was paramount and that meant self-publishing. She felt the book’s topic might be too niche for a big publisher, and she only wanted to include four patterns, rather than the 12-20 most publishers seem to want for a craft book. Laird also wanted control over where the books were sold, including not selling them on Amazon. “I wanted to have yarn shops be able to pick it up and not have to compete with whatever price Amazon would be selling it at,” she says.
So rather than write a proposal to pitch to mainstream craft publishers, she jumped into writing the full manuscript. “I decided to just go ahead and do it. I had a platform and a following and knew I could go the independent route,” she says. “I had a beast of a manuscript when I was done.”
Then, in 2014, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to set the project aside. The diagnosis and treatment forced her to hone in on what was most important in her life and brought renewed focus to the book project. When her energy returned, she began editing the text down.
The Mala Cowl is one of four projects featured in Yoga of Yarn.
Photo courtesy of Liza Laird.
Assembling a team
Then, in 2019, she met acclaimed craft book editor and writer, Melanie Falick, through their mutual friend, artist Heather Ross. (Ross is Laird’s neighbor in the Catskills). Falick attended one of Laird’s retreats and they began working together shortly after. “Working with Melanie as my developmental editor revolutionized the book and took it from something that was okay to something I’m really proud of,” Laird says.
She and Falick looked to the 1970’s Moosewood Cookbook as a model of sorts. “That kind of grassroots feeling was our inspiration,” she says.
Working with Falick, and assembling the rest of her self-publishing team, came with significant expenses which Laird says were stressful to take on. “There were a lot of stomachaches from the amount of money I was going to be spending,” she says. Knowing she had an established business that was supporting her during this period was helpful. Besides Falick, Laird hired a tech editor, a copy editor, a book designer, and an illustrator. “I had an amazing team of people I had to pay,” she laughs.
For Falick, the project was an interesting challenge. “I enjoy editing books and feel proud that I played a role in the creation of Yoga of Yarn,” Falick says. “Liza was an ideal author. She began with a good idea and the qualifications necessary to write about her subject; she has an amazingly strong work ethic, and she was open to feedback even when it meant that she had to go back and revise more than once. I helped Liza with the logistics of publishing (what needs to happen when and how); with the development and fine-tuning of her manuscript; and, finally, with the puzzling together required when the graphic designer begins melding the words and the visuals.”
The book features four knitting patterns all designed with an eye toward meditation, breath work, and self-care: a brioche cowl, a fair isle eye pillow, a garter stitch meditation mat that doubles as a lap blanket and a stockinette rainbow bolster pillow made in the round. The book also includes 55 “explorations” which are different demonstrations of the “yoga of yarn” including setting intentions, doing chair yoga, and determining movements and thought patterns. These can be done in just a few minutes and Laird says they are extremely beneficial.
She clarifies that applying yoga philosophy to your life “doesn’t mean you never curse, and never cry or flip out.” Instead, it allows you to use non-violence, truthfulness, and kindness and deal with your challenges, whether that’s in crafting or elsewhere.
“It’s about using yoga and knitting as self-discovery.”
Building a book community
Her goal was the print the book domestically and she was able to find a US-based press that would do a run of 300. The books quickly sold out. Unfortunately, difficulty with quality control combined with the paper shortage meant that Laird had to look elsewhere for the second print run. Working through an American agent, she printed the next 2,500 copies in China.
Now, the challenges are managing warehousing, distribution, and marketing the book all on her own. When two big crates of books weighing 3,000 pounds arrived at her house in an 18-wheeler, her husband moved each box off the forklift and into the family basement.
“I’m hopping in my car and going to the local yarn shops in the area,” she says. “I’m doing it in a way so that I can build a greater community and be face-to-face with as many people as I can who are buying the book. It’s more about getting the message out than about selling thousands of copies of the book.” She’s already sold half of the second print run.
Laird had a second baby, and then a third two years later, all during the process of writing and refining the book and navigating the pandemic. The techniques presented in Yoga of Yarn are proving helpful to Laird herself right now while she’s juggling caring for three young children while running two creative businesses and selling her book.
“For me right now, to be able to knit or do yoga, I’m lucky if I get three stitches done a day or get one child’s pose in,” she says. “But if I fit that tiny bit of time in, it really helps me not feel the weight of the chaos in my life right now.” Surely that’s a feeling many of us can relate to.
Melanie Falick is taking on a limited number of freelance consulting and editing projects while she is writing a follow-up to her 2019 book Making a Life: Working by Hand and Discovering the Life You Are Meant to Live. If you have an idea that you would like to discuss with her, email her at email@example.com. To learn more about Melanie, visit her website www.melaniefalick.com.
Abby co-founded Craft Industry Alliance and now serves as its president. She’s a sewing pattern designer, teacher, and journalist. She’s dedicated to creating an outstanding trade association for the crafts industry. Abby lives in Wellesley, Massachusetts.