As you know, I am a huge fan of Yoko Saito. I have been wanting her books since I picked up my first issues of Quiltmania magazine about seven years ago – but they were only available in French and Japanese at the time, and I would have had to order them from Europe.
Over the last few years, several of Yoko Saito’s books have been translated into English. Interweave have published three of her titles, and they are all quite enjoyable. However, the best translations and the best publications are the ones from Stitch publications, a small independent publishing company that specializes in translating Japanese quilting books into English.
Lately I have acquired three titles from Stitch Publications and they are all in my top 1o quilting book list. The translations are immaculate and there is an incredible amount of information in the books. I get the feeling that Yoko Saito takes the perspective of trying to convey as much knowledge as possible to her readers, rather than scraping together enough projects to make a book.
I met Priscilla Knoble, the lovely person behind Stitch Publications last fall in Houston, and I finally got around to doing a little Q&A with her so we can better learn what drives her and her beautiful translations.
Well, my business is really the publishing company, Stitch Publications. I was born and raised in Japan until I came to the States for college. I am fluent in Japanese and although I was an elementary school teacher in my twenties, I fell into software in my 30’s due to my Japanese ability.
I learned to sew around 4 years old when my Mom bought me a little sewing machine. By the time I was in elementary school, I was making and sometimes designing my own clothes. For the last 18 years I’ve been back and forth to Japan for work and I would often pick up Japanese craft books, as there wasn’t much selection here.
A few years ago I began to think about what I might want to do if I ever left software. A dream began to emerge of bringing Japanese craft books to the world in English as there were not that many available in comparison to what is sold there. I did some research, wrote a business plan and ended up starting Stitch Publications.
What makes Stitch Publications unique from other publishing companies is that not only do I own the company, but I do the translation, layout and virtually everything else as well. On occasion, when I feel that I am running out of time on a deadline, I have used a translation company in Japan for the directions portion of a book. But I have found that the translation is sub-par and I end up going back to the original Japanese and doing it myself anyway. I believe that being able to translate natively (rather than as a learned language) is very important when trying to get at the heart of what the original author’s intent was as they wrote…particularly in the areas of the book that are not just directions.
Additionally, as a quilter, when I don’t think I understand the directions, I will stop and make a sample so that I can better explain the step in English. Most companies use translators and translation software to do the work and I would venture to say that very few of those translators are experts in the content of the book that they are working on. Over the years I have read many books, seen movies, etc. that have been translated into English from Japanese. Many of them could be of higher quality if they had a natively bilingual person work on them, but they are often hard to find and not cost-effective for most companies.
I also develop relationships with the authors and publishers in Japan. Japanese culture is one of relationships and I thoroughly enjoy getting to know those who I work with. It’s not just a cut and dry business for me. Like many in the quilting world, it is a passion of mine and the people are equally important.
Willow Lane Quilting Company is a very small endeavor and not my main focus. I really only started it so that people would have somewhere to buy some of the Japanese fabrics, notions, etc. that are not often easily available in the States and ones that are used in the books. I buy the notions I sell from a Japanese distributor, get the tags, charms and things when I am in Korea.
I do love her work and have for many years. She has a unique sensibility, even for Japan. She was the first one I contacted and met with when starting Stitch Publications. There are other amazing designers and quilters in Japan. Reiko Kato is quite well known; particularly for her “sunbonnet sue” type quilt designs. Keiko Goke’s books are wonderful. One has been translated already, but the publishing company who had done her two other books is not in business any longer, so those are not available. I will be introducing a new author in the latter half of 2014.
What are your favorite fabrics?
Wow…all fabrics? I love, love fabric and fiber. I worked part-time in a quilt shop in the early-mid 90’s and started my first stash. You can only imagine how much fabric I have 20 years later. I don’t really have a “type”. Rather like my taste in music, my fabric collection is quite eclectic.
What type of quilt projects do you like to make yourself?
I feel the same way about quilt projects as I do about fabric. I can’t pigeonhole myself into a specific type. I make all sizes: bed, wall hangings, lap quilts as well as small projects. I’ve honestly been a little surprised by the “modern quilt movement”. I feel as though quilting has naturally evolved over the last 40 years since its resurgence. Somehow, now quilters are being made to identify themselves by putting themselves into a particular bucket. I think I will always be happy to just be a quilter that embraces anything that I like at any given time and appreciate all the artistry and creativity that goes into any kind of quilt.
Oh, that is so difficult. I truly love so many different color schemes and fabrics. I don’t really have time to do much else in my life at the moment, but I’ve been toying with the concept of making some Yoko Saito projects out of Japanese Taupe type colored wool. Wouldn’t that be fun?
What is a project you are currently working on?
I won’t talk about the many quilt tops that I have yet to quilt. But I always have baskets lying around the house that have projects in them. As I am inspired, I pick them up and work on them. Sometimes I find that I will finish 2 or 3 in a week that I have been working on for awhile. I just finished doing the stitchery part of a bag front from an Anni Downs pattern. I always have some wool project going…most often a pattern from Primitive Gatherings. I love Lisa Bongean’s designs. I was thrilled when she stopped by my booth at market. I have a Basic Grey quilt loaded on my Gammill and several knitting projects. I used to own alpacas for their fiber and love to spin it up on my spinning wheels. A few weeks ago I was invited to an Embroidery Guild Christmas party and needed to have a handmade ornament for the gift exchange. I designed a little cardinal on a branch and then put the pattern for free on my website. And, of course, I am always in the middle of translations of the next books that I am publishing. I wish I had 36 more hours in a day to do all I want to do.
Do you have a quilting related skill that you would love to improve on or learn?
I hope that I always want to improve on anything I’ve learned, but I would love to have the time to practice more intricate quilting on my Gammill.
People who are just getting to know Yoko Saito’s designs and Japanese taupism may be a little intimidated by the intricacy of the projects and the amount of handwork involved. Do you have any tips and ideas to help people get started?
Before I started down the path with Stitch Publications, I did think about this issue. Asia and much of Europe still has a majority of people that celebrate handwork. You really don’t see the “Quilt in a Day” or simple quilt projects all that much. I wondered about the market and whether or not I’d be able to sell the books. However, there are quite a number of those who love to do stitchery, applique and intricate work such as you see in Baltimore Album quilts or Sue Spargo’s projects. Not to mention that I own a couple of hundred quilt and craft books myself and I often use them for inspiration even if I won’t make them myself. Hearing how many people would buy the books in Japanese and follow the pictures as best they could was reason enough to publish them in English.
If someone is brand new to quilting, then I think that one of the keys is to find a shop that would be willing to do a class. In Japan, it is most typical if taking up a new hobby or craft, to seek out a “master teacher” and learn step-by-step under them. As I mention in the foreword of every book, very few attempt something just by buying the book and going for it. This is also why the directions in the book are more cryptic than books you find that are written in America. The author expects that you have learned all the basics under a master, so that none of the concepts are new.
If you can’t find a shop, then get a quilting group together who is interested in the same techniques and meet together to help with any areas that are difficult.
Once you understand the techniques, it is not so much that they are difficult. Rather, they just take time. And sometimes a pair of glasses!
Because of the way they are written, I do highly recommend that one read through the entire book before starting a project. I have had many people tell me that once they understand the rhythm of how they are written, it is much easier. She typically does step-by-step instructions with pictures for every type of project she includes in the book. This helps anyone with all the basic techniques that will be used in the book. For those not in the step-by-step areas, you must read the directions, study and follow the diagrams and the pattern sheets to fully understand each step. If you only read one area, you might miss a critical step.
What would be a great project for people new to “taupism”?
Each book has a variety of levels and projects. They almost all have a mix of bags, wall hangings, small projects, etc. To understand the color concept of Japanese Taupes, it is probably good to start with Yoko Saito’s Japanese Taupe Color Theory. This will give a very good foundation of how to put color collections together to get what you are looking for when you make a project. If you like the designs of the projects more than the Japanese taupe colors, then you might want to start with any of the projects that she walks through step-by-step with pictures instead of the projects that just have directions written on one or two pages.
Many of Yoko Saito’s projects are hand applique and involve traditional handwork like embroidery and candlewicking. Do you see those types of techniques as getting a more central position in American quilting as well in the future?
First, I think that there is a distinct difference between a “traditional technique” and “traditional designs”. Embroidery as been around for centuries and is continues to evolve. For example, Alison Glass is a designer that does embroidery patterns, but her designs would be considered anything but traditional. I’ve seen a lot of embroidery and applique pop up at Quilt Market in the last couple of years. So, I don’t know if I would say that they would get a more central position. But I do think that quilters and crafters (no matter what kind you call yourself) are artists and creative people at heart and are always on the lookout for things that are different than what they have seen in the past; whether that is due to actual designs or due to color choices. There is no denying that America is the birthplace of quilting, as we know it. There has never been, nor likely will be, a lack of amazing designers for U.S. publishers to showcase. I love to see what is new every year and buy up new books and patterns like everyone. But there is room for all kinds of designs and ideas and I think it is good to bring in ideas that were inspired outside of America, since so few Americans have the opportunity to browse through international books. Not to mention that I sell my books to a worldwide market and they are highly popular everywhere.
Thank You, Priscilla, for taking the time to talk to us.