Inspirational Interview with Anna Scott, editor of Inspirations

The world of embroidery is made up of people who do such a wide variety of things; spinners, dyers, designers, woodworkers, weavers, retailers, teachers, students, conservators, collectors, authors…and many, many more. We tend to think only of a few professions when we consider the vast network of people who make it possible for us to learn about and create our lovely pieces of embroidery.

One group of people who reach us quarterly are the people at Country Bumpkin who produce the most beautiful embroidery magazine in the world, Inspirations. Anna Scott is their editor and I was curious how one became an editor of an embroidery magazine (that’s a pretty specialized job description!) For those of you who receive Inspirations in your mail box four times a year, here’s an insight into what goes into putting each issue together and, for those of you who don’t yet receive it, check back next time for a gift to one lucky reader from Country Bumpkin!

What was your profession before you became the editor of Inspirations?

Before I joined Country Bumpkin, I spent a couple of years working for a bridal house where I did the beading and hand finishing of the gowns. It was at a time where most wedding gowns were covered in beads and sequins and at one point I didn’t think I would ever want to see another bead. Prior to beading wedding gowns, I worked at an ecclesiastical workshop in Copenhagen. That was an amazing experience and one that has given me a great appreciation of good craftsmanship.

What was the catalyst for becoming involved in publishing an embroidery magazine?

I trained at Haandarbejdets Fremmes Seminarium in Copenhagen, specialising in hand embroidery, and I was often asked how I would ever make a living from embroidery. I wasn’t sure how that was going to happen, but I love stitching and was just pretty determined to make it work somehow. However, publishing never crossed my mind and it is amazing where your interests can take you, if you are open towards the opportunities that come your way. Once back in Australia, I first learned about Inspirations magazine when I applied for a job as pattern maker. I didn’t get it, but some time later Margie Bauer, the founder of Country Bumpkin, contacted me and offered me a temporary job in the editorial department. I politely declined, thinking that I didn’t know anything at all about writing and editing for a magazine, let alone in English which is not my first language. How could I possibly work in publishing? On the other hand, I love teaching and presenting things neatly, and really had had enough of beads and crystals to last me a lifetime, so….. why not? A few weeks later, I called Margie back and asked if the offer was still there, and if so, could it be part time and permanent? That was the beginning. Since then my role in the company has slowly evolved and I have been given some amazing opportunities that I had never thought possible.

What creative opportunities do you relish as the editor?

This is a difficult question because the progression of each issue is one long creative process and it is difficult to separate one part from the other. Each issue of the magazine takes on a life of its own along the way and each step in the process is so closely linked to the next and the one before it. The gathering of suitable and interesting projects and articles that complement one another is exciting and good fun, and usually fuels ideas for future issues, as we often have more ideas than space. Visualising how best to present each piece photographically and then making those ideas come to life on the photo shoots is amazing. Then, once everything is prepared, I love working out how it will all fit on the pages, like a big puzzle. Working with our graphic design wiz, Lynton, is always a pleasure and I get great satisfaction from all the elements being brought together, and carefully fine-tuning the pages.

How are all the components of each project pulled together for each issue?

Each issue begins about 12 months before it finally reaches our readers, sometimes more. As an example, I am currently speaking to contributors for issue 80, which goes on sale October 2013.

Apart from the printing, all of our production is done in-house. We require the projects for each issue to be at our Adelaide office 5 to 6 months prior to publication. We ask our contributors to submit as much information as possible with their project; things such as lists of requirements, threads, notes on how to work the piece and so forth. The more information we receive, the better we can represent the project. The instructions and other text is then prepared here to make sure the instructions are all consistent with our house style. After the text is prepared it is proof read by several different people all with embroidery knowledge and experience. Proof reading is not just about grammar, it is also about understanding what you read and making sure it will make sense and be easy to follow by others. You almost need to create the piece in your mind as you read.

One of our pattern makers recreates and checks all the embroidery designs, patterns and requirements, as well as drawing all the construction diagrams you see on the pattern sheets. We have an illustrator who will generate the beautiful diagrams you see in the pages. As with the proof reading, these ladies also need to know their embroidery to get it right.

The photography is usually done in three stages. First up are the close-up images which show all the fine detail. Next, we do the beautiful styled hero photography, and the step-by-step photography is done last. For that, each step is prepared individually – one sample for each box you see on the pages, which is rather time consuming. The reason we choose to do it this way instead of photographing the work as it progresses is that it allows us to have the photography done in the studio, where we can get perfect consistency in lighting and magnification. The last three weeks before a magazine leaves for print is usually very, very busy. This is when everything is brought together; patterns, diagrams, photographs and pattern sheets are checked and cross-referenced. The t’s are crossed and the i’s are dotted in the front page articles, kits are checked and advertising finalised. We are quite sensitive to the amount of space we allow for the latter and try to keep it nice and in a style that fits the magazine, but unfortunately we can’t do without it.

Once the files leave the editorial department, the next big ‘machinery’ of printing, shipping and distributing is set in motion to bring the magazines to our readers around the world… and bingo, 12 weeks later, the copies begin to land in people’s mail boxes.

How do you learn about new products, designers etc…especially outside of Australia?

Finding new products and meeting new designers is a really exciting part of what I do and, needless to say, it helps to be curious.
How we learn about products and designers is fifty-fifty between something being brought to our attention and us uncovering new things, either online, in other publications or just by speaking to people. Sometimes it happens by chance. Recently we met a ‘soon to be’ contributor from the Netherlands when she sent me a picture of a piece she was working on, asking advice for a stitch. Her work is quite unique and I am really looking forward to sharing it with our readers.
I love it when stitchers contact us to look at their work for possible publication. It is a big thing for most people to contact a publishing house, especially if you have never had anything published before. It is equally exciting to come across a fabulous piece of embroidery and wait with anticipation to hear back from its creator.
The internet has made the stitching world much bigger for everyone, and I could easily spend all my time just wandering around online. Obviously, that is just not an option and I rarely go searching for new designers. In most cases, I will come across someone or something really interesting while researching something completely different either at work or privately.

The photography is outstanding, both in quality and in content. Who is responsible for photo layouts?

The photographic presentation has always been a very important part of Inspirations magazine. Because of its importance, it is an intense part of the production, but not as big an operation as you would perhaps imagine. Our main aim is to represent each piece of embroidery in the best and most beautiful way we possibly can. Achieving that really is a team effort.

It begins with Fiona Fagan, the owner of Country Bumpkin who is also our long-time stylist, and I sitting down surrounded by the projects to brainstorm ideas for the photo shoot. While Fiona goes off gathering props and models (she has an amazing knack of finding that perfect ’something’) I will go through our ideas and begin to visualise how they will work on the pages. I am hopeless at sketching, so I put together a kind of scrap book or mood board for each piece, do really rough stick figure type drawings and list props, colours, moods and anything descriptive to ‘set the scene’ in words. For the most part it is in my head, but luckily Fiona and I think very much alike, so we can communicate how we envisage the shoot.

Once we get to the location or studio, we are blessed with the most fabulous photographer. Andrew has been photographing for Inspirations for a very, very long time and has the incredible ability to turn our visions into perfect shots. Mind you, those casual still life images you see in the pages sometimes take a very long time to set up and get just right. Everything is carefully placed, right down to the last flower petal, laid out one by one. If you were a fly on the wall you would hear some strange directions being given out from time to time: “…that bit is not quite right, can you turn it just a few degrees to the left?… no a little bit forward, too much, stop, stop, perfect! Now the piece to the right of the blue one… looks wired, perhaps bring it out…no in, back, yep, good”. I think you get the picture. We have been known to add extra flowers to shrubs, totally re-arrange a room (much to the horror of the owner), chasing ducks into ponds – or out of ponds, but recently had to draw the line when Andrew asked us to get a goldfish to swim into shot.

Once the hero and detail photography is done, Lynton waves his magic graphic design wand and makes it all look spectacular on the pages. So, as I began by saying: it really is a team effort.

What criteria do you use for choosing projects to feature?

We are lucky to have an amazing team of contributors from around the world, who manage to find time to produce projects for the magazine on top of their everyday jobs, teaching schedules and whatever else they are up to. We very, very rarely set out parameters for our contributors to work from. People may ask for ideas or suggestions, and then I will of course discuss it with them and work towards an idea for a piece that suit their style, time frame and, in some cases, a particular issue of the magazine.

If a piece is suitable or not is a really tricky question. It needs to well designed and well executed as well as suit the aesthetics of the magazine. Not all projects tick all the boxes, but are still included because they, for other reasons, add value to the magazine.
I remember when I first started working here, overhearing a previous editor saying “it is just not quite right” and thinking, that was an awfully vague reason for not including the piece. I have learned that sometimes that is just the way it is – a piece might be technically good and designed well, but for some reasons that I am unable to explain, it is ’just not right’. It is the worst feeling having to tell someone that their piece is not suitable for publication, and is something that usually requires chocolate afterwards.

I like to encourage embroiderers to send us their work and not give up even if they are not published straight away. The first two pieces I submitted for publication were not published – they were ‘just not right’ and I can see why, now.

How do you arrive at the balance of different type of projects in each magazine?

I try to make sure that each issue has something for everyone; a variety of techniques and level of difficulty, something pretty, something practical, something that might appeal to a younger stitcher, one or two large or more complex projects, smaller pieces that are quicker to work and so forth. It does require a bit of forward planning to get the mixture and balance right and, from time to time, we have pieces here for quite some time before we find the ‘perfect fit’.

Are there any areas of needlework that you don’t include? Why?

There are plenty of areas of needlework that we don’t include, such as rug hooking, knitting, crochet, patchwork, tatting, bobbin lace and felting, just to name a few. We may have snippets of these as part of an embroidered piece, but very rarely as stand-alone projects. Hand embroidery is the main focus of the magazine, and if we were to include all these other equally fabulous needle crafts, I feel the magazine would too easily loose its focal point. This is also the reason we don’t feature a lot of cross stitch and needlepoint. There are so many other good magazines on the market that do that.

Digital magazines are gaining in popularity. Are there plans for Inspirations to go digital? Why or why not?

Whenever we bring this issue up with our current readers, all we hear is ‘shock and horror’. There is something about turning paper pages that just doesn’t compare to scrolling up and down a screen. However, we are working towards having Inspirations available in a digital format at some point. When it happens, the digital version will not be to replace the printed version of the magazine, but it will be an option for those who prefer that kind of format.

Don’t you just love having a peek behind the scenes? I know I do! Now, whenever I open a copy of Inspirations, I’ll think of Anna sitting at her desk with her beautiful smile!

Be sure to check back next time for our Country Bumpkin sponsored give-a-way!

4 thoughts on “Inspirational Interview with Anna Scott, editor of Inspirations

  1. This is a fascinating interview. When I attended Beating around the Bush in 2009, I sat in on a little presentation of how they put the magazine together. It was very interesting, but this article gives a much better insight into the process. I recently finished a project by Anna, the Garnet bag from issue 71. Not only is she a great editor, but also a talented designer.

  2. This has been a favorite magazine of mine for a long time. I really enjoyed the interview with Anna Scott and the look behind the scenes.

  3. Kathy,
    Thanks so much for this very informative interview! It is a very fascinating inside look at the process of producing my favorite embroidery magazine. The editor’s job, as described by Anna, is certainly a bit like an orchestra conductor in that it takes managing the many roles of a big team working together to produce together the whole magazine. I have a new appreciation for Inspirations through understanding how complex a job it is to produce it.

  4. Great interview. I hope Anna reads the comments. I think Inspirations is the best embroidery magazine out there and now I can see why. I only wish it was available more in my area of the world but for some reason it is difficult to find any Country Bumpkin magazines here in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. I know, I could get a subscription and as soon as I can afford the outlay all at once, I will!

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