(Photos courtesy of Shibguyz)
Shannon and Jason Mullett-Bowlsby are the founders of Shibaguyz, a multi-faceted company based in Seattle. Shannon is the crochet and knitting designer whose books have the unusual aspect of offering patterns in multiple size ranges while Jason is the photographer and graphic designer of the duo (he takes all the photos for all of their books). Together for 21 years, Shannon and Jason work together daily and often finish each other's sentences. In our interview we learn how the name 'Shibaguyz' was created, how Jason's mom helped inspire them and how hard it really is to design one pattern for 8 different sizes.
How did you come up with the name Shibaguyz?
Shannon: We have 3 Shiba Inu dogs and we take them to the farmers market, around town with us, really everywhere. People would forget our names but they’d say ‘Hey you’re the guys with the Shibas' and so we became the Shibaguyz.
Shannon, when did you start crocheting and knitting?
Shannon: I don’t remember (laughs). They tell me I was 3 when they first put hooks and a needle in my hands because I was a hyperactive kid and I also had a little bit of ADD. I just couldn’t pay attention and I counted a lot apparently. This kept me focused and from running around so much.
Plus on top of that, in hindsight, I think what it was, truthfully, was if I wanted to spend time with my grandmother or her sisters, you had to be there while they were doing what they did. I grew up in the country and if it was time to cook dinner and you wanted to see anyone you went to cook dinner with them. If it was butchering season, you were next to them for that. If you were making clothes, you were there for that. I learned to quilt, sew, cook from them and how to knit and crochet from my grandma sitting on the couch next to her.
Your books have patterns in a range of sizes from small to 5x. What made you want to create a book with so many different sizes?
Jason: Part of it is because of my mother.
Shannon: Jason’s mom was out here visiting and she’s kind of the one who gave me the kick in the pants to become a designer anyway. I was making some things one day and she said ‘Boy I’d buy that’ and I said ‘Okay if she’d buy this maybe someone else would!’ She said to me if you’re going to make these clothes make sure that they fit big women too.
Jason: She said ‘Remember not everyone out there that’s going to buy this is going to be a size 4.’
Shannon: It’s really her and her friends who buy the patterns and buy the magazines that our designs go in so I had to think about them as my clients. They’re the ones who I’m making the garments for and who I’m designing them for. So if they only fit an extra small to a large or extra large, I’m leaving out a huge portion of my clients and I’m just not even considering them and I think that’s rude. I felt I needed to include all those body shapes and body types. I said it as a quote in the Moonstruck knitting book – everyone deserves to look and feel amazing in their clothes, no matter what size they are.
Is it hard to design a pattern in different sizes?
Shannon: It’s really hard. It sounds like you just write more numbers. No it’s not. You can’t just make the fabric wider or make the armhole bigger because you have to understand the proportions of how people’s bodies are going to change as they gain weight. While we certainly can’t predict every body type -- we try to hit the main areas. If it doesn’t fit the size range that we say it’s going to, we don’t do it.
Have you ever designed something and then realized it wasn’t going to hit that size range?
Shannon: Yes and then we dumped it. We’ve totally dumped the design because of that.
What inspires you to create your designs?
Shannon: It’s everything every day. Your environment inspires you as a designer and as an artist. When you hear a song, when you walk down the street and see a building. I take pictures a lot – my cell phone gets filled up with pictures every time we’re out. I’ll take a picture of the way the grass is laying or the way the tree bark is. If we’re hiking and see some tree branches that fell together, it makes me think of cable patterns that I come up with or textures.
Do you have a preference of crocheting or knitting?
Shannon: I don’t. It’s whatever I’m doing right at that minute. Right now I’m kind of on a crochet kick because . . . well because. I don’t know why, I just am.
Jason: He tells me it’s because of the textures he can get out of crochet.
Shannon: I’m big on creating fabrics and when I design I think about the fabric I want to create. I don’t know I just find the versatility in crochet right now that I can make everything from solids to lace fabrics in ways that are kind of surprising to me. And I think other people find them surprising too when they come out.
Jason, how did you get your start in photography?
Jason: My father was what you’d call an armchair photographer. He bought himself a nice camera when I was a little kid and bought me my first camera, a little point and click thing. I always had a camera and was taking photos, nothing fancy about it. But a few years into our relationship, Shannon started commenting on the photos that I was taking. This was when digital was just starting to come out. So I finally saved up enough money and bought a decent entry-level camera.
Shannon: He took a lot of really great pictures for our blog back in the early days. We used to do a gardening and food blog and he took just beautiful pictures of our garden and our clients' gardens and the food. So I was always a big fan of his photography. Then one day I was in a meeting with a client and said “You know what we should do? We should photograph this ourselves.” The client said “You can do that?” and I said “Yes, we can do that!” Then I immediately called Jason and told him he was photographing a book.
Jason: That same day I went to the library and picked up every book I could on fashion photography. Then I started reading and I started practicing.
You’ve been one of the photographers at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City – how did that opportunity come about?
Jason: I’ve always had a soft spot for animals and many, many years ago when we first started to decide which dog we wanted to get, we attended the Seattle Kennel Club Dog show. I would go around and I would watch all the events and take a look at all of the dogs and it was a lot of fun. So I started bringing my camera with me and taking a lot of photos.
After we met the breeder of our Shibas, I started going up to her place and taking pictures of her dogs. I met some other breeders up there and they started giving me tips and pointers on what to look for when you’re photographing dogs and specifically dog shows. The next thing you know I’m taking pictures at most of the dog shows in the Pacific Northwest.
Then I met the media director for Westminster. He loved my work and next thing I know he said at a show “what would you think about going to Westminster next year” and I just laughed and said “sure, maybe some day”. About 4 months later he calls me up and tells me I need to get my credentials for Westminster. It was amazing! You’re there on the floor of Madison Square Garden before everything opens and it’s quite an experience.
How do you know when you’ve taken the “right” photo – is there something you look for?
Jason: After about 12,000 you’ll find the right one (laughs). It really depends on the piece – if it’s a garment or a dog or even a butterfly in the back yard. There are certain things you just know and you look at it and you say ‘that’s it, that’s the one right there.’ For the garments specifically . . .
Shannon: It’s me!
Jason: (laughs) It helps a lot, yes. ‘Nope, nope, nope’ (laughs)
Shannon: Yeah it’s no pressure at all having the designer behind you while you’re editing your photos.
Jason: It all depends on what you want to show in the photo. A lot of fashion photography out there really focuses on the model and the model’s shape and size. It’s like the garments are an afterthought. In our business, we’re trying to sell this look of patterns so we want people to see how this garment is going to look and how it’s going to flow and fit and what’s the stitch pattern looks like.
What excites you both most about teaching others?
Shannon: It’s different things. I think what excites me the most about teaching others is that moment when you see them get it.
Jason: Yes, when something clicks. We call it the ‘a-ha moment’. It’s those moments when you pass along information and see them realize something and make a connection in their head that they hadn’t made before. You know that you’ve changed someone forever. And that’s why you teach.
Jason: What really excites me is seeing someone else get excited about the same thing that excites me. When someone picks up a camera or puts a sheet of white paper next to a cup and they see how that changes the light and they start playing with it. That’s when it gets fun.
Shannon: When you can transfer your passion to someone else, it's important. We don’t have human children to pass our skills onto and the Shibas don’t like to knit or crochet or take photos. They’ve told us they’re not going into the family business (laughs). We don’t have kids that we can pass this along to, the same way it was passed along to us. So when we teach, it’s passing along those skills and that excitement we have. Like Jason said, passing that passion on to the students is a big deal.
How would you define your style?
Jason: Clean, crisp
Shannon: Yes, we like really clean crisp lines. I like to take something soft like crocheting and knitting and make it clean and crisp.
Jason: If you look at Shannon’s patterns you’ll see how the fit happens and how the shoulders always hit the right spot. Even if it’s draped party wear where it’s big and billowy in front, it’ll still have clean lines.
Shannon: In our new book there’s a lot of draping and folding going on but there’s still strong geometric lines.
What’s it like working with your spouse?
Shannon: Everyone expects us to say it’s tough to work with your spouse. I don’t think it’s any tougher to work with your spouse. That’s my opinion. I don’t know what he’s going to say (laughs). It’s no tougher to work with my spouse than it is to work with anyone else because it’s a relationship no matter who you’re working with. What you have to remember when you’re working with your spouse is that you’re working with your spouse. You have to remember that you’re working with the person that you’re married to and some times personal feelings can come into play and you’ve got to separate those two things or else it doesn’t work.
Jason: Yeah, it can be difficult at times to separate a personal feeling from a business decision. I think we work through most of that – if Shannon comes down and tells me something looks really terrible, I don’t take it personally (Shannon laughs). And if I tell him I don’t like the way a certain stitch pattern looks. . .
Shannon: ‘What do you mean you don’t like it? What’s wrong with it? Just throw it away then! Just burn the whole garment!’ We’ve never had that conversation. We can be more honest with each other than I know I could be with other people I’ve worked with and that makes the decision making faster and the whole process easier. We’ve been together for 21 years now so that level of communication you can’t get that from someone you work with, you just can’t.
Jason: We do have separate working areas so it’s not like were around each other 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Shannon works on the 3rd floor and I’m downstairs. I might not see him for 3 or 4 hours so there’s a little bit of separation.
What one tool can’t you live without?
Shannon: An OttLite! Lately it’s really been the OttLite. There have been fights in here over those lamps! All kidding aside, if we didn’t have them . . . well (we went) through a heat wave this summer (and it got) close to 100 degrees. So you don’t want to use the big studio lights we usually use. My OttLite is sitting here next to me. Being able to flip it up and see with that type of clarity with the rest of the lights off has been invaluable. Lighting is really important to both of us in what we’re doing. We have to see true colors and the small detail work. That’s what we’re known for -- our finishing and the fine detail work we do in our designs. Without good lighting we’re (done). It doesn’t matter what type of needles we use if we don’t have good lighting.
For more information on Shibaguyz visit their website and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.
Shannon’s online classes, Quick & Easy Crochet Cables and Crochet Technique Kit are available through Craftsy. Jason’s on-demand webinars How to Create a DIY Photo Studio and Photographing Your Projects Like a Pro are available through Interweave. The Shibaguyz also teach in-person classes around the United States.