Shannon Leigh Roudhán and Jason Bowlsby (Shannon & Jason) have been wowing us with their mad creative skills for years. We kicked off our official collaboration with their debut thread collection, FAB Sashiko Essentials, back in 2019, quickly followed by the release of The Mighty Ten a few months later.
While the collections are dedicated to two of Shannon & Jason’s creative passions– quilting & Sashiko– they are by no means fully representative of the DIY duo’s full range of techniques. Crochet & knitting, specialty dyeing, Boro & Sashiko, quilting, kogin-zashi, cooking, and gardening are all just scratching the surface… these two are inspiring and impressive and we’re so grateful for our partnership!
Their latest collection, Kogin Essentials Collection, introduces us to their must-have threads for kogin-zashi stitching. Featuring 5 small spools of Aurifloss and 5 small spools of Aurifil 12wt Cotton, this collection is everything you’ll need to dive into your own kogin-zashi stitching. It might just be what you need to dive into a variety of hand-stitched projects — if we can learn one thing from Shannon & Jason, it’s that there are no limits to the creative process and it’s always worth following your passion. Find what makes you happy and just dive in!!
Welcome back to Auribuzz! We’re so thrilled to have you here today and want to thank you for taking the time to chat with us. We’d love to kick things off by giving our readers a bit of background. Can you tell us about yourselves and how you got started in the world of design?
Thanks for having us back! We are always happy to catch up with Aurifil.
We are Shannon and Jason (that’s us in the photo) and we live in Seattle, Washington. How did we start? Well… there was this mass of gasses and vapor and, eventually, humans learned to work with fibers and… Oh. Jason says that’s too far back. Fast forward to fifty-ish years ago. We both grew up in households where creativity and DIY were a normal part of everyday life. You learned to cook, fix your clothes, and make a lot of the things you needed because running down to the bodega on the corner or down the road to the grocery store or the mall wasn’t an option. Jason grew up in Wyoming in a town of about 6,000 people, which was large for that state (not saying much). Shannon grew up on a farm in rural Ohio (250 people in our nearest “town.” No, I’m not kidding) where the options were limited once you did decide to make the drive to the store. We grew food, preserved, and cooked that food, made clothes, blankets, and quilts, fixed our clothes, and learned to be generally self-sustainable. Neither one of us had access to any sort of mall or big shopping center like that until later in high school. Also, we are both of a certain age that we grew up in households with folx whose world view was formed by the Great Depression. You don’t throw anything away and you better keep that thingamabob just in case you need it for a thingamajig later. So, it’s not like either one of us thought it was anything special to be able to make stuff-n-things… it was just how it was.
Of course, both of us went in a completely different direction after we left our homes and didn’t really revisit making until we were in our twenties(ish). Jason was in the theatre and did some costuming work (like his mother before him) and Shannon did some costume design and sketching for ballroom dance costumes. Long story short (too late!), we didn’t come into this phase of our lives until we started looking for something more from our lives other than going to a J.O.B. every day; making money for someone else, coming home, sleeping, and repeating on the hamster wheel of life.
Shortly after we bought our house, Shannon quit her job to start designing crochet and knit garment patterns full time. Yup… sent Jason a text on an old flip phone then waited for him to have a meltdown. It wasn’t all that bad. But it certainly wasn’t the safe route to go. I (Shannon) just knew if I didn’t do it right then and there, I was going to stay where I was and be miserable for the rest of my life. There was never going to be a “good time” or a “right time” to make the move. And I blame it mostly on Jason’s mom! His parents were visiting us, and I was making crochet hats and knitting socks. She asked me what I was doing and said “Boy, I’d buy that.” I figured if my mother-in-law approved (an amazing multi-disciplinary maker herself!), I might be on to something here. While Jason continued to go to his day job, I made hats, scarves, wrist warmers, and socks and applied to craft fairs for the upcoming holiday season. We were accepted at several and sold out at the very first one. GAH!! We took that as another good sign and immediately started submitting to magazines. Our first design was published on the cover of a magazine in the UK in 2009 and our first book came out in 2010.
Eventually, I, Jason, started doing the graphic design for our patterns and then landed my first book photography gig for one of our crochet pattern books. Up to that point, I had been doing photography for our patterns and portrait photography but nothing on the scale of a book for a publisher. That news was delivered to me by Shannon via that same flip phone. She sent the text “Congratulations! You’re a professional photographer!” while she was away at another conference in meetings with editors and publishers; then just didn’t answer her phone for a few hours while I had to sit and wait on details. Again, not the safest route but it was an opportunity neither one of us was willing to pass up. The money from that book allowed us to invest in better equipment and computers and was the springboard for the next step in our business: I quit my J.O.B.
Honestly, that was the dream for me (Shannon); to be able to create a business that could sustain both of us. It was such a big relief for me when I knew we were in control of our own lives.
Somewhere in the middle there we started a small-space gardening business and started teaching folx how to grow their own food and cook from more sustainable sources. That all seems like a blur now, to be honest. It was a HOOT to be able to work with sustainability and the slow food movement and we made connections that are still important to our lives to this day.
While we explored our existing skills and techniques, we started feeling a bit boxed in by the industry notion that seemed to encourage staying in one field of study or with one medium. As naturally curious folx, that wasn’t sitting right with us, and we were just about to give in to what we thought was creative burnout. Turns out, we were just ready to expand and explore more. So we did! (Yes, this is a drastically shortened version of how this happened but we’re going to talk about it more in another question so… onward!) And we L O V E it! It is the moment we truly learned to embrace our creative chaos. Viewing our creativity and studies with a multi-disciplinary lens and following the flow of thought and creative development has been wildly liberating. Embrace the Creative Chaos has become our defining focus and is definitely the key to who we are as creatives. That focus has given us permission to explore, adapt, and create in ways we had not previously considered. It also knocks down all of the usual creative barriers that usually pop up in our heads such as “that’s not how it’s always been done” or the idea that folx aren’t already multi-crafters and projects or workshops that apply more than one discipline won’t be embraced in the marketplace. Once we broke down those barriers, it was astounding how big the creative world looked to us.
You both work within a wide range of mediums… what came first, and do you find yourselves gravitating toward one more than another?
Hmmmm… That’s very much a chicken/egg question; neither one of us can really pin down which one came first. Both of us were taught at young ages the basic maker skills we would need to take care of ourselves as adults; cooking, sewing, and mending specifically. Both of us grew up in creative households so making all the things from clothes to braided rugs to pillows and quilts was just part of everyday life. That said, Jason was a theatre person and worked in costuming just as his mother had done. Shannon followed in the footsteps of her creative influences she grew up with and made things with yarn and fabric whenever the mood struck.
Professionally, we found a voice in the crochet and knitting garment design world. Specifically, we took to creating drapey and flowing crochet fashion fabrics that defied the stereotypes of crochet wearables. We published a few hundred patterns and several books and, by the time our last three books: Crochet Geometry, Designer Crochet, and Complete Crochet Course were published, we had already been diving back into our roots of creating garments and textiles from fabric for a few years. We just didn’t say much about it because that wasn’t what our audience was used to seeing from us. That changed. Quickly.
Our two most recent books are Boro & Sashiko: Harmonious Imperfection and Contemporary Kogin-zashi: Modern Sashiko Beyond Filling in the Gaps (available for pre-sale right now!). Those are complete departures from our previous mediums but the message of eager exploration and always trying something new was the same. The yarn folx came right along with us joining the hand sewists and stitchers interested in these new-to-them methods of creating textile projects.
Do we ever gravitate toward one more than another? Yup… we sure do. But that gravitational pull flips from day to day and even within a day. A new idea might send us down a new rabbit hole at any moment and a session of staring at our bins and racks of supplies will, quite often, drag us in a direction to make a thing that has nothing to do with what we might be “officially” working on at that time. We wholeheartedly live our Embrace the Creative Chaos philosophy of life and creativity so it’s hard to tell where we might end up from day to day… or later today!
What inspires you to continue creating, working with new techniques, and furthering your craft?
As we said, Embrace the Creative Chaos is not just a slogan, it is a way of life for us. Being mindful of those creative impulses and following them has been the most freeing practice for us in our lives and our work. Yes, we see what we are currently working on, but the thrill of being able to jump on a new idea or to follow the pull of creative chaos keeps our work fresh and exciting to us. For years, we held ourselves to being what we had always been. Our creativity was still (mostly) fun, but we felt like we were starting to create, act, and feel like what was expected of us; starting to fall into a rhythm of creating only inside box that we had created for ourselves… a box the industry and other folx expected us to exist within. That’s the death of creativity. Trying to create solely for an audience or to give what was expected of us paid the bills but we just didn’t feel as motivated anymore. It wasn’t burnout. It was our creativity dying. Sounds extreme? Maybe. But it was a long, brutally honest conversation we had with ourselves that lead to this change in our lives and creative practices. What was truly us and what were we creating within the scope of what was expected of us? Was our voice ours anymore?
This past year on David Bowie’s birthday, we watched an interview where he talked about how dangerous it was for an artist to “fulfill other people’s expectations.” In another he said “All my big mistakes are when I try to second-guess or please an audience. My work is always stronger when I get very selfish about it.”
What we do may seem random to an outside observer, but everything is connected by common threads (get it…threads?). Our current and future work is always being informed by what we have created previously. This interdisciplinary approach to creating has made our explorations and creations exciting for us and gives us a flexibility we wouldn’t have otherwise.
When every day is a new opportunity to create, a new opportunity to be, without any expectations carried over from the previous day other than those which we see as serving ourselves, we find ourselves more motivated to create than ever before. Our work and our LIVES have become more authentic… more REAL for us. That’s exciting for us and we hope that excitement inspires others to create and Embrace the Creative Chaos.
It has been a wild 2 years! How did the changes in the world affect your day-to-day? Now that we’re starting to see bits of normalcy creeping back in, what are you most looking forward to both personally and professionally?
Wild is not the word for it! The past two years+ has been a nightmare and a blessing all at once. A rollercoaster for sure. First, we watched in horror while, over the course of about two weeks, the majority of our income evaporated. We couldn’t stop it. We couldn’t avoid it. The car was about to go over the cliff and we were not able to bail out fast enough. We were going over and the dread, panic, and hopelessness that filled our days and sleepless nights seemed unbearable. Next, like so many other times in our lives, we sat down and looked at our situation from the perspective that we had to survive because the other options were incomprehensible.
Long story short(ish) we switched all our classes to formats that could be taught virtually, we started converting and upgrading Jason’s photography studio equipment for video, and we rewired, built out, and reworked our creative space for use as a broadcast and recording studio space. Wheeeeee… Thankfully, events and venues were happy to talk about how to make this a viable option for teachers and our publisher even created an entirely new online platform for their stranded authors called Creative Spark.
Within a couple of months, we were teaching our reworked and some completely new workshops live from our studio and our kitchen. (Yes, we teach cooking classes too.) And that was one of the unexpected joyous developments that came from not being able to travel to events: we were teaching workshops in mediums that we had only begun to touch upon in our in-person workshops. The initial set up was expensive but, thanks to some art grants and the support of our students, we were able to teach more than we were able to when we had to travel across the country to present a handful of classes. Virtual classes are all about accessibility for us and for students who we might never have reached. We have made friends with students from all over the world teaching virtually. Some can’t travel because of… physical abilities, work and family responsibilities, medical limitations, or financial access. Trans folx and folx from oppressed groups often don’t feel comfortable traveling. We welcome them all into our studio every time we go live or they log into a pre-recorded event. We might have all been locked into place, but folx were still thirsty for creative inspiration and had more time now than ever before to develop their existing skills and learn whole new creative styles and techniques.
Back to normal? What is normal now? We don’t quite know. The world has changed again and the only thing we are sure of is that this won’t be the last time we face changes that cause us to rework how we do what we do. Right now, we are (once again!) reworking our classes and finding new ways to record and share content with makers from all over the world. Creative Spark is a huge part of that plan, and we are continually grateful to C&T Publishing for creating that virtual platform. Once used as our sole means of reaching makers, we are now looking at how we can utilize it to enhance our workshops, patterns, and books. We are excited about what we are working on right now and look forward to even more opportunities to share with folx. We do love the challenges inherent with running our own business and we cherish the ability to embrace the creative chaos… it would just be nice to have the occasional breather. Still… onward!
What do you find most fulfilling about passing along your craft?
That’s an easy one! Helping others find joy in creating for the sake of creativity and helping folx embrace their creative chaos, creating for the sake of creativity and personal joy.
What first drew you to working with Aurifil threads?
Ummm… Maybe the colors… possibly the excellent quality?
Seriously though, 270 colors of high quality cotton thread in every weight we could possibly need. Is there anything else to say? Okay, of course there is but that’s a heck of a good place to start. Add to that how beautiful this thread and floss was to work with and there was no doubt in our minds that Aurifil was the brand we wanted to work with. Yes, we were skeptical because folx just went on and on to use about how good the product was, but that skepticism melted away as soon as we put needle to fabric and saw how easily it glided through fabric without snags and snarls. From 12wt for our sashiko to fine weight hand sewing threads, the quality and consistency of the thread hooked us. Aurifloss has the same properties, but we didn’t really appreciate it until we were able to reel off the perfect amount for a project from those wooden spools. OHMAGOODNESS! No unwinding hanks of floss and untangling then rewinding it and making a mess out of our project box anyway. Yeah. Sold.
But, also… 270 colors. Come on.
Your upcoming book with C&T focuses on contemporary Kogin-zashi stitching. Can you tell us a bit more about this technique and what excites you about the practice?
We discovered kogin-zashi as part of our research for our book Boro & Sashiko: Harmonious Imperfection. We were excited by how the designs were created and wanted to jump in right away but there are only so many topics we can put into one book. As a result, all the kogin research and ideas became part of our “cutting room floor” folder which makes up the majority of this new book Contemporary Kogin-zashi: Modern Sashiko Beyond Filling in the Gaps.
For us, the most exciting part of kogin is how accessible it is as a skill. Regardless of their background as makers and creators, folx can learn the introductory parts of unshin and pattern reading, almost immediately creating complex graphic designs on fabric. It’s exciting to see the results unfold one line at a time right before your eyes and it motivates you to keep stitching so see that happen. Even if folx have never done hand needlework before, they are going to be able to pick up this book and make something right away. The instant gratification factor is big with this craft. For folx who are familiar with handwork and needlework, this is a refreshing change from the norm and we believe they are going to find the same exhilaration and satisfaction we have from this form that is juuuuuuust different enough to be exciting but not so different that is is alienating.
Kogin is completely different than anything else we have ever done before. We love learning and exploring new-to-us techniques and styles of making all the things and kogin-zashi was ticking all the boxes. Creating these gorgeous stitch patterns with such a mindful practice is exciting for us and keeps us motivated to create and explore further. We particularly loved applying kogin to some of our own garment designs and to projects that are common fair among sewists and crafters. Kogin adds a next level of richness to these projects and adds to our understanding of textile creation and use.
When can we find the book and where do we find sneak peeks along the way?
There are definitely some sneak peeks out there. Specifically, our website, shannonandjason.com has a pre-order page for the book and includes photos some of the projects there. Because this thread collection was created specifically to accompany the book, there are also some sneak peeks in the video we made about the collection. The book is in pre-sales right now but, as we approach the release date in December, 2022 look for more classes and promos to come. We will also have a couple of virtual trunk shows and a FAB virtual book release party where we will be showing the projects and giving folx a closer look at the techniques in the book (and maybe a give-away or two).
As usual, Jason did an AH-MAY-ZING job on the graphics and his photography does such a good job of showing the projects and techniques. For us, those graphics and technique photos are just as important as the beauty shots of the projects so we’re going to be giving y’all some exciting previews of those pages as well.
Your latest curated set, Kogin Essentials, combines Aurifil 12wt with Aurifloss making it the perfect partner not only to your upcoming book, but to a wide variety of projects. Why are each of those thread weights essential to Kogin-zashi? What other techniques would these threads complement?
Kogin is the most thread-forward of the sashiko techniques. The thread is everything here. There are no patches, no holes to cover, and the background fabrics are relatively unremarkable on their own. The thread and floss are what shines in Kogin-zashi.
Kogin-zashi stitches can be made using either 12wt or Aurifloss depending on the thread count of the evenweave fabric you work with, the project you are creating, and the results you want from the finished design. Projects in the book use both 6 strands of floss or 3-4 strands of 12 weight to create the perfect final look.
Aurifloss is, for us, sublime for creating kogin-zashi designs. Nothing else gives us the control in loft and color that Aurifloss does. But, as y’all know, it is also perfection for all other needlework like cross stitch and other embroidery crafts. Since Aurifloss is a 6-strand floss, color work and blending as simple as substituting one strand of your next color when you are ready. We walk you through that process in the book.
12wt is what we used in our FAB Sashiko Essentials collection we released with Boro & Sashiko: Harmonious Imperfection because that is typically what is used for hitomezashi and moyouzashi. For kogin-zashi 12wt is also a great choice because you can hold 3-4 strands together easily and get a smooth, shiny, finished motif. The difference between it and Aurifloss is subtle, but undeniable. We highly recommend using both in your kogin work which is why we included it in this collection.
Tell us about the colors you selected for this collection. What do they mean to you within the practice of Kogin-zashi?
Choosing colors for a collection is soooooo hard for us!! Aurifil has 270 colors to choose from. COME ON! Who can make choices like that? But, yeah, we did, finally come down to our final collection colors. The best advice we were ever given was from you, Erin: Look at your work areas and pick the colors that you’ve been using the most. Okay… that narrowed it down to a couple dozen! Just kidding… but with 270 colors to choose from, it’s never easy for us. For this collection, we picked the colors that we used the most for the projects in the book. We included the main colors we used for both solid color motifs as well as a few that work beautifully for thread blending creating that shimmer effect.
Color is an important part of the kogin-zashi process. Historically kogin was done with white thread on indigo dyed fabric, because that is what they had to work with. We’re in the 21st century now and have access to ALL the colors so why not try ALL the colors?
The collection has a full rainbow to choose from, and each subsequent color in the collection is just the right shade to allow for you to play with color blending or color blocking… depending on your mood. We really feel like we nailed it with this collection giving y’all a selection of our most-used colors.
What is your absolute TOP TIP for someone just getting started with their own maker journey, in need of a little expert guidance?
Do that thing that you want to do: Embrace the Creative Chaos. Even if you don’t know where to start, just do something. If you have an idea but think it might have already been done, do it anyway. You are what will make it different. You are the “it factor” that will make your take on that creative THING unique.
Also, Embrace the Creative Chaos. If what you started doing ain’t doin it for you anymore, move on! Listen to that voice inside you that is pulling you in a different direction or that is leading you to try this other thing over there. Trying to force creativity or be too directed about creativity will kill that creativity and turn it into production. Then you’re back on that treadmill. Ugh…
We’re fishing for sneak peeks… what’s coming up for you in the second half of 2022 and where can we find you?
We have decided to move to a free-range yak ranch (in a remote location we will not be disclosing at this time) where we will create our own artisanal foods and crafting products to sell at local markets. Absolutely none of that is true. Can you imagine Shannon not being able to go to Nordstrom?!? Better yet, imagine Shannon milking a yak to make yak butter…
Since this is already July, we are in the second half of 2022 and are working on 2023 and 2024 projects. Yes, the creative chaos does tend to lead us down some FAB random paths, but we still make our little plans based on current situations and desires. That said, we are going to be spending the next several months focusing on our new book (spoiler alert: more Aurifil thread use incoming!) and creating new workshops for our platform on Creative Spark. We have been teaching Scrappy Wonky Quilting and improv fabric classes for the past several years and are really loving where those skills are taking us right now. Of course, all previous explorations inform our current paths and that is inspiring us to draw new connections to create new workshops, designs, and tutorials.
HUGE thanks to Shannon & Jason for sharing a bit of their lives with us! We always love talking with you two! What will you create first with their new Kogin Essentials kit?
Shannon Leigh Roudhán and Jason Bowlsby are the dynamic DIY duo from Seattle, Washington. Their award-winning crochet, knit, quilting, and sewing designs have been featured in and on the covers of domestic and international publications and their craft, portrait, and fashion photography has appeared in books and magazines around the globe. Shannon & Jason have published 10 books of crochet and knitwear patterns including Complete Crochet Course – the Ultimate Reference Guide,Designer Crochet,and Crochet Geometry. Their latest book is titled Boro & Sashiko: Harmonious Imperfection from C&T Publishing.
The duo have been embracing the creative chaos as partners in life for 27 years and have been teaching adults for 20+ years. With their mastery of subjects from crochet and knitting to photography, spinning, sewing, and quilting, their enthusiasm, quirky sense of humor, and relatable teaching style have made them sought after teachers in both local and national venues such as Sew Expo, Houston Quilt Festival, Pacific International Quilt Festival, and the Bainbridge Artisan Resource Network (BARN). They also have a wide range of online classes available from Craftsy and Creative Spark Online. The “edu-tainment” experience of a class with Shannon & Jason will leave you informed, empowered, and in stitches (see what we did there?).
Shannon and Jason are proud ambassadors for Aurifil, Clover, BERNINA, Horn of America, and the Daylight Company.