I was thrilled when I started seeing the photos from Ashley Zhong of Snapdragon Brand on Instagram. Ashley has launched a comfy fashion line based on crochet prints. They are colorful, fun, funky, whimsical and crafty. I love them! Back in 2012 I had done articles on granny square fabric prints and other crochet-inspired fabric; I haven’t seen much new in this vein since then and am thrilled to be seeing Snapdragon Brand’s take on the idea! In this interview she tells us all about this new brand.
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So let’s start by a little description of the Snapdragon Brand and what you’re trying to do with it?
I am Ashley Lee Zhong and my path to becoming someone comfortable with labeling themself as a designer took every second up to this moment to achieve. But now, I will say it: I’m a designer! Snapdragon Brand is casual, comfortable clothing, but it’s also so much more than this. It is the culmination of a childhood spent making colorful nonsense, lingering in flea markets with friendly weirdos, and dressing / dancing like no one was watching. My whole brand and collection is built around the fabric I design. The fabric features humanity’s greatest triumph: the humble granny square. With this brand, I hope to contribute something fun and beautiful to the crochet and fashion (and crochet fashion) communities. I want to share my passion for crochet and color with the world.
What inspires you about the granny square as a motif?
I will try to speak coherently on this subject, but honestly whenever I talk about my love of granny squares I start babbling nonsense and crying love-tears … Okay, here goes … Granny squares, with their many glowing colors and scintillating repetition, awaken in me a love so deep and consuming that it borders on a fetish. Something about them, maybe their intricacy, or the human creativity and labor that goes into the production of a granny square item, just fills my heart with joy. Pure joy. Yayoi Kusama has her spots, I have my granny squares. It’s just love on the fringes of obsession. I don’t know how else to explain it.
Well said! When and how did you learn to crochet?
Thinking back, I must have been 7 or 8 years old when my mother taught me the basic stitches of crochet. My first project was a tiny purple and white striped blanket for my Beanie Babies. After that, I sort of just took off on my own, experimenting and creating with those same simple stitches, developing in isolation for years and years. It’s only recently that I fell into the vibrant online crochet community and I’m so excited to try new projects and ideas inspired by the beautiful and innovative work that makers share every day.
So you do crochet, but the Snapdragon Brand is not crochet clothing, per se. It’s fabric clothing based on prints of motifs that you have crocheted. So, how does a piece develop from crochet to printed fabric?
I admit to being a full-time dreamer. I am thinking about my designs constantly, piecing ideas together and experimenting in my head until the raw concept is born. When I have a faint idea of what I want a design to look like, I make a concept drawing in pencil and use crayons to flesh it out with the colors I choose. After that, I do a little bit of physical experimenting, making up a few squares in different shades to compare and pick from. Once I’ve made my decisions, I go into full-on maker mode and crochet the components that will come together after editing to become a finished garment.
After the crocheting is done, we switch modes from crafty to techie. Working with my awesome brother John, we photograph the crocheted components individually against a coordinating background color. Using his sweet Photoshop skills, he digitally cuts out the components and arranges them according to my concept drawing, creating the repeating patter or design that we need for a particular garment. That newly created pattern is then cut down to size and made into a printfile which goes directly to our printer. After that, fabric is printed, garments are sewn, and we have a finished product that we can be proud of.
Can you give us a specific example of the development of one of the prints?
Sure, let’s look at my Kaleidoscope print. I decided I wanted to make a print out of the classic black-bordered granny square. I carefully decided on my colors and crocheted 9 granny squares. John and I photographed them, cut them out in photoshop, arranged them in a repeating pattern and sent the correct size file to the printer. They printed the fabric from that file.
What is the benefit of a crochet print as compared to a garment that has actually been crocheted?
When you are as obsessed with the visuals of crochet as I am, you want to have those beautiful designs with you all year round. I could wear crochet all year but there are many times when I don’t want to. I don’t want to wear a muffler in August, or sweaters on my legs (ever!), or feel wool against my skin in 102 degree heat. My designs offer all of the wonderful things about crochet: the color, the intricacy, the variety, without the things that sometimes relegate crochet to the cooler seasons: the bulkiness, the itchiness, the wonderful warmth of it.
By making my designs in stretchy spandex and breathable cotton, crochet lovers like me can do yoga in granny squares and party at festivals wearing groovy daisy squares. You can wear my designs in the pool, you can jog in them, you can lounge in them and then you can toss them in the washing machine. My designs are in no way meant to replace the incredible creations of crochet clothing designers out there; they’re just another awesome option for people who want to celebrate crochet in their lives.
What do you hope people will experience when wearing the Snapdragon brand?
Good Vibes! I hope that doesn’t sound silly, but I just want people to feel happy when they’re wearing my clothes. I personally get an excess of joy from granny squares (which are a part of every design in the collection), and I want the rest of the world to feel that joy with me. Even when the wonderful people who agreed to model for me asked how I wanted them to look in the shoot, I just directed them to do their hair, makeup, accessories in a way that made them feel beautiful and happy. That’s what this brand is all about: feeling joy and happiness.
It sounds like it took a team to bring this collection to life! In what ways have you collaborated with others to create the brand’s launch?
I’ve already mentioned my amazing brother John who helped me incredibly on the technical side of things. Without him, this collection would have been another year or two in the making while I wrestled with programs I don’t understand yet (but I WILL learn!) I value his expertise, and even design input, as we work together.
Another person who helped me out immensely was my photographer Vanessa Baioni. She joined the team and agreed to work with me back when I only had three completed designs. She believed in the project and had an individual vision for the photography, so I felt safe leaving her to be in charge of that aspect of the project while John and I conquered the design side of things.
In the future, my DREAM is to invite other crochet designers to create pieces that are specific to their styles of design and put together a whole collection of collaborations with some of the amazing creators out there. I think together we could add a new element to the crochet community.
That would be awesome! Any interesting stories about the process of design / launch?
One inspiring thing that my brother and I discovered during the editing and design process was that in order for our digital images to look like real crochet they needed to keep some of their little flaws. At first, we had planned to stretch the images of each granny square into geometrically perfect squares, but we tried it and it just didn’t look good. Something about it was almost…creepy. So we went back to the drawing board and put together our pattern featuring the imperfect original squares and had our ‘aha’ moment: The flaws in my squares were not fatal errors or cause for alarm; they were actually really wonderful little bits of uniqueness that made the pattern more interesting, more endearing, more wonderful.
So to all you imperfect crocheters out there, if your squares are a little more round than you’d like or your dye-lots mismatched, don’t sweat it. This is why we make. We make to have something unique, something personal.
“Get those Chakras fully aligned with the Chakral dress. This body-hugging design features the representation of your Root, Sacral, Solar Plexus and Heart Chakras as a visual reminder to care for yourself—mind, body and soul.”
What does fashion mean to you? What inspires your personal style?
Andy Warhol is quoted as saying “Everything in your closet should have an expiration date on it the way milk and bread and magazines and newspapers do, and once something passes its expiration date, you should throw it out.” Now, I don’t honestly know the context of this quote, but I do know that I disagree with the concept of disposable clothing. My closet literally spans generations. I wear hand-me downs from my Grandma and Grandpop and Mom and anyone who ever donated to the thrift stores in my city. I love old clothes and styles that the world has turned its back on. I rescue dilapidated garments and customize them to fit my dreams. I’m moved by new and innovative designs from all of the amazing makers out there sharing their work on Instagram and selling their wares on Etsy. I’m a glutton for color and bold prints and unexpected silhouettes.
I know it’s stylish to have worked out some sort of personal aesthetic for oneself, but I just can’t seem to pare down my tastes to make myself into something digestible. If I had to summarize my personal style in one blurb, I would say: “I wear what I like. And the realm of what I like is much larger than the realm of things I dislike. I am open to the universe.”
Beautiful. Your brand definitely reflects that! It’s very cohesive but each piece is also very original. I love it. So congratulations on the launch! Before we wrap up, I want to be sure to mention your #afghanstories project … can you tell us about that?
This is a little pet project of mine that was conceived one day when I brought home a particularly loved old afghan from the thrift store. I spent a few days working to restore it and as I studied each little square of it, I discovered many old repairs and signs of wear and usage. I began to think of the afghan in terms of its life, what it had been used for, who had cared for it and loved it enough to mend it as the years went by. Those thoughts moved me deeply.
The idea that the things we make can go on to be an important part of someone’s life, can be treasured and loved, and can find their way to someone else in a magical way…these ideas are what led me to start the #afghanstoriesproject tag. The afghan I found that day had a wonderful story stitched into it, and as I looked around at my other vintage afghans, I tried to listen to what they had to say too. I became interested in when they were made, so I looked for clues like yarn quality and color scheme. I researched in the available literature to discover when different stitches came into popularity. I looked for little mends and tie-offs that revealed something about what role they played in a home. Once I learned their stories, I shared them with my Instagram community using the #afghanstoriesproject tag. When I ran out of afghans to talk about, I asked other members of the community if I could use their stories and pictures.
I guess the whole point of the project is to remind us all to consider how afghans fit into our human experience, whether we are making or just enjoying them. I hope others will join in and continue to share the stories.
I love this so much and hope to see more people sharing their afghan stories! As you know, my personal area of interest is in learning all about how crochet heals individuals and communities, which this project seems to relate to. In what ways has crochet improved your own life?
Crochet to me is the key to infinity. What I mean by that is I don’t believe there are any rules when it comes to crochet. Sure, you need a hook and some string-like material, but once you have those things, all manner of creation is within your grasp. Crochet has improved my life by being an infinite medium through which to express myself.
Yes! Anything else we should know before we wrap up?
My shop at snapdragonbrand.com launches April 1 and we can hang out on Instagram at @snapdragonbrand. I’m a very vocal part of the community, so if you have any questions, please chat with me! We can discuss our mutual appreciation of granny squares!! And don’t forget: Get $5 off of any leggings purchase from Snapdragon Brand using coupon code CROCHETC17 .