Behind the Scenes: Dedri Uys on Crochet and Life

Dedri Uys from Look At What I Made

Dedri Uys is the renowned crochet designer behind Look at What I Made. She is most known for her “Sophie’s Universe” blanket design, which was released in 2015 as a five-month mystery crochet-along and later published as a still sought-after 216-page book. Since then, she has designed countless beautiful things that keep crocheters happy worldwide. The South African lives in the United Kingdom with her husband, their three boys, and Buddy, the Springer Spaniel. She graciously answered a series of questions earlier this year, resulting in a candid, open, and witty behind-the-scenes insight into her design career and personal life. Settle in comfortably with a cup of your preferred hot beverage and enjoy this carefree exchange.

Jumping right into crochet, what personal design is your favorite?

Hahaha. Sophie’s Universe. Still. Always. It was my baptism by fire into the design world, and I enjoyed every moment and aspect of the experience. It is unreal – and entirely none of my doing – that that blanket has a life and community all her own (even now, nine years on). It was a happy accident of wanting to do something different, people not knowing how complex it was going to get until they had already done so many tricky bits that they knew they could do the rest (it was a mystery CAL); excellent video support by Esther Dijkstra from It’s All in a Nutshell, yarn support from Scheepjes, and the help of the brilliant Official CCC Social Group on Facebook. I love how willing people are to help each other with this pattern and encourage those hesitant about their skill level to give it a go. I also love the stories people have shared about their Sophie journeys and the many places I have visited in spirit through them.

Sophie's Universe Wall of Images
Some of the 13k photos from the hashtag #sophiesuniversecal2015 - Just Sabi's Sophie's Universe from 2019

Everyone crochets in your household (except the dog, though he is paws-on with yarn), right? How did that come to be? 

Buddy (the Springer Spaniel) loves yarn.  The more I like the yarn, the more he likes it!  I have lost track of the hours I’ve spent untangling balls of chewed-up yarn. The boys have always shown an interest in everything I make. Maybe it is because they have been surrounded by yarn since they were very little, maybe it’s because they think it is super cool that their mom is “famous” (they use that word a lot, as will become apparent in the rest of this answer, hahaha). At any rate, they know my patterns by name and will often come in when I’m working to look at or compliment a new design. Sometimes, they will even make color suggestions.  

Pieter (the eldest) was the first to ask me to teach him. I think he had visions of becoming “famous,” too.  He actually inspired me to come up with my favorite teaching technique. It involves sharks biting through legs! It is gruesome but very visually effective. After that, Christiaan learned to crochet – partly because he was curious and partly because I bribed him.  Both started a Sophie, although Pieter’s one is stuck on Round 3, and Christiaan’s is stuck somewhere in Part 2.

Dedri Uys Crochet Family Affair
From left to right: Dedri's Instagram post about Pieter starting Sophie, Christiaan making the Attic24 Giant Granny, and Xander learning to crochet during lockdown

The youngest asked to learn because he wanted to impress one of his teachers.  He gave her a Sophie book he signed himself: “Because I’m famous, mum, I’m in the book.” Jaco asked me to teach him because he didn’t like being the odd one out.  He learned the quickest because when that boy puts his mind to something, he really puts his mind to it.

Canine Quality Inspector and Fun Date with Crafty Boys
Buddy, the quality control inspector and a chaotic crochet date with the boys a few years back

Your designs are very colorful and joyful. What is your favorite color, and how should a crocheter pick colors? 

In real life, the color that makes me happiest is green. More specifically, greenery and how the shades change depending on shade/light/weather. My favorite color to wear/buy/surround myself with is anything on the Teal to Petrol spectrum. Love it. I love that our scrubs at work are Petrol.  It just makes everyone’s eyes look so pretty!

In crochet, I need a rainbow! I am always drawn to more muted or ombre projects, but I invariably find myself reaching for just one more color and then just one more. The projects in which I use fewer colors always take longer to design.  I’d never realized that until I typed that. Hmmm. Interesting…

There are countless posts and tutorials about choosing colors, but ultimately, I think you should choose by your cheeks: what I mean is that a little pinch happens in your cheeks when something fills you with great joy, almost as if you’ve bitten into a lemon. When colors make your cheeks pinch like that, use them! Look at Xander’s face in the photo below. That’s the joy I’m talking about.

Squares for the Block a Week CAL 2014 in Rainbow Colours
Squares for the Block a Week CAL 2014 in Rainbow Colours - Xander's "by the cheeks" approval

What advice would you give to someone starting to crochet? 

Two things, no, three things:

Number one: spend money on a good hook.  It will change your entire experience.  A good hook can make a cheap ball of yarn feel like a costly ball of yarn. Trust me on this. You may have to try several hooks to find the best one for you. I was fortunate enough to have someone lend me many different hooks to see which I liked best. I’ve written an extensive post about my experience if you want to know more. It boils down to the fact that I recommend Clover Amour (won’t break the bank) and usually carry extras to workshops so that people can try them and feel the difference between what they are using and the Clovers. I have given a lot of 4mm Clover Amour hooks away. It is one of my pet joys, making this small difference that makes a big difference.

Number two: every stitch is just a stitch. Once you know how to make chains, single, double, and treble crochets (just four stitches!), you can make any stitches and any combination.

Number three: crocheting is supposed to be fun and/or therapeutic. If a pattern makes you want to poke your eyes out in frustration, either put it in a corner until you are ready to resume (sometimes a project needs a time-out) or ditch it (sometimes the way a pattern is written doesn’t gel with how our brain works).

What is the most common mistake made when crocheting?  

This isn’t necessarily a mistake, but it is what many people neglect to learn: stitch anatomy! Many people have been crocheting for years without knowing which loops belong to which stitch. I had been crocheting for a good two years before I really sat down and looked at my stitches, how they were formed, and which parts belonged to each. Once I did that, counting my stitches and figuring out where I’d made a mistake became much easier. It changed my entire relationship with crochet from one of guessing and frustration to one of exploration, joy, and understanding.

What is the next best thing you love doing when you are not busy crocheting? 

Napping! I love a good nap! It’s my reward for doing all things. Unfortunately, it is also what I do when the world gets a bit too much. Either way, I love a nap!!

You knit, you sew, you…? What else occupies your free time when you have it, by choice? 

I love cooking, baking, and gardening. Before the blog became solely about crochet, I shared recipes, cake tutorials, and sewing patterns; now, I mainly use these activities as “useful” procrastinations when my mind needs a break. Above all other baking, I love baking bread. It is hugely rewarding!!

You have traveled all over the world, giving workshops and attending conferences. How do you feel about being recognized on the street or on a beach? 

It’s pretty surreal, isn’t it, knowing that a hobby has taken me to places I never thought I’d visit! Usually, when I get recognized, it is in a yarn setting, like a workshop or a yarn show, and it is still a very odd feeling that people know or know about me. Being recognized unexpectedly – in a shop or at the beach – has happened once or twice, but it was so utterly surreal that I had forgotten the instances like you would a dream. 

What I remember very well is when someone didn’t recognize me and recommended my pattern to me.  My friend Hannah and I were on the Yarndale bus, and I was working on a Sophie. A lady at the front of the bus asked me if I was working on a Sophie. I said yes. She then encouraged me, saying I could do it and keep going; it was a well-written pattern. It made us both giggle so much when we got off the bus. I also remember meeting Hannah at my first yarn retreat with Devon Sun Yarns. She was the first person to ever fangirl at me, which I found both embarrassing and hilarious.  I will also admit that it felt very good to know I had done something someone admired. 

Having fangirled at designers and seen them fangirl at each other, I’ve learned that there are so many things we admire in other people that they don’t necessarily see themselves or don’t feel worthy of. I guess we all have imposter syndrome.

Hannah holding up "Summer in Swanage" so Dedri Uys could take photos.
Hannah holding up the "Summer in Swanage" blanket so Dedri could take photos

You’re South African. What do you love (and miss) most about your country? 

An endless list.  What do I love and miss most?  Hearing Afrikaans in all its beauty and bendability.  I know it sounds like harsh language (or that’s what people have told me, that we sound aggressive when we are animated), but there is poetry and cheekiness in it, a specific kind of playfulness with depth. 

I miss the scenery, the weather, the smell of rain on dirt roads, and the thunderstorms. I miss the wind that sometimes feels like body temperature and the glorious pink skies.  Having said that, where we live now is the closest in weather and sky to all the places I’ve been in the UK.  It makes me feel at home.

And, of course, I miss the people I love.  I never imagined that I would not see my family for almost seven years!

Thunder clouds over the family farm, and pink sky (photo credit: Mynnette Strydom)
Thunder Clouds over Family Farm, and Pink Sky (Photos by Minette Strydom)

A radiotherapist, a wife, a mother, a known designer: how do you balance? 

I don’t feel like I do balance.  I feel like I am always dropping one or more of the balls. I expect of myself to:

Have a clean, clutter-free house. I don’t. Stuff and clutter are everywhere, but people are welcome, and my food is good.
To remember when things are happening. I don’t. I make meticulous notes about what, when, and where, and then I forget to look at the notes.
To make things happen when they should happen. We can only do that because we have the support of a great community. And even then, sometimes, we can’t.
To produce better designs than previous designs (terrifying). That is not up to me. It is up to muse and fluke, and good luck. All I can do is put in the effort with passion, joy, and curiosity.
To be there for everyone who needs me (even when some people don’t necessarily need me). People-pleasing used to be my go-to mode. I would even offer to do things for people I didn’t like, hoping they would like me. In the last few years, I’ve stopped offering unless I mean it; I have stopped saying yes when my heart and resources scream no.
Be acceptable/likable (fit in vs. belong). I have stopped hiding the parts of myself that I’m ashamed of; I have started having ‘uncomfortable conversations’ instead of nursing resentments. And do you know what? My world did not implode. It expanded!

What is something you wish to do you haven’t done yet? 

Skydiving. I also want a tattoo – just a tiny one on my wrist –  reminding me to stop, look, and listen. Last but not least, I want to write a fictional book, not a crochet book. When I was younger, I told people I would be a writer one day. Turns out I am, but not in the way I meant! 

What do you value most in life? What energizes you? 

I am energized by learning, problem-solving, and creating, with a dollop of sharing the learning as the cherry on the cake.  I love my ‘real job’ (radiotherapy planning) and designing.  Both require creativity and problem-solving (and maths) in three dimensions. 

I’m also energized by peopling and building meaningful connections, so doing crochet workshops ticks all my boxes. I have missed doing them and hope to do more again soon.

I value kindness and honesty.  I try to conduct myself accordingly and not beat myself up when I fail (which I do, like we all do). 

I value people who are sincere in their intentions, who have the capacity for levity and depth, who allow you to witness them being truly themselves, and who cheer for you as you become who you truly are (ugly as that journey may sometimes be).

Amish Puzzle Ball Workshop, OZ – Photo by Cass Micheli
Amish Puzzle Ball Workshop, OZ (Photo by Cass Micheli)

I value the first half-hour of each day when I sit with my coffee and listen to the world waking up.  I remind myself to stretch my shoulders, throw them back, and take deep breaths.  If I allow myself to experience that moment, the rest of the day falls into place with less effort.

I value my family and friends.  I thoroughly enjoy our conversations with the boys, even though they sometimes drive us crazy.  A wonderful community blesses us, and I have great work colleagues. 

We have so much to be grateful for, and I give thanks for that every single day.

What can we expect from you in 2024? 

I want to finish a few designs, most notably the extension for “I Carry Your Heart.” Other than that, I will devote 2024 to being playful and spontaneous in my yarn play. I am determined not to commit to anything. I want to keep a vast space around me, like a coral, where I can create and play.

I plan to do more videos, and I hope some of them can be about the things and tips I’ve learned at workshops. Yes, people come to workshops so I can teach them, but they invariably teach me! 

This will require some clever thinking because the things I want to touch on are much easier to explain when you have a volunteer to explain them. So, I’m just playing with options at the moment, thinking out loud.

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