Wednesday, June 29, 2016

More on "I think I see Something"

Three queued items, the oldest is from Jan 2015

There were a couple of interesting comments on my previous post.

Cassie said:

"Hi Robin, I've noticed a big change in the last couple of years of customer reaction on Ravelry. It used to be when I published a design there would be a surge of sales (and occasionally I'd end up on the hot right now list). But now there is hardly any reaction and low sales. Patterns seem to sell most 2-3 years after publishing, probably after a few projects have been posted to Ravelry.

Cassie's comment is in alignment with what I'm experiencing. There isn't much reaction when I release a pattern. Even though I'm seeing a slow but steady increase in overall pattern sales I don't get very many project pages popping up. I see a lot more sales than those project pages would indicate. Is it possible that knitters see new patterns popping up so fast they pay less attention now?

Renee Anne  said:

"I've noticed that, too. Also, people like me that don't have a ton of time to knit wind up making things like Clapotis many years after publication. And then there are designs that I've done that are just sitting in Ravelry, no projects....except mine, of course (because I make prototypes of anything I design because I'm crazy that way). And then, someday, someone makes something and woo!"

This comment made me wonder if the ability to queue patterns keeps knitters going back to older patterns in a way they never did before? In the past you might put a marker in a magazine or book on a pattern but if you put it on a shelf you might not come across that pattern again for a long time. Now with your own online queue you can revisit those patterns more frequently and are reminded which yarn in your stash works with the pattern. I did a little investigation on some of my Ravelry friends pages and I saw lots of projects in their queues. What do you think?

Monday, June 27, 2016

Peak Performance

I'm still thinking about peak performance and how all of it relates back to acquiring and improving our knitting skills. I posted earlier here about the book Peak. Yes, these are the things I ponder and I hope they make me a better teacher.

The writers listed some things that were likely to lead people to higher levels of performance. Interestingly, all are things I see happening in the knitting world. The list included that the skill often started as play. The individual received praise and encouragement as they learned more. That curiosity is a factor, I think we see that expressed by the technique junkies. Not surprisingly, there is often social time spent with people who share the same interest. Many students find role models. Sometimes they compete with others or themselves to improve. It's common to take lessons and engage in deliberate practice. Knitters develop habits which support their ongoing improvement. 

One of the most fascinating concepts to me in the book was the discussion of skills versus knowledge. It refers to what you can do versus what you know. Knowledge is considered to be facts, concepts and rules which go into long term memory. However when you try to use knowledge, short term memory and attention limitations get in the way of performance. The way to get around this limitation is by making the information part of a mental representation. Then all the knowledge becomes part of an interconnected pattern. This provides context and meaning. By trying, failing, revising and repeating the mental representation is formed. So to engage in deliberate practice we need to plan for what we want to be able to do not what we should know. When we are learning we need to break down the process into steps. Then master one at a time, while working towards excellence. The concept of mental representations works partially through what known as chunking to get around short term memory limitation. As in reading, we go from letters to words to sentences. You can't remember every letter in a sentence instantly but we remember many whole sentences as a single unit. You could however then focus in on individual words and letters. The sentence has created a high level, big picture view. So the mental representation is a structure which corresponds to an object or an idea or a collection of information. The mental representations of knitting are what's required to control your hands movements to produce stitches. These representations are used to respond quickly and accurately in specific situations. 

Interestingly not all experts can break down the steps verbally. Often when one knitter shows another knitter a technique we need to demonstrate it first to be able to verbalize it. I know right now you can instantly divide knit stitches into knit, purl, yarn over, and cable but you couldn't when you first started knitting. Do you remember struggling to identify garter versus reverse stocking stitch? 

When developing any new skill, comprehension comes slowly in the beginning. As you progress, the more you know, the more you will understand. More complex skills can be understood because you've already developed a mental representation of the underlying information. If you started to try to learn a more complex skill such as entrelac, brioche or steeks right after learning garter stitch, the information would seem random. You would be unable to use it at that point. Interesting isn't it?

Friday, June 24, 2016

An Interview with...Amy van de Laar

Once a week I post interviews with interesting people about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry. I’ve noticed that every one of these individuals makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the knitting world.

You can find Amy
here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?

So many places! Nature is a big one - I've based stitch patterns on leaves, feathers, clouds, stars, crystals, and honeycomb, for instance. I've also based patterns on Daleks, the neck of a guitar, and old-school computer games. I really love inventing stitch patterns and then seeing what they want to become.
Editors note: If you are not a Dr Who fan. The Daleks are a fictional extraterrestrial race of mutants principally portrayed in the British science fiction television programme Doctor Who.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I'm torn between cables and lace! I love texture in knitting, whether it's made by yarn-overs or cable crossings.

How did you determine your size range?
I design accessories, so my sizes for each design are really determined by what the stitch pattern repeats will allow. I like to offer 2+ sizes for hats, and I always include suggestions for modifying the size where possible.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I look at other designers' work all the time. I love browsing patterns on Ravelry, and I follow a lot of designers on Instagram. Looking at all the different colour-combos and shapes and stitches that are possible, keeps me inspired!

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
I think making patterns more accessible to different kinds of knitters is great! Personally I like to be given more information rather than less, and just skip over any explanations I don't need. I think using a pattern layout with the abbreviations, stitch glossary, and additional tips on a separate page is helpful, so knitters can look up the info they need and the actual pattern instructions can be more succinct.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?

I use volunteer test knitters frequently, to help check my patterns for knitability by different people and in different yarns. I have a few lovely people who are frequent testers, and I put out open tester-calls on Ravelry. And I always knit each design myself first, checking my instructions and tweaking things as I go.

Did you do a formal business plan?

No. I kind of gradually fell into designing seriously over the span of a few years.

Do you have a mentor?
Not formally. But I read and take part in discussions between designers in Ravelry and Facebook groups, and on Instagram and Twitter, and I find it so valuable! I also get a lot out of Tara Swiger's podcasts on marketing and other aspects of running a craft business.

Do you use a tech editor?
I've worked with a few, but am currently in search of one. I'd like to find someone local-ish if possible, but there don't seem to be many tech editors based in NZ or Australia. I do have a proof-reader who is brilliant at checking all of my maths.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

I'm not that great at this. I have a tendency to get obsessed if I'm solving a problem, like trying to make a stitch pattern work, and it can be hard to get my head out of 'work mode'. I'm trying to get better at using weekends for taking a break, instead of additional work time.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?

I definitely don't earn enough to support myself through designing. I have a partner who earns a very good salary, and we live quite cheaply - for example, we have two flatmates to help keep rent costs down. I'm still building up my business by trying out different strategies to make it more profitable, as well as increasing my portfolio of patterns.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Find out as much as you can about the industry: read a lot, and ask a lot of questions. Join the Ravelry groups for designers and budding designers, read blogs, listen to podcasts, anything you can find. Know what you're getting into, because you may not be able to make as much money as you might expect. Knitting design in particular is getting more and more competitive these days.

What’s next for you?

I'm working on a three-piece collection (a shawl, cowl, and wrap) based on a deceptively simple leaf-lace stitch contrasting with garter stitch. The samples are knitting up unusually fast, which is great! They're in a kind of sweet spot between being good tv-knitting and not being too boring. I'm totally in love with the colours, too!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

I Think I see Something

I had lunch with another designer friend on Friday. We were talking about sales, the international nature of the knitting business and how social media plays into all of the above. I think I'm seeing something new. I've noticed many of my patterns seem to find an audience long after publication. I know many industry insiders who are all about the release. They try to manipulate the "hot right now" in Ravelry, they only advertise new patterns and they avoid publishing close to the dates the well known online magazines publish. I've never seen one of my patterns on "hot right now". I have occasionally gotten an email saying I was there but clearly it was for such a short time I didn't look quick enough.

I think in some way sites like Ravelry, Patternfish and Love Knitting may be changing the world of knitting patterns. Buyers don't really care when a pattern was published, they want a pattern which meets their needs. Once they get past the early pages and do a search on the parameters they are looking for they see older patterns and often don't even know when the pattern was published. What I'm seeing is patterns like this one starting to sell more months after it was published than it did at the time of release.


Monday, June 20, 2016

Why am I doing this?

One of my non-knitting friends recently asked me why am I so interested in making clothing.

I've been sewing and knitting since I was in my teens. I was heavily influenced by my mother who sewed, knit and crocheted. People become garment makers for many different reasons. Some of us want unique garments, some have special fitting problems, others just have a need to know how the magic of garment creation works and love to learn all of the techniques required. We have a need as humans to adorn ourselves, it's a form of artistic expression for many of us even when we don't make the clothes. Just check out the outfit pages in Pinterest to see how people are using clothing as self-expression.

Some garment makers have very little interest in current fashion and take a more historical approach to their learning path. You see this with knitters too. We keep Fair Isle designs and specific lace traditions (Orenburg and Estonian) alive when they would otherwise disappear. 

Why am I doing this? I can't not do it!

Friday, June 17, 2016

An Interview with...Jimenez Joseph

Once a week I post interviews with interesting people about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry. I’ve noticed that every one of these individuals makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the knitting world.

You can find Jimi
here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
I get inspiration from everywhere! Never a day goes by when something catches my eye and I don't think, "hey, that would look so cool knitted up", or "I wonder if I can make a stitch pattern look like that!".

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I'm still exploring this... but right now, 'top-down seamless, set-in sleeve' is looking favourite. I like this because with my broad sloping shoulders I need something a little more structured. Anything that doesn't require seaming is always a winner! 

How did you determine your size range?
The size range was based on my very first commissioned sweater design, where the range was set at XS to 3XL. Ever since then, I've stayed with this sizing structure, purely because I felt that I was supposed to. The larger sizes don't always work for some of my designs, but the majority of them go up to 3XL. It's nice to see my designs knitted up on the larger sizes - it makes me feel proud.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
When I create a design, I (perhaps foolishly) think that I've created something new that no-one has done before. To be absolutely sure, I would then trawl the entire Ravelry database for anything similar. If my design resembles something already out there, then I would either change it, or reject the design altogether. So in answer to this question, yes I do end up looking at other designers' work, because I am careful about mimicking knitting trends or other designs. My aim is to bring 'something different' to the table and I think that is what people who like my work are looking for. Particularly in an industry where nothing is new under the sun!

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
In this technological age, it's no longer necessary to teach knitters to suck eggs since we have access to YouTube and Ravelry. But I always make sure that any techniques that are required in my patterns are aided by a link to a video tutorial, or such like. Any assistance I can offer the knitter is always a good thing.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
All the samples are knitted by myself. In many cases, twice! I have volunteer test knitters who test the pattern before its release. It's a fun time for us, almost like a mini KAL!

Did you do a formal business plan?
If you call breaking my leg in a sporting accident, then learning how to knit while I convalesced, a business plan... then yes! ;-)

Do you have a mentor?
I wish I did! All that I have learned was through Ravelry and YouTube. However, I do have Ysolda Teague to thank for her work that inspired me to focus on designing and writing patterns.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
Not really, no. It doesn't interest me to enter design submissions for magazines. If I am asked to, then I will seriously consider it. I like to challenge myself based on yarn that I already own, so the only restriction is the yarn and nothing else. I can take my time with my work, but ultimately, the intention is to enjoy what I do.

Do you use a tech editor?
Yes, mostly for garments, where size grading needs a second pair of eyes. Steph Boardman ( is a great tech editor!

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
There is no balance, they just inter-mingle! I knit while waiting in the car on the school run! As you can imagine it's hard, but I do try to book myself a slot so that I can work on knitting maths for my patterns. I need these hours of uninterrupted time to do this - not easy with a needy teenager... not to mention a needy husband! LOL!

How do you deal with criticism?
I'm still waiting for someone to test me on this one, but this is what is amazing about our community, everybody is helpful and supportive. Any feedback that I have encountered has only been there to help me improve. So I've never really seen it as criticism. The knitting industry is great because although we are armed with sharp sticks, nobody wants to stab you in the back! 

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
Hahahahaha....!!!! What I earn keeps me in yarn, I suppose! :-)

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
I was once told, "If you love what you do, then do it, irrespective of monetary gain. Once people can see that you have a passion for your craft, then they will get behind you and the rest will follow". I think this is true.

What’s next for you?
I'd love to publish a book, but I want it to be a book that not only showcases some of my designs, but also my sense of fun! How about a pop-up knitting book? Hmmm! ;-)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A Pattern Promotion and Project Numbers in Ravelry

Here's some "inside the designer world" discussion. I've been told there are knitters who won’t buy a pattern that has a low number of projects or good project photos, as they don’t trust the pattern. They say the more popular a pattern is, the more people who want to knit it. Popularity on Ravelry is measured by project numbers, photos, comments and forum discussions. Another designer recently told me she overheard a yarn shop owner tell a customer not to buy one of her new patterns because Ravelry isn't showing any projects. She was pretty upset about it and so am I. 

I'm always encouraging people to "please, please, please post photos in Ravelry"

Here's what my numbers tell me. I used five of my patterns in the shawl and garment categories based on sales in Ravelry and Patternfish. The range of projects to pattern sales is .02 to 2.8. I know when I ask, knitters they tell me they would rather be knitting than spending time on Ravelry.

Last summer I offered a free pattern to any one who created a finished project page. I only had a few people take me up on the offer. I'm going to make the same offer again this year.

I'm running it as a special promotion. From now until August 31 2016, if you post a project page with a photo of any of my patterns shown with a completed project, I'll give you a promo code for a free pattern. You can choose any of my patterns that are available on Ravelry. Just email me (my contact info is at the top of this page) give me the project page link or the details, your Ravelry name etc. I'll send the promo code to your email. Happy Knitting!