Friday, April 18, 2014

An Interview with...Lara Smoot

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 Lara here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration? I find inspiration everywhere and keep a notebook with me for jotting down ideas.  The wings of a butterfly, the spiral pattern of a shell,  frost patterns on windows,  looking at the way colors flow in a skein of variegated yarn all give me inspiration.  I enjoy reading fashion magazines and get a lot of inspiration from them as well. 

What is your favourite knitting technique? Lace!  I love knitting anything with lace incorporated into it.  I also enjoy colorwork.  My favorite projects are socks and shawls. 

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?  I subscribe to several knitting magazines and always read Knitty when it comes out online. I think that as a designer it is important to stay on top of what is trending and to know what knitters want to knit. While I do enjoy looking at other designs, I strive to create new and unique designs.

How did you determine your size range?  It really depends on the design.  A shawl may offer one or two sizes,  while a sock pattern will have a wider range of sizes.

Could you tell us a little about your Etsy business? My Etsy shop is very similar to my Ravelry Pattern Shop.  I carry a full line of my patterns on both sites.  I will be adding a new line of knitting bags to my Etsy shop at the end of April.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?  I think that patterns need to be presented to knitters in a way that is easy for them to follow and understand. I strive to have clear and concise  directions in all of my patterns.  Knitting should be enjoyable and trying to knit a pattern that is hard to follow can be very frustrating. Many times knitters just give up. 

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself? I have a group of wonderful test knitters.  I have three test knitters that knit almost everything that I come out with and there are several other test knitters that test knit when time allows.  They all do a fantastic job with testing and I don’t know what I would do without them!  I have one sample knitter and I knit each design that I come out with. 

Did you do a formal business plan?  I do have a business plan.  It is based over five years and includes an intensive marketing campaign.  I worked in social media for a yarn company for several years and my marketing strategy is very similar to the one that I created for them.  It’s good to re-evaluate your business plan every five years or sooner, make changes where you see the need, and go from there.

Do you have a mentor? I feel very lucky to have a few: Anne Hanson, Carrie Sullivan, Kyle Kunnecke, and Tabetha Hedrick. It can be difficult to break into designing and I was fortunate enough to be able to turn to friends when I had a question or needed encouragement.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated? My business model is based on customer relation's and support.  First and foremost I want to be able to provide a high level of service to people who have purchased my patterns.  I love what I do and hope that it shows through in my work.  If someone has a question I make sure that it gets answered in a way they can understand – especially if they are new to knitting.  We were all new to it at one time and I think that sometimes that gets overlooked.

What impact has the Internet had on your business? My entire business is on the Internet.  Ravelry specifically has made it very easy for designers to self publish.  Ravelry has a wonderful advertising program that I have taken full advantage of.  With the addition of Etsy, Facebook and Twitter reaching potential customers is now much easier then it was even just a few years ago. 

Do you use a tech editor? Yes.  I have a wonderful tech editor who does a fantastic job for me.

How do you maintain your life/work balance? I really enjoy what I do and it most of the time it doesn’t feel like work.  I try to stick to a schedule of writing in the morning and early afternoons, and knitting in the afternoon and evenings.  This changes if there is a deadline or we are traveling.  It’s really hard to write patterns while we are on the road.  Knitting is a wonderful craft since it is portable and can be brought most anywhere.  It’s not often that you will see me without it.

How do you deal with criticism? I continually  strive  to improve myself and my patterns.  If a test knitter has a suggestion or has trouble understanding something that I have written, it means that I need to improve what I have done before publishing.  I want my patterns to be clear and easy to follow.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself? I am not there yet, but am certainly striving to be able to do this.  Right now it’s providing a small and steady income and I am doing something that I absolutely love. I am fortunate that my husband is very supportive and encouraged me to take the first step that lead me to designing full time.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting? Take as many classes as you can, attend events like TNNA and Stitches. Get your feet wet by offering to test knit for designers whose work you like.  Make a business plan and know where you want to be next year and five years from now. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help.  People are usually willing to offer advice and suggestions.  Most of all don’t ever get discouraged.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Contest Winners Nancy Whitman Patterns

TrishD,  Tobie and Lori are the winners of the Nancy Whitman pattern contest. 

Tobie and Lori please email me. (Email address is at the top of this page).


Monday, April 14, 2014

My Husband Doesn't get Knitting Humour

One of the things I follow on Pinterest is knitting humour. Many of these items make me laugh out loud. Laughing leads to my husband wanting to share the joke. My husband is very interested in my knitting. He does the photos for my patterns, he checks for layout improvements, he does a little copy editing after the tech edit and he is working on a new logo for Robin Hunter Designs. But he just doesn't get the humour. All I get is a blank face when I share these items. Thank goodness I have lots of knitting friends!

Friday, April 11, 2014

An Interview with...Megan Goodacre

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 Megan here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?

Inspiration is a funny thing for me, it tends to wander. Right now, I'm loving the period wardrobe in Bletchley Circle, a post WW2 mystery TV series. I don't know who designed the wardrobe, but the number of hand knits on the show is astounding. I think there's an old-fashioned part of me that likes sweaters to be a little vintage. The Arbois cardigan, for example, was partly inspired by an illustration by E H Shepard. There's something distinctly Christopher-Robinish about the collar. 

And I love browsing the web for the latest couture; the fashion industry is fascinating to me. The pressure that fashion designers are under to produce hundreds of fresh designs every season is baffling. I love anything layered, tailored, vintage, or simplified.

Sometimes, I look for inspiration in geometric patterns; I like the idea of using a single visual element as simply as possible and turning it into a piece. 

How did you determine your size range?

Knitting patterns tend to have a wide range, from, say, a 30 to a 60 inch bust. I have mixed feeling about this range. I like the idea of all-inclusive patterns, but I'm not sure it's always appropriate. Growing up, I sewed much more than I knit. With sewing, you learn to tailor to fit yourself. Commercial sewing patterns are designed to be altered, with instructions and markings ("lengthen or shorten here", "place darts here", etc) and the experienced seamstress (or seamster, if that's the masculine version of the word) is always perfecting their fit. On the other hand, we tend to treat knitting patterns more literally. There's so much to think about—gauge, stitch counts, dimensions, yarn—that it's easy to get to the end of a sweater after following it to the letter but without having tried it on, only to discover that it doesn't fit! Or maybe it fits, but doesn't flatter. 

I size my sweater patterns following the American publishing convention, to fit about a 32 to 54 bust. But I think anyone knitting a sweater should customize their patterns to flatter your shape. Measure something you own that you love. Then use the written pattern as a foundation and work it to fit.

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?

I love looking at what other designers are doing! We're all re-interpreting the same basic things: sweaters, scarves, shawls, hats. I enjoy seeing how other designers are coming up with new combinations. And when I have a sketch, I want to make sure that it hasn't already been done. When everyone is using the same ingredients, it's inevitable that coincidental repeats happen, but I avoid it if I can. 

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?

Hmm, that's a tricky one. 

Compare today's patterns to patterns of 20 (or 30 or 50) years ago. Now, they're written more plainly, with a lot more detail. Explanations are provided for everything but the basics. The technical skill required is often high, with short rows, provisional cast ons, complex lace and cables, steeks… And knitters are producing incredible works. These are no boxy hand knits; these are exquisitely crafted garments. I don't think this would be happening without designers' putting a lot of work into instruction and pattern support (whether through blogs, or KALs, or discussion groups).

On the other hand, this demand for instruction puts a lot of pressure on the independent designer. A lot more time has to go into the pattern before and after publishing, and testing gets more complex. And most designers are working on tight budgets with small revenues. 20 years ago, if I didn't understand something in a Rowan pattern for example, I didn't have the option to email the designer for help. 

Ideally, I would like to see the technical and design aspects separated. Technical instruction could go in blogs, books, workshops. And the design could be left in the pattern. Remember what a revolution the Kaffe Fassett designs were, and how successfully they attracted knitters? That was all about visually exciting design; the technical aspects were very simple. 

I try to manage the issue by putting tutorials in my blog. Then I can include a link to the tutorial within the pattern. For example, I have a hat pattern in the works that uses stranded colour knitting. Some of the testers felt that the pattern should include information about colour dominance. But I prefer to make this optional (I don't think colour dominance matters unless you're very particular about the finished product) so I wrote an article about it on my site. 

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

I have a couple of really great sample knitters who I use sometimes. It depends on the project and the budget. And my mom has knit a few samples for me, which is incredibly helpful. (She knit Cultivar, for example). Ideally, I'd like to work with sample knitters on everything, but just don't have the budget for that. Working with a sample knitter lets me do things that I like the look of, but don't have the stamina for. I'm a pretty lazy knitter, so need sample knitters to do the hard work for me. Boiseau for example, has been really popular, but I would have lost patience halfway through it! Luckily, I had a sample knitter for that one.

I often turn to Ravelry for test knitters, and have worked with many very helpful volunteers. They don't just test the pattern, they get involved with the finer points and usability of the pattern, like a focus group. It's great.

Did you do a formal business plan?

The first year was really about finding out more about the audience. Finding out what people are looking for (or not) and where the potential revenue is. Now that the site is up and running, I have a loose plan and projections for the different parts of the business. The business runs on individual pattern sales, royalties, freelance commissions, ad revenue, and notebook sales. And of course, it's hard to plan for unexpected work, like being asked to write the Idiot's Guide! That was a real bonus for me!

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
And I've been a web developer/designer for about 15 years, so am very aware of changes that have happened in the last decade. The idea of selling virtual, digital goods, wouldn't be possible without the Internet. My mom ran a small home business pre-internet, so I grew up with cottage industry. The "cottage" in small crafts business probably doesn't exist so much anymore, but a lot of other aspects are the same. And the Internet allows the crafts person to reach a much bigger market than they could through crafts fairs or traditional retail.

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

Well, "support" is a relative term. I could probably support myself, but not a mortgage and a family. I couldn't do this without another income-earner in the family. But I can say I was making enough to support myself in the third year. 

(I still augment my knitting design business with graphic design, you can see some of my work here:

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?

Career in knitting? I won't sugarcoat it: there is little career to be made from making things by hand, especially with something as time-consuming as knitting. It's a cold truth that is better to face before starting. There are exceptions of course, and there is some livelihood to be made, but it's getting harder.

Career in design? That's where the potential is. But if you're doing this for a living, or a partial living, be prepared to be business-minded. Creativity and craft are only part of the picture.

My advice:
Face the hard truths before, not after. It's such a drag, I know, but ask yourself, how much do I want to get paid an hour. Ask yourself, do I want (someday) to do this for a living? Then, take those numbers, and do the math. How many patterns would you have to sell every month to meet your goals? How many designs would you have to sell to magazines every year? 

Then, if you've done the math and girded your loins, figure out what your niche will be. Or as I like to say, figure out what your racket is. And then investigate. You might think your niche will be classic knits for men. But you'll find that there's not a big enough market there. Or, you might want to write nothing but cardigan patterns. There's a big market there, but lots of competition.  

Once you've figured out what you want to do, start building your aesthetic and your personal brand. It's helpful to sit and write a 100 word description of the designer you are (or want to be). It helps you to focus on what you're all about. 

And finally, don't go it alone if you don't have to! Reach out to other people in the industry for advice, yarn support, and freelance work! I couldn't have done the Idiot's Guide without Knit Picks; they generously provided all the yarn for the book.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

YarnOver SleepOver Retreat

From the back row left to right - Carol, Gayle, Mary Pat, Julia, Monika, Robin, Deb, Ash, Lyn and Elizabeth

This weekend I'll be teaching at the second annual YarnOver SleepOver Retreat. 

Last year's event was sooooooo much fun.

The photo above is of the organizers and yes if you are wondering we are all very excited to be doing it again!

ETA, oops I goofed and accidently published this instead of scheduling it! The retreat starts on April 11.


Monday, April 7, 2014

“Put the bunny down”

My husband and I have a few movie lines that we quote to one another in various situations. Lately it's been "get out, get out now" which shows up a lot in both movies and TV shows. Usually our hero is inside looking for evidence and their side kick is outside watching for the evil perpetrator to arrive.

Before that it was “Put the bunny down” made famous (to us) in a Nicolas Cage movie, Con Air. You can read more here about bad Nic Cage movies.

I'd like to modify that quote for knitters “Put the pattern down”.

My newest class is called What the Pattern Doesn't Tell You. It's a collection of information and techniques which come directly from the many questions I'm asked by knitters.

Many highly skilled knitters only learn different techniques when we designers force them to by including them in our patterns. One of my students has named two of my very simple techniques as "worth the cost of the class". Both are tips that don't belong in a pattern. Blog postings here and here

Put the pattern down”, pick up a reference book, and try some new techniques on swatches to improve your skills and give yourself new options to create even better results. Many sources will give you many new things to try.  

We knitters create fabric in very different ways. Results between knitters vary.

To quote the conspiracy movies, when it comes to finding your best techniques "trust no one", knit a swatch and test it out for yourself to see how techniques work with your knitting style and for specific projects.