One thing that annoyed me greatly with existing patterns as I was knitting for my baby son was that the neck and arm openings were always stingy. It’s tough enough to dress a squirming toddler without having to wrestle with a sweater. So I designed my own template, with generous neck and sleeve openings in easily knit silhouettes. I also realized that kids grow at an alarming rate, so my sizing is much larger than usually found…by the time the garment is knit the baby will have grown!
I tend to keep to myself, just to keep my work fresh and to stick to my own design principals. I do look at fashion, though…I subscribe to Vogue and Elle and Bazaar and French Vogue and Vogue Bambini.
How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
That’s not something I’m aware of. I encourage my student to have various projects going, some for easy knitting and some for more challenging techniques. I’m just finishing my 1oth book, Jil Eaton’s Knitting School, and I included a chapter called Graduate School!
I have 4 really fabulous knitters, and 6 others I use for various designs, strewn from Maine to South Carolina.
Did you do a formal business plan?
I did do a formal business plan. There is an organization here called Coastal Enterprises that is a non-profit helping small businesses. They were great, and gave me my start-up loan. There is a wonderful book called Growing a Business by Paul Hawkin of Smith & Hawkin. It’s a great read for anyone thinking about going into business, and has a clear chapter on writing a business plan. I think a business plan is essential to business success.
No. And I did not realize that most patterns are sold by yarn companies, and are sold almost at cost, as they make their money on yarns. I’ve done very well in spite of that fact, but last year I introduced my own yarn line, Jil Eaton MinnowMerino. The yarn is 100% Merino, is superwash, and has a micron count one point away from cashmere. Next January I am introducing a beautiful 100% superfine Italian cotton line, Jil Eaton CottonTail. I should have done this years ago!
What impact has the Internet had on your business?
I’m not sure directly, as I am a wholesaler and my website is only informational. But we all know what a fabulous resource the web is. I now have a blog, also – jijleaton.blogspot.com – very much fun. I’ve also just begun selling some out of print patterns in my shop on Ravelry.com, so it will be interesting to see how that unfolds.
Do you use a Tech Editor?
Absolutely! She’s worth her weight in gold! I do drawings and swatches that include any design details, and she writes the prototype pattern for the model for photography. After the shoot we adjust things and she sizes the pattern for printing.
How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I now have my studio in a wing in my house, and that has been a wonderful change. The commute is great, and I can keep everything going easily. I think I get more done in a shorter time. This summer I was working on my latest book, which was on a very tight schedule, and were shooting against season as well…it rained 28 straight days in June and July, and then the sun came out and it was 90 with 90% humidity – and there I was with everyone in sweaters! It was tough, and my husband almost revolted. But usually it’s a perfect balance.
How do you deal with criticism?
How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
The conventional wisdom is that it takes 3 to 5 years to become profitable, and I was able to take a salary in 3. But there’s not great wealth in the knitting industry…
What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
One way to begin is to submit designs to the knitting magazines. You will be paid a little, usually $300 to $500, and it gives you a taste of what it takes to be a designer. And research the field, learn who’s out there and what’s available, and see if you have a special place or talent.