Friday, October 30, 2009

An Interview with...Jil Eaton


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


This week we talk to Jil Eaton. You can find her here http://www.minnowknits.com/index3.html & here http://jileaton.blogspot.com/


How did you determine your size range?

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

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

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.
Do you have a mentor? Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

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?
I haven’t had much negative criticism, and when I do usually it’s from a knitter who is furious about something in a pattern. It usually turns out that it’s a question of not understanding the instructions. I encourage everyone to read the pattern completely through just as you would a recipe; that makes a great difference.

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.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

How You Can Become A Subway Stylist



Warning! I ride the subway and I critic your clothes!




I've learned a lot about dressing myself in the best possible way by looking at other women on the subway.

All women in North America suffer from body image issues but we need to move beyond our fears and dress the bodies we have right now to look good. If you wait until...(fill in your own personal excuse here) you will never look great and that's what every one of us should be aiming for. If you look good you will feel good. Others will have more confidence in you and you will have a higher standard to aspire to. It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy that can lead to unexpected improvements in other areas of your life.




Start to look at other women who look good and figure out what they are doing right and copy them. Remember imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.


Next look at women who look bad and think of ways to "fix" them. This will help to develop the critical eye you need to objectively assess yourself.




Make sure that you also look at women who are your size or shape and learn from them. What are they doing right or wrong and how does that apply to you. If you have ever watched How to Look Good Naked http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_to_Look_Good_Naked you may already know that there is a good chance that you are much smaller than you think you are. Keep that in mind when choosing your potential role models. Focusing on body proportions may help as well so look for women with your shape even if they are much taller or shorter than you.




Notice their accessories, often the accessories make a "look".


Finally check out their hemlines sometimes an few inches in either direction can make a big difference, if you can see the errors on other women you have a better chance of identifying the missteps that you yourself make and of correcting them.







Monday, October 26, 2009

The Academic Study of Knitting

While researching a previous post I came across this thesis.



http://etd.ohiolink.edu/send-pdf.cgi/Pace%20Lisa%20A.pdf?acc_num=akron1185293527




I've had contact with a number of academics who have been studying us and our subculture in the past on a few occasions, usually in the form of questionnaires. I find myself feeling a little "creeped out" by this examination but I'm not fully able to articulate exactly why.




This particular thesis breaks Knitters out into three separate groups Charity Knitters, DIY types and Political Activist Knitters. We talked about this a few nights ago in my regular knitting group. I think some of my discomfort comes from feeling unrepresented by any of these categories. I know that the line between craft and art is hotly debated and most often the line falls between functional versus non-functional items. I'm generally producing functional things but my feeling for what I do is that it's an artistic endeavour. I'm also very involved with making garments fit well and flatter a women's body so I lean towards couturier type techniques and fine finishing details. What do you think? Let me Know.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Knitting Humour


I'm working on a post about the disrespect knitters get from the non-knitting world. During my research I came upon http://www.pseudodictionary.com/index.php


A few of the entries follow:


sockrilege - A combination of socks and sacrilege. Disrespect, misuse, or theft of hand-knitted socks, perhaps some of the most important objects in the universe -- with the exception of towels.
e.g., I can't believe he shrunk the socks that I just finished knitting, in the wash, again. Desecration! Infidel! Blasphemer! He shall surely pay for these acts of sockrilege.


sockrifice - A combination of "sock" and "sacrifice." What every knitter must endure when giving away the fruits of her labours in hopes of gaining the favour of the knitting powers that be.
e.g., Yes, indeed, my children, it was quite a sockrifice to give away those handmade cashmere argyles, but our endeavours shall be rewarded with the greater growth of our yarn stashes. Hankelujah.


hankelujah - A combination of hank, as in a "hank of yarn" and "hallelujah." A joyful exultation uttered by knitters in enthusiasm over expansive gains made to their personal yarn stash.
e.g., Wow, Maggie, you just added 50 balls of Kroy sock yarn to your stash? Hankelujah.


knat - Past tense of knit. Saves paper and ink.
e.g., She knat that sweater for me when I was a child.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Knitting as Therapy

There is a fascinating article on knitting as therapy. I think most Knitters already intuitively understand that there is more to the process going on than most people (non-knitters) can comprehend. I recommend that you read it.


http://www.knitonthenet.com/issue4/features/therapeuticknitting/


My own experience has taught me that I'm getting a lot more than just another sweater when I knit. I have many friends who have knit through tragedy in their lives. One while she waited for hours for news about her missing son on 911. He was one of the few survivors. He was hit by debris from the towers while he was still outside when the first plane hit.


I noticed after leaving a stressful job that my knitting time decreased and when I started a less intellectually demanding job that I wanted to work on more complex items. As I launch my professional Knitting career I'm again becoming obsessive about my knitting. The focus has changed and right now it's all about design and how to best write patterns.I find myself writing blog posts in my head and I'm frequently making notes for myself as new ideas occur to me. I wake up from dreams about my current project and it's a wonderful distraction while my sister and I struggle with the process of moving my Father who has Mixed Dementia into a long term care facility.


When I've discussed this topic with brand new knitters a few have told me about how they feel obsessed with knitting. It reminds me of how an alcoholic can tell you all the details of the first drink they ever took. We know that there is a genetic predisposition for alcoholics. Do you think we Knitters share a special gene as well?

Friday, October 16, 2009

An Interview with ..... Janet Szabo


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


You can find Janet at http://bigskyknitting.com/




Where do you find inspiration?

In stitch dictionaries! I love to look at the different patterns and imagine all the possibilities. Once I settle on something, it's a matter of finding a good fit between stitch pattern, garment style, and design details.

What is your favourite knitting technique?

Cables, definitely. I also like lace.

How did you determine your size range?

Originally I designed for myself (I really am pretty average) and graded sizes up and down from there. In recent years I've expanded my size range, although designing for larger sizes can be challenging. The shaping for larger sizes is such that it's almost like grading a completely different pattern. But I know the demand is out there for expanded size ranges, so I will include them as much as I am able to.

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

I have a whole stack of knitting magazines here on the floor of my office that I haven't looked at. I prefer not to be influenced by anyone else's designs. One of these days, though, I hope to have enough time to knit some designs by other designers!

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

Designers walk a fine line when writing knitting patterns. On the one hand, we want to include sufficient information that a knitter can completely reproduce the garment we designed. On the other hand, it's a knitting *pattern*, not a reference manual on techniques. I often think we've gotten lazy as a society, and want everything handed to us so that we won't have to get up, walk over to the bookshelf, and take down a good knitting reference book and read about a technique. Now I sound like an old person but when I was learning to knit (and design), I had only two books, no Internet, and no other knitters around who could help me when I got stuck. I think it made me a better knitter to have to figure things out on my own.

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

I have two regular test knitters who work for me. Each of them usually does three or four items a year. I am really picky about my knitting and especially the finishing, so I usually do the finishing myself.

Did you do a formal business plan?

I don't have a written one, but I keep my own books and the books for my husband's construction company, so I am really good at seeing trends and making adjustments throughout the year. I have a list of goals I want to accomplish, although sometimes I get sidetracked. This year, for example, I've done way more traveling and teaching than I normally do, and I was gone so much that I didn't get the second Cables book finished as I had planned to do.
And things change. Fiber Trends is now distributing my patterns. Twists and Turns®: The Newsletter for Lovers of Cable Knitting seems to have run its course, so it will cease publication at the end of 2010. We'll have to see what else is in store!

Do you have a mentor?

Joan Schrouder and Lily Chin have both been great sources of advice for me over the years. I also run a Yahoo groups list for self-publishing designers, and they have been a wonderful support network.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

Not really; I come from a long line of self-employed entrepreneurs. My mother started her own metal-stamping company in Cleveland when she was 55 years old. She's also a great source of business information.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?

Some good, some bad. The Internet has made it MUCH easier to reach knitters directly; I think it would have been much harder for me to produce and market "Twists and Turns®: The Newsletter for Lovers of Cable Knitting" without a website. On the other hand, the ease of connecting with knitters has unleashed a whole flood of people calling themselves knitting designers. It used to be that knitting designers were the ones who had their work published in magazines or had written books or had been vetted by the industry in some way. Now just about anyone can call him- or herself a designer. That's great for people trying to break into the industry--it's much easier now--but there is a wide range of standardization (or lack thereof) and quality when it comes to patterns.
And as much as I like Ravelry, I've found that it's reinforced the culture of wanting things for free. As a designer who produced a cable knitting video, it's sometimes disheartening to log onto Ravelry and see all the knitters asking where on the Internet they can see a video for a technique. It's very hard for those of who charge for our work to compete with "free." I think we're really close to a tipping point in this business, where only a very few people (even fewer than in the past) will be able to support themselves as knitting designers. The pie can only be sliced into so many pieces, and the pie is getting smaller all the time. And the economic situation hasn't helped.

Do you use a Tech Editor?

ABSOLUTELY. My tech editor is critical to the success of my business.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

It's getting a bit easier now that my kids are older. But I am pretty aware that I am a workaholic and I have to remind myself that I need to take some time off now and then. This past year I began getting once-a-month massages. They originally began as a treatment for a sore shoulder due to knitting, but I've found that they help to keep me from getting too stressed out.

How do you deal with criticism?

I'm getting better at not being so thin-skinned, but it's hard. I try to remind myself that most people mean well.

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

Hmmm, the business has been self-supporting for about 10 of the 13 years I've been doing this. For the past couple of years I've been able to contribute in a significant way to the household expenses--my husband is a builder and here in Montana he might not work for a few months during the winter. When that happens, Big Sky Knitting Designs supports the family. This year, though, income is down. I've had to go back to work as a substitute teacher during the week. I think it's a combination of the economic meltdown and the fact that more and more knitting information is available on the Internet.

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

Make sure you have a good day job. :-) No, seriously--being an indie designer is no different that being a self-employed builder, or metal-stamping plant owner, or any other kind of self-employment. You may think it's knitting 24/7, but the reality is that owning a business comes with a lot of responsibilities, not all of which are fun. Know yourself, know what you like to do, and be prepared to pay someone to do the things you don't want or like to do. And enjoy the flexibility and the freedom to do what you love.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Subculture of Knitting Fashion


Some Knitters don't wear their best work because they are afraid that it is not fashionable. Fortunately lots of my friends are Knitters so my knitting does get worn out in public. When I worked at my LYS it was easy, I wore a sweater or shawl every day and I got a total kick out of all those knitters coming in and asking about whatever I happened to have on.
I think that what is going on is due to the judgments that we all make about others. We know that the knitting that we like to think of as special and unique might be viewed by others as just a little on the other side of "weird". We think people may stay away from the crazy lady with pointy sticks as weapons clutched in her hands.
So what's the solution? I think we need to consider context, where we are when we choose to be seen in our knitting and also the garments we choose to wear with it. I often choose yarns knowing exactly what other garments the end product will be worn with. I usually pick simple conservative pieces as underpinnings and I think carefully about the colour matchings. I also tend to be a little overdressed (as my husband constantly points out), so I think that might keep me out of Weirdsville.
We Knitters are a special subculture and I think we need to remember that. The garments we produce are special and that's the reason we don't see more of them in main stream fashion. The reason is that they are special is that no one can produce what we do in a cost efficient way. What we are crafting is done as a labour of love. If you can find a comparable hand knit like this http://www.pringlescotland.com/ or this Oscar pictured below, priced at $1,690.00, it's on the fashion runways not at our local ready to wear stores. So rejoice, savor your unique skills and wear your knitting proudly.






Friday, October 9, 2009

An Interview with... Cassie Miller





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



You can find Cassie at

http://www.azaleaandrosebudknits.blogspot.com/



and on http://www.patternfish.com/



Where do you find inspiration?



I love vintage fashion, so I look to my vintage knitting magazines and history of costume books when I need inspiration for a new design. I work in the fashion industry for my 'day job', so I end up reading a lot of fashion magazines and keeping up with current trends. Sometimes I see new trends that are really great to be translated into hand knits. I am also inspired by the unusual knitting techniques, like entrelac and mosaic knitting. There aren't tons of patterns that employ these techniques so I am inspired to create a pattern so that other people will want to learn these techniques too.



What is your favourite knitting technique?



I think it is a tie between entrelac and cables. Entrelac is so addicting, all those little rectangles that look so strange while being knit. I love creating my own cable patterns, so far they all seem to involve hearts. I think I enjoy creating the cable charts as much as I enjoy knitting the cables.



How did you determine your size range?



Knitters come in all different sizes, so I try to create a range from 30" to 54" bust.



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



Yes, I love to see what other designers create. There is so much I haven't learned yet, I like to see creative new ideas and hopefully come up with some of my own.



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



I don't think patterns should have to be dumbed down at all. I usually ignore the difficulty rating of a pattern, if I am really determined I will be able to figure it out. I don't think knitters should be too intimidated by a complicated looking pattern. If we didn't dare to step out of the box, it would be hard to become a better knitter.



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



I do all the sample knitting. On Ravelry, I usually ask a few knitters to test knit my patterns if I am self-publishing them.



Did you do a formal business plan? No



Do you have a mentor? Not really. I learned to knit on my own from a knitting kit my mother gave me, and currently I usually do all my knitting by myself. I am inspired by Elizabeth Zimmermann, I think her style of knitting patterns that challenge knitters to think for themselves are really great.



Do you have a business model that you have emulated?



No.



What impact has the Internet had on your business?



Almost all of my business is conducted through the Internet, so it is of course very important to me. I only sell my self-published patterns online and have had patterns featured in the online knitting magazines Knotions and Popknits. The Internet has brought a way for knitters all around the world to connect, and I think it has really changed the way knitters interact. Sometimes I get receipts for my knitting patterns and find that the purchaser is from the UK or some country far from me, and it just thrills me to think that my pattern has made it halfway around the world.



Do you use a Tech Editor?



No.



How do you maintain your life/work balance?



It is hard, I usually end up knitting in favor of other household duties that should really be done first.



How do you deal with criticism?



It can be difficult to grow a thick skin, because after such hard work you would hope that the pattern is a crowd pleaser. But everyone has different tastes, so there will never be one pattern that everyone loves.



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



Designing knitting patterns is still a very part time job for me, but I love it wouldn't want to give it up any time soon. I hope in the future to make it my full time job.



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



If you are passionate about knitting and designing, then just knit as much as you can and read as many knitting books as you can. There is so much out there to learn. Also write down all your ideas and sketches. Eventually some of those doodles will evolve into a great pattern.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Three Needle Cast Off on Two Needles

Do you avoid this technique due to the awkwardness of trying to hang on to the three needles all at once?

Would you like to use this technique but you need an easier way?

First please review the normal version http://knitty.com/ISSUEfall06/FEATfall06TT.html

Now for the make it easier trick.....take a smaller size DPN or circular needle. Transfer all of the stitches, one at time, alternating between the front and the back needle on to the new needle. Maintain the stitch orientation by slipping purl wise. Now do the cast off, knitting into two stitches at a time from the left hand needle. Less fuss, same result.

Friday, October 2, 2009

An Interview With....Jane Thornley





Once a week I post interviews with interesting designers about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry. I’ve noticed that every designer makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the Knitting world. You can find Jane's site at http://www.janethornley.com/blog/index.php/site/index/








Where do you find inspiration?



Inspiration finds me on my travels or is gleaned from the natural world. A trip to Italy gave birth to an entire book of patterns (Knitaly) while Morocco inspired the Berber Jacket design. I also enjoy leafing through magazines, primarily fashion-orientated glossies, indulging in colors and shapes. Sometimes designs just seem to manifest from nowhere but, of course, they usually an on-going composite of ideas and impressions.

What is your favourite knitting technique?

Mixing simple stitches with glorious yarns.



How did you determine your size range?

Many of my designs fit all sizes, like wraps, but, since many of my fans are women of substance, I try to offer designs for all shapes.



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



I love looking at other designers work but my approach is usually so different I couldn't begin to duplicate them, even if I tried (which I don't). I'm very non yarnogamous and can no longer stick with a single yarn for a whole project.

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



I don't like the term. As an educator of many years, I know that many people have difficulty reading standard patterns for a number of reasons, most of which have nothing to do with intelligence or ability. People learn and process information differently.When my allergies act up, for instance, there's no way standard knit code makes sense to me. I prefer to offer lots of narrative and visuals along with the knit code to hopefully reach the widest number of people interest in trying my approach.



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



I do it all myself, as test knitters don't fit with what I do. I encourage tangents and explorations so there is no one right way of doing things.



Did you do a formal business plan?



No, I evolved from an administrative position to a creative awakening. Along the way, my skills played a role in how my business evolved and I'm sure it was intuitively strategic but nothing consciously planned.



Do you have a mentor?



Yes, many for all kinds of things but, over all, supportive friends have helped me unfold.


Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

No.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?

Huge! The Internet made my business.

Do you use a Tech Editor?

No, see response above. I'm an anomaly.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

My life and my work are now one. After many years jumping hoops and conforming to standards, I have reinvented myself and encourage others to do the same. Acknowledge the rules and then do what feels best is my mantra. I keep a balance between home and travel with both an external and internal life. This works best for me.

How do you deal with criticism?

It surprises me sometimes how competitive the knit design business really is. When I first began, I'd receive the occasional lecture on what did or did not make a 'proper' knitting designer. I recognized the tone as something I'd come across in my other careers where degrees and diplomas and hoops jumped determined career trajectory but I've always believed that many roads exist to an end. I've chosen to follow my own.

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

Knitting design supports my lifestyle of travel and love of yarn and teaching about both but I can't say I make a living from it. The business has evolved over four years.

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

Determine what works for you and don't accept the speed bumps thrown in your path by naysayers. These days, the Internet provides the tools for you to emerge on your own terms.