Friday, February 5, 2010

An Interview with...Kate Oates

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.

Where do you find inspiration?
In dreams, from my kids, nature, in other artistry!

What is your favourite knitting technique?
Right now, I am stuck on the crossover twist. Its an element that works well in so many designs and I keep adding it into my own.

How did you determine your size range?
I try to offer as many sizes as I can that will stay true to the character of the design and will be appreciated. Many of the Tot Toppers hat designs are also available in adult sizes. I'm just starting to offer sweater designs, and the same will apply.

Do you look at other designers work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I love looking at others work! I think we all give and take from each other visually, but I also don't pore over instructions written by others.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
I try to make my patterns as accessible as possible, even to beginner knitters. One problem I've run across now that I'm working with retailers and selling wholesale is that I really am constrained in how long the pattern can be. If I'm not writing out every little detail, its because I know I've got to fit it on the page properly, not because I want to cut out less experienced knitters. All in all, it depends on the complexity of the design.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
It is different for every pattern. I usually try to have at least 2 other knitters to a "test knit" for me prior to publication, but not always. So far, I have knit everything I've designed at least once. One thing I really take pride in is the photography in my patterns. I use professional photographers and I think it makes a really big difference in how well the pattern is perceived, and the clarity of the garment. I think the investment is totally worthy.

Did you do a formal business plan?
I haven't *yet* but its on my agenda for the very near future. I'm actually a graduate student, so I haven't had to make the decision yet as to whether I'll be able to design full time. Once I get closer to graduation, I will be putting everything to paper and seeing where that takes me.

Do you have a mentor?
No, but I'd love one :)

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
I've been going with the flow and utilizing opportunities that are presented, I haven't actually looked at any models.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
For me, that's where it started. I don't really know that I would have gotten into designing in the same way were it not for the Internet.

Do you use a Tech Editor?
Yes, I actually have several that I work with. They are phenomenal and I couldn't work without them.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I don't sleep :) Truly, this is something I have to work on! I tend to over commit myself and there are nights where I am up really late, or I serve the kids chicken nuggets since I haven't slaved over the stove like I might have wanted to. I have an addictive personality, and its really hard for me to put down a project sometimes. But, my husband keeps me pretty grounded.

How do you deal with criticism?
I find myself always wanting to explain things away. I'm working on learning to nod & digest it instead! I know I have a lot to learn and therefore, I don't have that hard of a time when advice comes in form of criticism. What tends to bother me a little more is when people undervalue my work, but, I think this is a very very common feeling and something you just learn to live with.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I've been self-publishing for almost a year now, I'm not yet at a place where I would feel comfortable saying that I support myself. However, I would say things became steadier around the 6 month mark. At that point, I was at least in the black and I could reasonably expect that the costs of each new design would be earned back.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Never take your customers for granted, customer service is so important! Try not to let rejection get you down, there will be lots of it (whether its in publications, or people who criticize a design). You have to learn to be a little forward in order to promote yourself, no matter how uncomfortable it may seem. And, don't be afraid to seek opportunity, whether it be in form of yarn support or a publication.


  1. How do I access your interviews with other designer such as Janet Szabo? This come sup in a google search but your blog only displays the most recent interview with no apparent links to the earlier ones.


  2. Catherine

    I couldn't link to your email. If you go to the bottom on the blog page on the right hand side you can click on older posts to go back.

    Thanks for reading!