Friday, February 19, 2010

An Interview with...Sally Melville

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?
From my closet! Seriously, whether it sits in my closet or in my dreams, whether it’s avant garde or classic, I look to what I love to wear, and I design from that place.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
Texture is what I like to honour! I think that texture is what knitting does that no other craft can replicate. Having said that, I’m currently in a bit of a lace space.
But I most love to make garments out of our simplest stitches—stockinette, garter, slip stitch. They allow me to read a book, enjoy a movie, or watch the Olympics while I knit.

Do you look at other designers work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I generally don’t look. I have no magazine subscriptions and try not to look at books. The only peers whose work I might look at would be the traditionalists: Nancy Bush, Beth Brown-Reinsel, Susanna Hansson. Since they come from a very different place, I know I’ll never replicate what they do!

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
I know not of such a controversy. Perhaps I am at the center of it??? I do know that I wrote the patterns of THE KNIT STITCH and THE PURL STITCH to be very deliberately simple because the books were for beginners. Then when I wrote COLOR, I originally wrote them with the same simplicity, waiting for my editor to give me direction. She insisted they all be re-written the way ‘most’ patterns are written. It wasn’t a bad idea, but we executed it too quickly for my peace of mind. Then when I moved to POTTER CRAFT, they insisted I follow their format . . . which uses very few abbreviations. I was surprised to find myself writing in a language even simpler than KNIT and PURL, but I had no choice. Maybe it’s the editors to whom you should pose this question? I really don’t know what the controversy is about or who is at the center of it, but I do know that editors have a lot of control over it.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I do have one knitter who has probably contributed to every book I’ve ‘knit. But POTTER CRAFT doesn’t like multiple versions of the same pattern, so I do most of the knitting for those books myself. For my books with XRX, in which I showed many versions, I had many wonderful knitters—from all over the US and Canada—helping knit the pieces. (I think my highest number was 17 at one time.) BUT the significant thing is that none of them were ever allowed to sew a seam or work an edging. I always do all of my own finishing. Pieces come home, which may need to be shortened or lengthened or adjusted, and I would do that work before tackling the really hard, no-fun work of finishing.

Did you do a formal business plan?
Hell no! (Can I say that?) I’m the original Do what you love and see what comes girl!

Do you have a mentor?
No, but I did have two wonderful knitters who inspired me: Barbara Klunder (of Toronto) and Lee Andersen (of Columbia, MD / New Zealand).

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
If I don’t work, I don’t eat.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
My new publisher insisted that I have a website with a blog. It’s not really a blog (in that it’s in no way interactive), but I do go out there regularly to post stuff.
But, really, I’m kind of an Internet neophyte. I don’t even have a FACEBOOK page!

Do you use a Tech Editor?
Yes, but I always go over my stuff at least 3 times after the tech editor does.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
My family—especially my two new grand-daughters—come first. If they call, I jump!
Really, the hard part for me is that my schedule is booked 2 years in advance. This can be devastating if some very special family event arises. But we just deal with it. They understand that if I don’t travel, I don’t eat.

How do you deal with criticism?

I really loathe that teeth-grinding moment of irritation that I go into when I feel criticism coming. I try very hard to override it, because my very best work has often come from criticism, a problem to be solved, or an imperfection to address.

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

Sadly, I still don’t really. I have a pension from my husband’s job at the University of Waterloo. I suppose if I didn’t have that, I’d be on the road more. And then I’d have no balance between life and work and would probably be looking for other work. It is very difficult to make a living at what we do.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Do what you love. Do what you know. Find your niche by being true to these.

1 comment:

  1. Hello, I found your blog through Sally's forum on Ravelry. There's so much on here. These interviews are incredible! Thanks.