Monday, August 30, 2010

Knitting Tips - Are Straight needles the Best?

I was reading the Knitting Tips and Techniques section of Carol Rasumussen Noble's book Style at Large when I read her comments on circular needles and how they do not hold an even tension. I generally prefer straight needles myself but I do use circulars depending on the project. When I worked at my LYS it did seem that a higher percentage of Knitters preferred circulars. I've always read that knitting becomes more even the longer it is off the needles and especially after it is worn and washed. I generally chose my needles based on fibre type and with the project requirements in mind. I'm very curious about this have any of you found this to be true? You can see the details of her comments here It is copyrighted material but shows on the pages that Amazon lets the public see so I believe that I am not breaking any rules here. You can see more of Carol's amazing work here on Ravelry .

Friday, August 27, 2010

An Interview with...Gwen Bortner

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 Gwen here
and on her blog here

Where do you find inspiration?

Everywhere, but particularly in the classroom. I consider myself a teacher as opposed to a designer, so most of my designs are based on the desire to share an interesting concept, technique or skill.

What is your favourite knitting technique?

Entrelac has been my passion since I was first introduced to it over 20 years ago and have just recently published a new book, Entrée to Entrelac on the topic. But honestly, I like all aspects of knitting because there is so much to choose from.

How did you determine your size range?

I have one good friend who is really petite and another who is rather large, so I try to accommodate them both as well as everyone in the middle. However, some styles just won’t work on some body sizes and some patterns (for any number of reasons) will not scale up or down to my preferred range. But whenever possible I strive for 5 – 7 sizes.

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

ABSOLUTELY!! And I hope to be influenced as I work with LOTS of really talented people and I hope some of it my rub off! Other designers help me think about alternative construction, garment details, stitch patterns and so much more. I don’t have a good enough memory to copy anything I have seen, but elements will mix as they float around in my head and hopefully my results are all the better because of it.

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

I feel different patterns should be accessible to different knitters. My Skill Builder Pattern line is specifically designed to give knitters the tools to learn new skills while working through a project. But there will also be prerequisite skills listed as well. Too many words can over complicate a pattern just as too few words.

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

I could never do all the knitting by myself (I am way too slow), but I also don’t have a large stable of knitters either. Right now I have about 5 – 7 that work with me fairly regularly depending upon what else is going on in their lives. Good test knitters are really hard to find, so when you find one, you treasure them!

Did you do a formal business plan?

I actually did write out a formal business plan, but now focus more on my marketing plan which I try to review at least twice a year. I am a planner by nature and a business person first and foremost, so it really made sense for me.

Do you have a mentor?

Not in any formal sense of the word, but I have sought and received advice from a number of individuals in the industry. Mostly now I have a network – a group that shares information in all directions.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?

My business was based originally on the Internet so it has had lots of impact. But trying to utilize it to its fullest extent is always a challenge. I think easy access to information is very positive for the industry.

Do you use a Tech Editor?

Of course!! Even though I also do tech editing, you cannot tech edit your own work. Honestly, I don’t consider a pattern to be professionally published unless it has been through a separate tech editor.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

I have the greatest husband in the world and his support and flexibility makes it possible to have this business. In reality, I need to do a better job of balancing, but I think that is true for most entrepreneurs. Any balance I do have is a result of having other activities and interests that also require my time including my church volunteer work and part-time ski instructing.

How do you deal with criticism?

I have always dealt with constructive criticism very well. It is the only way you can find ways to improve. However, general negativity and nastiness (often just for its own sake) I really have no patience for, so I easily dismiss it.

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

Figure out which aspects you really enjoy and focus your efforts there. Once I realized that teaching was my driving force, the business quickly became profitable and everything seemed “easier”. And know that very few people can support themselves in a life style they have become accustomed to in this industry.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Designer Secrets - The Gauge Swatch

The answer to Mondays post question is that I knit the larger swatch and my friend J.J. knit the smaller one. We took a class together and were working on swatches when J.J. looked over at my work and asked why I wasn't doing the same sample that she was? I said "I am". 

That's when I really learned how much gauge can vary between knitters. It's rare to sit with someone else and knit the exact same thing on the same size needles and with the same yarn. Most of us rarely get to see the impact of gauge as it changes from one knitter to the next. We see our own gauge changing between needle size and yarn weight. Those of us who teach often see it if we have everyone working with the same sample yarn but that's rare as we normally tell students to bring scrap yarn and appropriate needles to work with. Even very experienced knitters are surprised when I show them these swatches.

Oh and by the way J.J. is not an especially tense person. I'm often asked that when I show these swatches.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Designer Secrets - The Gauge Swatch (and why we won't stop harping at you that have to do one!)

These are the swatches that I use when I teach my design class.

These three are the same number of rows, same number of stitches on three different needle sizes
(7.5 mm, 6 mm and 4 mm).

These two are the same number of rows, same number of stitches, one in garter stitch and the other is two cables on a background of reverse stocking stitch.

These two swatches are the same number of rows, same number of stitches.....can you tell me what's different? I'll post the answer on Wednesday.

Friday, August 20, 2010

An Interview with...Chris Bylsma

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 Chris here and here

Where do you find inspiration?

Everything around me - the colors and textures in nature, shapes, styles - are sources of new ideas. Often they don't pop up immediately but emerge sometime later. So I simply try to observe and absorb with an open mind knowing that it's all food for my creative muse (hopefully). I've learned that inspiration, or creativity has its own schedule and a new design usually comes in pieces rather than all at once. It's when I let go and dig in the garden that I may resolve a cuff or detail rather than struggling with it. That's the fun and challenge - it's like finding key pieces in a jigsaw puzzle.

Necessity is also a great motivator. I have long arms and have trouble buying things off the rack or finding something in the rich colors I love. So most of my designs are pieces that I wear. My philosophy is that if I don't/won't wear it why would anyone else. So I try to design something that I will wear, is flattering and is classic enough to stand the test of time.

What is your favorite knitting technique?

I have many favorites - dropped stitches have been one of my ongoing obsessions, combined with cables (another obsession), and mixed fibers and gauges (another obsession). Frankly, I just like to play - I call it doodling with needles - to try different stitches, or combinations, an easier approach to something, or whatever. I'm not a sock knitter but I love sock and fingering yarns to combine with other yarns for interesting color or texture combinations. I love color too, obviously, but I don't have patience for Fair Isle or intarsia so I try to find other, simpler ways to mix colors and fibers such as my Crayon Box Jacket, Fusion Jacket, Symphony Jacket and several other designs. I guess I just like to stretch the boundaries and test the "what ifs".

How did you determine your size range?

I offer a range of women's sizes that I feel comfortable with personally. I am a size 8-10 myself so I determine the appropriate measurements and ease for me and then extrapolate from there for a few larger and smaller sizes, based on industry standard measurements, that are in keeping with the shaping and style of the design. Sometimes a design works well in several sizes but not always. I don't pretend to understand petite or larger sizes which may require different proportions or shaping and perhaps a completely different pattern. I like to remind knitters that a pattern is a suggestion, not law, and they can tweak the pattern to get just the correct size for them.

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

Of course I look at other designers' work! And often think, "Why didn't I think of that?" I appreciate what they have done but I don't worry about being influenced. I often compare knitting to cooking - we can all start with the same ingredients and end up with something completely different from gourmet to ethnic to comfort food. And just try to get designers to stay in the lines and do something exactly alike!!

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

If there is such a controversy I haven't been following it. If it means writing simply and concisely with the intent of knitters understanding the directions, I'm all for it! Knitting should not have to be difficult - it should just appear so to those who don't knit! If you are unwilling to make the pattern easily understood, then don't publish. I have seen how easy it is for knitters to add punctuation where it doesn't exist, or forget to read it where it does, or simply be unable to visualize what they are making. I try to be thorough in my patterns with a minimum of abbreviations. I still get emails and calls and I am more than happy to walk someone through to that "aha" moment. That's one reason I love to teach.

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

I knit all my own designs. Although I have tried using knitters I find the process works better when I can design/knit/write/revise all at the same time. Once it is written I will have others test a pattern, however. Besides, I'm in this business first and foremost because I love to knit so that is my treat to myself to actually sit down and knit after a day of computer and paper work. Contrary to what many may fantasize, I don't get up, have a cup of coffee and then knit all day!

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

No. The amazing thing about this industry is that there are so many ways to carve out your own niche. I chose to self-publish patterns as a wholesaler and also teach. Others prefer to design for publications or yarn companies while others love to write books (or blog, Robin). It's great! There's room for all.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?

A lot, of course. When I started the business in 2002 the only source for patterns was yarn shops or print catalogues. Then online catalogues and store sites popped up, then online magazines, pdf downloads, online communities, social media, apps. Amazing! I now have patterns available as pdf downloads on as well as through shops and catalogues and love hearing from knitters around the world. I just taught workshops in Amsterdam and they had all heard of me and knew all about events and happenings in the states because of the reach of our social networking now.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

Not very well, probably. During the summer months I try to step back and enjoy more time with my family and garden. However, during the Fall and Spring I am travelling almost every weekend for workshops somewhere in the country. Frankly I love meeting knitters everywhere in different communities and poking into wonderful yarn shops. My husband, Charlie, has become a pretty good cook (out of necessity). As I mentioned before, creativity and ideas come when you least expect them so I may end up scribbling something on a napkin at times when I'm supposed to be "off duty".

How do you deal with criticism?

It hurts. But like cooking, not everyone is going to like what you do. So I try to not let it wound me, learn what I can from it and move on. Period.

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

Is this a trick question?!? Support my stash? Support my habit? Pay my bills? Right away. But I'm "retired" and not supporting a family.

Support the style of living I would like to become accustomed to? Still working on that. The personal jet may have to wait.....

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

It may sound facetious but don’t quit your day job right away. Find the niche that speaks to you and establish a footing first because you love it, not because you expect to get rich. It's not just sitting around knitting all day. In fact, I knit a lot less now than before I started the business. Try out a few choices first. If you want to own a yarn shop, try working in one first. If you want to design, write a pattern in several sizes and have a friend knit from it. If you want to spin and dye your own yarn start selling at local stores or fairs. And don't be afraid to ask advice from the many wonderful people in the industry.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Designer Secrets - Smoothing Stair Step Cast Offs

Please note the little stair steps created by each bind off in the photo above and then compare to the photo's below.

I'm working on cardigan designs and I was thinking about details that I need to discuss with my sample knitters. I wanted to give them a reference on smoothing the stair step bind offs at the armhole, neckline and shoulders so I went to my usual resource the Vogue Knitting reference book. The first time I couldn't find anything but I checked again before I wrote this post and finally found it under "Sloped bind off". It's the kind of little detail that is never included in a pattern but makes seaming easier as well as tidier on the inside of your garment. It also turns out that Vogue uses a different technique than the one I use.

Their version (page 50) means thinking ahead to the row before the bind off and skipping the last stitch, turning the work slipping the next stitch and then passing the skipped stitch over the slipped one and then continuing the bind off.

The version I use is - I complete the first bind off as normal and then on the next "step" on a right side row I work the first decrease as a SSK and then complete the bind off normally. On the wrong side rows I do a P2 together. So if the instruction was to bind off 4 stitches and then 3 on the next row I would bind off 4 stitches and then on the next row SSK (RS) or P2 together (WS) and bind off 2 stitches.

BTW Canadians often say cast off instead of bind off, stocking stitch instead of stockinette and occasionally tension instead of gauge.