Friday, February 4, 2011

An Interview with...Nora Bellows

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 Nora here and here

Where  do you find inspiration?
I find influence and inspiration in many places, but much of it comes from working hard on an idea. A design comes about, for me, because there is a problem to solve.  The bag, or dress, or sweater is a solution to the problem, but not the only solution.  This is why we have infinite possibilities for design, because any one design can only solve so much of the problem.

What are your favourite knitting and crocheting techniques?
I wouldn’t say I have favorites. . . Whatever accomplishes the job is my favorite for the moment.
How did you determine your size range?

Size range of bags?  I have learned that different people want differently sized bags: either in order for the bag to be proportional to their physical size or because they want to carry lots of things, or because they like small bags only. . . It is always good to have a range of sizes in any given pattern in order to speak to different segments of the audience. 

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

I do look at other people’s work, and I look at designers in other fields.  I believe that being bathed in art only helps art. Cloistering oneself (really, there is no such thing; when we live in the world we are faced with influences all the time) may serve to diminish one’s work. Creating something wonderful is, I think, to be in conversation with the world. This is a wonderful thing.
How  do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters and crocheters?
I am often confronted by the limits of what can be conveyed by written text. Just today I was trying to explain to someone else (over the phone) how to assemble a flower so that it looked a particular way.  I could have shown her in seconds, but to explain exactly what I had done was difficult and I found myself flailing around for the right combination of words.  She was patient while I stopped and started, trying to put all the steps in the right order and capture the 3-dimensional quality of the steps in the dimension of words. . . Video with a few comments would have said it all.

So, I theorize that the “dumbing down” occurs when we realize that there are limits to text and chart. There are paths we can tread as individuals that are impossible should we expect anyone to follow us. It’s too hard. A single pattern cannot always do all that it must when the design is complex. Well, and we designers are trying to make a living.  I would love to make sweaters or jackets or coats, or bags that are ornate, complex, that might take months to complete and decorate. . . But the work involved, the time, the expense. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense. It is better to do a scaled back version that 200 or (one hopes) 2,000 people want to make than the fabulous vision that would only be attempted by 2, or only by oneself.

How many sample/test knitters and crocheters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I would love to do all the knitting myself. . . And I used to in the beginning. But once you start running a business, it makes more sense to get other hands involved.  The quantity of knitters is less important to me than the quality.  I have a few women with whom I work who are worth their weight in gold. They question everything.  I love that.
Did  you do a formal business plan?

No, never did.  Started with $40 about 5 years ago when being an indie designer was not even really a category the way it is now.

Do you have a mentor?
Mentors or masters are all around us. I have some wonderful relationships with people whose perspectives challenge me to do better, to see differently, to move forward. I don’t know that they are formal “mentors” so much as colleagues who may learn from me as much as I learn from them.  We are in an ongoing, very wonderful and supportive conversation.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

No. I’m still figuring out where it is I want to go.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
Huge.  If I had not had a website, I would not have been as successful. In the beginning, what made things start happening for me was a single link to my website. Being smart about technology (not my strong suit, I’m afraid) is one of the keys to success in today’s world.

Do you use a Tech Editor?

Yes.  She is wonderful and indispensable. If, as a new designer, you set aside money for nothing else (no photographer, no models, no make-up artist at the photo shoot), you should spend your shekels on a good tech editor. And you should have everything test knit by someone other than yourself, at least once.

How  do you maintain your life/work balance?

I wish there was a simple algorithm to figure this out . . . Things change all the time, so the way to maintain this balance constantly changes.

How do you deal with criticism?

When I am my best self, I see its value and I am calm about it.  Those moments when I am unsure of something is when I am least able to take criticism.  Maybe because I know in my heart of hearts that my critic is right and that bothers me, or it bothers me that I didn’t make the change prior to the critique.

Being able to take criticism is a process, too. Sometimes it takes a while to see the value in a comment. Here’s what I think: if you hear it once, you are going to hear it again. What I mean by this is that if someone, even someone you disrespect, says something about your work, you will hear it again from another person, from a customer, a knitter . . . Listen to everything. Take notes.  Sleep on it and then let it make the work better.

When, for example, a sample comes back from a knitter and it’s not what I expected. I can say that knitter didn’t do a good job or I can take responsibility for her lack—9 times out of 10 the knitter’s failure has something to teach me about how to make my work better.

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

I won’t go into too much detail here except to say that for me it is much harder now to make it as a pattern writer/designer than it was 5 years ago.  The market has changed, everything is evolving very quickly.  And everyone is a designer. . . I mean, have you seen the Ravelry designer pages? This says it all.

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

Talk to a lot of people who are trying to do what you think you want to do.  Hope that they are really honest with you. Start with a lot of questions that you ask others and yourself:
How do you want to live?
How many hours do you want to work a day, a week, a year?
How much money do you have to make?  (this is just the beginning of a list. . .)

Read about other successful businesses.  Figure out what your contribution to the industry is. What is special or different about your work? Find your little piece of green ground and understand it.

If you know a designer who is doing what you think you want to do, ask if you can just hang out and watch her/him work for a time.  Go to the studio, be her/his shadow. . . Maybe you’ll find you don’t like it, or it was really different than what you thought it would be like, or your day job is not so bad after all, or she’s doing exactly what you’ve always wanted to do and it lights a fire in your heart to change your life completely.

My advice in a nutshell: find out as much as you can about the place you want to go and then make a plan, a thoughtful eyes wide open plan, to go there.

This is just one place to start. . . 



1 comment:

  1. Very interesting. I laughed out loud thinking about taking criticism as my "best self" and how difficult it is. Talk about a rare quality to find in a person!