Friday, June 29, 2012

An Interview with...Suvi Simola
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 Suvi here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
I usually find inspiration in yarn and stitch patterns. I enjoy swatching. Some of my favorite designs are born when swatching. Baby Cables and Big Ones Too was one of them, I made a swatch in the round, combining cables and garter stitch and suddenly I realized it would make a perfect sleeve! 
After I made the Filtering Daylight-shawl, I looked at my gauge swatch that was plain stockinette, very light and airy and I got the idea for a sweater - my newest design 5200K.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I love garter stitch, plain stockinette and I've just recently found the joy of knitting lace.  
I always try to include a minimum of 10 sizes, usually 2" apart. Some stitch patterns and design elements limit the size range though.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
I like to write my patterns so they are clear and detailed enough for a beginner but not overly long. I don't explain techniques that are widely known as stockinette stitch etc. When I use something that is not so common, I'll explain it. 

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I always knit the sample myself but I do have test knitters to test the pattern, usually about 10 helpful knitters.

How have your photography skills impacted your design career?
Actually I think it has been the other way around. When I started to blog about my knitting, I wanted to learn to take better photos. I've been trying to improve my skills since then and now I can honestly say that I'm pretty confident. I love everything about photography and don't usually leave the house without my camera.
Did you do a formal business plan?
I've been trained to run a business and I know how to make one. For my own business however, I haven't made one. I love designing job because it gives me the flexibility to change strategies when needed even in a short period of time and I don't make any long time plans because of that. Designing business is constantly changing.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
It's everything. I don't think I would be in this business without internet. It just makes everything work.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
It's the hardest part. I'm constantly learning that I don't have to answer emails when it's already bedtime and I really should stop calculating a pattern on time not to get an headache. I do get carried away sometimes, especially with pattern writing since I enjoy this part of the job very much. 

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
There are easier ways to earn a living but if you really love designing and don't mind irregular working hours then go for it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Knitting Tips - The Aesthetics

I've read a lot on colour theory as I find it all fascinating. I've noticed that for many of us our preferences change over the years and I've come to believe that we actually see colour differently as we age.  A friend who had cataract surgery on one eye tells me that if she looks at a white wall with the eye that had surgery she sees it as bluish and with the other eye it has a yellow tinge. 

I used to think that women like more bling as they age due to personality changes but now I suspect it's also because we have less natural shine as we age. We may be simply adding back the shine that disappears as our skin gets dryer and our natural hair and skin colour fades.

The other difference I notice is that the colour palettes we choose become more, for lack of a better word, complex.

If I told you the colour scheme in my living room is red and green you would probably imagine a Christmas style colour palette. In reality it is a combination of burgundy and an odd green that is somewhere between celery and sage. The walls are painted in a soft shade that is a pinkish, salmon, beige blend also very difficult to describe, the paint chip calls it dawn. 

To have successful knitting projects it is important to understand not only your own colour preferences but those of the intended wearer as well. Keep this in mind when you are choosing yarn. The colours we are drawn to look at and admire are not always the same that we are most comfortable wearing. While this may seem remarkably obvious to many of my readers I can't tell you how often a knitter tells me about an unsuccessful project that is labeled that way purely due to the colour choice.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Knit Power and the Ravelympics

Knit Power: I recommend that we make our Knit Power logo a fist pump with knitting needles held high. 

Just in case you missed this, Ravelry and the USOC (United States Olympic Committee) have been having some "discussions" about the Ravelympics.

You can see the letter that started the fuss here.

The Yarn Harlot wrote a very detailed and well thought out post here. It you haven't already read it I highly recommend that you do. It explains both the legal issues and gives her perspective on the emotional response that came from the knitting community.

What I found most interesting however, was the apology here. Has anyone ever apologized for making fun of knitters before? If they have, I missed it. Knitters have become a powerful force in the world. I can imagine the conversation that took place at the USOC marketing office when they read what poor Brett Hirsch put in his letter to Ravelry. I bet they looked at the membership numbers on Ravelry and the volume of related tweets. Then they took a collective gasp and thought holy **** we better fix this fast!

To misquote Helen Reddy "I am woman knitter, hear me roar. In numbers too big to ignore"

I sincerely hope that  Brett Hirsch does not know any knitters. If he does he may be in danger.

Friday, June 22, 2012

An Interview with...Meghan Jones
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 Meghan here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration in so many places; colour is a major inspiration for me and I am attracted to interesting colour combinations and textures. I have a very strong Fine Art background with a BFA in Fibres and Textiles and 3 classes short of a drawing degree. I have also studied painting, photography, ceramics, and did my 4th year studio work on a computerized weaving loom called a compu-dobby. I spend a lot of time looking at art history books and stitch dictionaries and combining what I see there with forms that fit the human body.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I think that Kitchener’s stitch is my favorite technique, I have about 26 second-favorite techniques but for number 1 it has to be kitchener’s. It is so versatile and has saved me knitting time in so many situations, whether I have made a mistake with length and have to absorb stitches or want to join something seamlessly kitchener’s is the way to go. I can always tell if a fellow knitter and I are on the same wavelength if she/he smiles that secret smile when kitchener’s stitch is mentioned instead of the full body shudder that most newer knitters have.
How did you determine your size range?
I am a generously proportioned Super Babe and so I like to make patterns with at least 8 sizes starting with 34 and going up to 62 inches bust circumference. There is nothing more disappointing that finding a great pattern that I would adore knitting and then realizing that the sizing is too small, most of the time by only one size. Since I completely write out the pattern in all sizes with all math computations before knitting the sample I find it easy to up size and actually try to avoid publications which won’t let me up size. I also like the challenge of the extra shaping involved in plus size garments, there are definite rules that should be followed and I think it makes a smarter better pattern.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I am constantly perusing other designer’s work, I see it as an advantage to have a good handle on what is popular, selling and has been done before. I love to read pattern books and see how other designer’s tackle tricky shaping or up-sizing patterning etc. I work really hard at being unique but there is so much knowledge to be gained from knitting another designer’s pattern. The old adage when I went to college was that ‘you can’t create Art in a vacuum” and while the jury is still out on what ‘Art” is or isn’t I still think I should see it all and get inspired with the sheer creativity of it.
How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
I feel like I might have a slightly different perspective on this question than some of the more experienced designer’s out there since I haven’t been around long enough to know the changes that have affected the industry, but I do have an opinion.
I have noticed that there are some seriously simple knits out there, and they do have their own place and time. I am as big a fan of T.V. knitting as the next knitter but I also love patterns riddled with technique and challenging ideas. I try to include new techniques and shaping ideas within my patterns, mostly because I am designing the pattern to specifically utilize the technique as it fascinates me! I try to include definitions and explanations of some of the more obscure techniques, but also assume that the knitter knows the more basic ones. I am not afraid of labeling a pattern experienced and find that it is better to warn a novice that the pattern might be more difficult than they think rather than have a very upset and confused customer that really should just be refunded their money.
I try to have a balance of manageable technique and great design in my patterns. With enough information to make the pattern knittable without referencing an entire bookcase and add extra tutorials on specific techniques if there is room. I design patterns that fascinate me, the fact that others want to knit them too is a bonus.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I do all the sample knitting myself, except for a few cases where my best friend helps me out. I have had test knitters in the past and may use them again in the future but at the moment I am using a great tech editor and copy editor/friend/tester.

Did you do a formal business plan?
Create every day no matter what and still feed my family great food and lots of love. For me designing is a completely selfish personal journey of creative discovery where knitters get to reap the benefits of my obsessive creativity. I work from home after my kids are asleep, I knit while I am at playgroups and soccer practice, and I try not to plan too much. The money I make from the patterns I sell mostly goes to purchasing more yarn to knit and supplies for designing.

Do you have a mentor?
I wouldn’t say that I have one specific Mentor; I have received excellent creative grounding from many wonderful people in my life over the years. My mother is a fabulous knitter and quilter, my Mother-in-Law is a weaver and was my professor for several years, and last but not least my Hubs the Great is the most perfect sounding board for my creative process.
What impact has the Internet had on your business?
The Internet is my business, I have a few patterns that I have for sale in my LYS but other than that all my Independent patterns are sold online. I have chosen not to get into hard copy publishing because as a mom to both a 3 and 5 year old I don’t have the time or patience to deal with having patterns printed and keeping track of inventory. I will have plenty of time to do hard copy publishing when they are all grown up and I am no longer cool. I also want this business to grow slowly and sustainably, one thing at a time.

Do you use a tech editor?
Yes I have a great tech editor who lives in Texas, she is very patient with me and does a great job.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
My husband and I both work from home and sometimes it can be challenging with both kids and work all in one home. We work really hard at striking a balance with each other, set times for work, and times to play, it helps that sample knitting can follow me anywhere and that the kids go to bed at 7pm.
How do you deal with criticism?
Cry. For a bit at least, then I analyze the problem over and over like a dog with a chew toy and talk about it ad infinitum. Finally some deep breathing, a little macho self promoting bravado and even some swearing pumps me back up and I try to be objective from that moment on.  I do truthfully find criticism to be hard to swallow and I wonder sometimes whether knitters realize that there is a real person behind the designs that they knit and then tear apart with words. I find that the best way to deal with problems in a pattern or criticism is with a big spoonful of honey, it’s hard to be nasty when someone is being so nice.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Knit everything, you will learn so much! Take some technique classes, especially if you can get one with one of the great knitters like Ann Budd, Sally Melville, or Nicky Epstein. And if it isn’t perfect RIP IT OUT, never settle for less than perfect as you may lose time but you will always gain experience.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Clutter busting
I'm heavily into a clutter busting phase right now. My husband and I returned from vacation recently. We stayed for 3 days at an amazing Asian inspired hotel that gave me such a sense of calmness that I'm ready to make some changes at home. When I first started working from home I foolishly thought that I would be able to do more on a daily basis in terms of housekeeping and organization. Truthfully, I have been so focused on work I have done even less and it is bothering me more and more. I believe in Gretchen Rubin's six word secret of happiness that "Outer order contributes to inner calm".  I spend far to much time searching for things which is supposed to be an indicator that I need to be better organized. I constantly search for needle gauges, calculators and markers as well as basic office supplies. I then end up buying multiples because I can't find what I need. to work. I also suffer from entrepreneurial guilt which tells me I should be working all of the time if I want to be successful.

Some time ago I read this posting. It says that "scientists find physical clutter negatively affects your ability to focus, process information". That means that getting things organized will ultimately help my business. I'm going to start by doing about an hour of organizing everyday that I can and assess where I am at the end of the summer. Maybe I can get that sense of calmness at home.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Knitting Tips - The Aesthetics

Often fashion advice tells us to find a style icon to help inspire us. Unfortunately the most photographed women tend to be at the far end of the range in what ever type they embody. I'm thinking of  tall, skinny super models or style icons like the Hepburns, both Audrey and Katharine. The so called "real" women are hard to find. I recently noticed how great the actress Margo Martindale always looks. She seems to have a style recipe going on, she typically wears a dark bottom, an interesting, detailed top garment that often flows away from her figure and she accessories with a great scarf or statement piece of jewelery that is on the large side, in proportion with her body.

In the photo above, the neckline of the top is low enough to show some skin, which breaks up her torso size and the sleeves are 3/4 length. Some stylists say that showing your wrists can make you look taller and slimmer. Her beads are large and bold. Margo wears her hair soft and a little full in volume, again in balance with her size.

In this photo, the colour is mainly at the top of the garment and the necklace creates a long slimming vertical line. All of these are details which could be added to your knitting projects and outfits. You could knit fabulous scarves, wear small brightly coloured shawls on top of simple dark tops, and make heavier knit jacket styles with big collars in a A line silhouette.

Friday, June 15, 2012

An Interview with...Kirsten Gustafson-Kapur

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 Kirsten here and here.

Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration everywhere - in photographs, in textiles, in architecture, walking down the street, from my kids, watching movies, going to museums. . .
Yarn also inspires me. Sometimes just looking at a skein of yarn or swatching with it will lead to the design.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
It varies depending on my inspiration of the moment. Sometimes it’s colorwork, other times lace, and still other times cables. I am happy to learn a new technique if it gives me the ability to execute the design I have in mind.

How did you determine your size range?
I believe in including a large size range when designing sweaters. I usually try include about 12 sizes. Not every design lends itself to a wide range of sizes though and in those cases I limit the range.

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I’m on Ravelry all the the time so I do see other designers’ work, but I don’t worry about being influenced by others’ designs. Sometimes it works the other way, I’ve actually looked through the Ravelry database to make sure I’m not duplicating something that’s already out there. Even with the best efforts designers sometimes do duplicate one another. We all work from similar stitch patterns and there are only so many shapes one can create for a hat, mitten, shawl or even a cardigan.

Another reason to look at others’ designs is it’s important to stay on top of trends and be aware of what types of patterns knitters are looking for. For this reason I also look at current ready to wear design to stay on top of trends in that market.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
I think making knitting patterns accessible to a wide range of knitters is a very good thing. Giving detailed, clear instructions allows beginning knitters to learn new skills and become better knitters which is good for knitting in general. Not everyone has access to local instructors or a family member to teach them new skills, if they can learn new skills in the patterns that they knit, why would that be a problem?

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
I wouldn’t be in this business without the Internet, so I’d say the impact is huge.  I started my blog over 6 years ago because I wanted to connect with other knitters. That lead to putting up a few free patterns. These freebies were well received, so I started designing more complicated patterns and charging for them and my business grew from there. When Ravelry came along it brought my work to an even wider range of knitters. Although I occasionally submit to print magazines and have been published in books, my business continues to be mostly online.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
Balance? What’s that? My kids are my models, my work goes everywhere I do, and I work at all hours of the day and night, so I’m not sure I have managed to maintain any kind of a balance. Lately I am trying to make my health and fitness a priority, so I do take the time to workout, get enough sleep and eat healthy meals.

How do you deal with criticism?
I worked in the ready to wear apparel industry for years. You have to develop a thick skin to do that, so I think I am able to handle criticism pretty well. If the criticism is deserved, and sometimes it is, I try to take it constructively and learn from it. If it is undeserved, then I think of the majority of my customers who are kind, supportive and sometimes even take the time to send sweet, personal notes telling me how they’ve enjoyed my patterns. I can’t think of any other job I could do where I would get as many kind comments as I do as a knitting pattern designer. A few negative comments can never outweigh that.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I wouldn’t be doing this job if I didn’t rely on my husband’s income as well. The money I earn with my design work goes toward my kids’ college tuitions - I’m going to have three in college next year - but doesn’t come close to covering those tuition bills. This is not a high paying job. If someone is looking to make a lot of money they might want to try something else.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Do it because you love it. This job involves crazy, hours for not a lot of cash reward so you’d better love what you’re doing.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Teaching Techniques

I've been teaching knitting off and on for about twenty years. Over that time I've changed my techniques as I learned more about the best approaches. In my previous career I often taught software applications to others and I generally would show one method to accomplish a goal even when it was possible to demonstrate a method from the menu bar, a method using an icon as well as a keyboard shortcut. In small groups I would take a poll as to what methods the users preferred and then teach to that preference set.

I often adjust my teaching for the audience when I teach knitters. New knitters don't have the same established set of muscle memory that long time knitters have. I am much more likely to show only one method to them. Frequently they can't see the difference between two ways of reaching the same goal that they will later in their knitting lives. I've heard the same thing about experienced dancers in that they can quickly reproduce complex movements in a long sequence with a single demonstration. 

Lately I've had a lot of highly skilled knitters in my classes and I teach differently to that group. I find that due to variations between knitting styles that often one version of a technique will speak to a specific knitter much more than another technique that accomplishes the same final goal. When I first started teaching I always loved the reaction when a student had a light bulb moment during a class. I was thrilled when it happened because I knew I'd really moved their skills forward and what teacher doesn't want confirmation that we are offering the student real value? More recently I've noticed that many very knowledgeable knitters will sample the two or three possible techniques I give them. When they find the right one for them that for some reason speaks to them I hear an audible... aah! How cool is that?

Monday, June 11, 2012

How do you define success?

I'm currently reading Danielle LaPorte's book,The Fire Starter Sessions: A Soulful + Practical Guide to Creating Success on Your Own Terms. I'm trying to sort out how to define what success will be for me as a knitting professional. Using the monetary gauge at this point would define me as a failure. I am however feeling very positive as I'm starting to get more teaching requests and I just submitted my class list for Vogue Live NY 2013. I am confirmed for Chicago Oct 2012.

It's always interesting to read the comments of knitters on Ravelry. Many seem to think that once a pattern is published that the designer just sits back and watches the profits pour in. Sadly it doesn't work that way. Even if I don't count the time it took me (and I don't) there are other costs. I may have purchased the yarn, as yarn support has become difficult to find with the number of indie designers looking for support. I have to pay my editor. I also bought a fair bit of equipment so that my husband can do the photos for me. Have I mentioned that I have to sleep with the photographer to get him to work for free? 

I have some patterns that have done very well, but I have others that have not yet covered their costs. 

I've spent time on and off for the last year collaborating with another designer on some plus size patterns. I decided to go with her offer of royalty payments instead of a flat fee and I don't expect to see any earnings for that work for another year.

This year I played around with selling a few notions and some of my patterns at three different events as a trial. I did make some money doing that but it will take a few more events before I can assess if it is worthwhile. 

How do I define success? I'm not sure yet. This is still a work in progress.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

It's My Blog Birthday!

Back in 2009 I started this blog. You can see the first post here. I didn't quit my job until March of 2010. I've now been a full time professional knitter for a little over 2 years. I have learned a lot during this time and had a good time doing it.

I've had several comments about the improvement in my writing skills. I didn't even know when I started the blog that I like to write!

I've spoken at a number of events, developed many hours of teaching material, taught more frequently and tested selling products and patterns at several events.

I collaborated with another designer on a plus size pattern collection that will be published soon. 

I established a professional group for knitters here in Toronto which has been a great deal of fun and has allowed me to learn about the business from an amazing group of knitters.  

The learning curve for a new business is huge. Am I making a living? Sadly no, not even close but I feel very fortunate to have some income from another source that allows me to work towards the possibility of earning my living this way in the future. Happy birthday to my life as a professional knitter!

Friday, June 8, 2012

An Interview with...Aoibhe Ní
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 Aoibhe here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
No one place, I'm afraid. I find that until I have "met" a certain yarn in person, I can't visualize anything for it, but once it's in my hands, I often know what to do. Usually, I'll start with a vague shape, play with the yarn for a while, and then it all comes together.

What is your favourite crochet technique?
Linked stitches, and Tunisian-lace. I am having a blast at the moment experimenting with new, lacy shawls.
Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I have a funny habit where this is concerned, actually. I try not to look at too much crochet when I'm designing, just in case I am influenced, but I will spend time admiring knitted shawls. I believe crochet has much to gain by examining knitting as it has a more venerable history. Crochet is still so young as crafts go, so it's a very exciting time to be a part of it! Inspiration can be sought everywhere.
How many sample/test crocheters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I am lucky to have a great band of women from around the world who test my patterns with me. They give me great feedback, and we refine the text together. I don't consider a pattern complete until it has been through their hands.

Do you have a mentor?
Not really, but I do have great respect for the work of a huge number of designers, and have a few whose advise I would seek.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
The impact can't be quantified! If it wasn't for the 'net I'd not be doing what I am. Discovering Ravelry, and the opportunities available to rookie designers therein gave me the courage to try it out for myself. Now, I do almost all of my business online, and the bits I don't, like workshops and classes, tend to be booked on-line.
Do you use a tech editor?
No. I have trawled through about 4 or 5 in my time, and none of them suited me. I thought, at first, it must be them not understanding or not caring about the details, but these days I reckon that is a naive view and that I just don't suit them. Now, I just avoid tech editors in favour of test-crocheters who know their stuff. Working through my designs with a dedicated group has many benefits. Mostly, it ensures that I am fully aware of any change, and become more knowledgeable about my own patterns, too, which helps when answering customer's questions.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
Up until very recently, I didn't. It was all work, work, work. But now, after about a year, I find myself in a position where taking days off is necessary. So, now, I make sure Sunday is a total day off, that I make time to see my family and friends, and I swim twice a week. Having a schedule that dictates when you "must" rest is my way to loosen my grip on the reigns a bit.

How do you deal with criticism?
Oh, pretty well, I hope! My testers don't hold back when it comes to flaws in my writing, and I love them for that. If they spot something, it needs to be fixed. I don't think I am too precious with my original text, so by the time it comes to release, it's pretty solid. After that, if people have problems, I will listen. If enough have the same problem, then it's time to fix it.

Constructive criticism is a great gift. It means someone has actually taken the time to explain what you could have done better. I have to appreciate that effort.
How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
After a year of very hard work, I'm just at that point, now. It's taken a lot. I designed my own website from scratch, I do all my own layout, editing and pattern graphic design work and all the charts I use, too. I design my own ads, moderate my Ravelry forum, and I answer all the questions that come my way. I have spent a year living and breathing my design, my patterns and my work in general, but I have enjoyed every minute of it.
What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting? 
You have got to love it. You have to love the tough days, when the stitch counts just don't make sense. You have to love the criticism.You have to love the mistakes you make, and when you realize it's time to go back to square one. You have to appreciate your customers, and your testers and let them know that their efforts are valued.

Essentially, this isn't a job so much as a vocation. I'd do it anyway, but I'm lucky enough that I can make a living out of it, too.

All photos from Julie at