Friday, September 20, 2013

An Interview with...Elizabeth Green Musselman
Once a week I post interviews with interesting people about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry.  I’ve noticed that every one of these individuals makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the Knitting world.

You can find Elizabeth here and here on Ravelry.
Where do you find inspiration?
All over the place. My corner of the world (Austin, Texas) is not particularly lush, but it is very saturated in sunshine, which has had an interesting effect on my color palette. (Hellooo, citrus brights and adobe colors!) I'm also inspired by trying to find unusual ways to construct knitwear. Men's and boys' garments can be a little traditional in shape and color, so I try to mix it up by giving the knitter some interesting knitting to do along the way. I like reading history and other non-fiction; I love fantasy and science fiction; I love looking at other designers' work. At interesting shapes and textures around me. Once you start steeping yourself in design, you can't stop being inspired.

Could you tell us a little about your focus on designs for boys and men?
Though I do design some patterns for women, I decided to focus mainly on men's and boys' knitwear for a couple of reasons. First, I have a husband and son who have more adventurous tastes in clothing and color than most guys. So not only do I see that there are paltry few knitting patterns available for older boys and men -- but I also find that there are even fewer designs available for guys whose tastes run beyond JCPenney style. 

Second, there are so many independent designers out there now, I wanted to find a niche -- something unusual that people could identify me with. I would have more individual pattern sales if I designed for women, but on the other hand, I do find that I have an easier time getting yarn companies' and magazines' attention since there aren't many designers who specialize in this area.
What is your favourite knitting technique?
Short rows. I love how they make more accurate shaping -- not to mention unusual constructions -- possible. Short rows make knitting 3-D!

How did you determine your size range?
We all know how infrequently designers for women offer a full range of sizes -- now imagine the situation for larger men. Not to mention teenage boys and petite men. So when I design garments, I try to offer the fullest chest range possible. The only limits are the body measurement information that's available and whether the particular sweater will successfully size all the way up and down. I've heard from a number of male knitters especially who are happy to have some more options available.

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I don't know how one doesn't look at other designers' work in the age of the interwebs, and since I work full-time in the knitting industry (as book designer at Cooperative Press, knitwear designer, and teacher), I'm constantly looking at other people's designs. What's more, I like being influenced by other people. I'm just careful to write my own patterns from the ground up.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
I'm not sure why one's choice of pattern writing style would be controversial. I write some patterns with a beginner audience in mind. In those, I explain every abbreviation, every unusual technique, and often link to video tutorials that can help. Even when I'm not writing a pattern explicitly with beginners in mind, I like to think about how my pattern might offer a new tidbit of information, even to an experienced knitter. My mom always says that she likes patterns that "give you a class," and I suppose I've adopted her tastes that way.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I don't usually work with sample or test knitters, but that's mainly because I'm too impatient to get my design out to wait for them to finish! I knit quickly, and need to knit the sample myself to make sure everything works -- so I can't see myself employing sample knitters any time soon. But I would like to use test knitters more often. I love seeing garments especially worked up in different sizes!

Did you do a formal business plan?
Oh, gosh, no. That would be so grown up, wouldn't it? 

When I left my job as a history professor about two years ago, I did have a plan about how I was going to make way in the industry as a freelancer. But I knew those plans would change as I went. It's not been easy financially in these early years, but I'm doing work that makes me really happy, so I'll count that as a win.

Do you have a mentor?
I have many! I'm not always good at asking for help when I need it, but I do rely on several people for guidance, including my boss at Cooperative Press, Shannon Okey. She is one of the most creative and forward-thinking people that I know. I've learned a lot about how to survive over the long haul in the fiber business both from her and from Suzanne Middlebrooks, who owns the LYS Hill Country Weavers here in Austin. And whenever I get too caught up in the weight of the world, I try to think more like Sarah Eyre (of Cephalopod Yarns) does. She's my zen hero. 

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
Nope, I am totally making it up as I go along.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
Without the Internet, I would have no business. Ravelry is such a boon to independent designers. Plus, I spend most of my time working for Cooperative Press, which is based in Cleveland. I'm in Austin, the other assistant editor is in Hawaii, and our publicity manager is in California -- we all work remotely.

Do you use a tech editor?
Oh, that's not even optional. I've been working with the wonderful, UK-based tech editor Joeli Kelly for years. She mainly works for publishers now, but kindly kept me on as an individual client.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I don't know, how do you? Oh, that wasn't the set up for a joke? Hahaha.

Actually, I think I've got a pretty decent balance, all things considered. I work a LOT, but I have very few appointments, per se, so I can tuck in other things as needed. 

And having a child is great for forcing some balance on you. I mean, you can always tell yourself, "I'll do that nice, leisurely thing for myself NEXT week." But a kid wants your attention RIGHT NOW.

How do you deal with criticism?
So admirably. I really should be a poster child for how to handle criticism with grace and wisdom. (Sarcastic snort.)

No, actually, I'm pretty crap at taking criticism. Or, really, I'm crap at taking rejection. Criticism I can handle, so long as it's offered constructively and without malice.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
Is it 2015 yet? Let's put it this way: I'd have sold my house and car by now if I were having to support myself entirely. I'm hoping to get there soon.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Think entrepreneurialy. What do you have to offer the industry that is unusual, and how can you parlay those into jobs you can get paid for? From my past experience in graphic design and academia, I have been able to find work designing and editing knitting books; designing logos, pattern templates, and other graphic identity for indie designers and dyers; and teaching classes. Don't just think about what people are already doing, but what's not yet being done that needs doing. And then get out there and let the world know about your mad skills.


  1. Elizabeth Rocks! Such an accomplished designer.

  2. Great interview. She's a really neat person.