Friday, December 13, 2013

An Interview with...Luise O'Neill

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 Luise here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
Literally everywhere – from trees to buildings to flowers to china plates to Celtic ruins to music to stitch patterns – the colours, shapes and sounds get me sketching and then it's off to my stitch dictionaries (my absolute favourites are the ones by Annie Maloney) and the designs flow from there.

My first pattern accepted by Twist Collective – my Kinsol Trestle vest – grew from a picture of the Kinsol Trestle, a wooden railway trestle built in the early 1900s in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, BC, Canada. An amazing structure! The longest trestle in the British Commonwealth and one of the highest in the world, when I read its story and about the preservation efforts that were underway to help save this awe-inspiring bridge for hikers and cyclists, design ideas began to flow!

The view of the Kinsol trestle bridge

On the other hand, my Ashokan shawl began with a piece of music – Ashokan Farewell. The first time I heard this hauntingly beautiful piece of music, I knew it had to become a shawl – something that provides comfort. Jay Unger composed this tune in 1982 as friends once again parted and followed their life’s path at the closing of his Ashokan Fiddle & Dance Camp; he embodied his feeling of loss in this lament. And so the Ashokan shawl design became an interplay of leaf motifs for the Catskill forests and intertwining cables to denote friendships and the entwining yet diverse paths our lives take.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
Cables – definitely cables, although I have been lured into some lacy designs – not superfine lace, though.

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
Not often but not because I feel I'll be influenced. From time to time I'll skim through particular design categories on Ravelry – mainly to make sure that an idea I have isn't something that's already out there in profusion. As I do that, though, it makes me wish there were two (or more!) of me so I could knit all the marvellous designs that are out there – it's a wonderful time to be a knitter.
                                                 Photo credit Marten Ivert
How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
This is an interesting topic yet a bit puzzling to me. I really don't like the term "dumbing down" (may be the educator in me) because it implies that a) knitters who do not have an arbitrary skill set (determined by whom?) should not seek skills and techniques within individual patterns as they are endeavouring to learn and b) they should gain these arbitrary skills 'somewhere else'. I can totally understand designers writing patterns for different skill levels (and see the attraction of writing or charting a pattern in one size and leaving it to the knitter to personalize it) but referring to detailed patterns as being "dumbed down" seems dismissive and unkind to me.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
LOL – if I were to do it all myself I think I'd have to grow a few more sets of arms! At the moment I have one sample knitter whom I work with closely and he's fantastic! I also have a pool of about 20 absolutely great test / project knitters in my Ravelry group. They are truly wonderful and generous individuals who provide me with invaluable feedback.

Did you do a formal business plan?
If we're talking a 5-year financial plan with the bank and marked income milestones, then no. I have done this in the past for other businesses I've run but in this case, since I was funding the whole venture myself, nothing formal like that. I do have a somewhat fluid design calendar where I plan submissions, track my design process, schedule pattern releases, KALs, promotions, etc. but since I find that some designs get very bossy and change the order of things, it's best to be flexible. I am meticulous about record keeping, tracking growth, etc. but my current plan is to 'follow from behind'; the business is growing so I take that as a good sign.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
Gigantic. My business simply wouldn't exist without the Internet. I sell my self-published patterns exclusively online; while I have a website – – my sales are processed via Ravelry (and I sell through Patternfish, Craftsy and Knit Picks). The Internet has given me access to super-talented yarnies that I would otherwise never have had a chance to meet and it's connected me with fabulous online publishers like Twist Collective and Cooperative Press that reach audiences around the world. The thought of someone in New Zealand or India knitting one of my patterns is exciting! And, of course, it gives me the chance to share knitting tips and resources via my website and my Shifting Stitches blog.

A secondary impact, though, is the increased time and knowledge that is required to function in the medium – design and upkeep of a web site, blogging, Twitter, Facebook, participating in social online groups, etc. Some days I'd rather be knitting than trying to figure out why that table border isn't showing up on my webpage – lol.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
It's kind of a mosaic – work and family life intertwine. Working full-time from home that's just the way it is and when we're out for a walk and I see a fabulous wrought iron fence I can't just say 'no, this is family time – put the camera and notepad away'.  But I do try to keep 'office hours' and only let the knitting (not shop talk) wander into all the other rooms in the house (with varying degrees of success - those stitch dictionaries are hard to train!).
How do you deal with criticism?
Being on the receiving end is difficult for anyone, I think. I do try to look at comments objectively and to understand the writer – text can come across as curt or even rude when that is not the intention at all. Often criticisms stem from frustrations and if those can be identified and solved, the writer comes away from the experience a much happier person. However, if for some reason it becomes obvious that there is no resolve on the commenter's part to come to a solution – that it's a rant and nothing will satisfy, then I try not to dwell on it and move on. Knitters who know me and know my patterns will see those types of comments for what they are.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
Not there yet. I am very pleased with how the business has grown but do not believe that it will develop to be my primary source of income in the foreseeable future. I would have to take on a lot more, delegate a lot more and develop varied secondary aspects of the design business and I'm not sure I want to go there. I love what I do – I design. I have fans who love what I do – this makes me very happy! And, if for now that means the income has to stay a secondary source, I feel very lucky that that's the way it can be for me.

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