Friday, January 31, 2014

An Interview with...Marie Mayhew

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.

Felted Woolly Nest & Eggs

You can find Marie here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
I find my inspiration in nature and the simple ordinary things around me, like for instance my Woolly Nest & Eggs pattern. This pattern is one of my favorites in that it is fun to create and no two nests will ever be the same. This pattern was inspired by the way some birds build their nests using odds and ends they find around them. In my nests, I use novelty yarns, hemp cord, ribbons, raffia and natural color wool yarns. I also love the color combinations I find in nature. Here in Minnesota the Autumn weather brings tremendous color combinations in the changing of the leaves and this has inspired many patterns, most especially the Woolly Leaves pattern and Harvest Pumpkin. Lots of possibilities in colors and accents taken right from nature herself!

What is your favourite knitting technique?
My favorite knitting technique is obviously felting so far. I love the way the boiled-wool effect makes such a wonderful canvas for embellishing, so unlike a regular un-felted surface. The denseness of the felted wool makes it easy to embroider or needle felt totally on the surface without having access to the other side.

Felted Woolly Eggs

You specialize in patterns for home decor using felting and embellishment techniques. Could you tell us a little about how you chose this focus?
I rather 'fell' into it. I had taken a felted ornament class with several friends and really got into it, the embellishing part most especially. In the end, I had made dozens of ornaments compared to my friends. A year or so later, I was asked to teach the class because the instructor was moving on. I thought they were kidding me, but here I had so many ornaments that I had so much fun playing with staring me in the face that I finally said "sure". And literally, that is how it all started. My Harvest Pumpkin was my first pattern and from there the Woolly Snowman: one felted ball led to 3 felted balls.

Felted Harvest Pumpkin

Felting encourages my letting go of perfectionism, because it all comes out in the wash, so to speak. How I got into embellishing really was to cover up a felting mistake. I soon realized that your eye is attracted to whatever is closest to the top, so the more embellishing you create, that is what your eye is attracted to - a great way to cover up or simply enhance ANY project in the end. A little embellishing can go a long way!

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
Sometimes I look at other designer's works when I am starting a new pattern just to see what is out there, so I am not duplicating somehow. I don't like to search the web until I am a little farther along so the original idea isn't influenced too much then. Most of the time I learn new techniques from other designers like a new stitch or a certain yarn they like, those types of things. Designers are great sources of creativity and I find they are more than willing to share ideas.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
Honestly, I haven't heard that term before. But I do make my patterns fairly simple to follow, almost being too wordy in my writing style. My husband, an non-knitter, usually proofs my patterns. If he doesn't understand it then I usually have to reword it a bit. I also intentionally make my pattern designs simple so that the knitter doesn't become too frustrated with all the detailing if that isn't where their heart is. But for those that want to push things, I usually follow up my patterns with more photos and other design ideas on my blog after the pattern is released.

Felted Woolly Bunnies

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I do it all myself, thus I don't produce more than four new patterns a year, if even that. I would like to start utilizing more test knitters though. Ravelry has some great groups available for that. I just need to get organized and make the jump!

Did you do a formal business plan?
No, I do not. I have done everything by the seat of my pants, so to speak. My pattern business is small and changing with the online presence with PDFs now. It probably would be a great idea, but then I would have to figure out what I am exactly doing and that might take the fun out of it for me. Who knows?

Do you have a mentor?
I did for a short time, a retired business owner. He really helped me look at my business differently and encouraged me to go online turning my booklets into PDFs, so now I have two markets to sell in. I am very grateful for his expertise and advice. Mentors help you 'see' things differently and know when you need a good kick in the butt.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
None that I am aware of. I strive for a model of good customer service and always lending an encouraging word or tip to my customers. I am planning on reworking my blog to have tons of tutorials available for my customers so they can use it as a embellishing and felting resource. I have been studying a couple of cookie decorating blogs that have taught me how to become an authority in an area of expertise, and how to share that knowledge and passion with others in very simple and concise ways. 

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
HUGE impact! I joined Etsy as a way to police the use of my patterns and 'fell into' selling my patterns and felted designs online. It has grown over the years, and with the addition of my PDFs I now sell on Ravelry and Craftsy as well. I have reached many knitters worldwide this way, which is very fun. The other fun part about the internet is communicating with my customers more easily and more broadly. I am creating friends every day all over the world and that is both fun and inspiring!

Do you use a tech editor?
No, but if I have knitting questions I usually go to my local yarn store to seek out advice or yarn suggestions. Can't hurt.

Felted Woolly Kitty Cat

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
It isn't easy. I work out of my home and sometimes my whole house will look like a studio: piles of yarns and half-baked ideas strewn all over the dining room table or living room. I am going through a purging process now, giving away the excess stuff in my life cluttering up my house, to hopefully make room for something else. This really helps the creative process from time to time.

How do you deal with criticism?
Sometimes really well, sometimes not. Usually though the criticism pushes my idea further along if I listen to it. Sometimes you just get stuck and a little helpful criticism can go a long way to help you shift your focus and see your design differently with new eyes.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I haven't fully been able to support myself, but it is a nice part-time income that comes from basically playing with yarn. My income supplements my husband's, but basically keeps me in yarn for sure :)

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Keep it fun. Keep the focus on that rather than the money. That way if the economy changes or your craft interest falls out of trend, you can still be adaptable. This requires a change of mindset and if it remains fun, then this makes the change easier and more enjoyable.

Felted Snowman

Monday, January 27, 2014

Everything a Knitter Needs to Know when Buying Alpaca Yarn

Alpaca fleece is the fibre that comes from an alpaca. An alpaca is a domesticated species of South American camelid (camels). Alpacas resemble small llamas in appearance. There are two fibre types, Huacaya, an alpaca that grows soft lofty fiber which has a natural crimp, creating a more elastic yarn well-suited for knitting. Suri has far less crimp and is often used for woven goods. They have become incredibly popular with farmers. I've read that they are pleasant animals to take care of.

Alpaca fiber while similar to wool is warmer and has no lanolin, which some say makes it hypoallergenic. It can be light or heavy in weight, depending on how it is spun. It is a soft, durable, luxurious and silky natural fiber. It has some halo when hand knit and is naturally water repellent and difficult to ignite. Some compare it to cashmere. It has some advantages over wool, in that it is several times warmer. It is reported to be much stronger than wool. Garments made from alpaca are warmer, lighter, softer, silkier and drape more than wool. Some knitters find they get growth in length when garments are knit from 100% alpaca particularly with heavier weights. I have used alpaca in fingering weight quite often and I have not had any issues to report. I'll be working with a worsted weight for a garment in the near future to see what the results are like in that form. I have used many alpaca blends in the past with no negative results. My unofficial results from questioning knitters I know seem to recommend the lighter weights as opposed to the bulky and chunky (4 and under on the Standard Yarn Weight System). 

A friend who spins tells me that yarn memory is based on a number of factors that are not all obvious to knitters. She lists the natural crimp of the fibre, the scales on the fibre strand, spinning and plying techniques, yarn weights, the stitch patterns we use as well as the quirks of individual knitter's gauge and tightness or looseness of the knitting.

The following grading information comes from Victory Farm. The first 3 Peruvian names listed below are the ones you are most likely to see on yarn labels.

Alpaca fiber is classed by the micron (u) of the fibers in the fleece.  In Canada, Alpaca Fiber is classed into 6 grades, grade 1 being the finest.  In Peru, they class by different names: Super Baby, Baby, Superfine, Adult, Coarse.   Grading in Peru is done by touch, whereas in Canada, samples are compared to samples which have been tested using a microscope.

Canadian Grading System  Peruvian Grading System
Grade 1 less than 20 u           Super Baby 18 - 20u
Grade 2 20 - 22.9u               Baby 20 - 22u
Grade 3 23 - 25.9u               Superfine 24 - 26u
Grade 4 26 - 28.9u               Adult 27.5u
Grade 5 29 - 31.9u               Coarse 34u
Grade 6 greater than 32u

Monday, January 20, 2014

The AstroSocks Project

Mary Pat (my knitting assistant) and I after we added stitches to the sock.

You can read about the AstroSocks Project here:

More photos here:

I spotted Glenna C., Lyn Gemmell, Marsha White and Kate Atherley in some of the other photo. Did you see anyone you know?

Friday, January 17, 2014

An Interview with...Angela Hahn

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 Angela here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?

I like to look for repetitive patterns in nature (for instance in cloud formations, wave patterns, plants, or animal markings) or in the decorative arts (sculpture, architectural details, mosaic tiles, or fabric prints) and re-interpret them as knitted motifs. My other main form of inspiration is stitch dictionaries; I must have over 20 in my knitting library. And I enjoy submitting designs to publishers who provide storyboards or mood boards along with their submission calls-- the pictures and descriptions on the boards will often point me in new creative directions.
What is your favourite knitting technique?
It depends on what I'm working on at any given time. Most recently I got very excited to discover that the duplicate stitch method of grafting allows seamless and perfect joining of even complicated stitch patterns (as long as both pieces were worked in the same direction, not in opposite directions). I love lace, cables and texture patterns. I really like the elasticity of ribbing, which makes it useful and (usually) flattering to wear, but knitting ribbing annoys me (1) because it's tedious and (2) because if the knit columns have more than 2 stitches, the left-hand edge stitches are always bigger than the others--try as I might, I have not been able to fix that.
                                           Photo Courtesy of Twist Collective
Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I look at other designers' work and I'm sure I'm sometimes influenced by it-- how could I not be? There are a lot of great designers out there, including more than a few with incredibly novel and exciting ideas (Norah Gaughan, Lynne Barr and Alice Starmore come to mind). But I try to use other designers' work as inspiration to come up with my own ideas and techniques.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
I wasn't really aware of this issue as a controversy, exactly. I do know that mainstream U.S. knitting magazines over the past few years have increasingly tended to spell out instructions to an extent that was not usually seen in the past, and is still not typical in other countries. I don't think "dumbing down" is an accurate or fair description of this. It is more an issue of making patterns accessible to novice as well as experienced knitters, and although I think you can go too far in spelling everything out, more experienced knitters should by definition be able to skip over instructions that they find unnecessary. Experienced knitters, remember you were once novices! I do wish sometimes that magazines would insert this disclaimer in appropriate places: "If after completing this section you find you are one or two stitches off, don't worry about it! It makes no difference to the finished garment."
How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
At the moment I have one sample knitter who knits some of my samples, but I am trying to find more. I don't have enough time to do all of my own sample knitting, and in fact I really should do more designing and less knitting, from a business point of view: as a hypothetical example, if I spend 10 hours swatching, sketching, putting together a spreadsheet and writing up a pattern, and 30 hours doing the actually knitting, and I make $400 for the pattern, then I've only earned $10 an hour, but if I hire a sample knitter and pay her $150 to do the knitting, then I've made $25 an hour. And yes, sample knitters are underpaid too!

Did you do a formal business plan? 
Do you have a mentor? 
Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
No, I just submit pattern ideas to as many venues as I can, and in the time I have left after doing deadline work, I self-publish as many designs as I can.
What impact has the Internet had on your business?
It has had a huge impact: I sell patterns online as PDF downloads via my website (, as well as through Most pattern publishers will now accept email submissions (Interweave being an exception). And I communicate with customers and other knitters almost exclusively online.
Do you use a tech editor?
For my self-published patterns I do (although occasionally I will forego using a tech editor if the pattern is very simple). I have used several over the years. Even with a tech editor's help, errors can still slip through, but I feel better knowing that someone else has checked my work before publishing.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I really like to work, and more often than not I have to make myself get up from the computer to go and participate in family life, exercise, or spend time with friends. At least knitwear design has flexible hours and it's portable; my family and I travel a lot. And I get most of my actual knitting done while hanging out with the family and watching TV in the evenings. I've always been a big reader, so I also knit while reading (I love my book stand!). For me, the perfect amount of knitting is enough to keep my hands busy while watching my (few) favorite TV shows; when I have to start searching for more TV to watch, I know I'm knitting too much.
How do you deal with criticism?
I don't usually take it personally. Unless it's nasty (which is rare), I am able to stay detached enough to think about whether the criticizer may have a point. In a few cases, such as some recent heated comments about one of my designs on Ravelry, I did have to edit myself before I could respond calmly to the commenter. Of course that's easier when the criticism comes online and not in person.
                      Photo Courtesy of Soho Publishing

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I am still far from being able to support myself with my earnings. For the amount of work that goes into a knitting pattern, the average pay is really quite low (see answer to question about using sample knitters). That is why so many knitwear designers teach, lecture, or become associated with yarn companies as in-house designers or yarn consultants!
What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
It's hard to make a decent living as a knitwear designer, but you will be more likely to do so if you are organized AND if you find some good test knitters; you will be more productive and have fewer repetitive motion injuries, and less stress, if you don't try to knit everything you design! Whenever possible, save time by working out design issues using sketching, plotting on graph paper or calculating, rather than impatiently knitting away and thinking you will work things out as you go along. And finally, when you are knitting a prototype or swatch, write everything down as you go along (changes in stitch pattern, where you started, how you shaped)-- much easier than going back and trying to reverse-engineer what you did.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Wanted: Knitted Microbes Not Wanted: Penquin Sweaters

There is a call out for knitted microbes. You can read all about it here. I'm sure the knitting community will answer. I remember when knitters were asked for sweaters for penguins. The response was so overwhelming eventually the requesting group had to ask us to please stop sending the sweaters. ETA here's an update on the penguin sweater fiasco. Here's a newspaper article on the topic. Here's Franklin Habit's take on the situation.

Monday, January 13, 2014

How to Create a Smooth Cast off Corner - 3 Methods

We knitters create fabric in very different ways. We create the stitches by holding the yarn in different hands, some of us are throwers, some are pickers. We tension the yarn with various methods. What one knitter finds difficult another finds easy. We have highly idiosyncratic preferences in needle materials and types. We use different yarn and different fibres and each has an impact on your project. I can teach a knitter three ways to do something and occasionally I hear a little "ahhh" sound. When I hear that I know that one method, for whatever reason, speaks to the individual knitter. I don't know why! I just know it does! If I ask, most knitters can't explain it either.

Have you noticed the way the corner of the cast off edge sticks out of alignment? I've listed 3 methods below that will make it smoother and tidier. I hope one gives you an ahhh feeling!

First, this is the way the standard cast off is worked:

Start by knitting the first two stitches of the row. Use the tip of the left hand needle to pull the first stitch back up and over the second stitch and over the tip of the right-hand needle. This will leave one stitch, the second stitch which was worked, on the right-hand needle. Repeat the process until  one stitch remains on the right-hand needle. Cut the working yarn to about 8 inches (20 cm). Slip the yarn end through the loop and pull tight, securing the yarn so the loop won't unravel.

Method 1: This is the one I use most often. Work until the last 2 stitches remain on the left needle. K2tog and pull the second to last stitch over the k2tog in the usual way. Secure the loop by pulling the working yarn through it.

Method 2: Work until the last stitch remains on the left needle. Slip it purl wise and pull the second to last stitch over the slipped stitch in the usual way. Secure the loop by pulling the working yarn through it.

Method 3: Work until the last stitch remains on the left needle. Slip it purl wise onto the right hand needle. Find the knot on the edge of the work that is on the back of the work just under the final stitch, pick it up with the left needle, slip the last stitch back to the left needle, knit the knot and the stitch together. Then pull the second to last stitch over the slipped stitch in the usual way. Secure the loop by pulling the working yarn through it.

Friday, January 10, 2014

An Interview with...Toby Roxane

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 Toby here and here on Ravelry. 

Where do you find inspiration? 
I find inspiration in all kinds of unusual places. Architecture is one thing that inspires me—for example, my Incarnation Hat is based on a motif in the ceiling of the Santa Maria de la Incarnacion cathedral. Also one time a towel shrunk in the wash into this interesting shape that gave me an idea for a summer top (as yet still in the works). I also like to follow high fashion—I look at all the runway magazines. Every once in a while I see a silhouette done in some other fabric and think it would be cool to translate it into knitwear.

Shawls, on the other hand, often tend to come from out-of-context stitch patterns, which I find in stitch dictionaries (I'm particularly fond of Barbara Walker's first two volumes, as well as those Japanese ones). It's fun to look at a stitch pattern I'm drawn to and try to find the best possible application for it.

Also, yarn inspires me a lot. When I get a new yarn, I often sleep with it on my night table so that it can "tell me" what it wants to be. My family thinks this is HILARIOUS...but I've actually gotten a lot of ideas that way. I get a lot of ideas as I'm falling asleep at night. I keep a sketchbook next to my bed so I can write things down in the middle of the night.

Going back to yarn, though, I really love hand-dyed yarn. I love that there's so much of it out there, and it seems to me like all the indie dyers just keep getting better and better. I consider hand-dyes to be kind of my niche: with all of the irresistible hand-dyed yarn out there, knitters need patterns that showcase them to their best advantage.

The inspiration for the design in the photo above.

What is your favourite knitting technique? 
Hmm...I don't know if this counts as a technique, but I've always been into stitch patterns that involve slipped stitches (as evidenced in many of my patterns, including Pennywood, Smockerie and X-Mitts). I think they tend to be a good solution for highly variegated yarn that would compete with lace or cables, for when you want something a little more involved than stockinette or garter stitch.

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs? 
I love to look at other designers' work. I'm not at all afraid of being influenced by their designs. I think I'm influenced by so many things, including high fashion, as I mentioned, that I welcome all of it. It stews in my brain and I'm confident that it distills down into something uniquely my own.

On the other hand, it can be easy to get sucked into comparing my work to that of other designers and that's always dangerous. I'd like to think there's room for all of us.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters? 
Actually, this is the first I'm hearing of it. I've heard about knitting patterns in other countries like Japan and Russia and how they'll just give you a schematic, a stitch pattern, and show you where to increase, decrease, pick up stitches, etc. When I get caught up in the little particulars of pattern writing ("should this say 'repeat rows 2 and 3 once' or 'repeat rows 2 and 3 once more?'") that type of pattern writing starts to look pretty appealing.

On the other hand, I think those kinds of patterns would be very intimidating for new knitters. I've spent about three years working at yarn shops and one thing I've noticed is the huge reluctance of most knitters to call themselves anything other than "beginners." I've met women who have been knitting for twenty years who refuse to believe that they might even be intermediate. Those knitters tend to get caught up in the "repeat once" vs. "repeat once more" language.

Back on the first hand, though, I like that the Japanese and Russian style patterns emphasize the bigger picture. They also make it very important that the knitter measures him or herself (or the recipient) accurately, which is something I don't think a lot of people do.

Ultimately, this debate is philosophical. The goal is to sell patterns and I'm going to write them however I think will sell the most (and keep customer service emails to a minimum). And I think right now that having everything spelled out explicitly is the best way to do that.

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

None! I'm a one-woman operation. I design everything, knit everything, write all the patterns, model them, edit the photos...I use a graphic designer for my books, but I do all the individual pattern layouts myself.

I'm definitely thinking of using sample knitters in the future though just because it would free me up to get more done.

Do you have a mentor? 
You know, my first thought was, "Nope!" But then I thought about it in broader terms than just a knitting or business mentor. In a more general sense, I would consider my mom to be a mentor. I ask her advice on almost everything. I help her with her knitting at all hours of the night, and she helps me with…everything else (often at all hours of the night).

What impact has the Internet had on your business? 
Without the Internet, I don't think I'd HAVE a business! I began selling patterns on Ravelry before I found a distributor, and Ravelry sales are a huge part of my business. Plus, I think the Internet, Ravelry in particular, has made it easier than ever for designers to network with each other, with yarn companies, yarn shops, etc. 

Do you use a tech editor? 
Yes!!! If there is one piece of advice I'd give new designers, it's to use a tech editor (and the best way to find a good one is to ask other designers). That's not always something that's apparent right away—I didn't know there was such a thing until I published my third pattern. I'd been using test knitters. Test knitters can be great, but, without getting long-winded about it, they are NOT a substitute for a good tech editor.

How do you maintain your life/work balance? 
Life/work balance? What's that?

Just kidding. Sort of. For one thing, I have a studio outside of my house where I go every day. My hours are noon to 8pm. That's not to say I'm not working ALL OTHER TIMES too—I come home and knit while I watch TV, which I guess technically counts as work. When I think of all the time I spend knitting at home, on the train, with my little knitting group, etc, and think of it as work, I start to wonder if I'm a workaholic. I asked my mom the other day if she thought I was a workaholic. She said, "You don't get up early enough to be a workaholic."

How do you deal with criticism? 
Not well. Luckily, I haven't gotten much—a knitter on Ravelry once included in her project notes that it took six whole days for me to respond to her question about an error in a pattern. I was pretty crushed. When I told my (non-knitting) friend about it, she said, "Wait...she paid how much for the pattern?" It reminded me that, for what people pay for patterns, they really get quite a lot, so I try to remember that. Still, it can hurt.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting? 
Read Shannon Okey's book The Knitgrrl Guide to Professional Knitwear Design. She covers everything you could possibly think of.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

How to Read a Yarn Label - Part 2

Continuing my topic from Monday....

Yarn weight category This number system lists yarn from 0 (thinnest) to 6 (thickest) according to the American Craft Yarn Council Standard Yarn Weight System. It also lists the common names used internationally for the various yarn weights in North America. Many knitters feel there is too much overlap in the system since many yarns fall into 2 categories. 

Ply Number  
This can be valuable information since as an example the results between 3 and 4 ply fingering weights can be significantly different. Some countries use ply labels instead of names or numbers. You can see a comparison chart here from Ravelry. 

Wraps Per Inch
Many knitters love having this information available. I personally am not fond of this system. I've tried wrapping and I notice soft or lofty yarns can give different counts with each subsequent wrapping test. On the other hand if you have no information at all on a yarn it can be a good starting point. You can go here for a chart with wraps/gauge/weight information.

Country of origin
The label may indicate this information but consumers should know it could mean where the fibre came from or where it was processed. As distributors are impacted by the ethical fashion movement they are quick to greenwash the information based on the media bias of the moment. Many fibres move through a chain of processing that can route it through a number of countries before it shows up at your local shop.

Care instructions
This gives details for washing, drying, ironing, and dry cleaning directions if applicable. For more details on what each symbol means, click here to view the Lion Brand care page. It's a particularly comprehensive list of the symbols. If you doubt the information provided use your swatch to test cleaning methods.

Colour Number or Name and Dye Lot
Not only does this area include the yarn color’s name and number, but it also includes the dye lot. If you’re buying more than one skein of the same yarn, make sure that your dye lot numbers all match. Sometimes the same yarn color will vary slightly between dye lots, so you should always check this number. Yarn shop owners also report that mislabeling can occur.

Company information
The address of the company and a web site may appear on the label.

Number of balls or skeins for a garment 
I really liked having this information in the past, unfortunately it seems to have been dropped from current labels. It appeared as a sweater outline with a number in the centre. The sweater would show either long or short sleeves and would give a average size chest measurement for the knitter to extrapolate up or down depending on their sizing requirements.

Monday, January 6, 2014

How to Read a Yarn Label - Part 1

Yarn labels can vary greatly in the information that each one provides. The standard the yarn companies work towards has changed a great deal over my long knitting career. I remember when yardage or metre information was not commonly provided. When I first started knitting we purchased yarn by weight (in ounces) and by name of weight, for example DK or worsted. Here in Canada we have switched from the imperial system to the metric one. Due to the amount of yarn that comes from U.S. distributors and the use of American patterns many knitters here still work in imperial measurements.

I'm happy that we are getting more information on most current labels, however in some cases the information is becoming more vague instead of more precise. I often wonder if this confuses novice knitters? This may be due to the huge variety of yarn now available to modern knitters, Ravelry currently lists over 8000 brands of yarn. It may also be a result of the recognition that results vary more between knitters than was previously recognized.

I've listed below the type of information you will find on many labels. I've included some comments on the quirks and variations that I've been coming across as well.

Yarn Company Name and Yarn Name 
Sometimes this can be the same, especially with very small yarn companies.

Fibre Content  
This is usually done by percentage. It can vary widely in the level of detail. Superwash wools are normally labelled as such. Some labels indicate types of wool others don't. Alpaca yarn labels may indicate the grade of Alpaca. Most labels give wool type and alpaca grade when they are the top quality but others of lower grades leave that information off. Grading information standards vary from country to country so the labeling may not mean what the knitter thinks it does based on their location.

Amount of Yarn. This includes length and weight in both imperial and metric measurements. We now often see a mix of the two systems. Grams are often used for weight, especially now that many are non-standard amounts instead of even amounts in ounces that in the past were standardized put ups.

Gauge information. This shows the average suggested needles size, as well as how many stitches are in a 4 inch (10 cm) swatch. On occasion this information is based on what the intended use of the yarn is. As an example Fingering weight yarn that is intended for socks. The knitter might choose to knit a shawl at a much looser gauge.Having worked in my LYS I can also share that we often saw labels with gauge information that made no sense to the shop staff. We would occasionally have a few of us swatch and compare so we could make reasonable recommendations to our customers.

Recommended needle size
Modern labels are much more likely to show a range of needle sizes instead of a single size. Sizes are in U.S. or metric. Metric seems to be becoming more popular due to it's accuracy across brands. We used to have a British needle size system and there are older systems as well. I still have needles that belonged to my grandmothers and and they vary in size even when they are labelled with the same number size. You can see a comparison chart here. Japan has another system you can see another chart here.

Please check back for more on this topic, I'll post Part 2 on Jan 8th.

Friday, January 3, 2014

An Interview with...Deborah Tomasello

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 Deborah here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration in my sleep, mostly. And when I look outside. I see colors and relate them to shapes in my head. It is an unconscious process, and I can't "force" an idea. If I sit down and intend to design, for example, a dog hat, I am lost. But if I dream a shape and or color, I will quickly get up and chart it. I don't know if that makes sense, totally, but I find words missing to explain it any other way. It just happens, or it doesn't.

What is your favourite knitting technique?

It's no mystery that I am profoundly addicted to colorwork, and more specifically, to stranded colorwork. I do enjoy slip-stitch colorwork and intarsia, but I get a complete and total "fix" when stranding. And I knit about 10-12 hours every day.

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

I rarely look at others' work. I'm not afraid of being influenced by them. I just forget to look. I am familiar with the work of other colorwork designers and, if not for people like Alice Starmore, I wouldn't know stranded knitting at all. So, I appreciate the designs of other artists, but I don't keep up all that well.

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

I am unaware of a controversy. As I wrote above, I don't keep up all that well. When I write and chart my designs, my goal is to make them accurate and user-friendly. I don't think things have to be complicated to be good. Is that what you mean?
Editors note: for more on this topic please read  this and this.

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

For the most part, I do everything myself. I have had people test-knit, and I appreciate when they do, but I find that for the most part, I can finish a project in a more appropriate time-span myself. So, I just do it. Having said that, I design KAL patterns each month for any in my Ravelry group who want to work along, and several new designs have been test-knitted via the KAL route.

Did you do a formal business plan?

Pffft. No. I have only been stranding for about 4 years, and I have been designing colorwork patterns for only 2 years.

Do you have a mentor?

Pffft. No. Sure would like one!

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

Wow. I am a mess. No! It is what it is.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?

If it weren't for Ravelry, I would not have a business. Ravelry has been a wonderful medium to express my ideas, gain popularity and meet like-minded people from all over the globe. I do have a website, and I use FaceBook, but Ravelry has been the best help to me.

Do you use a tech editor?

I am very fortunate to have a few tech editors as personal friends with whom I regularly meet, gab, have coffee and knit. So, yeah, I have all kinds of help!!!

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

This one is easy. I have achieved a very happy and perfect balance. I am consumed by knitting 24 hours a day. I do not vacuum. I do not cook much. I am fully immersed in all things knitting nearly every waking moment. Perfect balance, I think. Don't you?

How do you deal with criticism?

I welcome it if it is not mean-spirited. I am always open to a useful critique. I have learned so much, and the more I learn, the more I realize I can't live long enough to learn all I want to know.

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

There is an assumption here that I can support myself with my work. I cannot--yet. I make about 20 cents an hour at this point. But this isn't about money for me. I am so lucky to be able to get up each day and do what I love just because I love it. My husband is completely supportive. I know how lucky I am in this regard, and I do not take for granted, even for a second, my fortunate life circumstances. This is not to say I don't want to be self-supporting. I think that if my designs ever become popular enough, and my teaching skills become sought after enough to yield financial security, it would reflect a level of success I do not now own.

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

Go for it! If you LOVE it, and if you have no financial goal in mind, then just do it. Ravelry and like sites are two-edged swords, though. While they allow a designer to gain recognition, they allow everyone the same opportunity. So, there are lots of us out there. I personally feel there is room for all of us. We each bring something unique to the table. Know this. It's a lot of work. If you see the work as something you'd be doing anyway, go for it! If I can help, please let me know.

I will be doing the Ravellenics with my Ravlery group (Colorworks By Debi) next month. This is a first for me. I think we will be called Team Tomasello. (I am an alliteration fan.) Come join us! I also design specific KAL patterns each month for KALs. We have fun. Jump in!
Deborah at one of her shows, knitting, of course!