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


  1. All the felted figures are amazing ... especially the cat. You Must know: We have two sweet cats ;)

    Greetings by Heidrun from Bavaria

  2. Great interview! I have long admired Marie's patterns. The way she designs each one with so many options and ways to make it your own, make them unique! Thanks for sharing your wisdom.

  3. great interview. I hadn't seen her work before and it is so fun!

  4. Just a little behind here! But thank you for sharing this interview with one of my very favorite favorite favorite designers! Having knitted/felted many of her patterns I can say with a bit of authority that her attention to clarity in writing a pattern is excellent. I extoll her brilliance on my own blog every chance i get!!!