Friday, August 10, 2018

An Interview with...Emma Vining

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
Emma here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?

The short answer to your question is “Everywhere”! I always have my phone and a notebook with me and if I see something that catches my eye, I will photograph or sketch it. This can be an interesting tile pattern on a wall or a beautiful flower. I am particularly fond of patterns made by shadows as these constantly change and always surprise you. Shadows cast by ironwork railings on a staircase or a bridge are two of the best places to see this type of pattern.

What is your favourite knitting technique?

I love all types of cable pattern and I have just finished writing my first book all about this extremely versatile technique. My book will be published in early 2019 and is full of cable stitch patterns alongside plenty of suggestions to inspire a reader’s own cable designs. There are also ten patterns for knitted accessories, each one featuring a different cable technique.

Do you look at other designers’ work?

I really enjoy reading about knitting in magazines, books and online, especially browsing on Ravelry! There are so many talented designers creating a wide variety of excellent patterns at the moment. I find it extremely inspiring to see how stitch patterns can be used in so many different ways.

A great example of being inspired by another knitter's work is a recent project I have been working on for the UK Knitting and Crochet Guild (KCG). Titled “A Knitter’s Journey”, this project is part of the Guild’s 40th anniversary celebrations in 2018. The knitter of the title, Gladys Jeskins, decided to make a record of her own of stitch designs. She was aiming for 1000! Before she passed away in 1997, she had reached 951. Guild members have re-knitted a selection of the sampler stitch patterns and a small group of us have created accessory designs inspired by a single stitch pattern. My Ruby half-pi shawl pattern, inspired by Gladys’s sampler, features in the e-book of accessory patterns available to Guild members through the KCG website. Designing new patterns from Gladys’s sampler has been a fascinating experience. I have learned a great deal about my own working practice, knitted with stitch patterns I do not normally use and have been left with enormous respect for this wonderful knitter.

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

I always try to knit sample garments and accessories myself mainly because I very much enjoy the process of knitting. My aim is to create patterns that look great and also feel good to knit. The perfect stitch pattern for me has just the right amount of complexity to keep a knitter interested, yet also allows the knitter to relax into the rhythm of the repeat. What better way to check the rhythm than to knit the item myself?

Do you use a tech editor?

Yes, always! I consider tech editing an essential part of my design process. When I am designing a new stitch pattern for a garment or accessory, I will have knitted the stitch pattern many times before I decide on the final version. It is highly likely that I will have made several small changes to the design to help it flow and look really good. Having a tech editor double check the whole pattern is therefore absolutely essential.

How do you deal with criticism?

Constructive criticism is always welcome, especially during the tech editing process. Pointing out pattern mistakes constructively helps me learn and hopefully means that I will not repeat the same errors again!

What’s next for you?

I’m looking forward to all the fantastic knitting and design events coming up in London in the next few months. I’ll be volunteering at the London Design Festival at the Victoria and Albert Museum, spending time at the at Alexandra Palace and attending the Knitting History Forum Conference at the London College of Fashion. I am also delighted to be working on new designs in gorgeous wool and alpaca yarns for the winter issues of the Knitter Magazine.

Friday, August 3, 2018

August Reboot Series - Errata

This month I'm going to be doing some re-posting of older blog posts. Some like this one will have updates included as when I reread I often realize I've learned something new since the original post went up.  I hope to have all new interviews every Friday but many Pros take the month of August off and in past years I haven't always been able to get enough interviews back to fill all the August dates.  (As predicted I sent out a much higher number than usual of interview invitations but I don't yet have a new one to post.) 

When I first started publishing patterns I received an email from my editor that said "The pattern itself was perfect -- no changes." You would think that I would be thrilled to get a note like that....right? Well no, I worried that maybe she missed something. Unfortunately I remember all too clearly my early days of knitting when an error in a pattern could be a cause for so much frustration that a project would be tossed aside and discarded forever. 

When I was first knitting I started a beautiful lace skirt and top pattern which had an error. Since I was a novice knitter I assumed the fault was mine and kept tearing back and re-knitting. The stitch pattern was written not charted as charts were far less common when I was first knitting. Back then I was an isolated knitter, the only other knitters I knew were related to me and none were especially advanced. I loved the design and I was determined to finish it so I persevered. I wrote the pattern out line by line comparing each one and counting out the stitches until I found one row that was missing (are you ready) one yo!

I still remember the hours I spent to find and correct this error, so you would think I would be ready to rant about pattern errors and how totally unacceptable they are. Actually what it taught me was how a tiny little error could completely mess up the pattern and since it was so difficult to find that error how very easy it is for the pattern writer to make it in the first place.

One of the criteria designers use when choosing test and sample knitters is that they need to be very literal interpreters of patterns. If they override the pattern instructions using their knitterly skills they may miss identifying problems in the pattern. One of my test knitters once asked a question about a dropped stitch pattern which lead me to check every stitch dictionary that I own. What did I discover? There appeared to be two similar but slightly different instructions that produced a different length of dropped stitch. It was critical to the result obtained and meant that I worded the pattern differently and hopefully no one else ran into that problem. 

Sometime ago I collaborated with another designer on a project. She was very experienced and told me she had learned to accept that errors slip through even when she was using more than one tech editor and multiple test knitters. I do try to remember this when an error is discovered and fortunately the digital publishing world has the added feature of being able to update patterns.

The original error in that lace pattern made me a better knitter, more independent, more thoughtful, more resourceful. However, I still don't want ANY errors in my patterns!

Let me know what you think. Do you hate a designer who has an error in their pattern? Do you swear off ever knitting another one of their designs? Or do you forgive them and understand that some errors are inevitable?

Friday, July 27, 2018

Problem Solving in Knitting

Image from Pinterest artist unknown

This summer  I'm going to be doing some re-posting of older blog posts. I'm choosing ones that seem to be popular based on the number of views and links they get.
I answer a lot of knitting questions. I belong to several different knitting groups and there is a variety of skill levels at all of them. I like answering these questions as I often learn more from the process of figuring it out than the knitter who asked it in the first place.

When I worked in my LYS, I assisted many knitters with patterns that were giving them trouble. Once we had a customer who was so unhappy with my answer she ended up quizzing all of the three other staff members who were in that day and even though we each gave her several options to solve her problem she still went away unhappy muttering to herself "that there must be a book that would explain how to do this properly". In this situation I think it was a case of the Buddhist quote: "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear” and our student wasn't yet ready. 
I was often surprised by something that happened fairly regularly. A customer would come in with a question and be shocked that we could not instantaneously answer. Usually it was with regard to a specific pattern. Often the question was posed in such a way as to mislead us as to the nature of the real problem. Many knitters were surprised when we would ask to see their work. It was a common experience when assisting knitters that the customer thought we should be able to resolve their problem without reading the pattern or picking up our needles to test a stitch pattern when they said it was wrong. 
We were frequently questioned as to why we couldn't just look at the knitting and see where their mistake was in the pattern. We would also get phone calls asking us to explain pattern instructions based on what the knitter said was going wrong, without allowing us the time to read the pattern or the option to examine the work. We could relate to the frustration the knitter felt, but felt very limited in our ability to solve the problem. It made me realize that interpreting patterns is much more layered and complex than it initially appears to be.

When I read Sally Melville's comment about this on her old blog site I was struck by how accurately she explained it.  Sally said "I liken knitting patterns more to mathematical proofs than recipes. So imagine sticking a few lines in the middle of a mathematical proof under someone's nose and asking Can you explain this? It's no wonder that the folk in the yarn shop can't do it!"

I think Sally's analogy is the best one I've seen on this topic. So please when you are asking other knitters for help; be patient and understand that they need to work through the problem slowly. Once they do they can answer the question and figure out if the pattern is wrong or if the knitter is making an error in execution. Often the end solution is simple but it's buried inside a long chain of individual steps.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Ravelry Pattern Reviews

Do you read project notes on Ravelry? 

I was poking about on Ravelry looking for potential interview subjects when I clicked through to check how many designs a designer had published. I liked a detail on one of the garments so I went to the page for a better look and then the projects hoping for a better detail photo.

What I ended up noticing were these competing reviews.   

"This pattern is very poorly written. The instructions....."

and then:

"I loved working with this well written pattern." 

So who do you believe? 

It reminded me about a conversation with a knitter who was crazy for a pattern that one of my interviewees had published but then didn't buy it because one project page had a negative comment. I was struck by the strength of the "negativity bias".

From  Psychology Today

"Your brain is simply built with a greater sensitivity to unpleasant news. The bias is so automatic that it can be detected at the earliest stage of the brain's information processing."

I try to take this into account when I read negative reviews but I agree it's difficult. 

BTW both of these patterns were designed by very prolific designers with long careers in the industry. Both had been published in numerous places as well as self-publishing.

Friday, July 13, 2018

An Interview with...Petra Breakstone


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
Petra here and here on Ravelry.

Petra supplies complete knit kits, yarns, individual patterns, e-books and fabulous shawl pins...

Where do you find inspiration?
Literally in anything. From a color combination that strikes me, a shape, a store display, a movie, a flower, a bird and so on. Sometimes I wake up because I had a great idea and need to write it down immediately so I won't forget. It's endless I tell you. I have to tell my brain to shut up, literally.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I like lace knitting, sampler type shawls/garments with many stitch patterns to not get bored, all knitted in the Continental knitting method.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
Shapes, colors and lines may strike up an idea for me, yes.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself? 
It fluctuates, you loose some and you acquire some. My current test knitter pool consists of 50 plus volunteers. Some garment tests require up to 27 testers at a time to get all the sizes done.

Did you do a formal business plan?
Along the way I made one, when I applied and actually had a yarn cart in a local mall with seven knitters along with myself manning the many mall hours. Not when I started.

Do you have a mentor?
No I don't. It might help though.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
I just followed my way of doing business of when I rescued a knit shop years ago that I owned for more than four years. It really is more of a knit party. I tend to want my knitter friends and myself to have a good time. Business sometimes is secondary. 

Do you use a tech editor?
Yes, Uta from Germany, she started test knitting for me and always had great feedback. So I fired my then editor and hired Uta. She and I have been a team for a while now. She is all about the grading, the charts, schematics and numbers. I am about the design and aesthetics.

How do you maintain your life/work balance? 
What balance? I don't have any, I work all the time. Well I love my work and having an online business with knit kits, yarns and other knitting related goodies plus a Ravelry page and two online knitting groups, there isn't a whole lot of time left at the end of the day.

How do you deal with criticism?
I always reply, first and foremost. My goal is to make people happy with my work and so I do find ways of doing just that. In fact I go out of my way to make people happy and 99.97% of the time that is possible. Then there are a few times that the nature of the people criticizing won't allow you to make anything right for them which I have a hard time with when that happens.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
Years and I am not where I would like to be now, which is due to me being too generous with sales, promotions, freebies and such. If I had a business manager, he/she would scream at me...

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
For me it's a two fold question, having not just a pattern business but also selling physical goods. I think though if knitting is not in your blood, then don't do it. It has to be a way of life, or you have to have money to go in big from the get go.

What’s next for you?
More designing and not just knitwear but gadgets and tools for knitting. I have shawl pins manufactured and have other goodies in the works that I can't talk about just yet. My mind is always going and surprises me with new ideas. Hopefully for a long while to come.

“Knitting is like therapy, only with two sticks and some pretty string, but in the end you have something pretty to show for.” 

Friday, July 6, 2018

An Interview with...Andrea Hilton

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
Andrea here, her yarn is here, and she's here on Ravelry.

Drainage DK

Where do you find inspiration for your colourways?
Tributary Yarns is rooted in a deep love of the landscape around me in the wilds of northern California. My favorite colorways are inspired by my favorite places, and often my favorite swimming holes. I am fortunate to live so close to Redwood National Park, the Pacific Ocean, and many pristine rivers.

What is your favourite dyeing technique?
I almost always dye in large hotel pans on a stove-top. I like to be able to spread out the yarn and make sure each bit of yarn is receiving the proper color. Sometimes I do speckles. Other times, I stick with tonals. It’s a mix. I don't have any hard and fast rules about my process. I like to experiment and see what works with what. I can’t say I have innate talent based on killer color instincts that I draw from. Sometimes I just dye a painfully ugly skein. It’s all part of creating.

How do you choose the fibers that you work with? 

I started Tributary Yarns to promote domestic, sustainable wools, but the fiber wasn’t back from the mill until recently. I stalled by dying a fairly standard sock base and some silk blends (I love silk blends!). So far, I’ve found my Stream Sock and River Silk/Merino bases to be the most popular and need to work harder to convince my readers that knitting with real, happy wool, such as my Watershed Worsted, grown right here in the USA, is a worthwhile endeavor.

How did you determine what weights of yarn you stock?

I personally love all the weights and knit with almost all of them (although less so with lace and bulky). I have found most of my sales go to fingering weight yarns, which has been the main driver for me. Sadly, it doesn’t do me a lot of good to dye a ton of heavier weight yarn if it’s just going to sit on the shelf.

How do you come up with names for your yarn?
Water-bodies are pretty much my schtick. I have Stream Sock, Freshwater Fingering, River Silk/Merino Fingering, Watershed Worsted, and Drainage DK in my shop. In my other life, I work as a hydrologist, supporting river and fisheries restoration. That’s why I am so passionate about my domestically sourced, sustainable bases. They really are so much better for our little planet.

Could you give us an idea of how long the process is to dye a batch of yarn and prepare it for sale? 

I tend to dye yarn every other Friday and Saturday when my son is with his father. I transform my kitchen into a dye studio and have at it. I often do 20-30 skeins over the course of a day or two, depending on the base I’m working with. Between dying, skeining, labeling, and un-dying my kitchen, I’m pretty busy on those weekends. I suspect my endeavor is fairly small-scale compared to other, more established indie dyers. For me, it’s still an economy of scale.

Do you look at other dyers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their yarns?
Absolutely, I look at other dyers’ work, especially on Instagram. There are a lot of talented indie dyers out there. I see their skeins and am blown away. Dying is so fluid that I’m not sure it’s possible to plagiarize a colorway. (I could try but probably wouldn’t succeed.) I suspect most indie dyers are purchasing dyes from one of several primary suppliers, and I know most order bases from the same wholesalers. Like pretty much everything else, we’re all just selling different variations of the same gorgeous yarns. That’s also why I’m so passionate about my Watershed Worsted and Freshwater Fingering bases--they’re regionally sourced and not the same ol’ variety of bases stocked by every other dyer. They’re truly unique.

Are you a knitter as well?
Uh, ya. I am an OBSESSIVE knitter. Before starting Tributary Yarns, I focused on designing and selling patterns on Ravelry. I like to knit every day, most typically after my son is asleep at night. I settle in on the sofa and watch a show while I toil away.

Did you do have a formal business plan?
(Laughs.) Nope. Maybe someday. It’s in my head, though.

Do you have a mentor?
I don’t have a mentor. I could use one though! (Volunteers, please make contact via email!). I have been inspired by a lot of amazing knitters and dyers I have connected with online since starting my blog, This Knitted Life. I’m grateful for those relationships.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated? 

Try. Fail. Try harder. Stumble. Keep going. Surely you can do this.

What impact has the Internet had on your business? 

Without the Internet, I probably wouldn’t have a business. I’ve also recently partnered with my local yarn shop. In addition to stocking my yarns, they also offer my inventory online through their web portal. This saves me the time of taking product photographs and updating my own online shop, which I found abysmally tedious, and allows me to spend more time simply creating. 

Some fun Stream Sock colors in Andrea's shop

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I’m supposed to have balance in my life? Hmmm. I will have to work on that. I just do my best every day. I have a lot to do in a scarce amount of time. Most days, I run out of steam before I run out of tasks. I don’t beat myself up when I crawl onto the sofa at 8:00 p.m., calling it quits. I’m human. Realizing that and acknowledging my limitations while forgiving myself for my imperfections is really the best I can do. 

How do you deal with criticism? 

I started designing in 2013, after the birth of my son. I starting dying last winter. In all of my years in the fiber industry, I have not received a single criticism. I am constantly touched by the kindness, support, and love that has been offered to me by total strangers. Knitters are remarkable human beings, and for that, I am thankful.

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

Ya, I’m still working on that. I don’t think I will be quitting my day job anytime soon.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in hand dying yarns? 

If I can do it, you can do it. But make sure you really love it and are self-motivated. It’s not easy, and it probably won’t be an overnight success. You’ll lose money before you make money. And you’ll make a lot of messes. That said, dream big. Anything is possible. You are a bright star. 

Some of Andrea's favorite River Silk/Merino colorways.

Friday, June 29, 2018

An Interview with...Stephanie Lotven

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
Stephanie here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration everywhere, but my daughters are really the heart of my inspiration. They love rainbows and unicorns and magic. As I grew up, society gave me the ridiculous idea that I was too old for such silliness. Having kids helped me to tap back into the things I loved as a kid. They brought out my joy. My girls are always helping me find the best, most honest parts of myself.

What is your favourite knitting technique?

I love short rows. Every time I work with short rows, I am astounded at their power to change the fit and fun of a garment. I’m really interested in playful shapes, and there is no better way to play with shapes than short rows.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I love knitting too much to avoid other designers’ work. There is so much incredible creation happening in the knitting universe. I want to be a part of ALL of it. In fact, I wish I had more time to knit other designer’s patterns. I think I would be doing myself a real disservice if I didn’t see the amazing things my fellow designers are creating.

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

I have one AWESOME sample knitter. Working with a sample knitter was a big move for me. It takes a lot of trust to put a project in someone else’s hands. There are deadlines, and expectations, and, sometimes, irreplaceable yarn. I’m so glad I have a sample knitter, because it has freed up some very valuable time for me. In fact, I’m on the look out for a second sample knitter for the fall.

Did you do a formal business plan?

Definitely not. So much of my journey has been guesswork. When I got started, I just wanted to get a design into the world. I didn’t know a lot about the industry, but I wanted to create something and share it. As my business has grown, I have added all sorts of lovely complications: knit-longs, collaborations, a website, social media, and on and on. My business has grown organically based on what my knitters want and need from me. I feel very lucky to be in an industry that allows for growth and experimentation.

Do you have a mentor?

Over the years, I have had many mentors. While I studied drawing, I spent a great deal of time with Frank Stack. He really molded my sense of color by challenging me to have a fearless palette. Devoney Looser, the renowned Jane Austen scholar, was an incredible mentor as I transitioned out of college and into adulthood. Her strong sense of female empowerment gave me the courage to take big risks and believe that I could achieve them. Now, I draw strength and support from my fellow designers. Each of them has so much to teach, so much to offer.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
No, I don’t. Much of my business has been built on aggressive experimentation. I am always working to find a new way of doing things that fits my life, and my style. 

Daisy Lady coming in July

Do you use a tech editor?

Yes! My tech editor is ABSOLUTELY crucial to the development of my patterns. Finding the perfect tech editor was a real gauntlet, but she was absolutely worth the search.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

I wish you could hear me giggling right now. Balance is a constant conversation in our household. Currently, there isn’t much balance in my life. I stay at home during the day with my kiddos, and, when we are together, I like to be completely present. This means that all design work happens after they go to bed. I work hard at what I do, and so I don’t sleep as much as I probably should. I want to be available to my knitters, so I don’t take days off. In the fall, when my girls are both in school, I hope to have a more balanced 

personal/work life.

How do you deal with criticism?

I try to take all criticism seriously AND lightly. I think motherhood has steeled me against unfiltered criticism. The Internet is a place of vocal critics, just like a house full of kiddos. With two young daughters, I have lots of practice hearing about the things I am NOT doing right. When I get negative feedback, I take a breath, respond with patience, and try to solve the problem. Ultimately, I have to remind myself, you can’t make everyone happy all the time.

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

It took me just over 3 years before I felt as if I was making a reasonable profit. Then, another 6-8 months before I felt confident in the consistency of my sales. So much of this business builds over time. You have to give your customers time to trust your patterns as you build your library.

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

Ask questions! When I wasn’t sure how to write a yarn support proposal, I got on the Ravelry forums and asked how to do it until someone answered. When I started thinking about sample knitters, I emailed several designers whose opinion I respected. When I ask questions, I am always astounded by the generosity of the design community. If you don’t know how to do something, just ask.

What’s next for you?

I have lots of new designs on the horizon. I am very invested in sweaters at the moment, so there will certainly be more sweaters this year. I also plan to work on submissions for publications, and website development. There will be lots to keep me busy!