Friday, August 22, 2014

An Interview with...Nikki Van De Car

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 Nikki here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
I try to look for it everywhere...plant life, mostly--for colors and shapes.  But I'll also look at a store-bought, not-knit garment and try to re-imagine it.  That can be a challenge--it usually comes out completely different!

What is your favourite knitting technique?
The day I learned magic loop was the best day of my knitting life.  I detest double-pointed needles, though I do use them sometimes.  I find them so unwieldy, like trying to knit using a spider.  And I tried the two circular needle method, but I would always get confused.  But magic loop...oh, how I love you.

You specialize in patterns for children. Do you have any future plans for designs for adults?
I do!  I'm working on a few of them right now, in fact.  Keep an eye out for my Milkweed Shawl, which will be in the Fall Interweave, and I have a few that are just getting ready to enter the testing stage.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I always look at other designers' work.  There is absolutely the fear of being influenced--I had a pattern that I had to scrap because it turned out that when I imagined it in my head, I was really remembering somebody else's fabulous design.  But at the same time, there are methods and techniques that I want to learn.  And frankly, there's so much gorgeous knitting out there I would be so sad if I had to put blinders on.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
I didn't know about it until I did a google search--which brought me to your blog!  But I do now know what you're talking about.  To be completely honest, instructions like "reverse all shaping" never bothered me as a knitter, even when I was just starting out, but then I never sought perfection, so if my FO wasn't exactly right--or to be more precise, exactly how the designer envisioned it--I was okay with that.  As a designer, however, it would be so easy to just say, "Great!  Now do the same thing on the other side, and you can figure it out yourself," but not every knitter is comfortable with that, and it's my job to at least provide the instructions, especially since I tend to write pretty simple patterns.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I have a few people that I really rely on, but I almost always open it up at the Ravelry Testing Pool group to see who else is interested.  I look for at least two testers per size for any particular garment.   As far as sample knitting goes, on my second book I had a couple of real rush jobs--items that had been knit and tested but I didn't yet have a finished object in the yarn I wanted to use for the book.  So I did hire someone to knit a couple of sweaters, but generally speaking I like to knit all the sample items myself.

Did you do a formal business plan?
Ha!  No.  I still don't.  It's just catch as catch can and keep trying.

Do you have a mentor?
No.  I mean, I have designers that I admire and try to emulate, but no one I know to talk to and give me advice.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
Well, let's see.  I really admire Ysolda Teague's business model.  But for various reasons (lack of connections, inability to travel to the extent I'd need to, general shyness) that's not something I've managed.  However, there are certain things they've inspired me to do--as with Ysolda, put a few really good free patterns out there to help people remember you.  I'm now trying to get published in several different places, to spread the word a bit more.  And I've tried to always use the very best quality yarns I can manage, to really make the patterns stand out.

Do you use a tech editor?
For my books and patterns published through magazines, yes.  For my patterns published on my blog, not yet.  I haven't determined yet whether the revenue from the self-published patterns will be enough to justify using a tech editor.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
That's actually pretty easy.  I'm a work-at-home mom, so I knit and design while playing with my four-year-old daughter.  I've been designing with her in mind since she was born, and she's always been a handy measuring-stick, for both sizing and what sorts of garments work best for her age group.

How do you deal with criticism?
My first book had a fair amount of errata, I'm embarrassed to say.  So any criticism I received for that, I knew that the book really deserved it, so it didn't hurt my feelings much.   And even given that, hardly anybody has anything harsh to say--most people write with questions, requests for help, and are so nice and excited about the projects.  Knitters are a pretty good group of people.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
Well, define "support yourself."  I certainly don't make as much from knitting as I did working at a full-time job.  But between various projects and other freelance work here and there, I contribute enough to the household so that I can continue to stay home with my daughter.  

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
I think the idea of publishing a few really good free patterns to get your name out there is a good one.  It certainly worked for me.  Other than that, be prepared for things to take a while.   Most folks are (understandably) more interested in knitting a free pattern than paying for one, so it will take a bit of effort on your part to make your patterns worth paying for.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

How Many Hand Knit Pattern Designers are There?

As of Saturday Aug 16 there were 32,357 knitting designers listed in the Ravelry database. They have provided 315,456 patterns in Ravelry. 

When I started publishing patterns a few years ago part of the reason was the ease of online publishing.

I choose to tackle the challenges of pattern production in a pretty safe way. I had a corporate buyout package. I worked for five more years,banking everything I made during the last year. Then I quit my job.

I did a fair bit of pre-work while assessing my plan to become a professional knitter. I purchased some of the items I knew I would need while I was still working. I published a few patterns. I started writing my blog. I took some small business courses. 

After I went full time, I established a professional networking group as a way of continuing to educate myself.

I publish interviews with other professionals almost once a week. Many of the interviews have been done with designers I admire. In other cases the knitting pros invited to do an interview are suggested to me by friends. I look at knitting books for additional leads and obviously I use the Ravelry database as well. 

I'm noticing a shift in that I've recently had a number of invitations turned down because the recipient is no longer actively designing. This isn't always obvious because they keep their patterns available online. In a few situations I've gone to the designers site only to discover it is no longer active. I've also heard about several established designers who have switched to part time knit design while taking full time jobs.

I'm well aware that people leave specific industries for all sorts of reasons, however the rejected invitations are a new experience. In the past the most common reason for not doing my interview was the invitee didn't have time because they were so busy with other obligations. This is definitely a business that freelancers find it difficult to make a living in. I worry that there may be a trend that I'm becoming aware of due to the interview series. I hope I'm wrong because I believe the online publishing world has allowed some amazing designs to be created and many fresh, innovative ideas to revitalize the knitting world.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Lily Price Shawl - New Pattern Release

I've just released this pattern here on Ravelry. It will be up on Patternfish soon. 

The silk and cashmere blend yarn feels fabulous against bare skin so I've worn it this summer dressed all in white over sleeveless tops. The white makes the lace very visible and I get to feel like a DIVA wrapped in a luxurious yarn. I never wear my samples until after they are photographed so I did not realize I should have done a photo with the shawl tied and knotted. Sometimes the fabric is too think to knot in a pretty way but not with this shawl.

The pattern is charted. The shawl is a triangular shawl, worked from the top down, from a garter stitch tab start.You can see my post here for more details on this technique. 

The lace stitch pattern for part of the design includes two features to take note of. The first is a twisted stitch at the base of the motif, the second is a double yarn over. On the wrong side, the double yarn over is worked as a p1, k1 into the larger loop to maintain the stitch count. All other wrong side rows are purl stitches only. The shawl can be made smaller by working charts 2, 3, 4 and 5 fewer times.

The name Lilly Price comes from Agatha Christie's The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side. Lily is warned by Miss Marple not to marry her fiance after he fails to prevent her from a near fall from a window.

Friday, August 15, 2014

An Interview with...Janine Le Cras

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 Janine here and on Ravelry here. She is on Facebook here and Twitter here.
Where do you find inspiration?
I would like to say all around me, but to be truthful I don't exactly know. Sometimes I approach a design with a definite idea as to how I want it to look, other times I just play around with stitch patterns and somehow they just seem to work together. With the Unique Sheep Classic Children's Books Mystery KAL's I literally start by reading the book we decided on and eventually inspiration strikes.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
Lace all the way. Though I love any type of textured knitting too. Cables, gansey style patterns, did I mention lace?
How did you determine your size range?
Well a lot of my designs are shawls so they tend to be one size only, but when I am making a garment, I try to be as inclusive as possible and try to go from a 30 to a 52 inch chest. This isn't always possible, because some designs look great on smaller sizes and not on larger ones or vice versa.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I love looking at other designers work! Their stuff is so inspiring. Plus it sometimes is a good idea to look at other peoples stuff to make sure that we aren't working on the same thing. It is amazing how often coincidence pops up and we find that we are working on similar designs.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
This is a difficult one for me. I am British, and as such I am used to pretty brief instructions. I do find some of the patterns on the market can be a bit wordy, but if that is what the knitter wants, then as they say, the customer is always right. All I can say is that some knitters would have "conniptions" if they had tried to work some of the patterns I used to knit back in the 80's. I often used to work from French pattern books that I picked up on holiday, using just the numbers and the charts to get through.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I try to test knit every one of my designs before I send it to my test knitters. I have a very small but fabulous group of test knitters that are all based in the US. They are wonderful. Not only do they test knit everything both written and charted versions, but they basically tech edit the patterns as well, pointing out every extra space, missing comma etc. I couldn't work without them.

Did you do a formal business plan?
Not really. I know what I want to do and it is all in my head, but nothing is written down hard and fast. This is very much a second job at the moment. 
Do you have a mentor?
Not unless you count my grandmother who taught me to knit and my mother who taught me that nothing is impossible if you are prepared to work for it.
Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
No the whole thing has grown organically
What impact has the Internet had on your business?
Huge! I cannot emphasize this enough. If I didn't have access to the internet, my business would be dead in the water. I live on a tiny island in the middle of the English Channel. It would be virtually impossible to run my business through ordinary retail methods.

Do you use a tech editor?
As I said in the earlier question, my test knitters are my tech editors. If I am doing a garment pattern with multiple sizes I always use an additional outside tech editor. It is not worth the risk of a pattern going out that has mistakes in it. It doesn't project a professional image.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
With difficulty. Because I work full time all knitting/designing has to be done evenings and weekends. Thankfully I have a very understanding husband who occupies his time playing video games, watching and playing sports. Both the kids have grown up and left home so I only have the two of us to look after :-) I work at a school term time only, so my summers are filled with knitting, both at home and on the beach.

How do you deal with criticism?
Well I hope. I always welcome constructive criticism and I am always happy to hear from knitters who are having problems with my patterns. Everyone is human and mistakes do happen no matter how hard we try to prevent them. Sometimes it is just a case of how a pattern is worded, sometimes there are actual errors and I just have to hold my hands up and apologize and put it right. 

I am less understanding when I get the occasional rant from a knitter who complains about one of my patterns because they knit it in the wrong weight yarn or needles and then blames me for it not working out - gauge is our friend ;-)

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I still can't support myself. it is definitely a labour of love. I don't think many of us can manage to support ourselves purely from our knitting. The designers that I know that are able to do so supplement the design work with either teaching or yarn lines as well.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Go for it, but be aware of the fact that is isn't as easy as it sounds. It isn't just a case of throwing together a few stitch patterns and you are done. There is all the maths and testing and rechecking that goes on behind the scenes before you can actually release a pattern to the public. Get yourself a great group of test knitters and a good tech editor and you are halfway there.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

More Tips For Better Button Bands Part 5

Corners and Curves 

If bands are being knit continuously around both vertical and horizontal edges at the same time, mitres will be required at the corners. On inner corners, pick up the stitches in the normal way. Be sure to create one stitch in the exact corner, to act as an axis stitch. Work decreases on subsequent alternate right side rows on either side of the axis stitch or use a two stitch center decrease method. On outer corners establish an axis stitch at the corner and using the knitters preferred increase, work an increase on either side of the axis stitch. On subsequent alternate right side rows repeat the increases. On the cast off row, work the stitches snugly at inner corners and loosely at outer corners. 

Perfect Edges and Corners

The corners where bands meet the garment edges should always be as square as possible. To ensure they are, there are a few tricks to use. Depending on the stitch pattern, work an extra stitch on rib patterns to allow for the roll under of stocking stitch. Start and end with two knit stitches on a k1, p1 rib or three knit stitches on a k2, p1 rib. Picking up and knitting into the corner of the work, instead of in the first stitch may also improve the results. Ignoring the pickup ratio for the first and last half inch and picking up a stitch for every row could also resolve the problem, if the bands are pulling in. If they are flaring out, reduce the number of stitches overall. If the last corner on the cast off row sticks out, finish the last three stitches with a k2tog before fastening off the end. A single row of crochet chain along the bottom or top edge of the band may fill in the edge if it is curving up. Use the yarn tails to work the crochet. Blocking will improve the corners to a greater or lesser degree depending on the fibre being used. Swatch to answer, which of all these options, will work best on the project.
 Some Final Tips

  • A band which flares out on the edge only may be corrected by working some decreases in the cast off row.
  • The more intersections of knitting segments on the bands the more likely there will be problems squaring things up.
  • One method may work better for a knitter over another depending on their specific knitting technique and on the fibre the project is created from.
  • Tiny clear plastic snaps can be sewn onto the knitting if there is an unacceptable gaping, or at the top corners of bands for extra support.
  • The choice of cast off on band edges is important to the final results. Test casting off on both right and wrong sides to compare finishes.


Monday, August 11, 2014

Will you be Knitting a Cardigan for the Fall? New Pattern

I love X and O cables. There is something in their shapes that is just so appealing to my sensibility. Two of my friends are already knitting this pattern. I hope that they will be as pleased with it as I am.

The Sheila Reilly cardigan has a classic, timeless silhouette with two different cable stitch patterns. The sleeve is a set in style. The ribbed edges are integrated with the cable patterns. Everything is worked bottom up. The pattern includes full set up rows written by size to aid the knitter to establish cable stitch patterns. It makes the pattern appear long but you'll be skipping over sections that apply to sizes other than your own.

The name Sheila Reilly is taken from Agatha Christie's novel Murder in Mesopotamia. Sheila is described as outspoken, determined and a woman who enjoys lots of attention from men.

You can find the pattern here on Ravelry and it will be up on Patternfish soon.