Monday, March 30, 2015

Knitting as Meditation at the ROCK Guild April 2

I’ll be giving a brief introduction to the science behind meditation followed by a guided knitting meditation at the ROCK guild meeting on April 2.

The Gathering

I attended this event last year and really enjoyed myself and the purchases I made there.  If you are a local reader you may want to check it out!

Friday, March 27, 2015

An Interview with...Ann Myhre

Ann posing last summer in the Norwegian mountain range called Trollstigen ("the troll road") - She is modelling the lady's cardigan Flea.

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.

Ann enjoys making alternative color suggestions in her patterns. These are the suggestions from the pattern Flea.
You can find Ann here, Pinterest here and here on Ravelry

Where do you find inspiration?
Yes, where do I find inspiration? I get ideas. I do a lot of boring stuff (skiing, hiking, walking, things that makes the brain play while the body works) and it generates ideas. When I’ve got the idea, I seek inspiration. I don’t like to admit it, but I decorate my ideas. When the end result is good it doesn’t come out as obvious, though. For some designers their design is organic, a whole, but to me it is not. I have one pair of mittens that I am working on now that I truly can say is created to be like the hand, and the details are not decoration, but shaped for better fit. Beside that, I feel my designs are pure surface.   

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I’m a stranded girl but I am in no way lonely, it’s the Nordic way of knitting. The funny thing is that just a couple of months ago I just learned a new way to hold my yarn in the left hand, it makes it so much faster to knit with 2 strands of colors: one strand of yarn over the index finger, the other over the middle finger. And I took the method to my knitting group, so excited because I thought it was revolutionizing – and they all did it that way already. Bummer. I also think – or hope? – knitters think of me as the steeking lady. In Norway we have been knitting kofter (a traditional stranded cardigan) for 150 years, and for the last 60-70 years or so, used the sewing machine for the steek. I actually just saw in Interweave Knits Winter 2015 it is called Norwegian steeking. I am trying to teach knitters to use pure wool and steeking without the sewing machine like they do on Shetland. I love that magical moment when I take my stranded cardigan, the scissors and just show them how easy it is. A lot of my designs are top-down, stranded and steeked.

Some of Ann's (stranded and steeked) blankets

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I look to others, to books, to Pinterest boards all the time. I am not very creative like some are, I don’t mind borrowing from others at all. If it is too close to the original designer’s I ask. When I made the sheep chart for the Angry Sheep Cardigan I understood I was very influenced by Kate Davies Sheep heid. So I sent her an e-mail, and asked her how she felt about that. Luckily she seems to share the same world I live in, we all are inspired by something and someone. And I just had a Norwegian designer asking me the same question:
- It seems like my cardigan is inspired by one of your blankets, what do you think about that? Honestly, her cardigan made a renew interest in my blanket – that is how I like the knitting community to be. Many designers are really original, I am not so, but people, knitters, still find my patterns interesting. 

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
Really, is there such a thing? For the last 70-80 years the Norwegian knitting patterns have been written for knitters who knew it all. No explanations, no context, just a pattern written on 1 to 2 pages. At the beginning of the new millennium those who knit were the people who had been knitting for a long time, and they were like me, middle aged or older. And then suddenly two things happened at the same time. A TV-star in Norway wore a very simple knitted sweater that the young people wanted to knit (and after a while, also the older …), and - Ravelry. After that sweater, the young knitters wanted to knit more and found the well-written English patterns, and now we have a whole new generation of knitters that we (the elderly) just had forgotten to teach. In my situation, as a knitwear designer, that has made all the difference.   

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
Experience in working with this for the last 10 years has taught me: I can’t get enough test knitters. And not only to test and find errors, to suggest new color combinations, to learn what’s working and what’s not, but to be part of a community, to create something outside my kitchen table. And test knitters, they come in all shapes and experience too. Some are truly good with after shoot-photos, some are really good in spotting minute details that aren’t working, some have ideas – in the ideal world I would have them working for me full time.  

Do you have a mentor?
I wish I had a mentor. Maybe I am too old to have one; maybe I should be mentoring someone? I am part of a group called Vottelauget (The Mitten Guild) – we are 8 knitters and designers who have published 2 e-books with fairy tales as a theme and are in the process of publishing a paper book together. If anything, they are my mentors in some way.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
What I am doing seems to be working so I continue with that. I say yes to teaching, my patterns should be on the cheap side, I am open and reachable for people who buy my patterns, and I don’t want to co-operate with a publisher – and that is what’s making me earn my money. On that note, I don’t translate all my patterns to English, and that is also part of a larger plan. People don’t seem to understand how much time and money that goes into translating a pattern so I always consider carefully which one to spend that hard-earned money on.

How are you using social media to grow your business?
I have several groups (Facebook and Ravelry) and my blog, but I use Twitter almost solely for letting out steam and be someone else than a knitwear designer. For Norwegian knitters and designers FB is so much more alive and kicking. Even though we speak English quite well in Norway, the language barrier of Ravlery is a thing. On FB there are hundreds of groups for knitting and crafting in Norwegian. So I try to be very accessible on FB. 

From Shetland Wool Week 2014: 3 of Ann's patterns, Angry Sheep Cardigan, Bislettbekken (not translated) and Lady's cardigan Fleas.

Do you use a tech editor?
I have the best tech editor for my English patterns there is, London-based Rachel Atkinson. I also have a Norwegian “number breaker” I like to call her, Jette Kjørseng. I write all my sizes in Excel and she spends an afternoon scrutinizing them. Sometimes I really feel I am managing a small firm.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
Good question. I am not. I am very thankful I don’t have children other then on an irregular basis as a granny, and a husband who’s very low in his expectations of me.

How do you deal with criticism?
It’s a hate-love-thing.  It breaks my heart every time. On some level it is the best there is because I know I can’t be perfect, and there is always something to learn from it – that is how old I am. I do like the German designer Martina Behm, when people spot a problem or error in my patterns they get one for free. That is the least I can do when I create problems for the knitters. 

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I have been very lucky because my cardigan The Angry Sheep was – is - such a towing ship for all my other patterns. I published that while working as a nurse, 3-4 years ago. The last 2 years I have been living well off my patterns and teaching. It also takes me around. Just some days ago I was asked to have two classes in the north of Norway. I got paid for seeing the North Light and the Ice Hotel in Alta, as well as doing what I enjoy most, meeting people and teach steeking.

What’s next for you?
I love teaching, who would have known! The last year I’ve done 10-15 classes in socks toe-up, steeking and shaping, and that is what I will do more. And – I have e new e-book coming out in September. Lots and lots of stranded work and steeking. 

When travelling and teaching Ann enjoy's  taking these collective photos, showing her patterns. This is the Angry Sheep cardigan in different variasions at the Spinnning Museum Sjølingstad, Norway, last year.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

How to Copy a Sweater to Create a Custom Fit Garment. Part 1


Students in my fitting classes are always surprised when they they ask me to measure them because I tell them I don't think it's a good method. Body measurements are very limited in their accuracy and relationship to fit. Ease is critical to good fit and the nature of the fabric being created is critical to how ease works on the body. Measuring tapes can't capture the ease off of a body, however they can capture ease off of an existing garment if the fabric is similar in it's characteristics.  

If you are a knitter who has made a sweater you are unhappy with that is good news! That sweater is your starting point for the one that is going to work. You will learn more from your failures than you will learn from your success if you take the time for analysis. Many knitters toss the unsatisfactory garment down and move on to the next project, never pausing to take the time to reflect on where we went wrong. 

If you don't already have a sweater you can work with for this process, borrow one or buy one on sale or at a thrift shop. Too big is usually easier to work with than to small. Choose one in roughly the same weight of fabric that you plan to work with. It doesn't have to be exact but do avoid very fine machine knits.

Put the garment on and make notes on where it fits you and where it doesn't. Use pins to mark things that you would change. Are the shoulders too wide? Put pins where you would like your shoulder to fit. Is the armhole too deep? Pull the shoulder up and pin the shoulder seam to make the armhole depth shorter. Are the sleeves too long? Put a pin where you would like them to end or use a ruler and make a note that an inch or two longer would be better. Continue on correcting anything that you would want to be different. 

Part 2 coming up soon will share my tips on how to measure the garment and your pin markings to create a customized schematic.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Knitting as Meditation

What is a knitting meditation all about? It's about mindfulness. It's about being in the moment and quieting down your mind. It's about a level of focus that leads to a feeling of calmness and contentment. It quiets the voice of inner dialogue that distracts us from whatever we're doing. For many knitters it happens naturally. Think back to when you first learned to knit, when the formation of every stitch demanded your total concentration or later as you began to add more complex skills. Extraneous thoughts fall away because there just isn't any room for them. Meditation isn't about having an empty mind, it's a focused controlled mind. It takes practice to develop the skill to stop your thoughts from wandering, but it's well worth the effort according to the scientific research.

Friday, March 20, 2015

An Interview with...Kelly Brooker

Sneak peek of an unreleased pattern “Simple Convolution” 
due for release March 20th, modeled by Kelly

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 Kelly here, here on Facebook and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
Everywhere I look my eyes see structure and pattern; they’re just geared to see things that way. I also find that clothing stores (with fabric garments, not knitwear), offer interesting inspiration.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
Octopus sleeves (a method I developed to bind off sleeves, common in my more recent patterns). 

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs? 
No-one works in a vacuum, and if they do, they’re telling fibs! I don’t actively seek out others work to view nowadays, but if I stumble across it, of course I will look to see what others in the industry are up to…all fields work in this way.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
I’m not aware that designers are purposely “dumbing down” patterns? My largest market is the US, and as a rule US knitters expect more detail in a knitting pattern. If my primary market was European customers, I would be more comfortable producing a pattern with very basic instruction and expect the knitter to work things out for themselves (like shaping). This however may be a historical trend.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I work a full time day job, plus have 4 children under the age of 9…..I absolutely use a plethora of marvelous test and sample knitters!

Did you do a formal business plan?
My business evolved - I didn’t set out to become what I am today. So initially, no. Nowadays, yes.

How are you using social media to grow your business?
I utilize a Ravelry group, and Ravelry advertising, run a FB account, and have a small presence on Pinterest and Instagram. Social media is a wonderful way to connect to your audience, and show a more personal side to your business.

Do you use a tech editor?
Yes, however not a mainstream knitting tech editor (usually someone who has been a designer that diversifies into Tech Editing). I utilize the services of a copy editor with many years knitting experience, whom covers both aspects for me.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
My day job is a complete opposite to my design business; having the 2 professions lends me a sense of balance. I also am able to objectively sit down and decide what I can commit to doing, and not take on too much.

How do you deal with criticism?
You can’t please all of the people, all of the time. I ensure I feel comfortable with my own decisions, then do the best I can to keep most of the people happy as often as I can.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Research (is there room for you? Are you offering something new?). Improve your skill set (read professional patterns, take photography classes, seek feedback from those experienced). Calm down (just because you have a great idea, you don’t have to put pressure on yourself to release it to everyone immediately! Take things slow, and ensure it is the best it can be .....if this takes 6 months the first time, then so be it. 

What’s next for you?
2015: I am continuing to do what I do; releasing approximately 20 new designs per year, revising all my early work to my modern standard, designing for small local Indie dyer yarn clubs.
2016: Hopefully will see PEKAPEKA branch out into adult design (currently primarily children's wear and accessories).

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Economics of Knitting Classes - The Devil is in the Details

Franklin Habit recently got a huge Facebook response when he commented on a frustration which many teachers deal with. I love his sense of humour in his posts.

He said: "If it's not one thing, it's another. First I ask people to bring white or a light-colored worsted weight wool to class–and that is well-nigh impossible to find. Then I ask for 2 to 5 sheets of square-grid graph paper at 4 squares to the inch, either purchased where paper is sold or printed at no cost from a Web site to which I provide a link. Monstrous! Monstrous! Who am I to make these demands on an unsuspecting populace?"

Students are often unaware of the volume of materials teachers need to carry to an event to run their classes. They arrive in a class and of course can only see what the instructor has for a single class. Paper in particular is very heavy. Some venues do the printing but for others it is the responsibility of the teacher. At a recent event I had a great deal of difficulty with my suitcase due to the weight of everything in it. Especially going up and down a very narrow staircase. I was only teaching 3 classes but adding my clothes and toiletries to class samples, notes and tools made it very heavy. I spend extra time searching for accessible routes, which costs me extra time. In some cases I have to choose a longer, more expensive route to get access to elevators and ramps for the suitcase.

Yes, I could have made arrangements to ship some items in advance, however most venues specify up front in their contracts what expenses will be covered and that is not normally something you can be reimbursed for. 

Teachers often try to get around asking students to bring materials by supplying them instead. Unfortunately some venues do not allow teachers to sell items in classes.

We also do not have final student numbers until just before the class starts due to late registrations and students who change classes. I always have extra sets of notes which may or may not be used. Which brings me back around to the weight issue.

For most teachers the amount of profit is already very small. For me personally, I'm very careful not to go into debt for my business. I love teaching. It's a great deal of fun and a growth opportunity for me I can't imagine not doing it anymore. However I find myself questioning if it makes good business sense whenever extra costs turn up. I hope this doesn't come across as whiny it's not meant to be, it's just the process I have to go through when making the decision to list class supplies. So again the devil is in the details.