Friday, May 6, 2016

An Interview with...Cheryl Niamath

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 Cheryl here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?

Everywhere! Nature, architecture, people I know, people I see on the train, pictures in magazines, costumes in movies, characters in books, sometimes even stitch dictionaries!

What is your favourite knitting technique?

I just learned how to do a tubular cast-on and bind-off, and I'm very excited about them, but generally I'd say I get a lot of joy from knitting simple stitches (garter, stockinette, seed).

How did you determine your size range?

It depends. If I'm designing for publication, usually the editor will tell me what sizes she wants. If I'm working on a sweater for self-publication, I try to make it in at least six sizes. Either way, I use CYC standards.

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

I absolutely look at other designers' work--it would be hard not to, and it's inspiring. I think it's good to see what the "competition" is doing, as well. Once I spent a long time designing and knitting a baby blanket that I thought was going to be a huge hit. Turns out I had unknowingly re-created the Mitred Square blanket that had just been published in Mason Dixon Knitting. If I had done a little looking first, I would have saved myself a lot of time!

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
Although I do have some very simple patterns for beginners, I think it's pretty clear that my patterns are meant for people who know how to knit. I provide instructions for any part of my patterns that is new/different/done in a non-standard way (and I try my best to make these instructions as clear and simple as possible), but otherwise assume that people who choose to make my patterns will understand what they're getting into. I include a list of abbreviations and techniques at the beginning of the pattern which should be a very good hint about what to expect when working on the project. I have occasionally received questions from people who are stuck on a basic knitting technique, and in those cases I suggest that the stuck person ask for help at their LYS or look for step-by-step instructions or videos online. Luckily I haven't been asked by any of my publishers to provide how-to-knit instructions along with my patterns because I think that would take skills that I don't have.

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

I do it myself.

Did you do a formal business plan?

No, but I know I should, and if I didn't have another job to support myself I would put more effort into this.

Do you have a mentor?

Not really, but I've learned a lot from Anina Hansen, who owns Urban Yarns [] here in Vancouver. I really admire her passion, knitting skills, and business sense. And I've learned so much from my mother, the composer Linda Niamath, who self-published her own music books before being signed by a major publishing house. She knew her music was worth getting out into the world, and thousands of young piano students have since learned her pieces and been inspired by her work.

Do you use a tech editor?
Yes! I think it would be irresponsible to offer patterns that hadn't been edited and checked for accuracy. Especially if I'm asking people to pay for them. They're going to spend money on the pattern and the yarn and invest their time in a project, so it better be correct!

How do you deal with criticism?

There are two kinds of criticism that I receive: constructive and nasty. Constructive criticism ("the stitch count on the sleeve cap seems to be off") is helpful and generally comes from people who want to help me improve my patterns and be a better designer, so it's great and I welcome it. Nasty criticism ("The sleeve cap is stupid! Why would anyone make this?") annoys me because I feel like the critic either deliberately wants to hurt my feelings or is bad at asking for help.

Worse for me than criticism, though, is disinterest. It's hard to stay positive when I spend months working on a design that I think is really cool, get great photos, have it edited, and release it to the world, then sell six or seven copies.

This probably has something to do with my lack of formal business plan, come to think of it.

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

I have the utmost respect and admiration for people who are able to support themselves by designing. I am not one of these people.

What’s next for you?

I have a pattern coming out in the First Fall issue of Knitty. After that, maybe I'll start working on a plan.


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Knitters - Stop the Perfectionist Judgement

I spent last Saturday at the Toronto Knitters Frolic in the Signature Yarns booth. It was a great day doing one of the things I enjoy most, talking to knitters. 

Take a look at the wrap in the photo above, what catches your eye first?

Here's another version:

I tend to take in the whole piece first. I see how it looks on the body, I look at the colour and then probably the stitches used. Next I would consider how it's been constructed and  perhaps the fibre of the yarn. Then I go for a touch, is it soft or silky, does the fabric drape or it is more substantial?  

I spent a little time chatting with a knitter who was interested in it but she was very concerned about her ability to produce nice edges while working the shaping. She was frowning while we chatted. We discussed doing a practice swatch and correct blocking techniques. Both of which will definitely improve your results. I pointed out that she is likely to be the only person who will ever study the edges this intently. We just don't go around looking at other knitter's work from that critical standpoint. 

We did end up talking mainly about trying to stop making negative judgements of our work. I found myself thinking about that conversation over the past few days because I believe it's a big problem for all creative types.  Perfectionism is an easy trap to fall into because we want to set high standards on the quality of our work. However perfectionism isn’t the same as setting realistic high standards. It’s about setting impossible goals which kill the fun of creativity. It's about speaking to ourselves in a mean spirited way in which we would never do to someone else. So let's be kind to ourselves, strive to improve but at the same time honour our craft and be realistic about what good work is. And if you aren't sure ask another knitter for their tips and opinions. We are typically a group who are happy to share.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Mayfair Top - New Pattern Release

Here's the next pattern in my ongoing collaboration with Signature Yarns. We debuted this one at this past weekend's Toronto Knitters Frolic.

There are two versions; one in white cotton and the second in silver metallic rayon. Both are DK yarns which knit to the same gauge and are of course available in other colours.

I always think about garments and accessorizes in the way in which I would wear the item when I'm designing them. The cotton version is in a gorgeous tightly spun cotton with lots of sheen. I could see wearing it often in the summer with my skinny jeans or my cropped turquoise pants. If I knit it in a colour I'd be teaming it with white linen bottoms.

The rayon yarn is very drapey and the sheen of the metallic is subtle enough that you could dress it up or down very easily. It feels great against the body. Dressed down, I'd wear it with white jeans and simple accessories. Dressed up. I'd add metallic shoes and a bag. This yarn is available in an amazing rage of colours, many of them hand dyed in variegated ranges from subtle to bold.

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Glenhost Wrap

I released a new pattern yesterday and there will be another one up by Monday. The first is the Glenhost Wrap

It's another collaboration with Patrick Madden of Signature Yarns

The yarn is Americo's Original Winter Flamme, in Bordeaux and  Petrol Blue which is  69% Superfine Alpaca and 31% wool.  Both colours are dense and saturated. The yarn is textured and slightly hairy.

The wrap is worked starting from one narrow point. The stitches increase on one side and decrease on the opposite edge. This method creates a triangle with long points to wrap around your neck, tie or pin into place. The stripes are worked in a textural stitch to create a reversible fabric. The combination of a blended alpaca and wool yarn knitted at a loose gauge creates a very soft fabric with drape.

Patrick has provided me with lots of great photos for this project.



Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Does Price equal Quality?

I got some feedback from a knitter when I published this pattern:

She was very disappointed in my yarn choice. We didn't get a chance for a full discussion but I did leave thinking it was an odd reaction since initially she was very complimentary when she saw the garment. I may have misinterpreted but it appeared my yarn choice just wasn't upscale enough for her tastes. It also seemed a little strange since 100% worsted weight wool seems to me to be one of the very easy substitutes. 

I used Wool of the Andes Superwash however, when I was asked, I forgot to say it was the Superwash so I know that wasn't the reason. I know many knitters don't like Superwash but I do. I like it's softer hand and drape. I've never had a problem with the growth issue I read about on Ravelry. I will say, I do squeeze out most of the moisture with a towel before I handle the garment to avoid stressing and stretching the fabric.

I expect that the yarn snob factor does play into to our yarn choices (mine included) but my experience is that price does not always equal quality. Price is what the market will bear.

So for comparison sake here's a few equivalent yarns and their prices. I've adjusted for put-up size basing everything on 50 gram balls. I used only Superwash in the examples because it is more expensive than non Superwash due to the extra processing. I used prices in US dollars. I found the equivalents on 

Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride Superwash $5.10

Classic Elite Yarns Liberty Wool $4.48
Knit One, Crochet Too Ty-Dy Wool $4.50

Ella Rae Classic Superwash $3.14

Rowan Pure Wool Superwash Worsted $5.75

Knit Picks Wool of the Andes Superwash $3.69

When you multiply prices over the cost required for a whole sweater this can be significant and of course the size required has an impact as well. 

I realized when I created this list my own preconceived ideas played into my assumptions. I expected the Rowan to be the most expensive and it is. I thought Brown Sheep was a lower end product, yet it is the second highest price. I have a friend who loves the Ella Rae line and who is very focused on quality so the lowest price on the list was a surprise. I'm realizing that the only way to truly compare is with hands on experimentation. 

The Knit Picks example is fascinating because their business model is unique. From their website:

All the other yarns come from a manufacturer before landing at the online sites where I took prices from. The Knit Picks model skips the intermediate step with yarn which accounts for their lower pricing.


Monday, April 25, 2016

Knitted Bugs

Spring finally seems to be arriving here in Toronto, which has me thinking about gardening, which leads me to bugs. It's amazing how much trouble even a container gardener who is high up, has with bugs. This year I'm trying the waspinator. Last summer I had lots of them visiting and I'll see how this works.

Now on to knitting content with knitted bugs!


Friday, April 22, 2016

An Interview with...Michael Dworjan

The pattern for this shawl will be published in June

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
Michael here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
That's hard to say.  I'm very technique driven so I guess I find most of my inspiration by playing with techniques and then trying to picture how they would work with a garment once I've stumbled upon one I like.  Cables are very different for me, however.  I find designing cables to be kind of like painting - I just have this intuition about how to put them together, to get them to flow, and just let my pen take me on a journey as I sketch.
What is your favourite knitting technique?
Probably double-knitting - you can do so much with it. You can do things with it people can't even imagine: cables that look completely different on each side, contrasting yarn overs, mixing lace with colorwork, having cables just appear out of nowhere and disappear again, and so much more.  I feel like I haven't even scratched the surface of what double-knitting can offer, and I'm extremely eager to start the exploration once more.
How did you determine your size range?
Generally I stick to accessories so it isn't an issue. When I do do sizing I try to be as inclusive as possible but oftentimes the technique or pattern will dictate it. One can only go so small with certain stitch patterns and I'd rather not compromise my design to be more inclusive in my sizing.
Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I do look at other designers' work but not for inspiration, more because I enjoy looking at knitwear and find some designs to be quite stunning.  I have no fear that I will be influenced by other designs - my designs tend to come about from me playing with techniques.  I do often utilize stitch dictionaries to fill in or modify my designs, however. They're an invaluable resource.

This cowl will be published some time in the future

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
I was unaware that there was a controversy.  I can't say I really "dumb down" my patterns, but then I'm not quite certain what that means in this context.  I do try to think about the difficulty level of a pattern and include instructions in an easier pattern that I might not include in a more advanced pattern, but as far as I know that's common practice.  I also list out the techniques that will be used on the pattern page on Ravelry so that people know what they'll be getting themselves into.  In the future I hope to make some video tutorials of various techniques in order to be even more inclusive with my designs.
How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I have a friend of mine who's sample knit a pattern before, but usually I do everything myself.  I enjoy utilizing test knitters, however, but don't have a particular set of test knitters I use for every project.
Did you do a formal business plan?
Not yet, but I have some ideas of where I'd like to go with this business in the future.  I keep a journal of design ideas and industry ideas and then look for ways to implement them with my knitting, work, and family schedules.

Do you have a mentor?
I have friends that I sometimes bounce ideas off of or ask for advice.  Sometimes one of them will give me a great idea and then I'll figure out how to implement it.  I guess to answer your question, I don't really feel like I have a mentor so much as really good friends.
Do you use a tech editor?
Technically? Part of my wife's day job is as a technical writer and editor, so I'll often have her look over patterns before I do anything with them.  I also go over my own patterns with a fine tooth comb.  I find test knitters to be the most valuable resource when it comes to tech editing, however.
How do you maintain your life/work balance?
It helps that my wife knits and that my entire social circle consists of knitters.  I generally only work on the parts of this business where I have to ignore people when I legitimately have time to myself.  Could I get more done by actually ignoring the people I love? Definitely, but I wouldn't be nearly as happy.

How do you deal with criticism?
I try to take it as it is and evaluate it, see if myself or others find it to be legitimate.  If it is, then I look for ways to change it.  If it isn't then I do my best to ignore it.
What’s next for you?
I have a lot of ideas for designs I'm hoping to pursue. I've spent a lot of my time thus far playing with techniques and feel I've innovated a few, but now I think it's time to take a step back and create more designs with the techniques I've discovered rather than continue to push my boundaries, at least for awhile.  I'm also hoping to play with dyeing yarn in the near future and am looking forward to integrating my designs with colorways I've actually created.