Friday, August 26, 2016

An Interview with...Svetlana Volkova

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 Svetlana here on Ravelry.
Update: a reader notified me that the index link to Svetlana Volkova's interview was broken. It looks like it got moved back into the draft file some time ago since it had a low page view number. Many of my readers may not have seen it so I'm reposting it at this time.

Where do you find inspiration?
It’s everywhere! In the woods where I live, in trips to different countries, on the Internet, etc …but 2 main sources for me are yarn and people.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I love inventing new seamless techniques and new stitches.

How did you determine your size range?
I always try to make wide range of sizes, however it often depends on the pattern. When it is simple stockinette it is easier to make wide range, but if I use lace pattern and don’t want to break the lace pattern, I have to consider it.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I used to look at other designers work a lot and I’ve learned many things this way, unfortunately now when my family has grown I have less time for this. I’m not afraid to be influenced, I have my own style.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
I prefer intuitive patterns with just enough explanations.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I don't have sample knitters, as I never know how my new design will turn out and I make changes during knitting. But I always use test knitters to see the design in different sizes and on different body types.

Did you do a formal business plan? Well, I’m very good in making business plans, I have degree in economics. However due to my character it is very flexible.

Do you have a mentor?
Not yet, but always wanted to have one, so feel free to contact me!

How are you using social media to grow your business?
I use advertising and take part in different knitting events.

Do you use a tech editor?
Sometimes, yes.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
It is hard, especially when you have a baby. Usually I try to alternate knitting and writing with some activities out-of-doors, fresh air and sport gives me more energy. Also I’ve got helping husband who takes our little ̶b̶e̶a̶s̶t̶ angel out for few hours on evenings, so I can work.

How do you deal with criticism?
I must say I’m very sensitive person and it was especially difficult in the beginning, I could dwell on one letter for a day! But now I don't take it as a criticism, but as helpful suggestions.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I cannot say, my needs tend to grow LOL. But I’ve started to receive stable income approximately after 2 years.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Be active, creative! Learn! See what others do, what people like to knit and try to find you own way.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Yarn Substitutions and Yarn Characteristics

I ended up doing lots of research for my series on yarn ply. The more I read, the more I realized how many holes there are in my knowledge. I also noticed yarn companies don't really supply a great deal of information and that is reflected in the Ravelry database. I have knitting friends who either love or hate Superwash yarns but that feature is not yet reflected in the search parameters.  Update: Good news just came through on this, Ravelry has added more yarn attributes, one which is about the source of fiber including where it was scoured, milled and dyed. Another deals with sustainability;  fair-trade, organic or recycled. This is great news I suspect we will see even more in the future.

I am seeing more yarn labeled with source info about specific breeds and I suspect that's a marketing tool but definitely one I'd like to see more of. I plan to do more reading and I'll share anything I feel is pertinent as I do so.  

It's not surprising that we get unexpected results when we substitute yarns, as we knitters don't have access to all of the information regarding fibre and spinning methods. I also realized we have some problems with terminology, words morph in their meaning over time. Think about worsted as a weight and as a spinning method or the confusion between felting and fulling. 

I'd like to give a shout out to, the search parameters there are very flexible. Check out the tips here on how to use the database. You can exclude features such as Superwash by using the word not.  

I don't think it's up to yarn companies to educate us. That's something we have to do for ourselves if we are so inclined. I've already heard from a number of readers how much they enjoyed these posts. As I continued to do the research I realized I wanted to write about topics other than ply so once I get to the end I'll put links into the topic index under the heading of Yarn Characteristics . 

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Best Laid Plans...

My husband was home for the past two weeks on vacation. He works crazy hours normally, so the plan was for rest, relaxation and rejuvenation. We had a few things planned, some jobs around the house and a birthday outing for him. Things did not go as planned.

I had the local telephone company coming in to upgrade our Internet service on the Tuesday morning. In preparation he was moving some wiring and computer equipment around. Naturally the next step ended up being an unplanned trip to Home Depot.

We'd been having an issue with the sound on our TV but not when we were using iTunes downloads or live streaming with CraveTV. So now he's trying to resolve that problem. We think maybe its the cable company box. Next step, unplanned trip to the cable outlet to replace the box, but that doesn't work. Much frustration happens while he tests the various components but he's a persistent guy and we eventually confirm one speaker is dead. Next step, unplanned trip to an electronics store to buy new speakers. The wires supplied aren't long enough. Next step, he goes back out to get more wiring. 

Thursday goes better, we were having a birthday lunch. I booked a table outdoors but we had to stay inside because we were having extreme weather here in Toronto with a humidex reading at 40 Celcius. 

We sat here:

Instead of here:

We had a fabulous meal and after several celebratory glasses of champagne didn't do anything else that day except read and watch movies. 

Our air-co at home is maxed out for the first time ever in the twenty odd years we've lived here and it's still warm inside. I'm so happy we have air-co and I'm probably a little drunk so I'm content with the improvement over outdoors

Friday morning we discover our enter-phone isn't working. The super comes in and confirms it's not our phone which is the problem so they put in a work order to get it fixed. 

We empty the dishwasher and all of the glasses are cruddy, they were fine on the load before? So next we deal with that, Soaking and scrubbing the filter. Then heavy duty wash with vinegar. Thank goodness that works. 

Next our oven fails, it heats up but doesn't seem able to go over 350 Fahrenheit. We try a quick test on some frozen french fries and it fails. We pull the stove out, unplug it and then plug it back in. Of course now that its out, we wash the floor and walls all around it. We retest and it seems to be working again.

As of Wed on the second week our enter-phone still isn't working. The repair guy is apologetic and will be coming back with his "expert" technician and additional parts to fix it ASAP.

It finally gets fixed.

Oh and the original two household tasks we planned to do didn't happen.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Let's see what's not in the Top Ten

I don't have any new interviews to share with you since a lot of professional knitters take time off in August. Instead I'm giving you some links to "oldies but goodies"; interviews which don't fall into the popular post list on the side panel of the blog but still get lots of interest from readers. 

I'm pretty convinced by the lack of movement on those posts that being in the sidebar means they stay in the sidebar. 

I've also added some photos of their newer designs as a bit of an update.

An Interview with...Cirilia Rose

An Interview with...Hilary Smith Callis

An Interview with... Helene Rush


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Criticism - Am I listening?

I've been on the path of being a professional knitter for nine years now. I started before I quit my last full time job. Over those years I've heard lots of advice and listened to even more criticism. In my interviews I ask the question "How do you deal with criticism?" The answers always revolve around getting criticism from customers. I've been fortunate I haven't experienced much of that. Most of what I've had has come from other knitters about how I'm choosing to run my business.

I can say now, that while I listened very carefully in the beginning, I have come to see that as a mistake on my part.

I now make some careful observations before I take their comments seriously. 

I consider:
  • who is giving me the feedback and why,
  • are they knowledgeable about my business,
  • is it applicable to things I can change, as an example how Ravelry and Patternfish work,
  • do they have an axe to grind,
  • are they looking at all of what I've done before they tell me what I've done wrong,
  • are they telling me paid work is being done incorrectly when the organization paying me set out the parameters of what was required,
  • are they my customer,
  • do they have accurate knowledge about my customer, 
  • do they understand the various niches of pattern buying customers; socks, shawls, baby, or garments,
  • do they have online, social media marketing, retail and event experience,
  • is their accurate view from another industry applicable to mine,
  • are they assuming I have unlimited resources in the areas of time and finances,
  • are they focused on low priority administrative details,
  • do they expect everything to happen instantaneously,
  • do they assume start ups work like Fortune 500 companies,
  • do they use the should word frequently,
  • are they hiding behind the phrase constructive criticism, constructive means things I have the ability to change, 
  • do they understand it's a process and a journey not a destination, 
  • as a non-entrepreneur do they have very unrealistic expectations regarding time to profitability. 

I have learned a lot along the way. The best advice I've gotten has been from industry insiders. Their advice stands out because it is never black and white. It's nuanced, detailed and always includes the advice to carefully do an analysis of what I'm doing from a number of different perspectives. 

I've also managed in the last two years to develop a much thicker skin, sometimes even well intended good advice from extremely smart people, just doesn't work for my goals.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Problem of Discontinued Yarns

Patternfish has an article about The Problem of Discontinued Yarns in their August newsletter. I, as well as Bonnie Dean and Nina Machlin Dayton have contributed our thoughts to this piece.

As a designer I can’t tell you how frustrated I am when the yarns I choose to work with are discontinued. Unfortunately it happens far too often. I suspect yarn companies don't wait long enough for some of their yarns to find an audience. Many businesses run on quarterly sales figures. I think this may be an inappropriate time span in the knitting world. It's not unusual for a knitter to work with a yarn, move on to other projects and then want to use the same yarn again, after having had the time to judge it's long term performance after wearing and washing.

The constant discontinuing of yarns has impacted my yarn choices, in that I now favour more basic yarns which match the standard yarn weight system used in North America. These yarns can be easily substituted especially when the source fibre is the same. I also check the longevity of a yarn, hoping it's history proves, it will continue to be produced.

This situation occurs because the players in the knitting industry have different goals in mind. Selling yarn and selling patterns aren't always in alignment. Yarn companies want to sell their yarn and pattern writers want to sell patterns.

More of the design work is being taken over by independent designers as knitters move towards PDF downloads and away from magazines and books as their preferred pattern sources. Knowing this makes me hesitant to use yarns which don't have many easily identifiable substitutes. Since the pattern marketplace has become worldwide,many knitters have become comfortable making yarn substitutions or perhaps are purposefully choosing patterns with more common combinations of fibre and weight to make substitutions easily.

There has been an explosion of indie dyers who are taking part of the market away from mainstream yarn companies. Most dyers use the same base yarns for their products, knowing knitters will be able to find patterns which match. Large yarn companies are watching this, seeing the trend and hesitate to invest in more unique yarns.

In the case of my Prudence Crowley vest pattern I am often asked for substitute yarn suggestions. I've listed some alternatives on Ravelry and the Patternfish page. Several of them came directly from knitters who contacted me to let me know yarns which were successful for them. I've also added instructions as how to best search for other options as the pattern has continued to sell very well in spite of the original yarn being discontinued.

Friday, August 12, 2016

An Interview with...Ambah O'brien

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 Ambah here and here on Ravelry.

Everywhere! In the yarn itself, colour, nature, fashion, art, my home, other knitters. Instagram serves me up a daily dose of inspiration too - I am a visual person and love looking at everything.
What is your favourite knitting technique? 

I find it hard to go past Garter Stitch, my chicken soup of knitting, after that I really enjoy working with lace stitches and colour.
How did you determine your size range?
I like to provide options for versatility and to cater to as many as I can. I find myself predominantly designing Shawls and admittedly personal preference comes into play - I love a big, cosy wrap to snuggle into.
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, there are so many clever, talented designers out there and I love it when I have a little gasp of "wow" when I see something special. I'm not fearful of being influenced by other designers, I do try to keep my designs fresh and give them my own flavour. Looking at other designers work keeps me inspired to work hard on my own designs, to do my best work.
How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
I like to offer clear, concise patterns that are accessible and enjoyable to all levels of knitters, and am available to assist those who need support. I trust that knitters will be drawn to the patterns/designers they resonate with. Whatever works for the individual knitter is fine by me. 
How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I knit all of my samples, begging my Honey to help has not paid off yet, he is resistant to my suggestions he learn to knit. Most of my designs are worked out on the needles, so I'd find it a bit tricky to work with sample knitters.
I have many wonderful knitters who join in my Ravelry group for test knits. The patterns have been well Tech Edited by this stage, and knit by me, so usually a test knit is smooth knitting - occasionally a wrinkle or two to iron out. The test knits are usually fun, more like a KAL. I am very grateful for the support and input of the lovely knitters who join in, it is one of my favourite parts of designing, hanging out with with them while they knit the design in their colour/yarn choice and add their own flavour to it. I find this process very inspiring.
Did you do a formal business plan?
Errr, not really. I do plan to though.
Do you have a mentor?
I have had mentors, your question has me realizing that no, I don't have one right now and would like to find a new one (any mentors out there?). I find myself mentoring a bit these days too. 
Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
No, there is lots of trial and error. I do like to inform myself and attend live and online seminars, read material, chat to other designers, business owners and have been running my own businesses for my whole working life. I really enjoy this aspect of my work.
Do you use a tech editor?
Yes, absolutely. 
How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I don't do that particularly well, I am a bit of a workaholic. Working from home does give me flexibility as a parent and I do appreciate that. It can also be tricky to keep the work/home boundaries clear. I am working on improving this aspect of myself. Meanwhile, I love my work!
How do you deal with criticism?
I appreciate honest, constructive criticism. Feedback is always important. I check in with myself and try to be honest about my reaction, not defensive. There is always more to learn and I am open to that. Sometimes the feedback is valid but not necessarily relevant to the way I have decided to work, I am not going to please everyone and that is OK too. It can be a rattling experience at times, luckily I have a great sounding board in my partner and he offers me excellent advice in these times.
What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Gosh, where to begin! It all depends on the type of person as there are so many ways to approach this; self publish, work for publications, both! It takes lots of focus, determination and work. There are so many resources to assist a new designer, absorb all the fantastic information out there, work on designs that excite you and be persistent. 
What’s next for you?
I plan to keep working on the designs I am excited by, with the yarn that inspires me.