Friday, February 5, 2016

An Interview with...Heidi Kirrmaier

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 Heidi here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration in almost anything I look at, sometimes in unexpected places. I have a tendency see lines and geometric patterns in many things, from buildings, landscapes and artwork, to clothing I see people wearing or in fashion magazines. My designs are often centred around one particular shaping element and I don’t typically add much embellishment beyond what is required to incorporate that element and construct the remainder of garment around it.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
Because my designs often involve non-conventional, seamless construction, a provisional cast-on is a very useful technique for me.

How did you determine your size range?
My patterns generally cover a standard range from XS to XXL, with no more than about 3 inches between sizes. Sometimes a design will have inherent increments that dictate the possible sizing. Either way, I try to include about 8 sizes so that the majority of knitters will find a suitable size, minimizing the need for customization. Nevertheless, I do encourage knitters to make adjustments if they feel they need to in order to achieve a fit they prefer.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I think it is important to be aware of what is going on in one’s industry, but I don’t fear being influenced by others’ designs. As it is, I have more ideas than I will ever be able to produce!

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
Every designer has to decide where to strike the balance between how much detail to include in the pattern, and keeping the instructions concise. Ideally every knitter would have the same level of knowledge and skills, but this is not the case, making it difficult to determine the right balance. While I personally do not believe patterns should be expected to repeat instructions for common techniques that can be found elsewhere, if a little extra information can easily be included to provide clarity then I think there’s no reason not to include it. If a special or unusual technique used in the design, then it is reasonable to include the details for that or at least provide a reference or link to find more information about it. In the end though, a pattern is just a pattern and should not be expected to be a comprehensive knitting manual!

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I knit samples myself, but I always have my patterns test knit by others. There are a variety of knitters who do this for me, most of them volunteers.

Did you do a formal business plan?
I don’t have a formal business plan, primarily because designing is my second occupation. I have a fairly demanding full time job in a completely different industry. This means I have a limited amount of time to dedicate to designing, so I basically create designs as they come to me and take time I need to complete the patterning process. So far, this has generally resulted in releasing a new pattern every few months for the past 5 years or so.

Do you have a mentor?
My evolution into designing happened rather organically via Ravelry. I started by posting projects, many of which I had designed myself. Others took interest and asked if I’d write up the patterns, so I slowly started doing that and my business grew from there. As such, I haven’t had a mentor, but I’ve learned a lot by going through the relatively public process on Ravelry and receiving open feedback from many knitters.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
My business model is quite simple; it amounts to having clarity around what my focus should be, at least for the foreseeable future. There are a lot of different activities that can be undertaken in the field of knitting (for example: retailing, teaching, tech editing, sample knitting, photography, yarn production / dyeing, etc.), each of which requires a somewhat different skill set. For me, I have no doubt that my strengths lie in the technical and aesthetic aspects of design. Given the limited hours I have, it makes most sense for me to focus on the creation of new designs and pattern production.

Do you use a tech editor?
No, I do all the math, and triple (and quadruple!) checking of all the numbers and pattern components myself. For confirmation, I rely on my test knitters to point out if they discover any inconsistencies or errors.

How do you maintain your life/work balance with both a full time job and a part time knitting design business?
Actually, designing itself provides me with balance. My day job involves a lot of responsibilities and can be stressful at times, so I thrive on knowing I get to immerse myself in a very different world to counterbalance that. Both the creative and mathematical aspects of designing energize me, as does being connected with a community of crafters who regularly put a smile on my face when I see their creations. I do take my designing business very seriously though; I work hard to ensure my patterns are of high quality and that I am available to answer questions should the need arise.

How do you deal with criticism?
I take all feedback into consideration. There are many ways of approaching the various elements of designing - including the visual lay-out of a pattern, the pattern writing style, and the actual design - and it is natural that people will have different preferences. I try to accommodate those where I reasonably can, but I know it is not possible to please everyone all the time.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Decide what your strengths are, and focus on those. For example, if you love knitting and think therefore you want to open a yarn shop, you need to realize that this will not mean you will be spending a lot of time knitting, but rather you will be hiring staff, buying inventory, and doing accounting (or hiring staff to do accounting!) You may very well have several skills, but be sure to be deliberate about how to effectively apply them, and recognize you may need help if you start your own business. Be realistic about the time commitment and expenses it will take to be successful. Lastly, once you have a career in knitting, it is no longer a hobby!

What’s next for you?
More good designs and satisfied knitters, I hope!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

All About Swatching

When I'm working on a new design I spend lots of prep time on the swatching process. The photo above is the swatch for a garment. It's the second swatch, I moved down a needle size when I decided the first swatch was a little too loose. I was happy with this one. The yarn is Blue Heron Rayon Metallic. It creates a gorgeous drapey fabric. I initially thought this stitch might not work as I've used rayons in the past which have flattened out too much for a knit-purl textured stitch to work.

This is my info sheet. I use graph paper, you might not be able to see the blue lines. I lay the swatch on it and draw around it. I use a pencil but I darkened it with pens so you can see the lines. I've noted the needle size I used. Next I steamed the swatch which showed no change in size. Then I washed it by hand and laid it flat to dry. I always follow the label instructions since knitters who use the same yarn I used in a pattern will most likely follow the label. My last step was to hang the swatch for 48 hours by standing up my blocking board. When I did this I got 1/2 inch of growth over 6 inches of knitting. When laid flat again the growth disappeared. You can calculate the growth in length for a garment by percentage but I will warn you, my experience tells me the growth percentage increases the larger the piece is. So this information will be an indication but not a firm number. 

.5" / 6" = .084"

If my garment is 15 or 16 inches from hem to underarm the growth will be at minimum.

15" X 1.084" = 16.26"
16" X 1.084" = 17.34"

The way I handle this is to knit the garment about 2-3 inches short of the target number and then hang it for 48 hours to reassess. Once I've checked I'll adjust accordingly. I'll add details in my pattern to help the knitter. My schematic will reflect finished measurements. The pattern instructions will reflect shorter measurements. The pattern notes will list the amount of drop I got so the knitter can adjust according to their preferences and personal row gauge. I also do the same thing with linen, which shrinks so the knitter can adjust during the knitting. The last thing I do when I'm knitting for myself is to decide what is the shortest and longest length acceptable to me because fibre can surprise you and if I set my expectation up for a range of results I am more likely to be happy with the finished product.


Monday, February 1, 2016

Modifying Knitting Patterns and Standard Sizing

Here's an example of how an average woman (me) measures up in comparison to the Craft Yarn Councils Standard measurements. These are the measurements which North American publications prefer designers to use. I'm not saying they have done any thing wrong here. We do need a starting point. These are body measurements not garment measurements. Read on and you will begin to understand why I learned to  modify all the patterns I used when I first started knitting.

Most of us start with the Bust measurement. I'm a Medium.

The next measurement is Centre Back Neck-to-Cuff, I'm not on the chart, I'm less than a X-Small.

Back Waist Length, same problem, I'm not on the chart.

Cross Back (Shoulder to Shoulder), I make it, I'm an X-Small.

Sleeve Length to Underarm, I'm not on the chart again.  

Upper Arm humm, I'm a Large? 

Armhole Depth, I'm not on the chart...again.   

Waist, I'm a Large.

Hips, I'm in between a Small and a Medium.  

How to do you compare? More importantly, do you take the time to compare?

Friday, January 29, 2016

An Interview with...Isabell Kraemer


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 Isabell here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
Just everywhere, but I think I am highly influenced by nature.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I love to work seamlessly from the top down, not because I don't like to sew (I am a fully educated dressmaker - means that sewing is a passion, right?), but because I love to see the garments take shape and to be able to adjust on the go.

Audrey Cardigan

How did you determine your size range?
My patterns are usually written for sizes XS to XXL and that's because I can imagine the designs looking good in these sizes. I know that other designers go up in sizes, but to be honest, I don't think that every design is made for ALL sizes. It's the same in reverse...there are quite a lot designs that won't look good on me and my tiny self ;).

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

I do, of course (who doesn't)! You can't go through the world without seeing other designers' work. Sometimes it happens that two (or more) have the same idea at the same time. When this happens I take a closer look and if there are enough differences between the designs I give mine a go, if not I set it aside.


 How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?  
Personally I don't need a helping hand when going through a knitting pattern, but there are some knitters out there who wouldn't be brave enough to go through a pattern that doesn't lend you this helping hand. So, I don't mind writing key numbers and an explaining sentence here and there in my patterns - and the feedback I get is worth all the effort.

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

For the test knits I do secretly (not publicly in my Ravelry group), I have a flock of about 30 testers I can choose from. For the ones I do publicly, I usually use two to four testers per size because I love to see their different interpretations (otherwise I would need one per size). I know this is not quite the purpose of a test knit, but I love when I feel the vivid creativity of them ;). In addition, I have one sample knitter I sometimes need when I (chaotic as I am) get in trouble with deadlines ... but mostly I do all the knitting by myself.

Did you do a formal business plan?
No, I haven't. ( ...would be better if I had one, right?)

Do you have a mentor?
Not real mentors, but some lovely designer friends who never get bored by my sometimes silly questions ;).


Criss Cross

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

Do you use a tech editor?

Mostly, yes.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
This is the question of my life! As I still work part time at an Arts and Craft store (teaching kids craft classes and helping them as a salesperson), my 'private' time is limited and I try to use this time carefully. But because I absolutely looooooove to knit (and design, of course), my work time often sneaks into my leisure time ;). And as I have the most supportive husband in the world, who does all the shopping, cooking, cleaning and so on, I have enough time left for my 'second life' as a designer ;).

How do you deal with criticism? 

As long as it is constructive, it's good. No one is perfect and I am grateful for every tip and hint to get better.

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

It was about a year or so before I felt that it was possible.

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

Trust yourself!

What’s next for you?  

I'm currently working with Quince, Miss Babs, and some other companies. Aaaaand...I will do some workshops this year (some will laugh at me when they read this...because I still feel that teaching is not MY part of the knitting world ;)).


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

More on Knitter's Graph Paper

Last week I showed you how knitter's graph paper works when planning colour work. Here's how it works for calculating shaping. This is the non-math way of calculating for the math phobic. It also gives you a visual check. 

Here's the sleeve schematic: 

Here's the sleeve instruction: 

This is a real pattern. (As an aside, how do you feel about being told to make two sleeves?) Take note, this is a very simple pattern, four sizes but only two lengths. I've marked in the shaping for all four sizes. The faint smooth red diagonal line is based on the stitch numbers the pattern indicated. On top of that I've overlaid the increase instructions. You can see the instructions follow the line fairly well, however the last straight section varies from seven rows to eighteen rows between sizes. This shaping works well when the sleeve has lots of ease but not so well if it is closer fitting or if you are changing the sleeve length. If you look at your own arm I think most of us would agree the angle of increase is not quite a smooth diagonal. Some of us have arms which are almost the same width from the elbow to the underarm. 

Now that you have read this you have a quick and easy way to recalculate if you need to modify the sleeve.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Fashion Design Techniques: The Basics and Practical Application of Fashion Illustration

Schiffer publishing sent me an English language copy of Fashion Design Techniques: The Basics and Practical Application of Fashion Illustration by Zeshu Takamura to review. It's here on Amazon. 

The author is a Professor of Advanced Fashion Design and Head of the Fashion Illustration Laboratory, Faculty of Fashion Science, at Bunka Gakuen University's Graduate School in Tokyo. He is active in fashion illustration, design, and research at publishers, agencies, and apparel manufacturers. His website is here I put it into google translate so I could look around. Some of the site is in English as well as other languages.  You can see more images from the book there.

The book explains basic principles behind making great design drawings. I think anyone wanting to up their drawing skills could benefit from this book. It explains how to create drawings that clearly represent the shape, material, pattern, color, and other elements of garments. There are four chapters; the first covers the proportions and drawing of the body, the second is about technical drawing, the third is on fashion illustration and the final chapter is about computer drawings in Photoshop and Illustrator. I could see knitting designers who are submitting to magazines or putting together a book proposal would find this book a great resource. It's difficult to put together a good submission without these skills. The book takes you step by step through the process of overlaying a garment drawing on top of a drawing of a body with many tips as to how the body and the garment relate to one another.

If you are working on pattern schematics those are different from technical drawings as they are done in the fashion industry. These drawings look more like the line drawings sewers are used to seeing on pattern envelopes. Schematics are all about measurements and construction of the pieces. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

An Interview with...Courtney Spainhower

Cicely Shawl

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 Courtney here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?

This is always a tough question to answer because so much of my work is for publication within a collection. The easy answer is that I’m inspired by the information the editor provides in their mood boards. I take liberties with these – and as a designer you have to because “inspiration” is a fine line to walk. I normally think first about the mood the editor is looking for, then take queues from the board in the form of silhouette, fabric textures, and colors.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I love texture – knit and purl, ribbing, slipped stitches... I find myself wanting to pack as many textures and techniques as I can into one piece, then reining it in and stripping selectively. I also find myself pushing to use any technique that will make the knitting process easier and more enjoyable. Many times this means searching out ways to knit seamlessly or in one piece so that finishing is kept to a minimum.

How did you determine your size range?
Size ranges are often dictated by the publisher I’m working with. Each magazine or book will have a set range of sizes and they ask that the pattern has a certain number within that range. I try to spread out my sizing to fit as many as possible – even ranging to fit from a 32” bust to a 52” bust.

Gather Pullover

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs? 
I have gone back and forth about this over my design career. It’s often helpful to see what is trending with knitters via Ravelry; a quick glance will tell if shawls are dominating or sweaters, but I don’t make a habit of searching out other designers' work. However, if I’m feeling particularly blocked, I’ll flip through my old knitting pattern books or browse collections online. It’s my equivalent to writer’s block when sitting down with a good book is a nice break from the pressure of putting pen to page.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?  

I love this question. It’s tricky and there are so many facets.

I remember the struggle of pre-design knitting very well, and so I truly sympathize with those needing support. I am happy to do a bit of hand holding to get someone through a pattern because I think knitting is wonderful (!) and for me, it’s all about an enjoyable process. The downside is: I learned quickly that it’s also an ordeal for someone like me who is raising a family and working to meet publication deadlines to create self-published works.

I simply don’t have enough hours in the day to produce a pattern myself that will have all the extra information that some knitters expect (though I think I provide a generous amount of information). Also, writing patterns is not easy; there is a whole lot of calculating, there is a whole lot of creative energy spent, there is a ton of research that is done, and at the end of the day – it’s not the most lucrative profession.

From a designer standpoint, the tough days are the ones where I’m answering emails asking how to “M1” because with the amount of information at our fingertips, it’s faster for the knitter to enter “M1 knitting” into a search engine. I’m accustomed to having to pack a lot of information into a limited amount of space for magazine work and I omit abbreviation lists and photos. I try to think of those folks that are going to print my pattern out and carry it around in their knitting bag… so, I include the minimum information required. I have many photos on my Ravelry page and on my website; I don’t feel the need to add them to the printable downloads. This makes some people nuts. I also have a downloadable list of abbreviations on my website.

What I have found is that something always comes up, and I’ll never appease the masses. I’m okay with that. I love what I do and I have learned to self-publish pieces that I was particularly inspired to create without the influence of editors and publishers.

Quills Arrow Shawl

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

I have a rotation of about a dozen test knitters, but these folks have lives, so when many of them are unavailable for a deadline, I’ll call for testers. I’ve only used a few sample knitters and that was for my first book. I prefer to do my own sample knitting for any other design work.

Did you do a formal business plan?
Wow – such a great question. No, I didn’t. When I decided to dive into the knitting industry, I had no experience, I had no vision, and I had no plan. All I was armed with was a desire to make money knitting, one way or another. Fortunately, my husband was very supportive and really pushed me to stay on track even if it meant changing directions entirely. My first thought was to knit pieces for sale via Etsy and local retailers. I learned what a hard road that was and thought it made more sense for me to design and write patterns for sale. It seemed logical to do the work once and continue earning revenue for the lifetime of the pattern. I spent almost a year feeling like I was wandering around in the dark.

Do you have a mentor?
I wish I had a mentor. I was never active in any knitting groups, I never took a knitting class, and I never actually immersed myself in the local knitting community. Everything I learned came from books and the internet after my mother-in-law took a knitting class and showed me how to cast-on and knit. She hadn’t gotten to “purl” yet ;)

If anything, I’m the modern knitter cliché, having been most influenced by Elizabeth Zimmerman. I didn’t love her for her patterns though – I loved her for her attitude. She was against fussy knitting, seaming, and was an outcast in the knitting world during her early years trying to break into the industry. I think she and I would have gotten along quite well.

Catena Hat

Do you use a tech editor? 

I have used a tech editor in the past. I have also had unpleasant experiences where patterns were “corrected” incorrectly or debates arose about measurements. This was my personal experience though and I know there are tons of amazing tech editors out there! It was earlier in my career when I really needed the support and it caused me more work and headaches.

I have since turned to my test knitters who are lovely folks and who are happy to knit a pattern and look for typos and mathematical errors. It seems no matter how many eyes/hands are on a pattern, mistakes still make it through and that’s something I try to correct as quickly as possible. This is true for published works also – it’s not the independent designer’s curse.

How do you maintain your life/work balance? Keeping balance is always the struggle. There was a time, not long ago, that I would be so fretful about deadlines I would be up all night working, then run the kids to school, and work a bit more before crashing for a few hours. That sort of schedule isn’t built to last and I have an auto-immune disorder that rears its ugly head when I start to over-extend myself.

Now, I have scheduled times for computer work when the kids are at school and I knit whenever possible while maintaining my insanely early bedtime. If I don’t get to all the emails or finish as much on a pattern as I wanted, I put it to the top of the list and begin again the next day. This used to be so hard for me because I didn’t want to appear lazy or disrespectful, but I had to forgive myself and accept my limitations. The only time I go into serious work mode when the family is home from school/work is if I have a deadline zooming toward me, but that is rare.

Wild Violets Shawl

How do you deal with criticism? 
I come from a fine art background which means I spent a great deal of time in studio classes where critiques were part of the daily schedule. I learned many, many years ago that any criticism about my work is not an attack on me – on my person – but an opinion or observation about something I made. It’s hard in the beginning to see that division and trust it.

Now, any criticisms about my works I take either with a grain of salt, as in 'you and I aren’t really matched in taste or style and that’s okay' or, if someone has very specific issues with my designs, I listen and really take the notes to heart. I will think about those negative remarks as I move forward with my future designs because I want to have pieces available that appeal to a wide audience.

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

Once I got into the rotation of pattern submissions, I was receiving a steady flow of money. It took about two years to really ease into that rotation though. In the beginning it seemed insane to do all that work and have to wait six months or more for payment. My first published piece was a pullover for spring and I was working on it at the tail end of the previous summer. When spring came and I was working on pieces for the following winter, I was happy to have incurred at least some revenue! Now, I have a good system and can work up patterns in a fraction of the time, meaning I can take on more and make more as a result.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
There are many ways to have a career in the knitting world and so, first off you must find your place. As I mentioned previously, I struggled with that exact thing early on and I think we’re all able to lock in our passions, just not always coming from the same direction. There are folks that can knit the same thing dozens of times and sell them for great margins. I go crazy just knitting a second sock or fingerless glove and so knitting the same thing over and over made me bonkers. Others find that dyeing yarn really clicks with them – and those folks can find success rather quickly. Design takes a certain personality I think, and all the fussiness takes the joy of knitting right out of it for many. I know some make extra cash as sample knitters, there are highly respected tech editors, the list goes on and on…

Once you’ve found your sweet spot in the industry, it’s time to start getting to know other folks in the industry, either via social media or attending trade shows/conventions. Being friendly and offering your services can do wonders for your new career. The hard part comes when you start to feel resistance and you must push forward. I think working in any creative industry requires a fair amount of grit!

What’s next for you? 

My first book, Family-Friendly Knits, hit the shelves in November – which would have been a great opportunity for me to take a little time off. Instead, I began working on a proposal for my second book. I’m also working with three yarn companies (Feel Good Yarn Co, Kettle Yarn Co, and Berroco), designing patterns that will be released in 2016.

Little One Yoke Cardigan