Friday, January 15, 2010

An Interview with...Annie Modesitt

Once a week I post interviews with interesting designers about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry. I’ve noticed that every designer makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the Knitting world.

Where do you find inspiration?Some yarns inspire me, colors always inspire me, but I find my greatest inspiration in the shape and silhouette of historic fashion.

What is your favourite knitting technique?I love lace. I used to hate it, I couldn't make sense of the directions, but with charts I have embraced lace and hope I design pieces that make it possible for OTHERS to embrace it, too!

How did you determine your size range?I'd like to offer a wide range of sizes. I'm not small, so I feel like a traitor to the cause if I don't put in a size that would fit me. But sometimes the sizes are limited by stitch pattern repeats. Taking the fact that a motif may repeat of 25 sts, and 5 sts = 1" can alter my ability to offer a wide variety of sizes (I may only be able to do a XS, S, L, XL in those cases).

Do you look at other designers work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?I don't really seek out other designer's work. I can't help but see it - there SO much wonderful stuff around - and when I DO see it I try hard not to be too influenced by what another designer's done. I think it's VERY possible for two people to come to the same design solution from different routes, which is why often - quite innocently - there are patterns that have significant similarities.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
I feel dumb that I'm not aware that it's a controversy! I trust the intelligence of my knitters, I work with magazines that trust the intelligence of their knitters, so for me there's no controversy!

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?At any given time I have 2 or 3 folks I call on, among them Miriam Tegels, the Guiness World Record holder for fastest knitter (and a lovely person!) I find myself working up most of my patterns for my current book, "History on Two Needles", because I'm having a hard time mentally detaching myself enough to write the pattern up cold and send it to a knitter. This is definitely a fault and flaw, I need to get better about this.

Did you do a formal business plan?
No. At one time I did, things worked well, but now I just continue doing what I'm doing.

Do you have a mentor?No, not really. There are knitters and designers who have influenced me greatly - Priscilla Gibson Roberts, Lucy Neatby, Sally Melville, Nicki Epstein, Deborah Newton, Norah Gaughn & Kristen Nicholas. And there are editors who helped me shape my vision, Pam Allen and Melanie Falick from Interweave Knits figure large in this. But no "got-your-back" mentor.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?No, not really. I see things that other web-savvy, innovative knitters, like Shannon Okey, Stephanie Japel & Cat Bordhi have done, and I'm inspired by them (and may even mimic them) but from my decision to self publish "Confessions of a Knitting Heretic" I've felt pretty much on my own road.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?There would be no knitting career for me if it weren't for the Internet, it's that simple. The Internet has allowed me to connect with an audience, develop a 'brand', market myself, promote my products and keep up with developments in my industry. All that would have been possible without the Internet, but not without a huge investment of money, time and development of many different skill sets.

Do you use a Tech Editor?Yes. I'm currently starting to have the patterns for History on Two Needles tech edited, I'm working with a few members of the Stitch Cooperative, Miriam Tegels and Kristi Porter to help me with the first few.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
That's difficult. The lovely thing about what I do is that I do what I love. The hard thing is that by turning something I love into a business, I seldom have time to knit or crochet purely for fun. I work all the time, and yet there's always that haunting fear that I haven't done ENOUGH. This, of course, impacts on my husband and children.
The good part, though, is that I have flexibility so I CAN go to a school play, a baseball game, take my husband to the Mayo clinic whenever he has to go and I can work on the way or when I'm there. The flexibility is priceless.

How do you deal with criticism?Not as well as I'd like. I'm always working on that, on seeing the lesson in a critique, but it's hard. It depends often on how it's presented - is it a snarky dig, or a sincere expression of disappointment in a certain pattern? I have the hardest time taking criticism from folks who don't seem to understand the amount of work that goes into something, but - as I said - I continue to work on that.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
The publishing of Confessions of a Knitting Heretic was the point where I was able to support myself. In the past 3 years that's spread to supporting my family, which is a lot harder.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
First I'd say try not to think of yourself as a "designer" or "writer" until you have a good number of patterns or articles published. This mental hurdle will help a new designer stay open to new ways of doing things, and not lock themselves into a box after publishing just one pattern.

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