Friday, May 7, 2010

An Interview with....Jackie Erickson-Schweitzer

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.

You can find Jackie here and here

Where do you find inspiration?

Quiet moments are golden for letting inspiration find me. It is in those quiet times that I can slow down enough to listen. I also value exploring other fiber-related disciplines and artistic media -- even music and nature. One never knows when an idea will enter the subconscious self to arise later as an "a-ha" moment.

What is your favorite knitting technique?

I like them all, but lace is my favorite for designing. I love creating through the interplay of the open areas (where light and the colors of the world beyond peak through), the solid areas, and the texture of the stitch combinations. The fact that these are all present in even the simplest of laces allows me to have patterns in my HeartStrings product line that knitter just barely starting out can successfully make. And the possibilities from there are endless in combinations, complexities, beading and multi-color treatments.

How did you determine your size range?

I design mostly for 'average' adult sizes. I do include larger sizes when the design integrity can be maintained. I don't currently do much with children's/toddlers sizes. As a solo business person and 'jack(ie) of all trades', there are just so many hours in the day, so I choose to stay focused on the mainstream of interest that my business has attracted and happily refer people to the work of other designers who handle those areas that I don't.

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

Of course. I love to see what my peers are doing and cheer them on! I have my own design/instructional style that is in my heart, so I really don't fear wanting to be someone else.

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

I feel it is good to give the detail needed for the target audience/customers. Providing not enough or too much can be a fine line. Ideally we could read our customer's mind in real time and present exactly what they needed. In my skill-building patterns, I target a technique/skill or two or three to concentrate on. Sometimes it is so subtle that the person does not even realize (which is my intent!). I want learning new things to be fun.

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

I don't have regular (e.g. on payroll) people doing this, but I haven't done it all myself either, LOL. I do a lot of the sample knitting myself because that is my choosing. I've had some good successes with sample/test knitters. Unfortunately, I have also had many occurrences of frustrations and extra work for me. Maybe I am just too picky.

Did you do a formal business plan?

Well, by formal, yes it was written down. No, by formal, it was not taken to a bank to get financing. (My business philosophy is not a debt proposition. I started out small and grew. Manage risk investment and see where that goes -- although as we've all seen this past several months, the economic climate can challenge even the best well-laid business plans). I do periodically review my business plan to mark progress and make adjustments in goals. The biggest shift I had was in early 2002-2003 that I realized I had gotten side-lined with retail sales (having expanded into weaving and spinning as well), and although that was all going gang-busters, it was taking away from my knitting design goals and spreading me out too thin. In 2003 I went wholesale only so I could concentrate on knitting pattern designs. I think a business plan helps keep one on track; not that it can't be changed, but just that it reminded me of what I had first set out to do and still wanted to do.

Do you have a mentor?

I learned a LOT about business and personal relationships from my late hubby. He was also my dearest friend and so supportive of what I did. He passed away in 2001, but I still feel he is around when I need a helping hand.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?

The Internet continues to open new possibilities, as well as challenges. I guess because I am comfortable with computer technology (having come from that world in my 'former life'), I think of it as a great boon to creative professionals. In fact, I feel that it is good to be a single entrepreneur rather than a corporate-laden structure in these times, because the times are changing so quickly, and one has to turn on a dime. That is where we independents have an edge over the big companies.

Do you use a Tech Editor?

Umm … 'fired' the last one. Have gone back to doing it myself (I am trained in technical writing and editing, but as you undoubtedly know, it takes a different 'hat and new set of eyes' to tech edit your own stuff -- so it is best to have sufficient time to set aside the pattern and be able to look at it afresh with the testing mindset).

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

Even after taking early retirement from a day job in corporate America, I am busier than ever. But it is on my own clock, now, and that is very satisfying. I think of my work as play, because if I weren't enjoying it, then I should be doing something else. I only work about half-time -- that's just 12 hours in the day, right? LOL. I still have aspirations of "Taking time to smell the roses" which is the title of my blog, just to remind myself to do some other fun things for variety. It's easy to get caught up in perfecting a design and the time just flies, or crunched by deadlines, or just over committing (I need to keep reminding myself that I am not wonder woman). I would definitely not be someones good example of how to maintain balance -- I'm afraid my life is more like a teeter totter than a balance!

How do you deal with criticism?

I appreciate those who take the time to write to me, both positive and negative. Of course, I never like to hear the negative, but I look at it as something I can learn from and consider taking action on if it warrants. Yep, I'm human, and sometimes when a really offensive phone call comes in (I have a toll-free pattern support line even though I do not sell directly) or email, I have to really pull up my big girl panties. If there is something disturbing or unclear how to handle, it helps to sleep on it and things usually can be approached with a clearer head the next day. I find this allows me a better chance to respond constructively.

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

There is more to the business of design than just designing.

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