Friday, August 13, 2010

An Interview with...Carol Feller

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 Carol here and here on Ravelry

Where do you find inspiration?

Inspiration comes from lots of different places. Often design ideas start popping up when you begin swatching. Working with a new yarn and a variety of stitch patterns your imagination begins working. Other times ideas come from my own needs, I can see a finished piece in my head and I just have to have it!

What is your favourite knitting technique?

I love seamless, shaped knitting. Almost all of my sweater designs are knit in one piece from either the top down or bottom up (and occasionally from side to side!). Shaping is very important to me as it changes your finished knit from blocks to a beautiful flattering piece.

How did you determine your size range?

I would like my patterns to be available to as wide a range as possible so I attempt to size them from 30-56 inches. I’ve also been playing around a little with the sizing increments. 4” between sizes is far too much but if you reduce it to 2” you end up with an unwieldy volume of numbers that makes it harder for knitters to follow. I’ve settled in between (for now!) with 3” increments.

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

I love to look at what other designers have produced. I greatly appreciate designs that are elegant and unique. We are all influenced by what is around us and we would just be fooling ourselves to think otherwise. You draw on all this inspiration when you create your own designs and produce something uniquely you that comes from within yourself. We do need inspiration though, colors you use follow current trends and different styles go in and out of fashion.

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

I think a lot of knitters over the last few years have either returned after a long break or are beginning for the first time. This means that patterns need clear directions with unusual techniques fully described. I don’t feel this is a dumbing down of patterns, just well explained directions so that a knitter can be as sure as possible to be in control of the small details that make all the difference in the finish of their knitting. I know how frustrating it is when you do not have extensive experience not to be told decreases/increases to be used (for example) when working on a garment. You know what you have produced looks different to the sample but you don’t know why. They should be given the full instructions!

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

I knit all first samples myself. That way I can ensure that all details are correct and if I know something doesn’t (or won’t) work I can change it. Just because you can see a finished product in your head doesn’t always mean that the knitting wants to end up exactly that way. Often details have to be pared down so the key feature in the design will be the focus. I write the bones of the pattern before the knitting so I consider myself the first test knitter. I do have a couple of wonderful knitters (two primarily) who do a second sample for me if I feel it is necessary. Occasionally it may be because I don’t get the sample back other times I know the design would really photograph better in a different yarn or I’ve made a major redesign.

I have attempted to do extensive test knitting of all sizes before and I never felt I got huge benefit from it. It is unfair to expect knitters to just knit for the free pattern with the result that often only 1-2 knitters will end up finishing. It also delays publication considerable. I find that almost all faults found by test knitters were corrected by tech editors anyway.

Did you do a formal business plan?

I don’t have a formal business plan but I do review my goals and the direction I’m going on a regular basis. So an in-formal business plan!

I previously ran an online business that I just loved growing. However I didn’t have much direction which meant that even though I had a considerable cash flow there was little to nothing going into my pocket. It also made me realise that I love growing a business but just managing and keeping something ticking over holds no appeal for me. This past experience has made me very careful to look at how I move and that I’m going where I want to.

Do you have a mentor?

No, but I do have a lot of ears that give me feedback when I need it!

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

Not directly. However due to having run an online business before I knew what I didn’t want! My previous business was retail and growing the business involved more hours and money invested. Although you have less control of what designs are popular you do control more directly the hours you put in and increased popularity doesn’t involve considerably more work as pdfs are delivered automatically. Obviously more sales can involve more customer service but I am finding as the pattern instructions become more extensive this has not increased exponentially.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?

My business did not exist before the internet and I don’t think it would exist without it. Online pdf sales allow me direct contact with my customer with minimal upfront costs and risks. This makes it easy to try new things, if they work great, if not I can chalk it up to experience.

I do some printing and sales directly to shops but this is a much smaller part of my business.

Do you use a Tech Editor?

Yes, I wouldn’t dream of releasing a pattern without my tech editor.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

I have 4 small children so working from home is both a curse and a blessing. During the school term it is relatively simple. In the morning I do computer work (internet and designing), afternoons is for the kids and my knitting time is in the evening when they are gone to bed. TV is a great knitting companion, I do however find it hard to ever devote time to reading as it doesn’t combine with knitting all that well. I think I’m going to have to try audio books.

Summer holidays are a lot harder. I still try to work in the office in the morning but obviously there are a lot more interruptions. I’m trying to reduce the amount I do over the summer to make it a little easier.

How do you deal with criticism?

While criticism is never easy it is very necessary. I have no interest in dealing with customers who are just being negative for its own sake but I love when any errata are pointed out or when difficult to follow directions are mentioned. It helps you grow as a designer and keeps you focused on ways of making your patterns as clear as possible.

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

I never expected to make a full time income from designing as I don’t have full time hours available to me due to the children. However I am now earning enough from designing (although it is of course rather erratic!) that I consider it a very fair payment for the hours I invest each week. It took me around 2-3 years to reach this point.

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

Be honest with yourself and what you want out of it. If you expect a full time income with no risk it isn’t for you! However if you have secondary income (yourself or significant other) and it makes you happy I’d say go for it. I was originally an engineer and when my youngest was small I attempted to get back to college to work on a PhD. I was so miserable when I wasn’t knitting though that I felt as though I didn’t really have a choice. I finished up my tutoring and threw myself into knitting.

Even though I didn’t have a very formal business plan I had a good idea of the direction I wanted to go in. When you work for yourself you need to be constantly pushing forward and marketing. Nothing comes to you; you have to get yourself out publications, online in chat forums, blogs, etc. Constant evaluation is also necessary, if something isn’t working after a good shot – stop. Just because it works for someone else doesn’t mean it will for you. I’m a big believer in the ‘suck it and see’ philosophy; I do need help though in not just persevering for the sake of finishing something even when it obviously isn’t working.

1 comment:

  1. Ah jeez, where do I start? Firstly, KnittingRobin, thanks for the great interview. Carol, thanks for your clarity and frankness about the knit design process. From my limited experience I know that the design, test knitting, tech editing and publication process is a huge amout of work - let alone the creative effort for the design in the 1st place. And that's not to mention the juggling of children and other work commitments along the way. It's not easy.

    So...I salute Carol and all the other designers/crafters/women/men who contribute so much to our creative lives.

    Knit on.....