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?
Because my interest is with combining current trends with traditional knitting pattern stitches I spend a lot of time looking through trend magazines and purchasing books from trend services. I like to see the forecasts for shaping, color, etc for the upcoming seasons. A lot of what I look at and am inspired by are garments made from cloth. A large part of what I enjoy is interpreting cloth items into knits.
What is your favourite knitting technique?
I am not sure that I have one "favorite” knitting technique. I enjoy finishing. I feel that beyond the challenges of knitting, a well finished garment is the final "stamp" of a true professional. I have a number of expert knitters who work with me, but I am the "finishing station" for anything that has my name on it. It is a very different art that takes time patience and skill to do well.
How did you determine your size range?
In hand knits there are several key factors that have to be considered in sizing. I am intrigued by pattern stitches and will therefore more often than not be using a pattern stitch in my designs (vs. stockinette). The pattern stitch multiple will oftentimes be a major contributing factor in the number of sizes that I will grade a pattern for. My goal in an optimal situation is to grade a pattern that will begin at a size that will fit a 33" - 34” bust as a "small” up to a size that will fit a size 48" - 50" bust as an "XXL". If the pattern has a small multiple, e.g., a multiple of 4+ 2 where the size will increase slowly I can stay close to that sizing range. However, if the multiple is large, e.g. multiple of 18 +2. I have to limit the number of sizes offered and expand the range that each size will fit. The knitting gauge must also be considered in the sizing equation. For example, if I am working with a stitch gauge of 6 sts = 1" with an 18 stitch multiple, each time I add a repeat I will be adding 3 inches. In addition, the structure of the pattern must also be factored in. The beautiful and intriguing look of many pattern stitches can be ruined if they are broken. In those cases I will have to add in a full repeat of the multiple each time I increase the width. I will often design a pullover to be worked in-the-round, or design a cardigan to be worked in one piece up to the armholes when I cannot break a pattern along the side edges without running the risk of having an undesired look after the pieces have been seamed. With very large multiples, e.g., a multiple of 30 I must often offer only sizes Small/Medium and Large/ Extra Large.
Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I subscribe to many magazines and browse through and buy knitting magazines and books at bookstores and yarn shops constantly. I not only look at everything, but I also always make a note of designers who present balanced patterns. Those are patterns that are both structurally sound and visually captivating. When I see a designer capable of achieving that I like to follow their growth. Any seasoned designer has their own style. We are therefore genuinely objectively admiring of different talents, never interested in copying. We also know that if a garment or an ingenious use of a technique caught our eye, it has also done so with many others. If an intriguing design is copied it loses its appeal. There are however many fascinating lessons on how different techniques can be interpreted found in the pages of different international magazines. Each time I visit a bookstore I marvel at the fact that this antique cloth making art remains so alive and fresh.
How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I have 8 different knitters that I work with. Expert knitters are hard to find, but they are very important. If someone wants to grow a profitable knitting based business they must find good knitters that they can work with and trust. While we all love it, when parceling out one's time it is important to realize that Knitting is very time consuming. When looking at the bottom line, I have found it to be extremely important to have the ability to have a number of items being made at the same time. That would be impossible if I had to knit everything myself.
Did you do a formal business plan?
Yes. I think it is important to know where you are heading when you take off. That doesn't mean that you cannot make changes. It just means that everything should be fully researched before embarking.
Do you have a mentor?
I had a mentor who owned a knitting shop when I began. She is no longer in the business, but still helps me whenever I need extra hands or someone to discuss possible business scenarios with.
Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
No. I thought through most aspects of my business direction based on its unique combination of modules at the beginning. Although my business has had a number of twists and turns over these 18 years, I have remained pretty much true to my original plan in the way my business is organized.
What impact has the Internet had on your business?
Enormous! The whole way of connecting to customers, students, etc. is so much more efficient than it was in the pre-Internet days.
Do you use a Tech Editor?
My knitters are the first test of the techniques for all my patterns. A part of what they are asked to do is to carefully check my worksheets against the written instructions. They notify me if they find any mistakes so that we can check together and make corrections. In addition, I also always work with someone who can formally technically edit my patterns. It is very difficult to catch all of your own mistakes.
How do you maintain your life/work balance?
With great difficulty! There are still different seasons of the year when I have a very limited life outside of my work. The one thing I would advise anyone starting a knitting business to do is to plan your life/work time as carefully as you layout your business plan. Even with a plan there will be deadlines, so always build in contingency time.
How do you deal with criticism?
I am very open to criticism because I feel that anyone who wants to improve must both seek and be able to accept it. At the end of each of my classes I hand out an evaluation sheet and ask that everyone expand on whatever answers they check and remain anonymous. The purpose is to help me to become a better instructor. I have learned a lot and made many changes in both the way I present material and interact with people based on the comments on those sheets over the years. I continue to hand them out because I believe that there really is always room for improvement. I feel that constructive criticism is a necessary part of the learning process and I believe that process never ends.
How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
It took me longer than it would someone starting out in the Internet age. My start up time is somewhat irrelevant because of the conditions of the market being so completely different now. Today there are numerous opportunities to connect with different knitting communities worldwide to sell a product or service.
What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Follow your dream and find a way to make it happen!
You can see more of Shirley's amazing work here.