Friday, October 15, 2010

An Interview with...Sarah Montie

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 Sarah here, here on Etsy and here on Ravelry

Where do you find inspiration?
Yarn, color, shapes, nature, technique, need, ready to wear. 
Yarn: I often say I am “yarn inspired”.  It was easier to make up my own pattern rather than try to fit the yarn I wanted to use into an existing pattern.  Most recently I have been fascinated by the silk or wool and wire yarn by Habu and Lion Brand. 

Color: My last pattern, Sea Glass Shawl Cardigan, was inspired by color.  I wanted to use a yarn that reminded me of the color of sea glass.  After selecting the yarn, I decided on a simple shape inspired by a current ready to wear trend that I thought would fit the yarn well.
Shapes: I like to take simple shapes and create garments out of them.  I teach a lot of knitting and the new knitter is amazed that you can make a rectangle into a shrug, I turn them into a designer right away.  I am fascinated  with circles.  Circles represent movement which I love in a knitted piece.
Nature: I often relate a lot of my projects to the sea/beach since that is what gives me such comfort and peace. 
Technique: Sometimes I want to work with a particular technique, for instance felting.  I have some very simple bags perfect for the the beginner knitter or beginner felter.  Rather than experimenting with the technique further I find myself more interested in trying different color and texture combination's in the same simple bag.  I am also working on an entrelac bag.  It may be my only entrelac pattern.
Need: Sometimes I want to design something for someone (family member) in particular or when I am designing for Plymouth Yarn company I am trying to fill a particular need. 
Ready to wear: I enjoy looking through the fashion magazines and shops for inspiration and trends.  Right now cowls are trendy, they are quick and easy and fun.  You can pack a lot of technique into a small piece.

What is your favorite knitting technique? 
If I had to pick something, I would say seamless knitting.  I don’t like the finishing part of knitting, I like to spend my time knitting, not finishing.  I think  a lot about the enjoyment of actually making a project when I am designing it, not just the finished project.  I have seen too many projects abandoned because the knitter is not enjoying it. If I try to find a constant in my work, I am drawn to simple shapes and what can be done with them.  I often write patterns based on “concepts”.  Patterns that you don’t really need to match gauge or use specific yarn, rather you are following a concept.  If I had the opportunity to write a book, it would be about “concept knitting”.

How did you determine your size range?
My designs are rather personal and I tend to design things that I like and that suit me, a 5’2” size 6-8.  I am working on expanding my scope and my most recent designs range from extra small to size 3X.

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I have an extensive library of knitting magazines and books, but I don’t tend to look up everything by a particular designer.  I want to make sure my designs are my own and not influenced by anyone else’s aesthetic.  

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
I am not aware of the controversy, but one of the challenges in writing patterns is to try to please everyone, or trying to figure out who to please.  How much knowledge should I take for granted and how much information should I spell out.  I also teach knitting so I know there are a lot of beginner knitters who want patterns.  I do some very simple patterns and I am surprised that they are sometimes my best sellers.  I add a stitch glossary explaining techniques and terms on all of my patterns for the knitters who need it.  I let the difficulty of the pattern dictate how much explanation I put in the pattern.  Also when I have my test knitters knit the patterns they will point out anything that is not clear to them and I can make changes.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I knit everything myself, sometimes more than once.  I also have friends who do some test knitting for me and also proofread everything for me.  
Did you do a formal business plan?
No, I also had a catering business for 10 years and didn’t have a business plan, but I always started small with no borrowed capital.
Do you have a mentor?
Back in the 70’s I had a good friend who owned a yarn shop.  Her shop had a great atmosphere and I learned a lot from her.  She encouraged me to try new things and also get a couple of knitting machines and design and sell sweaters.  I even helped her out with a Glamour magazine   deadline she had one time, 3 hand-knit dresses on the cover.  I don’t really have a current mentor, but the Internet and Ravelry have been a great source to see what other people are doing and to learn more about the business of designing.
Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
The Internet has been incredible.  My original intention was to sell kits of my patterns and yarn.  I started with a website, but then there was the issue of getting people to my website.  Unfortunately, I am not very computer savvy and rely on my kids to help me.  Once I got involved with Ravelry and Etsy I discovered selling patterns as a PDF.  It is amazing to me that people all over the world have bought my patterns.  I am still willing to sell kits, but knitters, even though they often want to knit the sample they see in a store, still want to buy the pattern and the yarn themselves.  Unfortunately, I don’t keep on top of  my website as much as I should.  

Do you use a Tech Editor?

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
It is difficult to juggle because I think everyone around me, including myself, tends to not think about the fact that I am trying to run a business.  It takes a lot of time to write patterns and try to keep moving forward.  I struggle with what is the best and most efficient way to grow my business and do I really want to grow it at the sacrifice of more time (and less knitting time)?

How do you deal with criticism?
I  try to take any criticism as constructive.  You can’t please everyone.  Some knitters want everything written out as much as possible, row by row, and some knitters like a pattern written in more of a short hand style.  I just try to work on a style that is consistent for me and consistent with convention so that when I get repeat buyers they already have an idea of what to expect.


How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I don’t, but my husband says he’s ready to retire anytime.
What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Be flexible.  Be prepared to change with the changing times and be adaptable.
Fortunately I don’t have to “put food on the table” ,  I can follow my passion and see where it leads me.

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