Friday, November 12, 2010

An Interview with...Barbara Selesnick

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 Barbara here and see a fashion show of her designs by clicking on the Fashion Show  Clips on the right hand side of her home page.

Where do you find inspiration?

That is an easy one… inspiration is everywhere!  As most knitwear designers do, I peek at several of the fashion magazines that come out each season to see where the trends are heading.  Rather than looking at the whole garment, I tend to pick out different features and nuances that catch my eye, and often design around those features. It could be the length of a sleeve or the shape of a collar.  With a company called “Keep It Simple Designs”, I feel that my main objectives are to create garments that are simple to knit and stylish to wear.  Several of my good friends questioned “This Box” I was putting myself in when I started my company, but I have always found it a welcome challenge when creating a pattern.  Parameters can be interesting guidelines, and stretch your imagination and abilities in a creative world.

What are your favorite knitting and crocheting techniques?

I have to admit, I love cables.  I love working with cables and I love designing with cables.  They really make my heart sing!  I am known for having a good collection of cabled shawl patterns out there on the market!  I’m also a big fan of lace knitting on larger needles.  Many of my shawl patterns are on the quick and easy side, with an abundance of yarn-overs throughout the pattern. I’m usually careful to choose lace patterns that are rhythmic in nature, and work on needle sizes much larger than traditional lace.  I have had friends over the years that still have lace projects on smaller needles somewhere in their garage, waiting to see the light of day!  

How did you determine your size range?

Most of my garments are sized for XS-5X, ranging from sizes 30-60.  When I started my company and mapped out my goals, I wanted to include as many knitters in the mix as I could.  I can tell you that sizing is my least favorite thing when I am writing a pattern, but I know that it is a very important part of the process.  We all come in different shapes and sizes, and we all deserve to be comfortable in a project that we have spent countless hours knitting.
Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?

I often look at other designers’ work.  Since my company is shaped around creating relatively simple designs, I want to make sure that I do not inadvertently duplicate something that is out there on the market.  This actually is the most difficult part of the design process for me.  Once I have decided on a particular design, I search the Internet, books, and knitting magazines to try and make sure that I am not infringing on another designers work.  In reality, it is a large world out there, and we all have our own “minds eye” of what we want to create. 

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters and crocheters?

Gosh, in a way I sort of specialize in that!  Dumbing down is not a bad thing at all!!  There will always be knitters out there that are willing to spend their whole life knitting a masterpiece.  My hat is off to them, and I admire their work.  On the other hand, I feel I have a special niche in the market of hand knitted garments and accessories for those that are interested in minimal stress, and a high degree of success.  I have had letters from customers telling me that one of my patterns was actually the first one they ever finished!  Keeping things “simple” in my pattern line has led to great success for my customers, as well as for myself!
How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself? 

For me, it is a mix of both.  I do knit some of the garments for my line, and others are commissioned out to an array of knitters in my community.
Did you do a formal business plan? 

I can’t say I did.  Actually, I knitted up 8 patterns and sent them off to Bryson Distributing in Eugene Oregon.  Bryson Distributing is the largest distributor in the United States for all things knitting, quilting, and much more.  Most of the implements, patterns, and tools of the trade that are in your local knit & quilt shop are from Bryson Distributing. A week later I received a call from Jim Bryson wanting to order a very large quantity of my designs.  It was the turning point in my career!

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?  

Basically my only business model is to be true to my name.  Every stitch that I make centers around one question: Is this pattern truly simple to knit?  Have I explained it well, kept the techniques simple, and accomplished a beautiful garment in the end?
What impact has the Internet had on your business? 

The Internet has certainly boosted sales, and gotten the “Keep It Simple Designs” name out there for all to see.  I get emails from all over the world requesting patterns, and now have the ability to sell down-loadable patterns to customers worldwide through sites such as Patternfish

How do you maintain your life/work balance?  
I think that is a balancing act for most of us!  Some days I am brilliant… and others I fall short.  My goal is to get up every single day and try to do my personal best.
How do you deal with criticism? 

I use criticism as a learning tool.  There is usually something to glean from a constructive remark.  I have found most people that are creative to be generous by nature.   Compliments are always welcome, but criticism can be a great learning tool for the future. 

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

I do quite well with my patterns, but I also have a day job too.  I have been a Flight Attendant with a major airline for many years.  My flying career has afforded me the ability to see fashion design from many parts of the world.  Traveling has been my best teacher of all!
What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting and crocheting? 

I would say that it is not for the faint of heart.  You will be working day and night, 7 days a week at your craft.  For me, my brain sees “design” everywhere I go!  I decided one day that I might as well jump in with both feet and enjoy the ride.  Honestly, no complaints yet! 

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