Friday, November 5, 2010

An Interview with...Theresa Belville

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 Theresa here and here on Ravelry. 

Where do you find inspiration?
Everywhere! I'm always on the go, and I carry a little sketch pad with me so that i can jot down ideas whenever the mood strikes.  I just recently went back to college (12 years after graduating the first time!) to work towards a nursing degree, and I find myself doodling ideas during class, inspired by the fabulous style of my (younger) classmates. These young women have fearless fashion sense, and I love seeing how the put seemingly random pieces together into a great, cohesive look. It's reminded me to be more adventurous in my designs!

What is your favourite knitting technique?

Anything seamless! I'd much rather spend my time actually knitting than sewing my knits together; so I strongly lean towards seamless, in-the-round designs.

How did you determine your size range?

For my Little Turtle Knits line, which is focused on baby and children's items, I've developed a size range over time through trial-and-error personal experience (in fitting my own four boys), and in carefully researching ready-to-wear garments.  I've got an excel spreadsheet that I count as one of my most prized possessions; it's been developed over years of collecting size details.  The sale clerk at Baby Gap knows me by name, and laughs when I pull out a tape measure to size the latest season's clothes! I've been working on developing an adult pattern collection, and for that the range is based on Yarn Standard's guidelines along with ASTM measurements (and some more of my handy tape measure mall reconnaissance!)

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

I definitely look at other designers work!  Not from a "how can this inspire me" perspective, but an "as much as I am a knitwear designer, I am also an avid and admiring knitter" viewpoint.  Knitwear designs to me are the ultimate eye candy; I devour knit magazines and the new pattern listings on Ravelry like my husband watches ESPN.  What can I say?  I'm a rabid knitting fan!

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

I didn't realize there was a controversy, lol!? I think there's a place for all sorts of pattern levels, and for every knitter regardless of their experience.  We were all newbie knitters at some point, and in my opinion one of the essential functions of a good knitting pattern is to  help knitters develop their skills.  To that end, I've always aimed to have my patterns be "mini-classes" and clearly illustrate the techniques so that even the most inexperienced knitter can feel comfortable trying something new.

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

I'm a bit of a control freak, so I do all my sample knitting.  I enjoy the entire process, and would feel like something were missing if I were to just write the pattern and then hand it off to someone else to knit.  There's something lovely about taking a design from fledgling idea through to finished garment and pattern.  Also, I'm very much a process knitter, so I'm often working out design issues while I knit.

Did you do a formal business plan?
When I first started Little Turtle Knits, back in the haze of new motherhood, I didn't develop a formal business plan before jumping in (I could barely get a shower at that point!)  But within that first year, I did sit down and develop a plan and goals for my business, and it's now something that I do every year.  I've found that as the seasons in my life change, my business goals also shift; reviewing the business plan yearly has enabled me to keep things fresh and moving in the direction I want to go.

Do you have a mentor?
I've been very blessed to have mentors in several areas of my life, not just as a designer.  I firmly believe that I've benefited tremendously from the mentor relationships I've had; both as the one being mentored and as a mentor.  I've been a member of the Association of Knitwear Designers (AKD) for several years, and I really think one of the best benefits is the mentoring program we have.  This industry can be so tricky; there's so many unwritten rules that can really impact your career!  It's essential to have someone who can shepherd you through it, and help you to avoid making those rookie mistakes that can really hurt you long term.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

I'm a work-at-home mama, so I've followed a very micro-business model, lol!  I strive to be thoughtful in all my interactions, and  to find a healthy balance between my work and my life.  It's so easy when you work at home to allow your work to permeate every moment of your day; it's got to be a conscious choice to step back and close the virtual office door and fully experience my real life!

What impact has the Internet had on your business?

My business started many years ago with a one-page website and a paypal button, so it's safe to say that without the Internet I wouldn't HAVE a business! With the explosion of indie designers offering down-loadable patterns in the past few years, it's hard to believe that when I first started my website the whole idea of getting patterns on the Internet was a novelty - my patterns were Word documents that I emailed out. I was a pioneer, lol!

Do you use a Tech Editor?
Absolutely!  A good tech editor is an essential for any designer who is serious about her work. Sure, I'm confident in my work, but there's no question that a skilled TE can take even a brilliant pattern and make it better.


How do you maintain your life/work balance?

See above, about shutting the virtual door ;)  Honestly, this is something I will struggle with until the day I close my eyes for the last time. Especially now, that I'm balancing life with four active boys (and all the accompanying sports!), design work, and school; finding the balance is so critical.  I start and end every day in prayer, and keep a really detailed schedule in between!  Practically speaking, my google calendar rules my life.  Each member of my family has their own calendar, and e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g gets put into the calendars.  You can be sure that I schedule in "me time" and "us time" for the hubster and I; because if that relationship isn't focused and centered, then nothing else is going to be, either!

How do you deal with criticism?

Ideally? I take the constructive parts and let them teach me something, and leave the rest.  Realistically?  I take the constructive parts, and get my feelings hurt by the rest.  I've gotten better at letting go of the hurt feelings quickly without letting them bruise my ego long-term, though, so that's progress!

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
Who said anything about supporting myself?! I'm fortunate enough in this season of my life to have a partner who supports our family, which allows me to focus on the more fulfilling parts of my work rather than looking just at financials.  Now, my work does contribute significantly to our household, and it enables us to have many experiences we otherwise wouldn't be able to budget, but anyone looking at knitwear design as a way to support themselves is in for a (sadly) rude awakening.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Find _Your_ Voice.  Never stop learning your craft. Find a mentor you trust.  And don't take yourself too seriously; knitting is supposed to be fun!

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