Friday, November 11, 2011

An Interview with...Cornelia Tuttle Hamilton

Once a week I post interviews with interesting people about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry.  I’ve noticed that every one of these individuals makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the Knitting world.

You can find Cornelia here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration all around me... sometimes in architecture, fashion, nature, crafts, sometimes in something that I mis-perceived... everywhere... If a yarn does not inspire me though I generally won't work in it...

What is your favourite knitting technique?
Don't have a favorite technique... I guess whatever helps me to get the results that I want at the time. Like things to flow though...

How did you determine your size range?
I do the sizing of each design separately... every garment's variables are different and I work from these. Some garments can be sized big while others wouldn't work in bigger sizes. Sometimes the construction of the garment forces limitations to sizing... it all depends.

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I generally don't look much at other hand knitter's work... Not out of fear, but more out of respect... we pick up things very easily and it is almost impossible not to be influenced by what one sees both in good ways and bad ways... I really try to work from my own creativity as much as possible. I do look quite a bit at designer's of ready-to-wear... I also enjoy looking at the work of artists in other mediums... 

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
Don't know anything about that controversy... I write patterns for people that have a basic understanding of knitting. 

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I like to design on the needle so my more innovative designs I have to knit myself... at least until I 'know' how I want something to turn out. I have had two people that have helped me with knitting for years. 

Did you do a formal business plan?
No. I am an intuitive type of business person... I still don't do budgets, etc... I have a very good grip on my business though, but not in a conventional number-crunching kind of way. 

Do you have a mentor? 
Not really... there are people though who I speak with and who I ask advice of depending on their area of expertise. My experience is that every person and market are different and everyone has to find their own way in the end.

Montauk Cabled Vest - Pattern available here

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
No. And I have found during the course of my career that the 'normal' models applied to businesses do not work in our branch. I have always tried to think creatively and outside of the box which has helped me. Keep things flexible, let your business grow organically, figure out your niche would be my advice...

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
It has had a huge impact on me personally and also on my business... I honestly don't think that I would have been able to stay in the business if computers had not come along!! And the Internet is very helpful as a tool for marketing and communication!

Bohemia Shawl - free pattern here

Do you use a Tech Editor?
I knit my garments and then write the patterns afterward... I then have someone check them.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
Have never been able to... love me, love my work!! I have yet to meet a person with a balanced life in this business.... at least not any professionals... it is definitely one of the downsides of the business. The biggest problem is the time-consuming aspect of our work... you really have to have knitting not just as work but as a hobby too.

How do you deal with criticism?
It depends on the source and a lot of other factors... Basically I take it to heart and try 

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I have working for myself for 30 years. Been supporting myself for the past nine years. But my income is not just from designing. The Internet has vastly changed the prospects of making a living for designers but it takes many years to really hone the craft. Recently I was thinking about what specific qualities that people who have been designing hand knits for 30 years have in common. I decided frugality might just be at the top of the list! Another one is tenacity. And having endless curiosity and more ideas than you have time do anything about.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Don't quit your day job! If you can think of anything else you might be happy doing to make a living - do it! Might sound harsh, but it is basically that difficult. If you have to pursue a career in knitting, have a rich husband :-) or a couple of years worth of income in the bank as a buffer. Make sure you like to work alone and that you can deal with the self-discipline and self-motivation required in self-employment.    

Heavens Hand Yarn

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