Monday, May 30, 2011

The Hat Change Over

We've just celebrated the Victoria Day long weekend here in Canada. That means I can wear white clothing according to the Fashion Police. It also means I go through my hat change over. I love hats! It's one of the things that make me feel I was born in the wrong era, that and my somewhat rubenesque body shape. I watch all the British Royal weddings and some horse races just to see the hats.

I am frequently asked by friends how I store all of the hats as I live in a condo and therefore have minimal storage space. The top photo shows the winter hats on the wall of our spare bedroom. They are hanging on large hooks and many of the hooks have 2-3 hats (with the same crown shapes) stacked one on top of another. Some get stacked by going from small crowns to larger so I can get them all up there.

These are the boxes I use for storage; there are a few more in another closet which I haven't gotten down yet. Again, the hats are stacked inside the boxes, so that I can fit them all in. I store the boxes in four closets at the very top. My husband has put in extra shelves above the usual very inefficient closet shelves that are standard in most homes to make room for them. Twice a year I get out a stool so I can get the boxes down and do the seasonal change over. I also have lots of knit hats but fortunately they are much easier to store and don't need to be protected from crushing in the same way that the felts and straws do.

Friday, May 27, 2011

An Interview with...Mary White

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 Mary here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
In my granddaughter’s desire to twirl and dance, the flowers that bloom in my garden, a stitch pattern that catches my fancy, designers that have graced us with their talents....Nicky Epstein and her wonderful ability to teach and write books, Neibling’s fabulous talent for putting stitches together to produce beautiful motifs, Marianne Kinzel’s incredible gift of circular patterns....Overall, my inspiration comes from my desire to learn something new which happens every time I pick up the needles and what I believe is my God-given talent to work with my hands. 

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I would have to say Lace...which started when I became bored with ordinary dishcloths and decided that making them in lace was not only interesting but thoroughly enjoyed by the recipients of my gifted dishcloths. They became swatch samples of what is possible with yarn-overs. Making them taught me the math needed to expand and manipulate the stitch patterns. I became bored with square ones so I mastered DPN'S and began making tablecloths in the round.  This led to my complete interest in beginning a pattern in the round and forcing the overall finished project to be square or triangular.  The possibilities are endless and only need the skill of my fingers.....and patience, lots of lead for the pencils, several, large erasers, a few hundred tablets for notes, calculator and some solitude!  

How did you determine your size range?
Generally I try to make sure that my pattern can be adjusted for size to suit the knitter. 

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I do look at other designer’s work but prefer not to knit them for fear that I will copy someone. I do pull out stitch patterns from books and guides and making sure that I am not infringing will manipulate the stitch pattern to suit my own design. 

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
I like to write the pattern so that it can be worked by anyone. I learned how to knit by using written instructions because reading the words worked for me.  If I produce a pattern that isn’t understood then what have I accomplished? No I don’t believe in dumbing down a pattern but it shouldn’t have to be that way. Including complete explanations for abbreviations and detailed instructions should be carefully executed. Labeling a pattern as experienced or easy is kind of like placing a limit on one’s learning. If you think you can work a pattern, a label shouldn’t stop you. 

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I have used sample/test knitters but I’ve found that I prefer working them myself.  Occasionally someone comments and I can feel their interest and will ask them if they like to test knit a design. My drums quite often have a different beat so it is difficult to find a test knitter patient enough to work with my ever racing brain waves.

Did you do a formal business plan?
Yes, I did. Produce inexpensive, quality patterns, work quality samples. Fall down, pick myself up. Be available, teach new techniques, share my love of lace knitting. Build a pattern producing business that can be passed onto any grandchildren. That’s it, plain and simple. 

Do you have a mentor?
Several in fact! My mentors are those individuals that encourage me with their patience and friendships. You know, the “Irene’s” that are there with a decent cup of coffee and want to see what you’ve been knitting....the “Barbara’s” who have known you all your life and will open your bundle of samples and invite their daughters over to see which one wants to wear which shawl to church next Sunday...My mother who is a very talented crocheter...

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
Not really, but I do pour over certain designers’ work and drool over their ability to sell patterns that are classic and constantly admired. 

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
The Internet is amazing and a wonderful communication tool. I remember having to physically go to a store to pick out yarn or peruse patterns. It has helped me tremendously in placing my patterns for sale and advertising their availability. 

Do you use a Tech Editor?
Occasionally because I like to know that my patterns, although quite different sometimes, are still readable and easily worked. 

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
Like a champ! I work as a secretary and upholstery seamstress in my husband and son’s Marine repair business so I don’t depend on selling patterns as a sole means of support.  I do depend on my profits to help my business grow in advertising and sample making. I do support my pattern making and designs with pattern sales. Since the marine business is seasonal, I am able to knit and produce patterns at my day job during slow periods. I have my granddaughters every other weekend and I am an avid gardener so juggling is just part of the mix. 

How do you deal with criticism?
Constructive, polite criticism does not bother me, it helps me and teaches me.  I will email back and forth with anyone who requests my help or feels that I’ve made an error. I will even re-knit a pattern if necessary but I totally ignore and quickly dismiss anyone who pounces on me with their claws.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
As I’ve noted before, I don’t support myself with pattern making because I don’t do it full time but I’d hope that if it were necessary, I’d be able to do so with full time input.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Go for it! Surround yourself with talented, helpful people that will encourage you the whole way. Stay away from anyone that doubts your ability. Realize your expertise and develop that. Set goals, meet them, change them if needed and step them up. Believe in yourself, make a personal, doable business plan and practice self discipline! 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Tech Editing Lessons

I've been working with Kate Atherley who is tech editing a vest I have designed that will be in the Fall issue of A Needle Pulling Thread.

It has been an amazing learning experience for me. I was very fortunate that Kate was willing to sit down with me and discuss the changes to the pattern that the magazine wanted, rather than simply taking the pattern and editing it to the magazine’s format. As a self-publisher I haven't had to match up to a different format or consider publication space in the way that one needs to for a magazine layout. My style has been conversational and chatty which is not surprising when you consider how much time I have spent teaching and helping other Knitters, both friends and customers in the yarn store where I worked. My previous editors have all done a great job as well but were editing in a different manner as we had no specific standard for comparison.  I see myself as still being at the beginning of my learning curve so this feedback is very valuable to me.

Kate spent about 90 minutes with me and I have to admit I was totally overwhelmed at first. I took a lot of notes and then tackled a re-write. Once I got going it all started to fall into place. When we are completely done I will be working on a template for myself that I can use going forward to improve all of my patterns and share with my editor for consistency.

Getting truly constructive criticism is a hard thing to do. People are afraid that they will hurt your feelings and in some cases can't always articulate exactly what you need to do to improve. Last year when I spoke at the DKC I asked one of my friends to make notes if she needed to and give me specific areas that I should work on to improve my next presentation. She did and I worked on all of her suggestions. This year I was much happier with my efforts and made specific improvements that not only made the presentation better but allowed me to enjoy the event  more. 

It can be hard to hear criticism and I know that I am at fault sometimes for being too hard on myself. I can however say that my pursuit of a professional Knitting career is truly making me a better person, a stronger one and a happier one.

Friday, May 20, 2011

An Interview with...Anne Woodall

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

You can find Anne here

Anne will be hosting a special IRISH Knitting Tour that will be leaving from Toronto   Sept 26th - Oct 6th, 2011. You can find all the details here.

Tell me how you got into the business of running a yarn store.
After 12 years of teaching, I found myself in a new town and in a new school board, so at 42 I was at the bottom of the seniority list. In 1996, after what had been nearly the hardest year of my teaching career, I was laid off saw it as an opportunity to put into action what I had been telling my grade 8 guidance classes all along: have courage, be flexible, be prepared for change. I had been a commercial knitter for different yarn stores on Vancouver Island back in the 80s and had kept up my love of knitting ever since. It seemed like a good idea as there was very little competition for the middle market in the yarn industry in our city.

How long have you been in business?
It will be 15 years in September.

Do you run the store by yourself, or do you have employees? If you do, how many people work at your shop?
I have 4 great part time employees and 4 or 5 knitters who contribute samples and do custom work for customers.

How did you choose the yarns that you carry in your shop?
When I opened, the store was an independently owned franchise of the WOOL-TYME store in Nepean/Ottawa. It was an absolute blessing to have Theresa deVries's experience in placing those initial orders.  It was the best of all possible worlds: I had the support at opening, but the freedom to change and build product lines as I came to know my customers and the local market more.

What have you done to create a sense of community in your store?
I’m a teacher at heart, therefore we have lots of classes which are also the basis of a lot of community: they foster loyalty, commitment to the projects, they are worth a hundred times more to us in sales than the price of the class membership represents. 
I’m also a writer, so the obvious way to connect with my customers is through a newsletter which I’ve been writing regularly nearly since we opened. With the advent of the Internet, the newsletter went electronic and has grown to be a monthly publication, sent to customers and friends around the world. It’s an amazing community building tool as we recently had a knit along featuring the February Lady Sweater and we had participants from across Canada, the US and even a lady from Britain who visits us every time she comes to Kingston to visit her family here. I’ve been writing a blog, and using another site to share free patterns. Our latest endeavor is to organize an Irish Knitting Tour next Sept. Even those who can't join us are excited and looking forward to following us around via the blog.

What is the biggest lesson that running a yarn shop has taught you?
One of the best things I brought away from an entrepreneur's course I took at the local college when I was contemplating opening the store was that those who begin a business based on their hobby no longer have a hobby. GET A NEW HOBBY or some other sort of distraction.
A few years into the shop,  I began writing more seriously and although I’m definitely not a workaholic, over a period of 3 years I completed  a novel, which is available here on- line.
Later, I was writing more for the store’s newsletter and blog, so again, I was left looking for a new hobby. I discovered rug hooking, which although it falls into my business world in that we sell rug hooking supplies and give lessons, I still consider it what I do for fun.

What is your favorite part of what you do running the shop?
Teaching - It’s who I am. That being said, as a craft person I’m a bit strange in that I also love the bookkeeping/business building side of things.

We've seen many cycles in the yarn industry of the market increasing and then falling again. What are your thoughts on where things might be headed now?
When I opened the store, I counted 7 yarn retail outlets within our city limits that had sold off their inventory, for different reasons, within the last 18 months. Add to that the fact that the yarn world was at a real low point and you can just imagine what my first 5 years were like.  I think that the best thing about the yarn industry as it is now and in the future, is that the Internet has been an amazing equalizer and energizer. Before, if a knitter didn’t have a fanatic knitting friend, they often fell into an on again, off again cycle of wanting to knit. With Ravelry and Facebook connections, Knitting Olympics, not to mention the phenomenon of the super bloggers among knitters, your customers can be energized, challenged and excited about all knitting, 12 months of the year.

Did you do a formal business plan?
Yes, but only because it was the final project for the entrepreneurs course that I was taking at the college. Actually, I got so caught up with planning the opening of the store that I wasn’t able to fulfill the course requirements on time, so I "failed" the class, but I still had a great plan that the bank liked and at least provided me with a list of questions to ask myself as I was jumping in.

Do you have a mentor?
As I mentioned before, at the beginning, the store was a franchise of the WOOL-TYME store in Ottawa. Theresa deVries, the franchiser  was invaluable in the help, support and experience that she was able to share at the beginning. After 5 years, our agreement changed and we now have a wonderfully cooperative arrangement  where we meet occasionally to exchange ideas. I’ve also stayed in touch with Mark, the prof in the entrepreneurs program that I took. He’s a fountain of business and marketing knowledge and wise too.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated? 
No, although Theresa and I had/have quite similar views of what we would like our stores to be to the community.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
It would be impossible to overestimate the impact that the Internet has had on my business. Has it brought me more business? Probably, but mainly it has made it easier and more enjoyable to connect with my customers, whether they are around the corner, or needing a knitting question answered when they’re on holiday in Florida, on assignment in Mali or on duty in Kandahar.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
It’s my first priority so it isn’t hard to maintain it. I schedule ½ an hour each  day for reading – anything that I want, work related or not. I try and get in 5 hours of exercise a week, whether it’s yoga at the gym, a brisk walk after supper or a walk to the bank. And I never knit on Sunday, that’s my day for rug hooking. Once I’ve fulfilled these obligations to myself I fit in everything else I need to do around it. That being said, it’s a whole lot easier now that we’re empty nesters.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I didn't have money to invest when I opened the store and we had a young family.  It was entirely done through bank loans and a line of credit, which is a very expensive way to open a business, but I also don’t think that I would be where I am today if I hadn’t gotten into it at the level that I did. Some of you may or may not want to hear this, but after 15 years, if it wasn’t for my husband’s salary, I still wouldn’t be able to support myself entirely, never mind my kids. It looks as if by the time I get the whole debt done with, I’ll be at an age to be looking at the next phase of my life.It's not a smart financial move, opening a bricks and mortar store, but sometimes it's just what you've got to do for your soul.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in running a yarn store?
The third year I was in business I wrote a piece for Knitters’ Forum, comparing the store to a fourth and extremely demanding child. I would definitely say that that analogy still stands. It is way more than a job. It will always be more than a job, no matter what level of success you achieve. You should be prepared to ask and accept help from anyone who is willing to give it to you. If you have a life partner, they too should be prepared for this extremely demanding new member of your family, and for the financial drain that such a move will have on your joint income. That being said, and despite the very difficult time that I had for the first 5 years, the store has ironically offered me a certain amount of flexibility to be there for my kids when they really needed me, time that I would never have been able to give them if I was under the very strict demands of a teaching position.

It has challenged me to try new things, to rise with the ups and survive the downs. It has given me a chance to teach all I want, without having to deal with marking or recess duty. It has opened up lots of opportunities for me and my family, and as I look to the future, it gives me a something to continue working at - if I choose to, or sell - if I choose, or share with a partner in the future - if I choose. It’s hard but if your personality is such that you like independence, flexibility and accepting responsibility for your own happiness, you’ll love it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

We've come a long way.

I've been doing some spring cleaning which has included a knitting magazine reorganization. I started flipping through a few of the oldest ones including the premier issue of Vogue Knitting Fall/Winter 1982.

I ended up reading an article on gauge swatches and things have really changed a lot since it was written. The article is uncredited but the designs on the editorial pages do credit the designers. I did find this a little odd but standards change over time.

The article states that gauge is not measured in half stitches but it does not explain why.  It has the swatch cast on as an exact multiple of the stitches required for 4 inches wide of knitting. The gauge is measured over 1 inch in the center of the swatch for both rows and stitches. The unnamed writer also recommends pulling the yarn tighter as you knit if you are having trouble getting stitch gauge but are getting row gauge. (I'm not sure I could maintain that knitting style change throughout an entire project). There is absolutely no mention of blocking the swatch. One of the reasons I ended up designing all of my own garments was my inability to get gauge. I think I now understand why that was happening. 

I currently knit much larger swatches, that are carefully blocked. I measure more than once in different spots on the swatch, over more than 4 inches and I average the results. I do an outline of the swatch on graph paper before blocking to compare to post blocking results to check for shrinkage changes in either width or length. I recheck gauge on the garment back after knitting about 6 inches if blocking did not create any gauge changes. If the fiber I'm working with lacks elasticity I also hang the swatch and recheck for stretching after 24 - 28 hours.

It is interesting that such a basic part of knitting instruction has changed so much in 29 years.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Vogue Overstyling?



Lately I've been finding the garments in Vogue Knitting to be over styled. The white dress above is a perfect example. I had to read the caption details to figure out what I was seeing.The knitting is often obscured by layers of clothing, heavy jewellery or other overwhelming accessories. If you go to the website they do show other views as well as unadorned shots so that you can see the garment. However, when I pay for a magazine I don't expect to have to go elsewhere to figure out what I'm seeing.


I looked at Knitter's for comparison and they choose to style in an absolutely minimal way. Many of the shots are of models with no jewellery and if they do have any it is often just a pair of earrings. I don't think I know any women who wear no jewellery at all. Wedding rings and watches at a minimum seem to be the norm.

Interweave Knits
Interweave Knits

Interweave Knits seems to be styled closest to the way I see real women dressing, except for one styling choice they make and that is the odd (to me a least) layering choices. What do you think? Do you have a styling preference. Do you think it makes a difference to which patterns you choose to knit?

Friday, May 13, 2011

An Interview with...Anne Berk

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 Anne here.

Where do you find inspiration?
I am primarily a teacher, who designs so that when students learn the techniques they have something fun to knit.  I aim for designs that are enjoyable to knit and use, and that will in turn inspire the knitter to keep using the techniques and enjoy the practice along the way. I developed a new way of working intarsia in-the-round, which I call “Annetarsia”. Since no one has done this before, I have more ideas on what to do with it than I have time to knit them.  That is fun, but a bit intimidating.

What is your favorite knitting technique?
It’s easier to think of what I don’t particularly like to knit.  There is only one technique in that category – I’m not fond of working entrelac.  I always try to have something intarsia on the needles, as that is my specialty and I need to keep new samples and designs in the pipeline.  But for personal knitting I will mix it up.  I just finished a lace shawl, and now I have a cabled cardigan started. 

How did you determine your size range?
I really like to have patterns available for a wide size range.  However, with intarsia charts, I can be limited by the size of my chart, so will offer only 1 or 2 sizes. Changing gauge by substituting yarn and needle size can make the garment larger or smaller.  Also, adding plain panels on the sides will enlarge the size.  I don’t want anyone to be left out, so I’ll write from kids’ sizes to XXL for a man, if it is possible! 

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I buy books, pattern books and magazines voraciously, and read them cover to cover.  I know how much work went into them, and want to support other designers. I also greatly respect their talent, and look for insights that will help me to be a better teacher and designer.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
I feel this is not an issue.  Every pattern written should be clear, and accessible for all knitters.  I recommend reading through the entire pattern before beginning, every time, so that if elements seem unfamiliar, the knitter can practice on a swatch and see if it makes sense. I don’t think that anything in knitting is particularly hard, but lots of tricks and variations take practice.  If a knitter doesn’t feel like stretching a skill level for a particular pattern they can move on and come back later.  But labeling a pattern “easy” or “hard” is pointless.  How you feel about a pattern’s difficulty depends on a myriad of factors, and can change quickly.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself? 
I plot out a basic outline, and then knit – writing the pattern as I go, so everything I design I have knit myself.  Often I will have a test knitter knit from the pattern, to catch things that could be more clear.  In classes I teach, I am always looking for knitters who might be test-knitters in the future, because I might need help soon!

Did you do a formal business plan?
This is a good question, and if this was a real business, I would. I am actually an optometrist, and run 2 very busy optometric clinics.  That is a business, and has a detailed plan.  The knitting work I do is more of an avocation, and my mission statement is “Use my powers for good”.  I take it very seriously, and expend every resource to ensure that my students, and the knitters who knit my patterns, get the best product possible.  Fortunately, expense/income ratio and other such issues don’t have to be a factor, because those numbers would not be good.

Do you have a mentor?
There are many knitters whom I admire, who have taught me and encouraged me. There is no one person who I would call a mentor, but the list of people to whom I owe a debt is long.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
No. I have developed one as I have gone along that is working pretty well. My main rule is to work with people that I like and trust, and that I would work with for free, since that may be the case, once expenses factor in. As a business model, it is horrible, but if you remember my mission statement, “Use my powers for good”, it fits.  I value the magazines, publishing industry, e-mags for knitters, knitting conventions, yarn companies – all these things help grow knitters’ knowledge and keep the craft alive and thriving.  I want good, new stuff to keep coming!  If I can help by developing designs, teaching knitters, and supporting the industry, that makes me very happy.  As a traditional business model, this is probably crazy, but it works for me.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
I really enjoy Ravelry, e-mags, and keeping in touch with knitters on Facebook.  I haven’t sold any patterns on-line yet, but I like having the option.  Most of my interactions with knitters are face-to-face, in teaching situations, which is what I like best.  Being able to do a DVD for Interweave about Intarsia was a great opportunity for me, as I could show knitters the technique without actually being in the room, and for less than the price of a book.  Promotion of the DVD was heavily done on the Internet, which was important to get the word out. 

Do you use a Tech Editor?
I have been very lucky to work with great publishers, who have tech editors that will check all of the math and make sure that the format is clear and correct. When I send a pattern to a publisher, my goal is to make the tech editor’s job as easy as possible.  I triple-check the math, etc.  However, I really like knowing that there are more people checking my work, and adding their expertise. 

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
Not as well as I would like.  I work at the office 50-60 hours/week, and when I come home I start on knitting work.  It can get quite over-whelming, and I never get real time off, unless I’m running.  I run 1 or 2 marathons every year, and running gives me time to think and be my myself.  I also try to get 8 hours of sleep every night, and not miss meals.  My kids are grown, and my husband is very supportive, so we make it work. 

How do you deal with criticism?
I welcome critique, as I want people to have the best experience possible.  I like to have the opportunity to explain, correct, or go over something in a different way so that the knitter is successful.  As long as the comments are made in the spirit of cooperation and sincere interest, I’m fine. 

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I think we have already established that I don’t plan to make a dime off my knitting career.  Any money I make gets put back into buying books, yarn, computer design programs, etc.  When I attend knitting conventions, I try to buy something from as many vendors as possible.  I consider myself lucky that my avocation is self-supporting!

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
If you actually want to make this a career, I would recommend doing it from the business end.  Find a job in an LYS to pay the bills, study what knitters want, and start designing and teaching locally, then branch out.  Careers in publishing can be very rewarding, and there are several excellent craft-oriented publishers. Tech-editors are always in demand. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Knitting Related Business on Etsy

I stumbled on this amazing Etsy artist who works with recycled sweaters.

Kat says on her site "I started making recycled patchwork hoodies 20 years ago, while I was a wee gypsy girl, following the Grateful Dead. Since then my style has evolved and grown into this sweatery madness. I have made thousands of sweaters by now. If you look at my sold listings you can see how they continue to morph and grow with each passing month. My elf coat design even seems to have inspired a little bit of a trend here on etsy. Ooh la la."

The garments are made from thrift store sweaters. She washes them thoroughly before use and uses a serger to make tight seams which are then hand finished. 

What can I say other than WOW!!!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Do you knit sleeves or front sections together at the same time?

Patterns typically have separate instructions for the right and left front pieces and a single instruction for the sleeves. I always knit the two fronts at the same time and then two sleeves at the same time. I use two balls of yarn, cast on the stitches starting with one ball and then switch to the second ball, casting onto the same needle. If the item is large I use a circular needle to accommodate the two pieces. I just alternate from one piece to the other row by row. I know my mother did this as well, so for the longest time I did not know that most Knitters work on each piece separately. I find it saves me a lot of time in tracking rows and keeping track of increase and decrease stitches. Working this way means I rarely have any discrepancies between the two pieces. If I do I'm more likely to notice them quickly. 

When working the fronts simultaneously the advantage is that the reverse shaping becomes visually obvious in a way that is not so apparent when working each piece separately. It wasn't until I started teaching that I discovered the reverse shaping instruction was such a problem for many Knitters. It also makes the right side vs. wrong side shaping instructions clearer. I really noticed how much it simplifies things recently while working on fronts with dart shaping. Much more detail was necessary to write the pattern out with stitch counts highlighted than when visual placement was used.

I'm curious, do many others knit this way or do you always knit each piece separately?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

A girlfriend sent me this and I found it very amusing.

Friday, May 6, 2011

An Interview with...Vivian Hoxbro

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 Vivian here.

Where do you find inspiration?
Inspiration is everywhere – on a president's tie, on a belt in a train etc. When I have a hard time going to sleep – I construct garments. Sometimes I dream sweaters – that turn out completely different when they are produced. I constantly play with ideas and possibilities.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
Definitely domino-knitting – I will never get tired of combining figures in different ways!

How did you determine your size range?


I decide when I design – will this design be flattering for a larger women's size – then I make it big – if not – I only make the design for smaller size – such as Masai.

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I look – but I don't buy books with instructions and designs. I have ideas enough for more than one designer – I only need more time. Another life or two would be nice!

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
It depends on who you are writing for. If I would write for beginners – I would need very simple and fun patterns – and explain the small challenges there that are very detailed. But first of all you need to know what you expect that the knitter is able to do. 

It is not only a question of – does the designer want to spend hours explaining everything from scratch? – actually companies and magazines want short instructions – as the pictures are what looks good in a magazine - not a long technical instruction. One of my patterns is 15 pages (letter format) long. Another thing is that an instruction can easily be too long – even so long and detailed that it is difficult to understand. I am hoping for instructions that are digital – so that I can write for example: Use the “knit cast on” and if the knitter does not know what that is – she can click on “knit cast on” and see what I mean. That will make it easier for the designer as well as for the knitter. The experienced knitter will not need all the details and we will all be happy. 

I do not write for beginners. I don't know what the knitter who would knit my design knows – or even what she calls the technique. The terminology is also an issue. Knitting is archaic
and so is the terminology. I can have a name for a technique and when I look it up in a book – there is another name for it. 

When you buy a book or a magazine or an instruction from a yarn company you should have a kind of guarantee – at least there will be someone to ask if you bump your head against the wall or if there are mistakes in the instruction (which there almost always are), but if you download an instruction online – that you don’t pay for – you are on your own.    

Sorry – this answer was almost an article – but this matter interests me a lot as I have always (almost for 30 years) loved and worked on my instructions to make them better and better.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I have 3 great knitters who have knitted for me for years – one for more than 20 years. I also have friends who proof-knit an instruction and many knitters who buy my patterns are so kind to tell me if something is wrong. I appreciate it. I do knit a new design myself before I send it to my knitters.

Did you do a formal business plan?
NO – not at all.

Do you have a mentor?

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
Of course I have: I was once so lucky that a knitter told me – this is your design, but this woman has it on her website as her own design. I got that one stopped.  Editors note: Vivian speaks and writes English extremely well however I'm guessing that she confused imitated and emulated when answering this question. I decided to leave her response as is, since plagiarism is of great concern to so many designers.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
Everything – as it opened the US and Canada for me. 

Do you use a Tech Editor?
Yes my proof-knitters.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I work by the computer most of the day – and knit when it is evening. My kids are grown up, so it does not matter. I do – however – work a lot. I would never ever be able to calculate with a wage by the hour.

How do you deal with criticism?
I don't actually get very much criticism. But when I get it – if it is about an instruction – I am very, very sorry and I correct it right away. If it is about colors, design etc. I don’t care. If I like a design – OK – if some do not like it – they will not buy it and that’s it.

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

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
If she/he can figure out something else – do – if she/he cannot help it – I wish them all the luck in the world. I have actually helped some to get started. Given them advice etc. I like to be a shoulder they can lean on.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Cotton Shortages?

When I was at the DKC frolic last weekend I was looking for summer yarns like cotton or linen for some cooler summer knitting and found out that there really wasn't a lot available. I asked Jane from Dye-Version what was going on and she told me that the Chinese are hoarding cotton so there is less available on the world market. Here's an article from the Wall Street Journal that explains the situation. 

I looked around for more information and found the International Cotton Advisory Committee site.The information there is that after seven consecutive months of increase, cotton prices fell in April 2011. The
record high of $2.44 was reached on March 8, 2011, but was down to $1.73 per pound on April 28. These prices are considered to be very high by historical standards.

The reason given for the decrease in prices seems to be a significant slowing in demand. The very high prices, are all affecting mill use. A slowing of spinning operations and an increased switch to chemical fibers are curtailing demand for cotton and are reducing its share of world fiber use. Production is expected to increase by 11% in  2011/12. For Knitters that may mean it will be a while before we see more hand knitting yarns available in cotton.

I did buy this from Dye-Version 

It's a lovely mercerized cotton in a DK weight.

For an update on yarn prices you can read this post here.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Field Guide to Knitters - Part 3

Part 1 is here, part 2 is here.

Technique Knitters (Artis knitcreo)

This type of Knitter rarely completes a whole project. Often they become fascinated with figuring out better ways to reach their goal of perfection but then move onto the next challenge before completing the item that provided their last one. Very large swatches are common. Rare completed garments may be asymmetrical while this Knitter tests and compares various techniques rather than using matching ones. Alternatively they become so enamored  of their latest new technical tour de force that they will produce large numbers of a single item (usually a small one) trying a different variation of technique in each one.

Habitat and range
Often isolated from other Knitters due to the complexity of their knitting, when they do step out to share their insights they have no knitted items to wear publicly.

They love to share their knowledge with other Knitters but have to stop to explain and demonstrate the numerous variations of every technique they have sampled.

Charity Knitters (Caritas knitcreo)

An amazingly generous and diverse group, this type of Knitter rarely knits for themselves or even for family. Their product is gifted to others such as cancer victims, newborn babies, the humane society, to the homeless and even the Fairy penguins after an oil spill. When the call came out for penguin sweaters these Knitters responded in such large numbers that eventually they were asked to stop sending the little sweaters.

The request for penguin sweaters originally seemed so much like a hoax it ended up here on

Habitat and range
This species of Knitter is often found at churches and hospitals and various community events. In Toronto sighting are common at the Relay for Life events. They will flock together in large groups to work on especially large projects for donation to others.

Words like giving, help and community are common. One Knitter who donated hats to the homeless was very amused to see one of her hats being used as a carrier bag for several bottles of beer by a happy recipient, not her intended use but obviously useful to the hat owner.

Field Guide to Knitters: