Friday, March 16, 2012

An Interview with...Erica Patberg

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 Erica here on Ravelry and her website is here.

Where do you find inspiration?  
I find inspiration everywhere. I'm always thinking of knitting, and anything that catches my eye or intrigues me could spark a new design. I'm a bit of a intellectual magpie, collecting bits and pieces of shiny facts and ideas from a wide spectrum of disciplines. I love looking through historical dress; The Met and The Kyoto Costume collection have a wealth of captivating images. I find inspiration in architecture, an unusual shape of a window, the decorative iron work on the top of a tower. From nature and my environment; the serpentine tracks left by skiers in fresh powder or the repetitive ridges of a freshly groomed trail, veining in a leaf. I love looking at Haute Couture fashion and translating a fold or silhouette or wonderful design detail into a knitted garment that has the spirit of the unusual but is more wearable. 

What is your favourite knitting technique? 
I love the twists and turns of cables. I especially love coming up with new cable patterns or taking a traditional cable pattern and giving it a new twist. That said, my favourite techniques change as I learn and explore new techniques.  I particularly like unusual applications of old techniques. 

How did you determine your size range?  
It often depends on the publication I'm writing for or the garment itself.  Accessories I usually design in one or two sizes, sweaters that I think will have a flattering fit for all sizes I really like to make the effort to provide a large size range. Everyone should be able to create flattering knits! As I write the pattern, I keep an Excel spreadsheet open and do the grading as I go, keeping a tally of stitch counts and repeats for all sizes. 

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs? 
I love to look at other designers' work and not just knitting designers. Many times a day, I see something beautiful or unique or just brilliant and I think to myself, "Oh, I wish I had designed that!" It's one of the things that motivates me to keep improving and growing as a designer. 

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?  
I didn't know that there was a controversy. As an American knitter, I tend to lean towards specifying more rather than less. Giving stitch counts at the end of a row with increases or decreases, specifying the type of cast on if it matters.  In the Netherlands, where I live, knitting was taught in schools until recently. There is an assumption that knitters have more independent knowledge thus patterns are more brief, giving just the essentials needed to knit a piece and leaving more decisions up to the knitter. I think both styles of directions have their place. As a beginner more step by step instruction can help you to learn a new skill or complete a project. For publication, pithy instructions keep costs down and allow for more designs in each magazine. 

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself? 
I've had one sweater knitted by a sample knitter due to time constraints. It was a fantastic experience, though I had to get used to the idea of handing over the design process and control earlier in the design process.  It also required me to really think through the pattern instructions very clearly before sending the pattern off. The sample knitter for Interweave was busy, so the sweater was actually knit by Eunny Jang, so of course the final sweater was lovely.  I really enjoy the research and design process and often knit under tight deadlines.  I'd like to make more use of sample knitters to allow me to spend more time designing and reduce the pressure when deadlines loom!

Did you do a formal business plan?  
I was a stockbroker on Wall Street many moons ago, and worked as a business consultant in the financial software industry so the business side of a creative industry comes perhaps a little more easily. I do have a list of goals (both financial and personal) for my business. Working as a designer I earn a fraction of what I did in banking, but I find it infinitely more rewarding. Financial success, personal interactions, creative fulfillment, these are all factors that are incorporated into my definition of success.    

Do you have a mentor?  
Perhaps not a mentor in a traditional sense, but I am very fortunate to count some very inspirational knitters in my circle.  Specifically, Nancy Marchant, the queen of brioche, who has given me good advice on where to submit more unusual garments.  She has a wealth of knowledge from decades in the industry and is free in sharing her insights and opinions. I owe her a great debt.  My other role model is Betty Salpekar.  Betty is unassuming but one of the most knowledgeable knitters I have met. She has an even, zen like charm and during a crisis while knitting my first garment for publication under deadline, Betty's calm demeanor, warm cup of tea and sage advice put me back on track. I count myself very lucky to know these women!

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?  
I don't have a business model that I've emulated. My process has been more trial and error. I've self-published patterns, published in magazines, written articles for handwork magazines. I'm continuing to dip my toe into different aspects of the knitting industry searching for a niche that is fulfilling and also provides a reasonable income.  At the moment I'm beginning a collaboration with a Dutch clothing label with a hand knit collection. I'm really excited about this foray into the fashion side of knitwear. 

What impact has the Internet had on your business? 
My business is completely dependent on the Internet! I got my start by self-publishing two patterns on Ravelry. The first submission call that I submitted to I learned about via the Internet. I'm also active on Ravelry (my Ravelry name is Hank) and use Twitter to stay in touch with other designers and knitters since working from home can be a bit isolating. 

Do you use a Tech Editor?
For my magazine work my designs are all tech edited by the publication's tech editor.  With my first few self-published patterns I used test knitters and now with EFN (the European Fiber Network) that I run with Cassandra Luckhardt, we use Sophie Oudry (@monbouton on Twitter) as our Tech Editor. She's quick and accurate and lovely to work with. 

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I wish I had figured that one out! Being self-employed, I find it really hard to take time off. I work hours that would be illegal in most countries! Work often comes in spurts, so I take work when it comes and focus on other aspects of building my business during quieter times. 

How do you deal with criticism?
In other parts of my life I can be quite sensitive to criticism. Within the knitting world, I have yet to receive any harsh criticism.  I'm a rather new designer, so it's probably just a matter of time.  I'd like to think that accurate critique will fuel me to improve.  

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I've been viewing my knitwear design as a business for almost a year now. Though I have a small and steady income I haven't yet reached a point where I would rely on my knitting income to pay the mortgage. I keep on top of expenses such as shipping, marketing, advertisement and the time I invest to determine which types of designs generate the most profit.  I plan to continue to grow over the coming 5 years to the point where my knitting design contributes significantly to my family income. 

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Persistence is crucial. I really wish that I had had a formal education in textile or fashion design. I'd advise would be designers to treat it like any other career; invest in your education, work hard, and follow your heart. 

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