Friday, November 2, 2012

An Interview with.....Natalie Selles

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 Natalie here and here on Ravelry

Where do you find inspiration?
Everywhere! I don't really have one way to start a project. Sometimes an idea just pops into my head, while other times I have to go hunting for stitch patterns. Generally I have an idea for a shape that I want to make, and move from there. I am always on the look out for interesting textures in knitting. I am often looking very carefully at people's sweaters and hats on the streetcar, puzzling out the stitch pattern. 

Some of my favourite patterns have come out of seeing something that isn't knit, and figuring out how to translate it into knitting, such as the Oh Deer! mittens, and Tour Chapeau. For Oh Deer! I was at the One of a Kind Show in Toronto and saw so many things with antlers and deer heads on them. At one point I turned to a friend and said that it was a shame there wasn't a way to put antlers on knitting. Then bam! the idea popped into my head.

For Tour Chapeau I was doing a number of bicycle based patterns. I made a list of all sorts of bicycle related accessories. Tour Chapeau took a number of tries to figure out how to get the construction to work, but it was a lot of fun!

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I love colourwork. Totally love it. There is so much you can do with it. 

How did you determine your size range?
I haven't done a lot of garments yet, but I try to do at least three sizes for the accessories I design. Luckily I tend to work with very skinny yarn, so I haven't had too much trouble working with sizing and stitch patterns! I like to give lots of options, so I am starting to make even my scarf patterns have multiple sizes. Not everyone wants a huge scarf, so I will write it up to be a big scarf, a little scarf, and two cowl sizes. 

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I think that it is impossible not to look at other people's work. For starters I work in a knitting shop, so I am surrounded by it all the time. I am very much in the early stages of building my skills, so I do look a lot at construction to try and learn from others. When I was designing a raglan sweater I looked at a lot of raglans to see what kind of construction I needed to do to get the fit I wanted. I think it is important to see what other people are doing because it helps me to push myself further and to see the trends in construction and style.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
Ack! This is such a hard point for me. From a pattern writing perspective I find it really annoying to have to spell everything out in such a detailed way, it ends up taking much more time! But then I will have a student and they will be confused by a pattern and after I have explained it to them they will say "well why didn't they just say that?". The catch 22 that I think is going on is that there is this idea that if only we explain things more, then people will understand, but you will never be able to explain it just the right way to everyone. Then, to make matters worse, I have seen things over explained to the point where they don't really make sense anymore. I think it is up to designers to strike a balance between being clear and being concise, and sometimes that means less explaining. 

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
It's all me! I am starting to move towards getting sample knitters though, there just isn't enough time in the day. For this reason I work with a tech editor rather than test knitters.

Did you do a formal business plan?
I am working on one as I expand my business into new areas, but at the moment I do not. 

Do you have a mentor?
I work with a lot of really wonderful women in Toronto, so I am very lucky to have my mentors all around me. People like Stephanie Pearl-McPhee and Kate Atherley. 

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
I don't have one specific business model that I have looked at, but I am in the process of looking at a combination of a number of businesses to move forward with my own. This is a little cryptic, as it is all under wraps at the moment, but there are exciting things happening in the leeleetea world. I am really excited about the things I have planned! 

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
I am of the new wave of knitting designers that started after the Internet. I know what the Internet has done for the industry, and how that has changed. I have an idea of what it would be without the Internet. However I can't say the Internet has an impact, as my business has always existed with the Internet. I am very grateful for it though, as the amount of knitters that I am able to reach through my blog and Ravelry (and twitter and Pinterest and and and everything) are much higher than if I was just going through shops. 

Do you use a tech editor?
I do! Kate Atherley is amazing. 

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
Oh dear, I'm not very balanced at all. I am terrible at working from home, so I am finding that I am really having to push myself to go out to coffee shops and things more often. Partly I get all cabin fever weird when I am home alone for too long, plus I am a pro procrastinator. I hope that I am getting better at it, but it is a pretty constant struggle. 

How do you deal with criticism?
So many things I would like to say about how it doesn't affect me, or that I don't pay attention to it. Truth is that it can be hard to take. However, if I am having difficulty with a design or construction I will ask other knitters about their opinions, and that information is always appreciated and considered. I am constantly asking my mom what she thinks of a design. She went to fashion school way back in the day, and is an amazing seamstress. 

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I had to laugh at this question. I don't support myself off my patterns/designs at all. Not even close. Doesn't even really pay for groceries. I am woefully underemployed and have been since I graduated from university 3 years ago. 

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Go for quality right off the bat. Get a tech editor. Take really good photographs. If you are aiming for the top, start out there. It might cost more money and the profits will be slim or non-existent, but it will be worth it in the end. Take yourself seriously and so will everyone else.

Ossington (An upcoming pattern)

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