Friday, December 14, 2012

An Interview with...Zoe Moulton

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. I met Zoe at VKL in Chicago, we had a lovely chat while knitting in the lobby in the morning before my classes.

You can find Zoe here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
Everywhere!  For designs and ideas my eyes seek out a pattern in nature, architecture, wall paper, anything.  My brain’s been cooking up how to implement some things I saw at a quilt show since last winter, and I’ve had a lace pattern idea from the design on a chair at a Chinese restaurant.  Visually stimulating objects catch my fancy, and my first question is always, “Can I do that with yarn?”

I also find music to be very stimulating to my creative process. I like to go to local performances of lesser known artists, and when I leave I usually have a new idea or new ambition. I am currently in the position of not yet being able to leave my day job, and seeing artists who have been able to put themselves out there and are now doing what they love gives me the energy to keep working during my coworkers leisure time.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
Lace, cables and most anything that involves a chart. I’m a very visual person, and I like the ability to draw pictures with my knitting. I am also a very mathematical person, and the challenge of increasing/decreasing around such patterns intrigues me to no end.

How did you determine your size range?
I try to encompass the majority of sizes, but find it is most important to design something that will fit me. I am not a small person, and I feel that there should be more representation for the larger sizes in the fashion world. There are design elements that your average model can’t pull off, and I’d like to see these featured more.

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I get my influence from everywhere, and I'm not afraid to be drawn in by another design. When I design, I do make sure that I’m creating something that comes from within me and that I’m not simply copying someone else’s work, but I find it hard to believe that people don’t let the world influence them in one way or another.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
Everything in life is made more user friendly over time. Computers are a fine example of this. Twenty years ago, you would need a solid understanding of code and computer logic if you wanted to set up some basic procedures for your computer to run. Now you click a button and wait a few days and yarn shows up at your door!  However, there is a lot of work that went on through the years to make that possible. The same thing happens with patterns. As knitting continues its resurgence into popularity these days, more people want to make hats, scarves and sweaters, and more people are willing to translate the more “vague” knitting patterns into nearly line by line instructions.

To me, these detailed instructions are more fitting for a learning atmosphere. They should be geared for the knitter who is just about to learn what a short row is and how it is used to turn a heel in a sock, or for a knitter’s first raglan sweater to figure out just how those arms get attached. Once the technique is learned, the knitter should be able to utilize it in future projects without expecting an accounting of each action and stitch count in every row.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I’m still small enough to do all of my test knitting, but once I get a pattern figured out, I send a call out for sample knitters who will give me feedback on the pattern writing as well. Most of my designs so far have been for a company willing to provide the yarn to the sample knitters, and a compensation of enough yarn to knit up the garment for themselves as well. This has helped immensely.

Did you do a formal business plan?
I took an entrepreneurial class in college because I knew it was in my blood to run my own business.  My father owned a welding shop, his father ran a granary, and his father homesteaded a farm in the big land sale at the end of the 19th century. In my class, my professor said that while it is best practice to create a business plan, most entrepreneurs don't. My business grew from wanting to knit, but we were in a rough spot financially, so I thought it was a great idea that I got to knit for other people, and earn yarn money at the same time. I then had knitting friends ask me to convert patterns for a specific size, and customers started asking for specific design ideas. It was all very organic, and when I started yearning for sock yarn, I wouldn’t have imagined that I’d hold the title of “professional designer.” I do have an idea of where I want Knits by Zoe to take me, but it’s really more up to the markets that embrace me.

Do you have a mentor?
We seem to have a rather established and diverse population of fiber artists in Wisconsin.  I am currently a member of two spinning guilds and a knitting guild in my immediate area, and they all inspire me to continually challenge myself and create. Tracey Schuh of Interlacements Yarns has spent a good deal of energy on me, allowing me to use yarns for my designs, encouraging me to spin, and so much more.  Jessie Nordholm and Melissa Bohrtz of Hello Purl Fiber Arts have also guided me through the learning phase of spinning, dyeing, carding and selling yarn.  I know I wouldn’t be doing the things I do today if it were not for these three ladies, and I love each one of them for being such a part of my life.
Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
I never sat down and laid out a plan, I got into this business because I wanted to knit and couldn’t justify spending the grocery money on  yarn.  I have branched out into my different departments (knitting, designing, spinning yarn, and soon dreadlocks) from either customer demand, or my own interests in creating a salable idea.   The future is uncertain, and although I may have an opinion on which direction I would like to move, I’m not opposed to veering off that course as long as I’m still moving forward.

Do you use a tech editor?
I do all my own tech editing right now.  I took a class on it this summer and realized that I’ve been nearly tech editing for a couple of years now.  I walked out of that class wanting to start a tech editing department under my umbrella, and I still hope to be able to offer that service soon.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I don’t really know if there is such a thing as life/work balance.  Everything I do is with me everywhere I go.  I currently have a full time job, which has nothing to do with fiber arts, but it is integrated into my life well with everything else I do.  My work, all of my work, has always been important to me, and I have been fortunate enough that it is all enjoyable and feels like leisure time.  People make the time for the things that are important to them, and although I find myself joking about how I don’t like sleep, the reality is that I am able to find the time I need for all the things that matter to me.

How do you deal with criticism?
I am not really sure I’ve come across any yet.  Not to say that I’m so perfect that people don’t criticize me.  Any criticisms directed my way, I’ve perceived as opportunities to improve myself, or suggestions on how to produce a better product. I see the knitting/fiber world as a community of encouragement, not one of denunciation.

Could you tell me a little about your custom knitting work?
Have you ever looked at an article of clothing and thought, “This sweater would be perfect if only the,” sleeves were shorter, or the bust was smaller, the hips wider, etc. One of the reasons why I detest shopping in regular retail stores is that I know what elements work best for me, and not a lot of clothes seem to be designed in the manner which I like best. Once I started knitting my own sweaters, I found that I had the control to incorporate these elements, which gave me sweaters I love. My clients are able to give more input on exactly what they are looking for. They can be involved in the knitting design process as much as they want to be. From picking out the yarn and patterns to increasing the hips or decreasing the bust.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting? 
Just keep knitting. No matter what happens in your journey, don’t let yourself get discouraged.  Most artists work for years in smaller venues before they reach the eye of popular culture. Engulf yourself with your successes, no matter how small, and treat every experience as a learning opportunity so you can be even better the next time.  Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there for everyone to see. You never know who that person is who will come along and bring you to the next level until you’ve reached that new plane. Surround yourself with what you love, what inspires you, what keeps you going. Just. Keep. Knitting.

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