Monday, January 30, 2012

Design-a-long - The Paper Pattern Part 2

The next step for the Design-a-long is to draft the front. I go through the same process as for the back, using my specific numbers that I've developed by working with my personal measurements and those of a target garment or even several garments that I've taken measurements from. I also use the garments as a point of reference when I want to alter things. As an example, I want a full length sleeve and I have two garments with 3/4 sleeves and one with sleeves that are too long. I used that one by putting a pin in the spot that I want my sleeve to end.

I marked in the major measurements on my graph paper, and drew in all my lines. I added a button/neck band of 1 inch. Your bands can be what ever width you like, you just need to account for them on your schematic. They can overlap at center front if you are doing buttons and buttonholes. That means that 1/2 your band width is subtracted from the measurement of each front. You could choose to do bands that meet at center front and close with a single button and loop with no overlap, in that case the total band width gets 
subtracted from each front measurement to attain your target number.

I also do a detailed underarm, shoulder and neckline at this point. I print off knitting graph paper from here in my gauge. I draw in my lines in with every square equaling a stitch. The site says the paper is actual size but I often find it is just a little out over longer measurements even when I un-check fit to file as per the instructions on the site. I mark the shoulder line then the vertical line down to the armhole depth measurement and finally the horizontal line is my front 1/2 bust measurement - the cross shoulder measurement divided by two. I then mark the curve off on the graph paper in the way I will actually knit it. I either use a compass or the edge of a round jar to indicate a curved line. You can see it as a dotted line on my schematic My first cast off is 1 inch worth of stitches. Then I mark off decreases at the rate of one every right side row. If it works out that I need more than 3 single decreases. I rejig and do two initial cast offs. To clarify, in my example I need to decrease 15 stitches. I ended up with cast off 6 stitches, cast off five stitches and cast off 1 stitch 3 times.

I always teach people how to do angles and curves visually on graph paper even though it can be done mathematically. I find the majority of knitters are very visual and once you learn to plot on graph paper you can more easily switch to calculating the numbers. I do everything mathematically on a spreadsheet when I grade patterns, however I still revert back to graphing when ever I do work with unfamiliar shapes.

Reality check: as a final confirmation for the armhole, I use either my flexible ruler or a tape measure standing on its side to measure around the armhole drawing. If the knitters graph pattern didn't turn out at a true actual size, I do a real size drawing to take the curved measurement from. I double this number and using a binder clip or a paper clip I use my measuring tape and make a loop of the tape of the correct measurement. I slip this tape up my arm to my shoulder and make sure that the armhole sits in the correct location on my body. I use the bony shoulder protrusion to find that spot. Check to see that the underarm fits you in a way you like. That's an ease decision, the armhole of a garment usually rests one to two inches below your armhole in a fitted classic cardigan like this.

Next time I'll talk about shoulders and necklines. 

Links to the other posts:

Friday, January 27, 2012

An Interview with...Michelle Porter

Michelle in Fondle Pattern 311 Cable V-neck Vest

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. Michelle says that 
initially, she began a career in fashion merchandising. However, her real love has always been knitting. As a young child her grandmother taught her the basics of the craft. She learned to follow complicated patterns for doll clothes and advanced her skills very quickly. Since those days she has worked in yarn stores, owned a yarn store, worked for a yarn distributor, taught lessons, wrote knitting patterns and now she designs and writes patterns for her own line.

You can find Michelle here

Where do you find inspiration?
Inspiration is the most exciting part of designing! It can come at anytime, anyplace – so I always keep a small pocket sketchpad with me for quick notes and drawings. I love to look through fashion magazines and insider reports to see what is trending. I’ll go to stores to see what they are trying to sell and I ask my friends what they are looking for, to buy or to knit. Mostly I try to design things I or someone I know would wear. Once I have lots of notes on possible designs, then I go to the yarns and wait for them to tell me what they want to be. Sometimes I buy bags of yarns that I just like the look or feel of. Other times I’m given certain yarns by the supplier. Either way, it’s the fondling of the yarn that tells me what to make. I do a lot of swatching and mock ups to work out the suitability of designs to the yarn’s qualities and textures. For example, is the yarn slinky and drapey, or is there a lot of body and elasticity? Is the yarn built for outerwear or evening wear? Does it have good stitch definition or a halo of fluff? Sometimes I have to change my design concepts for the chosen yarns, once I really begin working on it full scale. I guess you could say each yarn’s own personality is my inspiration.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
It’s easier to list my least favourite techniques. I do not enjoy intarsia, or stranded colour work that involves more than 2 colours at a time. I enjoy an easy rhythmic flow to my knitting with pattern repeats that can be learned quickly. I usually choose textured stitches that use the features of the yarn to its best advantage. I also have no favourite construction method; seams vs. no seams, top up, top down or sideways – I use them all. I do especially like clever shortcuts and so called “thinking outside the box”. It’s still thrilling to invent or be taught a new way of doing things.

How did you determine your size range?
I am constantly adjusting my size range, based on each individual design. Mostly I design garments that need to fit a certain way – some tight, some loose, so I usually give my patterns 6 sizes: small to 3X-large. This gives the knitter a lot of choices. Also I describe in the pattern how the garment should fit and the intended ease. I give as many finished measurements as I feel are relevant. After working in a retail fashion environment for years (visual merchandiser and fashion consultant), you get to know what kinds of fit people need. Most folks choose sizes too big for themselves. Once you choose the chest measurement, the sleeves and shoulders are the hardest to fit. I try to allow places in the design for you to make adjustments for your individual sleeve and body lengths. If you find shoulders seldom fit, then choosing raglan styles will help out. Basically I try to fit as many common sizes as possible, even though we all know there is no such thing as an “average” body shape.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
Oh, I am always interested in other designers’ work! I buy most of the knitting magazines and although I can’t remember the last pattern I knit from one, I read almost all the directions through. I often wonder why they choose to use certain techniques or yarns. I like to see how the instructions are worded and whether a chart is needed. I admit it can be frustrating though, when you see a really close resemblance to the design you have been working on for months, get published by someone else. But these consistencies in design and fashion are always happening. It’s just a reflection of the trends. That’s why when you shop at the mall; all the stores are selling something similar. We like to think we are immune to this in the knitting industry, but how else could you explain the universal popularity of such items as: ponchos, cowls, infinity scarves, fingerless mitts, ruffle scarves, lace shawls and wildly coloured socks? It’s funny though, lately these items have influenced commercially manufactured clothing, rather than the other way around, as it was in the past. I think most designers are influenced by other designers, whether they are going along with the crowd or against it. And it’s important to know what else is out there. You need to know if you are filling a niche or if your designs are even of interest to anyone else.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
I hope I’m not offending too many knitters out there, but I try to write my patterns for real dummies! I also include myself in this group! If there is any way to miss-read, miss-interpret, count wrong, or measure wrong – I will find it! So, I try to include stitch counts whenever it changes and describe exactly where you are measuring. I remember to state which needles you are using and if increases and decreases are done in pattern, how and where. I hope all the questions are answered on the pattern, with no ambiguity. I feel all patterns should include a difficulty rating and “beginner” patterns should really include nearly everything.”Experienced” patterns can get away with less detailed explanations and an assumption of a degree of knowledge. Every pattern should include a tension gauge done in the stitch pattern used and an abbreviations key. I do try to keep my patterns for yarn companies to 3 pages, though, so it can be printed easily on a folded sheet. For my Fondle Patterns collection, I make them as many pages as I need and include several photographs. I also like to use a flat photo of the sample garment (not on a model) to help with the construction. Sometimes my blog has more photos and notes than the pattern. If a knitter still has questions, I am very happy to answer by email.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I mostly do all the knitting myself. It’s hard to do all that developing without actually knitting it. I do have one knitter that I can use who instinctively knows what I’m after and how to read my vague instructions and interpret my sketches. She is very good at finding problems and questionable bits of instruction. As good a friend as her, that I know I can count on to meet deadlines, is one of my most valuable resources!

Do you have a mentor?
I can’t say that I have just one mentor, but I have had many. There have been some very precious women friends in my life whose own experiences have helped me in my career path. Their advice and encouragement has been and is priceless. Whenever I run into an obstacle, I know someone in my “circle” has already dealt with something similar.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
Not really, other than following the old quote “do what you love; the rest (money) will follow”. I also think being honest and sincere will pay off. I don’t believe in “putting on airs” or pretentiousness. I’ll always give my true opinion...sometimes even if you didn’t ask.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
Fondle Patterns is an internet business. I do all my direct selling of PDFs on my website through email or Ravelry. I sell through Patternfish. I also do all my correspondence with the yarn suppliers like Diamond Yarn, through email and websites. Paypal and internet banking are crucial for the financial transactions that make an internet business possible. Facebook, blogs and Ravelry are essential to share our work. Without the world wide web of knitters my knitting circle would only number in the handfuls. Now I can be reached by anybody, anywhere! For me (and I expect most), the internet is essential!

Do you use a Tech Editor?
I actually do some tech editing work myself and it really requires a disciplined amount of concentration. In the past I have used a good friend who is an expert knitter to “proofread” my patterns. She also test knits bits and pieces, critiques and makes recommendations. I’m not sure I’ll be able to get her help in the future, so I’m working on a deal with another designer, that we tech edit each others. It is very hard to find someone else who can knit and read patterns at the level required to tech edit…and is also available and affordable.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
My lifestyle suits my design career very well. There is only my husband and myself, no kids or pets. I am constantly knitting and designing, even as I do housework or entertain friends. Most of my social activities already revolve around knitting, so no one is surprised when I pull knitting out of my bag at a party or camping trip. I sometimes knit all night long, if I’m on a roll or a tight deadline. Sleeping ‘till noon and working in my pajamas aren’t a problem. Neither is drinking cocktails and watching DVDs while I work. I still find time to go to the gym once in a while and pursue my hobbies of gardening and doll restoration (knitting counts as work). I’m happy to say my husband is very supportive and proudly wears his handknits!

How do you deal with criticism?
Without truthful criticism, there is no way to improve, so I welcome it! When I was in art school we did a critique on every piece of work, without showing our names, so we wouldn’t be swayed by whose work it was. This exercise was really helpful to get us used to receiving criticism and giving it out. It’s helpful to think of criticism as another word – “feedback”.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
To avoid being a “one hit wonder”, you really need to have experience in all aspects of the knitting industry. You need to know customers, yarn and selling. Then you have to find your niche. You have to consistently do it well and offer customer support. You also need a reliable secondary income, while you are getting established. A big dose of self confidence is also crucial!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Knitting Perfectionism

I've recently started a series of posts as a design a long. I'm well aware that most knitters don't want to design from scratch, they just want to knit. My focus will be to help knitters understand pattern drafting for the purpose of modifying existing patterns to personalize them. I’ll give you the basic skills so that you can design from scratch but the real goal is to use this knowledge to take existing patterns and modify and adjust them for perfect fit as well as to flatter our individual bodies. The target garment is a basic cardigan with a set in sleeve and a classic silhouette. I picked this garment as it gives me the opportunity for the highest level of fit in a single sweater. I originally learned to draft patterns when I was sewing, purely so I would have the ability to modify patterns to fit me. I also wanted to be able to do simple things like change a neckline on a pattern that had all of other features I wanted. Some of what I will cover will be fairly complex but broken down step by step none of it is difficult. 

I have so much fun with knitting my own garments and wearing them, that I want all of you to enjoy the process and the end result just as much as I do. 

Too many Knitters suffer from perfectionism, when it comes to making garments you will sometimes knit things that are not perfect or even more likely don’t totally align with the internal vision you had of the garment. The sooner you accept this, the faster you can get on with making improvements and learning, rather than giving up. You’ll never be 100% sure a pattern will work out to be perfect in advance, but you can always be 100% sure doing nothing to modify it will make it more likely. So get on with customizing the pattern. Either you will succeed or you will learn vital lessons that will make the next project better.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Design-a-long - The Paper Pattern Part 1

We're going to start on your customized paper pattern. This may take a few posts to finish. You have taken your measurements and you've done some comparison to garments you already have in about the same weight of fabric that you will be knitting. I ended up using three different garments for comparison, two were purchased sweaters and one was a cotton cardigan I knit a few years ago. All had details that I like but none was perfect on its own for the sweater I want to create now. Keep in mind that this fitting garment will be a work in progress. You may want to develop more than one according to the weight of the project yarn or even variations based on silhouette, say a classic body skimming cardigan that hits at the high hip length vs. an oversize cardigan that hangs much longer that perhaps you wear over another garment.

Ease is extremely personal and accounts for most of the difficultly in choosing sizes when working from patterns. One of the things that I noticed when going through the comparisons is that I like different amounts of ease for different parts of my body. I like minimal ease on my bust but more around my waist. I like a little ease on my sleeve, but no where near the large amount sleeve ease that appears on most patterns. Many designers use either 1/2 the torso ease or 2 inches for the top of the sleeve. It depends on the overall silhouette of the garment. I'm not going to get into specific numbers because the whole point here is to figure out your personal preferences. Other details to watch for are the depths of necklines, (v necks are always too low for me on purchased garments) and lengths for hems and sleeves. Think about what your personal fitting issues are and check those numbers carefully. Do you get garments that pull in unusual ways on your body? If you do, look at the wrinkles created, they normally point either away or towards fitting problems. As an example, vertical lines on the lower back may indicate a curved upper back. The fix may be some short rows or darts in the back. Pulling at the shoulders may indicate that you need a steeper shoulder line, working more rows at the neckline edge may solve this problem. There are so many variations that the best advice I can give you is to look at books for sewers that target fitting and adjustments. Something like Fast Fit (Easy Pattern Alterations for Every Figure) by  Sandra Betzina or The Vogue Sewing Book of Fitting, adjustments, and Alterations by Patricia Perry will help you to understand necessary adjustments.

Go through your numbers and make a third list. Your first measurements were of your own body. The second measurements were ones taken from a garment and possibly changed to get closer to your ideal. The third list numbers are your pattern numbers. They have the ease incorporated.

I like to work on graph paper that is four squares to one inch. I find it's easier to plot in my measurements that way. I use one square to represent one inch.The first decision to make is based on your measurements of your front and back. You may be able to simply divide your total circumference in half and use those numbers or you may need to split the numbers like I do making my back smaller. You can also choose to put more ease on the front than the back. Knitting is stretchy, if you stretch it horizontally there is less stretch left in the vertical direction. That vertical stretch may be enough to avoid needing short rows for the bust line. Test your swatch, when I pull mine horizontally the hem rises. If I pull it vertically I get less stretch but I still get some. Fine tune by checking your measurement from the top of your shoulder over your bust line and down to where your hem should land. A "large" difference as compared to your length measurement means short rows will be required. Large is very hard to define, I've seen it by cup size and by measurements but for your pattern it's something that needs to match up with your measurements and preferences. You can put your test garment on and look at the hem at the front compared to be back. Is it pulling up? If it is by how much? This will give you an idea of how much longer the front needs to be if you do need short rows.You could consider placing those short rows at the hem instead of at the bust line. I wrote about another solution here.  Waist shaping can also improve the fit.

I mark the center of the page for the bottom hem and start plotting in the other width and length points and then I draw in the lines. Use the back schematic I've got at the top of the post as a guide. Did you have a big difference between your cross front and cross back shoulder width? Most people are wider across the back. You need to make a decision here, you could average the two numbers, you could use the larger or the smaller number. You could also assess your swatch for horizontal stretch, I can stretch mine 1/2 inch without noticeable distortion, over the width of my back I could easily get an extra inch and keep my fronts in perfect alignment with my shoulder line. The decision is yours to make.

I've also indicated my waist level and roughly where I'll be putting in some body dart lines. I'll write a little about dart placement in the next post. You could choose to work shaping at the side seams instead, or not at all. As an aside, I think even the smallest amount of waist shaping has a large impact on figure flattery, just the suggestion of a waistline makes everyone look slimmer. Boxy garments make people look boxy.

You may want to start testing and assessing all of these possible choices and potential solutions on future garments to expand your repertoire of skills and determine your best possible customizations on a project by project basis. 

Links to the other posts:

Friday, January 20, 2012

An Interview with...Mary Jane Mucklestone

Retro Andean Pullover from

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.

Mary Jane is best known for her colourful and inventive stranded colorwork designs featured in Interweave Knits, Twist Collective, Classic Elite Yarns, Alchemy Yarns, St. Denis Magazine and an assortment of books. She has a  BFA in Printmaking from Pratt Institute, studying fashion at Parson’s School of Design and Textiles and Historic Costume at the University of Washington. She also worked  in the fashion industry in New York City and the related fields of advertising and interior design. She is the author of 200 Fair Isle Motifs: A Knitter's Directory

You can find Mary Jane here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration everywhere I look. From architecture to the colors of a misty sunrise. Canned food labels and a pile of grass clippings. There are patterns and interesting color combination's everywhere. I also find inspiration in books and films, magazines and browsing the Internet. 

What is your favourite knitting technique?
Well, I like all kinds of knitting. I love to learn about traditional techniques and I’ve done quite a bit of traveling to learn firsthand. For Fair Isle knitting I’ve been to Shetland a couple of times, I’d love to make it a yearly excursion. I’ve learned so much just seeing the scenery, the colors of the countryside are exactly the colors you find in the yarns!

I’ve also been to Peru to learn how the amazing men’s hats called “chullos” are made. They use an interesting form of intarsia in the round, as well as having some darling and fun to knit trims.


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 designer’s work. I’m not afraid of being influenced, it is bound to happen, but I’d say “inspired” is a better word choice.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
Being a self taught knitter, I kind of resent the dumbing down of patterns but maybe not in the way you mean. I had to figure out how to do so much on my own, there just were not books to describe the techniques that I saw, which led to a lot of experimentation, which makes for a better knitter I think.

If you mean dumbing down patterns to make them fit into a magazine format, I’ve got mixed feelings about that. Luckily we have places like Twist Collective and Ravelry now, with downloadable patterns, so a designer can make their pattern as many pages as they’d like.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I do most of it myself, and only occasionally use sample knitters, who are a wonderfully patient breed. But since I design on the needle, I can’t really farm the work out. I’m starting to use test knitters for alternate colorways though. Anyone care to sign up?!!

Did you do a formal business plan?
Nothing recent and I have to do it.

Do you have a mentor?
I have a few trusted friends who I can talk the biz with, a couple are my knitting idols so I feel very fortunate.

Do you use a Tech Editor?
Tech Editors are the gods of the industry!

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
My working style is probably not the best. I work late late late for days on end, and then crash and read detective novels.

How do you deal with criticism?
I think criticism is helpful. I try to learn from it.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I’ve learned you can never stop and take it easy, gotta keep your nose to the grindstone!

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Go for it!  

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

An Outsider's View of Ravelry

 I recently stumbled across an article about Ravelry from last summer. It's an interesting read and the article really does a great job of highlighting why Ravelry has been such a great addition to the knitting world. You can read it here:

Monday, January 16, 2012

Design-a-long - More details on Swatching

I ended up struggling a lot regarding my yarn choice for this project. What I wanted was a gorgeous, solid, densely coloured, black yarn with maybe just a bit of sheen in either DK or sport weight yarn. I looked at numerous options, generally blends of wool and silk. You can see a Ravelry search here that shows there were lots of possibilities. Then I started looking  at some garments I already own. I have a lovely silk and wool blend cardigan that I bought last spring that already shows a shocking amount of abrasion wear after not very many outings and no washing. Making a plain black sweater while useful isn't really very exciting so I want to make sure it stands up to lots of wearing and washing. Hummmm, more thinking and pondering and more looking at yarns I've already knit up. What wears best generally is sock yarn, I don't knit a lot of socks but with one exception (that didn't wear well) all mine have some nylon and have been washed and dried many times more than a cardigan will be. The next search was this one. Many options turned up again, so I started looking for black and reading reviews. I ended up with Knitpicks Stroll Sport, you can read the comments here.

I've knit two swatches as you can see in the photo above, one on a 3.25mm and the other on a 3.75mm. I didn't find the yarn splitty, but then I like my needles to have rounded not sharp points and I prefer soft materials. I did one swatch on my Denise circulars and the second on an old pair of needles that were my mothers. I think it's metal set but a relatively soft one as they bend a little. I did the first swatch plain but the second has 3 yarn overs and 3 purl stitches to indicate that it was done on a 3.75 mm. I forgot to use the same marking system on the 3.25 mm swatch. Full disclosure: I have given up on writing notes about what needle I used because I invariably lose the notes!

I like to know if there is any shrinkage in the length before I start knitting, so I can add in extra if that is a concern. I do it by percentage if I do get shrinkage. I check this by lightly steaming my swatch with my iron not touching the knitting, and smoothing it to make it lie flat. Then I drawn out the size on graph paper as a comparison tool for after blocking. The swatches are now in a laundry bag being machine washed on delicate with some other black things. I'll update this post after the machine drying. 

The swatches are dry. I had to steam them to lie flat and then I let them rest overnight. The one on 3.25 mm needles is exactly the same as before. I got 23 stitches for 4 inches not the 26 that the ball band suggests. I'm happy with the fabric which is a little firm and bounces back when I stretch it in either direction. Interestingly the swatch on the 3.75 mm needle did shrink a little in both directions. I already knew the fabric was too loose but I went ahead and washed and dried it anyway. I'm guessing that perhaps the looser gauge allows more for shrinkage. The other factor is that while the fabric looks fine it does not bounce back as quickly after stretching.

Links to the other posts:

Friday, January 13, 2012

An Interview with...Lori Versaci

Lori wearing (un)expected, to be published in January.

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. Lori puts an emphasis on texture and construct with all of her designs. She is known for applying unconventional technique and atypical methods to traditional hand-knit design. Most often, this results in garments that knitters describe as, “Classic with a Twist!”

You can find Lori here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?

While I’m influenced by many things -- movies, magazines, nature, dreams -- I’m inspired most often by the yarn itself.  Knitting a test swatch can cause me to change my plan entirely, no matter how far I have gone with the original idea.

Recently I bought a skein from which to swatch for a new design.  I loved the feel of it and how it knit up, so I ordered enough for the sweater in the online store.  But when I received the package, I was busy with other projects and put it aside.

In the meantime, I had bought a skein to test for another sweater design.  As I began to knit the swatch, the pattern for the first sweater began emerging from the needles, and it looked great – fabulous, actually.  Of course, I had to go with the new yarn, and the yarn I ordered first is still sitting in my studio.

Classic Baby, 2011.

What are your favorite knitting techniques?

My favorites change continually.  From the beginning I have collected knitting books and patterns and have built a good library.  It amazes me how often I still turn to printed books for ideas and inspiration for something as simple as a different cast on or finishing technique, a new way to do a twist stitch, or a new stitch pattern.  I confess, though, that I have never steeked. I just can’t imagine cutting into a finished piece!

Of all my books, Barbara Walker’s books of pattern stitches are my favorites.  There is nothing I love more than pulling one out and spending a whole day, or two, or three knitting a long scarf-like swatch of pattern stitches.  I guess that is my favorite knitting technique! 

How did you determine your size range?

I first began writing my patterns to submit them to Knitty. A friend had introduced me to Knitty, and I loved how the magazine and website made great design accessible to everybody.  I also loved that Knitty welcomes submissions from nonprofessional as well as professional designers, so when I decided to publish, I thought of Knitty first.  I started writing in sizes XS to 5XL because that’s what Knitty requires, and I have continued to do so with each new pattern.   I sometimes curse this practice, however, since writing a pattern in nine sizes is extremely tedious!

Spoke, published in, Winter 2009.

Do you look at other designers' work, or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?

I am not afraid to be influenced by other designers. We are influenced by each other’s work all the time.  It’s part of the creative process.  I must admit, though, that there are times when I feel intimidated by other designers’ work and think, “I could never do anything like that!  How can I even dare to compete?”  Then I remind myself that I am an artist, and I do this work because I have to.  Knitwear design is my passion, and I am committed to this journey of evolution and discovery.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?

I don’t know about the controversy.  When writing up a pattern, I have one goal:  to clearly communicate what I did so that it is understandable and elicits as few questions as possible. 

I do have a problem, though, with one aspect of the virtual knitting world – that is, the way in which free patterns are used increasingly by merchants to sell yarn, magazines, and ad space.  This proliferation of free patterns devalues the work of professional designers.  It creates an expectation that yarn costs money but that patterns are free.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?

Although I dream of having a whole gaggle of test knitters, I do it all myself. 

Did you do a formal business plan?

I am still working on one.  As a business school grad, I know well the need, but it’s still hard for me to balance the artistic and the business aspects of being a designer. 

I spent two years doing nothing but knitting, and I loved it.  Then I decided to publish my work.  All of a sudden there were a million things to think about that had little to do with creative design.  I think about where to submit patterns for publication, whether to publish a book, whether to find a publisher or self-publish, in print or electronically or both.  Now that I have a blog, Twitter, and stores on Etsy and Ravelry, I think about mailing lists, domain names, user groups, contests, labels, packaging, layout, photoshoots…and of course, a business plan!   It’s complex and overwhelming but also invigorating.  I have learned more new things in the last two years than in the previous ten!

Right now I am setting goals for 2012.  I want to publish at least one new pattern each month, submit proposals each cycle to Twist Collective and Knitty, establish a process for managing each design from conception to publication, broaden my pattern distribution beyond Ravelry, and more.

tranquil, 2011.

Do you have a mentor?

Not yet.  Amy Singer and her crew at Knitty took me by the hand and helped me get off the ground as a professional designer, even saving a great design that I had butchered with poor yarn selection. Shannon Oakey has also been a fabulous resource and teacher.  She is author of The Knitgrrl Guide to Professional Knitwear Design and founder of Cooperative Press.  But no mentor yet.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

While I admire some models, I don’t emulate any, since for me this pursuit is personal and privately motivated.   I am older and no longer have that raw drive to achieve success with brute force -- been there, done that!  I am forging my own course based on my passion for design, with firm parameters for what I am and am not willing to do to be successful.  I do feel fortunate to be involved in this pursuit right now, when self-publishing is readily available, and Ravelry and the virtual knitting world are going strong.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?

All of my pattern sales are conducted on the Internet, and I don’t see that changing in the next year or so.  But as a knitter, I will always shop at local yarn stores as well as online.  It’s important to see, feel, and touch the yarn before buying; photos don’t communicate the qualities of yarn very well.

Do you use a Tech Editor?

I am fortunate to have the world’s greatest tech editor, although I resisted hiring one at first. Knitty had handled editing for my first patterns, and I couldn’t imagine paying someone to edit the ones I was self-publishing.  How could I ever justify that expense?

After a few issues arose, I bit the bullet and did what any self-respecting designer in 2011 does.  I went to Ravelry’s independent knitting designer group and read all of the entries about tech editors.   One really struck a chord -- a seasoned professional tech editor who enjoyed working with new designers to help them find their voice.  I sent her a note, and Charlotte Quiggle wrote me back! 

Working with Charlotte is wonderful, and I am learning an unbelievable amount. I’m glad we are doing this electronically, however, because if Charlotte sent my patterns back marked up with a red pen, I know I would cry each time! 

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

In my prior life as a management consultant, I traveled a lot, juggled multiple projects, and handled the staff and daily office operations.  I did this all with four children, three dogs, two houses, and a husband.  And it was hard!

My current work is much easier to control. I get to decide what work to do, what trips I want to make, when and how I am going to work.  This is much better for me, even if I do end up knitting through family functions!

How do you deal with criticism?

I don’t think of criticism as a bad thing.  Of course, I don’t like getting nasty notes or seeing negative posts about my work.  Who would?  But generally, I feel that I work too much in isolation, and I value critical input.

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

Well, I could either say that I have been supporting myself since I was in my twenties -- or I could laugh heartily at the idea that my knitting design work could ever generate that much income!  My goal is to make VERSACIKNITS income neutral. 

One of the most disturbing and honest things I learned in Shannon Oakey’s book on Professional Knitwear Design was that only a very few designers earn their living from their work. Most have to add to their income with something related -- teaching classes, for example.   To supplement my work, I have a line of handmade cashmere wear that I sell in my Etsy store.  So please visit my store and help support an artist!

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?

All my siblings are artists.  My older brothers are architects, and my sister designed a line of fashion accessories. As the youngest child, I thought I needed to support all of this artistic activity, so I went to business school, finally, I am pursuing my own creative passion. 

My advice to anyone thinking of a career in knitting is simple.  Start figuring out the non-knitting pieces now, because eventually you will be doing them all yourself!

a)symmetry, 2011.

All of Lori's patterns are available at

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Startitis - Is there a cure?

I've been suffering from a huge case of Startitis. For the record this is a disease that knitters suffer from, initially identified and documented by the Yarn Harlot. You can read more about it here and here on her blog. It hit me immediately after the holiday season festivities finished. Symptoms include many skeins of yarn, books and needles that have somehow migrated out of the spare bedroom where they normally live and into the living room where I normally knit. A secondary symptom seems to be related to doing more thinking about knitting than actually knitting real projects. The final clue is the high volume of swatches that have begun to pile up with no related project on the needles. Hmmm, what exactly is going on? 

The biggest problem is that the onset seems to have started at the same time that I started working through some New Years resolutions about limiting the number of projects that I work on. It's almost as though I'm rebelling against my own goal setting process! I have noticed that high project numbers seem to lead directly to high UFO numbers which is why I want to curb this behaviour. UFO's may be a symptom or perhaps a related form of the disease. More research is required to determine which. I think this may be one of those diseases that can't be cured but will benefit from careful management.

Wikipedia says: "Disease management is defined as a system of coordinated health care interventions and communications for populations with conditions in which patient self-care efforts are significant."

Does this mean I need therapy? I hope no one stages an intervention!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Design-a-long - Swatching (yes you have to!)

Small variances in gauge can add up to large inaccuracies in sizing. The rule to remember is that less is more and more is less. In other words less (stitches per inch) is more (knitted width) and more is less. As an example, if you are working at 5 stitches per inch and want a measurement of 20 inches, 5 x 20 = 100 stitches. If your swatch shows that you are getting 4 stitches per inch instead (less), 4 x 20 = 80 stitches. If your gauge was measured inaccurately, you cast on 100 stitches, and your gauge is 4 not 5 stitches per inch the knitting will be 25 inches wide (more). 

Alternatively, if you are working at 5 stitches per inch and want a measurement of 20 inches, 5 x 20 = 100 stitches. If your swatch shows that you are getting 6 stitches per inch instead (more), 6 x 20 = 120 stitches. If your gauge was measured inaccurately, you cast on 100 stitches, and your gauge is 6 not 5 stitches per inch the knitting will be 16.5 inches wide (less). So more (stitches) equals less (knitting).

A standard 4 inch swatch may give you enough information to choose your needle size but it doesn`t really tell you how the garment fabric will behave in terms of stretch and drape. These qualities of the fabric are critical to the final results that the knitter achieves and are difficult to quantify in advance.  My experience has also been that my gauge is more likely to vary from the swatch once I start working on a larger piece of knitting. Pattern makers have the benefit of being able to adjust the pattern from the finished garment to match the actual gauge. Once an item comes back from test knitting,  pattern numbers can be adjusted to match even though the tester got the right gauge on their swatch. As well gauge is normally stated in whole and half stitches but rarely in smaller increments than that. We all know on a large swatch you can calculate gauge to a smaller fractional number. Be prepared to rip back and change your cast on numbers once you see what is happening with the first piece you knit. It`s better to rip back 6 inches of knitting in the beginning than have a completed garment you will never wear.

Hanging gauge is rarely considered by knitters. If you are using a nice springy wool yarn it probably won`t be a factor necessary to consider. If you are using a fiber that lacks elasticity it could have a big impact of the length of the garment pieces once they have to live vertically on the body instead of laying flat on a table while you measure. The simplest way to assess this is to take flat measurements and then hang the swatch for a day or two. Re-measure and note the percentage increase in the length to apply this info back to your garment. Small areas with seams are not as likely to stretch. The armhole is likely to be stable in a set in sleeve silhouette however the sleeves and torso will need to be adjusted to maintain the desired hems.  In a dropped shoulder design the simpler seaming and shaping does not give the garment the same support so you will have to adjust the entire garment for hanging gauge. 

Proper blocking of the swatch can also reveal potential problems with stretching and shrinking that you should be aware of.

Row gauge is frequently ignored and this leads to all sorts of fitting issues as the proportions of intersecting knitting don`t align in the way the designer intended. Bands are too short or too long. Necklines don`t sit correctly or raglans have odd little puffy underarms. All of this can be corrected even if you can`t get both stitch and row gauge by recalculating angles and curves of the original pattern.

I'll start working on detailed posts describing the drafting of your customized pattern in the coming weeks.