Friday, June 7, 2013

An Interview with...Elizabeth Smith

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.

You can find Elizabeth here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?

Just about everywhere I’d say! I’ll often get inspiration for one design from a number of different places, and the combination of those things results in the final design. Living in the Portland, Maine area is really inspiring to me—not just the landscape but the vibe and culture of Portland. When I’m brainstorming a new design I’ll often be thinking of the fashion aesthetic we have in this city—a combination of rustic meets downtown—being fashion-forward but also having a very natural and rustic feel.

What is your favourite knitting technique?

I love seamless knitting, so any technique that enables this is one that I usually love. Top-down sweaters, short row shaping or the three-needle bind off are good examples—all of these techniques are easy and fun ways to accomplish seamless knitting.

How did you determine your size range?

I try to have a range of at least 6-7 different sizes with most of my designs. I like to have as wide a range as possible within the confines of a particular design.

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

Of course! I love admiring other work, whether it’s another sweater design on Ravelry or a knitted garment I see at a local boutique. I think it would be nearly impossible to work in a vacuum and never admire or be inspired by other people’s work when you are in a creative field such as this.

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

I think there are lots of different kinds of knitters out there so there is a need for lots of different kinds of patterns. I am personally all for detailed instructions and it’s something that I provide in all of my patterns because I write for the beginner knitter in mind. Not everyone will like this writing style, and that’s okay! But I know a lot of knitters that appreciate that extra detail and it’s something I enjoy doing.

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

I do it all myself. Many times I tweak a design after I’ve already started knitting it so designing-as-I-go is an important part of my process.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

I’m not sure if I would call it a business model per se, but I have a business and marketing strategy in terms of the kinds of patterns I want to create, my target audience, and how I intend to reach my audience. I think finding a niche is important in any industry, including the knitting design world. My education and professional background is in marketing, so it’s just an ingrained habit of mine to approach any work I do with my marketing strategy hat on at the same time. I’m very much a left and right-brain kind of creative (which is probably why I like designing so much!)

What impact has the Internet had on your business?

The Internet IS my business! Well, for the most part at least. I started designing after Ravelry was created so I don’t know what it’s like to be a designer in the pre-Ravelry days. Without sites like it (including Patternfish and now Craftsy too), I’m not sure I would have even started designing because I wouldn’t have known how to get started. These sites have made it possible for a lot of knitters to make that jump into designing and I am so appreciate of them!

Do you use a tech editor?

Oh yes, of course. I have an excellent tech editor and I wouldn’t dream of publishing a pattern without one. When I’m designing and writing a pattern, I’m so involved in every little detail that it amazes me that errors still slip by, but they always do. Having a good tech editor is priceless.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

I don’t have much of a life/work balance to be honest but I love what I do for work so that’s okay with me. I work a lot of different jobs which keeps me pretty busy, but I enjoy all of them so I don’t mind not having as much “free” time as I used when I worked a more traditional work schedule.

How do you deal with criticism?

If it’s constructive criticism I definitely welcome it and try to learn as much as I can from it. You can’t make everyone happy all of the time, but I try to learn as much as possible from all the feedback I get. Some criticism isn’t always constructive and in those cases I just try to not let it get to me too much. I think whenever you put your work “out there” you have to expect that not everyone is going to always have nice things to say and it’s all about learning how to deal with it in a positive manner.

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

I’m not able to support myself solely on the money I make as a knitting designer, but through the years the percentage has increased. Technically my job title would be “knitting designer/yarn shop associate/software development project manager/web marketing professional” (in no particular order!), so I wear a lot of hats when it comes to how I make money. But I prefer it like this—having multiple revenue streams where you aren’t relying 100% on any one income source (and in my opinion is the more stable option in this economy).  Knitting design fits well into this kind of model since it can take a while to become profitable and it’s not always consistent income throughout the entire year.

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

I’d say go for it! For me, it was a slow process—I didn’t quit my day job on day 1 to dedicate myself to knitting design 100%. It’s been a very gradual process for me even to get to the point I’m at right now (where I consider designing to now be one of my part-time jobs). I had started by just fitting in design work at night and on the weekends and then slowly I was able to dedicate a little more time to it as the years went by. So if someone is interested in pursuing a career in knitting but not sure how they can make it work with their existing job or family responsibilities, I’d say just start in any way you can. Even if it’s just something you can work on once a week or on the weekends, give it a try and see where it might go. You never know where it might eventually lead to.

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