Friday, October 18, 2013

An Interview with... Helene Rush

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 Helene here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
Everywhere. I can see a fabric, printed or woven and an idea for a knitted piece will come to me. It can either inspire a color combo, or a texture. Sometimes, just squinting blurs things into something new. So keeping my eyes and mind open to new possibilities is important - and fortunately, my brain works that way all by itself. The internet has made going on an inspiration expedition easy, and super portable with my iPad.
What is your favourite knitting technique?
I am all over the map with that one. I know I have a "style" (at least I am told that by knitters who like my designs), but I equally like to design cables, lace, color work, you name it. I like to take a pattern stitch, or color chart, and rework it into something else. I recently designed a child's mosaic blanket. The idea came when looking at a Barbara Walker mosaic chart, and even though the design was abstract, I could see rabbits. So after playing with graph paper, my rabbits came to life.

How did you determine your size range?
When I began designing in the early '80s, I wrote patterns in sizes from 32" to 40", in 2" increments. That was considered a wide range of sizes, and pretty much the norm. Well, people have grown larger (me included) since then, and including sizes into the 50"+ is now the norm for me. Occasionally, a design will not lend itself to larger sizes, or mathematically will only work in a few sizes, and then my standards don't apply.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
When I started 30 years ago, you would pretty much only get to see knitting designs in printed publications. One time I designed a sweater for a magazine, and another magazine came out at the same time, and my sweater and another designer's sweater were practically identical. Neither of us had seen the other's prior to that. So similar ideas can be born to two different people without one imitating the other. I am not afraid of being influenced by any specific designer, but I would say my designing evolves and goes with the flow of what seems to be what knitters are interested at the time. You can't help but see others' designs while navigating the world of knitting.

You have been an amazingly prolific designer. Please tell us a little about how you have accomplished so much?
I am a knitting/designing maniac. It is almost an addiction. Right smack in the middle of designing/knitting a project, my mind will drift toward another idea and I just can't wait to get that one on the needle. It never ends. I am also a fast knitter, and I've gone home on Friday and returned to work on Monday morning with a finished sweater. And as I've said, I've been at it a long time. Sold my first design in 1979. I wrote five books in five years in the 1980's, had three children during that time as well. Became the editor of McCall's Needlework & Crafts magazine in the early '90s, and Cast On magazine in 2002, and so on… I basically never say no to anything knitting related. And I am an overachiever.

Could you tell us about your role in the running of Knit One, Crochet Too?
I am the big boss, the queen of everything! But seriously, my role includes designing yarns (deciding fibers and selecting colors), designing all our patterns (about 50 per year), some photography, designing ads, all the general accounting, and making all the important decisions. I have a great team (my two sons, and Joyce and Deb, too) and we all get along great. I think everyone likes to come to work in the morning, and that makes me happy :)

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
Do you mean spelling out all the little details so knitters don't have to think too hard about what to do? Humm, I am not a big fan. Back in the days, all patterns were written for print, so abbreviations and truncated sentences were the norm since space was a premium. By rating patterns by skill level, knitters could stick to those they felt comfortable tackling knowing that no one would be at the ready to help them as they do now via email, or online forums. I still write without including what specific method to CO or BO, or how to work increases unless one method is an integral part of a design. I have taught beginner knitting classes before. I always made sure my students learned how to "read" their knitting - recognizing a knit and a purl stitch, how to count rows, all the basics. I wanted them to become accustomed to figuring out if and where a problem had occurred and how to fix it. These days, the hand-holding seems a bit much.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I have about half a dozen knitters I work with regularly. Up until last year when I developed a major case of tendonitis, I did most of the knitting myself. Now, to minimize injury, I work what I call "Frankenstein" sweaters. I may knit the front, or whatever part of the design needs to be finessed, then once I know that works, I pass the rest on to a knitter. I often ask the knitters to send things back without the neck being done, for example. I then work that section here to be sure it is just right.

Did you do a formal business plan?
Purchasing Knit One, Crochet Too required financing from a local bank and the SBA [Small Business Administration], so I had to provide a business plan. I had no clue how to do that and had to research it. It was a great exercise and I recommend it highly to anyone who is considering purchasing or starting a business. It forces you to realistically look at everything financial before taking the plunge.

Do you have a mentor?

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
For a couple of years I designed websites, so I've been a big proponent of including a web presence in my business model. A few years ago, I partnered with Shopatron as our order processor to make it easier for knitters to purchase our products through our website. Through this system, retailers get a chance to fulfill those orders on our behalf.

Do you use a tech editor?
We do all our tech editing in house. I have outsourced in the past but after marginal success, I decided to keep it here. I've done tech editing for others throughout my career, and although nobody is perfect, I think we do a pretty good job.

Twin Peaks Cardi

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
My partner of 17 years also owns his own business, so he totally gets it when I am under deadlines. I make vacation plans months in advance, not knowing how crazy work may be at that time, but I stick to those plans. That way I get to travel quite a bit, and we also own a house on the ocean Downeast, Maine, where I booked us for three separate weeks this past summer, and I was there with bells on!

How do you deal with criticism?
I don't like to hear it (who does?), but I have learned that one person's voice does not represent everyone. I assess the comments to evaluate if there is something there worth considering, and if not, I move on.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
It took about five years back in the '80s before I quit my job and started designing full time. At one point I was earning more than my then husband. With Knit One, Crochet Too, dear boyfriend offered to help out should I need it that first year, but I am happy to say that I never had to take him up on it. These days, it is easier for designers to find opportunities (calls for submissions) and to self-publish. Ravelry has revolutionized the knitting world for designers. It also created a lot more competition. So it is a double-edge sword. My situation is unique in that I am still a designer, while selling my own line of yarn. It's hard to know how the financials would work out right now if I was only designing.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Plan on working super hard, never burn your bridges (you may have the opportunity to work with that one person you didn't agree with yesterday), be honest, be organized, and meet your deadlines!

To my readers: If you enjoy reading my blog, I'd really appreciate it if you would tell your knitting friends or share links to your favourite posts online with Twitter or Facebook. Word of mouth is really helping to grow my business as knitters respect the views of other members of our community. Thanks!

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