Friday, November 22, 2013

An Interview with...Ann-Marie Jackson

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 Ann-Marie here and here on Ravelry.

Reedgrass / Photo credit Ann-Marie Jackson

Where do you find inspiration?
Primarily from fashion and landscape. Knitting has a pretty rich tradition that has produced its own enduring styles, and I find them continually inspiring: Aran, Fair isle, Lopi sweaters, 50s and 60s couture, Norwegian patterning, and Bohus knitting are just the beginning. I'm very interested in comfort and layering, so cold weather and dramatic landscape "stories" (e.g. Yukon tundra, a rustic farm in autumn, or a log cabin in a wintry forest) are all rich with ideas, textures, and shapes.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I think cables are beautiful, but anything that produces texture is usually pretty satisfying to me. I'm also partial to clever cast-ons; my favourites are long-tail, provisional crochet, and 1x1 tubular cast-on. It's a tiny part of the garment, but such an important detail for both form and function!

How did you determine your size range?
When I started designing, I used the size ranges I was seeing in many publications - the 32" to 50" bust range. But I'd like to expand this range, as I've received several questions from knitters about altering my patterns for smaller and larger sizes.

Brae Cowl / Photo credit Ann-Marie Jackson

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I constantly look at other designs - I find it inspiring. You can't be completely original; every thing's been done before. But there are endless ways to combine or rework shapes, patterns, and textures to add something new to the design conversation.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
I didn't know there was a controversy, but I have put some thought into the length and detail of patterns; I have yet to come to a conclusion. On the one hand, Brooklyn Tweed makes a point of writing "conversational" patterns - no abbreviations and lots of explanation. And I like knitting from these patterns very much. On the other hand, I once took a short workshop on Japanese knitting patterns, and was totally impressed by the conciseness. The schematic played a much bigger role in reading the pattern, and the knitter was left to use whatever increases, decreases, and other techniques she or he felt appropriate. I liked this because, in some ways, I don't think it's my job as a designer to teach people how to knit. But I do appreciate that some techniques must be clearly described if the knitter is to achieve the same detail or overall style in my design.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I do it all myself. I don't publish enough patterns annually to have others knit samples for me. I also sometimes work out design issues while knitting the garment myself, so I'll have to rid myself of this habit if I'm ever going to pass the sample-knitting to someone else!

Eira / Photo credit James Brittain

Did you do a formal business plan?
No. If I were going to create knitting designs and patterns full-time, or even if I were going to rely on the income from part-time design, I would definitely do a business plan.

Do you have a mentor?
No, but there are several designers and business people that have influenced me very much. Ysolda Teague, Jared Flood, and Felicia Lo are just a few.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
My business only exists on the Internet. So far, all of my patterns have been self-published on Ravelry, or in online magazines like Twist Collective and Wool People. I don't think I'd be going out on a limb to say that the vast majority of knitwear designers (at least, those without formal training in fashion or textile design) wouldn't be publishing their designs if it wasn't for the Internet.

Do you use a tech editor?
Yes. I have taken several workshops in tech editing/pattern grading, and so I'm comfortable doing it myself. But you always need a second set of eyes to find potential errors when you've spent so much time with a design.

Uji / Photo credit Carrie Bostick Hoge

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
One of the reasons I started designing knitwear was because I was fed up with the corporate world. If I was going to work overtime, I wanted it to be for me, and doing something I love! So, now I'm working for a really fantastic landscape architecture firm part-time, I'm converting the family peach orchard to organic production, and I'm designing sweaters in whatever time is left over. I'm so happy doing all three that they don't seem like work in the conventional sense, and I feel very fortunate to have these choices.

How do you deal with criticism?
Like most perfectionists, if I don't get criticism I conclude that my designs are mediocre and the editors and customers are just too nice to give it! Which is silly, I know. I welcome criticism, especially if it comes from an editor or designer that I respect and admire. Which is not to say I have a thick skin - I care very much what people think of my work, and have so far been lucky to get only constructive and well-meaning criticism.

Samara Vest / Photo credit Ann-Marie Jackson

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I think it would be a long time before I could support myself designing knitwear. Currently, I make enough to purchase yarn and make several lovely Etsy purchases per year! I've chosen to continue working in the field of landscape architecture, as well as being an organic farmer, so time is a limiting factor for me.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Know your skills, and know which ones you are and aren't willing to develop further. Photography, knitting design, knitting technique, website design, pattern layout, social media, business can't do it all, but you can do several of them well. As for the others, unless you're independently wealthy, you're probably going to have to find friends and family members to help you at the start.

Short Samara Vest / Photo credit Ann-Marie Jackson

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