Friday, February 7, 2014

An Interview with...Melanie Berg

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 Melanie here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
Really - just everywhere! When I'm out, I pay a lot of attention to all the different styles of clothing I see. I try to remember stylish accessories, wonderful garments or interesting details, and I sketch down a lot of that. I also find a lot of inspiration on the internet - Pinterest for example is a great place to get new ideas. I often put my sketches down for some weeks, and when I browse them again I suddenly know what to do.

But as nice as it is to wait for the muse to strike - being a professional also means to constantly develop new ideas. I think the trick is to learn to keep things in flow.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
That's hard to say! I don't think there's one special technique I love most. It's great to work with new things and to switch between styles. Knitting is such a versatile craft with so many different techniques - I don't think I'll ever know them all.


Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I'm very active on Ravelry and I usually follow the hot right now list and pattern releases of my favorite designers. I enjoy seeing what great new ideas everyone is coming up with. I'm not afraid it might influence my work - or let's better say, I don't think anyone is free of being influenced. Everything that surrounds us leaves little footprints in our minds, and who knows which of them might develop into a great idea?

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
I followed some discussions about this online. Here in Germany, where I'm living, knitting patterns used to be a lot less detailed than in the States. It's perfectly normal for a pattern to say "work left side as right side, inverting shaping", or "increase 15 sts over the next 20 rows". But I know that a lot of customers wish to have more detailed instructions, and I want to make my patterns accessible to everyone - so I'm basically trying to walk the line between giving clear and understandable instructions on one side and not being too detailed on the other. I think I manage this quite well - my patterns are usually not longer than six pages, a lot of them even shorter, and I get very few technical questions about them.


How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I have some wonderful and amazing knitters who are regularly testing for me, and from time to time I also do public test knits in my Ravelry group. Although each of my patterns is being tech edited, test knitters sometimes find an instruction misleading and that gives me the chance to improve my patterns. Also, I just love the wonderful finished objects that come to life during a test knit, and the exchange among the knitters is awesome, too. It's almost like a mini-KAL.

I have some people I can come back to when I need a sample knitter, but unless I'm under extreme deadline pressure I prefer to knit my samples on my own. After all - I'm a knitter, and I enjoy the process. It might also happen that I do minor tweaks to a design while it's still on my needles.

Did you do a formal business plan?
No, I didn't. I somehow stumbled into this career without any formal plans - I was not even a knitter before my first child was born! But soon after I gave birth to my daughter, I picked up needles and yarn to create something that would protect my child and keep it warm. I soon started to tweak instructions and finally came up with my own ideas. It somehow felt so natural to me to write down the patterns and offer them to the knitting world. As time went by, I published more and more designs, submitted to magazines and started cooperating with yarn companies... So, although I never noted down a formal business plan, I have a pretty good idea of what I will be doing the next few years, and how I will organize my work.


Do you have a mentor?
I don't have a mentor, but I have some designer friends to exchange with. And I find this exchange to be extremely important to me. Designing knitwear can be a lonely business, especially if you're working online a lot without the "need" of leaving your house. It's awesome to have someone who can point you in the right direction, who can give useful hints and pass important information on to you. And it's also great to chat with someone who knows the industry and who understands the everyday problems a knitwear designer might run into.

I also talk a lot about my work with my husband, and although he's not a knitter, he gives me invaluable feedback. And, of course, cheers me up again when things don't run smoothly sometimes.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated? 

As said before, I don't have a concrete plan that I wrote down or something like that, but I know where I want to take this business and how I want to spend my time working in this job - and that's actually pretty much the same as I did during the last year. I will focus on self-publishing new designs, but I want to be published by a couple of magazines, too. I want to stay in touch with my customers and partners, and I want to stay active in social media, like my blog or Pinterest. I also have two big dreams: The first one is to build my own studio, and I'll definitely start working on this within 2014, and the second one is to write an amazing knitting book. I don't think I can seriously start on that one before 2016, but it's great to have some long-term plans, no?


What impact has the Internet had on your business?
Oh, I don't think I'd have a business if it wasn't for the internet, and especially Ravelry. Ravelry has revolutionized the knitting world and it's never been as easy to bring your work in front of your customers' eyes. I love the short ways through which we are all connected to each other - knitters, designers, dyers, spinners, publishers, bloggers, editors... everything is just an email away. And I love collaborating with creative minds from all over the world. I'm incredibly grateful to live in times with these technical possibilities - it enriches my world and allows me to work in a job I truly love.

Do you use a tech editor?
Yes, absolutely. It's a much better feeling to throw something on the market that has been professionally reviewed. I'm working together with a couple of editors all over the world, and I'm very grateful for the awesome job they're doing. I also have a designer friend who checks my patterns and in return I check hers.

After the Frost Mitts

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
Working in a job I love so much, it's hard for me to draw a line. Knitting is always on my mind - just like my children, my husband and all kinds of things that make up our everyday life. Working self-employed from home is opening up a lot of ways for me to stay flexible - both, as a mum of three and as a knitwear designer. For example, if one of the kids gets ill, it's easy to keep him or her at home that day without the need to see the doctor and show a medical certificate to your boss and to juggle a thousand other things. I'm also lucky to have a super supportive husband who backs me up and gives me room if I have a pressing deadline.


How do you deal with criticism?
I take it seriously and try to improve my patterns. I know how it is to have a disappointing knitting experience, and I don't want any of my customers to feel that way. I know that it's not possible to please everybody, but I think as long as I'm true to myself and have a good feeling about the quality of my work, I don't have to worry.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I started knitting in 2009, and now, four years later, I'm supporting myself with my business. But I guess I've been lucky - I've had some wonderful people in the industry help and support me on my way and I think I had a couple of "been at the right place at the right time" moments.
Being self-employed means you have the usual ups and downs in your earnings, and so I am very grateful to have a husband with a steady income who can cover expenses if I have a bad month.


What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
I think this advice applies to pretty much any career: Work hard, invest a lot of time, heart and soul, network, network, network and always make sure to deliver high quality products. Also, if you're having a bad day, recall this wonderful quote by Confucius - it always motivates me:
Find a job you love and you'll never work a day in your life. ♥

No comments:

Post a Comment