Friday, March 7, 2014

An Interview with... Joanna Johnson

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 Joanna here and here on Ravelry.

Joanna on Knitting Daily TV

Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration in a lot of places, but primarily in nature and in literature. Most of my patterns that aren't a part of our knitting storybooks are inspired by literature and books, such as Miss Terwilliger from Homer Price and my newest collection based on the book Anne of Green GablesGreen Gables Knits. I love the colors, shapes, and textures of the natural world, and often find inspiration there. For example, the texture and shapes of Phoebe's Sweater were inspired by an acorn. There is an endless source of inspiration for color and design in the natural world.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
My absolute favorite knitting technique is working a garment without seams, whether by doing raglan sleeves, modular knitting, or by picking up stitches. I have done a lot of sewing over the years, and really appreciate the components of garment construction. I greatly enjoy sewing, but one of my favorite things about knitting is how you can manipulate the pieces to work together without seams. It always seems somewhat magical to me!

Available here

How did you determine your size range?
The size range I select really depends on the garment itself. I like to try to offer a variety of size options for my adult garments, but sometimes offer a more narrow selection for some of my children's pieces. For example, Phoebe's Party Dress from Phoebe's Birthday is available in a child's size 2-12, as it is a versatile garment that looks great on all children, whereas Phoebe's Sun Romper is much more suitable for a younger child, so it only goes up to a child's size 4. The design really dictates what kind of size range is ideal for each pattern.

Phoebe's Sun Romper

Could you tell us a little about your design focus on children and babies?
As a busy mom of three children, I really enjoy creating patterns for children and families. Because a lot of my patterns accompany our knitting storybooks, it has dovetailed rather beautifully for me to create patterns for toys, accessories, and garments that correspond with my stories and my husband Eric's illustrations. It really takes the knitting experience to an entirely different level to have the story and artwork mesh together, and to provide knitters with the opportunity to bring that imagination to life by creating items from the stories for their little loved ones.

Available here

You write books for children that include knitting story lines, and publish the patterns for the knitting. Please tell us how that combination of knitting and writing evolved?
Our first book, Phoebe's Sweater, started as a simple storybook project that my husband and I started collaborating on about eight years ago. As we started getting more serious about seeking a way to publish it, I began thinking of how neat it would be to include an actual knitting pattern for the sweater in the book itself. I started doing some research and found that although there was a healthy selection of "knit lit" for adults on the market, no one had really attempted this style of book for children. For us, it seemed so natural, to include the story, the illustrations, the pattern, and the photos all together in a cohesive project. It has been really rewarding creatively to be able to mesh my interests and passions together into our book projects.

Phoebe's Sweater

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I look at knitting patterns a lot... it is one of my favorite hobbies, next to knitting, that is! I never worry about being influenced by other people's designs, as I think that it is nearly impossible to work in a vacuum. I am inspired by everything beautiful that I see, including beautiful knitting patterns, so of course I am influenced by the things around me. 

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I am thankful to have a wonderful group of about a dozen test knitters and two sample knitters who assist me with my pattern designs. I am thankful for the talented and eager knitters who have helped me in this way.

Margaret Dashwood Shawl
Do you have a mentor?
I have several mentors. I cannot imagine how we could have done all of this without the wisdom and guidance of others. My husband and I both grew up in families where our parents ran small family businesses together, so I really need to credit our parents as our first mentors. My parents designed and built custom timber frame homes, and my in-laws run a commercial art studio. Eric and I both watched our parents take a chance on their dreams and succeed, and I think that inspired us and made it seem "normal" to do what we do together. As for mentors specifically within the yarn business, there are a few very dear people who have really taken me under their wing and guided me. I am really grateful for their wisdom and willingness to spend time nurturing my dreams.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
Oh, that is a funny question. We have never had a business model. I think if we had tried to have one, we never would have started to begin with! When we got started we had hoped to sell about half of our first print run in a year or two. We ended up selling the whole run in less than six months. We make a lot of plans, and talk a lot, but have never had a formal business plan. I don't know that we ever will! Things change so quickly and unexpected opportunities keep coming our way, I am not sure we could keep up with it all.

Miss Stacy's Shawl

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
This is something I think about from time to time. I do think it is easier in this day and age for a small publisher like us to have a "larger" voice than we would have had in the pre-internet days. At the same time, we are still really old-fashioned in the way we do things. All of our books begin with a pencil and paper, and we offset print our books here in the US. We distribute to yarn shops through traditional methods, and still take orders via mail at times. So although the internet has had an impact on certain ways of communicating with our readers and interacting with knitters, I still think the heart and soul of our creative work would be the same with or without it.

Do you use a tech editor?
Absolutely. We have used the same tech editor for all four of our books. She has been such a lifeline for us through those final stages of the editing process. I am so fortunate to have found her!

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I will let you know if I ever figure that out someday :)

How do you deal with criticism?
I think I deal with it pretty much like anyone else would. Of course it stings a bit to hear negative feedback, but I usually try to separate myself from it and look at it to see if there is something of value there for me to learn about myself. Then I shake the dust off my feet and try to focus on all of the good things we hear, our happy readers and the lucky recipients of their knitting love... that makes it all worth it. Every time.


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