Where do you find inspiration?
Mainly old photos and the catwalks! I spend quite a bit of time researching Orkney’s knitting history and I have used quite a few stitch patterns etc from there. I follow the RTW (ready to wear) catwalk shows and they give me ideas of shape and colour. Ideas are often finalized on walks round the island with my dog.
What is your favourite knitting technique?
The one I am doing next!! I like variety and enjoy working with lace, Fair Isle and Gansey patterns.
How did you determine your size range?
I tend to size female and unisex garments from 24” to about 68” chests, grouped in three ranges with the different proportions needed for those sizes. I never use computer generated figures and I don’t use the Craft Council standards as they do not correspond to the actual sizes and shapes of modern people. As a big gal, I don’t see why people should be shut out from good designs just because they are large. Nor do I subscribe to the view that ‘big people shouldn’t wear this’ - it is up to each knitter whether they want to wear a style.
Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I tend not to look at other knitwear designers’ work, apart from the big Houses. This is not because of influence, but so that if there is ever any question of a design of mine being claimed as a copy, I can show my computers, and it can be seen that I haven’t copied as I haven’t viewed them!
How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
Knitters are coming from a very different place these days, and have not been taught the construction of clothes as was essential years ago. This means that one has to take knitters from where they are. I do, however, try to educate and give confidence through my patterns - making suggestions for alterations etc....
How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I tend to do most things myself as I often find that once I start on a design I see a better way of doing something, or make small changes - using a 6 st border rather than 5 st may make a big difference! I do have one sample knitter, though, for some things. She knows the way I work and knits beautifully.
Did you do a formal business plan?
Yes and no. It isn’t written down, but it is complete in my head. I know where I am going and where I want to be in 5 years time....
Do you have a mentor?
No, I have been in this game for too long, but I do mentor others on an informal basis.
Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
Not as such. I did a business course for freelance photographers which has proved invaluable. Knitting as a business is VERY different from knitting as a hobby, and the mind set is totally different. And I keep up with business practice through the radio - Radio Scotland has a weekly program which is excellent.
What impact has the Internet had on your business?
It has had an enormous effect - about 90% of my business is done over the net.
Do you use a tech editor?
Yes - I have a very good tech ed who is American. That means that between us we can word things for both sides of the Pond!
How do you maintain your life/work balance?
With difficulty! There is always something which needs doing, and because work is inside the house, it can be difficult to switch off.
How do you deal with criticism?
It depends on what it is and how it is made. The most vitriolic are the easiest - the problem is with the person making the allegations, not with my pattern etc. Those I can happily ignore. Constructive criticism is different. I might not like it, but I will look at it objectively and see whether I agree or not. But in every case I do try to mollify the original writer.
How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
Difficult to say as I was freelancing in the writing and photography fields at the same time. But probably about 5 years or so.
What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Take a business course - not a degree, but a short course to make you think like a business owner not like a hobbyist. For every design you are not thinking ‘What do I want to knit?’ but ‘What do OTHERS want to knit?’. All the time you are out of the house, watch people and note what they wear, their shapes etc etc And be professional about everything from accounts to your Twitter feed.