Friday, May 2, 2014

An Interview with...Julie Turjoman
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 Julie here and here on Ravelry. 

All photos included are copyright  Zoë Lonergan

Where do you find inspiration?

I often look to the fashion industry for knitting inspiration, and find it a pleasurable challenge to create designs that had their origins in sewn garments, but that lend themselves to knitted interpretation. When that knitted interpretation is successful, it's as attractive as the original but with the wonderful texture and shaping elements that can be created only by knitting. In addition, with a 20-year career as an interior designer behind me, my eye is constantly drawn to surprising color combinations and textures, unusual proportions, and unexpected but effective asymmetry or balance in design. Finally, I often look to fashion history for inspiration. Vintage elements often appear in my designs, particularly the accessories. From my perspective, some of my most enjoyable published designs were those that appeared in Interweave's Jane Austen Knits.

What is your favourite knitting technique?

It's impossible to choose just one. I love lace, and the ways it can be added strategically to garments for that extra little fillip of visual excitement, movement, or texture. As a left-handed knitter who knits right-handed, I adore color work but find that Fair Isle slows me down unbearably. To combat that, I do a lot of slip-stitch color work and have come to enjoy and appreciate its versatility and attractiveness. Short-Row shaping is another technique I've embraced because it allows for such wonderful drape, customizable fit,  and motion in garment design.

How did you determine your size range?

I strive to be inclusive, so over the years I've expanded the size range of my garment designs. It's important to me that knitters with a wide range of body types and sizes look good and feel good in them. My patterns generally go from a 32" to at least a 54" bust circumference, and often up to a 60" bust. In my new book, Knits That Breathe: 12 Breezy Projects To Keep You Cool, more than half of the patterns are sized up to at least a 54" bust. That said, knitters need to look critically at any pattern and decide for themselves whether or not it will flatter them. It's not the designer's responsibility - nor is it possible - to customize fit to such an extent that every knitter would be able to wear it. Just as I, at barely 5 feet tall, often need to shorten sleeves in a pattern, or raise the waist, or make the body shorter, in order for it to fit and flatter my figure, every knitter should be prepared to make and execute those choices for herself or himself.  
Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?

I love to see what other designers are up to! It's common for me to admire details of their designs without being influenced by them in my own work. If anything, they inspire me to up my game and be a better designer.

Could you tell us a little about your recent book Knits that Breathe?

My relocation from the Bay area to Chicago a couple of years ago re-introduced me to sticky, hot, and humid summers with no cooling relief at night... and I sadly put away my "lightweight" wool summer sweaters that had gotten steady wear in California. Then when menopause struck, it struck hard; I often had as many as 20 hot flashes a day. It was woefully clear that I couldn't wear my wool, alpaca, and cashmere sweaters for the duration. In a page straight out of the "necessity is the mother of invention" playbook, I was determined to find yarns with cooling rather than heat-retaining properties. 

Knits That Breathe is the culmination of a year I spent experimenting with alternative fibers such as Tencel, SeaCell, milk, and soy, as well as fibers derived from various plants such as bamboo, cotton, and linen. All the fiber blends in the book are known for their cooling, moisture-wicking, draping, and fast-drying properties... just what I needed. And I quickly realized that if garments made from these yarns meant that I could wear my hand knits again, then there must be thousands of other knitters who would also appreciate the results of my research. In addition to knitters who live in warm climates, and knitters who either run hot all the time or are going through menopause, I factored in knitters who are sensitive to wool and find it itchy. So Knits That Breathe is for them, too!

The projects are stylish and comfortable, and designed to flatter a wide range of figures. Many include lace panels that provide their own air-conditioning. All the yarns used for the designs were widely available as the book went to press.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?

A short question that deserves a rather long answer! When I learned to knit 25 years ago (before the Internet), I had to make a trip to my LYS when I needed help with a project. Patterns were not written as clearly then, sizing options were limited, and directions often assumed broader knowledge on the part of the knitter. Nonetheless, even a beginning knitter was expected to be self-reliant, and I quickly learned that if I made a mistake I could simply rip it out and start over, experimenting until I got it right. I bought a couple of thorough how-to books and researched my questions to determine whether I really needed to consult the experts at my LYS. Except for the long-tail cast-on method and basic knit and purl stitches, I am self-taught.

Many knitters today, with the wealth of information, photos, and tutorials available to them, are challenging themselves to create complex and beautiful projects as never before. While I make a tremendous effort to ensure that my patterns are clear and detailed, I also hope that knitters will seek out any additional assistance they need to achieve the successful completion of a project. That means using all the resources available to them, from the Internet to the LYS to their own knitting group. It's frustrating when a self-proclaimed "beginner" knitter emails me with request like this one: "I've never worked from a chart before, but I want to make your pattern 'XYZ.' Please tell me how to use charts so I can make this project." 

I never want to discourage a knitter from making one of my designs, and I don't believe in "dumbing down" patterns because that often results in less interesting end products. I do believe in providing the tools a knitter needs to work one of my patterns with success, such as including stitch patterns in written row-by-row as well as charted formats. However, my confidence in both knitters and in my detailed directions implies that knitters won't be lazy about using all available resources for information.  To that end, I'm slowly developing a series of tutorials to post on my website. These will provide tips and extra details about the techniques I use in my books and patterns, so that I can contribute to the existing knowledge base. My pact with knitters is that they'll be proactive and take advantage of that knowledge base to advance their skill set. 

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?

At first, I couldn't afford to use sample knitters, but would provide yarn to knitters who were willing to work up a sample for me. Their insights about the pattern were extremely helpful - I could understand the value of having patterns test knit, but it was a long time before I had the resources to pay a sample knitter more than once in a while. I now work with a couple of sample and test knitters when a pattern draft is ready for its trial run. I still do the initial swatching to be absolutely sure I'm satisfied with the yarn's performance for a given project, and often work up parts of samples to make sure the concepts I want to include will result in the desired look.

Do you have a mentor?

I'm very fortunate to be a member of the Visionary Authors group founded by Cat Bordhi. As one of these self-publishing designers, I have several informal mentors and act as a mentor myself to others embarking on self-published projects.
What impact has the Internet had on your business?

My first book, Brave New Knits: 26 Projects and Personalities From the Knitting Blogosphere, would never have been written or published if not for the Internet. I joined Ravelry early in its existence and spend time on it almost every day because it helps me stay in touch with the knitters' community world-wide. When I have a question about technique or resources, I go to the Internet first. It's such an integral part of my knitting life that it's hard to remember how I managed without it.

Do you use a tech editor?

Absolutely! The more sets of eyes on a pattern before it goes live, the better! Having spent many hours working up a pattern draft before it ever goes to my tech editor, I'm often too close to it to catch stylistic inconsistencies or minor grading errors, so my tech editor is a valuable part of my team. Designers have a responsibility to the knitters who make their projects, to ensure that their patterns are clear, mathematically correct, and sufficiently detailed, and my tech editor helps make that happen.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

With one grown child who no longer lives at home and an understanding husband who also works hard, I'm lucky to have the time and flexibility to put in as many hours as I need. As a morning person, I do most of my pattern writing and editing early in the day. Much of what I do doesn't feel like work even though it is; knitting on long car trips, swatching in front of the TV at night, surfing Ravelry on my phone while waiting on lines, etc. I love to cook, so my husband and I have dinner together at home most nights - no phones on the table, no TV on in the background; just conversation and catching up. It's a ritual that helps me to turn off the work part of my brain at the end of the day. I also schedule time to see friends and family - that balance is important, but it requires conscious effort on my part.

How do you deal with criticism?

I live by the rule that you can't please everyone, so criticism generally doesn't bother me.  That said, when a critique has merit, I'll quickly publish errata and corrections; reliability is an important characteristic of any good designer.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?

Self-publishing is a huge undertaking in terms of time and resources that can take many months, or years, to reach real solvency. While I contribute meaningfully to household expenses, it will be at least another year before I'd consider myself self-supporting.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?

A career in knitting is not for the faint of heart, and requires energy, inspiration, and ingenuity in spades. Even a designer who seems to have sprung up overnight into celebrity status probably spent a year or more laying the groundwork for his or her success. Having a head for business is as important as having the creative spark because if you don't know how to budget and market yourself, that business goal will likely remain a fantasy. 

There's so much competition in the hand knitting design arena that the bar is set high - making it even more essential to be an active part of the community by posting your projects on Ravelry, by creating your own website, and by having your designs published in some of the many knitting publications both online and in print to get your name in front of other knitters. If you love to teach others and have mastered specific techniques for which there is a large audience, approach your LYS with an offer to teach a class. Go online and learn the submission requirements of knitting industry publications. Work up half a dozen patterns and samples to submit, and remember that good photographs will help you sell them!

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting! I really believe that a business plan is essential for any endeavour. I studied marketing once and some lessons stuck...that being one of them.