Friday, August 15, 2014

An Interview with...Janine Le Cras

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 Janine here and on Ravelry here. She is on Facebook here and Twitter here.
Where do you find inspiration?
I would like to say all around me, but to be truthful I don't exactly know. Sometimes I approach a design with a definite idea as to how I want it to look, other times I just play around with stitch patterns and somehow they just seem to work together. With the Unique Sheep Classic Children's Books Mystery KAL's I literally start by reading the book we decided on and eventually inspiration strikes.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
Lace all the way. Though I love any type of textured knitting too. Cables, gansey style patterns, did I mention lace?
How did you determine your size range?
Well a lot of my designs are shawls so they tend to be one size only, but when I am making a garment, I try to be as inclusive as possible and try to go from a 30 to a 52 inch chest. This isn't always possible, because some designs look great on smaller sizes and not on larger ones or vice versa.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I love looking at other designers work! Their stuff is so inspiring. Plus it sometimes is a good idea to look at other peoples stuff to make sure that we aren't working on the same thing. It is amazing how often coincidence pops up and we find that we are working on similar designs.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
This is a difficult one for me. I am British, and as such I am used to pretty brief instructions. I do find some of the patterns on the market can be a bit wordy, but if that is what the knitter wants, then as they say, the customer is always right. All I can say is that some knitters would have "conniptions" if they had tried to work some of the patterns I used to knit back in the 80's. I often used to work from French pattern books that I picked up on holiday, using just the numbers and the charts to get through.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I try to test knit every one of my designs before I send it to my test knitters. I have a very small but fabulous group of test knitters that are all based in the US. They are wonderful. Not only do they test knit everything both written and charted versions, but they basically tech edit the patterns as well, pointing out every extra space, missing comma etc. I couldn't work without them.

Did you do a formal business plan?
Not really. I know what I want to do and it is all in my head, but nothing is written down hard and fast. This is very much a second job at the moment. 
Do you have a mentor?
Not unless you count my grandmother who taught me to knit and my mother who taught me that nothing is impossible if you are prepared to work for it.
Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
No the whole thing has grown organically
What impact has the Internet had on your business?
Huge! I cannot emphasize this enough. If I didn't have access to the internet, my business would be dead in the water. I live on a tiny island in the middle of the English Channel. It would be virtually impossible to run my business through ordinary retail methods.

Do you use a tech editor?
As I said in the earlier question, my test knitters are my tech editors. If I am doing a garment pattern with multiple sizes I always use an additional outside tech editor. It is not worth the risk of a pattern going out that has mistakes in it. It doesn't project a professional image.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
With difficulty. Because I work full time all knitting/designing has to be done evenings and weekends. Thankfully I have a very understanding husband who occupies his time playing video games, watching and playing sports. Both the kids have grown up and left home so I only have the two of us to look after :-) I work at a school term time only, so my summers are filled with knitting, both at home and on the beach.

How do you deal with criticism?
Well I hope. I always welcome constructive criticism and I am always happy to hear from knitters who are having problems with my patterns. Everyone is human and mistakes do happen no matter how hard we try to prevent them. Sometimes it is just a case of how a pattern is worded, sometimes there are actual errors and I just have to hold my hands up and apologize and put it right. 

I am less understanding when I get the occasional rant from a knitter who complains about one of my patterns because they knit it in the wrong weight yarn or needles and then blames me for it not working out - gauge is our friend ;-)

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I still can't support myself. it is definitely a labour of love. I don't think many of us can manage to support ourselves purely from our knitting. The designers that I know that are able to do so supplement the design work with either teaching or yarn lines as well.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Go for it, but be aware of the fact that is isn't as easy as it sounds. It isn't just a case of throwing together a few stitch patterns and you are done. There is all the maths and testing and rechecking that goes on behind the scenes before you can actually release a pattern to the public. Get yourself a great group of test knitters and a good tech editor and you are halfway there.

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