Friday, August 22, 2014

An Interview with...Nikki Van De Car

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 Nikki here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
I try to look for it everywhere...plant life, mostly--for colors and shapes.  But I'll also look at a store-bought, not-knit garment and try to re-imagine it.  That can be a challenge--it usually comes out completely different!

What is your favourite knitting technique?
The day I learned magic loop was the best day of my knitting life.  I detest double-pointed needles, though I do use them sometimes.  I find them so unwieldy, like trying to knit using a spider.  And I tried the two circular needle method, but I would always get confused.  But magic loop...oh, how I love you.

You specialize in patterns for children. Do you have any future plans for designs for adults?
I do!  I'm working on a few of them right now, in fact.  Keep an eye out for my Milkweed Shawl, which will be in the Fall Interweave, and I have a few that are just getting ready to enter the testing stage.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I always look at other designers' work.  There is absolutely the fear of being influenced--I had a pattern that I had to scrap because it turned out that when I imagined it in my head, I was really remembering somebody else's fabulous design.  But at the same time, there are methods and techniques that I want to learn.  And frankly, there's so much gorgeous knitting out there I would be so sad if I had to put blinders on.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
I didn't know about it until I did a google search--which brought me to your blog!  But I do now know what you're talking about.  To be completely honest, instructions like "reverse all shaping" never bothered me as a knitter, even when I was just starting out, but then I never sought perfection, so if my FO wasn't exactly right--or to be more precise, exactly how the designer envisioned it--I was okay with that.  As a designer, however, it would be so easy to just say, "Great!  Now do the same thing on the other side, and you can figure it out yourself," but not every knitter is comfortable with that, and it's my job to at least provide the instructions, especially since I tend to write pretty simple patterns.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I have a few people that I really rely on, but I almost always open it up at the Ravelry Testing Pool group to see who else is interested.  I look for at least two testers per size for any particular garment.   As far as sample knitting goes, on my second book I had a couple of real rush jobs--items that had been knit and tested but I didn't yet have a finished object in the yarn I wanted to use for the book.  So I did hire someone to knit a couple of sweaters, but generally speaking I like to knit all the sample items myself.

Did you do a formal business plan?
Ha!  No.  I still don't.  It's just catch as catch can and keep trying.

Do you have a mentor?
No.  I mean, I have designers that I admire and try to emulate, but no one I know to talk to and give me advice.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
Well, let's see.  I really admire Ysolda Teague's business model.  But for various reasons (lack of connections, inability to travel to the extent I'd need to, general shyness) that's not something I've managed.  However, there are certain things they've inspired me to do--as with Ysolda, put a few really good free patterns out there to help people remember you.  I'm now trying to get published in several different places, to spread the word a bit more.  And I've tried to always use the very best quality yarns I can manage, to really make the patterns stand out.

Do you use a tech editor?
For my books and patterns published through magazines, yes.  For my patterns published on my blog, not yet.  I haven't determined yet whether the revenue from the self-published patterns will be enough to justify using a tech editor.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
That's actually pretty easy.  I'm a work-at-home mom, so I knit and design while playing with my four-year-old daughter.  I've been designing with her in mind since she was born, and she's always been a handy measuring-stick, for both sizing and what sorts of garments work best for her age group.

How do you deal with criticism?
My first book had a fair amount of errata, I'm embarrassed to say.  So any criticism I received for that, I knew that the book really deserved it, so it didn't hurt my feelings much.   And even given that, hardly anybody has anything harsh to say--most people write with questions, requests for help, and are so nice and excited about the projects.  Knitters are a pretty good group of people.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
Well, define "support yourself."  I certainly don't make as much from knitting as I did working at a full-time job.  But between various projects and other freelance work here and there, I contribute enough to the household so that I can continue to stay home with my daughter.  

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
I think the idea of publishing a few really good free patterns to get your name out there is a good one.  It certainly worked for me.  Other than that, be prepared for things to take a while.   Most folks are (understandably) more interested in knitting a free pattern than paying for one, so it will take a bit of effort on your part to make your patterns worth paying for.

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