Friday, December 19, 2014

An Interview with...Carla Meijsen

Leg Warmers

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 Carla here and here on Ravelry. Her blog is here.

Where do you find inspiration?

I use a lot of different things for inspiration. First of all, traveling, as nothing beats the ‘real experience’. Seeing the authentic knitwear in other countries, made by local knitters, is the best source of inspiration I know. I often travel to the more Nordic countries like the Scandinavian countries, the UK or, best of all, the Baltic states. Estonia is my favourite country. Also I buy a lot of books on knitting, knitting tradition and knitting history from all over the world - old as well as new. I have a nice collection of Dutch knitting books, the oldest dating from around 1850. Also a lot of old knitted items. I love to see how they are made and how the wear shows how they have been used. 

What is your favourite knitting technique? 

Hmm, I have several favourite techniques, but at the moment I’m totally obsessed with twined knitting. I just published a book about this technique. It took me several years to write it and I’m happy that it is finished and that I can hold it in my hands now. Actually I expected that I would not do any twined knitting for a while after finishing, to give it a rest, but to my surprise I just continued knitting in this technique. Also a few other things in different techniques too, just for variation! 

Available here

Please tell us about your recent book, “So Warm! Twined Knitting".

The title is officially: “Lekker Warm! Twijnend Breien – So Warm! Twined Knitting”. It is a bilingual book, all text in Dutch and English. It is the book that I put my heart and soul in, I loved making it so much! As I did a lot of the work myself (helped sometimes by friends) - writing texts, photography, improving images with Photoshop, graphical design, designing, pattern writing, promoting, distributing, etc. (other chores were done by friends or even my husband Jan, like styling models) - it became more and more important to me.

I’m very thorough: I did my best to explain the techniques clearly, and added loads of photos to show how each technique is done. I have a lot of experience teaching knitting classes, which is a good start for giving explanations in the books I write. The book started as a smaller book, but grew and grew to 200 pages, 30 designs, hard cover, big format, so now it weighs 1.2 kg [2.6 lbs]. I’m so proud of it, especially when I see that knitters are really happy with it and are inspired to give twined knitting a go.

Printing and translating are, of course, not done by me. The translation is done by a professional translator who also is a knitter. ;-)  I hope that with my book I contribute to the popularity of twined knitting. It is a great technique with lots of potential to make beautiful things. My designs are based on tradition, but I give them a modern twist. 

How did you determine your size range?

I use charts for all of my designs, combined with written texts for the basic things. Using other needle sizes and maybe even thinner or thicker yarn will make the dimensions of your project smaller or bigger. In the book I give directions on how to do that.

From So Warm!

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?

I’m very interested in the work of other knitters. As I know how my mind works when I’m designing, I’m not afraid of being influenced too much. It is like in art, anyone who can handle the technique can copy a famous painting, but making a unique piece is the hardest. The work of other designers and the reaction of the public to it is interesting, I think. It tells you what people like. Of course it is important to have your own style, but a designer should also consider the taste of the knitters and the influence of the time we live in, especially the influence of fashion on the knitting world. That we look with respect and interest at work of other designers, now or in the past, doesn’t mean we should copy it stitch by stitch!

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

If you mean, making it easier to knit, I have mixed feelings about it. I do think that simple patterns with spectacular effects (for example the innovative knitting designs of Elizabeth Zimmermann!) are great. Never make something that is easy to do more difficult than is needed. On  the other hand, I hope that knitters don’t lose the ability to do the really difficult and/or time consuming knitting jobs. Hopefully these two approaches can co-exist and will each have their own merits. 

The bottom line for me is that I would rather see someone do simpler knitting work, have pleasure doing it and maybe even someday proceed to doing more difficult work, than see them do nothing at all. Even when doing the simplest shawl on big needles, I think that person is creative. Choosing wool, colours and pattern and actually seeing the project grow in your hands is a creative process. I like more difficult and complicated knitting myself and as I see there is a big group of knitters ready to take on new challenges, I focus on more complicated and traditional knitting designs.

From So Warm!

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

Lets count,… nine for this book. I do a lot of the knitting myself, checking and often knitting several versions of one design, but after a while you get blind to your own mistakes. You need others to test knit for you. Some of the test knitters are good in checking every symbol on a chart, some are good checking texts. Elsbeth Reits is the quickest - she knit almost all the designs in the book!

Did you do a formal business plan?

No, not at all. My company was just born without me being aware of it. It just grew out of enthusiasm and the drive to do things in the knitting world. Now that the business is growing, I do more planning, but essentially the big plan is in my head.

Do you have a mentor?

Not a official one, but I have some ‘famous’ knitters as my friends and others I ask for advice when needed, which is often. Different knitters are in their own special way examples for me. Just a few examples: Elizabeth Zimmermann – of course ;-) – Annemor Sundbo from Norway for the way she preserves the techniques and traditions of Norwegian knitting, Nancy Marchant for her thorough way of working, and a lot of Estonian knitters for the way they want to share their knitting techniques with others who are interested in it. Well, I could go on for a while….

Do you have a business model that you have emulated? 

See above.

From So Warm!

Do you use a technical support person?

No, I do almost anything myself. As I’m from ICT [IT], and thought about ICT, networks, Internet, etc. for years, I can handle a lot of technical stuff myself. I don’t use official programs for designing, just Excel and graphical software.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

Not. I’m almost always knitting, thinking about knitting, organizing or going on knitting holidays, or writing about knitting. But, I’m happy with it! When my hobby became more and more a profession, I thought it would not be any fun anymore to knit. Well, that isn’t true - it gets better and better the more you do with it, even when that is officially ‘work’. 

How do you deal with criticism? 

Criticism is free advice!

From So Warm!

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

I will not tell you about my personal situation, but when knitters ask me for advice on how to start their own business, I always make jokes about first finding a rich husband – or wife! ;-)

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

It may sound like the simplest thing to say, but I always follow my heart. If I don’t like it or don’t like doing it, it will not become a success. Also, one should realize that there are more and more people who want to work in the knitting world, but it is not easy and you have to work hard and you have to put lots of hours of labour into it,… and still you will not get rich. If you don’t mind that, go for it!

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