Monday, March 30, 2015

Knitting as Meditation at the ROCK Guild April 2

I’ll be giving a brief introduction to the science behind meditation followed by a guided knitting meditation at the ROCK guild meeting on April 2.

The Gathering

I attended this event last year and really enjoyed myself and the purchases I made there.  If you are a local reader you may want to check it out!

Friday, March 27, 2015

An Interview with...Ann Myhre

Ann posing last summer in the Norwegian mountain range called Trollstigen ("the troll road") - She is modelling the lady's cardigan Flea.

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.

Ann enjoys making alternative color suggestions in her patterns. These are the suggestions from the pattern Flea.
You can find Ann here, Pinterest here and here on Ravelry

Where do you find inspiration?
Yes, where do I find inspiration? I get ideas. I do a lot of boring stuff (skiing, hiking, walking, things that makes the brain play while the body works) and it generates ideas. When I’ve got the idea, I seek inspiration. I don’t like to admit it, but I decorate my ideas. When the end result is good it doesn’t come out as obvious, though. For some designers their design is organic, a whole, but to me it is not. I have one pair of mittens that I am working on now that I truly can say is created to be like the hand, and the details are not decoration, but shaped for better fit. Beside that, I feel my designs are pure surface.   

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I’m a stranded girl but I am in no way lonely, it’s the Nordic way of knitting. The funny thing is that just a couple of months ago I just learned a new way to hold my yarn in the left hand, it makes it so much faster to knit with 2 strands of colors: one strand of yarn over the index finger, the other over the middle finger. And I took the method to my knitting group, so excited because I thought it was revolutionizing – and they all did it that way already. Bummer. I also think – or hope? – knitters think of me as the steeking lady. In Norway we have been knitting kofter (a traditional stranded cardigan) for 150 years, and for the last 60-70 years or so, used the sewing machine for the steek. I actually just saw in Interweave Knits Winter 2015 it is called Norwegian steeking. I am trying to teach knitters to use pure wool and steeking without the sewing machine like they do on Shetland. I love that magical moment when I take my stranded cardigan, the scissors and just show them how easy it is. A lot of my designs are top-down, stranded and steeked.

Some of Ann's (stranded and steeked) blankets

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I look to others, to books, to Pinterest boards all the time. I am not very creative like some are, I don’t mind borrowing from others at all. If it is too close to the original designer’s I ask. When I made the sheep chart for the Angry Sheep Cardigan I understood I was very influenced by Kate Davies Sheep heid. So I sent her an e-mail, and asked her how she felt about that. Luckily she seems to share the same world I live in, we all are inspired by something and someone. And I just had a Norwegian designer asking me the same question:
- It seems like my cardigan is inspired by one of your blankets, what do you think about that? Honestly, her cardigan made a renew interest in my blanket – that is how I like the knitting community to be. Many designers are really original, I am not so, but people, knitters, still find my patterns interesting. 

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
Really, is there such a thing? For the last 70-80 years the Norwegian knitting patterns have been written for knitters who knew it all. No explanations, no context, just a pattern written on 1 to 2 pages. At the beginning of the new millennium those who knit were the people who had been knitting for a long time, and they were like me, middle aged or older. And then suddenly two things happened at the same time. A TV-star in Norway wore a very simple knitted sweater that the young people wanted to knit (and after a while, also the older …), and - Ravelry. After that sweater, the young knitters wanted to knit more and found the well-written English patterns, and now we have a whole new generation of knitters that we (the elderly) just had forgotten to teach. In my situation, as a knitwear designer, that has made all the difference.   

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
Experience in working with this for the last 10 years has taught me: I can’t get enough test knitters. And not only to test and find errors, to suggest new color combinations, to learn what’s working and what’s not, but to be part of a community, to create something outside my kitchen table. And test knitters, they come in all shapes and experience too. Some are truly good with after shoot-photos, some are really good in spotting minute details that aren’t working, some have ideas – in the ideal world I would have them working for me full time.  

Do you have a mentor?
I wish I had a mentor. Maybe I am too old to have one; maybe I should be mentoring someone? I am part of a group called Vottelauget (The Mitten Guild) – we are 8 knitters and designers who have published 2 e-books with fairy tales as a theme and are in the process of publishing a paper book together. If anything, they are my mentors in some way.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
What I am doing seems to be working so I continue with that. I say yes to teaching, my patterns should be on the cheap side, I am open and reachable for people who buy my patterns, and I don’t want to co-operate with a publisher – and that is what’s making me earn my money. On that note, I don’t translate all my patterns to English, and that is also part of a larger plan. People don’t seem to understand how much time and money that goes into translating a pattern so I always consider carefully which one to spend that hard-earned money on.

How are you using social media to grow your business?
I have several groups (Facebook and Ravelry) and my blog, but I use Twitter almost solely for letting out steam and be someone else than a knitwear designer. For Norwegian knitters and designers FB is so much more alive and kicking. Even though we speak English quite well in Norway, the language barrier of Ravlery is a thing. On FB there are hundreds of groups for knitting and crafting in Norwegian. So I try to be very accessible on FB. 

From Shetland Wool Week 2014: 3 of Ann's patterns, Angry Sheep Cardigan, Bislettbekken (not translated) and Lady's cardigan Fleas.

Do you use a tech editor?
I have the best tech editor for my English patterns there is, London-based Rachel Atkinson. I also have a Norwegian “number breaker” I like to call her, Jette Kjørseng. I write all my sizes in Excel and she spends an afternoon scrutinizing them. Sometimes I really feel I am managing a small firm.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
Good question. I am not. I am very thankful I don’t have children other then on an irregular basis as a granny, and a husband who’s very low in his expectations of me.

How do you deal with criticism?
It’s a hate-love-thing.  It breaks my heart every time. On some level it is the best there is because I know I can’t be perfect, and there is always something to learn from it – that is how old I am. I do like the German designer Martina Behm, when people spot a problem or error in my patterns they get one for free. That is the least I can do when I create problems for the knitters. 

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I have been very lucky because my cardigan The Angry Sheep was – is - such a towing ship for all my other patterns. I published that while working as a nurse, 3-4 years ago. The last 2 years I have been living well off my patterns and teaching. It also takes me around. Just some days ago I was asked to have two classes in the north of Norway. I got paid for seeing the North Light and the Ice Hotel in Alta, as well as doing what I enjoy most, meeting people and teach steeking.

What’s next for you?
I love teaching, who would have known! The last year I’ve done 10-15 classes in socks toe-up, steeking and shaping, and that is what I will do more. And – I have e new e-book coming out in September. Lots and lots of stranded work and steeking. 

When travelling and teaching Ann enjoy's  taking these collective photos, showing her patterns. This is the Angry Sheep cardigan in different variasions at the Spinnning Museum Sjølingstad, Norway, last year.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

How to Copy a Sweater to Create a Custom Fit Garment. Part 1

Students in my fitting classes are always surprised when they ask me to measure them, because I tell them I don't think it's a good method. Body measurements are very limited in their accuracy and relationship to fit. Ease is critical to good fit and the nature of the fabric being created is critical to how ease works on the body. Measuring tapes can't capture the ease off of a body, however they can capture ease off of an existing garment if the fabric is similar in it's characteristics.

If you are a knitter who has made a sweater you are unhappy with that is good news! That sweater is your starting point for the one that is going to work. You will learn more from your failures than you will learn from your success if you take the time for analysis. Many knitters toss the unsatisfactory garment down and move on to the next project, never pausing to take the time to reflect on where we went wrong.

If you don't already have a sweater you can work with for this process, borrow one or buy one on sale or at a thrift shop. Too big is usually easier to work with than to small. Choose one in roughly the same weight of fabric that you plan to work with. It doesn't have to be exact but do avoid very fine machine knits.

Put the garment on and make notes on where it fits you and where it doesn't. Use pins to mark things that you would change. Are the shoulders too wide? Put pins where you would like your shoulder to fit. Is the armhole too deep? Pull the shoulder up and pin the shoulder seam to make the armhole depth shorter. Are the sleeves too long? Put a pin where you would like them to end or use a ruler and make a note that an inch or two longer would be better. Continue on correcting anything that you would want to be different. 

Part 2 coming up soon will share my tips on how to measure the garment and your pin markings to create a customized schematic.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Knitting as Meditation

What is a knitting meditation all about? It's about mindfulness. It's about being in the moment and quieting down your mind. It's about a level of focus that leads to a feeling of calmness and contentment. It quiets the voice of inner dialogue that distracts us from whatever we're doing. For many knitters it happens naturally. Think back to when you first learned to knit, when the formation of every stitch demanded your total concentration or later as you began to add more complex skills. Extraneous thoughts fall away because there just isn't any room for them. Meditation isn't about having an empty mind, it's a focused controlled mind. It takes practice to develop the skill to stop your thoughts from wandering, but it's well worth the effort according to the scientific research.

Friday, March 20, 2015

An Interview with...Kelly Brooker

Sneak peek of an unreleased pattern “Simple Convolution” 
due for release March 20th, modeled by Kelly

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 Kelly here, here on Facebook and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
Everywhere I look my eyes see structure and pattern; they’re just geared to see things that way. I also find that clothing stores (with fabric garments, not knitwear), offer interesting inspiration.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
Octopus sleeves (a method I developed to bind off sleeves, common in my more recent patterns). 

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs? 
No-one works in a vacuum, and if they do, they’re telling fibs! I don’t actively seek out others work to view nowadays, but if I stumble across it, of course I will look to see what others in the industry are up to…all fields work in this way.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
I’m not aware that designers are purposely “dumbing down” patterns? My largest market is the US, and as a rule US knitters expect more detail in a knitting pattern. If my primary market was European customers, I would be more comfortable producing a pattern with very basic instruction and expect the knitter to work things out for themselves (like shaping). This however may be a historical trend.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I work a full time day job, plus have 4 children under the age of 9…..I absolutely use a plethora of marvelous test and sample knitters!

Did you do a formal business plan?
My business evolved - I didn’t set out to become what I am today. So initially, no. Nowadays, yes.

How are you using social media to grow your business?
I utilize a Ravelry group, and Ravelry advertising, run a FB account, and have a small presence on Pinterest and Instagram. Social media is a wonderful way to connect to your audience, and show a more personal side to your business.

Do you use a tech editor?
Yes, however not a mainstream knitting tech editor (usually someone who has been a designer that diversifies into Tech Editing). I utilize the services of a copy editor with many years knitting experience, whom covers both aspects for me.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
My day job is a complete opposite to my design business; having the 2 professions lends me a sense of balance. I also am able to objectively sit down and decide what I can commit to doing, and not take on too much.

How do you deal with criticism?
You can’t please all of the people, all of the time. I ensure I feel comfortable with my own decisions, then do the best I can to keep most of the people happy as often as I can.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Research (is there room for you? Are you offering something new?). Improve your skill set (read professional patterns, take photography classes, seek feedback from those experienced). Calm down (just because you have a great idea, you don’t have to put pressure on yourself to release it to everyone immediately! Take things slow, and ensure it is the best it can be .....if this takes 6 months the first time, then so be it. 

What’s next for you?
2015: I am continuing to do what I do; releasing approximately 20 new designs per year, revising all my early work to my modern standard, designing for small local Indie dyer yarn clubs.
2016: Hopefully will see PEKAPEKA branch out into adult design (currently primarily children's wear and accessories).

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Economics of Knitting Classes - The Devil is in the Details

Franklin Habit recently got a huge Facebook response when he commented on a frustration which many teachers deal with. I love the sense of humour in his posts.

He said: "If it's not one thing, it's another. First I ask people to bring white or a light-colored worsted weight wool to class–and that is well-nigh impossible to find. Then I ask for 2 to 5 sheets of square-grid graph paper at 4 squares to the inch, either purchased where paper is sold or printed at no cost from a Web site to which I provide a link. Monstrous! Monstrous! Who am I to make these demands on an unsuspecting populace?"

Students are often unaware of the volume of materials teachers need to carry to an event to run their classes. They arrive in a class and of course can only see what the instructor has for a single class. Paper in particular is very heavy. Some venues do the printing but for others it is the responsibility of the teacher. At a recent event I had a great deal of difficulty with my suitcase due to the weight of everything in it, especially when going up and down a very narrow staircase which could not be avoided. I was only teaching three classes but adding my own clothes and toiletries to the class samples, notes and tools made it very heavy. I spend extra time searching for accessible routes before I leave home, and time is one of the costs of running a business. In some cases I have to choose a longer, more expensive route to get access to elevators and ramps for my luggage.

Yes, I could have made arrangements to ship some items in advance, however most venues specify up front in their contracts what expenses will be covered and that is not normally something you can be reimbursed for. 

Teachers often try to get around asking students to bring materials by supplying them instead. That's another expense and unfortunately some venues do not allow teachers to sell items in classes.

We often do not have final student numbers until just before the class starts due to late registrations and students who change classes. I always have extra sets of notes which may or may not be used. Which brings me back around to the weight and extra expense issue. 

When attendees saw the samples for one of my classes at a recent event, I had a large number of students switch into that class. I had my class notes on a USB stick, so the venue started printing more for me until they ran out of paper. I arranged to email them a copy of the notes but during class I could see several students were annoyed by sharing notes during the class. So in that case, my extra sets of notes and the venue's assistance still wasn't enough to make everyone happy.

For most teachers the amount of profit is already very small. For me personally, I'm very careful not to go into debt for my business. I love teaching. It's a great deal of fun and a growth opportunity for me I can't imagine not doing it anymore. However, I find myself questioning if it makes good business sense whenever extra costs turn up. 

I hope this doesn't come across as whiny it's not meant to be, it's just the process I have to go through when making the decision to list class supplies. So again the devil is in the details.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Classes for next Saturday

I'll be back at Linda's Craftique next Saturday. I'm teaching two of my most popular classes. 

Here's what Linda says about the Buttonhole class: 

"On a personal note, I have always told people to “get over it, there is no such thing as a nice buttonhole in knitting” I was wrong….I took this class and Robin has some wonderful ways to make great buttonholes!!"

Saturday, March 21st (3 hours), 10am-1pm
Buttonhole Boot Camp

Are you afraid of buttonholes? You don't need to be. Join Robin to learn all about buttonholes. Learn how to choose which type to use, the pros and cons of various forms of construction, how to knit each type and much, much more.
Students must know how to cast on/off, knit and purl.

Materials: Odd balls of worsted weight yarn and 4.5mm needles

Saturday, March 21st (3 hours), 1:30-4:30pm
What the Pattern Doesn't Tell You

Knitting patterns are like recipes, full of terminology and instructions that assume you know things you might not yet have encountered in your knitting experience. Join me to learn all of my tips and techniques that will make your projects even better. I'll share with you the details that aren't in the pattern.

Students will learn how to choose patterns and supplies to knit with confidence, cast on without a knot, make the cast off edge square, how to start a shawl from a garter stitch tab and much, much more. This class was developed as a response to all the questions that knitters ask me, so please come with your personal knitting questions.

Students must know how to cast on/off, knit and purl.

Materials: Odd balls of worsted weight yarn and 4.5mm needles

Friday, March 13, 2015

An Interview with...Eileen Casey

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 Eileen here and here on Ravelry. 

Where do you find inspiration?
Everywhere, really.  I’m especially prone to seeing a snippet of something interesting on a passer-by, or rewinding films to get a second look at some knitwear, lace patterning, the cut of a sweater, or a colour scheme.  My Devenish sweater (photo below) was influenced by the stone carvings on Devenish Island in Northern Ireland, while my Loie beaded sweater (photo below) was inspired from scroll-work seen on a wrought iron gate.  What stops me in my tracks and sparks an idea is very random, really.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
It has to be cabling – I am from Ireland, after all!  I cut my knitting teeth on traditional Arans, and they are my first love.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I do make a concerted effort not to look at the work of other designers.  Although I now have a body of work that I feel shows enough individuality and creativity to defend myself if a question were to arise – a lot of sweaters, cardigans, shawls, etc. have similarities in shaping and stitch pattern.  I just don’t want to leave myself open to scrutiny or criticism. 
The down side of that is that you lose the spark of creativity that comes with community, and bouncing ideas around.  We’re not philosophers or poets sitting around in cafés sharing ideas and encouraging each other to new heights. 
Still, knitting and design are fairly solitary pursuits, and I think that is just the nature of the beast.  I do get some good ideas and feedback from my local knitting group, in which there is another published designer, and well-known hand-dyer, but there is camaraderie not competition.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
Considering my answer above, if you had asked me this question a few weeks ago, then I wouldn’t have been sure what you were talking about.  HOWEVER, one of my patterns was No. 4 in the Top 20 best seller on Craftsy last week, and upon seeing that I just had to go and look and saw the other 19…
Yes, there did appear to be some very basic hats, cowls and mitts there.  And none of them were offered for free *gasp*.
My take on it is this: they were in the Top 20 best seller list too.  Someone is buying these patterns, because someone needs these patterns.  Having an impressive set of knitting techniques in your repertoire doesn’t happen overnight.  There is a market for beginner patterns, for patterns that help you to hone your craft, and get comfortable with a m1 or k2tog.  These patterns took time to write, format, test, photograph, and publish.  Work is work – sometimes you have an easy day at the office and sometimes you are swamped, and I suppose this is the knitwear design version of an easy day at the office.  Perhaps the controversy should be about why, for so long, it was expected that beginner patterns should be offered for free.  Good, clear, well-written beginner patterns are crucial to keeping beginner knitters excited about, and interested in, knitting.
Also, there is the question of perception.  When we were aged 13 in high school, we were offered the chance to branch out and choose subjects to study that were off the main curriculum.  I chose Ancient Greek.  Yes, I was odd.  I was the only one in my class – other kids choosing more useful subjects like German and Japanese. 
I remember my first day, just me alone with the teacher, and how bizarre and incomprehensible those letters looked on the page.  I thought I would never be able to understand these strange symbols.  After a while, though, I learned the Greek alphabet and the sentence construction.  After a few months I went back to that first passage from that first day that had meant nothing to me, and I could read it.  More than that, I could not un-read it.  It would never again be gibberish to me.  I stuck with Greek – even as far as studying Classics at university.  And I’ve stuck with knitting – 33 years and counting. 
So it occurs to me that I am no longer a good judge of the merits of basic knitting patterns any more – I can’t un-read them.  I can look at a simple hat or scarf and replicate it.  But new knitters can’t.  New knitters want to be led by the hand step by step through this frustrating, fumbling process called knitting.  And if it’s worth $4.00, or $5.00, or $6.00 to them to be walked through it, what does it really have to do with what I think? 

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
It differs from pattern to pattern.  The more sizes that a design is offered in, the more sample knitters I’ll look to have.  For a sweater that has, say, 12 sizes, I usually end up with about 4-6 sample knitters – definitely not one for every size (which would be the ideal).  But I aim for a good sampling of the middle ground, which are the sizes that most knitters make.  I just have to trust the maths and Excel for the patterns that have not been sample knit previously – luckily I haven’t had anyone come forward with calculation errors.
I always have the first sample done myself in advance, though, before offering it out to sample knitters.  It’s not so much about being a control freak, as being worried I’ll look like an idiot with a design that looks fine on paper but ridiculous in real life.

Did you do a formal business plan?
No, I have a business dream, which is a different thing (LOL).  I like statistics, though – so I know which of my patterns sell well, and what time of year they sell – and I try to anticipate trends and extrapolate new design ideas going forward.  Doesn’t work too well for me though, I have to admit. 
I have a yearly outline, with the number of patterns I want to design and ideas of what they should be – and I do a more detailed quarterly plan, with specific goals and progressions for individual patterns, as well as things like website updates and sending newsletters out to people on the mailing list.
I do at least one extra thing each year from the year before to try to keep building momentum.  My business does a little better every year, and that’s good enough for me at this point.  My long term goal is to be able to make a living wage on designing alone.

Do you have a mentor?
My Mum!  And secondarily, my Granny.  Literally, I owe it all to them.  My Granny would just make up designs on the fly, for order, and sell them (for nowhere near enough).  I don’t really remember her knitting by hand (the canny lady went to machine knitting so she could crank stuff out faster), but my Mum said it was amazing.  She sold her knitting too – I have lots of memories of brushed mohair bat-wing sweaters leaving our house in the 80s.
My Mum taught me to knit when I was 5.  It was probably the greatest gift I was ever given – I can’t even conceive of the last 33 years without knitting in them.  I was helping to teach knitting classes in my elementary school (note, boys and girls all learned to knit) at age 7, and by age 8 was designing and making Barbie sweaters and selling them to my friends for 20p (30c).  She supplied my needles, yarn, and patterns. 
I can never begin to thank her for the gift and the legacy she gave me.  Now, she comes to me to learn new techniques or be shown new constructions.  But it all started with her – and she doesn’t think she’s a designer, but she is.  Love you, Mum!

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
Not exactly – BUT (and I don’t think I’m alone in this) I think Ysolda Teague has been instrumental in the way that a lot of us sell our patterns.  I think that before self-publishing was seen as a little bit sad and desperate – but now, it really is the most lucrative way to sell my patterns, and the best way for me to maintain control over them.  I think modern day designers owe her, and her contemporaries, a huge debt of gratitude. 

How are you using social media to grow your business?
I really should do better!  I have a FB page for my business, but it is sadly neglected.  I find myself posting about my knitting stuff on my personal FB page more, really.  It is perhaps a little messy, but I think that these days consumers like to “know” the person that they are buying from.  I am not this huge, removed, corporation – it’s just me.  People know it’s just me, and they appreciate the personal touch.
I have a twitter account – but I really don’t tweet a lot.  I’m not good at being succinct (see the length of some of these responses) and I don’t want to come across as always selling something.  Really, my own website and Ravelry are where the bulk of my sales come from.

Do you use a tech editor?
It depends.  I am a little anal and I like to have control over as pattern for as long as possible before going public.  For the most part the spreadsheet method I use for pattern writing has been very successful, and there are usually no errors that come to light.  I do use a tech editor when I can, though – cost permitting.  And in a perfect world I would use one every time –  it is always very useful to have a second set of eyes looking over things.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I don’t know that I do.  At one point I was working as a knitwear designer for an outside agency and it was easily 60 hours a week.  For very little money.  With 2 toddlers in tow…
More recently, I was working 50 hours a week for an outside agency with nothing to do with knitting.  It left me with no time left to spend with my family and maintain the basics of household standards, never mind design work.  I didn’t lift a needle for about 6 months.
Now, I try to limit my design work (grading/writing/editing) to when my kids are in school and husband is at work, and just do the actual knitting in the evenings when we are all together.  Trying to keep the household running like a well-oiled machine often falls by the wayside when I am in full-on design mode or when there is a deadline looming – luckily my family is pretty low maintenance.

How do you deal with criticism?
I try to be stoical about it, but I’m very thin skinned.  I remember cutting different patterns to ribbons myself that I used to see in magazines – I guess we all do it to an extent.  I didn’t realise then that you are undermining an actual person, who might be very hurt if they ever heard what you had to say.
Saying that, I look at it as a positive when people change and amend my patterns to suit themselves, which is really how I started as a designer.  Yes, there can be the “the double rib was awkward and unnecessary so I improved it by doing x, y and z” comments, but I try to look at it from the perspective that they are not trying to be hurtful, but are offering information pertinent to them. 

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
Ugh – this is a dispiriting question, as I think it must be for many designers.  The truth is that I might just about be self-supporting if I was alone – but I’m talking about poverty standards, living with parents, no car, etc.  My design career depends upon on my husband’s regular, counted-upon income.  As well as designing, I teach in my local Jo-Ann Fabrics and am looking for other teaching gigs and part time work.  Yes, we have expenses that are wants rather than needs – new cars, owning a home, private school – but I couldn’t afford any of that on what I make as a designer.  It is not a glittering career – knitwear designers do not make what fashion designers make (despite working harder, in my humble opinion), and it is a labour of love rather than the fast track to riches and success.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
It isn’t easy, you have to love it, and you are not going to make a lot of money overnight (if ever).  It can be tedious and time-consuming, and you had better be comfortable spending a lot of time alone, holed up with a spreadsheet or calculator.  Take classes, learn as much as you can, and read books – the more techniques you can master, the better.

What’s next for you?
I am very excited to be able to devote myself to knitwear designing again full time.  I have a lot of new designs in the mix, as well as a book idea that I think may bear fruit.  I still have to explore whether a publishing house or self-publishing will be the better option for this – but either way there will be a lot of new designs coming from me in 2015!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

My Favorite Provisional Cast On - COWYAK

My favorite provisional cast on method is using waste yarn. I use a yarn of the same weight as my project yarn. That makes the stitches in the first row of work even in size with no distortion. If possible, I pick a smooth yarn in a strongly contrasting colour. I especially like cotton. I'm careful to make sure I don't use a yarn with any dye residue which will come off on my project yarn. To work this method, simply cast on the number of stitches you need with any cast on method, knit a few rows in stocking stitch and switch to your project yarn.  When I'm ready to work in the opposite direction I use a smaller gauge circular needle to pick the stitches up and then I cut the waste yarn and pull it away before starting to knit in the opposite direction on the project size needle. I also use this method for garter stitch tab starts on shawls. 

The fabulous blogger TECHknitting wrote about the Ravellers who came up with the name COWYAK here. It stands for Cast On with Waste Yarn And Knit.

There are other methods, one is a variation of long tail cast on with two yarns. Knitty covers it in this article. Theresa Vinson Stenersen wrote the instructions and mentions that she does not have a problem with the looseness of the first row of stitches being worked over two needles.  This is one of the fascinating things about knitting. Different individuals get different results. I can use this method and still have stitches that show some distortion when I work off that row in the opposite direction. Perhaps due to my relaxed knitting style?

Many knitters use a crochet chain as a provisional cast on. I've used that version myself a few times and I do like the unzipping part, there is something fun about it. However I did end up with some uneven stitches at the transition point in the finished project so I've abandoned that method. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

A Reminder for all the Knitters who are too Hard on Themselves

So many knitters in my classes are critical of their own work. Please stop your belittling voice, be patient with yourselves and just do the best you can. The more you practice your craft, the more beautiful your work will become.

Friday, March 6, 2015

An Interview with...Staci Perry

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 Staci here and here on Ravelry. 

Where do you find inspiration?

I get most of my inspiration from clothes – clothes I see everywhere.  Things I own, things I see on other people, items in catalogs, etc.  I keep a database of puzzle pieces in my head of the bits of things that I like.  The stripes on a shirt, the length of a jacket, the collar on a sweater.  I draw from this database when I design something new.

But many of my patterns are designed as tutorials, so I don’t start with a design inspiration.  I start with the idea of teaching a skill, like knitting socks or knitting a raglan sweater, and move from there.  My hope is that my viewers take the skills they learn from these tutorials, and apply them to lots of different patterns they want to knit.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
Stockinette.  That probably sounds crazy, and it isn’t even much of a technique.  I like “boring” knitting the best, and when I get a chance to knit for my own pleasure, I’ll always steer toward something that doesn’t require a pattern or charts or even much measuring.  That’s how knitting works as therapy for me.

How did you determine your size range?
I used to offer a narrower size range, and based purely on feedback from my viewers, I expanded it to cover XS to 3XL.  The response has been very positive, so I’ve kept it up.

Learn to knit a log cabin blanket

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I not only look at other designers’ work, I knit it!  When I’m knitting for my own pleasure, I prefer to turn off my designer’s brain and work from someone else’s pattern.  I don’t worry about being influenced by other designs, but I do learn things.  I like experiencing patterns purely from the knitter’s viewpoint.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
I am primarily a knitting teacher, and a designer second.  I remember being a kid, and getting stuck on a bit of a pattern that I didn’t understand, and having to wait weeks to visit my Great Great Aunt for help.  When I’m writing patterns, I don’t ever assume that a knitter can easily make a leap from Step A to Step B.  I explain it in the pattern, and I demonstrate it in the video.  If I can help people finish projects without frustration or confusion, I’m doing my job.

Did you do a formal business plan?
A flexible formal business plan, yes.  We (my video producer/editor, my social media manager, and I) start off each year with a planning meeting to discuss goals for the upcoming year, talk about trends, look at stats, etc.  Then we’re each on task for meeting these goals.  I really enjoy being a part of a small team, because of the flexibility to easily modify plans as trends and technology change.

Do you have a mentor?
No, I don’t have a mentor. I’m really out here on my own, since I’m breaking new ground using new technology to teach knitting.  But I do have an idol I try to emulate – Julia Child.  I consider her to be the master of video instruction.  I’m currently watching through every episode of The French Chef, starting in the mid 1960s.  I like her conversational style and the way she demonstrates techniques.

Sixes and threes cowl

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
When we started making knitting videos in 2009, most knitting instruction was sold on DVDs, or was kept behind a “pay wall” online that could only be accessed with a credit card.  My producer and I realized the importance of making as much free and easily accessible content as possible, emulating the Google business model.  Even my premium patterns have free videos and are still helpful to folks who don’t purchase the pattern.  This Google model still works for us, and I’m still making all of my videos free and available to everyone.

How are you using social media to grow your business?
Social media is a huge part of what we do.  Besides being available to answer questions people have, staying in close touch with my viewers is how I get ideas for upcoming videos.  I have a social media manager, and together we’re able to keep the content on the different social media platforms unique to each platform.  Meaning, if you follow me on Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest and Twitter, you won’t see recycled content from one platform to the next.

Do you use a tech editor?
My patterns and tutorials are usually pretty simple, so I’m my own tech editor.  I find that if I complete a pattern then put it away for a few weeks, I can look at it with fresh eyes and edit it myself.  It’s working for me.  I have about 75 patterns, and I’ve only ever had to correct two of them after release.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

Ha, I’m not very good at this yet.  I’m not kidding when I say that I haven’t taken a day off in a few years.  That isn’t as painful as it sounds, because I love what I do.

How do you deal with criticism?
I am one of the very few, very lucky YouTubers who doesn’t have to deal with much criticism.  When I do get criticism, it’s usually from folks who are not my targeted audience, so I let it go.  I get enough positive feedback to more than balance out any negative feedback.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I’ve been supporting myself with a knitting career since the day I started this wild ride.  Back in the early days, before I had much of a following on YouTube or Ravelry, I supplemented my income by teaching a regular class schedule at LYSs.  I haven’t taught locally much in the past couple of years since my business is now almost entirely online.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Don’t do it!  Nah, I’m just kidding.  Here’s the thing – if you want to be successful, there is a lot of sacrifice involved in a creative career.  You have to love it.  You have to remember that you love it, especially when you’re putting in more hours than you ever thought possible for a job.  If you love it, it’s worthwhile.