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.


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