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 Ewelina here and here on Ravelry.
Where do you find inspiration?
Everywhere: I look out for patterns and colour combinations wherever I go. I often have a camera with me and take photos of anything that seems interesting: it can be a random pattern created by different colour bricks, unusual angles in a building, or even a pattern created by cracks in the pavement. I spend some time every week looking for interesting images online – images of garments (not necessarily knitwear), interesting patterns, shapes - it can be anything. I also have several sketchbooks where I collect my ideas.
Sometimes inspiration comes from yarn – I see a skein of yarn and immediately know what I'm going to make. But that does not happen often – life would be too easy that way.
Usually the something that inspires me is just the starting point: I see a stitch pattern or garment construction that grabs my attention or need a particular kind of garment for my kids. Then comes swatching, sketching and more swatching - and that is the process where I get most ideas. Very often what comes out at the end has nothing to do with the original idea, but that is what makes designing exciting.
What is your favourite knitting technique?
I like trying new techniques and tricks, but my firm favourite is lace or lace combined with cables and stockinette stitch – I love the fabric they produce and endless design possibilities they offer. Recently I have also fallen in love with garter stitch, which I avoided since the first scarf I made for my teddy bear at the age of 6, wrongly thinking garter stitch is for beginners only.
How did you determine your size range?
I make the size range as wide as possible, but I stop at size 3X for adults – I have found it really difficult to find test knitters for sizes 2X and larger. I never really see finished projects in the largest sizes, so I'm not sure there is a demand.
When I design for kids, the size range depends on design elements used. Sometimes a design is suitable for a full range of sizes from newborn to 12 years, sometimes it is not. For example, a wide lace panel, like the one I used in Leaf Lace Cardigan, would not work with a raglan construction for baby sizes because it is too wide, so the smallest size is 2 years. With some designs, I do not go higher than 8 years - a design that looks cute on a toddler, might not necessarily appeal to a 12-year old.
Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
Yes, I look at other designers' work all the time – because there are so many awesome designs out there and you can learn so much. I believe if you want to be a designer, you need to know what is happening in the knitting world.
How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
Patterns should be detailed enough to give knitters enough information so they can successfully complete a garment, without having to work stuff out for themselves with a spreadsheet.
To make my patterns more accessible, I used to include tutorials in my early patterns, but I do not do it any more, instead I provide a list of links to tutorials available on the web. I also list the skills used in the pattern, so knitters can make their own decision whether the pattern is at the right level for them.
When I'm not sure how detailed my instructions should be, I use feedback from my test knitters – I try to have test knitters of different levels of experience, which gives me a picture of what knitters using my patterns might find difficult.
How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I always knit my own samples. This helps me to figure out pattern details, and make sure my instructions work – I write the pattern while I'm knitting. Sometimes things do not work the way I assumed they would, and I have to make changes to the design. Only after I have finished all tricky parts of my sample that require shaping or changes in the stitch patterns, and I'm satisfied everything works, I grade the pattern and have it tech edited and test knitted.
I do not have a set group of test knitters, many change from project to project, but there are several people who have tested most of my designs. I usually have 1-2 test knitters per size, the biggest test I have run had about 30 test knitters.
When I work on a simple design, like a cowl, scarf or a hat that is not very complex, I usually test it myself - although I might change this in the future.
Did you do a formal business plan?
I'm not sure this can be called a business plan, but yes, I do have a plan, which helps me to focus on my objectives and steps I need to take to achieve them. I usually plan for 3 month periods. Without a plan I would probably keep getting excited about new ideas, start new designs and never finish most of them – as I used to do when knitting was my hobby, not a job. Having a plan helps me to focus on my priorities so I do not waste the little work time I have every day. It also reminds me I need to sell my patterns, not only have fun designing them, which is something I tended to forget until quite recently.
Do you have a mentor?
No, I do not – but I have learnt a lot from my own mistakes. I used to concentrate on designing only, forgetting I was creating products that needed to sell – until I realized it was affecting my family and I couldn't go on this way. At the moment I'm taking an online course helping me with non-design aspects of running a business, such as planning and getting things done. I also subscribe to Fizzle, which is a brilliant site with lots of help and short courses on different aspects of online business.
Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
I'm in the process of creating my own business model, one that will work well for me and my family. There is no point copying someone else's model if your context is different.
That said, there are several designers I admire not only for their designs, but also for their business model – one of them is Justyna Lorkowska.
Do you use a tech editor?
Yes, my amazing tech editor, Rachel Brown, checks most of my patterns. The exception are simple designs, like scarves, cowls or hats – I tech edit them myself. I did a tech editing course run by Joeli Caparco (www.joelicreates.com) a few years ago, and even considered it as a career, but tech editing for others would mean even less time for designing so the idea was quickly abandoned. It was a brilliant experience though, and it changed the way I write patterns.
How do you maintain your life/work balance?
As for many parents of young kids, who work from home, that's tricky. I try to separate work and family as much as I can: I get up at 5 am to have 2 hours without distractions: I work on patterns and reply to emails and messages, than switch the computer off when my kids get up around 7. After my daughter has gone to school, I look after my 17-month old son, and knit whenever he plays on his own – sometimes it's 5 minutes at a time, sometimes he can keep himself occupied for more than half an hour. I switch my computer on again when he has his afternoon nap, and work for another 1-3 hours. In the evening, after the kids have gone to bed, I only have enough energy left for 1-2 hours of knitting in front of TV. The evenings are the time when I knit any tricky parts I need to concentrate on, that is why I usually knit at least 2 projects at a time – something easy for the day (like sleeves), something more complex in the evening. I work this way 7 days a week.
To maintain just a bit of balance and my sanity, I do not read emails at weekends and have a lie-in (i.e. get up around 7, not 5). My working space is separate from where I spend the rest of the day (except knitting – I knit everywhere), and I do not read emails or go on social media when I'm with my son.
How do you deal with criticism?
It depends on the reason and the source of criticism. If it is constructive criticism, I see it as feedback, not criticism, and a learning opportunity that helps me to improve my work. Otherwise, I ignore it – you can't please everyone.
How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I'm not there yet, as I only work a few hours a day, but the money I earn is a substantial addition to our family budget.
What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Do what you love and what makes you happy, but do not quit your day job until you know you can support yourself from designing.
What’s next for you?
Finishing several patterns I started before I took my baby break in 2014-15.