Friday, November 18, 2016

An Interview with...Melanie Gibbons

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 Melanie here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
I can be inspired by just about anything. Sometimes it's as obviously knitting related as a stitch pattern, sometimes I'm inspired by a garment whether historical or costumes from a movie. Often my inspiration is less obvious. Nature is always inspiring, from patterns and textures to colors. I love fairy tales, myths, and ballets. Certain movies like Moulin Rouge, the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, and some of the Chinese language movies (Hero and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) are so rich visually that you can't help but be inspired. I love colors and sometimes find ideas in colors, whether a single color (I chose my wedding colors based on a stack of dictionaries in the campus bookstore in college – they were an amazing, glowing shade of metallic periwinkle) or color combinations. Most of the time inspiration comes from more than one source and I often don't know where all my inspiration was rooted by the time I finish a design. Not everything translates into knitting or at least I haven't figured out how to take it from inspiration to knitting (yet), but I can still sketch ideas and note my thoughts and feelings. I try to keep notes and sketches because you never know when an idea might be useful. Sometimes just going through older sketches and ideas will trigger something new.

What is your favorite knitting technique?

When I first began designing I was all about lace. I still love lace but I also love cables and other textures. Honestly, I'm kind of having a love affair with stockinette and garter stitch right now. The simplicity of those stitches just appeals to me. I think I've proven to myself that I can knit some crazy and complex projects, but those aren't the pieces I find myself reaching for when I get dressed in the morning. I'm trying to focus on knitting things I'll actually wear.

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

I look at and knit other designers' work all the time. I don't worry about “copying” others' designs because I'm going to make sure my design is my own. If I am inspired by someone else's design but only make a few changes, I'm not going to release a pattern for it. Small modifications are what Ravelry project notes are for. Often, when I look at other designers' work, I see it more as trends (“oh look, there's lots of textural striped shawl patterns coming out right now”) and then I can either use the trend as a jumping off point for my own designs or ignore it and go a different direction.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
That's not something I've really concerned myself with. Maybe it's because most of my designs aren't really for beginners. If I'm using a less common technique then I usually try to explain it with pictures or diagrams, but I don't really explain things that can be looked up in a basic knitting book. Today's knitter has the option of not only some really great books, but also videos, Ravelry, and other online resources that can explain things. I try to write my patterns so that if you've got a basic understanding of knitting, you can knit them. Anything strange, I will explain. I also like to include tips and notes that might be helpful.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself and do you use a tech editor?
I test knit and tech edit everything myself. I tend to design and chart a pattern first, then I knit it and both proofread and “proofknit.” I work with a highlighter and just mark up the chart and directions where ever the design needs correcting or just clarification. The majority of my designs are just one size although I try to include notes on changing sizes on patterns where that's practical (shortening or lengthening shawls for instance).

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I started writing patterns when my son was little and it was always something I did around family life. I definitely do not work eight hour days, five days a week. We started homeschooling him three years ago and while he's old enough that he does the majority of his schoolwork on his own, I'm still available for questions and help if he needs it. This means that I don't really get the uninterrupted blocks of time to brainstorm and design right now like I used to and in the evenings I might be too mentally tired to design. At this point, knitting design is definitely taking a backseat to life, but I'm still coming up with ideas, there are sketches and plans but they'll have to wait until I can really explore them.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
I'm probably not the best person to be offering advice, but I guess that would depend on what this “someone” defines as a career. If you're just looking to start writing patterns, I'd say go for it! The Internet, Paypal, and Ravelry (and other selling platforms) make it really easy to write patterns and offer them for sale. On the other hand, this ease of publishing means anyone can do it so you really need to look at the other things available on these platforms and make sure your designs stand out if you're hoping to sell very many of them. Original ideas aren't necessarily enough if your pattern isn't clearly written or the photographs don't show it clearly. If you're looking to make knitting your primary source of income, I'm definitely the wrong person to ask but there are a number of threads on Ravelry that deal with the specific details of designing as a full time career and how realistic this dream is (or is not). I'd recommend doing some research before you quit your day job!

What's next for you?
On the homeschooling front, Caleb will graduate in 2019, so I'm probably not going to have very many new designs between now and then. I do keep getting ideas and inspiration happens everywhere, so while I may not be writing patterns right now, there are seedlings that could grow into patterns in the future. I enjoy designing, but I've found that my creative process requires more alone, quiet time than I get right now. I can accept this because I feel like the choices we've made as a family are important. The knitting designs can just percolate in my head for a bit!

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