Friday, March 9, 2018

An Interview with...Mona C. NicLeòid

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
Mona here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration? 

In the landscapes and cityscape's of Europe! From the Scottish islands in the Atlantic to the Greek islands in the Aegean, and everywhere in between... I love travelling, both to discover new places and to return to my favourite ones. I love looking at fashion, especially in the big vibrant cities with diverse populations. All my designs are first and foremost items that I want to wear myself. I tend to have a rather stubborn style, often contrary to mainstream trends, and I picked up knitting and sewing primarily to make my own clothes just the way I want them to be. Last not least, I am often inspired by the gorgeous yarns from all the interesting small companies that have been developing here in the last 10 years or so. The European yarn market used to be dominated by boring mainstream companies, then came the expensive imports from North America, but now we have so many amazing "sheep to yarn" businesses which focus on ethical and sustainable production, preserving traditional sheep breeds etc. I love working with my own hand-spun wool, too.

What is your favourite knitting technique?

That is very hard to say, there are so many interesting things out there. In garments I like certain constructions and shaping techniques, for example top down set-in sleeves. Regarding textures I love playing with delicate Alpine cables, and for colourwork I have fallen in love with mosaic patterns. I tend to have these phases where I use a certain element again and again, for example since last year I have designed several sweaters which involved welts. Then after a while, when I feel I've explored every aspect of this element, I move on to something else. Recently I've discovered two-colour brioche stitch for myself (yes I know, I'm late to the bandwagon), so it just goes on and on.

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

I suppose we all notice other people's work all the time, whether consciously or subconsciously. But I don't often browse patterns on Ravelry, simply because I have several notebooks full of my own design ideas and would need five lifetimes to knit them all. What keeps me "in the loop" a bit is my local knitting community where I see other people knitting from all kinds of patterns and notice certain trends.

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

Like I said above, all my patterns are based on something I've knit for myself to wear. I design while I knit, and only after the original item is finished I sit down to calculate and write the pattern.

I run test knits in my Ravelry group and have a core group of returning test knitters but also lots of new participants all the time. Their input is very valuable to me.

Did you do a formal business plan?

No. I like to say that I became a designer by accident. I've been teaching classes on garment construction and fit for longer than I've been publishing patterns. People were always asking me about my designs and that was what got me started to actually try and write patterns for them.

Do you have a mentor?

No. I am in contact with several other designers from all over Europe and love exchanging experiences and opinions.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

Designing/pattern publishing is not my full time job. I am self-employed as a language teacher, which provides the bulk of my income, then I also teach knitting classes, which has been undergoing an interesting development here in Germany in the last few years. It used to be something that housewives did for pocket money and was seriously undervalued. Now there are lots of fibre festivals with high quality classes, some events make a point of inviting international "big name" designers, and that has pushed others to focus on supporting the local professionals and helping them find a more appreciative audience. For example a friend of mine organizes lovely creative retreats in beautiful places all over the country, both with local and international teachers. I love being a part of all this, and progressing as a teacher and as a designer/pattern publisher has been a very organic process for me. 

Coming soon

Do you use a tech editor?

I do, and actually more than one. For me this is a multi-step process: The math comes first, i.e. grading the pattern for the range of sizes. I have that checked by a second pair of eyes, and then I write out the pattern, usually in English first. I translate almost all my patterns into German, too, and depending on my time frame I run a test knit for one or both language versions. I also have both versions proofread by several people.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

I am lucky in that I can make my own schedule most of the time, but of course being fully self-employed comes with an inevitable level of uncertainty. Living in Germany means I have compulsory health insurance and retirement funds to pay into, and that often means I have to prioritize my teaching jobs over pattern writing. Ideally I can use periods when I have fewer students to focus more on designing, but it doesn't always work that way. I am getting better at it, though! What I've found to be really important is having enough "me-time" for exercising: I'm an avid swimmer, less avid runner and do a daily body-weight/Pilates/yoga routine. When I'm super busy or stressed it is tempting to skip these things, but I've learned that both my body and my mind profit so much from keeping my fitness level up.

I also love travelling, I often feel homesick for the Hebrides when I haven't been there for a while, and there are so many new places still on my list! Traveling always recharges my batteries for my everyday life.

How do you deal with criticism?

I have been working in adult education for 20 years now, and in my opinion it is always good to listen to people, never stop listening, but also to be confident about one's own skills, experience and intuition. Another thing I've had to learn is that it is usually more relevant what people say to you in person than what they say about you online. The internet has made it easy to whine, complain and gossip, and that is rarely productive in any way.

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

Like I said above, designing is just one of several income streams for me. That said, I had surprisingly satisfying results when I started to publish my first professional patterns, but at that point I had already been teaching knitting classes for several years, so a part of my potential customer base was already there.

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

We should be honest in acknowledging that very few people around the world can support themselves as full time designers/pattern writers. And most of the people who have reached some level of success started out as hobbyists and with the economic backing of a spouse or partner. There is no shame in that. If you have urgent bills to pay, becoming a knitting designer is not the most efficient solution. So what I would recommend is to find a way to have enough free time and mental energy for designing, knitting, writing and promoting your patterns without the immediate pressure to be economically successful. Don't design what you think other people might want to buy. Design what you're convinced of, what speaks your voice, and put your effort into writing high quality patterns.

What’s next for you?

So many things! I have a backlog of half a dozen patterns and lots of new ideas. I am also in the process of writing a book about garment construction because that is something we are seriously lacking in the German knitting world. At the moment my calendar is filling up with fibre festivals and similar events throughout the summer and autumn.

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