Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sewing Knitted Hems in Place

Socks with a picot hem (this version is knit top down but it does show the effect of a hem).

The free pattern is here

I love when my knitting group asks me questions because I'm always astounded at how much I know already and how much more there is to learn when I research the questions. I think that's the reason I've been knitting for so long yet I never gotten bored with the process.

Miss A asked me about how to sew down a hem at the top of a toe up pair of socks. I've done bottom up hems that you close up by knitting the stitches together but I've never done a hem at the top before. I immediately went to my Vogue knitting book (you all have a technical reference book of course and if you don't please get one). There are also some great on-line resources and for this topic please look at Her site is fabulous and her illustrations are amazing.

My Vogue book showed the hem being whip stitched in place but they also had a herringbone stitch variation that I will have to test on a sample. I have a few other quick tips on this topic. I would change to a smaller needle size after completing the turning row (usually one row of purl stitches in a stocking stitch pattern) to be sure the inside hem is slightly smaller than the outside if your project.One, after completing your cast off row keep a long tail to do the sewing with rather than start with another strand of yarn and then having more ends to darn in. I would turn the sock inside out and use hair clips or paper clips to hold the hem in place and lightly steam to flatten the knitting out before starting to sew. I would follow one row of stitches to use to sew into on the body of the sock being careful not to stitch to tightly and I would work into a single loop of each alternate stitch of the cast off row. Does anyone have any more good tips to share?

Monday, December 21, 2009

The International Society of Yarn Snobs

If you are on Ravelry check out this thread about yarn snobbery. There are over 600 postings and close to 5000 views so you know Knitters find this a controversial topic. The original poster (JezebellGray) said "I was at my LYS the other day and with my husband, we were talking about the sock yarn I bought, how it was acrylic, so that I knew his aunt couldn’t felt or shrink them after I’d worked so long to finish them. I got a snotty look from the woman in line ahead of me, and a “Acrylic yarn is for people who craft junk, not knitters.” I was shocked by that attitude and not sure what to say. Has anyone else had an experience where they were made to feel “second class” just because they knit with acrylic?"

We all have different reasons for choosing a yarn to work with and the good news is that we have so much variety now that knitting has become popular again. I come from a family of Knitters and I can tell you without a doubt that if my Mother was still alive she would kill for some of the gorgeous yarns I have been able to knit with.
Care is often a consideration, many of us knit gifts or donations that we know will be machine washed and dried. Allergies can be another concern not every one can comfortable wear natural fibers. Cost can impact your choices, especially right now with the current recession and high unemployment numbers. Sometimes we choose a yarn because we fall in love with a colour instead of a fiber. Not all of us have access to great yarn stores and Internet shopping means we can't decide based on touch if we like a yarn. Some live in climates that determine what fibers we will be most comfortable wearing. Certain projects call for very specific yarns and less experienced Knitters often like to use the yarn a pattern called for to ensure that their results are the same. Some knitters prefer to use Eco-Friendly Yarns for political reasons. Others are anti-wool for animal protection reasons. Still more want to use yarns that are created from recycled materials.

I wonder if some Knitters are concerned with the devaluation of knitting? Is that why people get so judgemental about the materials? Perhaps they feel that only luxury yarns justify their time in the eyes of the non-knitting world? Most people (non fiber types) don't know the difference between synthetic versus natural fibers and some will argue the definition anyway. Rayon fibers are often disputed as they are a natural fiber processed in the manner of a synthetic. So what is this snobbery really about? Knitting with acrylic can't really be so bad can it? Any ideas?

Friday, December 18, 2009

An Interview with....Dorothy Siemens

Once a week I post interviews with interesting designers about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry. I’ve noticed that every designer makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the Knitting world. Dorothy gets a special mention because she was kind enough to spend time talking with me last year while I was in the process of making the decision to pursue my own knitting career.

You can find Dorothy here and here on ravelry.

Here is a picture of Dorothy's new design, called Gloriana, not available until January:

Where do you find inspiration?

I like to look through knitting, fashion and home decor magazines. If I'm shopping, I'll check out the fashions to see what's in style or get ideas for shaping. Sometimes I'm inspired by nature, such as with my Fern Glade Shawl. I've been known to pause a TV show to get a quick photo of a garment worn by one of the actresses! All of these ideas and influences percolate in my head, so I often seem to get ideas right out of the blue, but I know that my subconscious has probably been thinking about it for awhile.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
It's probably obvious with my designs - lace, of course!

How did you determine your size range?
I try to provide as wide a range of sizes as possible, but much depends on the pattern or repeats of a particular design. Therefore, even though I use standard sizing charts, my designs will vary in the way they're sized. Shawl and scarf designing is easy as there is only one size necessary for the most part.

Do you look at other designers work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
Yes, I do look at other designers' work. I often find it inspirational (or envy-making - why didn't I think of that?). I never use another designer's idea but it can become a spring-board for my own ideas.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
I design what I like to knit and wear myself. I consider myself an experienced knitter, so many of my designs reflect that. When I do something simpler, it is because I crave a simple, meditative project for myself. I think it is very important for knitters to challenge themselves with increasingly complex projects, as that is how we learn, and that is how we get to the point where we can tackle those "oh, wow!" projects.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I now knit all my samples myself. I find that I often make changes as I work, so that gives me more control over the project. I don't have so many things going at once that I need to use a sample knitter. Plus, I love knitting the samples myself!

Did you do a formal business plan?
No, I didn't. When I got started, it was as a side-line to my graphic design and illustration business. I went into it thinking that if it brought in a bit of extra money and was fun to do, that was fine. As the business grew, I took steps that made sense at the time. I am still rethinking my business all the time, and find that in this competitive climate, you have to be able to be flexible.

Do you have a mentor?
Not any more. But I would say that people who helped my get started and taught me important things in knitting were Sally Melville, Fiona Ellis and Margaret Stove.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
I would not have this business without the Internet - it is crucial.

Do you use a Tech Editor?
Always, on every pattern. Since I knit all my samples myself and then write up the patterns, it is absolutely necessary to have another set of eyes go through the pattern with a fine-tooth comb. My tech editor makes sure all the measurements work, the math is correct, and the charts are error-free. I rarely publish a pattern with an error, although it can happen. But the likelihood is greatly reduced.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I take care of business on weekdays just like a regular office. I have been in that habit for years because I have been self-employed for so long. I confess though, that evenings are for sample knitting. You can't run a business and do all that knitting in eight hours a day!

How do you deal with criticism?
It's difficult, although it doesn't happen often, thank goodness. I have an artist's ego, which means that even though I am pretty sure of myself, I can be hurt when someone criticizes my design - it is like they are criticizing me! But you just shake it off and move on.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
Support myself? Are you joking? Thank goodness my husband makes a decent living! Okay, some years are better than others, and I could just manage to scrape by if I had to, but the truth is, you don't get rich being an independent knitting designer.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
If you are going to be an independent designer like myself, then be prepared to be poor unless you have another source of income, or you work very, very hard. When you make your hobby your work, it becomes just that - work. Fun work, but work nonetheless!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Make it Flatter - Your Bone Structure and What that Means

I watch What Not to Wear (both the American and British version) & as well as Tim Gunn's Guide to Style

I love watching the fashion improvements the experts make and how so many people blossom in ways that are more than just about the clothes. Their self esteem goes up and they are more confident by the end of the process.

I think part of the reason it's so hard to make these improvements by ourselves is that the presenters don't always clearly articulate exactly how they make their determinations of what looks good on different body types. We are all very emotional about our appearance so what we need are objective standards rather than aesthetic determinations. Often I will hear someone say that accessories and the size of prints should be related to our size but I'm never quite sure how to decide what that should be. I'm 5'2" so I worry about overwhelming myself with large accessories, but I often get compliments on the bigger bolder pieces. This weekend I finally figured out why. I'm reading a book called Fabulous Fit by Judith A Rasband and Elizabeth L. G. Liechty. It's for sewers but I'm trying to develop some fitting adjustments for a class I'll teach in the future. They have a great chart on bone sizes as they relate to height which I will share with you. It turns out that while I am petite as determined by my height I have a large bone structure. I hope this helps you to flatter your figure as well.

Petite Height (under 5'4")
Wrist Measurement 5 1/2" or less - Small bone size or frame
Wrist Measurement 5 5/8 - 6" - Medium Bone Size or Frame
Wrist Measurement 6 1/8" or more Large Bone Size or Frame

Height - Medium (5'4" - 5'7")
Wrist Measurement 5 3/4" or less Small Bone Size or Frame
Wrist Measurement 5 7/8" to 6 1/4" Medium Bone Size or Frame
Wrist Measurement 6 3/8" or more Large Bone Size or Frame

Height - Tall (Over 5'7")
Wrist Measurement 6" or less -Small Bone Size or Frame
Wrist Measurement 6 1/8" to 6 1/2" Medium Bone Size or Frame
Wrist Measurement 6 5/8" or more Large Bone Size or Frame

Monday, December 14, 2009

Tech Editors and Why I Need One

A regular reader asked the question about exactly what a Tech Editor does?

I acquired my editor when Julia Grunau of told me I needed one. At that point I didn't really know what I should expect to get from one either. How did I find her you ask? I went to my guild meeting and asked someone if they knew any and was immediately pointed to someone I had chatted to several times in the past. Today as a member of I would use the forums for recommendations to find one.

As to what she does for me? My editor has turned out to be worth her weight in gold. I bounce ideas off her. I ask all sorts of questions that are helping me transition to becoming a professional designer. I have to answer her questions about my patterns which often clarify exactly what I'm trying to express to other Knitters. She keeps me in line with generally accepted pattern writing standards. She also edits a number of other BIG NAME designers so I know that I'm being pushed up to their standards. She helps me determine what level of knitter can knit my design and makes suggestions for making the pattern accessible to more levels of knitting experience. It was my Editor that confirmed to me my name not a company name should be on all of my patterns. We also discuss trends in yarn buying and what people are interested in knitting. She has helped me to figure out my weaknesses (publishing and graphics) and my strengths (my understanding of garment construction and fitting).

When she works on the pattern she corrects my grammar. She makes all of the formatting consistent. She checks all of my numbers for grading and yarn requirements. She recently caught an error on a yarn distributors site on the colour name and number not matching up with the ball band. They fixed the site after I let them know. She has described her process as mentally knitting the pattern and if something doesn't make sense to her she picks up her needles and does a quick sample of that portion. She also has the ability to reverse engineer from a garment or to all the grading if I choose to write only one size. She has also given me many suggestions to improve my patterns so that I can cut down on editing costs, which is money out of her pocket!

She has been very encouraging about my work from our first meeting which is wonderful for me as a "newbie"

Saturday, December 12, 2009

An Interview with Jill Wolcott

Once a week I post interviews with interesting designers about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry. I’ve noticed that every designer makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the Knitting world.

Where do you find inspiration?

Like all designers I tend to find inspiration everywhere. I look at fashion a lot and get shape and silhouette from there. As a creative person I find travel, music and art are crucial to keeping the creative juices flowing.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I consider myself a knitting generalist because my favorite technique is always whatever I’m currently or planning. I’m fascinated by counterpanes and by extrapolating a stitch pattern into variations, but I don’t have a special area that I focus on. I do get a bit obsessed, but then I move on.

How did you determine your size range?
When Y2Knit began doing a line of patterns I established our size range of XS to XL; we do some plus sizes but I don’t usually have enough time to write things in more than one size range. I created our sizing chart based on a combination of standard measurements, ready-to-wear sizing, and my observations over many years. I do a medium as my sample. It helps that I’m a medium and I’ve been working in that size about 35 years! I should add that I really try to do designs that work on many figure types—and if someone is being left out of Y2Knit sizing, it is probably the younger knitter.

Do you look at other designers work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I don’t pay too much attention to other knitwear designers. I don’t knit other patterns but I do look at knitting magazines. I’m too involved in my own process!

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?

I’m not sure what is meant by “dumbing down” patterns. I know there is a school of thought where the knitter should be able to figure things out for themselves. I tend not to agree with this because it assumes that every knitter has the same body of knowledge, is able to process information the same way, and is looking for the same thing from a pattern. In addition to designing I am also a teacher at a design college and teach knitting classes. There are so many types of learners and knitters that nothing is going to suit everyone. The knitter who needs a pattern just as a guide is probably not my target customer. I want the knitter to know what I did to get the result I did. I don’t think it is fair to say “cast on” when there is a specific cast on which got the pictured result; perhaps it is ego, but I assume that as the “expert” it is reasonable for the knitter to get that information from me. Now they are welcome to do whatever they want, but I’m going to let them know how I did it so they can make an informed choice.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I have three to five people who knit for me. Every sample knitter is a bit different, so I try to match projects to knitters. I have one very special sample knitter who I keep working all the time. She is a perfect foil for me and she has allowed me to really grow as a designer by doing the actual execution and leaving me to figure out how.

Did you do a formal business plan?
We (Y2Knit) did a formal business plan—and won a contest with it! It wasn’t exactly what our business ended up being, but we did do a plan. We spend time doing on-going planning every year, but finding time to plan is one of the most challenging parts of being a business owner.

Do you have a mentor?
I don’t have a mentor. I have always done things on my own but got encouragement early on that gave me the courage to go forward. I’m fortunate to have a business partner (my sister, Susan) who does most of the stuff I don’t/won’t do. I am also supported by my spouse who believes in me even when I don’t believe in myself.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
I’m not sure that occurred to us! I’m more likely to look at other businesses and say “I don’t want to do that” than to model. I do a lot of reading and thinking about business and marketing in general and specific to Y2Knit and I try to keep an eye out for opportunities and ideas that might translate for Y2Knit.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
The biggest impact is that it allows Susan and I to operate as if we were in the same place without having to be. The other huge impact for us is the ability to market. It is also a huge distraction and must be used wisely.

Do you use a Tech Editor?

I do use a tech editor. I’ve used a lot of them because I haven’t always enjoyed working with them—or they with me! I finally asked someone I knew if they’d give it a try and we work really well together. It is someone who has used my patterns and seems to understand how my mind works. We also share a similar sense of humor—that may be the secret.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
What’s that? I totally struggle with it and don’t feel I’m winning. I always say that I’m fortunate that my spouse works so hard or else he’d be offended at how much time I spend working (like he doesn’t notice when things aren’t getting done!). When a hobby becomes a job you have to find other things to do for relaxation. I have to admit that I’m not great at that because knitting uses so much of my time. Even though I don’t knit samples, I am always knitting swatches and trying out new ideas.

How do you deal with criticism?
Depends, if it is constructive I appreciate it. Otherwise, it is easier to take the older I get.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I don’t. I teach part time and Y2Knit does Events, Susan and I wrote and published a book (YNotKnit: step-by-step instructions for Continental knitting), Susan has a yarn shop, I do online classes, etc., so the designing is just a piece of our business.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Only do this if you love it. First, you give up your hobby; second, you work all the time; third, whether or not you are successful isn’t always under your control; and almost no one understands what you really do.

Friday, December 4, 2009

An Interview with....Joanne Yordanou

Once a week I post interviews with interesting designers about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry. I’ve noticed that every designer makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the Knitting world.

You can find Joanne here

Where do you find inspiration?

I am a very visual person. I can be inspired by a lines in art or a great photograph. I am a complete magazine junkie and can be also inspired by a cuff or neckline off the runway. Also, home décor magazines are a great source for ideas. But my best work is born of the sub-conscience. I wake up with an idea and jot it down before it’s gone.

What is your favourite knitting technique?

I love to cable; very rewarding knitting. I also appreciate the easy stitches that give a big bang for the effort, such as slip stitch patterns. I also love to embellish. I will often challenge myself to add a little whimsy to a pattern, especially with children’s patterns, which is always fun.

How did you determine your size range?
I use Standards for sizing. I will offer as many sizes as is “right” for the pattern silhouette and suitable for body types.

Do you look at other designers work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I will always admire other designer’s work and will often think “ I wish I thought of that”. However, it is fairly easy to appreciated a beautiful project and not let it influence your own work. Often times, you are in a completely different head zone for designing, than what you may be admiring. For example, I saw a unique shawl collar pattern a few days ago that I was taken by (again wishing I thought of it). But I am working on an intricate scarf pattern now and working that out of my system, so it is more a case of “hats-off” to the other designer.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
I was trained by the Patons Design Studio and the more info you can give a knitter, the better. I don’t want to ever assume the level of knitter, even though we suggest a level for a pattern. Really, if your instructions are informative, an intermediate knitter could do an experienced pattern. The experience knitters among us will easily scan the pattern and filter out what they don’t need. However, I will say that the pattern is simply that – instruction of how to knit the item. It isn’t a learn to knit book.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I always use test knitters as the more eyes on a pattern, the less error. I have many I have used that I met from my days at Patons or from Knitting Guilds I have presented to. I am always looking out for new experienced knitters in my area – just west of Toronto – in case you’re out there!

Did you do a formal business plan?
I do or rather I did when I started out. Now I just know what I need to do from years of experience. The plan changed over the years and I may insert a new idea or direction from time to time. But I highly recommend one to start out. It will maintain your focus.

Do you have a mentor?
Not so much anymore. One of my best editors and knitters lived 2 doors away – Joyce. She was a fantastic knitter and a stickler for details. She taught me to be a stickler too. I don’t assume anymore. I check and recheck, over and over. It is so easy to miss an error or typo. Joyce was for me, a mentor of editing. She passed away recently and I will miss her very much. But she left with me the habit of slowing down to be efficient with review.
Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
Nope, just mine

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
Huge. I have been able to reach knitters all over the world. I get a kick when I hear from a knitter in Germany, Australia or other reaches of the world - some I have never heard of! Since I offer patterns on my web site, I have learned the value of sites like Ravelry and the strong connection of knitters on the www.
Do you use a Tech Editor?
Almost always.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I have a very busy family life. Both of my daughters are athletes and most of my life is spent in gyms. I recently gave up a part-time job to work on my next book. Carving out time for designing and knitting is always a challenge. I loves quiet days when I can devote a whole day to designing. It is even better when I can get 3-4 designs out of a weekend; patterns written. I am often knitting while my husband drives to games or tournaments. The games are too exciting to knit there! During the summer, I am at the cottage and there I have my favorite chair that looks out onto the water. It is my most peaceful knitting!
How do you deal with criticism?
The knitting community is a very friendly one. Once in a blue moon, you will read something or hear something that can produce a gray cloud above your head. But, it is water off a duck’s back. You have to move on from it.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
My husband supported me while I built my own business. I worked for Patons beforehand and then I launched Baa Baa Knits, which is now My husband always “had my back” on slow months. So, I wouldn’t say I ever supported myself. Rather, I contributed to the family.
What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Think big! Believe you can and don’t take rejection too personally. Celebrate what you can.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

82 Ways to Become a Better Knitter

  2. Knit a larger than 4" swatch.
  3. Take a course.
  4. Buy a technique book.
  5. Find a mentor.
  6. Develop a relationship with your LYS.
  7. Use the Internet for video instructions.
  8. Acquire the right tools (needles and notions).
  9. Try different types of needles.
  10. Get a good light to knit by.
  11. Make knitting friends.
  12. Join a Guild.
  13. Choose an new technique to learn once a week.
  14. Go to retail knitting shows.
  15. Learn to understand ease.
  16. Examine the schematic carefully.
  17. Measure yourself frequently.
  18. Assess your shape and adapt patterns to flatter it.
  19. Join the TKGA Master Knitter Program.
  20. Choose challenging projects on purpose.
  21. Learn to knit backwards.
  22. Learn everything you can about the various fibers.
  23. Read knitting blogs.
  24. Teach someone else how to knit.
  25. Set specific challenges for yourself, as an example learn 6 ways to cast on.
  26. Go to a Knitting Retreat.
  27. Read the classic Knitters like Elizabeth Zimmermann.
  28. Read the contemporary Knitters like Cat Bordi.
  29. Learn how to knit Continental style or English style, which ever is different from your current technique.
  30. Felt something (on purpose).
  31. Learn to knit socks.
  32. Knit something you wouldn't knit for yourself as a gift.
  33. Learn how to do Entrelac.
  34. Read all of the posts on
  35. Learn to knit top down as well as bottom up.
  36. Join Ravelry.
  37. Read the online Knitting magazines (Twist Collective and Knitty).
  38. Swatch for the sake of swatching.
  39. Learn to knit 2 handed Fair Isle.
  40. Take a finishing class.
  41. Learn how to read knitting charts.
  42. Study how colours work.
  43. Knit a moebius.
  44. Learn the vocabulary of Knitting.
  45. Knit socks toe up if you normally knit them toe down.
  46. Knit with beads.
  47. Make sure your sleeves are the right length. Use this handy calculator
  48. Don't change needle mid project.
  49. Buy more than one needle sizer. You will misplace the one you have.
  50. Carry a yardage chart when buying yarn, here's a free one
  51. Always check that the dye lots are the same yourself.
  52. Learn how to substitute yarns.
  53. Learn how to calculate yards to meters or in reverse.
  54. Look at Vintage patterns.
  55. Always check for errata when you start a pattern.
  56. Don't assume the pattern is right look for errors.
  57. Don't assume the pattern is wrong look carefully at your technique.
  58. Look closely at the photograph of the garment, have they pinned it at the back?
  59. Try different methods to increase and decrease.
  60. Try a different medium, sew, embroider, paint or anything else and apply what you learn back to your knitting.
  61. Knit chemo caps or items for the homeless.
  62. Remember that the model in the picture is usually a 34" bust.
  63. Read the technique book, don't wait until you have a problem to fix.
  64. Knit gloves (with fingers).
  65. Get the books about knitting you can't afford out of the library.
  66. Learn to duplicate stitch.
  67. Learn to graft stitches.
  68. Knit sculptural things like a Teddy Bear or another toy.
  69. Learn to cut your knitting (steeks, after thought pockets or heels).
  70. Learn to short row.
  71. Learn more than one type of thumb construction.
  72. If you get frustrated with something put it down and go back to it the next day.
  73. Look at how your purchased garments fit or don't fit you. Those are the areas you will need to adjust when you knit from patterns as well.
  74. Keep a nail file in your knitting bag, you can use it to fix a rough spot on a wooden needle and file a rough nail that is catching on your yarn.
  75. Learn what correct and incorrect stitch orientation means.
  76. Learn to knit Brioche.
  77. Wash your hands before you start knitting especially when working with light coloured yarns.
  78. Learn more than one way to join your yarn.
  79. Know that dye colour may affect gauge. Black is the most noticeable making yarn thicker.
  80. Work on controlling your gauge. It is important for unusual stitches and to avoid tension changes when you are stressed out.
  81. Remember that even a novice Knitter can teach you a technique you have never seen before.
  82. Do a swatch!

Friday, November 27, 2009

An Interview with....Ilga Leja

Once a week I post interviews with interesting designers about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry. I’ve noticed that every designer makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the Knitting world.

You can find Ilga here

Where do you find inspiration?

The short answer would be “Everywhere”. But no matter where I get inspiration, whether it’s from nature or a fashion runway model or a work of art, none of it takes on any meaning until I have some yarn in my hands. In the end, it is the yarn itself which gives shape to my design ideas. A friend of mine, and a fellow knitwear designer (Jane Thornley) talks about “yarn whispering”. And that is what I do, listen to the whispers of the yarn.

What is your favourite knitting technique?

I don’t have a favourite knitting technique. There are so many to love. Currently I am experimenting with short rows and am fascinated with how this simple technique can alter the structure of a garment. I like to see movement in a piece of knitting and short rows are a fascinating way to introduce movement.

How did you determine your size range?

First I started out offering sizes from Small to Extra Large. Then I began to hear from both ends of that size range. There were those who wanted to see the Extra Small size and those who wanted the Extra Extra Large sizes. I have now sized some pieces up to 4X. But I also consider the piece itself and decide on which sizes it would suit and then size accordingly.

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

I am always looking at the work of other designers, both knitwear designers and fashion designers, as well as textile artists in general. There is no question that I am influenced by their work. I am in awe of some of the amazing work that is being done by so many outstanding designers who are pushing knitting into new directions. I hope that I don’t copy any of them, in the same way that I hope that they don’t copy my work. But being influenced and inspired by the work of others is something different. We can celebrate each other’s gifts and inspire each other instead.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?

I have a lot of respect for knitters and for their capabilities. Some of my patterns can be challenging for some knitters. But I include extensive directions and tips for knitters to help them over the trouble spots along the way. There is no reason that a knitter with good basic skills can’t create an item of exceptional beauty.For me, knitting is an art form, an exploration into self-expression and creativity, in the same way that painting or sculpture are art forms. So whatever it takes to make that a reality for a knitter, from the place where that knitter is at a particular time, then that’s what is needed.

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

I have a number of different sample/test knitters who work for me at different times. The number varies as people move on with their lives and as I have a need for more or fewer knitters. I no longer try to do it all myself. Because I don’t do custom, production work, I only need knitters to work up a single sample or test a single pattern at a time. So I may be working with up to 3 or 4 knitters at any given time. Nevertheless, I still work up many of the original samples myself because I tend to “design on the needles”. And because I just love to knit.

Did you do a formal business plan?

I have a very “fluid” business plan. I developed it in a step-by-step manner, doing research and creating an overall plan. But the plan is under constant review and it changes as circumstances and the general economic environment changes. I actually enjoy that about having a plan. And because it is my own business, I can make the changes I want to make with having to consult only one person (i. e., myself). We have lots of interesting business discussions, myself and I.The basic mission of my plan continues to be the cornerstone that doesn’t change. And that is to experience delight, both for myself in the creation of the designs and for others who re-create those designs.

Do you have a mentor?

I have had many mentors along the way. The one I would like to give special mention to is Lucy Neatby. She has been the resource of so much generosity and support as I was starting out in this business. And she continues to be a good friend. I feel very fortunate to have such an experienced teacher and designer who is willing to share her knowledge with me as I try to find my own way.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

I have followed many of the recommendations and suggestions that Lucy Neatby gave me. But I don’t try to do what Lucy does. I have, of course, done my research and looked to see how other successful designers have developed their businesses. But in the end, I have come up with my own approach.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?

The impact of the Internet is immeasurable. I can’t even imagine what my design business would have looked like without the Internet, since it was the integral piece of my business plan. It has shaped my business more than any other single factor.

Do you use a Tech Editor?

Yes. I learned after I released my first pattern—which I was sure was perfect in every detail and then found out that it wasn’t—that having a Tech Editor was not a luxury. It is a necessity.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

Since I have left my day job to take up designing full-time, I have been able to achieve a much better life/work balance. I work out of my own home which means that I can be more available for any immediate family/household needs as they arise. At the same time, I can incorporate my knitting work into my daily home and personal life.

How do you deal with criticism?

I try to view any criticism as impersonally as possible. Sometimes that is difficult. But I have found that not becoming defensive has been the better approach. I look at what is being criticized rather than thinking of it as a criticism of myself as a designer. Then I can make improvements. Flattery and compliments are very nice, of course. But it is criticism which has caused me to learn and to improve my work.

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

I would have to say that I am not there yet. I am fortunate in that I don’t have to rely on the knitting business for 100% of my income. But it is my aim to make it become that 100% eventually.

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

If you love it, do it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tips for Making Fringe

I recently made fringe for a shawl. You can find the basic instructions here
I have a few more tips to add about the initial cutting of the fringe. I use a VCR tape or a small hard cover book to wrap the yarn around. Some sources recommend cardboard but it bends as you wrap making the fringes vary too much in length. I use the short side for simple fringe and the long side for the knotted variety. I try to keep a consistent tension on the yarn as I wrap as some yarns can stretch quite a bit but then they pop back after they are cut. I also place a knitting needle against the tape and wrap the yarn over it. Once I finish wrapping I pull the needle out so I have room to slip the tip of my scissors under the yarn wraps before cutting.
When placing the fringe along the edge of my knitting I keep the same amount of space between each fringe even either by counting the stitches or by using a finger as a measuring tool. Another technique for placement is to put one fringe at each end and then fold the edge in half matching fringe to fringe and placing the next fringe at the halfway point. As each new fringe is added you match it to another and place the next one in the center.
Happy fringing!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Disrespect for Knitters

The issue of disrespect for knitting has been discussed many times amongst my knitting friends. Most often we simply accept that the non-knitting world just doesn't "get" us and move on. I think that the strength of the knitting community may be partially related to this lack of respect, as we search out others that share our values and validate our goals.

Sally Melville wrote about it here in her Sept 1, 2009 posting. She questioned "Why are we relegated to a stereotype: the non-active, elderly, usually female, person-without-anything-better-to-do."

I've always labeled it as a slightly more politically correct form of sexism. I work in a very sexist industry and my knitting is viewed in a derisive manner by most of my colleagues. If I responded in a similar way about their interests I would expect to be considered very rude. I'm generally seen as "artistic" due to my interests in ballet, theatre and art but those interests don't seem to invite the mockery that my knitting does.

On the Yarn Harlots blog,  August 13 2009

Stephanie Pearl-McPhee  says that during Sock Summit " We learned that sexism is (in case you were wondering) alive and well in the world. We'd wondered throughout the entire process if it was our imagination that we weren't being taken very seriously, but thought that it was the topic that was throwing people off. (Fair enough. Knitting is often not taken very seriously as a business and we did complicate it by narrowing it down to socks) We were wrong. Sure, the topic didn't help, but one fine day as we were working on the summit, a service provider trying to give us advice (we won't tell you who, because the gentleman in question did better from then on, and learning should be rewarded) prefaced his information to us with the incredible statement "Ladies, young ladies. Listen to daddy..." We didn't wonder anymore if we were imagining that the fact that we had breasts was working against us. "

I have been thinking about the question of what should we learn from all of this? Do we promote ourselves and our craft (Art?) more and educate others or do we learn to relax and take our selves a little less seriously because after all what does it matter what others think? I'm going to knit anyway in spite of them.

When I see others behaving badly, I often look to my own behaviour as well to see if I'm guilty of anything similar. I am aware of how Crocheters feel the same way towards knitters that non-knitters think of us. If you are on Ravelry check this out
Generally it appears that they feel disrespected by Knitters so I guess this means that we all have to learn to be less judgmental about how others spend their time.

Friday, November 20, 2009

An Interview with....Amy O'Neill Houck

Once a week I post interviews with interesting designers about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry. I’ve noticed that every designer makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the Knitting world.

You can find Amy's blog here

Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration everywhere--from watching what people are wearing on the street when I travel, to reading fashion magazines. (One of my secret pleasures is Teen Vogue--especially the back-to-school issue). I live in Alaska, and the natural world is a constant inspiration. For instance, my Alpine Frost Scarf was inspired by the frost forming on my living room windows forming in a pretty pattern.

What is your favourite knitting technique?

I love provisional cast-ons because they allow knitting to go in more than one direction. I use it to make draw-string casings --like in a pair of pants and a skirt I designed for Knits for Bears to Wear--and to start something in the middle rather than the top or bottom--like in the Pleated Vest I designed for Blue Sky Alpacas.

How did you determine your size range?
I like my range to be as wide as possible. I design my garment as a women's medium, usually, and then scale up and down from there. If I'm designing for publication then the range is determined by the publisher. My designs usually focus on interesting construction techniques and flattering silhouettes rather than fancy stitch-work, so grading my patterns isn't usually too hard.

Do you look at other designers work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I love looking at other designers' work! I'm an editor for a British crochet magazine called Inside Crochet, so looking out for what other designers are doing is part of my job. I don't worry about being influenced at all. I find I have plenty of ideas to create my own designs, and if I'm inspired by, say a collar on someones sweater, it may end up inspiring me to make a pair of mittens the following year, and that's how creativity works.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
I haven't heard about that controversy! I write patterns for things that I would like to wear, and I use techniques that keep me interested while I'm knitting. Luckily, my designs seem to entertain and please other knitters too, but I don't purposefully try and write easy or hard patterns. What I DO try and write are clear, easy to understand patterns with lots of visual aids (schematics, charts) and patterns which have an open framework and allow the knitter to easily adapt the pattern to her own specific fit, using her own yarn choices.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I have none working for me right now. My focus has been on writing books and editing over the last year, and so my rate of producing designs has slowed a little. I do love working with contract crocheters and knitters, but I prefer when they live close by to me so I can help them along and make sure that their work is to my specifications before they get to far. Even when I work with contractors, I always like to do my own finishing.

Did you do a formal business plan?
I did not. Frankly, it's not practical for me to make designing my full time work right now because that involves too much travel, and I have small children and live in a remote part of the world. But I do love that the work I do is work I love!

Do you have a mentor?
Not exactly, but I have great respect for knitters who have made their businesses, especially Cat Bordhi and Annie Modesitt--both of these women are mentors in that they love to help newcomers and they trumpet the rights and abilities of designers to make a living and do it well on their own. Annie Modesitt also accepted my first design for publication, and Cat Bordhi allowed me to take her amazing classes when I was a crochet designer but very new to knitting, then she has encouraged me ever since to peruse my publishing goals.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
I would have no business without the Internet. I started writing my blog in 2005, and soon after discovered Kim Werker's Kim accepted my designs, and I decided that was enough for me to start calling myself a designer. From there almost all the work I sought and received was through the Internet.

Do you use a Tech Editor?
Absolutely. I also am a technical editor but I never tech edit my own work.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
What is this thing called balance? :-) Really, I let life come first, and I fit my designing in around it. Luckily, I have time and a wonderful situation where I don't have to design any more than I have time for.

How do you deal with criticism?
I'm happy to receive constructive criticism. I usually ignore insult, if possible, but of course, it hurts. I haven't had to deal with it much. I don't think of corrections as criticism. I don't love ever having errors in patterns, but I'm thrilled when someone finds one because it means I can correct it.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
As I said, I can't support myself or my family on my design income. Unfortunately, designers are not paid enough where any but a few can make a full time living at it. Those who do, have a delicate balancing act of designing, writing books, traveling to teach which takes much more than a full time job. I applaud them, but I'm not able to do that, and I don't think I'd want to travel that much. I do love to teach, and I teach here in my town where we have an amazingly talented group of fiber artists. I'm looking forward to learning more about teaching Internet classes so I can offer my classes to others without traveling.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Just start! There's always room for more talented knitting and crochet designers. And if you're a crochet designer looking to start submitting designs, e-mail me with some sketches and swatches. We're always interested in hearing about new people.

All photographs were provided by Amy O'Neil Houck

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Patience and your Knitting

I regularly read Gretchen Rubin's blog. You can find her here She often writes about situations where opposites are true. She quotes Niels Bohr: “There are trivial truths and great truths. The opposite of a trivial truth is plainly false. The opposite of a great truth is also true.”

"Familiarity breeds contempt" versus "absence makes the heart grow fonder" would be a good example of this type of oppositional truth.

I have recently noticed that as I get older I get both more and less patient with others. I'm completely patient with my Dad who suffers from Mixed Dementia but far less so with a divorcing colleague or friend that is behaving badly due to a falling out with a mutual friend. I've discovered that dealing with them all is equally exhausting. Yet I end up feeling virtuous after dealing with my Dad's repetitive questions and the fear that is created by his confusion. With the others I'm annoyed that I'm being drawn into their drama's and that they have a negative impact on my life that I don't want to let in.

What does all of this have to do with knitting you were about to ask??

Well it got me thinking about why I love some techniques and hate others for example Intarsia versus Fair Ilse or Mosaic stitch. I can create beautiful fabric in all three methods. It's all knitting which typically soothes me. I'm a technique junkie but once I'm working on a new design I sometimes use the techniques I already know well rather than swatching every potential technique. Yet I can happy swatch for hours learning new things if I'm not working on a specific project. I get impatient once there is a project in mind, but why? I also notice that so many Knitters hate to do their own finishing, yet they had the patience to knit for months on a project and are too impatient to spend a few hours weaving in ends and blocking so that they can enjoy the end result. Non- Knitters often cite their lack of patience as the reason that they don't knit so clearly the rest of the world sees Knitters as supremely patient.

What do you think, do you have any insights on this?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Why You Don't Like the Sweater You Just Knit

This happens to all knitters at some point. We take the time to choose a pattern, pick out a yarn in a lovely colour and start to knit. Weeks??? or perhaps months later we cast off, do the finishing and block the garment ready to wear it and proudly show off our talents.

Then we stand in front of our mirror feeling lost and hopeless because it's not the sweater of our imagination. So where did you go wrong?

Did you pick a colour of yarn totally alien to the rest of your wardrobe? It's not that unusual to see Knitters admiring beautiful yarns in colours that don't fall into the palette of what they wear or in a colour that is not flattering to them personally. The colour of the sample is always the first colour to sell out in a yarn shop so your LYS staff know that you are admiring the garment and not really thinking through how it will look on you.

Did you substitute the pattern yarn with an appropriate match of fiber and gauge? This situation is becoming more frequent as Knitters are buying patterns to stash bust the yarn they already have. Yarn substitutions are always possible, however the Knitter does need to understand that the work may not be an exact replica of the original. Sometimes the knitted item is lovely but because it is different or unexpected from the original we are not happy with the end result.

Did you choose a pattern that flatters your body shape. Just because the garment looks great on the model who is a 34 bust and 6" taller than normal women doesn't mean it will look good on everyone. Think about the most flattering items in your wardrobe is this pattern anything like other things you wear?

Did you knit an item appropriate to your personal style? Are you a twin set girl and the pattern is an Asian inspired asymmetrical style? If it is think twice before casting on or consider modifying to be closer to your personal style.

Did you knit an item appropriate to your personal lifestyle? Did you choose an over sized sweater suitable to be worn with jeans and hiking boots for long walks in the country on cool fall days but you live in a city and socialize with serious fashionista's who wear sharp tailored clothing?

Did you understand the way the garment fit? Sometimes the photo's do lie! The stylist pinned the garment at the back so you think there is waist shaping or negative ease and in reality the garment is one big box in shape. Carefully review the schematic and the instructions to make sure you are knitting what you think you are.

Friday, November 13, 2009

An interview with...Kathy Zimmerman

Once a week I post interviews with interesting designers about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry. I’ve noticed that every designer makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the Knitting world.

Where do you find inspiration?
My favorite vacation spot is Cape May, NJ. The combination of the sand, sun, sea air and surf re-energizes me.I love to swatch while relaxing at the beach or on the deck. Some of my best ideas happen there -- perhaps it is the ambience of the seashore, the fact that I'm more relaxed or that I have time to finesse ideas. The architecture of the Victorian houses and gardens provide inspiration for creating original stitch pattern combinations (textures, ribs & cables). I also love pattern stitch dictionaries with charts, taking components and re-configuring them. Try turning charts upside down for a new way of looking at stitches!

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I love to do cables, ribs, textures, and lace, usually working with a single color, sometimes a second color as an accent or edging. My favorite colorwork technique is slip stitch.

How did you determine your size range?
As a yarn shop owner assisting knitters on a daily basis, it is clear that knitters come in all shapes & sizes. Each of us has a challenge of some sort with fit. I try to provide a wide range of sizes that can easily be adapted for length, generally 36" finished chest for a small frame to 52" - 56" for larger frames. The sizes are usually in 4" increments (36" - 40" - 44" , etc.), but that is determined by the pattern stitch and gauge. If the pattern repeat requires a large multiple of stitches, then less sizes are possible. I try to have extra "filler" space at the sides (reverse stockinette, seed, texture pattern with a small repeat multiple)to accommodate possibilities for a variety of sizes.

Do you look at other designers work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I prefer to "do my own thing" and be as original as I possible can be. I tend to prefer classic, timeless styles rather than trendy as I find that my shop customers prefer this, and this is what I seem to do best. Sometimes, something in ready to wear in a magazine will catch my eye and, although that is a starting point to spark an idea, the resulting concept usually winds up quite different from the original inspiration piece. When doing freelance work, the editor generally provides a theme or general idea of what they are looking for in a particular magazine issue or pattern collection.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
I try to write patterns as clearly as possible. Most of my designs that are accepted for publications are intermediate level and beyond. Any "dumbing down" is usually done by the tech editor. My personal opinion is that knitters should be challenged to learn something new with each project, and "stretch" by skill-building. Clear directions with good illustrations may help the knitter's confidence level while "keeping it simple".

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I am blessed to have two sample knitters plus a couple of "shop gals" who help out periodically. There is no way I can do everything myself and I appreciate their support. They make me "look good" and provide an invaluable service in test knitting for accuracy.

Did you do a formal business plan?
I wish I could say yes, but I'm very busy. I do have a schedule and notes of what needs done handwritten on a large legal pad and this old-fashioned way works best for me.

Do you have a mentor?
Three, in fact. I learned about traditional fisherman knit cables from classes with Alice Starmore; about pattern presentation by test knitting for Michelle Rose Orne; and Kristin Nicholas guided me on my freelance designing career by introducing my work to major knitting editors and to the knitting public through Classic Elite Yarn collections.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
Not in the fashion field. My husband and father-in-law were most helpful to me in building my yarn shop business, which paved the way for my design career.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
The Internet has expanded communication throughout the knitting world. I have two "Kathy Zimmerman" groups on Ravelry -- one for my yarn shop "We Love Kathy's" and one for my designs, the "Kathy Zimmerman group". There are several "knit alongs" for my projects. Many of my designs from back issues of Interweave Knits and Interweave Press publications are now available from their on line stores, which helps to perpetuate popular designs, making them available to new knitters. I would say that the Internet had broadened the horizon.

Do you use a Tech Editor?
Not directly. My knitters test knit model garments, and check the pattern along the way. I provide copies of my worksheets to magazines and yarn companies along with my projects, for tech editing by their respective editors.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
It becomes increasingly difficult, as deadlines frequently tend to "clump" around trade show dates and new yarn availability.I make time for an early summer and late fall vacation with my husband and pet Siamese cat, usually at the beach. Most of my friends are knitters, and my relaxation and socializing involves meeting informally with them to knit.

How do you deal with criticism?
I think anyone who truly cares about their work is sensitive to criticism. It depends on whether the criticism is knitting-related or personal. If it is knitting-related and the criticism involves a problem with a pattern or an error, then I do my best to correct the problem on an individual basis. If the criticism becomes personal, mean-spirited, or hurtful, dealing with it becomes more challenging. You can only continue to do what you do best. If possible, concentrate on turning the negative into something positive. There are some people that will always be hard to please.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I've been designing since 1986, owned a yarn shop since 1980. It takes designing commissions & royalties, yarn shop income, and teaching workshops (travel involved 3 - 4 times per year) to be able to support myself. It took about 10 years to start making a profit.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
My best advice is the old adage: "Don't quit your day job". Have another source of income to rely on, as design opportunities can be sporadic. Also, learn your craft well. I began by knitting model garments for established designers, developing skills just as I did when I began to knit (one skill at a time). This industry is all about nurturing relationships. Editors and design co-coordinators frequently change jobs from company to company -- they remember those who can make deadlines, are meticulous about the presentation of their work, and have attention to detail. It's
good to have friends.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What If ?

I have more idea's for knitting than I can get down on paper or on to my needles. When I teach creativity in my design classes I work with students on techniques to generate ideas.

These are the two most important words for stimulating creativity.

What if ?

Take an existing garment and ask these questions.

What if I made it longer?

What if I make it a different colour?

What if I used a hand painted yarn?

What if I change the neckline?

What if I use a different yarn than the pattern called for?

What if I changed the silhouette?

What if.......Just keep going and by the time you are done you will have a totally different garment design to knit.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What not to Knit

This falls under the category of I have to share.

Take a look at this blog for many more examples of What not to Knit! and a few other items that are just as amusing.

Friday, November 6, 2009

An Interview with...Candace Eisner Strick

Once a week I post interviews with interesting designers about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry. I’ve noticed that every designer makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the Knitting world.

You can find Candace at

Where do you find inspiration?

I usually find inspiration right inside my own head. Although of course the ideas probably do come from something I've seen somewhere. I like to look through the ready-to-wear clothes catalogs, and sometimes I find a little something that I would like to incorporate into one of my designs.

What is your favourite knitting technique?

I don' really have a favorite. When I'm knitting cables I think I could happily knit them for the rest of my life; when I'm knitting Fair Isle I think the same thing, and the list goes on and on. For me to be happy, I have to knit a variety of techniques.

How did you determine your size range?

The garment dictates to me what size range it will be in. I usually knit a small to fit myself, and then decide from there how many other sizes I will offer.

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

I do look at other designers, and usually what I see is how THEY have been influenced by someone else. It's much the same in the musical world; Mozart was influenced by Haydn, Brahms by Beethoven, Bernstein by Copeland. It's not that they were purposely trying to imitate anyone; this stuff just happens.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?

I don't think of it as dumbing down. A good pattern writer should be able to write a difficult technique in such a way that it is understandable. I publish my own patterns, so I have carte blanche to take as much paper and ink as I feel is necessary in order to write a pattern that can be understood by everyone.

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

Most of it I do by myself. Once in awhile I use someone to knit a design I've already knit myself, just to make sure everything is worded correctly, or I ask them to knit it in another size.

Did you do a formal business plan?

Do you mean I set out each year to sell x number of patterns? If this is what you mean, no. I do what I am inspired to do. If it works, fine. If it doesn't, then it's back to the drawing board.

Do you have a mentor?


Do you have a business model that you have emulated?


What impact has the Internet had on your business?

I have an Internet site for my retailers to buy my yarn/patterns for their stores. It works great, as I don't have to take phone calls all day. It also allows customers of theirs to go to my website and see what they would like the shop to order for them.

Do you use a Tech Editor?

I don't have any one person I use all the time. Some of my test knitters I could call tech editors.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

It's very hard. I tend to work 24/7, even when I'm away. In this kind of labor intensive business, if one doesn't work 24/7, very little gets done.

How do you deal with criticism?

Like most people, I don't like ignorant criticism. If it's an intelligent critique, I welcome it. For instance, someone wrote a review of my last book and said something very stupid about the color of the yarn that I used in the sweater on the cover. This is just plain criticism that has no point; it's her own personal opinion. For everyone negative comment she makes about a color, there are probably 100 other people out there who LIKE the color.

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

I really doubt that if it was totally up to me to support myself right now in the lifestyle I am used, I would not be successful. Right now it seems like most of the profit I make goes right back into the business.

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

It's not as easy and romantic as you think. I always talk to people who think I have the most wonderfully romantic job in the world, that I get to travel all over, see so many things, etc. Yes, part of that is true, but they don't see the other side of it, getting up at 4 AM to catch a 6 AM flight across country, dragging my 100 pounds of luggage behind me with a pack on my back weighing 50 pounds. They don't see me "sleeping" in O'Hare airport because of a cancelled flight, then having to teach 6 hours the next morning at 8:30AM. They don't see the missed meals, the noisy hotel rooms, the lost luggage, the sometimes challenging students, etc. They don't see the $10,000+ health insurance premiums I have to pay because I am self-employed, nor do they see the retirement contributions I have to carefully set aside, because no one is giving me a pension when I retire. There are downsides, of course, but the positive parts of it make it all worth while. I will never make money doing it, but success is not determined by how much money one makes. Success is determined by how much you want to get out of bed in the morning and get going with your work. I never dread getting up and going to work!!!Would I trade it for a 9-5 desk job? No way!

Friday, October 30, 2009

An Interview with...Jil Eaton

Once a week I post interviews with interesting designers about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry. I’ve noticed that every designer makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the Knitting world.

This week we talk to Jil Eaton. You can find her here & here

How did you determine your size range?

One thing that annoyed me greatly with existing patterns as I was knitting for my baby son was that the neck and arm openings were always stingy. It’s tough enough to dress a squirming toddler without having to wrestle with a sweater. So I designed my own template, with generous neck and sleeve openings in easily knit silhouettes. I also realized that kids grow at an alarming rate, so my sizing is much larger than usually found…by the time the garment is knit the baby will have grown!
Do you look at other designers work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?

I tend to keep to myself, just to keep my work fresh and to stick to my own design principals. I do look at fashion, though…I subscribe to Vogue and Elle and Bazaar and French Vogue and Vogue Bambini.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?

That’s not something I’m aware of. I encourage my student to have various projects going, some for easy knitting and some for more challenging techniques. I’m just finishing my 1oth book, Jil Eaton’s Knitting School, and I included a chapter called Graduate School!
How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?

I have 4 really fabulous knitters, and 6 others I use for various designs, strewn from Maine to South Carolina.

Did you do a formal business plan?

I did do a formal business plan. There is an organization here called Coastal Enterprises that is a non-profit helping small businesses. They were great, and gave me my start-up loan. There is a wonderful book called Growing a Business by Paul Hawkin of Smith & Hawkin. It’s a great read for anyone thinking about going into business, and has a clear chapter on writing a business plan. I think a business plan is essential to business success.
Do you have a mentor? Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

No. And I did not realize that most patterns are sold by yarn companies, and are sold almost at cost, as they make their money on yarns. I’ve done very well in spite of that fact, but last year I introduced my own yarn line, Jil Eaton MinnowMerino. The yarn is 100% Merino, is superwash, and has a micron count one point away from cashmere. Next January I am introducing a beautiful 100% superfine Italian cotton line, Jil Eaton CottonTail. I should have done this years ago!

What impact has the Internet had on your business?

I’m not sure directly, as I am a wholesaler and my website is only informational. But we all know what a fabulous resource the web is. I now have a blog, also – – very much fun. I’ve also just begun selling some out of print patterns in my shop on, so it will be interesting to see how that unfolds.

Do you use a Tech Editor?

Absolutely! She’s worth her weight in gold! I do drawings and swatches that include any design details, and she writes the prototype pattern for the model for photography. After the shoot we adjust things and she sizes the pattern for printing.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

I now have my studio in a wing in my house, and that has been a wonderful change. The commute is great, and I can keep everything going easily. I think I get more done in a shorter time. This summer I was working on my latest book, which was on a very tight schedule, and were shooting against season as well…it rained 28 straight days in June and July, and then the sun came out and it was 90 with 90% humidity – and there I was with everyone in sweaters! It was tough, and my husband almost revolted. But usually it’s a perfect balance.

How do you deal with criticism?
I haven’t had much negative criticism, and when I do usually it’s from a knitter who is furious about something in a pattern. It usually turns out that it’s a question of not understanding the instructions. I encourage everyone to read the pattern completely through just as you would a recipe; that makes a great difference.

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

The conventional wisdom is that it takes 3 to 5 years to become profitable, and I was able to take a salary in 3. But there’s not great wealth in the knitting industry…

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

One way to begin is to submit designs to the knitting magazines. You will be paid a little, usually $300 to $500, and it gives you a taste of what it takes to be a designer. And research the field, learn who’s out there and what’s available, and see if you have a special place or talent.