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.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting interview, I've long admired Ilga's work and appreciate this opportunity to get to know her better.