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.

1 comment:

  1. Hallo Robin!
    Thank you very much for your wonderful idea of interviewing designers and knitting professionals. I've been following your interviews from beginning and it helps me getting my thoughts settled around future steps in this matter.
    Since I just have no idea what is meant by "Teach editor" I would be very greatful, if you could explain it.
    Thanks for your contributions and sharing your inverviews with www, I remain your devoted reader.