Thursday, February 25, 2010

An Interview with....Teva Durham

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 Teva here
She was kind enough to provide lots of pictures so please be sure to read to the bottom of the post to see all of them.

Where do you find inspiration?
I'm inspired by so many things -- fashion history, architecture, objets d'art, furniture design… And the origin of some of my pieces can be found in childhood craft experiences such as making garlands or woven mats. I'm constantly clipping out or scanning images. I love brainstorming and sketching. I hardly like to end this initial creative phase and get down to business, but alas, I must. Then I move on to the experimentation and problem-solving phase. Many pieces begin with a stitch that intrigues me and try to see how it can be manipulated, enhanced for a significant impact. Sometimes it is a yarn and a special quality it possesses and finding a structure is going to play this up and take it to new performance limits. Ultimately what inspires me, propels me on, is the creative process. It is a kind of blissful torture and forming the object is what brings resolution and peace.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
Usually the one I’m working with at any given moment--I love cables, short rows, knitting in the round, knitting on bias or counterpanes … right now I have been working on a lot of lace and fallen so in love with lace that it is hard to knit anything else.

How did you determine your size range?
I noticed you have some great commentary on the sizing issue. The magazines and publishers have responded to consumers demand and are requiring designers to submit patterns with greater size range—preferably 7 sizes.
For magazines and my pattern line I use a dress form to get the best fit for the sample sweater. [For books I sometimes have a particular person in mind as I use many of my friends of all sizes as real people models.] My dress form is garment industry standard size US 8 which is actually more like the US 6 of today. [Ideally the photo shoot should have a size 6-8 model but often the models at the shoot are size 2-4 and do not fill out the bust of my sample as well as my mannequin.] This sample size used to be called the medium but the industry now calls this the small and the medium is a size US 10/12. So from this sample size I grade down 1 or 2 sizes and up 4 sizes. I try my best to keep the same proportion of the design, but some pieces that have wide stitch repeats can only get intermediary sizes by breaking up repeats or changing needle sizes or a combination and make incorporating many sizes into a pattern really difficult. Also bodies differ to such a degree that there is no guarantee that scaling up is going to really accommodate the specific needs of that person’s figure. None of it is an exact science. Also there is so much incorrect gauge and yarn substitution going on and this throws a wrench into the whole thing—the fabric may have a totally different stretch and drape.

I think the best thing a knitter can do is do what seamstresses do—have a personalized dress form and understand how to make adjustments that will customize a sweater. And to get to know how garments with different fabrics and different amounts of ease work on them.

Do you look at other designers work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I like to see what other designers are doing. I feel that the very best designers find a personal voice so that their pieces ring true and when imitated are merely derivative and don’t quite resonate. I have found my particular mojo and motifs and am very comfortable exploring and expressing them. It can get lonely in this niche so I love it when I find someone—like Lynne Barr--whose work is awesome, someone who makes me say, “I wish I thought of that!” I have felt encouraged by several of my colleagues and I hope that I have also encouraged them. On the flip side, it can be a bit annoying to see someone has imitated me without a reference to the source, but at the same time I am proud to see my influence on the knitting world and that some of the garments I did that were once seen as shocking or wacky such as cowls or chain link garlands are now more mainstream and almost a genre unto themselves.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
I think we’ve moved beyond dumbing down. While much of my work used to focus on simple shapes and quick large gauge knits for the new wave of knitters, my audience has matured and I love pushing the limits of the craft with more complex techniques, finer gauges and full fashioning. The online community has been a great resource and prodded knitters to master new skills. Avid sock knitters have surpassed the novice scarf knitters that yarn shops used to cater to. I think there is a different attitude towards pattern reading now. Elizabeth Zimmermann’s books have helped to create thoughtful and fearless knitters who are now becoming designers. It is a great time for knitting.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I knit about half of my samples and send the other half to sample knitters both locally and as far away as Holland. I’d have to count but I probably designed 50 pieces in 2009 and knit 20-25 myself and about 11 ladies knit 1-3 apiece for me. I should put it all on one spreadsheet or something, but I’m too busy. There’s nothing I would rather do than knit for hours listening to NPR, audio books and music—I’m a compulsive and fast knitter and need my fix. Knitting a good portion of my designs allows me this and cuts the costs of samples. And sometimes there are design decisions I make on the needles and on the dress form. I often do the finishing on the pieces to give them the final touches.

Did you do a formal business plan?
Not a formal one, but when I started my website I did write about my vision for my line, surveyed the market, and figured out pricing, etc. I also have written several book proposals, which actually are similar to a business plan, and a proposal for my yarn line. I actually have a certificate in Entrepreneurship (along with a B.A. in English Lit). And as a journalist, before becoming a hand knit designer, I covered business aspects of the fashion industry for a trade report. I interviewed accessory designers about their companies—some of them who have gone on to be phenomenal successes, such as Kate Spade—and this was very inspiring.

Do you have a mentor?
I have been fortunate to have many mentors. One of my first jobs in the fashion industry was with Lisa Bruno who taught me about trend forecasting. I worked for Trisha Malcolm at Vogue Knitting who took a chance on me and encouraged me, and while there I met practically everyone in the business. Then I was “discovered” by Melanie Falick who is the best at what she does, making books. Pam Allen was also very supportive of my career when she was at the helm of Interweave Knits. And more recently I have learned about the yarn industry from Stacy Charles and Diane Friedman of Tahki where I also enjoyed working with Nancy Thomas during my first few seasons.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
My business has had many incarnations. When I started my first website with kits and patterns there were not so many web-based knitting businesses. The landscape has changed, and now I have a yarn line and distributor (Tahki Stacy Charles) and no longer sell all my patterns directly—and beginning next week I also will be selling my pattern collection through Interweave Knits website (these are not designs published in the magazine, but exclusive-patterns). I am investigating other avenues for the future such as once again producing a small line or doing custom sweaters from my designs.
Breaking into Ready To Wear is very difficult and when I launched a line for boutique sales I lost money. I have designed private label knits for Ready To Wear designers, such as Shelly Steffee who now has an awesome boutique in the meatpacking district, and tried to soak up their expertise. Oh yeah, and about 10 years ago, I designed knits for a line by Stacy London of “What Not To Wear” who began as a fashion editor is is now an Oprah favorite, mini-media mogul and Pantene spokes model. Having known people with such extreme career ascendance, helps me to believe anything is possible, and I myself could be a Martha Stewart one day (not that I would want all the attention). One craft maven whose career I’d like to emulate is Erica Wilson. She had a PBS show on textiles and was at her most popular in the late 1970s. I admire that she bridged the gap between fine art and craft, her needlework kits were in museum shops—I would like to penetrate that market myself.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?

Do you use a Tech Editor?
The Tech Editor comes in after I have typed my version of the pattern and works her magic to clarify and correct it and create charts and schematics from those I’ve penciled in on graph paper. One of my goals this year is to get the software to input the charts myself. But then again I wish I could just have all my fabulous ideas (like the lace peacocks I imagine touching beaks to form a belt on the front of an Edwardian/art nouveau coat) instantly turned into a finished pattern. Unfortunately, the craft publishing isn’t like Seventh Avenue where there are teams at your disposal to implement one’s vision.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
Balance? Working from home means there are not traditional boundaries of work/life. But this is also a benefit as I’m a single mother. I have a studio in my home but my work is also carried to other rooms and out to my daughter’s activities and done at all hours. It is an integrated, multi-tasking life where work spills over into life and vice versa. It’s a business of time-intensive handwork where there is often a race to the deadline of a photo shoot or trade show. Even with the best planning and lots of help there is inevitably a project that needs my attention and lots of finishing at the last minute. As I get older the all-nighters have become harder to pull. Taking care of my health and having a more balanced life is a higher priority. My daughter lets me know if I’m too wrapped up in my work and demands my attention and so does the house I recently gut renovated as there is always something still in need of fixing. I have been getting involved more and more in my community and local politics. A friend who has a gallery has been co-hosting monthly potluck dinners at my place so that local artists and creative parents can meet and try to further the renaissance of this marginal, urban neighborhood of Victorian homes. Eventually I hope to teach knitting seminars or from my home.

How do you deal with criticism?
I think you have to have a sense of humor. Remember the site You Knit What? I enjoyed laughing at it even if I was put on the hot seat a few times. My work seems to be particularly controversial—there are extreme positive and extreme negative reviews on Amazon. The photo styling in my books seems to bring out the Love/Hate. The knitting world has a disconnect from the fashion world--my photo styling is mild compared to high fashion editorials. Also I have used both professional models and dancers, artists, musician friends of mine of all ages, ethnicities and sexual orientation. I am very into the shoots and see my books as a cinematic, poetic fantasy world of knitterly delights. Chacun a son gout, and my work is not for everyone. But I myself buy all sorts of knitting books and am saddened when knitters are close-minded and stingy and count each pattern they might knit to decide whether to buy a book. I treasure books for inspiration, and lessons, as they are always a bargain compared to the cost of tuition and other things in daily life.
Criticism can be hurtful, especially when the knitter is vehement and misinformed and has a really big soapbox to stand on, but I think most people can discern when the reviewers have a biased agenda. Some knit bloggers are talented writers, extremely funny or have that “it” factor so that everything they touch in their garden, kitchen and on their needles appears delectable. However, other bloggers seem truly ordinary, bogged down in pettiness and lacking in imagination, yet knitters flock to these blogs perhaps as a kind of reassurance of mediocrity and applaud items that would never pass professional standards. I may get flak for venting, but some bloggers have written insulting things about my work without any remorse—they usually have “grump” or “curmudgeon” in their name and personalities to fit. So it does bother me when such a blogger decides to knit my design (even though she is surprised that she actually likes something of mine, again) and then she declares that her version (tamed of the intentional ripple of character and in a much too tight gauge) is better than that pictured in the magazine and tries to get everyone to agree. I try to avoid seeing such posts but inevitably someone brings them to my attention.
Sizing is definitely a hot button issue. I personally did not create the fashion industry standards—most retailers don’t go past size 16. It is true that most knitters are plus size and the industry is finally responding to this. However, I do think there is a bit of unnecessary bullying going on that is directed at publications that don’t size up past 46” or 48” chest. I find it offensive that some knitters have gone through my first book and looked at the chest measurements (some of which have negative ease) and dismissed the whole thing as “for anorexics”—the models are actually quite diverse, some as thin as in other knitting magazines are several who happen to be plus size. I believe beauty comes in all sizes, shapes, ages and colors and shines from within—sometimes ugly is beauty--and I try to evoke this. At the same time, we all know that obesity is a concern. I find the “sizing issue” hostility that’s directed towards knitting designers and publications misplaced and disrespectful—would the same person attack the doctor’s scale and chart? The bottom line is we all should strive to be healthy. I love the British show where they make an underweight and overweight person live together and eat each other’s meals. As a culture we are totally obsessed with weight and need to find balance and health for the sake of the next generation.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
My career has gone through various phases. I am thankful to have a secure footing and good name in the industry and like my colleagues whom I’ve seen donning various hats for various magazines and yarn companies, I feel that I can always find a place in it. I began with a salaried position at Vogue Knitting (when it was owned by Butterick) and as you may know the lower and mid-level editorial and fashion “glamour” jobs aren’t really a good living, not for the high cost of living in Manhattan. I think these jobs are traditionally female and it is assumed that women have a husband or trust fund. My first online business of kits and patterns did well but but only just matched my editorial salary, plus when I tried to break into boutique sales I sank a large investment and ran out of money to continue. It hasn’t been easy--there have been times when I have relied on financial help from my daughter’s father and my parents, times when I’ve had to take on non-knitting related writing, editorial and proofreading work. Fortunately about three years after leaving VK, I got a book deal and I’m now working on my third book and have my yarn line through Tahki Stacy Charles. I have bought and rehabbed a large townhouse in a transitional neighborhood of Jersey City, just across from Manhattan, and am now have a sideline as a landlady. My tenants are a Montessori teacher and a talented designer/mother of three who is freelancing at Anne Taylor Loft.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
In order to make an income at this you have to do a great number of projects.
You should have your work distributed to various venues—some self-published ones that will get you a bigger piece of the pattern price, some which will get you royalties that will come in over time, and some projects for a modest one-time lump sum such as contributing a piece to another author’s book. Seek mentors. Try to foster relationships with publishers and other designers and be supportive even if you are competitors. Value your connections and keep doors open, as you never know when you will be working with someone at a later date. Try to learn from every experience, but look inward and find your own voice. Know what makes you special. Never lose your love of knitting and if you fear you are going to lose it, then change what you’re doing.

Monday, February 22, 2010

I Did It! I Quit My Job.

Big news here for Robin Hunter Designs. I handed in my resignation late Friday afternoon and will be a full time knitting professional after my last day here which will be March 5th.

This is scary stuff. I'm very lucky in that I retired at 48 from a corporate job at Bell and was given an enhanced pension to "encourage" me to leave. It was a massive downsizing and provided the best financial compensation package that Bell ever gave. Unfortunately a pension is a pension and is not quite the same as a salary.

I will be working hard on publishing patterns and hope to pick up more teaching opportunities to make some extra cash. I have been booked to speak in May at the DKC so I'm looking forward to that and to two other potential knitting related gigs. If you book classes in Toronto or the surrounding area please think of me. I have a list of classes from short ones like my No Turns Allowed that teaches how to knit bobbles without turning the work, to Knitters Rehab which is an eight week design class that reduces pattern dependency in Knitters.

The job I'm leaving like all others was a bit of a mixed blessing. It allowed me to get more money in my retirement fund. It was much simpler than the work I did at Bell, in a very small office with an interesting cast of characters. Ultimately I came to the conclusion that taking an easy, low stress job wasn't what I expected it to be. The first thing I noticed was that my personal reading habits changed after I was there about six months I realized I was no longer reading so much lightweight quick reads. I started reading a lot more non fiction as well as a significant amount of fiction that a friend called "the kind of stuff she would only read for credit in a literature class." Clearly I was searching for intellectual stimulation. I started writing patterns part time and while I had been designing for myself for a long time I found that the challenge and the learning curve of my newly acquired software thrilling and at the same time calming as I move into the flow experience easily while pattern writing.

I've been doing the interview series for a while now but very few professionals seem to make anything more than a modest living at this. That scares me because right now I'm in the red versus black. Every pattern I produce is costing me money as I'm still buying basic infrastructure items. The last two things were a photographic stand and a backdrop. So I want everyone to remember when they are paying for their patterns and looking at the cost of an individual pattern as being too much that it took a lot more than just what they see on the piece of paper to create that pattern, for me it's giving up the security of the salary of a full time job so I can pursue my passion. Unfortunately there has to be a lot of amazing designers out there who will never have the luxury of being able to do the same.

Friday, February 19, 2010

An Interview with...Sally Melville

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?
From my closet! Seriously, whether it sits in my closet or in my dreams, whether it’s avant garde or classic, I look to what I love to wear, and I design from that place.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
Texture is what I like to honour! I think that texture is what knitting does that no other craft can replicate. Having said that, I’m currently in a bit of a lace space.
But I most love to make garments out of our simplest stitches—stockinette, garter, slip stitch. They allow me to read a book, enjoy a movie, or watch the Olympics while I knit.

Do you look at other designers work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I generally don’t look. I have no magazine subscriptions and try not to look at books. The only peers whose work I might look at would be the traditionalists: Nancy Bush, Beth Brown-Reinsel, Susanna Hansson. Since they come from a very different place, I know I’ll never replicate what they do!

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
I know not of such a controversy. Perhaps I am at the center of it??? I do know that I wrote the patterns of THE KNIT STITCH and THE PURL STITCH to be very deliberately simple because the books were for beginners. Then when I wrote COLOR, I originally wrote them with the same simplicity, waiting for my editor to give me direction. She insisted they all be re-written the way ‘most’ patterns are written. It wasn’t a bad idea, but we executed it too quickly for my peace of mind. Then when I moved to POTTER CRAFT, they insisted I follow their format . . . which uses very few abbreviations. I was surprised to find myself writing in a language even simpler than KNIT and PURL, but I had no choice. Maybe it’s the editors to whom you should pose this question? I really don’t know what the controversy is about or who is at the center of it, but I do know that editors have a lot of control over it.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I do have one knitter who has probably contributed to every book I’ve ‘knit. But POTTER CRAFT doesn’t like multiple versions of the same pattern, so I do most of the knitting for those books myself. For my books with XRX, in which I showed many versions, I had many wonderful knitters—from all over the US and Canada—helping knit the pieces. (I think my highest number was 17 at one time.) BUT the significant thing is that none of them were ever allowed to sew a seam or work an edging. I always do all of my own finishing. Pieces come home, which may need to be shortened or lengthened or adjusted, and I would do that work before tackling the really hard, no-fun work of finishing.

Did you do a formal business plan?
Hell no! (Can I say that?) I’m the original Do what you love and see what comes girl!

Do you have a mentor?
No, but I did have two wonderful knitters who inspired me: Barbara Klunder (of Toronto) and Lee Andersen (of Columbia, MD / New Zealand).

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
If I don’t work, I don’t eat.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
My new publisher insisted that I have a website with a blog. It’s not really a blog (in that it’s in no way interactive), but I do go out there regularly to post stuff.
But, really, I’m kind of an Internet neophyte. I don’t even have a FACEBOOK page!

Do you use a Tech Editor?
Yes, but I always go over my stuff at least 3 times after the tech editor does.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
My family—especially my two new grand-daughters—come first. If they call, I jump!
Really, the hard part for me is that my schedule is booked 2 years in advance. This can be devastating if some very special family event arises. But we just deal with it. They understand that if I don’t travel, I don’t eat.

How do you deal with criticism?

I really loathe that teeth-grinding moment of irritation that I go into when I feel criticism coming. I try very hard to override it, because my very best work has often come from criticism, a problem to be solved, or an imperfection to address.

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

Sadly, I still don’t really. I have a pension from my husband’s job at the University of Waterloo. I suppose if I didn’t have that, I’d be on the road more. And then I’d have no balance between life and work and would probably be looking for other work. It is very difficult to make a living at what we do.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Do what you love. Do what you know. Find your niche by being true to these.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Skills Exchange Mini-Workshops at the DKC

Tonight I'll be teaching at the DKC's Skills Exchange Mini-Workshops. As the website says: "We continue our tradition of having short skill-building sessions as our February meeting. You have the opportunity to learn two or three new skills in short (under 15 minutes) sessions taught by guild members. Learn a skill, move on to the next table, learn another!"

I'll be teaching centre out cast on techniques which was prompted by a question asked by a member of my Thursday night knitting group and by my Pinwheel Cardigan Pattern which is worked centre out.
There are a number of projects that require a centre out start; top down hats, toe up socks, doilies, tablecloths, and counterpane segments to name a few. There are many ways of performing a centre out cast on. Three methods will be covered in these notes. I recommend using a “sticky” needle; birch, bamboo or any other wood needle that is not highly polished. Slippery needles will be much more difficult to work with as they have a tendency to slip out of the stitches. The rate of your increases above the cast on will determine if you are creating a flat circle like a tablecloth or a more tube like shape similar to the toe of a sock.
Crochet Chain Method
This method can be used for the tops of hats, tablecloths or doilies. Start with a loose slip knot on a crochet hook and chain 8 additional loops. Put the hook through the slip knot loop and pull the yarn through it and the final chain stitch, to join the chain into a circle. Put the first needle of a 5 needle set of DPN's into that loop. Next, pick up and knit 7 more stitches one into each chain stitch (2 on each of the fours DPN's). The next round will be the increase round of your pattern. You can use any increase method that you prefer. I like YO's or e wraps for the first increase row since it tends to be too tight for some other methods, however the one you choose should be compatible with your pattern. Use a movable marker to indicate the start of your rounds.

I Cord Cast On Method
This cast on can be used for top down hats, doilies or table clothes. Cast on 4 stitches and work an I cord for about 1.5 inches. You will find instructions for how to knit I cord here:
Next, slip 2 DPN's into the 4 stitches (2 on each needle) and work 4 increases. Then divide the 8 stitches onto 4 DPN's and continue on with your pattern. For more information look at the amazing Tech knitting:
Eastern Cast On Method
This cast on can be used for the toe of socks or in any other application that requires the fabric to fold. There is a tiny flat area on the inside of this cast on that encourages the folding of the knitting. I have two extra tricks for this cast on. If you are finding the cast on gauge is too tight to knit, you can cast on over 3 DPN's instead of 2, pulling the third one out before you start knitting into the stitches. You can work over 2 circular needles and pull the work over the cable section letting the needle tips dangle on the side away from the stitches you are working. You will find pictures of this cast on here:
Hold two of the needles in the palm of your left hand, parallel to one another, with a little space between them. Start with the tail end of the yarn between the needles, to the far left of both needles, so that the working end is at the top. Begin wrapping the working yarn around both needles; from the top down over the front, then up behind the needles, and so on. Repeat until you have 8 loops over the fronts of the needle.End with the working yarn over the front of the needles so it is at the bottom. Bring the working yarn up behind the lower needle and into the space between both needles. Slip the 8 loops close together, and even up the tension. Using the third DPN, knit the first loop on the top needle using the working yarn. Pull the stitch off of the top needle leaving the bottom half of the loop on the bottom needle. Knit across all 8 loops on the top needle in this way. Turn the knitting so that the bottom needle is now the top and vice versa. Slip the stitches to the other ends of the needles. Slip the top needle back so the tip is about an inch back from the bottom tip. Twisting the working yarn around the tail (on the back/wrong side of the work). Hold the tail to the right, and the working yarn to the left, and then bring the working yarn up around the back so it is in place for knitting. Next, knit across the loops on the (new) top needle.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Make it Fit

I have a secret about why my sweaters fit better than the ones other knitters make from patterns.

I always make my fronts bigger than my back. I do this because I've measured myself not as a single measurement around my bust but I've also taken a measurement from one side seam to the other. Let me recheck those measurements right now........

OK I'm back wearing my favourite bra which has a little padding and makes the girls sit up, (you do know to measure while wearing a bra right?) My full bust measurement is 40.5 inches so 1/2 would be 20.25 inches. I next measured my front only from side seam to side seam. That measurement is 23.5 which means that my back is 17 inches.

I took sewing classes for many years as well as pattern drafting and tailoring. I learned that generally when we gain weight we gain more on our front than we do on our backs. I write my own patterns from scratch so I can make all the numbers work out. For those of you working from patterns if you want to try my technique for better fit you will need to knit two sizes - one for the front and one for the back. You need to check your pattern carefully to make sure that all edges that join (shoulders and side seams usually) match. The front shoulders will need to be made narrower so the way to do this is by working extra decreases at the neckline. You may also need to add extra rows of length to the smaller back to make it match your front if the pattern gets longer with every size increase. The numbers will always be different depending on the specifics of the pattern you are using but you can work through these details by carefully analyzing the schematics and the written pattern. So let me know are any Knitters already doing this?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What is it you do for a living?

As I've been making the transition from working for someone else to full time Professional Knitter I've noticed how often we are asked "what do you do for a living. So naturally I've been thinking about what my answer will become. I read an article sometime ago that said it's important to label your self correctly not so much for others but for yourself and for your internal identity. The theory is that you are what you say you are. My friends and family all know what my future plans are but it's not something that I share when people ask me what I do.
Yesterday someone who sees me on the elevator and often compliments me on items I'm wearing looked at me and said are "you in the arts"? I paused for a moment and said "Yes, I'm currently launching my own line of hand knit patterns". Then I floated out of the elevator on amazing high with a smile on my face and thought to myself.

"YES!!! That's what I do for a living".

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Request for my Readers

I've been astounded by how many total strangers have been willing to participate and do my Professional Knitter interviews. A few have said no and a few more said yes but then never sent back the answers. But overall most of the interviews requested have already been posted or are scheduled for future dates. This has helped me to get braver and send off my request to many professionals who originally I was too intimidated to ask. I have a huge list of people that I will be approaching in the future as well.

I started this series because Dorothy Siemens of Fiddlesticks Knitting was kind enough to allow me to take her out for coffee and a pastry and pester her with a million questions about her business - how she started and how she made various decisions along the way. She was so very gracious answering my questions and told me she had done exactly the same thing with Sally Melville. This was part of my process in making the decision to quit my own job and transition to a new career. I haven't quit my day job yet but I'll post later when that does happen. My knitting friends were all interested in hearing the details of my meeting with Dorothy which was what gave me the idea to do an Interview series.

I do have two requests for you the readers.
1) Could you please post in the comments the name of other Knitting Professionals that you would like to see interviewed and I will send them an invitation.

2) Could you also please add my blog to your RSS feed? (Having more acknowledged readers may sway some of the Knitters I ask to do the interview to participate).

Thank you to everyone who is already following me as it does encourage me knowing that other Knitters are interested in what I'm posting.

Friday, February 5, 2010

An Interview with...Kate Oates

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?
In dreams, from my kids, nature, in other artistry!

What is your favourite knitting technique?
Right now, I am stuck on the crossover twist. Its an element that works well in so many designs and I keep adding it into my own.

How did you determine your size range?
I try to offer as many sizes as I can that will stay true to the character of the design and will be appreciated. Many of the Tot Toppers hat designs are also available in adult sizes. I'm just starting to offer sweater designs, and the same will apply.

Do you look at other designers work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I love looking at others work! I think we all give and take from each other visually, but I also don't pore over instructions written by others.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
I try to make my patterns as accessible as possible, even to beginner knitters. One problem I've run across now that I'm working with retailers and selling wholesale is that I really am constrained in how long the pattern can be. If I'm not writing out every little detail, its because I know I've got to fit it on the page properly, not because I want to cut out less experienced knitters. All in all, it depends on the complexity of the design.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
It is different for every pattern. I usually try to have at least 2 other knitters to a "test knit" for me prior to publication, but not always. So far, I have knit everything I've designed at least once. One thing I really take pride in is the photography in my patterns. I use professional photographers and I think it makes a really big difference in how well the pattern is perceived, and the clarity of the garment. I think the investment is totally worthy.

Did you do a formal business plan?
I haven't *yet* but its on my agenda for the very near future. I'm actually a graduate student, so I haven't had to make the decision yet as to whether I'll be able to design full time. Once I get closer to graduation, I will be putting everything to paper and seeing where that takes me.

Do you have a mentor?
No, but I'd love one :)

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
I've been going with the flow and utilizing opportunities that are presented, I haven't actually looked at any models.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
For me, that's where it started. I don't really know that I would have gotten into designing in the same way were it not for the Internet.

Do you use a Tech Editor?
Yes, I actually have several that I work with. They are phenomenal and I couldn't work without them.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I don't sleep :) Truly, this is something I have to work on! I tend to over commit myself and there are nights where I am up really late, or I serve the kids chicken nuggets since I haven't slaved over the stove like I might have wanted to. I have an addictive personality, and its really hard for me to put down a project sometimes. But, my husband keeps me pretty grounded.

How do you deal with criticism?
I find myself always wanting to explain things away. I'm working on learning to nod & digest it instead! I know I have a lot to learn and therefore, I don't have that hard of a time when advice comes in form of criticism. What tends to bother me a little more is when people undervalue my work, but, I think this is a very very common feeling and something you just learn to live with.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I've been self-publishing for almost a year now, I'm not yet at a place where I would feel comfortable saying that I support myself. However, I would say things became steadier around the 6 month mark. At that point, I was at least in the black and I could reasonably expect that the costs of each new design would be earned back.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Never take your customers for granted, customer service is so important! Try not to let rejection get you down, there will be lots of it (whether its in publications, or people who criticize a design). You have to learn to be a little forward in order to promote yourself, no matter how uncomfortable it may seem. And, don't be afraid to seek opportunity, whether it be in form of yarn support or a publication.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

An Interesting Discussion

If you would like to read an interesting discussion on pattern prices head over to Lucy Neatby's blog here

Be sure to read the comments as there is much food for thought - especially for me as an aspiring independent designer.

Lucy is working on my interview questions so hopefully she will have more to say on this topic later.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Make it Fit - Designer Secrets and Why Sizing is so Difficult

Sizing is the biggest problem that most hand knitters face. When shopping for ready to wear clothing we have a plethora of size choices; juniors, misses, petites, plus petites, plus sizes and tall girls to name just a few.

When sewing the category names are different but to offer just one example Vogue patterns come in 5 different ranges. The following information is from their website.

"Misses’ patterns are designed for a well proportioned and developed figure; about 5'5" to 5'6" (1.65m to 1.68m) tall without shoes. Misses’ Petites patterns are designed for the shorter figure; about 5'2" to 5'4" (1.57m to 1.63m) tall without shoes." There are 11 sizes in these 2 ranges from a bust of 30 ½ inches to 48 inches.

"Women’s patterns are designed for the larger, fully mature figure, about 5'5" to 5'6" (1.65m to 1.68m) tall without shoes.Women’s Petites patterns are designed for the shorter woman's figure; about 5'2" to 5'4" (1.57m to 1.63m) tall without shoes." There are 10 sizes in these 2 ranges from a bust of 36 inches to 54 inches.

"Today's Fit patterns are designed for the changing proportions of today’s figure; about 5'5" without shoes. The waist and hips are slightly larger than Misses’ and the shoulders are narrower." There are 10 sizes in this range from a bust of 32 inches to 55 inches. This comes to a total of 52 different sizes.

Most hand knitting patterns come in from 3 to about 7 sizes with no variation in length or figure type. There are many reasons for this simplification several being due to cost, publication space, the difficulty of grading each size individually,the inability to have every size test knit as well as an industry that underpays designers. So what's a knitter to do? I'm still thinking about this. As a designer I'm considering doing patterns that would target these specific markets but the question is would you buy them? LMK what you think.