Friday, May 28, 2010

An Interview with....Kathleen Dames

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?

Just about anywhere - movies, books, fashion magazines, people on the street. And then there's my closet: the items I love and want more of or a knitted version, as well as the items that are "missing" from my wardrobe. From the time I started knitting, I've been interested in adjusting things to my vision: different yarn, different stitch pattern, or different ideas about shaping. Part of that is just me wanting things the way I want, but I think my experience as a graphic designer comes into play, too, since I know that things can be changed, even within the somewhat narrow framework of what a sweater is. I've always likened my graphic design work to writing a sonnet - there are strict rules about what constitutes a sonnet (or a book cover), but within that space is room for amazing art.

What is your favourite knitting technique?

Right now I'm very into lace. My orderly little brain just loves seeing the patterns work themselves out, the increases and decreases in the correct order that make everything come out even. And lace is so pretty! Then I also love the soothing pleasure of stockinette - sometimes you just want to knit.

How did you determine your size range?

Most of my patterns thus far are accessories, so one or two sizes. My sized pattern Vines is graded from Women's XS to XL (conveniently, I'm a medium), but I also try to include information in my patterns that allow knitters to customize their projects. Vines has a chart breaking down the number of lace repeats in each section (front/back, straps, and underarm), so a knitter could go beyond the graded stitch counts in the pattern to create something that will fit them "just right". My next graded pattern is a unisex pullover, and I plan to grade it from children's sizes up to adult XXL (it helps that my youngest daughter is under two, while my father and brother are six-foot-plus guys). Just as important as grading to a set number of sizes is giving the knitter the information that will help them make their project their own.

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

I'm always looking at what other designers are doing. It's amazing to see the creativity in the knitting community, in books, magazines, and online. What I love is seeing how many different ways there are to create using the same basic principles. After I released the Matryoshka Japonais pattern, Susan B. Anderson's Itty Bitty Toys came out with an adorable, totally different approach to matryoshka dolls (each doll is two pieces and nests into the larger one, whereas mine are stuffed dolls).

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

I try to write patterns in a thorough way that will answer most knitters' questions without insulting their intelligence - I usually have a somewhat extensive and chatty note section at the beginning. But it's important to remember that the knitters interested in our patterns come from all different skill levels, so I try to cover all the bases in a pattern and include a list of needed skills.

I think the bigger controversy these days is free vs. pay patterns. Everyone wants something for nothing, but I think more and more knitters are coming to see that you pay for what you get. Knitty is great, and their patterns are free to the end user, supported by advertising. But Twist Collective is great, too, and their business model is so intriguing, especially as we look at the future of free vs. pay online content.

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

I worked with some wonderful volunteer test knitters for Vines, who all received copies of the final pattern, because it was my first graded pattern and I wanted some outside verification of my numbers. But generally it's just me obsessing, taking notes, and knitting away, since I tend to work things out while knitting.

Did you do a formal business plan?

Not yet. I still consider myself "Pro Am". But there will come a time soon (I hope!) when I will need to come up with a proper road map. I have a few different ideas of which direction I'm heading.

Do you have a mentor?

Not really, though I consider EZ my patron saint :) But as I've gotten deeper into knitting and knitwear design, I've gotten to know some other designers who inspire me not just with their designs but with making a go of knitting as a career or as a sideline.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

Does winging it count? I'm still trying to figure out what all I want to do with knitting and design. When I worked full-time, I was an art director in book publishing, so I know a lot about that process. I have some ideas for a book. But I also feel that there ought to be *more* creative knitting outlets. If the caliber of projects on the "Not Knitty" board (patterns not accepted for publication in Knitty) on Ravelry are any indication, there is room for another knitting publication, whether online or in print, though I don't think I'm ready to do something like that yet. Sadly, the timing wasn't right for the wonderful Knotions or PopKnits, and I think it will be a while longer before things recover enough for another online publication to really make a go of it.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?

I wouldn't have a business without it! Well, maybe I would, but sites like Ravelry and Etsy and the knit blogosphere have made such a difference.

Do you use a Tech Editor?

I don't, but it's on the short list to find one soon. Up until now I've been pretty thorough with my patterns, usually knitting more than one to write up and catch any errors. But my ideas are coming fast and furious, and I think I'd be even more confident with another set of eyes going over my work, particularly as I create more graded projects.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

What, now? I'm lucky enough to work freelance from home, which means I can do laundry while doing photo research and work on knitting patterns when there are gaps between graphic design projects, and my husband is a professor of Victorian Literature who works part of the time at home (you can read and write just about anywhere), so together we do our best to tag-team the kids and household stuff. Stephen (7) and Isobel (5) are in school, and Penelope (20 months) goes to daycare two days a week, which gives me some uninterrupted work time. It's not easy, but it's worth it.

How do you deal with criticism?

I do my best to learn from it, not get defensive, and remember that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Of course, that means I'm entitled to my opinion, too. My background is in graphic design, so I'm used to critiques.

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

Hehe. I'll let you know. For now it allows me to buy some more yarn without denting the family budget, but I hope it will continue to grow (it really is time to get that business plan together!).

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

Don't undervalue your time and skill.

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