Friday, July 30, 2010

An Interview with... Carolyn Barnett

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 Carolyn here
and here on Etsy and she has a blog here.

Where do you find inspiration?

Everywhere, more than just fashion magazines but architecture, illustration, home decor, other artists' work, colours around me...everywhere.

What is your favourite knitting technique?

Hmmm. I think using the Decker comb to shape my cardigan/jackets to give waist shaping. Everyone can use such shaping. Whether a lot of a little, to give them a little more feminine definition. The Decker Comb allows me to double up stitches anywhere across the row of knitting on the machine, as done in hand knitting.

I've been using a colour changer recently for stripes, which sell well.

How did you determine your size range?

Women come in such a large range of sizes I start with S, M & L (8, 12 & 16) and go from there. I do custom sizing within and outside those sizes too.

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

I have always looked at other designers. I've learned that whatever their influence on my work it will always come out in 'my' styling, with my twist and interpretation. I don't want to copy anyone, but might start with another designers influence and work 'something like' it into my own individual design. People recognize my designs as my styling.

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

I really don't know about this controversy! I've used my own patterns for 28 years. The only machine knitting pattern I've ever followed was for a toy bear and a pair of fingerless gloves. If this means that less is being included in knitting patterns then knitters need to be encouraged to be creative in their own right and use some of the techniques they have learned and add them into a simple pattern. Adding, unique buttons, i-cord, shaping, hems, trims etc, for instance, using Mary Ann Oger's books. Learning to tweak a pattern using DAK or Garment Designer and inputting the pattern into these programs then changing them.

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

None. In the beginning I cycled around Toronto with yarn and a typed pattern to a few knitters who knit the fronts, backs and sleeves, then I would cycle back to pick up the pieces and assemble them myself. Though I only did a year of Fashion as Sheridan I did learn that the finishing was extremely important and don't trust that to anyone else. I also had a young girl who used to come in and knit sleeves. I don't do much 'sample/test' knitting, I just charge in and knit the first garment of a new style, put labels in and a hang tag and it's photographed and put out for sale. Once in a while I'll make one for me and use that as a sample. I do it all myself.

Did you do a formal business plan?

No, never did. Just bumbled right in knitting sweaters by hand 28 years ago, applied to shows and waited tables to make up the short fall, and did my own taxes at the end of each year. I worked alone and learned what I could from other artists at the shows I did, chatting between customers.

Do you have a mentor?

Never had one of those either!

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

No. I do belong to groups here in Kingston that get together to discuss business practices, shows, legal aspects, taxes etc. We are all very supportive of each other and do group shows and such together. One even works on grant writing and has got a few of us OAC grants....I got one last fall.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?

I have a web site that I took over about five years ago rebuilding it and maintaining it myself and also building sites for other artisans. I have a blog and an Etsy shop: I spend a lot of time online looking at other designers, knitting techniques, machine sales, polymer clay techniques (I make my own buttons, shawl sticks and pins).

Do you use a Tech Editor?

I've only written two patterns for the just closed down Knitwords and Mary Ann edited what I wrote. No one else uses my patterns so I don't need anyone for that. However, I run things by colleagues, like email mail outs, new web pages and such.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

I work a lot but took a lot of time off when I recently had breast cancer. For the first time in my career I had to tell my clients their orders would be very late, I had to drop some shows and just sit around resting. Working for myself and by myself I take time when I need to for myself and my family but recently I've found it difficult to buckle down to work as the cancer, the recession and the passing of my Mother have taken me away from my studio a lot, almost to the detriment of my business. My favourite way of working is to do my paperwork and online stuff in the morning, see clients attend meetings then work all afternoon and evening. I love to work at night, no one interrupts, and I have often said that if I go out a night it's like taking a day off work for anyone else. I have to balance that for my family but I'm a night worker, always have been!

How do you deal with criticism?

Try to see if there is any validation in it and decide if I should do something about that, then brush it off if it's about something I've long since worked out for myself. My first critic was my husband's ex who is an artist and she criticized my brochure! I'm not an artist but my brochure has always worked just fine for me. I'm always being told I should make this or that to add to my repertoire, at this stage I've either done it (children's knits), won't do it (mittens, hats, polymer clay earrings to match my buttons - yuck!-, pants) or say that I have to sleep some time and need to focus on what I want to design and not be all over the map. I have taken some suggestions from good friends and colleagues to heart and incorporated them into what I do.

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

Still working on that! In 28 years I've been up and down. I worked part time waiting tables, and as a studio assistant to two other artisans for the first 12 years.

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

Just do it..... but network with a lot of other artisans and business people to keep things straight. I didn't have that when I started as I didn't know anyone to network with!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Knitting Clock

I found this on an interesting site called Neatorama

Industrial designer Siren Elise Wilhelmsen made a clock that knits a 2-meter scarf over the course of one year. It’s called “365″, and its purpose is:

[...]to give a physical manifestation to the change of time. drawing from the change that is witnessed through the growth of human bodies and hair, the same concept is found in ‘365′ which translates time through the growth of knitted material. the clock houses a circular knitting machine with 48 needles, a thread spool, a thread holder and roll of yarn. moving in clockwise direction, one day leads to a complete round, while a year gives users 2 meters of a complete scarf.

Monday, July 26, 2010

To be or not to be....Symmetrical

Last week I had dinner with a friend who was asking how my design career was working out. I was telling her that I've been spending part of every day on education. I've been reading knitting techniques articles, blogs and various tutorials as well as looking at different designs areas for inspiration. I just finished a quilting book on design principles with 10 lessons on developing your creativity. I had found the chapter on balance very interesting and was surprised to discover that there are 17 different kinds of symmetry. You can look here for more details.

Understanding these principles could be helpful when designing knitting projects in the Fair Isle, Intarsia or Modular styles. It's an area of expertise common in textile design but not generally covered in knit design. I have found many Knitters to be obsessive about symmetry. Some won't knit shawls and scarves with the scalloped pattern stitches that are offset at the cast-on and bind-off edges. They will instead knit two panels bottom up or top down that are joined at the center back. I remember talking to a friend who had tried to do a Feather and Fan pattern that way and discovered that the ends can't be easily joined at the center due to the offset. She had given up on the project for that reason. She was surprised when I mentioned that my solution to that is to create a "resting" panel at the center. You could do a ribbed section for a scarf or a wide garter stitch section on a shawl. The width of the panel required would have to be tested by swatching.

One of the reasons that I use the crochet cast-on technique on exposed edges is that is visually the same as the standard bind-off and is therefore symmetrical as well. I've used it when making lengthwise scarves as well the more standard version. It can also be used on garments that are knit side to side when they have no separately knit borders.

Asymmetrical designs tend to create strong reactions in the observers. I've always liked that type of design but I know that it disturbs many people. The artistic view is that asymmetry creates visual movement and that symmetry can be visually static. I took a course with Kathryn Alexander many years ago. She does not care if her garments are symmetrical so it was interesting to see how many members of the class reacted negatively to those garments. What do you think is symmetry a must for your garments?

Friday, July 23, 2010

An Interview with... Mags Kandis

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?
I know I echo many when I say… everywhere! Colour is usually my primary creative spark. Seldom does a day go by where I am not taken aback by a fresh way that colours play off of each other.
What is your favourite knitting technique?
Me? I greatly enjoy two extremes… Intarsia and plain, old stocking stitch--- particularly reverse stocking stitch because I love to purl.

Do you look at other designers work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
If you are afraid of being “influenced” you better be prepared to live in a hole and never leave it. I can’t see how or why anyone would avoid appreciating the work of others. Personally, I believe almost everything has been done before. To take an idea and make it your own and new and fresh and relevant, that is the thrill! I remember many, many years ago feeling so puffed-up because I had come up with my own original stitch pattern that had never, ever been seen or knit before. It was only a few months later that I found an old, out of print stitch pattern book that had almost the identical stitch pattern. From that moment on I knew that I should never deceive myself into thinking that I am that clever.
How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for
I’m not certain what you mean by “dumbing down”. If you mean simply written and easy to follow… I would say, great! If a knitter-- novice or seasoned-- is able to follow one of my patterns and feel a sense of great accomplishment by completing, wearing and loving the project… I have done my job. Besides, I like creating items that look far more difficult than they really are to make. I often hear from knitters how easy a project was once they got it on the needles.
How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself? I have three that I “trust”! I have been using them for many years… one for over 20. I think a lot of people believe it would be great fun being a test knitter. Let me tell you, it can be quite hard and often frustrating. You not only have to follow what is written as written but be able to figure out when something is very wrong before knitting blissfully along for days only to have to frog it all.
Do you do a formal business plan?
Business plan?!?!? I guess it was/is to earn enough money to pay the bills doing something I love to do. For a long time the “plan” changed daily.
Do you use a Tech Editor?
Heck… ya! It is crucial to have as many “fresh eyes” as possible go over a pattern before it is released. Even a pattern that most would consider “easy” should not avoid the keen eye of a tenacious Tech Editor. When I look back at the patterns that caused the most grief often it was one of the simplest in the collection.
How do you maintain your life/work balance?

When starting up, life was work and work was life. After many years I realized that
“weekends” were a good thing and very valuable for re-fueling and staying creatively happy. I am now fortunate to be able to pick and choose the projects I wish to be involved with and am able to prioritise family, friends and fun.
How do you deal with criticism?

A long time ago I realized that I will never be able to make everybody happy all of the
time. Mind you, I do feel it very important that I open myself up to both positive and negative critiques… as long as it comes from a constructive place. Over the years I have received emails ranging from fanatical raving to comically scathing. I do my best to focus on those that land in the mid-range. I like knowing what I have done well and what I could improve on. I think it is very important in this day and age of countless open knitting forums and blogs and anonymous emails that we all think before we type. After all, this is the kind and soothing craft of knitting we are talking about here. We all have very different personal tastes and have equally different approaches, goals and expectations from the projects we choose. If the project you are working on does not bring you joy you have countless others to choose from. We are fabulously spoiled by the project options we have!
How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
It was almost four years of “hitting the floor running” at Mission Falls before I got a
regular pay check.
What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?

My advice to anyone entering any creative field… Do what brings you joy. Do it well. Work hard. Be flexible.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Master Class with Galina Khmeleva

Last Saturday I spent the day at the Textile Museum of Canada taking a class with the delightful Galina Khmeleva. It was her Master Class: The Fundamentals of Orenburg Knitted Lace. What an interesting day it turned out to be. Galina and her husband George Girard had driven from their home in Colorado here to Toronto. Originally she was booked for one day of teaching but the demand was such that a second day was added after the first class sold out. What a fascinating woman she is. At the beginning of the day she went around the table asking what everyone hoped to get from the class and she tailored her teaching plan to the responses. We spent time knitting and trying out various Orenburg stitch patterns. We also watched Galina demonstrating some of the more unusual techniques. We learned all about the history of the lace making and the people with whom it originated as well as the methods used to gather clean and spin the fiber.

This is Patrick posing with Galina

These are just a few of the gorgeous shawls we got to see and touch!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Working from Home - I was just taking a break

This is Gracie's idea of a hard day. Gracie is also known as the cat who will eat yarn. You will notice that the camera flash didn't disturb her at all.

So I took a second closer shot......nope not even a single eye opened.

This is her partner in crime George. When I took his picture he was so annoyed that he immediately left the room for a place where the crazy knitting woman who lives here (me) wouldn't bother him again. So I stopped bothering the cats, went back to my laptop and got back to work on a wool and alpaca cardigan pattern for fall.