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!

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