Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Knitting and Tattoos

I'm not really a big fan of tattoo's but it seems like getting one is a trend amongst women of a certain age. Of course we all know how very popular they are with generation Y as well. If I was ever going to get one some of these knitting related tattoo's just might be the one for me. What do you think?

Monday, September 27, 2010

New Shawl Pattern up on Patternfish

Introducing the Tiers of Lace Shawl.

I created this unusual tiered shawl after seeing a similar silhouette sewn from organza. 

The upper tier grows with additional yarn over stitches that have no corresponding decreases over 3 pattern repeats. The second tier starts, after the stitch count increases over two rows, by multiple yarn over stitches. There are more details over here on Patternfish. 

A big Thank you goes out to Deirdre who knit the sample.

Friday, September 24, 2010

An Interview with...Leigh Radford

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 Leigh here and here on Ravelry.

ETA After I posted Leigh's responses she realized that she had accidentally sent me the draft instead of the completed version. I updated the answers as of Monday Sept. 27th 

Where do you find inspiration?
Everywhere.  Nature.  I love French, Spanish and German versions Elle Décor.
What is your favourite knitting technique?
I love to combine intarsia and felting.

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs? 
When I’m working on a book, I go out of my way not to look at current magazine and new books.  
How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?

This is a tricky one to answer…as a designer I want to include techniques that will make the design more interesting or make the garment more flattering, but including these often raises the skill level and results in more questions from knitters.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I do most of my own knitting. I like being able to respond immediately to what’s happening on my needles and make adjustments as the work progresses.

Did you do a formal business plan?


Do you have a mentor?

I had the good fortune to begin my knitting career working at Interweave Press and had the benefit of learning from professionals such as Ann Budd, Melanie Falick, and many others.  I also have the support of family and friends that believe in me and my work.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

 No, but I keep remembering a piece of advice I heard Gert Boyle, President of Columbia Sportwear say was the key to companies success:  “Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise.”

What impact has the Internet had on your business?

Overall I think the internet has had a tremendously positive impact.  It provides an opportunity to market my books and individual pattern sales on my website,
I’m just starting a blog,, marketing a line of market bags constructed from upholstery remnants and other fabrics that would otherwise end up in the landfill.  I’m in my thesis year completing my BFA in painting. The blog will also have an occasional post of what I’m working on at school.  I’ve been bringing my knitting background into my painting and sculptural practice with some pretty fun results.

Do you use a Tech Editor?

Yes.  Using a Tech Editor is a mandatory step in publishing a pattern.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

As a self-employed, creative person who loves to make things, balance can be elusive. My creative practice is more with who I am, but time away from “work” even if work is something you love, is crucial.  With being in school now, my down time come in a couple hours here or there rather than a full day off.  I make a point to get to the art museum gallery or get outdoors and go for walk.

How do you deal with criticism? 

It’s never fun with someone posts a negative review.  At first these were hard not to dwell on. I’m designing because I’m compelled to do so, not to please anyone else. I’m creating patterns for projects that I like and enjoy making. If I can’t handle the occasional snarky comment about my work, then I’m in the wrong business.

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

I have had to diversify…I freelance in graphic design and marketing as well as I haven’t found knitwear design to be sustainable on its own.


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

I think the biggest shift for me was dealing with what was once a hobby, was now a job and that raises the bar and requires more of you than when you are knitting for yourself.

Design work that you love and enjoyed making and resist to urge to try to design for the latest trend.  Knitting is such a tactile experience, we want to enjoy the process as well as love the end result.  I think when you can combine these two things, you’ve got a successful project.

Most of the designers I admire have a strong sense of garment construction and know how to work with knit fabric so that if flatters the body.  I think this is an extremely versatile skill.  I don’t have this background, but wish I did.  I have begun to make paper mock-ups of new designs and write my pattern with my paper pattern at hand.

Plan to spend 50% of your time on administrative tasks.  What I mean here is looking for freelance opportunities such as submissions to calls for design from publishers and/or yarn companies, invoicing, keeping up with your blog, etc.

Last, but not least, work hard and have fun! 


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

KnitTrade - I was there

Last Saturday I attended KnitTrade, the brand-new trade show started by Deb & Lynda Gemmell  of Cabin Fever fame.

As described by them "This is a trade show for people working in the knitting industry. It’s primarily a platform for smaller, independent wholesalers to show their goods to shop owners. Smaller, independent companies offer unique products and accessibility to the owner. Come and meet us. If you are a designer, hand-dyer, pattern writer or a knitting industry worker you are welcome to be a vendor and sell your product and services or register to come in and shop. A Vendor Permit or other proof of business is required. Shop owners and their staff will need to register. There is a small fee which will be returned to you at the door as Vendor Bucks to spend on the floor. And yes, there will be shopping. Vendors will be happy to sell you product on a cash and carry basis as well as take orders. We hope you will join us in promoting our industry."

I attended as a designer and went with my friend Mary Pat who was working a booth for Lucy Neatby. I spent some time last week preparing a handout which gives my bio and a list of workshops that I can teach. I gave it out to anyone who expressed interest so hopefully it will lead to some teaching opportunities. I spent some time at the beginning of the show wandering the floor and enjoying conversations with many of the vendors who took booths. I love how so many people in the knitting world are ready to chat and share information that is so educational for me as a newbie. My vendor bucks were spent on hand dyed yarn from the Painted Fleece. I also took the opportunity to collect business cards from people who said they will do interviews here so watch for those in the coming months. There was a good variety of business's there so I'm planning to add to the designer and dyers series.

Later on I joined Mary Pat at Lucy's booth and helped out there whenever she was already busy with another visitor. Lucy is an amazing designer, very prolific and has an outstanding reputation as a teacher. She is also representing a yarn from Denmark called  Kauni and she has developed some gorgeous patterns that take advantage of the very long colourways in each ball.

The show was very successful attracting a large room of vendors and many buyers from all over Ontario. I expect that next year will be even bigger and better! 

Many thanks to Deb and Lynda for including me in their very first KnitTrade.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Knit Your Very Own Dog

Knitting designers are very imaginative. I recently came across the latest book of two British designers, Sally Muir and Joanna Osborne. It's a very amusing take on knitted toys.

There is an interesting article about the duo here in the Telegraph. It turns out that they have an interesting past first coming to notice when Lady Diana Spencer wore their black sheep jumper to the polo at Windsor in 1981 during her engagement. The red jumper with one black sheep in a flock of white had been a present from a friend.The iconic jumper is now part of the permanent collection at the V&A. 

I can see the advantages of the knitted doggies - no dog hair on the furniture, no walking or doggy dirt cleanup and no Vet visits required. 

You can find their website here and see some of  their more traditional work as well.

Friday, September 17, 2010

An Interview with...Stephanie Earp

Once a week I post interviews with interesting people about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry.  I’ve noticed that every one of these individuals makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the Knitting world.

You can find Stephanie's yarn here and she is on Ravelry here.

Where do you find inspiration for your colourways?

I started out with a small line of very saturated bright colours, and since then my inspiration comes mainly from trying to create colourways that work in tandem with them. I don't tend to think about my colourways in isolation, I'm always thinking about how they would pair up with something else. I love colour work - even it's just stripes - so I think that prejudice comes through in my dyeing choices.

What is your favourite dying technique? 

It's hard to describe - my technique is a combination of dip dyeing and kettle dying. I used to do a lot of hand painting when I started dyeing and I still love it, but for me, I found it very difficult to get consistent colourways and saturated colour using that technique. I really wanted to be to provide consistency - if a customer bought a yarn from me year ago and decided to come back for more, I want the skein they get to be close enough that they can incorporate it into the same garment. It's such an obsession for me that I usually put aside odd dye lots for my own use and won't sell them.
How do you choose the fibers that you work with?

I work with animal fibers because I'm dyeing out of my house and the acid dyes that get such great results on wools and silks are relatively harmless. I'd love to expand into plant fibres and artificial fibres - one day when I'm rich and famous and have my own dye studio away from home.

How did you determine what weights of yarn you stock?

I started out with sock yarn because, well - people are really into sock yarn right now! I wonder if the craze will last, and I hope it will because you can kind of go nuts colour-wise when stuff if meant for feet. I also dye lace weights because I love working with it, and I recently added a fingering weight wool that isn't meant for socks - it's more of a Shetland 2-ply, and I'm starting to design stranded patterns to go with it. I don't do worsted weights because they are expensive to stock and I tend to prefer solids and heathers in worsted and bulky weights. I may change my mind on this eventually, but for now I'm sticking with the skinny stuff.

How do you come up with names for your yarn?

Ha! Good question. All our yarns are named for elements on the periodic table. Well almost all. My partner Pete came up with the idea, and we decided our regular colourways would be elements, and our special one-offs would be molecules. A few of the one-offs have become regulars and kept their molecular names. I named one colourway - a very dark blue - Carbon, but Pete lobbied for Carbonite, the stuff Han Solo gets encased in in 'The Empire Strikes Back', and it stuck.

Could you give us an idea of how long the process is to dye a batch of yarn and prepare it for sale?

It depends on my goals - when I'm getting ready for a show, I can crank it out. I can probably dye about 35 skeins an hour if I push myself, then a day or two to dry, depending on the weather, then I re-skein, checking for knots and flaws, then packaging it with labels... I'll put it this way, if I get a special order or someone wants more of a colourway than I have in stock, I can usually get it out the door in 3 days.

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

I do look at others dyers' work and I'm as much of a yarn addict as the next guy, but I've never tried to replicate another dyer's work. I think that because of the way I approach filling out the colours in my line, I'm more likely to look at paint swatches than yarn for my next inspiration. I have sometimes spotted colourways similar to ours in other lines and I get this moment of fear, like 'why do I bother, look at this beautiful yarn that someone else made' but usually after closer inspection, I'm relieved to see that there is something unique about our stuff. Most semi-solids rely on differences in intensity - ours have different hues. It's subtle but it makes a difference.

Are you a knitter as well?

Oh boy am I. I knit almost constantly. I'm also pushing myself to expand my designing. I've always designed for myself, but I'm now writing patterns, and grading them for size. Which is like going back to school and majoring in math. It hurts, but it's worth it.

Did you do a formal business plan?

I would say I did an informal business plan. Pete and looked into pricing and did a projection of what it would cost to start up, how much money we were willing to lose in the first year and what goals we wanted to hit. Now that we're in our second year, we check in about once every four months to see how we're doing. Our goal now is not to lose money, which can be a tightrope act sometimes, but we manage by keeping inventory quite low.

Do you have a mentor?

S'n'B type of person - I can't knit and talk at the same time. Pete is a great partner - in business and love - but he is not a knitter. If anything, starting the business helped me get to know the people I admire in the knitting world. Kate Atherley of who has designed patterns for us, Glenna C of who has used our yarns for her patterns - and in passing, Stephanie Pearl McPhee, Lucy Neatby and many other awesome knitters who have stopped by our booths at various shows. Maybe I should place an ad on Ravelry: Mentor Wanted!

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

Not really - I admit we sort of make it up as we go along. Which is not advice - just a fact.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?

I would not have even considered this business if it wasn't for the Internet. We don't wholesale and we don't have a storefront, so the Internet is it for us. If the Internet dried up and disappeared tomorrow, I'm afraid we would too.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

I'm not sure I have really. Van Der Rock is not my full-time job by any stretch, in fact it sort of comes in third of my three jobs. It's the job I do at night and on weekends and in the few hours I have off between working for a local film festival and writing a twice-weekly television column. The nice thing about being a TV critic is you can knit while you work.

How do you deal with criticism?

I tend to shrug it off. The great thing about the 'net and the increased accessibility of hand dyed yarns is that if you don't like what I do, you can go elsewhere. And the thing is, when you are confident that you've tried your hardest and done your best, criticism kind of bounces off you. I've had people tell me our sock yarn is too expensive, but I've done the math and that's what it costs. Some people will see the value and pay for it, others won't. Criticism that I do take seriously is something about the quality of the product. I had a colourway that I got multiple reports about - it was running like crazy in the blocking process. I worked on my process until it didn't run. That stuff, I always want to hear about.

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

Ask me again in ten years.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in hand dying yarns?

Keep your day job? No seriously, a few things. Don't try to compete on price - you'll lose. Charge what your work is worth and if it's good, you will find customers. Use your yarns - factor it into your business plan that you get to keep a bunch of this glorious yarn you dye for your own projects. You will learn more about what you are doing right - and wrong - from using the yarn to knit, weave, crochet, whatever - than from anything else. If you can make beautiful things from your yarns, others can too - and often photos of your finished objects are the best ad you can give your work.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"Off we go to the Fair"

I spent last Saturday at the Kitchener Waterloo Knitter's fair. It's the largest event of its kind in Canada. A one-day event that in the guilds words is a "fair organized by knitters for knitters."  We had a beautiful day weather wise, sunny and not to hot. I took our GPS which was a good thing as we hit some traffic that was a result of a terrible accident on the highway. We got off the 401 before our planned exit and made our way through some smaller roads arriving just a little later than we would have without the traffic problems. 

The Fair is held at a large amusement park called Bingemens in Kitchener. This year they had more than 70 vendors in attendance. They say the two rooms have 35,000 square feet and they are all filled with a variety of vendors all devoted  to the craft of knitting. It's a great place to see the many hand dyers who are challenging the mainstream yarn companies for business. We also had quite a few Alpaca growers represented this year. I hope the trend continues as I've just finished a shawl in alpaca and I love how beautifully if drapes. The variety of yarn books and accessories available there is amazing.

I did hear from one vendor that they did better at this show than at a longer one that she recently attended in the U.S. The recession in Canada has not been as bad as in the United States some say mainly due to our highly regulated banking industry.  

I did my share to help the economy.

I bought gorgeous gloves while I was in Italy in August so I want to knit some accessories to match. The stunning yellow skeins are from van der rock yarns and I'm thinking of doing some sort of a small lace project with them. You can find Stephanie's beautiful yarns here

I also purchased this alpaca and silk blend to go with my orange gloves. I have six balls to work with. They are so soft and will make a very warm scarf. They were purchased from the Frog Pond Collective.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Oscar de la Renta Hand Knits

Oscar's knits have always wowed me. If you go here you will be able to click and zoom to see this beauty close up. Believe me it will be worth it. 

Oscar includes one one or two fabulous hand knit pieces in each of his collections so I often go searching to look at the latest as each collection comes out. From what I've been able to find out by asking people in the know the hand knit pieces that many designers include in their collections are not done by the name designers but are done by contract designers who specialize in hand knits. These amazing knits are done by masters of the knitting world and are uncredited outside of the industry. The garments are amazing and show a level of ingenuity that is rarely seen in hand knits. The price of this gorgeous cashmere dress.... a mere $2090.

Friday, September 10, 2010

An Interview with...Shirley Paden

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 Shirley here and her Ravelry group is here

Where do you find inspiration?
Because my interest is with combining current trends with traditional knitting pattern stitches I spend a lot of time looking through trend magazines and purchasing books from trend services.  I like to see the forecasts for shaping, color, etc for the upcoming seasons.  A lot of what I look at and am inspired by are garments made from cloth.   A large part of what I enjoy is interpreting cloth items into knits. 


What is your favourite knitting technique?
I am not sure that I have one "favorite” knitting technique.  I enjoy finishing.  I feel that beyond the challenges of knitting, a well finished garment is the final "stamp" of a true professional.   I have a number of expert knitters who work with me, but I am the "finishing station" for anything that has my name on it.   It is a very different art that takes time patience and skill to do well. 


How did you determine your size range?
In hand knits there are several key factors that have to be considered in sizing.  I am intrigued by pattern stitches and will therefore more often than not be using a pattern stitch in my designs (vs. stockinette).  The pattern stitch multiple will oftentimes be a major contributing factor in the number of sizes that I will grade a pattern for.  My goal in an optimal situation is to grade a pattern that will begin at a size that will fit a 33" - 34” bust as a "small” up to a size that will fit a size 48" - 50" bust  as an "XXL".   If the pattern has a small multiple, e.g., a multiple of 4+ 2 where the size will increase slowly I can stay close to that sizing range.  However, if the multiple is large, e.g. multiple of 18 +2. I have to limit the number of sizes offered and expand the range that each size will fit.  The knitting gauge must also be considered in the sizing equation.  For example, if I am working with a stitch gauge of 6 sts = 1" with an 18 stitch multiple, each time I add a repeat I will be adding 3 inches.  In addition, the structure of the pattern must also be factored in.  The beautiful and intriguing look of many pattern stitches can be ruined if they are broken.  In those cases I will have to add in a full repeat of the multiple each time I increase the width.  I will often design a pullover to be worked in-the-round, or design a cardigan to be worked in one piece up to the armholes when I cannot  break a pattern along the side edges without running the risk of having an undesired look after the pieces have been seamed.    With very large multiples, e.g., a multiple of 30 I must often offer only sizes Small/Medium and Large/ Extra Large.  

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I subscribe to many magazines and browse through and buy knitting magazines and books at bookstores and yarn shops constantly.  I not only look at everything, but I also always make a note of designers who present balanced patterns.  Those are patterns that are both structurally sound and visually captivating.  When I see a designer capable of achieving that I like to follow their growth.  Any seasoned designer has their own style.  We are therefore genuinely objectively admiring of different talents, never interested in copying.   We also know that if a garment or an ingenious use of a technique caught our eye, it has also done so with many others.  If an intriguing design is copied it loses its appeal.  There are however many fascinating lessons on how different techniques can be interpreted found in the pages of different international magazines.   Each time I visit a bookstore I marvel at the fact that this antique cloth making art remains so alive and fresh.  

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

I have 8 different knitters that I work with.  Expert knitters are hard to find, but they are very important.   If someone wants to grow a profitable knitting based business they must find good knitters that they can work with and trust.  While we all love it, when parceling out one's time it is important to realize that Knitting is very time consuming.  When looking at the bottom line, I have found it to be extremely important to have the ability to have a number of items being made at the same time.  That would be impossible if I had to knit everything myself.  

Did you do a formal business plan?

Yes.  I think it is important to know where you are heading when you take off.  That doesn't mean that you cannot make changes.  It just means that everything should be fully researched before embarking.   

Do you have a mentor?
I had a mentor who owned a knitting shop when I began.  She is no longer in the business, but still helps me whenever I need extra hands or someone to discuss possible business scenarios with.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated? 
No.  I thought through most aspects of my  business direction based on its unique combination of modules at the beginning.  Although my business has had a number of twists and turns over these 18 years, I have remained pretty much true to my original plan in the way my business is organized.   
What impact has the Internet had on your business?
Enormous!  The whole way of connecting to customers, students, etc. is so much more efficient than it was in the pre-Internet days. 

Do you use a Tech Editor?

My knitters are the first test of the techniques for all my patterns.  A part of what they are asked to do is to carefully check my worksheets against the written instructions.  They notify me if they find any mistakes so that we can check together and make corrections.  In addition, I also always work with someone who can formally technically edit my patterns.  It is very difficult to catch all of your own mistakes.       

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

With great difficulty!  There are still different seasons of the year when I have a very limited life outside of my work.  The one thing I would advise anyone starting a knitting business to do is to plan your life/work time as carefully as you layout your business plan.  Even with a plan there will be deadlines, so always build in contingency time.  

How do you deal with criticism?

I am very open to criticism because I feel that anyone who wants to improve must both seek and be able to accept it.  At the end of each of my classes I hand out an evaluation sheet and ask that everyone expand on whatever answers they check and remain anonymous.  The purpose is to help me to become a better instructor.  I have learned a lot and made many changes in both the way I present material and interact with people based on the comments on those sheets over the years.  I continue to hand them out because I believe that there really is always room for improvement.   I feel that constructive criticism is a necessary part of the learning process and I believe that process never ends.    

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

It took me longer than it would someone starting out in the Internet age.  My start up time is somewhat irrelevant because of the conditions of the market being so completely different now.  Today there are numerous opportunities to connect with different knitting communities worldwide to sell a product or service. 

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Follow your dream and find a way to make it happen! 

 You can see more of Shirley's amazing work here.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Knitted Art of Ivano Vitali

Ivano Vitali is an artist who uses paper to knit and crochet with. He creates his yarn by twisting newspaper strips together without using scissors or glue.
The colour of the paper is what gives the item its hue. It is possible (as he says on his web site) "to read the words and letters of the newspapers used to make jackets, waistcoats, gowns, objects as if they were art books documenting a moment in our history" " He uses the colours he finds in newspaper pages.

If he doesn't have enough in his own words "I mix them: when you see my works you can think of the effect that pointillists created by juxtaposing colours and combining them in such a way to have the perception of a different colour. The final effect is that of a mélange “fabric”.

The objects and garments are all amazing but I'm most fascinated by the garments.

He is a classically trained artist who attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna from 1969 to 1973.

There is much more of his work to see over here on Ivano's website.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Big Knit - Roger Moore

A non-knitting friend told me about this. This is from Wikipedia "In the early 1950s, Moore worked as a male model, appearing in print advertisements for knitwear (earning him the amusing nickname "The Big Knit"), and a wide range of other products such as toothpaste – an element that many critics have used as typifying his lightweight credentials as an actor." We also found this site with the photo's I've added to my post.

I found a site here selling the original vintage pattern. As with most knitwear designs for men these patterns could be knit today with very little modification. The fit was smaller in the 50's but add a little more ease and your man could be dressed like "The Big Knit."

Friday, September 3, 2010

An Interview with...Catherine Lowe

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 Catherine here

Where do you find inspiration?

To echo most of the previous interviewees: everywhere. But different sources inspire differently, so while color and pattern may be omnipresent, it is most often a small detail that grabs my attention: something as unexpected as the way a child’s cloak hangs from his shoulders in a 16th century fresco; or the relationship between a necklace and a neckline depicted by a 17th century marble bust; or the way light playing on the texture of an ancient brick wall gives it a silk-like quality. These discrete images get filed away and resurface entirely unbidden. The disciplines of architecture, Renaissance art, and the decorative arts are the most yielding and persistent sources.

What is your favourite knitting technique?

Until recently, the single focus of my knitting was garment construction, which inspired in me a concerted effort to translate elements of haute couture dressmaking into hand-knitting techniques. The aim was to enable knitters to expand their repertory with techniques that would change both the look of their finished garments and the way they think about current knitting practice. Now that I have had the privilege of developing Catherine Lowe Couture Yarns, I have extended that focus to the knitted fabric itself. These yarns are unlike traditional hand-knitting yarns in ways that make it possible to combine and manipulate them to create knitted fabrics that behave and sometimes even look like wovens. Creating these fabrics relies significantly on careful swatching, but I use a singular method of blocking to imbue them with specific characteristics uniquely suited to individual designs. This blocking technique, when used with the yarns, has provided an entirely new and exciting dimension for both my designing and my knitting.

How did you determine your size range?

Notations in my pattern directions reflect the actual finished measurements of the garment, rather than indicating a size for which the garment was intended. Each design is accompanied by a short description that identifies the fitting standard by which the sizing parameters were set: close-fitting, relaxed, classic, oversize, etc. However, this can be used as a suggestion rather than a proscription insofar as it provides the information necessary for the knitter to know how the garment will fit with different amounts of ease. She or he can then choose to follow the pattern suggestion for fit or select a size based on individual preferences. With regard to actual garment sizing, I have a set of five slopers, developed from industry standards and modified by practical experience, to which I add the ease required by the fit of the particular design. The five slopers differ by 4” each, providing a range of 16”. Petite and large sizes each require a very different set of proportions with which I am not familiar enough to feel as comfortable grading those sizes as I am with the range I have chosen. I don’t regularly include those sizes in my patterns, but in individual instances I have happily helped a customer adapt a design for either a smaller or larger size.
That said, over fifteen years of experience teaching a Design & Fit Workshop—during which each participant tries on a number of different garments and is then measured for a custom sloper—has given me a great deal of information about fit and sizing, much of it disheartening. Three knitters can have almost identical measurements, yet the garment that looks best on one of them may neither fit nor flatter the other two. On the other hand, a garment may fit all three of them perfectly by objective standards, yet truly flatter only one of them, appear passable on the second, and look rather awful on the third. What makes the difference is how specific design elements of the garment suit the physical characteristics of the individual. When thinking about a design, it is of paramount importance to me that the design be inherently flattering, so I am careful to avoid incorporating elements that are likely to be problematic. For the same reason, within the five-size range of a single design, I will often work the same design elements, and even entire garment pieces, quite differently for different sizes in order to ensure the best and most flattering look and fit possible. Even though I design for what some may consider a limited size range, I treat each individual size of a single design as though it were a separate design when that is necessary to achieve the look and fit I want.

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

I stay current by looking through fashion and knitting publications, but I don’t dwell in their pages. Knowing the context in which one is working is essential; having a distinct design idiom and remaining constant to that idiom is critical. I would suggest that “influence” can be understood in two dissimilar ways that encompass both sides of a very tricky distinction between trend and imitation. So, while following a trend may be an appropriate and acceptable decision on the part of a designer who wants to sell patterns, imitating another’s work without acknowledgment is neither appropriate nor acceptable.

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

I am entirely unaware of the controversy. My own approach to pattern writing is anomalous and derives from the frustration I experienced regularly as a knitter trying to follow pattern directions. The frustration became especially acute whenever I encountered the dreaded “work left front as for right reversing shaping” and is in large measure what sent me off on my own design adventure. As a consequence, my pattern directions read unlike those written in a traditional format. Their underlying premise is that the burden of interpreting the directions and identifying the techniques to be used should not be placed on the knitter, but is the sole responsibility of the directions themselves. They are therefore detailed and explanatory. This practice extends to the construction and finishing of the garment as well, where I use techniques that are not common currency and require detailed step-by-step explanations. The result is a lengthy pattern that is also a mini-workshop in the couture techniques used in the design.

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

My very idiosyncratic design process and my focus on construction techniques mean that I must necessarily produce the first iteration of any new design. Once the pattern is written, I have a few knitters I trust implicitly for comments and suggestions. Having my own yarns has meant that old designs need to be translated into the new yarns and new samples fabricated; a dear friend and brilliant knitter has been helping me with this seemingly endless task.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?

I was once referred to as “knitting’s best-kept secret.” The Internet has since made it possible to expand my audience beyond workshop attendees and subscribers to the original journal version of The Ravell’d Sleeve. Perhaps even more important, though, it offered a business model that made delivery of my very lengthy and technically explicit patterns both efficient and economical and triggered my decision last summer to take the entire business online.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

Those closest to me argue regularly that I don’t. Add to that the fact that once I decided to become serious about knitwear design, my leisure activity became my profession and I’ve yet to discover a satisfying successor...

How do you deal with criticism?

Constructive and well-intentioned criticism is always welcome. Whenever possible, I respond with the hope of engaging a conversation.

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

Much will depend upon how that career is configured: owning a yarn store or a yarn company; designing for print and editorial or distributing patterns independently; developing an eponymous line of yarns and designing for those yarns exclusively; teaching; authoring; etc. Investigate all the possibilities and focus on the ones that seem most congenial and best suited to one’s skills and personality. Seek advice from those admired and respected; if possible and appropriate, offer to apprentice. Above all, know that in the future there will likely be much less time for knitting and much more time spent at tasks never envisioned and for which one can never be fully prepared.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Free Patterns - Buyer Beware

I've been knitting my own designs for a very long time. So learning to write good patterns has taken a lot of time in knitting research. I've looked at every major knitting magazine's pattern presentation. I've studied every one of my pattern books. I've taken hundreds of books out of the library and analyzed the pattern formatting and photography. I've read every thread I could find on Ravelry to see what Knitters like and what they don't like. I've read up on sizing standards. I've reviewed submissions standards to see what publishers expectations are. I've spent hours of time doing this.

Recently I was looking for something really simple to knit while taking a trip. The criteria included lace weight yarn (lots of knitting, very little weight and good yardage), being able to use my short plastic needles, and only a small stitch pattern reference or even better one that I could memorize.
So I did what many Knitters do. I went to Ravelry and searched for free and in my library patterns that would fit the bill.

The first free pattern was a lace pattern stitch I had always admired and included a chart, Yeah! Much smaller than the written version and I prefer charts. So I started my swatch and four rows in I realized that while the chart was correct it wasn't really a chart it was a chart version of row by row instructions. In other words it was
NOT as visual representation of the knitting. It was totally "knittable" but only if used row by row. The missing information was "No stitch" squares that would have kept everything lined up. Hummm, I guess that's something I want to avoid when I do my own charts.

Next I found a simple faggoting patterned scarf and cast on in the multiples of 4 the pattern indicated for a swatch. Oddly the basic stitch instruction had 8 stitches??? Well there's something else I better be careful with. The pattern won't work for 20 stitches but it will work for 24. Both numbers are divisible by 4 but 20 is not divisible by 8. At this point I gave up the idea of a free pattern pulled out my Barbara Walker's and started a simple scarf based on one of her stitches.

My friend Kate who teaches many project classes has told me she sees a lot of these problems in her classes. Kate also tech edits so she has high standards on what good patterns should include. We've talked about this issue several times so I know both of us spend a lot of time thinking about the minutia of pattern writing.

At my Thursday night knitting group the problem of free patterns has come up often. Knitting is amazing it is so simple on one level (just knit and purl) yet so complex on another. Once you start to vary the knit and purl combination's you can create a stunning amount of intricacy and sophistication. We've seen all sorts of problems in the free patterns from incorrect stitch pattern instructions to dimension measurements that make no sense at all.

As an experienced Knitter I see these errors and instruction variations very quickly but I do wonder how novice Knitters work their way through these problems. Both of the patterns were free on Ravelry and I definitely would not expect anyone to pay for Tech Editing on freebies but at the same time many new Knitters use free patterns exclusively and must become very frustrated. The good news for me is that I learned valuable lessons in the what not to do category that will help me when I'm teaching and when other Knitters come to me with questions. For you the lesson is buyer beware.