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! 


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