Friday, December 31, 2010

An Interview with...Katherine Vaughan

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 Katherine here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
I know everyone says “everywhere” and that's definitely true for me as well. However, I'm particularly interested in shape and texture, so I tend to get excited by seeing patterns and silhouettes in the environment around me. My pattern Barclay was inspired by the contrasting colors of tree trunks in the forest; my blanket Amirah came out of a pairing of a stop sign and Persian carpets. I also habitually thumb through my stitch dictionaries (my faves are the Barbara Walker series, though I think I have about 20 in total). Though it's another cliché, I sometimes pick up a yarn and hear it speaking to me, telling me what it wants to be. I design for specific people, so often I take inspiration from their lives and stated interests. And finally, I often get inspiration from the calls for submission from magazines and books – both for my own submissions and for my self-published patterns.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I don't think I have just one. I like knitting in the round (largely because I dislike seaming). I like cables and lace pretty equally. I tend to avoid colorwork such as intarsia and fair isle, but will do them when the moment is right.

How did you determine your size range?
Much of what I do are accessories and baby blankets, so the sizes for those are pretty set. When possible I cover a large range of head sizes for hats – from preemie to men's XL. I have some friends who are over 6'6”, and their heads are larger than many hat sizes go, so I try to include them. My father is a neonatologist, so I knit a lot of preemie caps, which is the other end of the spectrum. Since most of the sweaters I design are for magazines and books, I go with the size range requested by the editor.

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
Well, I also work as a technical editor, so that means I HAVE to looks at other people's work. I think it's really important to see how other people interpret our art differently. Often I learn a new technique or discover something really exciting in others' patterns. And then there are the designers that I'm just in total awe of – like Kaffe Fasset – and who have no worry about me copying them!

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
I'm not sure I feel any controversy here. I think that there's a realization that writing a clear pattern free of errors and with certain elements (such as photos, diagrams, and abbreviations key) increases the likelihood of success for all knitters, not just the ones who have lower skills. Especially for patterns published online, there is less of a pressure to keep everything short. This means we can actually tell people how many stitches to do between decreases, rather than “decrease 5 times evenly spaced” (my personal pet peeve). We can write out the neckline shaping on each side, rather than the shortcut of “reverse from left.” Why make knitting hard for people? I guess I feel pretty strongly about this, especially since, as a medical librarian, I am a strong proponent of clear language as a means of enhancing health information literacy.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I currently have a wrap out for sample knitting – my first time ever using a sample knitter. I had to do this because I have two conflicting deadlines for magazines, and am not physically capable of doing the knitting for both. Luckily I found a great sample knitter (hi Veronica!) and am confident in her work. I like doing my own sample knitting in general, because I sometimes will alter a design on the fly. Test knitters I definitely use, both to catch any weird language in the pattern and to get a few projects already logged on Ravelry. I always have a tech editor take a look at every pattern before self-publishing.

Did you do a formal business plan?
Nope, though I keep thinking I should. I also should keep better books, incorporate as a business, etc. I do pay my taxes like a good girl, though it's pretty painful when that time rolls around!

Do you have a mentor?
Not really, though I do have designers who have helped me in the past and whom I respect quite a lot. These include Shannon Okey, who as the editor at Yarn Forward published one of my first print patterns, and then who connected me with Kristi Porter (for whom I designed two patterns for her Knitting in the Sun books), and with whom I then worked on some other book projects. It's designers like Shannon who have opened doors for me in sometimes serendipitous ways rather than as formal mentors that I really treasure.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
I would not be a published designer without the Internet. My first three patterns (Reduce Reuse Recycle, Sadz Resama Bega, and Skirtsicle) were published in MagKnits and Black Purl Magazine. Both of these were online magazines that have since gone under. In 2011 I will be moving into wholesaling print self-published patterns, but for the last few years I've sold my self-published line entirely online via Ravelry, Etsy, and Patternfish. Ravelry in particular but also a few Yahoo! groups for self-publishing designers, tech editors, and the PhatFiber indie fiber artist community have introduced me to techniques and worlds not normally open to a librarian in the American South (fewer knitters here, especially in the summer, than in colder climes, sadly).

Do you use a Tech Editor?
I would never release a pattern for general distribution that has not been professionally tech edited, and if I purchase a pattern that has clearly not been edited first, I get cranky about it, think mean things about the designer, and never purchase another pattern from that designer. Does that sound overly harsh? It's true!

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
Luckily, knitting is generally still a relaxing thing for me, including the designing part. My children know that something is wrong if I'm not knitting. I carry my knitting and a notebook everywhere, but I'm fully capable of putting it down to play. Since my designing is a part time enterprise (I'm a medical librarian during the day), this is part of my life – as well as my work. This becomes one of the balancing points.

How do you deal with criticism?
There are three kinds of criticism. The easiest one to deal with is the knitter whose skills don't match the pattern's level. I once was ripped apart in a forum by a knitter who hadn't encountered the “ssk” stitch before, and thought it meant “slip 2 then knit the next stitch”. She kept ending up with too many stitches, obviously, and decided that it must be my “atrocious math skills.” Luckily, in that case someone else set her straight. Then there are people who simply don't like something about the pattern. Sometimes there are things I can (and choose to) do about those – sometimes it's just a matter of personal preference. The third kind come from mistakes in my pattern. I love my tech editors, because they help minimize these last ones. Any criticism stemming from an error is fixed immediately, and I publicly thank the person who found the error and send them any pattern they want for free.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I don't support myself on my design and editing income. Someday, maybe, but right now having a full-time faculty position has serious advantages, including sick and vacation leave, health insurance, and retirement savings. However, my designing allows me some financial comfort, which is particularly good in an economy like this one. I took a look at my current levels a few months ago, and came to a conclusion that if I worked full-time at designing, tech editing, and picked up more teaching, I would have to be twice as successful as I am now and work four times as much as I do now to match my faculty salary. Ouch!

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
If you are thinking of becoming a designer simply to make some money, don't. It takes a long time and a lot of effort to become financially successful in this field, and the field is already very crowded with talented designers. However, if you truly have a passion for design coupled with a head for the technical aspects of pattern writing and business management, this is a good job to have. For me, designing is a compulsion, a habit, a necessity. If I could not publish, I would still be designing my own knits. The publishing aspect, the money aspect, justifies some of the time I spend on this but is not the driving purpose for me. Instead, it's the thrill of seeing an idea that I had come out first in the cloth, then on paper, and finally in other people's interpretations of the pattern. I fear that if I lose that excitement that design will simply become a job, and not a passion.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the lovely comment, KT -- it's much appreciated!