Friday, December 30, 2011

An Interview with...Sandra McIver

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. Sandra is the author of knit, Swirl! 

You can find Sandra's website here.

All patterns pictured are available in the book

Where do you find inspiration?  
I find that inspiration comes from everywhere and anywhere, and often from the least likely places. I still laugh to myself when I think that the circular Swirl form was inspired by a rectangle—that wonderful large, long garter stitch rectangle that makes up the bottom portion of Sally Melville’s “Einstein Coat.” I found myself entranced by the sculptural quality of that length of fabric as I bent and twisted and manipulated it into different shapes. That experience had a huge impact on me as a designer. From that point on, I wanted to create clean, sculptural designs defined primarily by their contours, with seams artfully placed to support, not interrupt, the interconnected energy of the knitted form.

What is your favourite knitting technique? 

Learning new techniques was the driving force in my knitting for many years. During that time my favorite technique was usually the one I’d just mastered. As my interest in sculptural form grew, I found myself going back to simple knit and purl stitch combination's because they provided the strong structure, simple shaping and clean lines that I was after. While knitting for my book, I did develop my own technique for a “No Twist Join” that has proved to be extremely helpful in ensuring that the lengthy first rows of a Swirl can be reliably joined into a circle without that dreaded twist. Given the amount of anguish that discovery has saved me, I’d have to say that’s currently my favorite technique.

How did you determine your size range? 
It is difficult to talk about size in a Swirl without talking about style in the same breath. Swirls, by virtue of their circular shape, bias drape, and lack of size-defining seams, are highly adaptable; all sizes are suitable for a range of body types and dimensions. The same size can be a fitted jacket on one person and a flowing cape-like coat on another. As long as appropriate sleeve length adjustments are made, a knitter’s choice of size should be as much about style as it is about how big or small it needs to be to accommodate a given body. I offer three sizes (one, two and three) in order to offer a range of fit and styling choices. Size Two could be considered a “one-size-fits-all” version, with size one and size three extending the range of size and style for all.                                                                                                                                                

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I love to look at and learn from other designers’ work! I’m thrilled by the thought that today’s designers are still inventing new techniques and creating new approaches using a centuries old art form. There are times, however, when I think it is appropriate not to study another designer’s work. When I was working on knit, Swirl!, Hanne Falkenberg, whose designs I greatly admire, released a new pattern for a circular sweater. I studiously avoided acquiring any knowledge of that pattern until after my book was done….and was much relieved to find that our approach differed substantially. One day, though, I’d love to knit her version.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
I’m happy to say I’m ignorant of the controversy. Swirls are simple to knit, not in deference to the knitter, but because that approach results in the clean, sculptural form I was after. I want my patterns to be attainable for relative beginners, but still interesting for seasoned veterans. In my book, I explain in detail the techniques that I feel are very important to use. On the other hand, where a pattern direction can be satisfied by a variety of techniques, I leave the choice to personal preference. I recognize that in doing so I may leave the less experienced knitter needing to do a little research, but researching the various ways to accomplish basic knitting tasks is the best way to learn. I still find myself going back to my favorite how-to books on a regular basis and never cease to come away with a new insight.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I design as I knit, so its important for me to do most of the knitting myself. I knit all but one of the garments you see in the book, and several that didn’t make it in as well. Recently I began working with four excellent knitters who have helped me to create additional Swirls in a range of sizes. One just set a new record, knitting a Swirl in a week! Those garments make up four traveling Swirl trunk shows that have begun to make the rounds at local yarn shops and knitting venues.

Did you do a formal business plan?
The first years of working on the book were all about learning and designing. The last two years required a plan to get the project to the finish line and deliver a book that would make my investment in writing and self-publishing worthwhile. It was at that time that I finalized the book concept and developed a time line, marketing plan and budget.

Do you have a mentor?
I do—several of them in fact. Cat Bordhi is my mentor-in-chief (I prefer the title Fairy Godmother). She is ably assisted by the “Visionaries”, a group of self-publishing designers who annually attend Cat’s “Visionary Retreat” to review our collective books-in-progress, give input and suggestions, and help each other deal with issues we each face along the way. The mentoring of one another continues throughout the year via chat group. Knit, Swirl! is just one of several truly excellent books by our Visionary Authors. For a list of our authors and their websites go to

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

The business model I follow is the one I learned from my father and used for 25 years on a much larger scale as co-founder and president of a small ultra-premium winery. It boils down to this: produce quality.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
The impact has been huge. Knitting blogs and online newsletters have provided the lion’s share of the coverage my book has received. I keep in touch with Swirl knitters around the world via my website,, emails and the “knit swirl” group on In terms of sales, half of my US sales are made by my distributor Unicorn Books & Crafts (a company with a significant Internet presence) to local yarn shops, many with robust online shopping components. The other half I sell myself through Amazon’s Advantage program, a program that is a boon to small entrepreneurial efforts like mine.

Do you use a Tech Editor?
Absolutely! Tech editors are essential. My tech editor, in addition to doing all the usual spotting of errors, inconsistencies, and omissions, took my cumbersome design calculations and created elegant spreadsheet formula pages that were able to do the work faster and with greater accuracy than I. Beyond that she was a great sounding board at all times and the only person with whom I could speak “Swirl” through the years that it took to write the book.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I work at home and am blessed to have the undying support of my husband, children and grandchildren. I am able to deal with the priorities of both life and work on an as-needed basis. My days are all long and frequently hectic, but I enjoy almost all of what I do. Hey, I get to knit and call it work! How bad can that be?

How do you deal with criticism?

Happily, the growth curve that took me from avid knitter to self-published hand knit designer, has taught me to truly appreciate and welcome constructive criticism. The other types of criticism, especially the overheated Internet communique type, I’ve learned can best be handled by being as nice and as helpful as possible in my response. I almost always get an immediate note of thanks along with an apology. The criticism that I admit still gets to me is the type that comes in the form of just-plain-mean public review postings from folks who have clearly made snap judgments after a cursory look at my book. Slowly, I’m even learning to live with those.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I am pleased to be able to say that after seven months in the market, sales of my book have covered my writing and self-publishing costs (photography, book design, tech editing, printing, shipping and marketing) and returned a profit sufficient for me to feel I’ve been reasonably well compensated for my investment of time and energy. A third printing appears to be imminent, so that picture will continue to improve.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
I’d say first explore the industry fully to identify all the avenues out there for a career in knitting. The list is much longer and more varied than you might initially think. In your search you may even discover an unmet need or an unfulfilled consumer interest that you are uniquely able to address. Are you entrepreneurial at heart or are you happier working for someone else? The answer to that question is important in charting your course. Take it slow. Be persistent. Identify at least one opportunity a day, and act on at least one a week. And lastly, believe in your potential for success.                      


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Flat Pattern Drafting

Flat patterns are the standard in the knitting world and we rarely give the concept any intense consideration. (Many designers of woven fabric use draping techniques instead. To do this you have to work with existing fabric to cut and pin into place). 

Stop for a moment and think about this. We take a one dimensional piece of knitted fabric and wrap it around a three dimensional body that is made up of many planes and angles, and then we are surprised that it does not fit well. Add to that the varying individual shape of women's bodies. It’s no wonder that Knitters struggle with fit. Many fitting adjustments are tiny little shaping changes that need to be assessed with a garment on the body to see just how much fabric needs to be added or removed. 

If you take pattern drafting classes to develop your own pattern for fitting, the final step is a trial garment. Corrections are made to that garment and then those changes are transferred back to the pattern. The most talented custom clothing creators all do several one on one fitting sessions, before a garment is completed. Couturiers have mannequins created to match the bodies of their clients so that fitting can be customized. Your fit can be continually improved if you begin to keep careful notes about your personal fitting preferences.  

But we knitters, we create the fabric at the same time we create the garment  and don't always appreciate just how complex what we are doing really is. Maybe we need to appreciate how very special what we are doing really is?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Design-a-long - Taking Measurements

Standing straight, wearing lingerie or lightweight clothing take your measurements with a flexible measuring tape. If you have someone who can assist you in taking the measurements, that’s even better to ensure accuracy. Take your measurements with the tape horizontal on your body. The tape should lie firmly against your body without being snug. You will also require length measurements for your intended design. You can use a narrow belt, a piece of elastic or a length of yarn to define your waistline. 

When dealing with knitwear garments the upper body measurements are vital, as this is where the garment hangs from. The bust is measured at the bust point or at its fullest part. Your high hip measurement is about 6-7 inches below your waist and needs to be considered if you are creating longer garments, especially if your hips are much bigger than your bust.  The full hip is measured at your derrieres widest point if you are knitting a garment of that length. The cross shoulder measurement is taken between the shoulder points directly above your armpit where the sleeve seam should be. It will be different at the front than it is at the back. The middle back to wrist measurement starts from the bony protrusion at the base of your neck out and around your arm with your arm bent at a slight angle. Some people like sleeve to hang longer and if you do take the measurement level to the base of the thumb. The back neck to waist measurement also starts at the bony protrusion at the base of your neck and is required if you are planning to have waistline shaping. 

The silhouette of the garment you are planning determines the actual measurements required. The fabric that you are creating has varying amounts of stretch that you need to be comfortable with. Some people are happy with negative ease and others are not. Some of these measurements are very difficult to take directly on the body but much easier to take from an existing garment that you can lay flat.
Put the target garment on and note any changes you would like to make in fit or lengths. Pay attention to where the hems hit your body and if you would want the garment to be tighter or looser. Mark your actual waist and where you would like your waist to sit if you want to adjust it for better visual proportions. Some of us are narrower below the bust line than we are at the true waist. You can use pins to mark any changes you would prefer. You can also choose to use several different garments for comparison as the information you are getting here should be highly individualized to your preferences.

Take the garment off, lay it flat and take measurements from it that correspond to the body measurements that you have indicated on your chart. The chart is meant to become an ever evolving reference for your knitting. Use a notebook not a single piece of paper to save these measurements.  Don’t be surprised if you find as you work through several projects that you will continue to refine the numbers. You may even want to make your ease notes based on yarn weights as thicker yarns generally call for more ease than fine yarns do. 

There is another important factor that I want you to consider and that is that bodies are not static. When we move, our measurements change. Take your arm measurement with your arm straight and then compare that measurement to a bent arm measurement. It will not be the same. Check your bust measurement when wearing different bras, the measurement will change with the amount of support and padding. Body measurements and shapes change with movement. Take your waist measurement in a standing and then in a seated position. Compare the two, are they the same? Have you noticed garments that fit snugly when standing straight can become uncomfortable when you sit down? That's why understanding ease is so important.

Friday, December 23, 2011

An Interview with..Hunter Hammersen

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 Hunter here and more about her books here and here.

Pattern available in the upcoming book The Knitter’s Curiosity Cabinet

Where do you find inspiration?
Just about everywhere!  I use the camera on my cell phone to snap pictures of all sorts of crazy things when I'm out and about.  So far I've grabbed snapshots of things like ironwork fences, really hideous upholstery fabric on a hotel sofa, and the tracks my shopping cart left in the snow.  I can't draw at all, so having an easy way to grab pictures is tremendously

For larger projects like the books, I like to work within a theme.  It's easier to have a dinner party if you have a theme, and I'm convinced the same holds true for a knitting collection.  For those, I find myself drawn to historical subjects.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
Oh, I more or less like it all!  I'm not quite sure if it counts as a technique exactly, but I find I really prefer working in the round.  For me, it's faster, more even, and easier to manage while I'm working.

How did you determine your size range?
I have really big feet (my mother would say I 'have a firm foundation'). I know first hand how frustrating it is to fall in love with a project and see that it won't fit your needs. So I try to include several sizes for all my socks (and for most of my other projects too). At the same time, I think you can do a lot of fine tuning by adjusting your gauge and yarn choice too.  This works especially well for something like a hat or a mitt where sizing by adding an extra pattern repeat doesn't always work out.  To help people feel confident doing these sorts of adjustments, I've started including information about sizing at a variety of gauges in some of my patterns.  I think it helps knitters make informed decisions about their projects, and the response has been very positive.

I’ve noticed that you work mainly on accessories and specialize in sock designs, could you tell us a little more about your design focus?
I'm kind of a lazy knitter.  The idea of making sweaters or shawls or anything else of that size just makes me feel a bit weak in the knees.  I think that socks and accessories are a much smaller time commitment, but still let the knitter play around with just about any technique imaginable.  It's a better fit for my attention span!

Pattern available in the upcoming book The Knitter’s Curiosity Cabinet

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I mostly avoid it.  It's too easy to have something sneak into the back of your mind and pop out later.  Though I must confess I do glance at the new issues of a few favorite online magazines when they come out.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
I think every pattern is a balancing act between clarity and brevity.  I also think that it is flat out impossible to strike the perfect balance for every knitter in a single pattern...someone will always want something different. With that in mind, I tend to err on the side of assuming knitters are clever folks.  It's my job to be clear enough (and encouraging enough) to give them the confidence they need to tackle the project at hand. That doesn't mean extensive hand holding, but it does mean being careful to be as explicit as possible.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I usually have each pattern tested by at least 3 or 4 people, sometimes more if there are lots of sizes or if the project is complicated.  I've got a dozen or so folks who help me with sample knitting for books, though I make my own samples for individual patterns.

Did you do a formal business plan?
Not at all.  I stumbled into this by accident, and no one was more surprised than me when it turned into a job!

Do you have a mentor?
There are lots of folks I admire, and a few I go to with questions, but no one who I'd call a mentor in a formal sense.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
Not really. So far I'm working on the assumption that if I put out a product I'm really excited about, that others will like it too.  It's worked so far!

Pattern available in The Knitter’s Curiosity Cabinet

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
I wouldn't even knit, much less design without the Internet!

Do you use a Tech Editor?
Yes, and she's a genius and worth her weight in gold.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I'm not sure I do. Then again, I'm not sure anyone who is doing something they're passionate about really does. It's the trade off for a job you love, and I think it's worth it.

Pattern available  The Knitter’s Curiosity Cabinet
How do you deal with criticism?
Fairly well I think.  If there's actually something that needs to be changed or corrected (a typo in a pattern for instance), I'm glad to know about it and happy to make the change.  And if it's criticism that I have no intention of acting on (someone who doesn't like the name of a pattern for instance), I just laugh it off.
How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I've only been designing for a little over two years.  The first year, I broke even.  The second year, I made a profit.  This year, I am actually making enough money that I need to do things like talk to an accountant and a lawyer.  But it's not really at the point where it would pay all of my household's expenses...give me a few more years!

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
The organizational and administrative parts are every bit as important as the creative parts.  Find a way to make them manageable for you, even if they don't come naturally. Mastering them will help you have this be a career, not just a dalliance.

Pattern available here.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Do You Ever Knit the Same Pattern Twice?

I sewed many of my own clothes for years. I also used the same patterns over and over. Once I had something that fit me well I would return to that pattern often. I would make it in a different colour. I would make a jacket with a matching skirt, then I would make the same jacket with pants. Then I would make it in a print fabric, or a tapestry or a knit. 

When I was machine knitting I used a knit radar for shaping. It's a charting device that allows you to draw your garment shape. You select settings by your stitches per inch and rows per inch, and let the Radar guide you through the shaping of your garment piece. By simply changing the gauge settings, you can knit this same garment over and over with a variety of yarns and stitch styles. I used to knit the same basic garment shape, change the neckline, shorten or lengthen sleeves and the hem, and no one ever noticed that I was knitting essentially the same sweater over and over.

Now I often do the same thing with my hand knitting. I layer new or different details on the same basic garment shape. In the LYS that I worked at we had only one customer that I was aware of who did this with a pattern. She had an old pattern, that fit perfectly, she only worked in one gauge but substituted many different yarns. She varied the length from garment to garment and substituted short sleeves for long on summer sweaters but that was about it....and no one noticed what she was doing.  

BTW: do this if you really want to understand the illusive concept of ease, as it is impacted by fabric weight and drape. In the photos above look at the sleeves. The jacket on the bottom right is made from a tapestry print, it is the stiffest fabric in the 4 jackets. Did you notice how those sleeves stand away from the body? Once you make the same pattern with different yarn types your understanding of the concept starts to crystallize.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Design-a-long - The Measurements

I've given you a drawing to help while doing your measurements.  Not all measurements will be applicable to the garment you are making. There are a few that you will need to get some one else to assist you with. The numbers on the drawing correspond to those in the list. The wrinkle is that you will take the measurement both on your body and on the garment that either fits you already or has been pinned to fit you. You should make a chart in your note book with four columns; one for the name of the area being measured, one for your body measurements, one for the garments measurements and one for the ease difference between the two. If you aren't doing the DAL but would like to understand ease more fully, try doing this exercise with a variety of garments in your closet. Choose things in various weights from a thin machine knit to a heavy coat and see how different the garment measurements are even when they all fit in an appropriate way. The list also includes some measurements that are broken into front and back separately, this is done to refine the fit. Current patterns typically make the front and back the same and count on the knitting to stretch to accommodate the differences. Since you are customizing it makes sense to at least consider these differences. My next DAL post will give additional details on how to take measurements.
  1. 1 Shoulder width front                                                                         
  2. 2 Shoulder width back                                                                         
  3. 3 Shoulder length                                                                                 
  4. 4 Chest                                                                                                 
  5. 5 Bust                                                                                                  
  6. 6 Front side to side                                                                              
  7. 7 Back side to side                                                                               
  8. 8 Armhole depth                                                                                  
  9. 9 Raglan depth                                                                                     
  10. 10 Waist                                                                                                
  11. 11 Hips                                                                                                  
  12. 12 Width at hemline                                                                               
  13. 13 Neck width                                                                                        
  14. 14 Front neck depth                                                                               
  15. 15 Back neck depth                                                                               
  16. 16 Torso length (back)                                                                           
  17. 17 Torso length (front)                                                                          
  18. 18 Hem to armhole length                                                                      
  19. 19 Hem to waist length                                                                          
  20. 20 Sleeve length                                                                                     
  21. 21 Wrist to wrist length                                                                         
  22. 22 Upper arm width                                                                              
  23. 23 Wrist/ hand width                                                                             

Friday, December 16, 2011

An Interview with...Hannah Fettig

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 Hannah here and here on Ravelry. All patterns in the pictures are available on her website.

Where do you find inspiration?
I'm most inspired by vintage and current fashion, and my hometown here in Portland, Maine. 

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I love short rows, I'd like to use them more!  It's such a great technique for shaping.

How did you determine your size range?
My technical editor, Tana Pageler, has been really good about helping me with this.  My designs are typically simple enough, they translate very well to a wide range of sizes.  I want my designs to be accessible to as many knitters as possible!  

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I do look at other designers' work, but not as much as I used to.  There's no time!  I do feel like our industry is very supportive, for example when I announce on my blog or Twitter that I have a new design, many other designers chime in with praise.  It's nice to feel like we're all rooting for each other.  In terms of being influenced by other designers, everyone's work is so accessible with the Internet and Ravelry, it's hard to think we aren't all influencing each other. It's exciting, really.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
hmmm, sorry Robin, I'm not sure I know exactly what you mean? 

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I used to do all my own sample knitting, but have found it necessary to regularly use sample knitters so I can continue coming out with new work.  Having a toddler means I don't have as much time as I used to for knitting!  I'll work on the tricky bits of a pattern on the needles, and then send a rough draft of a pattern to a knitter who communicates with me as they go about any possible issues.  

Did you do a formal business plan?
No.  I never anticipated that I would end up where I am today with knitwear design.  I was just having fun, and the next thing I knew, thanks to Ravelry, I had a real job on my hands!   At the beginning of this year, and did start pursuing the wholesale market, which has been very successful.  And for Coastal Knits, Alana and I did have a business plan of sorts.  But again, we never anticipated that Coastal Knits would be as successful as it was! 

Do you have a mentor?
I really haven't had anyone guiding me along this road.  Most of the work over the past few years as taken place in the seclusion of my home.  I have always liked to have other people to bounce ideas off of, Alana has been that person for a long time.  Recently I moved my office in with Quince & Co., and it's been nice to see other industry people so regularly. 

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
As I mentioned earlier, it's had a huge impact.  I don't think I would have had the success I've had without it, or at least not so quickly.  Whisper Cardigan and Featherweight Cardigan benefited from the fact that word spreads so quickly on the Internet.  Those continue to be my two most popular designs!

Do you use a Tech Editor?
I do, for Coastal Knits Alana and I actually used three. Tana is instrumental to my pattern writing, particularly sizing. 

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
It's been a struggle.  I've recently been trying to outsource as much as possible.  I hired an assistant the beginning of November, and this has been a welcome relief. 

How do you deal with criticism?
It can be challenging, but I try to keep perspective.  For the most part knitters are very happy with my designs.   Some days I'll find myself getting hung up on a negative experience with a Knitbot pattern reported on Ravelry, I hate to think of someone having to frog an entire sweater because they weren't happy with the end result! 

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
I'd say to be patient, building a reputation takes time. Establish an on-line presence, for blogging purposes I think a good camera is a worthwhile investment. Presentation can be everything.  Slowly build an audience, if they like what they see they'll come back for more!