Monday, February 28, 2011

Patternfish vs. Ravelry

There were a number of comments on my original post as well as even more behind the scene emails and conversations with other designers regarding this topic.

The general consensus is that I may be losing sales by not selling directly through Ravelry. Some felt that my designers page is not enough to get potential buyers over to Patternfish.

Interestingly the whole discussion of self publishers vs. traditional publishing came up numerous times. Some self publishers (but not all), think I should put my patterns there ASAP, yet at the same time they are cognizant of the fact that the quality issue is very real. Traditional publishers seem to hesitate to make any substantial commentary almost as though the whole subject is taboo or simply because they haven't had any experience in the self publishing world. Many in both camps expressed concerns about the lack of tech editing on Ravelry patterns and that there are no standards for quality. An employee at my LYS said she was having real issues with the number of free patterns on Ravelry that customers bring in for help and how poorly many of them are written. It is also thought that many Knitters assume that because something is on Ravelry that it has some sort of stamp of approval or credibility simply from having been posted there.

There are also concerns about the devaluation of designers work by free and under-priced patterns in a constantly evolving marketplace of existing and new pattern sources.

Patternfish does review the designers that submit to them before they go live on the site. I was told that I needed to have everything tech edited. I received very clear and constructive feedback on the first patterns that I submitted. Fortunately most of it was positive and some showed me exactly where to direct my first efforts into improvement.

I'm still mulling this one over for myself. Please feel free to continue this discussion in the comments.

Friday, February 25, 2011

An Interview with...Erika Flory

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 Erika here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
Like most visual designers, I find inspiration all around me: a stitch pattern in a passers by scarf, a color combination on a store mannequin, vintage clothing, stitch dictionaries, yarn itself---it's all out there. My best ideas hit when I'm not specifically thinking about designing.
What is your favorite knitting technique?
Knitting from the top down or any other seamless techniques.
How did you determine your size range?

When I was beginning my craft business, I sized my sweaters to fit my own children: I figured if the business didn't take off, my children and their friends would have sweaters for a couple of years. As the business grew, I "down sized" until my range was 6 through 24 months: I witnessed too many meltdowns in my booth at craft shows when a mother would ask her four year old to pick a sweater and the child couldn't decide. It was easier to have a size range that covered babies and toddlers. Now that I'm not doing craft shows and concentrating on design, I find that my size range is inching upwards again.
Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?

Yes, it's much like being a painter and visiting museums and art galleries. I'm not afraid that I'll be influenced, as all design is derivative. I know that I learn and am inspired by what fellow designers are producing, and hope that they are inspired by my designs as well.
How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?

I know that there are knitters who want to be challenged and knitters who want to be led through the process. I think that if we designers  give  knitters well written, clear patterns, they'll build the skills and confidence to take on more challenging projects and grow into being thinking knitters. As long as people are knitting and enjoying it, I don't think there should be a controversy.
How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?

I do all the sample knitting myself as I'm always tweaking and revising a pattern as I knit that sample. When the pattern is finished, I have a couple of test knitters who are a great help.
Did you do a formal business plan?
No, my business evolved from what my daughter at age 6 described as a "hobby job" into what it is today, and is still evolving as the impact of the Internet on the knitting world continues.
Do you have a mentor?
Not per se, but I have found support and encouragement from several people, in particular Alison Reilly at For the Love of Yarn webzine who published my first design; Kirsten Hipsky at WEBS; and Flo Carlisle at Pisgah Yarn & Dyeing who has been very supportive.
Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
What impact has the Internet had on your business?

The Internet has made my current business possible: when I stopped doing production work for the craft shows, I knew that the next phase was going to involve the Internet. It has also made submitting design proposals to publications much easier, and  has made self publishing possible in ways that weren't available just a few years ago.
Do you use a Tech Editor?
Yes: someone has to double check my numbers!
How do you maintain your life/work balance?

When I was doing production for craft shows, I was very disciplined: as soon as the kids were off to school, I'd be at my work space; often, that was 8:15. I'd work until they came home from school, and on the weekends when I had a craft show, we'd have a flow-chart worked out as to who went where when. Now that I'm not working on that tight a schedule, my knitting and designing is my life. I do try to do my designing or work knitting during the day and leave the evenings to my personal knitting. But it is all knitting, all the time!
How do you deal with criticism?
Criticism ranges from misunderstandings of how a pattern is written to an error in the pattern to someone not liking the design. I encourage knitters to contact me with any questions they have, so I'm able to address the misunderstandings and correct errors. I try not to take criticism of my designs personally.

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

It hasn't happened yet!

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

You need to be willing to work hard and to explore all the options out there. It's not a get-rich-quick field and it's a crowded field, so you need to find your voice and stay true to it. Most of all, enjoy it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Don't let perfect Knitting be the enemy of good Knitting (with apologies to Voltaire)

It's not uncommon to admire a piece of knitting only to have the maker immediately point out its flaws. Usually their flaw is completely insignificant and obvious only to their eyes. I find this a little sad that often Knitters don't experience total enjoyment at the completion of their project.  I think that sometimes we have to learn to be perfectly imperfect! The sentiment expressed in the title of this post is one that I've tried to take to heart.  Doing so has freed me to experiment much more often with my knitting.  I think that it's also because I see others wasting a lot of  energy aiming for a perfection that does not exist.  Some Knitters completely give up knitting because can't they can't be perfect instead of persisting and improving. They torture themselves with unreal standards of perfection. I also think a second factor is coming into play here, that of body image.

I'm going to recommend that  you change your expectations rather than trying to reach an impossible goal or standard.  When I took tailoring classes I watched all the fitting that the instructor did on others, often the student would be unhappy with the results and sometimes appeared angry with the instructor when she was done with the adjustments. I eventually identified that the real problem wasn't one of fit it was because the individual was unhappy with their own body. 

Knitters who fight with perfectionism have a critical voice in their own minds telling them their knitting/body isn’t good enough and therefore they’re not good enough. They view a beautiful finished garment and don't like it on themselves. As Knitters we need to overcome this. This negative dialogue steals your enjoyment of your knitting and can wreak havoc on your self esteem. It's important to stop this so that you can enjoy life more and gain an appreciation for yourself and your work. And yes... I catch myself doing this as well. I do it when my slim friend Mary Pat models my garments at our guild's fashion show and I just did it recently when I first saw the vest pictured above on my skinner mannequin.

I'd like you to go easy on yourselves and set reasonable goals as well as enjoying the process. I hear so many Knitters say they don't knit garments for themselves and I know this has a lot to do with their body image. I'll be writing more on this topic in upcoming posts.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Come on now - Get Happy

I spent the evening with a non knitting friend recently and we had a very interesting conversation. It turns out that she reads my blog fairly often. She isn't interested in the interviews but she really likes the posts that relate knitting and life skills. This post was the one that prompted the discussion."C" has had a tough year, both her parents are suffering with health problems and she is on the edge of losing her job as her company restructures due to pressures from the economy.

This section from the original post prompted her to ask how do I stay so cheerful all the time "When I was trying to lose weight I asked two of my thin friends how they kept  their slim figures as it seemed to be so effortless from my perspective. I got great strategies from both of them and found out that it wasn't effortless. Knowing that is part of the key to searching for your own approach in dealing with these dilemmas in life"  

She said that my life always seemed to be effortlessly  perfect! LOL! Well the truth is that 2010 was a challenging year for me. I had my own family dramas, a very difficult time with the job I resigned from last March that involved a major ethical dilemma requiring professional advice as well as a career transition which I want, but all change even good change is stressful.

She specifically wanted to know what do I do to stay happy? All you Knitters already know that  I'm going to include knitting and designing on the list but here's a few other tips for ongoing behaviors that will improve your mood overall.

  1. Keep a gratitude journal. You can use on online one like this . I put three things in everyday when I log on in the morning and I review the 3 previous days postings.
  2. Go outside! We need to be exposed to natural light and even overcast days will help.
  3. Get some exercise on a regular basis. A short walk will do the trick. There is scientific documentation that walking can reduce the need for medication in clinically depressed people, so just think what it could do for you.
  4. Set goals....set little goals and just do it what ever it is. It can be really insignificant, clean off a shelf or eat one less desert per week. Once you meet that goal pick a new one and work on that. The continual sense of accomplishment gives everyone a mood boost.
  5. Watch less TV (just a little,) positive psychology studies show that TV watching is a passive pursuit  that detracts from happiness. (ETA - knitting while watching TV is an active pursuit). Unhappy people watch more hours than happy people do. It's currently unclear which factor is the causal one but the relationship is documented. Watching less and choosing more carefully what you do watch can lead to more positive feelings. Avoid violent media and negative newscasts in particular. Studies show that watching too much news leads to unrealistic estimates of life's dangers and risks.

Friday, February 18, 2011

An Interview with...Heather Dixon

Heather Dixon

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 Heather here  and here on Ravelry.

Photos by  Jason Riker - model Ashley H.
Where do you find inspiration?
There is no one place where I find inspiration. I design my collections with a theme in mind, each season I'm drawn strongly to a story that I express through my knitting. For the collections I'm working on at the moment my stories are Flamenco for Spring and the film, Pretty Baby for Summer. I'm currently attracted to all things connected with the late Victorian era, especially the under garments so my Summer collection is heavily inspired by corsets, bustles and nighties.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I don't think I have a particular favourite but I do love manipulating stitches with cables. I'm also a huge fan of fair isle, which you can except to see a lot more of in my future designs.

How did you determine your size range?

That all depends on the garment style but I usually work around 30" -  50" chest. I don't use S-M-L etc. I give the garment's finished size and let the knitter decide which size would fit them best. I also include a detailed schematic in my patterns.

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I don't think I look at other designers' work as much as I used to - I don't have the time!  I love to look at clothes of all kinds, be they new, vintage, knitted or woven. One of my most successful patterns from my Precious collection was heavily influenced by an old Oscar de la Renta design. It was a commissioned piece for a friend and it would never have been designed if it wasn't for her.

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

I wasn't aware that there was a controversy! I do, however, try to make my patterns as clear and easy to follow as possible. Much more so than the ones I followed when I was learning to knit.

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

I knit all of the samples for my collections myself. It usually takes 3 to 4 months to complete a collection. Test knitters use their own yarn and I only see the finished object in photographs. I have at least one test knitter for each size, per design.

Did you do a formal business plan?

No!  I did tell myself that I would not make any money in the first year of business. The aim for my second year is to break even. (My photography and model costs are rather high.)

Do you have a mentor?
No. I have always been very headstrong and self sufficient.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

What impact has the Internet had on your business?

I would not have attempted to do what I do without the Internet. It's where over 90% of my business comes from.

Do you use a Tech Editor?
Yes, although I find I need their services less and less as I get better at pattern writing.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

There is no balance. I work every moment that I am able. My social life is limited to quick email chats!

How do you deal with criticism?

I have been lucky in that the only real criticism that I have found has been about my photo shoot styling. It's usually from individuals who just don't understand the world of fashion. I tend to just shrug them off. I started this business with the idea that my designs would be presented in a way that would fit into any high-fashion magazine. I've seen enough fuddy-duddy styled knitwear shoots to last several lifetimes. I receive a lot of support and praise from my customers who are very happy to have knit patterns that are fashion-forward and refreshingly new.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I hope to start making a profit in my third year of business.

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

My advice is to make sure that you do something that you really love. Life is too short to spend being unhappy.

Photos by  Jason Riker - model Ashley H.

Photos by  Jason Riker - model Ashley H.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Video is done and posted.

The video I mentioned a while ago is finally done. It was an excellent learning process for my husband and I. He enjoyed creating it and is keen to do another soon.  Here it is. To view in full screen on YouTube go to here.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentines Day

I made a small collection of knitting related hearts for today.


Hearts in Estonia - Scarf Pattern info here.

You can get this stitch marker here.

The pattern for this scarf is here.

You can buy this sweater here.

Friday, February 11, 2011

An Interview with...Thea Colman

Photo by Caro Sheridan

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 Thea here and here.

Where do you find inspiration?

Most often, my wheels turn when there's a type of sweater I want to wear, and I can't find one I like in the store.  It's just so much easier to draw what I want and knit it, so I guess it's the desire to wear something that can get me thinking.

I also love old movies and vintage fashion books - they have the best little details that can lead to a whole sweater - a button, a cuff, a collar that I keep thinking from a movie scene or a photo - something like that can always get me sketching.  My sister bought me old Sears catalog book from the 1950s, which is awesome. And anything Ali McGraw or Audrey Hepburn ever wears leads to a new detail note!

I have a notebook full of little drawings, and I am always ripping things out of fashion magazines and taking old books out from my library for more fodder.  I tend to focus on the teeny details and then incorporate them into other ideas or shapes or silhouettes I'm thinking about.

What is your favourite knitting technique?

Currently, top down construction.  It's just soooo easy to knit, and so easy for the knitting public to modify.  I'm big on modifications.  We all know how we like things to fit and I think the beauty of knitting is making something exactly the way I like it.

 Photo by Caro Sheridan
Photo by Caro Sheridan

How did you determine your size range?

I've always done 32-50.

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

Of course! I look at everything. I think you can be influenced without copying. Maybe I'd see a great yarn weight or color or a sweater length I hadn't considered before.  I don't think I'd have the willpower NOT to look, honestly...

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

I'm not really paying attention to any controversy.  I write my patterns the way I think about them.  Some are more complex than others, and it really depends on the design what level knitter should tackle it.

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

I usually try to get between 5-10, plus I knit each myself. I love love love my pool of test knitters - they always give me new thoughts and angles that I didn't think about when I knit the item.

Did you do a formal business plan?

No.  This whole thing has been kind of a surprise, and it really didn't take off until this fall, so I'm really only a few months in.  This time last year I was just hoping to make back my yarn costs! For 2011, I have a little more direction, but my kids are young and I do need to keep it manageable.

Do you have a mentor?

There are lots of designers who I think are hugely talented and love, but I've never spoken to any of them!

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?


What impact has the Internet had on your business?

Huge.  Without Ravelry and Blogger, BabyCocktails wouldn't exist at all. Nobody outside of my knitting group would even know I knit :-)

Do you use a Tech Editor?

I do now. I started using a tech editor last spring, with Calvados and Cherry Vanilla.  Before that, it was just me and the test knitters and a lot of excel charts!

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

I try to keep the involved parts of the business during actual work "hours" when my daughters are at school. The knitting can be done anytime, and I can still pay attention to the world around me, but when I'm writing or dealing with the administrative parts of the designs, I need to be focused, so I have to step away from my family to do that.

I'm actually trying to scale back my checking in on Ravelry every time I pass the computer, as I find a forum post or question in a PM can suck me in when I need NOT to be sucked in.  But this is all still very new to me and fun and I'm a little hooked, so it's hard to turn it off when I need to.

How do you deal with criticism?

I think the beauty of self publishing is that I design what I like, and I write my patterns in a style that feels right to me. If I like it and feel good about it, I'm fine.  I know my patterns won't appeal to everyone, and neither will my writing or instructional style.

The only critic that REALLY gets under my skin is me, when I find I missed something I should have caught or when I don't like where I am and can't get to where I want to be.

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

I'm not there yet. But my hobby doesn't cost my family anything anymore, and I have spending money for yarn and Rhinebeck and an occasional new pair of boots.

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

I think design is tough, since you aren't guaranteed anything after all the time and work goes into a pattern. Some are popular and some just aren't.  So, I'd say design only if you love it.  Every sweater I knit, I knit for me, and if nobody buys it, then I'm wearing something I love.  (For the same reason, I'd say you need a second salary and health care.)

For a more predictable knitting career, there are tons of great jobs besides design - you can work for a yarn company, a yarn shop, or go into styling, photography, layout or tech editing.  My plan has always been to take my past experience in an ad agency and get a production job working on pattern brochures at one of the yarn companies in MA - once my kids were a little older.  I still may do that in a few years :-)

Photo by Caro Sheridan

Photo by Caro Sheridan

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Special Guest Post by Dorothy Siemens of Fiddlesticks Knitting...How a Yarn is Born

The pattern is here.

Ever since I became a knitting designer, I’ve had a dream of creating my own yarn line. Although there is a vast number and variety of yarns available, I wanted one that was a personal reflection of my love of colour and yarn qualities. With my background as an artist I knew the joy of picking up my paints and mixing any colour I could imagine. When my imagination turned to knitwear design, it seemed to me the ultimate achievement to create not just the garment or shawl, but also the actual yarn used to knit it. I’m sure that spinners feel the same way!

Over the past few years I have labeled a selection of yarns with the Fiddlesticks Knitting name, gradually increasing my input into the creation of the yarn content and colour, and learning about the process along the way. This year I finally achieved my goal of creating a yarn completely from my imagination, my “Enticing” line of luxury yarns. So how does one create a yarn?

I source my yarns through an agent who specializes in liaising with yarn mills. The mill where all my yarns are “born” is in Italy, the home of many beautiful, high-quality yarns. While I have not (yet!) visited the mill, my agent has and takes care of all the communication details. The steps involved are:

1. Visualize and specify the yarn content and weight.

I specialize in creating designs for lace knitting, including shawls, scarves and garments. I thought that a fingering weight yarn would be a perfect complement to the yarns already in my collection, giving me the flexibility to design practically anything! I could also double it to make garments in a DK weight, or mix single and double strands together in the same design.

In the past I worked with a lace weight mohair yarn and liked the slightly fuzzy halo it created, along with the soft, floaty quality. However, there are a number of very nice mohair lace weight yarns already in the marketplace. Looking for similar qualities, I decided to pursue an angora mix, combining it with merino wool and silk, the two other yarn components used in my current yarns, thereby giving a sense of consistency to the collection. As I couldn’t find a similar example in the marketplace, I knew that my yarn would be fairly unique.

At this point, the mill created a number of samples for me to test, using more or less of each of the three yarn components. After swatching and testing I selected a 70% merino, 20% angora and 10% silk blend. It gave what I considered the right amount of softness but retained good stitch definition. The bonus is the lovely “bloom” or soft halo that the angora brings to the mix, making a fabric that invites you to touch it.

The pattern is here.

2. Create the colours.

The mill dyes yarn in minimum 30-kilogram lots (or 600 50-gram balls), combined with a minimum 300-kilogram yarn spin. This meant that I would create at least 10 colours for my new yarn. I love colour! So I splurged on 18 new colours, or a spin of 540 kilograms. I guess that’s one way to increase your yarn stash!

I decided that the colours should be soft, like the yarn, and not too bright or “pure.” I like colours that are complex and hard to describe, that don’t allow easy descriptions such as “yellow,” or “blue.” I gathered bits of yarn, fabric, paint samples, anything I could find that fit my ideas of colour. Then I laid them all out to confirm I had a palette that flowed together and fit my criteria. Bellissimo!
Then I put all the samples into individual bags by colour and sent them off to the agent to be forwarded to the mill. At the mill, sample dye dips were created with test spins of my yarn. These were returned to me for approval. It was an exciting day when this parcel arrived. Overall, I approved 15 colours immediately and sent back three for further trials, as being not quite what I had in mind. Once these were adjusted, I gave approval for all the colours, and the yarn spinning and dyeing was initiated.

3. Design the label.

In the meantime, I developed a yarn name and designed a label. This is where my former experience as a graphic designer came in handy, as I could do the label design myself using Illustrator. An eps file was forwarded to the mill for printing.

The pattern is here.

4. Arrange the shipping.

Once the yarn was ready to be shipped to me, I chose a freight-forwarder here in Canada who handled my order from the dock in Italy to the customs clearance in Canada. Ultimately, a big truck pulled up at my door and 40 large boxes of yarn arrived, ready for a new life as beautiful hand-knitted shawls, scarves and sweaters!

You can find the yarn on special until  March 9th here.

Dorothy Siemens

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Secret to Learning Complex Skills

There is a method to learning complex skills. 

In my previous corporate life I occasionally developed the necessary handouts and trained staff to use software applications related to the Telecom industry. Typically we used process mapping charts to teach the required steps as well as to provide reference material for the users when they were back on the job. The secret to learning complex skills is to break those skills down to the basic simple steps and to identify the decision points that will lead off into different directions to complete a complex task.

Once those individual steps have been mastered the total process becomes very quick and begins to feel much more intuitive to you. On one project I was working with a developer and I suggested that the log in process needed to be streamlined. It was far to long for efficiency in a hectic office since it had 27 separate steps from start to end. He argued with me and said "you are exaggerating" and then said "watch this". He proceeded to log into the application in a matter of seconds. So I said "lets try that again in the way I have to teach the staff how to do it". I logged the system off and I pulled out my process map and walked him through each step (all 27 of them) slowly, explaining how a novice user has to make a conscious decision or choice at each step. Once you perform this process many times it becomes automatic and easy but in the beginning you have to think through each step and it seems overwhelming. Science tells us that practice allows us to develop neural pathways that get stronger with each repetition of a skill. Eventually these pathways work so quickly we are no longer aware that we are doing something that takes many separate steps.

Years ago I took a class with a friend who was a new Knitter. She struggled in class with weaving in ends as you knit. I demonstrated the technique to her several times after the class but it just wasn't clicking so she let it go and just kept knitting on other things. Later she tried again and got the technique instantaneously saying to me that she didn't understand why she couldn't the first time. I suspect that it was timing. I think the skill was being introduced too early in the process of learning for her. Perhaps an earlier critical step in her understanding was not yet clear enough to allow this next layer to be added on. BTW she is now a very accomplished Knitter.

The novice knitter who just finished their first garter stitch scarf can't imagine being able to make a detailed garment that is custom fitted to their own unique measurements. I say they can, they just can't make it as project number two! I see so many people who give up too early because they think the process is too complex for them. So please remember that complex projects are within the reach of every Knitter, it is just a matter of taking things slowly and learning step by step. Keep challenging yourself, take classes to learn and ask more experienced Knitters for help.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Patternfish vs. Ravelry

I've had a few questions about why I haven't yet listed my patterns on Ravelry as well as on Patternfish.

I'm so new at being a professional Knitter that I'm just starting to find my personal path. I've had lots and lots of advice from many people which I truly appreciate. The problem with some of that advice has been that often it is completely the opposite from the last person I spoke to. As an example, some say I should only self publish and never give up my ownership of the copyright on items I design. Others say that if I don't get into Vogue and Interweave Knits I will never gain the attention of enough Knitters to make money. Some tell me I have to get a book deal. Others tell me they make so little from books that if it wasn't for alternate avenues of income they could not survive.

At this point every decision I make is just for right now and I may reverse it at any time in the future.

My reasons for publishing only with Patternfish as of today are:

  1. I have a personal relationship with Julia  Grunau.
  2. It's a Canadian company.
  3. Publishing in more venues means more administration work for me.
  4. There has been some discussion about the perception of designers who publish on Ravelry.

Number 4 became a hotly discussed issue at a recent KNIT monthly meeting. I think the problem was that I quoted what someone else said to me which was "that the Ravelry designers seem to be less professional". Now that I've mulled the topic over a little more I think the difference is actually one of self publishing vs. traditional publishing designers. I questioned the group for reasons as to why I should publish in both places since I have already created a designers page on Ravelry which showcases all of my available patterns and gives a link to Patternfish. The best reason suggested was that some Knitters might not want to create a Patternfish account so perhaps I'm losing out on some sales. If you feel that way could you please let me know in the comments section of this post?

I do by the way plan to publish a test pattern on Ravelry in the near future to see what I can learn from that experience.

I would also like to wholesale paper copies of patterns so if any yarn shop owners,  vendors at the retail yarn shows or hand dyers are interested please get in touch with me.

Friday, February 4, 2011

An Interview with...Nora Bellows

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 Nora here and here

Where  do you find inspiration?
I find influence and inspiration in many places, but much of it comes from working hard on an idea. A design comes about, for me, because there is a problem to solve.  The bag, or dress, or sweater is a solution to the problem, but not the only solution.  This is why we have infinite possibilities for design, because any one design can only solve so much of the problem.

What are your favourite knitting and crocheting techniques?
I wouldn’t say I have favorites. . . Whatever accomplishes the job is my favorite for the moment.
How did you determine your size range?

Size range of bags?  I have learned that different people want differently sized bags: either in order for the bag to be proportional to their physical size or because they want to carry lots of things, or because they like small bags only. . . It is always good to have a range of sizes in any given pattern in order to speak to different segments of the audience. 

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

I do look at other people’s work, and I look at designers in other fields.  I believe that being bathed in art only helps art. Cloistering oneself (really, there is no such thing; when we live in the world we are faced with influences all the time) may serve to diminish one’s work. Creating something wonderful is, I think, to be in conversation with the world. This is a wonderful thing.
How  do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters and crocheters?
I am often confronted by the limits of what can be conveyed by written text. Just today I was trying to explain to someone else (over the phone) how to assemble a flower so that it looked a particular way.  I could have shown her in seconds, but to explain exactly what I had done was difficult and I found myself flailing around for the right combination of words.  She was patient while I stopped and started, trying to put all the steps in the right order and capture the 3-dimensional quality of the steps in the dimension of words. . . Video with a few comments would have said it all.

So, I theorize that the “dumbing down” occurs when we realize that there are limits to text and chart. There are paths we can tread as individuals that are impossible should we expect anyone to follow us. It’s too hard. A single pattern cannot always do all that it must when the design is complex. Well, and we designers are trying to make a living.  I would love to make sweaters or jackets or coats, or bags that are ornate, complex, that might take months to complete and decorate. . . But the work involved, the time, the expense. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense. It is better to do a scaled back version that 200 or (one hopes) 2,000 people want to make than the fabulous vision that would only be attempted by 2, or only by oneself.

How many sample/test knitters and crocheters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I would love to do all the knitting myself. . . And I used to in the beginning. But once you start running a business, it makes more sense to get other hands involved.  The quantity of knitters is less important to me than the quality.  I have a few women with whom I work who are worth their weight in gold. They question everything.  I love that.
Did  you do a formal business plan?

No, never did.  Started with $40 about 5 years ago when being an indie designer was not even really a category the way it is now.

Do you have a mentor?
Mentors or masters are all around us. I have some wonderful relationships with people whose perspectives challenge me to do better, to see differently, to move forward. I don’t know that they are formal “mentors” so much as colleagues who may learn from me as much as I learn from them.  We are in an ongoing, very wonderful and supportive conversation.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

No. I’m still figuring out where it is I want to go.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
Huge.  If I had not had a website, I would not have been as successful. In the beginning, what made things start happening for me was a single link to my website. Being smart about technology (not my strong suit, I’m afraid) is one of the keys to success in today’s world.

Do you use a Tech Editor?

Yes.  She is wonderful and indispensable. If, as a new designer, you set aside money for nothing else (no photographer, no models, no make-up artist at the photo shoot), you should spend your shekels on a good tech editor. And you should have everything test knit by someone other than yourself, at least once.

How  do you maintain your life/work balance?

I wish there was a simple algorithm to figure this out . . . Things change all the time, so the way to maintain this balance constantly changes.

How do you deal with criticism?

When I am my best self, I see its value and I am calm about it.  Those moments when I am unsure of something is when I am least able to take criticism.  Maybe because I know in my heart of hearts that my critic is right and that bothers me, or it bothers me that I didn’t make the change prior to the critique.

Being able to take criticism is a process, too. Sometimes it takes a while to see the value in a comment. Here’s what I think: if you hear it once, you are going to hear it again. What I mean by this is that if someone, even someone you disrespect, says something about your work, you will hear it again from another person, from a customer, a knitter . . . Listen to everything. Take notes.  Sleep on it and then let it make the work better.

When, for example, a sample comes back from a knitter and it’s not what I expected. I can say that knitter didn’t do a good job or I can take responsibility for her lack—9 times out of 10 the knitter’s failure has something to teach me about how to make my work better.

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

I won’t go into too much detail here except to say that for me it is much harder now to make it as a pattern writer/designer than it was 5 years ago.  The market has changed, everything is evolving very quickly.  And everyone is a designer. . . I mean, have you seen the Ravelry designer pages? This says it all.

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

Talk to a lot of people who are trying to do what you think you want to do.  Hope that they are really honest with you. Start with a lot of questions that you ask others and yourself:
How do you want to live?
How many hours do you want to work a day, a week, a year?
How much money do you have to make?  (this is just the beginning of a list. . .)

Read about other successful businesses.  Figure out what your contribution to the industry is. What is special or different about your work? Find your little piece of green ground and understand it.

If you know a designer who is doing what you think you want to do, ask if you can just hang out and watch her/him work for a time.  Go to the studio, be her/his shadow. . . Maybe you’ll find you don’t like it, or it was really different than what you thought it would be like, or your day job is not so bad after all, or she’s doing exactly what you’ve always wanted to do and it lights a fire in your heart to change your life completely.

My advice in a nutshell: find out as much as you can about the place you want to go and then make a plan, a thoughtful eyes wide open plan, to go there.

This is just one place to start. . . 



Wednesday, February 2, 2011

How You can get the Most out of Taking a Knitting Class

The best thing about teaching knitting classes is that everyone who attends is there because they want to learn.  It means that even when a student has difficulty with a particular concept they put in the effort to try.  When they do, I get to be a better teacher by being forced to come up with alternative teaching methods.  I have to develop more concise or different vocabulary and I have to learn to voice and demonstrate complex skills in a logical step by step process. 

As teachers we occasionally run into students that are more challenging. I've had to deal with the occasional complaint from other students about individuals who were disruptive in one way or another in my classes.  As the instructor I have to take control and quiet that individual down.  It's a delicate balancing act, after all I'm dealing with adults who have paid money to be there and I place a high value on making sure that all of my students get a lot out of my classes.

I took tailoring classes for many years with an amazing teacher who taught techniques that no one else was teaching. It was "hard" as opposed to "soft" method tailoring for women, based on custom work from the European menswear bespoke tradition and improved to work with female body shapes.  As I was her student for a long time and had completed many projects I started to run into a problem with other students looking for assistance from me because they did not want to wait for the instructor to get around to them.  We all worked on individual projects so not every question was one that I knew that answer to, but initially I did answer the ones that I did know the answer to.  Eventually it escalated to the point where my working time in class was being seriously compromised. I also became aware that the instructor did not like me "helping" other students.  After that when I was asked for assistance I started telling the other students that the instructor did not like me doing so and the problem disappeared.

I've made a short list below of all the things to consider to be sure you get the most possible out of any class you take.  Some of these I learned as a teacher and others as a student. Some have come up in discussions with other teachers.

  1. Put your cell phone away and turn it off.
  2. If you have a personal situation requiring that you absolutely must take calls explain that up front to the class, put the phone on vibrate and leave the room quietly when you take those calls. (Yes, I once sat beside some one who took several calls and held up a whole class).
  3. Listen to the instructor and keep socializing to a minimum. (Many students take classes to socialize but not everyone is there for that reason).
  4. Don't argue about the details of a given technique before doing your own sample often the learning lesson is contained in the doing.
  5. Use the reference material that has been handed out when you have questions.
  6. Listen to the other student's questions, they may be your questions as well. (Many students have the same questions).
  7. Review the course description carefully to make sure you have any required prerequisites.
  8. Bring the listed supplies with you. 
  9. Complete your homework in advance following the instructions carefully. (I once had a student who ignored the instructions on a piece of homework to "improve" it).
  10. Wear your name tag if you are given one.
  11. Remember that if you already know the skill being taught that others still want to hear what the instructor is saying. (The skill level in classes varies widely and teachers need to accommodate that).
  12. Keep in mind that the other students paid to take a class with the teacher not to hear how you do something.
  13. It's faster and more efficient to let the instructor move around the room in a sequential fashion to give everyone one on one instruction.
  14. Be open to learning skills you have struggled with in the past.
  15. Be aware that teachers have timing issues and must move on to be sure to complete all the material in a given course plan.