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


  1. Yay! So glad you interviewed Thea - one of my favorite knitters :)

  2. What a great interview from my favorite designer!

  3. Great questions, great answers, GREAT designs. I really like Thea's work and I wish her the best. Thanks for sharing your interview.

  4. oh my gosh! I just discovered this designer like.. TWO DAYS AGO and fell in love with her designs! What a coincidence to see her interview here! thank you so much