Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Field Guide to Knitters Part 1

I recently spoke at my monthly guild meeting on the topic of why we knit. Part of my presentation looked briefly at the different types of Knitters out there. A member of the audience has asked me to expand on my thoughts and while I started to make some notes I got a little silly thinking about how I would present this information. What follows is Part 1 of my light-hearted take on the various categories of Knitters that I have met in the knitting world.

Sock Knitters (Pes pedis knitcreo)

Appearances vary greatly among sock knitters. Many start with only one pair and then are unable to stop producing. Toe up and cuff down variations occur frequently. There have been a few rare sightings of the side to side variety. Heel construction varies from traditional short rows to afterthought versions and new ones continue to be developed. They are highly competitive, often setting specific time limits to reach completion. They claim to never experience cold feet. The dreaded second sock syndrome threatens the population.

Habitat and range
They are found throughout the world. Several were recently spotted at the Fox and Fiddle on Bloor Street on the evening that the Downtown Knit Collective meets. One was observed, perched shoeless on the edge of her chair to show off a delightful pair of  identically matched striped socks. Many groups exist on Ravelry (94 at the last count). Especially large numbers congregate at Sock Summit biannually. A more recent sighting occurred at the Bata Shoe Museum.
Their calls often include words like double pointed needles vs. magic loop. They have a strong preference for either identical or fraternal offspring based on whether they are left or right brained. What to do about the wearing out of socks, is frequently discussed with many variations preferred as to yarn fibre preference, gauge, darning vs. weaving and grafting techniques. 

Academic Knitters (Erudio knitcreo)

This species of Knitters typically documents past Knitting traditions. They have little interest in new techniques or variations in approach. They care deeply about maintaining and protecting information about their specific area of expertise. If they step outside of documentation into design it's with a clear mandate to work only with traditional methods and to supply a more modern interpretation to keep the traditions alive. A small subcategory exists; usually found at Universities. This subspecies studies the Knitters themselves, mapping brainwaves, studying the peaks and drops of blood pressure and analyzing the impact of knitting on memory.

Habitat and range
They are found throughout the world. Most frequently they are seen at institutions of higher learning, libraries and museums. One spent a great deal of time in the Estonian section of the Royal Ontario Museum a number of years ago and recently another made appearances at the Museum for Textiles in Toronto.

Their calls often include words like heritage and traditions. Often they focus on specific technical areas of knitting or geographical/national origins. Many are teachers who share their vast knowledge of their specific area of study with others.Extended vocalizations exist in written form mainly in books and often in Piecework magazine.

Field Guide to Knitters:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Part 4
Part 5

Monday, March 28, 2011

Did you notice?

I got my issue of Knitters in the mail last Wednesday. My sharp eyed friend Wanda noticed something that I didn't. This is the Winter 2010 issue. Huh??? 

I checked their website it says: "This issue features an array of multi-season knits and a few that are definitely cold weather fare." There is no reference to the lateness of the issue and when we can expect the next one to be sent out. With the exception of a linen skirt and 2 short sleeved items this looks like a winter issue to me.

I looked on Ravelry  but it seems that no one else noticed either. Does anyone know what's going on?   - ETA I found info on Ravelry here.

I've sent them an email questioning why the issue is so late and when I should expect the next one. I'll update this post if I hear back from them.

ETA. I have gotten a response to my query which was: "The issue I just received is Winter 2010. What's going on? When will the spring issue be out?"

The answer from them is: "We have it scheduled to go to the printer May 9. Due to the immense size of the Fall issue, we fell behind. We are trying to get back on schedule by fall of this year."

Friday, March 25, 2011

An Interview with Carol Tomany

Once a week I post  interviews with interesting Knitting Professionals about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry.  I’ve noticed that every one of them makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the Knitting world. 

You can find Carol here and here on Ravelry.

Tell me how you got into the wholesale knitting industry?
I started by trying to distribute kits for Knitted Teacups after I became infatuated with Debbie New's knitted teacups. We worked out a royalty arrangement and I did a mail out.

One store in SK said that she didn't need kits for knitted teacups but she did need a pattern for a Strawberry Hat. I used my network. Got a number for Ann Norling and then started distributing her patterns. She had about 50 patterns at that time.  I then asked Fiber Trends, if I could distribute her patterns and after a time, she said yes. Bev, had about 20 patterns at the time. I just kept adding designers and branched into Organic Cotton, because I found out that Sally Fox was spinning yarn in volume and I asked, if I could distribute her yarn in Canada. We grew from there.

How long have you been in business?

I have been in business 16 years.

Do you run the business by yourself or do you have employees, if you do how many people work for you?

I have mainly run the business myself with part timers.

How did you choose the yarns, patterns and notions that you supply to Knitters and retailers?
I see what is selling and then I look at who is doing this and try to get more of it. For example I sell almost no crochet patterns so I really don't take on crochet designers.  I distribute for Mary Beth Temple because she made the effort to come up to Canada from NJ to meet us.

Also I sell almost no sweater patterns, so I avoid designers who do a lot of sweater patterns. I sell mainly patterns for accessories. The yarns usually find me.
What is the biggest lesson running this business has taught you?
The biggest lesson that I have learned is FOCUS.

What is your favorite part of what you do?

The favourite of what I do is the people I meet.

We've seen many cycles in the yarn industry of the market increasing and then falling again. What are your  thoughts on where things might be headed now?
Everything that has been before will come again except that there will not be that 15year window where designers, like Bev Gelaskas of Fiber trends and a few others were able to earn a reasonable living from pattern sales alone. Free patterns on-line, Ravelry, etc have changed that.  We are still in the entertainment industry; but, people need more entertainment with their pattern purchases. They need blogs, videos on-line, learning camps, knit cafes,etc... Designers will now have to be not just good designers, they will have to be knitting stars.

Did you do a formal business plan?

I did not do a formal business plan. I evolved.  I am a cart before the horse person. I jump in and sort out.

Do you have a mentor?

I did join a woman's business group and I had a mentor whom I really liked; but she was an interior designer and took the idea of organic cotton and thought that I should expand into fabric.  I tried it for a while - but you had to order in so much and the inventory was very unwieldy and clothing designers don't pay and go out of business quicker.

I think that, in the beginning, networking with Ann Canon-Brown of Elann, Bev Gelaskas of Fiber Trends and Jim Bryson of Bryson Distributing was the best help.
Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

I am a distributor so I looked at what other distributor's do.

Did you take any courses in how to run a business before you started?
I taught English and Theater at the High School level. When I left teaching I did bookkeeping for my husband's company and a few other companies.  The accounting experience was a very good lesson.
What impact has the Internet had on your business?

The Internet has been great. I love websites. I've had mine since 1995. I love the blogs, e-mail, Facebook. It has really helped me to grow my business and I am looking at ways to do business almost exclusively on-line.
How do you maintain your life/work balance?

I can usually become very absorbed in what I do. My husband is very good at making me take time for family. I just cut off at 5:00pm - except for evening knitting.
How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself and what advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in running a business like yours?
Generally it takes 5 years to be self-supporting in any business. My advice to anyone going into business in the tiny niche market of knitting is - have a second income, or if you want to make a lot of money in knitting - start with a lot more money.  It is a very labour intensive industry, where photocopying is rampant, free patterns are the given. The end-user can't knit yarn fast enough to support the average designer or yarn supplier. There is already too much yarn out there and the industry changes every 3-5 years.

See another interview with Carol here, in which she works under her second identity as Anne Corcoran .

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Knitted Art of Robyn Love

I've posted before about my interest in knitted art.  I just came across the blog that Robyn writes so her work is new to me. You can find her site, blog and more work here. You can see the title of the work in the next picture. Ninety Knitters helped to produce this piece.  I bet I've knit a lot more than that!

Monday, March 21, 2011

....In the category of this made me smile

I won't be knitting this but it did appeal to my sense of whimsy. Click here for all the dirty details.

Here it is in cotton, the pattern can be found here.

Friday, March 18, 2011

An Interview with...Elizabeth Fallone

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 Elizabeth here on Ravelry  and her patterns are also available on Patternfish.

Where do you find inspiration?
Inspiration is found everywhere but usually I picture myself or someone else and what would be worn in different situations.Usually it’s my students who inspire me they will want to use a specific yarn and we will design the pattern together specifically for them and then with their permission I will grade it to different sizes. 

Maria - this was designed for my mother in law.

Andrea Bear Hat - was a special request from my son’s girlfriend.

Venice top - I pictured myself wearing this on our trip to Italy.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I seem to love them all. Right now I am on a lace kick, but that will change. I think the only technique I don’t enjoy is intarsia.

How did you determine your size range?
My daughter is very petite so I tend to start with her size and range up wards. But it depends on the style of the garment and how scalable it is.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I love looking at other designers work. I find it very inspiring. If I see an interesting stitch pattern I try to visualize it in a different garment, or sometimes it’s the shape of a garment and changing the stitches used or the gauge that will inspire me. I am constantly referring to Barbara Walkers books and Japanese stitch books.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
I have never really considered it.
How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
The majority I do myself but have 4 different knitters that I use regularly. I find I will make the design first then send it out to test knitters; so if there is a problem with the pattern or the instructions are unclear they will make note of it and I can make revisions. I also have them knit it in a different size so I can check the grading at the same time.

Did you do a formal business plan?
No, but I really should.

Do you have a mentor?
Not really.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
No. I enjoy designing as I please and hope other knitters will want to knit my designs.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
I find it great for my self-published designs. I sell them through Ravelry, and Patternfish. I also send display garments to stores at their request as I find more stores are referring their clients to the Internet to locate patterns. 

Do you use a Tech Editor?
Yes, and she is awesome at finding my grammatical mistakes she also test knits for me so if there is a problem with the pattern she is the one who finds it.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
Still working on that. I try to keep the business / design part to regular office hours, so I can knit for enjoyment in the evenings.

How do you deal with criticism?
Criticism is a way of improving on what you do. I never take it personally, because it is usually about the way a pattern is written or the yarn choice, so I use it for growth.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
Still working on that one.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Just go for it. Do what you love and love what you do. You will be far happier for it. It also helps to have a very supporting spouse/ family.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Barbie Factor and Why We Feel Bad about Our Bodies

Last year I spoke at my guild about Knitters and body image. I want to share a little of that presentation because I know many knitters who, due to body image issues, won’t knit garments for themselves. 

Body image refers to a person's perception of their own physical appearance. It describes how one perceives one's appearance to be to others, which in many cases may be dramatically different from one's objective physical condition or how one is actually perceived by others. Many people are so overcome by body loathing that the other amazing dimensions of who they are simply fade away and they negate attributes like exceptional talent, stellar careers and strong loving relationships.

Did you grow up playing with Barbie dolls? I did, so I thought that that’s what grown up women are supposed to look like. Researchers generated a computer model of a woman with Barbie-doll proportions and they said that her back would be too weak to support the weight of her upper body, and her torso would be too narrow to contain her organs.

Jill Barad who was the president of Mattel until 2000 estimated that 99% of girls aged 3 to 10 years old own at least one Barbie doll.

Today, whether or not to give little girls Barbie dolls is often hotly debated by many mothers who believe that they foster poor body image. Take a look at the image below. The real woman is shown as 5’4”, 145 pounds, with measurements of 36" 30" 39". Barbie is depicted with an 1 inch smaller bust but maintaining the proportions of a real woman. She then becomes 6' with the measurements of 35",19", 33". Unfortunately we incorporate these images in our view of the world and then apply negative comparisons to ourselves.

If you enjoy reading my blog, I'd really appreciate it if you would tell your knitting friends or share links to your favourite posts online with Twitter, Ravelry or Facebook. Word of mouth is really helping to grow my business as knitters respect the views of other members of our community. Thanks!

Friday, March 11, 2011

An Interview with...Lana Hames

Once a week I post  interviews with interesting Knitting Professionals about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry.  I’ve noticed that every one of them makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the Knitting world. 

You can find Lana here and here on Ravelry. 

Tell me how you got into the business of running a retail/wholesale yarn operation?
The push (or gentle nudge) to start my own business came when the job I had for over 15 years had its funding cancelled. I had seen it coming for a few years so I’d actually started this new adventure taking wee baby steps while I still had a full time job.

How long have you been in business?
Over 11 years.

Do you run the business by yourself or do you have employees, if you do how many people work with you?
Currently I have 1 employee and several contract workers.

Tell me a little about your hemp yarn and why it inspires you.
Firstly, it’s a natural fiber and I’m all about natural. I first started spinning hemp and really liked the yarn it produced. I knit a couple of summer tops and I was fascinated with the wear-ability. The fabric was cool, lightweight and had a wonderful drape.  I like that it doesn’t pill and I like the fact that it will last a really, really long time. This all inspired my to design my own line of hemp yarns.

What is the biggest lesson running this business has taught you?
To always keep an open mind. Unexpected things can happen anytime and you have to be able to respond in a positive, businesslike manner. I’m still learning lessons all the time.

What is your favorite part of what you do managing your business?
My favorite part and oddly enough my least favorite part is decision making. I’m the boss so I have to make lots of decisions. There’s that little voice inside that often questions those decisions, but I’m getting better at forging ahead with the initial decision and shutting out that annoying little voice.

We've seen many cycles in the yarn industry of the market increasing and then falling again. What are your thoughts on where things might be headed now?
I just recently returned from doing a show in California. It was encouraging to see so many knitters of all ages and abilities come into our booth and appreciate what we had. From what I experienced at this show, I feel the industry is doing well. There are so many “fearless” knitters out there just waiting to try something different.

Did you do a formal business plan?

Do you have a mentor?

When I was first starting on this path, it was Judith MacKenzie who was my mentor. She was living in Nelson and teaching at the local art school. I took her classes and Judith encouraged me all the time. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for Judith. She gave me the confidence to go forward.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
Pretty much, just do “what you love and the money will follow” approach.

Did you take any courses in how to run a business before you opened?
Yes, I took a lot of business related courses, bookkeeping, website design, lots of computer program updates and more. We have a great entrepreneur program in our city and I was guided a lot by what they had to offer.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
I don’t think I’d be in business today if it wasn’t for the Internet. It provides instant information, contacts and much more.
How do you maintain your life/work balance?

This is a tough one…being self-employed is pretty much all consuming. And, since I design and knit in my spare time, sometimes it seems like I’m always working. I do make sure I get to do my aerobic classes on a regular basis. It helps to keep be balanced.
How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?

About 3 years.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in the yarn industry?

Find your passion and the market for it. If you love what you do, it’ll all fall into place. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Knitting with Multiple Strands

                                                           Free pattern here.

When I worked at my LYS, knitters often asked for more economical substitutes for bulky weight yarns, as they are generally expensive. We used to recommend using worsted weight yarns of similar quality, doubled, to make the projects more budget friendly. 

For worsted weights, we would recommend two strands of sock yarn to roughly equal a worsted weight. 

For other weights, a quick calculation approximates the new gauge. If a yarn knits up at X stitches per inch when used single, it will knit up at approximately (X times 0.7) stitches per inch when used double stranded. 

For a much more complex technical explanation you can read about it here.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Body Image and Knitters

There is no such thing as a standard size

None of us are “normal”.  Average is the average of many people; it doesn’t represent any one single person.  We need to be more realistic about ourselves and more accepting of our bodies. Most models average at about 5'10", 115 pounds. The models in your knitting magazines have a bust measurement of 34". They are are taller than almost everyone reading this post.  Interweave Knits asks for sample sizes to be knit with sleeves that are 2" longer than those in the pattern to fit the models. 

As per Stats Canada 2005 the average Canadian woman's weight is 153 pounds and her height is 5' 3". That's me - I'm almost that average as I'm just a little shorter and weight a little less yet when I buy clothing I have to shop in the petites section or do a lot of hemming. So why is an average woman like me considered to be a petite when it comes to buying clothes?  

While sizing numbers for clothing are vague at best I've read that an average woman is a size 12 or 14 yet plus sizes often start at 14 and then use size 12 models for their ads. Does this make any sense to you? The truth is that clothing manufactures and knitting designers have to start somewhere so we have basic numbers in place but they rarely match up exactly with our own bodies leading some of us to believe that we are abnormal.  

Please keep this in mind when you experience frustration with the garments that you knit for yourself. Take the time to adjust your knitting, looking carefully at the schematics. Remember that there is nothing wrong with you; it's just that patterns can't fit everybody because we are all different.

Friday, March 4, 2011

An Interview with...Mary K. Hobbs

Photo by Lou Hanson, Pattern available here

Once a week I post  interviews with interesting knitting professionals about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry.  I’ve noticed that everyone makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the Knitting world. 

Mary does not have a website but if anyone would like to reach her let me know by PM in Ravelry at knittingrobin and I will pass on her contact info.

You were described to me as a designer, pattern writer, pattern checker and proof reader, is that how you label yourself?

I’ve worn many hats during my working career, clerk/typist, Mom (this is still ongoing!), test knitter, designer, pattern writer, office assistant, police and fire dispatcher, receptionist, then office assistant again. But very recently, I’ve found myself without a day job. Faced with the prospect of  yet another career change, I’ve decided to take my acquired skills and occupy my time with what I really love to do most, let the creative juices flow.……….designing and writing my own patterns, pattern checking for other designers and I’m even test knitting again!

Tell me how you got into the business of tech editing patterns.

I often feel like I backed into this business. Knitting’s been something I’ve enjoyed from very early on, knitting for myself and family. When my sons were young, I answered a classified ad for Test Knitters. I figured it was a way to make a little extra cash and still be an “at home Mom.  My employer then asked me to come into the office and help proof read patterns. Soon I was designing and writing patterns. It was definitely an “on the job” learning experience, developing my skills, over a period of about eleven years, from Test Knitter to Design Coordinator! A few months after leaving that position, I worked as a part time office assistant, for the Knitting Guild of Canada. That was back in 2000. And that was when I was introduced to the owners of Cabin Fever and my part time, freelance design and editing career was born. I’ve done pattern checking and contributed designs to several of the knitting books Cabin Fever has produced, over the last ten years. My connection with them, has now led me to you, Robin and this interview.

Could you please share a little about how the editing process works?

I don’t really know that I have a process. I just start at the beginning of the pattern and check everything about it. I check for the mechanics, the math, the conversions, spelling, grammar, clarity, consistency, even how the written pattern itself looks, including any charts or diagrams, fonts, type size, etc. In working though the pattern, I’m almost knitting it in my head and in all sizes, to make sure it works. If I come across something I have difficulty with, I just pick up my needles and follow the pattern and see what happens. Sometimes I learn something new. Other times a change in wording might be needed and I talk that out with the designer/writer. When I’m working on a pattern I just focus and work through it from beginning to end.

How long have you been in business?

As I’ve said previously, my skills were acquired many years ago, but in the last 10 years or so, on a part time basis, I’ve done freelance design and pattern writing, as well as pattern checking for other designers,. Now, I’ve decided to take the plunge and work at building up my own business.
What is your favorite part of what you do?

I think, as in most things, the end result is the best part. To see that finished piece, a sweater, a shawl, a pattern or pattern book in print………knowing that I’ve had a part in developing it, is very gratifying.  The satisfaction of a job well done! Now the real BONUS is to see your work walking down the street on a total stranger, knowing that you contributed to creative process.
Did you do a formal business plan?

No, I’ve not developed a formal business plan.
Do you have a mentor?

No, not one mentor. I’m fortunate to know several creative individuals, who are very much a part of my new adventure. All have been working their own businesses for several years. All are artists in various fields. Making the transition from being employed, to self employment and the freedom of creativity is new and exciting, intimidating and scary all at once! It’s good to have people around me who understand and are willing to share their insights and experiences.    

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?


Did you take any courses in how to run a business before you went freelance?

What impact has the Internet had on your business?

Ah, the Internet………Robin, that remains to be seen. Up until now, I’ve had little experience with the Internet. My business contacts so far, have been more by word of mouth. Now, here I am, doing an online interview, another first. And I’m being encouraged to build my own website, in the very near future. So time will tell.
How do you maintain your life/work balance?

That’s another lesson, being learned. Previously having a standard work week, with evenings and weekends off, I’m finding it a challenge to settle into a routine, working at home. I expect it will take me a while to get used to the idea and get it working for me efficiently.

How long did it take you to support yourself?

I’m not there yet, but hopeful! These are early days!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Knitting and Dementia

I've seen a few articles on this topic lately. It turns out that knitting is good for reducing memory loss. Now that the boomers are reaching retirement age and longevity is increasing, this is an area that researchers are studying much more. Since my Father suffered from dementia it is of great concern to me personally.  A spokeswoman for the  Alzheimer's Society was quoted as saying "One million people will develop dementia in the next 10 years so there is a desperate need to find ways to prevent dementia." Exercising and challenging your brain - by learning new skills, doing puzzles such as crosswords, and even learning a new language - can be fun.  In my case I've spent a lot of time in the past year upgrading my pattern writing skills so hopefully that will help my brain!

You can read the article here.