Friday, May 13, 2011

An Interview with...Anne Berk

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 Anne here.

Where do you find inspiration?
I am primarily a teacher, who designs so that when students learn the techniques they have something fun to knit.  I aim for designs that are enjoyable to knit and use, and that will in turn inspire the knitter to keep using the techniques and enjoy the practice along the way. I developed a new way of working intarsia in-the-round, which I call “Annetarsia”. Since no one has done this before, I have more ideas on what to do with it than I have time to knit them.  That is fun, but a bit intimidating.

What is your favorite knitting technique?
It’s easier to think of what I don’t particularly like to knit.  There is only one technique in that category – I’m not fond of working entrelac.  I always try to have something intarsia on the needles, as that is my specialty and I need to keep new samples and designs in the pipeline.  But for personal knitting I will mix it up.  I just finished a lace shawl, and now I have a cabled cardigan started. 

How did you determine your size range?
I really like to have patterns available for a wide size range.  However, with intarsia charts, I can be limited by the size of my chart, so will offer only 1 or 2 sizes. Changing gauge by substituting yarn and needle size can make the garment larger or smaller.  Also, adding plain panels on the sides will enlarge the size.  I don’t want anyone to be left out, so I’ll write from kids’ sizes to XXL for a man, if it is possible! 

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I buy books, pattern books and magazines voraciously, and read them cover to cover.  I know how much work went into them, and want to support other designers. I also greatly respect their talent, and look for insights that will help me to be a better teacher and designer.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
I feel this is not an issue.  Every pattern written should be clear, and accessible for all knitters.  I recommend reading through the entire pattern before beginning, every time, so that if elements seem unfamiliar, the knitter can practice on a swatch and see if it makes sense. I don’t think that anything in knitting is particularly hard, but lots of tricks and variations take practice.  If a knitter doesn’t feel like stretching a skill level for a particular pattern they can move on and come back later.  But labeling a pattern “easy” or “hard” is pointless.  How you feel about a pattern’s difficulty depends on a myriad of factors, and can change quickly.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself? 
I plot out a basic outline, and then knit – writing the pattern as I go, so everything I design I have knit myself.  Often I will have a test knitter knit from the pattern, to catch things that could be more clear.  In classes I teach, I am always looking for knitters who might be test-knitters in the future, because I might need help soon!

Did you do a formal business plan?
This is a good question, and if this was a real business, I would. I am actually an optometrist, and run 2 very busy optometric clinics.  That is a business, and has a detailed plan.  The knitting work I do is more of an avocation, and my mission statement is “Use my powers for good”.  I take it very seriously, and expend every resource to ensure that my students, and the knitters who knit my patterns, get the best product possible.  Fortunately, expense/income ratio and other such issues don’t have to be a factor, because those numbers would not be good.

Do you have a mentor?
There are many knitters whom I admire, who have taught me and encouraged me. There is no one person who I would call a mentor, but the list of people to whom I owe a debt is long.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
No. I have developed one as I have gone along that is working pretty well. My main rule is to work with people that I like and trust, and that I would work with for free, since that may be the case, once expenses factor in. As a business model, it is horrible, but if you remember my mission statement, “Use my powers for good”, it fits.  I value the magazines, publishing industry, e-mags for knitters, knitting conventions, yarn companies – all these things help grow knitters’ knowledge and keep the craft alive and thriving.  I want good, new stuff to keep coming!  If I can help by developing designs, teaching knitters, and supporting the industry, that makes me very happy.  As a traditional business model, this is probably crazy, but it works for me.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
I really enjoy Ravelry, e-mags, and keeping in touch with knitters on Facebook.  I haven’t sold any patterns on-line yet, but I like having the option.  Most of my interactions with knitters are face-to-face, in teaching situations, which is what I like best.  Being able to do a DVD for Interweave about Intarsia was a great opportunity for me, as I could show knitters the technique without actually being in the room, and for less than the price of a book.  Promotion of the DVD was heavily done on the Internet, which was important to get the word out. 

Do you use a Tech Editor?
I have been very lucky to work with great publishers, who have tech editors that will check all of the math and make sure that the format is clear and correct. When I send a pattern to a publisher, my goal is to make the tech editor’s job as easy as possible.  I triple-check the math, etc.  However, I really like knowing that there are more people checking my work, and adding their expertise. 

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
Not as well as I would like.  I work at the office 50-60 hours/week, and when I come home I start on knitting work.  It can get quite over-whelming, and I never get real time off, unless I’m running.  I run 1 or 2 marathons every year, and running gives me time to think and be my myself.  I also try to get 8 hours of sleep every night, and not miss meals.  My kids are grown, and my husband is very supportive, so we make it work. 

How do you deal with criticism?
I welcome critique, as I want people to have the best experience possible.  I like to have the opportunity to explain, correct, or go over something in a different way so that the knitter is successful.  As long as the comments are made in the spirit of cooperation and sincere interest, I’m fine. 

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I think we have already established that I don’t plan to make a dime off my knitting career.  Any money I make gets put back into buying books, yarn, computer design programs, etc.  When I attend knitting conventions, I try to buy something from as many vendors as possible.  I consider myself lucky that my avocation is self-supporting!

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
If you actually want to make this a career, I would recommend doing it from the business end.  Find a job in an LYS to pay the bills, study what knitters want, and start designing and teaching locally, then branch out.  Careers in publishing can be very rewarding, and there are several excellent craft-oriented publishers. Tech-editors are always in demand. 

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