Friday, August 5, 2011

An Interview with...Lisa Kay

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 Lisa here.

Where do you find inspiration?
There is always so much to be knitted that I don’t think of needing inspiration. I just need more time. My queue is full. When I started dating my husband, he later told me that in one of his earliest conversations with my mother, with me out of the room, my mom said to him, “She’s always doing something.” He later realized this was a warning.

What is your favourite knitting technique?

I do seem to play with color a lot, such as stripes, and I also enjoy cables. Lately, I’ve enjoyed knitting in worsted or aran in easy fabrics that finish quickly. I think it is therapy after Morgana le Fay, which was a lace hoodie in fingering yarn on size 4 needles. I shouldn’t be surprised that not many people have made it. It is a huge commitment.

How did you determine your size range?
I have primarily published in Knitty (well, twice, and submitted several times not published), and I tend to agree with their required range, XS to 3X. I think that going above 3X, a person tends to need a lot customization.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I still knit a lot from other people’s patterns. I wait with baited breath for the big magazines to come out each season, and I pour over them repeatedly. Every once in a while, I go through my old piles of magazines and just flip through each of them again. I also look through Ravelry at popular and new patterns, and I like the “friend’s activity” feature on Ravelry, where it shows what other people are making or have favourited or queued. I think it does influence my design, but I don’t think that is a bad thing. It is not the same thing to say, “influenced” as to say, “copied.” If a person looks at the things I have made from patterns, and the things I have designed, there is some correlation to be found. The hood of the “Undercurrent” hoodie, my latest pattern in Knitty, is a bit of a cross between the Central Park Hoodie hood and the Alexandra Hoodie hood, both Knitscene designs, by Heather Lodinsky and Rosemary (Romi) Hill, respectively. I liked the drape of the Alexandra Hoodie’s hood, and the way the “lapels” looked lying open, and I incorporated that into the shape. At the same time, if one makes a hoodie with no other pattern in mind, it is sure to look a lot like other hoodies out there. How many different ways can a hoodie look?

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
I think some things are done by publishers to simplify and/or shorten the instructions. Other publishers refuse this explicitly. Interweave Knits, for example, in their instructions for submission, says that the pattern must match the sample exactly. No changes can be made compared to the sample. Elizabeth Zimmermann wrote that part of her initial inspiration for her newsletter was that she submitted a “top down” pattern which a magazine re-wrote and published as knitted flat, a construction clearly contradicted by the pictures of the sample. Obviously, some changes can go too far.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I have used the Ravelry test knitting pool a couple of times, to good result. 

                                                                                         Did you do a formal business plan?
I don’t have a business. I have a hobby. I publish patterns because I enjoy the recognition of having other people knit my designs. The only design that has even paid for the yarn was the sock. I suppose a person could make a tiny bit of profit by getting yarn sponsored. Certainly, magazines will provide yarn, but then you don’t get to keep the sample. I like to knit for myself, and sometimes I publish the pattern. That’s really all there is to it. I don’t consider it a business. Certainly, I’d never “quit my day job.” I do think it would be a lovely “feather in my cap” to publish a book. I have heard that it doesn’t make a lot of money, so that wouldn’t even bring it to a “business” level in my mind. It is more of a badge of honor than a way to make a living, in my own perspective. The “e-book” and downloadable pattern market seems to be a better business model, if a designer can get a following, since the sales are nearly all paid to the designer.

Do you have a mentor?
One of my very good friends, Ellen Lewis, owns a divine yarn shop, Crazy for Ewe, in Leonardtown and La Plata, MD, and she has given me many pieces of advice, and she also taught me to long-tail cast on. I only regret I don’t travel to Maryland often, any more. Whenever I have a design under consideration for publication, Ellen is the one I email about it.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
As I mentioned above, I don’t really consider myself to have a business. I think that the “downloadable” pattern market seems to have great potential. I like that format because it allows knitting to my own schedule and posting on my blog all the while, and then making a pattern available. I don’t like not being able to show progress on my blog, since I have to “go quiet” about what I’m knitting, if it is for Knitty or a magazine submission.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?

The Internet is the only reason I’m “out there.” I started my blog as a sort of journaling-my-progress format, showing family and friends, and posting pictures of my son. I got onto Ravelry around the same time and started posting projects, for my own amusement. When I knitted the Central Park Hoodie, I modified the cables and called it a “Viking Version” on my blog (cables inspired by Elsebeth Lavold’s “Viking Patterns for Knitting”), I included the cable substitution instructions in the blog post, and I also added my project to Ravelry. Someone else created a “CPH Viking Version Cables” pattern page that linked to my blog post for the cable instructions. That was my first “designer” entry on Ravelry, and I didn’t even create it myself! I had several folks ask for a more printer-friendly format for the cable instructions, and I made them available in Word through email by request, and then, later, I posted a pdf. So, I was a designer!

Do you use a Tech Editor?

The only time my work has been tech edited is when it is by a publisher, such as Knitty. I do think it is a great idea, and I would use it if I had a “business,” but I am reluctant to pay for services of others for something that I consider a hobby (a hobby which already consumes a sizable yarn budget).

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

It is an interesting question, given that I’m claiming knitting and designing as a hobby. However, I do work a demanding (non-knitting) job, and I have a five-year-old son, and I try to knit whenever I have a spare moment, so it is a highly relevant question to me. My husband is a big part of the answer. Chris gets my son ready in the morning so that I can leave the house early (before they wake up), and he does most of the cooking (because he doesn’t like to eat my cooking), and he takes care of a lot of things that make me able to have a few more “spare moments” to knit. I also have to admit that I am a crazily avid knitter. I carry it with me everywhere, and I knit in the car on the weekend when Chris drives us to errands, and during swim lessons, and while we wait for our food to come at restaurants. Chris has used the word “addicted.” This also harkens back to the, “She’s always doing something,” comment.

How do you deal with criticism?
I tend to want to fix things that are wrong, and so I have to work on saying, “No.” I have requests for helping custom fit patterns, for example, and I simply can’t take on that time obligation or the responsibility for someone else’s fit, particularly over the Internet, sight-unseen. It would be a recipe for unhappiness, anyway. I do take great interest in what people think of my designs, and I read comments on Ravelry forums and blog posts to see what people say. I am disappointed when folks don’t like them, but not everyone likes the same thing. I saw, for example, that folks didn’t like the fact that Undercurrent’s stripes didn’t match under the arms. Well, one could always knit it in one piece to the underarms, but then the color changes would “run out” sooner and not shade up the fronts as well… so it is a trade-off. “Knitter’s choice,” if you will. So, for these comments, I simply think that the commenter should do their own designing. That’s why I do what I do in the first place, to get what I want, how I want it. With the Central Park Hoodie, it was amazingly popular, and I looked at it again and again, and I just didn’t like the appearance of the cables, and so I switched them out. I think other knitters should do the same. If someone is drawn to a certain pattern but doesn’t like a particular detail, change it.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I have no expectation that I could ever support myself with knitting. I don’t mean this to be negative. I know there are people who do. They are the superstars.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Be prepared to travel a lot. Get a book deal and then travel a lot to promote the book, giving talks and classes at every guild in every city that will host you. My local guild has guest teachers, and they always sell a lot of books at those classes. It is also great for name recognition. Submit design proposals to many magazines, often, and be prepared for many refusals. If the design is good, knit your own sample and publish the pattern as a download on Ravelry. Post many initial designs for free, to start your following. Many successful designers started with a lot of free patterns. One of my favorite sock designers, Wendy D. Johnson, had a huge number of free patterns available on her web site, and now she has two wonderful books published. Cookie A, another amazing sock designer, had several free patterns on Knitty and now has two books. Start a web page with a blog, and post to it regularly. Get involved in forums on Ravelry. The Internet touches the whole world, and there is no publisher in the middle as a “gatekeeper.”

1 comment:

  1. Loved reading this! I hope Lisa continues to find time to work on and publish her designs.