Friday, September 28, 2012

An Interview with...Natalie Servant
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 Natalie here and here on Ravelry.

Editor's note: Natalie also works in collaboration with a hand dyer (Yvonne) and a jewellery maker (Francine). You can read those interviews here and here.

Where do you find inspiration?
My initial inspirations came from Art Deco and I think that's something I'll keep returning to. I have also taken inspiration from nature and from textures I've seen in garments while shopping. I'm a big fan of certain types of architecture and my husband has been accustomed to me trying to identify a particular bridge or building while watching TV. I take pictures of a paused program or use Google street view to see more of what captured my interest!

What is your favourite knitting technique?
Lace is something that I really love, but I'm not afraid to try other things. I used to hate ribbing but now I find it soothing. I try to figure out how best to represent a design idea I have in knitting so I use whatever technique suits the situation.

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I don't always have the time to check out everything new, but I'm not overly worried about being influenced. I know what I like and I've got an internal standard of innovation that I stick to. I like keeping an eye on what is new to see where the trends are leading. I do get jealous moments of "I wish I'd thought of that first!" 

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
I must have missed the memo about this controversy. When I write patterns I try to include enough information so that a determined knitter who hasn't tackled the techniques involved before has a great shot of being successful. Sure, they may have to look some things up, but the basic information is readily available. I love working from charts but because I know other knitters would rather work from written instructions, I include them as well. 

I don't want to bore experienced knitters, but I don't want to exclude or shut out people who are starting out and want to make something that they like.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I get a lot of help from a wonderful set of test knitters. I use at least two for each design and  I make sure that any variations (written vs. charted instructions, yarn weight, sizes, shapes, options) are covered. People interpret instructions in different ways so lots of eyes on a pattern help to catch problem areas.
Do you have a mentor?
Yes! When I'd just started out and I was feeling uncharacteristically bold I approached Michelle Miller (aka Fickle Knitter, She was very active on Ravelry and was putting out a lot of patterns and innovating in her business. She's very graciously allowed me to pick her brain on any number of topics. It's great to have someone to go to with questions that I am not comfortable putting out for all to see.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
The Internet is what has made my business possible. I have an engineering degree and my career has been as a software tester. I was working full time when I started designing, giving me a limited amount of design time. With sites like Ravelry and Patternfish, I was able to get started with just one pattern. I couldn't be as successful as I am without the Internet.

These days I'm involved in promoting my business in a number of ways on the Internet, both on pattern sites and through social media. I've been able to reach people worldwide because of our common interest in knitting. 

Do you use a tech editor?
Absolutely. A tech editor is an excellent help to look over the pattern's consistency, math, wording, etc. My test knitters catch many issues, but a tech editor always finds something else that will improve the end result.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
It depends on the day! I've got two kids in primary school. I also do contract work in high tech during the school year. If I've got a knitting deadline, the laundry gets done, but the floors aren't always clean. And I multitask. I knit while I wait for the kids to get out of school or when we're at the park. I've also taken up spinning. Knitting used to be my hobby, and now it's at least partially work. Spinning is my no-pressure hobby, and it's also helped me understand a lot more about yarn and knitting. 

How do you deal with criticism?
It depends on the situation. If there's a problem with a pattern, it's got to be addressed. Sometimes I take a step back before responding to make sure I'm being objective. If it's a matter of personal preference and taste, then that's life. It would be boring if we all felt the same way about everything. If it's something that could be detrimental to my business, then I'd act if it there was a reasonable solution.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I'm not there. I don't know if that's a reasonable goal for me. I love to knit, I enjoy designing, and I think I've got something to share. I'm glad to be in a position where it's not critical that my design work supports me.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Make sure it stays fun. Be professional. Learn as much as you can about everything to do with your business. Meet deadlines. Set expectations for your business and check in regularly to see if you're meeting them.


  1. love the article and love this blog! so glad I found you. I too am an aspiring professional knitter and it is great to hear how others have done it before me.

  2. Great interview! Love Natalie! and her designs of course!