Friday, October 5, 2012

An Interview with...Alex Tinsley

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 Alex here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
I usually start with a stitch or technique I want to explore, or some design element that I want to design around, and just sort of... play around with it and see what happens! 
What is your favourite knitting technique?
I'm not quite sure what you mean by technique, but I'll say.... continental, in the round, haha.
Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I actually wrote a big post about this in my "other" blog a little while ago:
To sum: every artist or creative person is building off the ones before him/her. Even if you shelter yourself and try never to look at another knitting designer's work, you will still be exposed to fashion as a fact of everyday life (unless, I guess, you're in a nudist colony and avoid all media, but then I'm not sure who you're knitting for!) There's nothing wrong with being influenced by other designers, just as long as you're taking that influence, injecting your own mojo into it, and letting it grow into something new and distinctly "yours". 
How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
I'm not super familiar with this controversy, maybe because I self-publish for the most part and can say whatever I want in my patterns, haha. I try to have a little bit of faith in the competence of my customers. I don't over-explain common techniques and where there's a choice to be made, I trust them to make it- for instance, for "make 1" I will usually give them a link to a site with some increases and let them use their favorite, unless it really needs to be a particular one. 
How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I knit all my own samples- I design as I go, so unless I was having a second sample made, using sample knitters really wouldn't work for me. I have a healthy handful of folks who enjoy testing my patterns, so when I need a tester I usually float it out there and see who's interested... I wouldn't say they were "working for me" though, at least not on an ongoing basis. 
Did you do a formal business plan?
I've tried writing them, just as a helpful exercise, My plan is pretty simple: put out patterns. Keep putting out patterns. At the moment I'm working on a book (link: ) so that's a bit of break in routine. 
Do you have a mentor?
Not formally, though the community of designers on Ravelry and Twitter are wonderfully helpful people who have always readily given advice whenever I (or anyone else) needs it. 
Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
I guess the business model of most designers (at least those who primarily self-publish) is pretty similar (put out patterns. Keep putting out patterns,) but I've never really looked at one person and tried to emulate their model. 
What impact has the Internet had on your business?
Without the Internet, my business would not exist, period. I only recently started doing paper patterns (through Deep South, my distributor). I started out selling my patterns on Etsy, moved to Ravelry when they showed up (and now Craftsy too.) If there was no Internet I'd probably be doing something else entirely. 
Not on every pattern, sometimes I just use testers if the design is very simple. I have a well-worn template and most of my patterns are one-sized so it's not always necessary. I'm starting to move towards garments for the upcoming book and those definitely will require tech editing. 
How do you maintain your life/work balance?
There's supposed to be a balance? Haha. Honestly I'm kind of bad at that...or at least bad at the division. I drift between work and Facebook and snack time and playing with the dogs and back again all day long. I answer work emails when I'm out at dinner and play games on my phone in the middle of editing a pattern. All of my social media identities are both personal and professional. When I need to relax, I put on a dumb TV show and knit (which, technically, counts as work!) I try to give myself the day off whenever my husband has a day off (once a week, usually) but I usually end up slipping a little work in anyway. 
How do you deal with criticism?
If it's constructive, I try to swallow my pride and see if what they're saying holds any water (for example, if someone's found an error in my pattern, obviously that needs to be fixed!) If they're just being mean or offering totally unhelpful criticism, I pretty much just grumble under my breath, give my computer the finger, and move on. You can't please everyone all of the time, and more often than not, someone who hates what they made from your pattern is probably more frustrated about their own knitting ability/yarn choice/the fact that they ignored the gauge completely... after all, they liked your design enough to make it in the first place, right?
How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
Ha! I'll let you know. If it weren't for my husband I'd probably be living in a rented room that costs $200 a month with a bunch of grad students, haha. 

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
First, get ready to work a lot for very little money. Don't quit your day job right away. If you've got anyone to support besides yourself, or you're accustomed to a certain standard of living... consider the fact that you might never be able to quit your day job. There are a few knitting rock stars out there who might make a reasonable salary, but the market is chock full of new designers (and free patterns) and it is definitely tough! 

Secondly, learn everything you can before you start. Read about the business side. Practice the knitting side. Use other people's patterns so you can get a feel for the jargon and layout, and find out what you like and don't like about the way other people write. Obtain a good camera and learn how to use it. Make your first entrance into the professional side really impressive. If your first pattern is amazing, people will take notice, and you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

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