Friday, November 30, 2012

An Interview with...Jane Slicer-Smith

Once a week I post interviews with interesting people about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry.  I’ve noticed that every one of these individuals makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the Knitting world.  Jane is a designer and teacher based in Australia whom I met at Vogue Knitting Live.

You can find Jane here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?

I am the kind of person who sees a pattern repeat in the wallpaper and carpet, then think about how I could isolate a section and how I could rearrange the pattern. I have a couple of images from a friend's books on Arabian horses, stone engraved from centuries ago, I’d like to work into a design without them being instantly apparent. She also had some great art deco pillows on her sofa. Designs in my book included fields from the sky (I spend a lot of time flying!) and also a dry river bed. I am presently in Palm Springs and the hills look so smokey, I’d need greys and blues to create the drifts of colour.

What is your favourite knitting technique?

Colour, most creative being Intarsia, most challenging Mitres. I can paint anything Intarsia wise onto any garment shape. Mitres I am always re-thinking the challenge, between colours and direction of the knitting to create vertical stripes – I would never believe garter stitch stripes could be so rewarding!

How did you determine your size range?

I sell 90% of my designs as finished garments as well as knitting kits. Large flowing styles like swing coats only need about four sizes and a couple of length options. The more fitted a design, the more sizes I need, sometimes 9 chest sizes. Sounds crazy but this means I don’t have to rewrite the pattern for larger or smaller sizes, for either a made to measure order or knitting kit.

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?

I admire many designers' work, but I believe each designer has their own signature, and shouldn’t need to copy. There are style forecasting magazines which give designer direction from the catwalks of ParisNew York and Tokyo.
How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?

Never heard of this. I know magazines often have to reduce sizing options when they need to fit the pattern into a limited space.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?

I have 40 knitters who knit both samples and stock garments. Most designs that are for a magazine, there will be only one garment knitted from the pattern for photography. If required, a section of the garment may be knitted to check the larger sizes. When I design for my ‘Signatur Handknits’ range I send out four garments as samples and then see what changes I need to make to either the pattern or the design before this is sold as a kit.

Did you do a formal business plan?

I trained in the UK and graduated with a BA Honors in Knitwear Design. I worked freelance in the UK, designing for spinners and press officers; Debbie Bliss commissioned garments from me back in 1980, whilst I was still a student. After graduating I worked three years for the largest importer of British wool in Japan. At the same time I started Signatur Handknits, selling garments at a Sydney artisan market. Then Australia became ‘the’ country to visit. I had a team of a 100 knitters, creating ready made hand knits to high end stores in Australia. I was in the right place at the right time!

Do you have a mentor?

I wish I had! Trisha Malcolm editor of Vogue Knitting, also an Aussie, gave me some good advice my first visit to New York.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

Diversify – garments, knitting kits, yarns, buttons and teaching! Listen to your customers, observe who don’t buy and see if you can work something to please all body shapes.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?

Positive, but I just need more hours in the day/week!

Do you use a Tech Editor?

I write my own patterns, and I work with a pattern checker. The last thing I would like to do is check another designer's patterns!

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

Not very well! But I enjoy my work and can’t imagine doing anything else. My husband will often join me and work at a show with me, so I am really lucky.

How do you deal with criticism?

Do people criticize me? Does that mean I keep my head in the sand?

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?

I started selling designs before I graduated. I never had an option not to support myself.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?

Phew! I think it is easier today, especially in the USA with magazines, yarn companies, plus individuals can sell patterns on line. Digital images are so every day too. Rowan was one of the first companies to credit the designer working for them. I doubt a designer today could imagine they wouldn’t get their names on a design! My grandmother taught me pattern cutting for my Barbie doll, so I knew garment construction before I was 10 years old - she was a dressmaker. This understanding of constructions allows you to design with confidence, so advice to a young designer is to do some dressmaking.  

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

New Pattern - The Claire Trent Cardigan

I've got a new pattern up on Patternfish and on Ravelry. It's called the Claire Trent Cardigan. 

The cable and twist stitch pattern in this classic cardigan pops out of a reverse stocking stitch background. The side panels help to offset the extra visual weight that heavy cabling can add to the figure of the wearer.

I've been asked recently by the folks at Patternfish to explain where my pattern names come from. Most of them are characters in Agatha Christie mysteries. Claire Trent appears in The Red Signal, a short story included in The Hound of Death and Other Stories collection. It was published in 1933.
This collection includes the first appearance of Christie's famous short story The Witness for the Prosecution. The author subsequently wrote a well known play based on this story which has been adapted for both film and television productions.


Monday, November 26, 2012

What to do When you Can't get Gauge

Two swatches, same yarn, same number of stitches, same number of rows, same needles, knit by two different knitters.

I recently started working with a new sample knitter. She is a beautiful knitter so I was thrilled to be working with her as well as one other knitter that has been helping me since I went full time as a professional knitter. I'm trying to increase my production of patterns; knitting everything myself has been far to slow. 

We had a very interesting dilemma after Ms. X knit the swatches for the garment we were working on. I'm a loose knitter, she is a tight knitter. Ms. X matched my stitch gauge on the cable swatch but was out on row gauge. On the stocking stitch swatch she was one stitch out over the four inches. I got 19 she got 18. We used different needle sizes to get as close as possible. The rule is less stitches on the gauge swatch equal more inches of width on the sweater when stitch numbers stay the same. Complicating the usual simple calculation are the cable panels worked at a different stitch gauge on the front and back. Ms X did what all knitters should do after starting the back. She remeasured across the whole piece and got a garment one inch wider than the pattern called for. This happens to knitters as small differences in gauge can add up quickly. She stopped knitting and emailed me. I did some more number crunching and considered options. 

  1. Knit a smaller size.
  2. Adjust the stitch count in the reverse stocking stitch sections. The bands have a repeat that can only change in specific stitch increments.
  3. Rethink the sizing.

In the end I went with rethink the sizing. I can accept it as bigger or knit a smaller size. I recalculated based on the smaller size with the gauge difference and that would be too small. Knitting the same size with a different gauge means it gets bigger by two inches in total.

  1. I need the garment to fit me and more importantly to fit my mannequin for the photos.
  2. It's a worsted weight yarn with cables, the fabric is stiffer and therefore needs more ease than a fabric which drapes.
  3. I can photograph and wear it on top of a shirt.
Knitters have very idiosyncratic differences between them. Until you compare the same yarn, on the same needles, in the same stitch pattern knit by two different knitters we rarely understand just how different the results can be. It is not always going to be possible to create exactly the same fabric. We need to add some alternative solutions to our toolkit when these challenges arrive. On a pattern with a specific stitch repeat, a specific knitter's sizing may vary slightly.

Our solution for the next project....I'm going to write the pattern based on Ms. X's gauge swatch and we will test out those results and adjust accordingly.

Friday, November 23, 2012

An Interview with...Carol and Barb of Never Enough Wool

Carol and Barb

Once a week I post interviews with interesting people about their insights on their experience of working in the Knitting industry.  I’ve noticed that every one of these individuals makes their living in a slightly different manner bringing their own unique presence to the Knitting world. I met the ladies of Never Enough Wool at KnitTrade over a shared lunch and we had a great conversation.

You can find Carol and Barb here and here on Ravelry..

Tell me how you got into the business of running a yarn store?

CAROL: Years ago, my favourite yarn shop closed.  I visited every wool shop within a 60-minute drive of my home.  None of them offered everything I wanted in a yarn shop.  So I wrote up a business plan, and the rest is history. 

BARB: I had just moved to the area and was looking for a place to meet folks and make friends.  Carol invited me to her first Thursday Knit Night ... then she needed some part-time help ... then I decided that this shop would be a good investment opportunity.

CAROL: She claims that I can't get rid of her ... and I just tell her that Ididn't even try.  I knew a good friend when I saw one!

How long have you been in business?

BARB and CAROL: We just celebrated our sixth anniversary!  Yahoo!

Do you run the store by yourselves or do you have employees, if you do how many people work at your shop?

BARB: We run the shop ourselves between the two of us.

CAROL: Except for the two "Say Hi to Doug" days.  Those are the days when my husband runs the shop so that we can go to the Knitters' Fair and Knitters' Frolic.  Doug is great at reading patterns and helping to select the appropriate yarn.  Just don't ask him a knitting technique question, because he'll give you the biggest deer-in-the-headlights look you've ever seen. 

How did you choose the yarns that you carry in your shop?

CAROL: I started by selecting yarns that I thought the community would like and appreciate.

BARB: From there, we have expanded to include yarns that we love but they must be reasonably priced. 

CAROL: Definitely reasonably priced.  We have been bringing in some more higher-end yarns that we absolutely adore, and the ladies are enjoying them as well.  

What have done to create a sense of community in your store?

CAROL: That sense of community was one of the most important things I wanted to create in my store when I opened.  We started by offering afternoon knitting group and knitting night.  With tea and baked goodies.  I also had a policy of people being able to drop by with their questions and get help any time.

BARB: We also have a happy (happy!) friendly atmosphere.  In fact, we have ladies who drop their car at the service station and wait at the store for the work to be done.  

The mug wall.  The mugs belong to some of the ladies who come to knit at the shop and have tea.

What is the biggest lesson running a yarn shop has taught you?

CAROL: That we don't get to sit and knit all day!  Really, there is so much to do, but we also make a point of spending time every day at the table and working on projects.

BARB: Keeping track of the bottom line!

BARB: Helping customers fix a problem or to learn a new technique.

CAROL: Having people actually listen to my advice!  (This, after raising children, is such a novelty!)  Seriously, the best parts of running the shop are the people, the wools, the people, and the wools.  

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?

BARB and CAROL: We see a retrenchment happening, especially in the specialty yarns.  The ruffle yarns have  been fun, but they've been around for three years now.

Did you do a formal business plan?

CAROL: That was part of the decision to open the shop.  My university degree is in Business Administration, so writing up the plan wasn't a problem.  I was shocked at how nicely it all fell together.  Then when I found a storefront that fit the budget, I was in business.  Literally.

BARB: We sit down regularly to look it over and make improvements. 

CAROL: Seriously, most folks think that a business plan is a once-in-a-lifetime endeavour.  But you have to regularly look at it and look ahead in order to stay in business.  If you lose focus, you're in big trouble. 

Do you have a mentor?

CAROL: I participate in a couple of on-line discussion groups.  It's great because we all learn from each other.  

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

CAROL: We like to claim that Debbie Macomber modeled her "Shop on Blossom Street" after us.  That book came out just before we opened, but I hadn't read it.  I found it a little spooky how similar things in the book were to things that we were doing.

BARB: I've been told that we are like the shop in The Friday  Night Knitting Club.  

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

CAROL: My Bachelor's degree is in Business Administration with a specialty in Management of Organizations.  When I was studying, I was managing a law office.  Now I manage a different organization, but the principles are the same.  We're just doing it on a smaller scale.

BARB: Nope! I am winging it. 

What impact has the Internet had on your business?

CAROL: It's really interesting.  I have a blog that was started before the shop, and so some of my readers were excited to be able to visit the shop and meet me in person.  We created a website for the store, which has also drawn in a fair number of people.  Last year we started advertising on the Internet and saw an instant increase in business.

BARB: Yarn is such a tactile thing.  It's hard to buy yarn off the Internet. 

CAROL: It's really great to have people come in with print-outs of the website, anxious to pet the wools.  So I'd say that the Internet has greatly expanded our advertising reach, with not nearly the expense as print. 

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

CAROL: Is there such a thing?

BARB: What work/life balance?!?  I try to limit the number of hours at work and thinking about work.  And when I'm at home, I'm AT home.

CAROL: And THAT, my friend, is hard work.  I find that even on our "days off" I'm thinking about work, or doing work.  What's scary is when I start dreaming about work.

BARB: Having said that, work is so much fun that it's not really work.

CAROL AND BARB: Don't tell our families that.  Please!

CAROL: Having said all this, we've spent the last little while creating a 2013 calendar which features 13 original designs.  That took a lot of "days off" to put together.

BARB: Don't forget our own hand-dyed sock yarn.  We dedicate one Monday a month to creating two or three brand new colourways, and that takes a lot of work too. Fun, fun, fun, but a lot of work too. 

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in running a yarn store?

BARB: Love what you do, and don't expect to make millions of dollars.

CAROL: I'd add do your research, and do it again.  Know your market, know what the market can support.  There's nothing worse than opening a store, and having no one come to see it.  

Carol and Barb with their own sock yarn

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Steam is a Knitters Friend

Here's a secret. I use steam when finishing my knits. I pin the corners of button bands out, making them as square as possible, I give them a shot of steam and let them dry before I move the knitting. I use a tailors ham around the edges of my set in sleeves, I leave the first section to cool and dry, then I move on and do the next section.

Why do I do this? I have taken classes in both tailoring and millinery. It's very common for both disciplines to use steam in shaping materials. When making hats from wool and straw, they are steamed and stretched over wooden forms and then left to dry. In tailoring we use padded forms and wooden pressing tools to perfect seams and get into corners. We steam edges and use the wooden tools as weights to hold edges in place while they cool.

The basic technique for hand knits is to hold a steam iron close but not let it touch the yarn, particularly with synthetic fibers.You do not use the weight of the iron as that will flatten and crush the stitches. Lay the garment out on your ironing board, smooth it out, squaring edges and aligning them. Next, hold the steam iron about 1/2 to 1” above the knitting always moving it. Be sure to pay attention to the heat setting on your iron and match the setting to the fiber content of your yarn. Smooth out the knitting in any areas that pull in, for example around cables or eyelets. Let each area rest until cool and move on to the next until the whole project is done. This is not a substitute for wet blocking on things like lace shawls, however it will improve the appearance of garments and can be done as a touch up on knits after cleaning to get them back into shape.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Experts agree.....well not really.

When you read about knitting as much as I do it becomes very clear that even the experts don't always agree on the best path when it comes to knitting. Every facet of knitting comes up for debate. Fibre choices, needles and construction as well as many other items are discussed on the blogs and in the threads on Ravelry.

I'm one of those people who sees the world in shades of grey. I wish I could be more back and white because it seems to be so much easier but I can't. I make many decisions by using a pro/con list. I get suspicious when I listen to polarized viewpoints and find myself automatically defending the opposing view in the interest of a balanced argument, even when I agree with the original viewpoint. 

I really enjoy the Ravelry threads that have opposing views. As an example and edited to protect identities as well as the topic, I offer:

"I have made and frogged 2 (specific type of construction) and will never do it again. They don’t fit."

"I did a (same specific type of construction) and I love it. It is one of the only sweaters that I made that actually fit."

This kind of debate must be really frustrating for those knitters doing research. On the other hand it has the advantage of pushing them to do more research and test their choices out for themselves. (Do you see what I mean about shades of grey?) I think the thing to keep in mind here that we are all bringing our previous knitting experience forward to our current projects. Each choice we make at every fork in the road leads in one direction and not another. It's a good idea to test out multiple options with different projects and an even better idea to reflect on the fails and figure out what would have made them successes. For me, knitting is all about the journey.

Friday, November 16, 2012

An Interview with... Wendy Neal

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 Wendy here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration? 
I love to look through stitch dictionaries.  I'm also inspired by other designers' work.  I love coming across a design with a stitch pattern that I recognize, but that is used in a way I never would have imagined.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I love knitting lace.  I am not much of a social knitter just because I'm usually wanting to knit something that requires my attention.  I am fascinated by how the stitches work together in intricate laces, but also love finding a stitch pattern that is more simple that it appears.

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I am always looking at other designers' work because I find it inspiring.  I do try to make a point of not producing something that looks exactly like something that is already out there.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
I'm not terribly familiar with that controversy.  When I write my patterns, I assume basic knowledge, and I try to be concise.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I knit all samples myself since I design as I go.  I don't have a pool of regular test knitters, but usually use the Free Pattern Testers Forum on Ravelry and end up with 4-6 new testers per design.

Did you do a formal business plan?
No, which is a little sad considering my degree is in business.  I had no intentions of becoming a knit designer, so my philosophy is to do what I love - make pretty things, and assist other people in doing the same - and if I make money on the side, then great.

Do you have a mentor?
Not for my business.  I have a personal/spiritual mentor who is like a second mom to me, and she will listen to me talk about knitting and my business whenever I want.  She gives me great advice about all sorts of things.
What impact has the Internet had on your business?
I would not have a business without the Internet, or Ravelry, for that matter. It took me several tries over the years to learn to knit, and it was finally through the help of that I figured it out.  Then once I found Raverly and realized that thousands of normal people could design and write patterns, I thought, "I could do that!"  I previously had a small Internet business where I was crocheting custom boutique-style baby booties and bonnets, but it was short lived because of the time it took and the lack of connection to communities like Ravelry and Etsy.

Do you use a tech editor?
Yes.  Only a couple of my designs have not been tech edited and that's only because they've been through the ringer with test knitters.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
It's way out of balance on the side of life.  I knit and design because I love it. But when I'm not feeling the urge to knit or I'm not feeling inspired, I've been known to not do anything crafty for months.  And I try not to feel guilty about that.  The good news is that I usually come out on the other side of those times with tons of ideas, and might knock out a few patterns at once.
Criticism always leaves me with a yucky feeling in the pit of my stomach. Luckily, I have not received much negative criticism.  I try to let the negative stuff roll off my back, and hope to use constructive criticism to improve myself and my work.  If there is something that I need to change or fix, I try to do so quickly.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I have been a stay-at-home mom for almost 9 years. I am not in this business with the purpose to support myself.  I'm in it because I enjoy it, and because I fell into something that provides a little extra family income on the side.  Were my desire to support myself, I'd foresee that happening maybe in a couple decades... maybe!

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Know yourself and what you're capable of.  Do your best and be professional.  But relax and have fun, too.   

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


I updated my class notes for Gloves 101 in preparation for Vogue Live in Chicago. I originally wrote the class notes in the format that asked students to do homework. The homework was to knit the cuff and then in class we would be able to move directly into technique. I'm now doing that class with no homework.

Over the last few years I stopped doing single item classes with homework for a number of reasons. 

Here's why, both pros and cons. Please add to my list in the comments.


Class members like to go home with an at least partially completed item.
It gives students a feeling of accomplishment.
Everyone is ready to leap into the new information part of the class.


Event planners don't like us to assign homework.
Many knitters won't register for classes with homework due to time constraints.
Knitters can't register at the last minute. 
Classes sometimes get cancelled for various reasons.
Knitters tell me they haven't always used all of the homework in some classes.
Some knitters turn up without having done the homework.
Some knitters turn up with homework incorrectly done.

Monday, November 12, 2012

How to Sew your Shoulder Seams Together

I join my shoulders seams in one of two ways. On a straight edge shoulder I either use three needle cast off or I sew the already cast off edges together in the way I explain below. 

For a simplified version of three needle cast off see this post.

When joining a shaped shoulder seam, I cast off both edges  and seam together matching the columns of stitches. I want those columns to line up as closely as possible. Most instructions tell you to match the V shape of each stitch. (I'll focus on stocking stitch here.) I find this confuses the process for me because the V is right side up on the bottom piece but upside down on the top piece. That assumes you are laying the front and back of the garment out vertically. Many knitters lay the two pieces horizontally which adds another wrinkle. I'm hoping that my frame of reference may help some knitters visualize this in a different manner. I ignore the V's and look for an X instead. Be naughty here, and think of each V as having two legs that are spread.

It looks like this:


But I think of it like this, with the points aligned:


My second trick to align the stitches, is to keep in mind the half stitch mismatch between the upper and lower garment piece. If you have every worked in the opposite direction after removing a provisional cast on or done Kitchener stitch you will know what I'm referring to. When one piece is turned in the opposite direction there is one less stitch running down than up. When joining you must account for the half stitch jog. It appears only at the edge in stocking stitch. That means your first stitch is under one leg only at the outside but the next stitches all go under two legs. If you start on the top, go under one leg,  * cross to the bottom piece and go under the two legs at the top of the V, cross back to the top and go under the two legs at the bottom of the V. Repeat from * moving over one V on every pass. At this point it becomes valuable to think of Xs. At the very end go under one leg only on the top piece. If there are two legs left that means you went wrong somewhere. The two halves at each end make a whole stitch which account for the jog.

The final consideration is the path of the joining yarn, it crosses from one side to the other and "wants" to make a connection in a perpendicular orientation to the knitting. This will pull the columns together vertically, especially if you maintain an even tension on each side. However there will still be a slight visual break due to opposing directionality of the Vs.

Take a look at my drawings below. One shows X's, the other shows the loop of each stitch in its entirety. You are joining the loops, however the loops are not visible in the finished knitting. Notice that in the loop drawing, the top of the "heads" of each loop align due to the half stitch at the beginning and end of of the top row.