Friday, January 25, 2013

An Interview with... Carol Sulcoski

Photo credit Franklin Habit

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.
You can find Carol here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
When it comes to hand dyeing, I find inspiration anywhere there is color: in nature, a photo or postcard, an animal or bird, textiles, and more abstract things, like a word or character from a book that is especially evocative or a piece of music or a concept. Sometimes in my dyeing I will find myself fascinated by a particular color and the shades that it comes in, or the way that two colors play off against each other, a kind of theme and variations.
Photo credit Carrie Bostick Hoge/Lark Crafts c. 2012

With designing, I can be inspired by color and color combinations, especially when thinking about stranded designs; shapes can lead to me thinking about cables and stitch texture; a particular yarn might intrigue me and make me wonder what kind of garment and stitch pattern would show it off best. Sometimes I will see a neckline, or a shape of a garment—not necessarily a knitted one—and wonder what would happen if I tried playing with it or combining that with something else. I might see a photo of a vintage garment and be inspired to update it, or a historical costume or painting that leads me to an idea. A lot of times I’ll leaf through stitch dictionaries and see a stitch pattern that looks interesting, and will riff off that.

Photo credit St-Denis Yarns

What is your favourite knitting technique?

I’m fickle. There are times when I get obsessed with a technique, say stranded knitting, or lacy stitches, and then some other technique catches my eye and I get fascinated with that. And then there are times when I am in the mood for some nice relaxing stockinette stitch…

How did you determine your size range?

When I design for magazines or books, they usually give me a guideline for what they would like, say “five sizes ranging from S to 2XL” or something like that.  When I have the option of picking size ranges, I do like to be as inclusive as I can given the constraints of the pattern (not every pattern can be graded to an infinite number of sizes). I have a friend who is an adult extra-small and she made me aware of remembering to include sizes on the smaller end of the range. It seems like the industry is becoming more aware of sizing patterns up to include plus sizes, which is good. That being said, it’s not possible to provide patterns that will fit every body in the world, so I think knitters need to inform themselves about tweaking patterns to fit their individual body sizes. The effort it takes to learn about fit and even relatively small alterations pays big dividends when it comes to finishing a sweater and loving the way it fits.

Photo credit Vogue Knitting/Rose Callahan

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

I don’t think it’s possible to love knitting and to not want to see what other designers are doing! I tend to look at favorite sources for patterns, such as Vogue Knitting or Twist Collective, or the work of particular designers I love, and keep tabs on what they are doing, but I can’t spend too much time looking at what’s out there and don’t want my work to be derivative. When I go online and see how many patterns there are, I find it squelches my creativity. It makes me think that with all of that out there, who could possible think of anything new—and that’s the worst mindset to try to create from. 

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?

I think it’s a big wide knitting world and people should write patterns the way that works for them and their customers. If your patterns are aimed at more advanced knitters, you probably will write them with less explanatory material and more concisely; if your niche is beginner knitters or people who want to kick back and relax rather than challenge themselves with their knitting (and that is not to suggest that either is wrong or right), you’ll probably be more successful writing more detailed patterns. Everyone has to find their market segment and balance the advantages and disadvantages of each approach. Likewise, knitters can find out which patterns they prefer to make and “vote” for the style they like by buying those patterns.

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

It varies. I do a lot myself since I like to see how things will develop and change or tweak things if necessary. However, when working on a book, I need to have test knitters and have a handful of trusted ones I can use.

Did you do a formal business plan?

No, I kind of fell into all of this as a second career.

Do you have a mentor?

The fiber world is full of very generous, talented people who have shared their knowledge with me and encouraged me at various times. I can’t point to a specific single person who I’d call “mentor,” but different people have helped me greatly at different times. I treasure them all.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

Not particularly; as I mentioned earlier, I entered the fiber world as a matter of serendipity rather than as a conscious decision.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?

My business wouldn’t exist without the Internet! My fascination with knitting really took off when I started following knitting blogs and other websites. I began by blogging, and encouragement from readers led to pursue working in the field. My earliest designs were published in on-line knitting magazines like Knitty (and some that aren’t around anymore, unfortunately). I do a lot of yarn- and pattern-selling online, and I still blog regularly. I’ve also found that social networking sites like Ravelry and Facebook have helped me become better known in the field and keep knitters engaged and enthusiastic about what’s going on in the fiber world.


Photo credit Carrie Bostick Hoge/Lark Crafts c. 2012

Do you use a tech editor?

Patterns I sell or license to magazines, books and yarn companies are always tech-edited. For my own line of patterns, it depends on how extensive the pattern is and whether it is sized, and I sometimes trade off tech-editing with other designers.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

It can be a struggle. But I have three kids at home, and they are wonderful at keeping me grounded and forcing me to pay attention to things other than knitting. One of the beautiful things about knitting is that it’s portable, so I can take projects with me while watching football halftime shows or waiting for ballet practice to finish up. I also have non-knitting interests that engage me; for example, I’m a fanatical reader and I recently took up sewing and quilting.

How do you deal with criticism?

It can be tough to deal with criticism, but any time you put something creative out there in the world, you have to accept that people will have opinions about it. It’s just part of the creative world. It’s as big a mistake to dismiss all criticism as it is to believe it all, so I try to distinguish between constructive criticism and gratuitous meanness. I try to consider whether the criticism is comes from someone familiar with my work; if so, I consider whether they have a legitimate point; and I try to think about what I can learn from the criticism. On the other hand, if it’s just someone getting their hate on, or who has different taste, you have to ignore it. There are millions of knitters and it simply isn’t possible to appeal to every single one.

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

I’m still waiting. It is extremely difficult to support oneself in this business, and if this were not a second income stream for my family, I probably would have to scale down my knitting work and get a more traditional day job.

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

Think carefully about exactly what place in the industry you’d like to have: designing, writing, test-knitting, owning a shop, teaching, whatever. Do the math to see if you can support yourself in the lifestyle you want to live, and take into account the start-up period it usually takes to get established. Educate yourself as much as you can before taking the plunge. Realize that you will have to begin treating what was a hobby as a business; that means you can’t always knit what you want when you want to, and you may end up knitting when you’d rather do something else (and believe it or not, that time will come!). Be as professional as you can be from the very beginning, including your on-line presence. And get a new hobby: you’ll need to have something you do just for fun when you simply cannot knit another stitch.

 The 3 photos below were all taken by Carol of her own gorgeous hand dyed yarns.


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