Friday, April 19, 2013

An Interview with......Amy Herzog

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 Amy here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
Primarily I find my inspiration in fashion--not just the runway stuff, but on the people around me, in the clothes I like to wear, in silhouettes and other style features of vintage clothing. My passion for knitting is really just one aspect of my passion for clothing, so that’s where I concentrate my efforts.

Of course, within the realm of fashion the sources of inspiration are endless! I’m often drawn to subtle, tailored elements of an item of clothing--a pleat here, some texture there, highlighting (or creating) a particular figure silhouette. But I just as often go wild over fabric, color, necklines, you name it! 

What is your favourite knitting technique?
Hands-down, it’s creating three-dimensional fabric by shaping the interior of knitting pieces. I think the process of creating a knit fabric is so freeing, and so different from the techniques used in sewing. It’s exciting to create fabric shaped like us!

How did you determine your size range?
It’s extremely important to me that all women be able to find a size that works for them in my patterns. Since I recommend choosing a size based on the upper torso or high bust, I’ve found that a size range between 30’’ and 54’’ has worked for everyone I’ve come across online and in my classes. (And of course I give other guidance on how to size up the rest of the sweater, should the knitter need it!)

Please tell us about your book and the design philosophy behind the patterns included.
The book is definitely, first and foremost, an exploration of my passion for sweaters we all love to wear. It encourages everyone to stop obsessing over the numbers and focus on their body’s shape instead, steps the reader through the ways clothing changes our shape’s appearance, and then presents patterns designed to highlight the beautiful features of every figure. I include clear guidance on how to determine what modifications your body will actually need, and instructions for doing so. Best of all, the book features 9 (gorgeous!) women of all different shapes and sizes--petite and tall, curvy and straight, busty and not.

The patterns are a little different than what you might expect in a typical ‘pattern collection’ knitting book. They’re all designed to be very easy to modify for a perfect fit, and blend well into a wardrobe for decades to come. So they’re a little simpler, a little more understated, a little more classic than some of my other designs. These are the sweaters you use your very best yarn for, and wear with pride for the rest of your life.            

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
My online time is actually somewhat limited, but I definitely try to keep up with where the industry is going. (I succeed better at some times than others, for sure!) We all have our own take on design (and life!), so I’m not overly concerned about being influenced by others’ work. It can be nice when we’re inspiring one another!

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
Well, I wasn’t aware of a ‘controversy’, per se, but I have noticed the change in knitting patterns over the past few years. I actually think it represents something quite exciting--if knitters are calling for patterns with clearer and more basic instructions, it seems to me that new people are coming into knitting. And that means new sweaters in the world! And that rocks.

That said, I think it’s totally appropriate and fair game for an individual designer to write patterns aimed at a more experienced and/or adventurous knitter--just as there are tons of different sewing book styles, and tons of different cookbook/recipe styles, so too is there room for all kinds of knitting patterns.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I worked with a sample knitter for a couple of samples in the book (and used her again just recently, to knit book sweaters customized for me) but generally prefer to do as much of it myself as I possibly can. The knitting is one of the major parts that I love, so I’m reluctant to give it up.

Do you have a mentor?
Not a single mentor, no. But one of the lovely things about this field is that everyone is quite open and friendly, so I’ve taken valuable advice from and learned at the feet of many wonderful women. I feel blessed in that way.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
Simply put, my business wouldn’t exist without it!

Do you use a tech editor?
Yes, always, and I feel strongly about the importance of a good tech editor.

No matter how experienced you are (or how great your math is), sometimes it takes another set of eyes to notice when things might not be clearly explained, or catch that one small mistake. We’re very good at seeing what we expect to see on the page. Tech editors are the designer’s secret weapon for seeing what’s actually on the page, instead. They’re invaluable.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
Well... ...if by that, you mean “how do you get yourself to put down the knitting every once in awhile?” I don’t. I’ve been knitting for years explicitly because I can do it anywhere. I’m such a fidgety person, having knitting along for the ride keeps me present and focused on the wonderful time we’re having!

But if you mean the larger, how do I maintain my ability to unplug from the business aspect of things and focus on the rest of my life... I certainly have hard days on this score, but I tend to be a fairly happy, engaged, calm kind of person. One thing my life has taught me so far is that you need to jump on the joy when you have it--and the stress you’re carrying around is probably not worth it. So when it’s time to let work, go, I just let it go.

How do you deal with criticism?
I try to learn from it--understand where the person is coming from, what their frustration was, what I did to contribute to that frustration. You can never please everyone... ...but unless we learn from our mistakes, we never grow. So I try to learn from them.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
This is a really interesting question given the many different places people come to designing from, and interesting time for me in particular to tackle this topic! When I began to designing, it was a way for me to achieve some creative expression without leaving the job I love (my day job is in computer security research).

As the original Fit to Flatter tutorials led to workshops, those workshops grew, and I started really trying to dovetail my designs to the extremely wonderful experience of connecting women with clothing that makes them feel great... ...I realized this was much, much more important to me than a hobby-focused add-on to my primary career. The reception to my book so far is making that realization even more compelling. That said, I do love my day job and have over 15 years invested in it so far, so... ...I guess what I’m saying is that I’m not really sure. :) Check back in a year?

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
I think the single biggest piece of advice I can give is this: Think hard and long about whether you want to turn what is now a fun hobby into a profession.

If you decide you do, then think about the parts you love, and what you might be able to do to keep them. Everyone working in this field has the ability to create their own happy fiber profile based on their interests--but it’s hard to do if you aren’t honest with yourself about which parts you love, and which you merely tolerate.

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