Friday, April 12, 2013

An Interview with...Julia Farwell-Clay

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 Julia here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
I never know what might strike me as sweater potential. It might be the way I misread what someone walking by is wearing, or it could be a stitch I’m taken with, and I want to find a way to use it. At the moment, I’m working on a sweater based on a Clarice Cliff plate I saw in an antique shop.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
Anything involving colour: Fair Isle, stripes, colour blocking. Colour is for me the thing that is most personal about knitting, and I love to combine colours in my own things. I would love to see an intarsia revival, intarsia opens up so many possibilities in the design sense. People can have their prejudices against what they think is challenging when it comes to color, I’m doing what I can to open their minds a little bit.

Could you tell us a little about your experiences with Twist Collective.
The year before Twist come to be, both Kate and I were involved in negotiations with publishers, neither of which came about. As a result of our parallel experiences, we talked a lot about the need for fairness of compensation for content providers, but meanwhile, we knew that we wanted to collaborate on a larger project someday. In January, she called me to ask if I would start a magazine with her. Of course it was the best thing I could imagine, and with the brilliant design work of Irene Vandervoort, we had a mock up in a week. Mary Jackson came on soon after as our web master, and the four of us set about doing something thrilling and slightly naughty. We were going to rock some boats.

Kate and I knew some really talented people to ask to join us as designers and regular contributors, and everyone’s faith in us was really amazing. People just kept saying yes -- they kept saying how glad they were and how overdue it was that something like Twist should happen. It took over my whole life, every waking moment was all about the magazine, there was so much so very very much that needed to be done. It’s not just pretty pictures, it’s yarn support, and contracts, and site management, and photo shoot prep and thrift shop scouring, and asking someone to make us a cartoon for an article and edits and scheduling technical staff, and getting permission to use this or say that or take a picture in Faneuil Hall (if we promise to be done by 8 a.m., oh please?) Kate and I both took on a lot of different roles. We had to make everything out of thin air. The website involved everything from color choices to designing how people would move through the site, information windows and advertiser links. We had to figure out our “voice”, what our design calls would look like, and how to pat the backs of people who patted ours. It was in many ways an uncharted territory for knitting. People were used to free patterns, so we were concerned about what the reaction would be to paying. Knitters are accustomed to seeing a $7 sweater pattern now, but five years ago, it was a controversial idea.

It all boiled down to this. We had a touchstone in a photograph we all admired of a particular sweater, about how that photo made that sweater a must-knit, and what we could do to capture that same feeling. The Sylvi coat Mari Muinonen did for us was a great example of what we were after. I was the stylist for that shoot. I had a whole carload of hip waders and an easel and boots, so many pairs of boots, just to get the right feeling for the sweaters. The photographer, Sadie Dayton, was such a special treat for us to have on board for that editorial, and man, she nailed that sweater for us. The photo was so great: that girl walking away from you, that spectacular back in that wonderful red yarn from Briggs and Little. And because Mari sent that pattern to Twist, even though she was pretty new to design and her English wasn’t up to publishing it herself, she was able to be paid according to the popularity of her work instead of a flat fee a paper magazine would have sent her. It was exactly what we were after in getting Twist Collective out there to begin with.

How did you determine your size range?
I’m 5’11” tall and my sweater size is outside the traditional size range, so I am sympathetic to women who can’t find their size in the traditional magazines. I’d been told that women “my size” don’t knit sweaters, so it’s a losing prospect to include sizes north of a size 12. That's so wrong it makes my head spin. I make it a point to include as wide a range of sizes as I can.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
Sure I do. One can learn a lot from other people’s patterns: how to word something more effectively for example. I’m always looking for a better mousetrap.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
That’s a real thing? I’m not aware of this. That makes me sad, that someone would characterize pattern writing that way. A knitting pattern is an opportunity to share a little something with someone else, possibly to teach them something which is a great privilege, and any teacher will tell you that teaching is also about learning yourself.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
Oh, I would love sample knitters. Right now, I still design by feel; I need to see what is happening to the sweater as I work through it. I rip out a lot. Every once in a while though, I get overwhelmed by what I want to get out there or with deadlines, and then I would love another set of hands that I could trust.

Did you do a formal business plan?
I have ambitions, I have goals, certainly, and I know what it will take to get there. But a formalized plan in the business sense? No.

Do you have a mentor?
In a way, I have many. One of the benefits of what I have done so far is that I have met many talented people who I also admire. In a sense, they are all my mentors.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
I couldn’t do what I do without the Internet. While I was at Twist Collective, I gave a talk at the Common Cod Knitting Guild in Boston about what the Internet has done for knitting -- serving as a platform for creativity and giving anyone access to good work.  It’s a medium for social connections and has galvanized knitting and craft as a social identity. Twist Collective was inevitable given the Internet, but impossible without it. The Internet is why I’m here. Without it, I’d be that crazy lady at the local yarn store who never uses patterns.

Photo courtesy of Caro Sheridan

Do you use a tech editor?
Absolutely. I wrote a blog post in 2010 about how invaluable tech editors are for good patterns and the value I think we should give them. I stand by that post.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
Guilt. And my husband cooks dinner and does about half the laundry. No, he's not for hire.

How do you deal with criticism?
When they are right, I learn from it.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
This is my second year doing design work full time, so I’ll have to get back to you on that.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Oh gosh, I don’t know: I don’t know anything about anyone’s work but my own. Don’t quit your day job. Believe in the power of good work. Talk to knitters. Play nice.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you .... I only know Julia from Ravelry and her group on Ravelry ... It is nice to get some additional insight into why she is such a good designer !