Saturday, May 11, 2013

An Interview with...Anna Dalvi

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 Anna here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
I find my inspiration a little here and there.  A lot of the motifs come from nature, and me just mulling over what the colours of the yarn remind me of.  But I also like to design things with roots in folk lore and fairy tales.  I love mythology and have designed numerous items inspired by various stories.
My second book - Ancient Egypt in Lace and Color - is a perfect example of how I like to tie stories to designs. In ancient Egypt, colour had symbolic meaning in art. For example, red was associated with anger, green with death and blue with fertility.  The book contains two shawls in each of the six main colours used in ancient Egyptian art, and each design in the book is accompanied by a story from Egyptian mythology.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I like any kind of knitting where things are happening - lace, cables, colour work…..  I really want the knitting to keep my interest, and the way to do that is to have patterns that keep me on my toes.

Could you tell us a little about your book, Shaping Shawls?
When I started designing lace shawls, each design was an exploration of shapes.  My first lace shawl, Mystic Waters, was a triangular shawl.  When I designed it, I sat down and tried to figure out how to knit a triangle.  I figured that if I started at the bottom point and knit upwards, if I made each row a little longer than the previous row, I would get a triangle.  Once I had designed that, I tried to construct a neck-to-edge triangle (top-down) with a spine - that is a triangular shawl constructed by two triangles. That became Mystic Light.  And so on.  For a couple of years, I kept exploring different shapes. In the end, I decided to write it all down as a book, so that other designers would have a sort of blueprint for how the geometry of lace shawls works. That way, it would be a great reference, and people wouldn't have to do the same exploring that I did.

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
Given that I spend a fair amount of time networking on Ravelry, etc, of course I look at other work occasionally. Most of what draws my interest are interesting construction and I sometimes look at knit items and try to figure out how they were constructed.  But on the whole, there are endless combinations of knits, purls, increases and decreases, and I think that as designers we should listen to our inner voices and find inspiration there, rather than trying to create something for someone else.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
I think there's room for both simple and complex patterns. And simplifying instructions is really not at all the same as "dumbing down" patterns.  I tend to think of it as optimizing patterns - rather you would optimize code as a software designer.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I have used some sample knitters in the past, but since I often modify the design as I knit it, I tend to work better if I knit the piece myself.  Plus I also really enjoy the knitting - after all, it's what drew me to this business in the first place - so I would be hesitant to give that up.
I also have several test knitters who knit for me on an ad hoc basis.

Did you do a formal business plan?

Do you have a mentor?
I've been lucky enough to have several friends in the industry.  Overall, it's a friendly place and most everyone is happy to talk about what they do, what works for them and what might not.

What impact has the Internet had on your business? My business would not be possible without the internet. I sell most of my patterns online, to customers all over the world. And I run knitalongs, hosted online.  The knitalongs also draw participants from all over the world and the internet allows us all to share in the progress, share pictures and talk about the design, knitting or just anything at all.

Do you use a tech editor?
Yes, of course.

How do you maintain your life/work balance? I think this line of work is very good for me at this point in time. The schedule is super flexible, which means that my schedule can work around the kids' schedules, what with school and hockey and everything else.  I can knit anywhere - at home, at the cottage, in the car (if I'm not driving, of course), at their hockey practices, and so on. The actual design work and charting tends to be done in spurts and during more quiet times, so it all works well.

How do you deal with criticism?
I try to learn from it.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself? How much you "need" in order to support yourself is so relative that it's almost impossible to answer.  It certainly helps to have income from a number of different sources (e.g. self publishing, books, knitalongs, teaching, submitting to other publications, etc). But even so, it's hard to get all of that to add up to enough to support a family of five.  
That said, there's great flexibility with this job - it can be done from almost anywhere at almost any time, and is ideal (for me) to combine with a young family.  And a supportive spouse.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
It's a great business to get into in terms of starting small. There is no need for large capital investments, etc. Especially not initially - really, what you need is some yarn and needles. And if you're considering it, you probably already own both. But it's not a very lucrative business for both, so be prepared to do a little of everything.  
I originally started in order to finance my hobby.  I thought it was a great way to make some extra money so that I could splurge on special yarn and fancy needles.  Then it grew into something bigger, because I really enjoy what I do. But it's a long, bumpy road, with unstable and variable income.

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