Friday, May 3, 2013

An Interview with...Joy Gerhardt

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 Joy here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
My designs are born out of all sorts of things - architecture and landscape, stitch patterns, art... But most of the time, they come from my desire to try a new method of construction or an interesting technique. For instance, one of my first designs was the Interwoven hat, where I wanted to explore the idea of cables that start horizontally and continue seamlessly up the fabric, even when the direction of knitting has changed.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I'm a big fan of Cat Bordhi - and I think her centre-out moebius is one of the most ingenious and fun types of knitting there is. I love watching the fabric grow from the centre of the scarf, cowl, or wrap, and the finished moebius is like an Escher print come to life! In my Garden Path Moebius, I combined a moebius with one of my other favourite design features - ruffles. Ruffles aren't for everybody, and all that increasing can sometimes be a pain to knit, but I find them really charming when used in moderation.
How did you determine your size range?
I'm a larger girl myself, so for garments I find it important to offer a wide range of sizes (my first two garment designs are presently in the works). With the help of Excel and a good set of standard measurements, it's not that much extra effort to grade a design into many sizes both big and small, and I think it adds a lot of value.

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I'm not afraid to admit I'm a bit of a Ravelry addict - and I think it's important to watch the trends, both in the knitting world and in fashion overall. I don't worry about being influenced - after all, artists piggybacking off each others' work is how art movements and trends are born. On the one hand they say there's nothing new under the sun, and on the other hand I think people can always add a new spin on an old idea, and that can be a really good thing.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
Many of my designs skew intermediate/advanced because those are the things I like to knit. There's a place in the market for patterns of all levels, from the most basic items for beginners to the most intricate lace or colorwork.
That having been said, one thing I've had to learn is to not try to fit too much into a design. Elegant simplicity is superior to overcomplication. A design with too many elements will feel crowded and no one element will be able to stand out. Similarly, a pattern with too much extra information sometimes just isn't necessary. Sometimes adding extra tutorials and explanatory notes will strengthen a pattern and make it clearer - but sometimes it will just further confuse things, which is something I have struggled with. 

Do you use a tech editor?
Yes - for me, the hardest part of designing and pattern-writing is making sure my instructions are clear. I can come up with an idea, but that doesn't mean I can explain it well! For that reason, I find a tech editor to be invaluable.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I don't use sample knitters but I do try to get my patterns tested if time allows. I feel that tech editing and test knitting complement each other well - the tech editor will check all the numbers and make sure things are consistent and clear, and the testers can uncover other issues through the process of knitting. The way I see it, the more eyes looking over my pattern, the better the final result is going to be.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
If it weren't for the Internet, I wouldn't be designing - heck, if it weren't for the Internet, I might not even be a knitter in the first place! The wealth of resources and community on the web are what fueled my fibre passion, right from the start. The web has also spawned a lot of great online magazines with high production standards and designer-friendly policies. There's a lot of competition these days but I'd say it's a good time to be a knitwear designer.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I have a day job, so it's more like a work/work balance. ;) I don't have as much time to spend on designing as I would like, now that I'm working full-time. I was fortunate enough to have a short period where I was able to work nearly full-time on my designing, which allowed me to build up my portfolio. Now I'm focusing on self-published work, which has the benefit of being much more flexible.

How do you deal with criticism?
I try to take everything as coming from a good place. Feedback from knitters is really important to me, because even after tech editing and test knitting, sometimes errors will slip through. Criticism comes in two forms: Something I can learn from, and something I can't. If I can learn from it, I will - I'll fix the error, or make the instructions clearer, or I'll know something for next time. If I can't learn from it, then it's best not to pay attention to it.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Do things right from the start, to the best of your ability. There is such a wealth of information available now - on Ravelry, on blogs like this one, in classes and books - that a budding designer can read up on everything and really get off to a professional start. I did some things as a newbie designer that in hindsight I wouldn't have done.
We live and learn, and I've learned a lot and I'm sure I still have much more to learn. But I think with the increased competition it is more important than ever to produce a quality product in order to stand out from the crowd. If you can develop your photography and writing skills, get things properly tech edited, and promote yourself effectively right from the start, you're already ahead of a lot of other people.          

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