Friday, June 14, 2013

An Interview with...Chrissy Gardiner

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 Chrissy here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?

Everywhere! My main source of inspiration is my giant library of stitch dictionaries from all over the world. When I’m getting ready to start on a new design, I sit down with a stack of them and page through, marking stitches that catch my eye and trying to figure out interesting ways to modify them to fit a particular garment or combine them with other stitch patterns that have grabbed my attention. I’m also constantly inspired by garments I see in movies or on the street. My ”The Dude Abides” socks from my book “Toe-Up!” were inspired by Jeff Lebowski’s famous Cowichan-style sweater in the movie The Big Lebowski. I’d been trying to come up with a colorwork design for weeks, and as I watched the movie for the millionth time one night, I was suddenly struck by the colorwork pattern of this sweater. I paused my DVR and quickly sketched out the motif. It was truly serendipitous, because the design fit perfectly on a 64-stitch sock!

What is your favourite knitting technique?

This is a tough one, and I have to say it’s a tie between mattress stitch, which is always miraculous to me, and Judy’s Magic Cast-On, which helped me overcome my aversion to toe-up socks.

You focus on designing socks, could you tell us a little about the reasons why?

This just sort of happened without much input from me, actually! When I was first starting out and submitting lots of designs to various publications, it seemed that the only things I could get accepted were socks. I decided to go with it, and there are really a lot of things to love about socks. I like always knowing what size needle to use to get gauge, I love being able to grab a 400-yd skein of sock yarn and know I’ll get a pair of socks out of it without too much “will I run out? NONONONO!” stress, and I find that socks are a nice little canvas for playing with stitch patterns and colorwork designs. I’ll wear colors and patterns on my feet that I would never wear if they were incorporated into a sweater.

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

I’ll page through my knitting magazines when they arrive in the mail, but I don’t spend a lot of time looking at others’ designs. It’s impossible not to be influenced by other designers’ work, but I do want to try to minimize it as much as possible. I have a terrible memory, and if I see something I like and then want to design something like it six months later, I’ll never be able to remember if I saw it in a knitting magazine, on one of The Real Housewives, or if it came to me in a dream.

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

I think this is a little bit of a tempest in a teapot. There are so many great designers out there, and so many different styles of pattern writing, there’s something for everyone. No designer will ever be all things to all people, so if knitters want something that’s a little more sophisticated, there are designers that will cater to that. There’s a huge market out there for knitters who just want to knit, have fun, and not think too hard. I really try to gear my patterns toward these knitters and teach them a little something in each of my patterns. I have gotten a couple comments questioning the extra techniques I include in my patterns, but I figure if someone doesn’t want a tutorial on Judy’s Magic Cast-On, they can just skip that section!

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

I always make sure that at least two people have knit each of my patterns before I unleash them on the general public. I have a stable of about 50 potential test knitters to draw from, and about 5-10 regulars who do the majority of my test knitting. I also have two tech editors review each of my patterns. I tend to do most of my own sample knitting as part of my design process. I tend to do a lot of tweaking and ripping as I work through the design. I do have a couple sample knitters that I’ll use to reknit a design that I’ve already worked up, but this isn’t something that happens too frequently. 

Did you do a formal business plan?

Absolutely. I’ve actually done a few business plans – one when I was first starting out, then another as I shifted my publishing from being mainly published by others to a heavily self-published wholesale print pattern business, and the most recent when I started self-publishing books. I probably need to do another update to reflect my shift from mostly print to mainly digital over the past year or two. 

Do you have a mentor?

I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of help on this wild journey! When I was first getting my self-publishing business up and running, I got a lot of great advice from Chris de Longpre, Janet Szabo and Jill Wolcott (and I know there are others I am forgetting). As I moved into self-publishing books, I’ve been lucky enough to count Cat Bordhi as a mentor and I can’t thank her enough for how much she’s helped me. Janel Laidman was a graduate of Cat Bordhi’s Visionary class the same year as I was, and she has been a great inspiration and sounding board. She’s the one who came up with the framework for the gorgeous design for my newest book, “Indie Socks”.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

Sort of? I’ve really incorporated bits and pieces of lots of other designers’ business models into my own business. I’m also constantly changing things to reflect where I want to go and how I need my business to fit into my family life (which is getting busier and busier as the kids get older and require more shuttling to and from various activities). 

What impact has the Internet had on your business?

It has made it a heck of a lot easier in some ways and much more difficult in others. I absolutely love the Ravelry pattern sales system – after spending years printing and sleeving patterns to send off to shops, I really adore being able to sell my patterns without any intervention on my behalf. On the other hand, the competition is incredible. Since there are no barriers to entry now, there are an incredible number of patterns to choose from, including the huge number of free patterns available. I try not to spend too much time lamenting this, because free patterns aren’t going away (nor should they). I really try to focus my energy on how I can make my patterns stand out from the crowd, which includes making them as fun to knit and as error free as humanly possible. 

Do you use a tech editor?

I use two, and it’s absolutely the best money you can spend if you’re self-publishing patterns. Seriously, you can hire a good tech editor for an hour for the cost of a skein of sock yarn. If you as a designer make sure that your pattern is in tip-top shape before you send it to your tech editor, it shouldn’t be overly expensive. I always go through my patterns with a fine tooth comb, including rechecking every stitch count and bit of math, before I send it to my editors. The pattern also goes through test knitting and formatting – the tech editors are the last people to touch it before it is released. Having a solid style sheet for your patterns will also help your tech editors be efficient and save you money. 

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

It’s a constant battle. I’ve really had to scale back over the past few years in order to maintain my sanity. For instance, I don’t travel to teach and I rarely teach locally. I don’t do a lot of submissions to other publications any more in order to avoid deadline-itis. I try not to work nights and weekends, even though it’s really easy to do since my office is right there, calling to me. My business hasn’t grown as much since I’ve taken these steps, but my kids also aren’t trying to hide my knitting from me anymore. 

How do you deal with criticism?

I rant about it to my husband, and then I really try to put it on a raft and send it out to sea. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve never been the subject of any really brutal criticism, but even the relatively benign stuff still stings. Being told that your work is boring, doesn’t add anything new to what’s already out there and your layout is cheesy isn’t going to make your day better. I don’t actively monitor reviews of my stuff, and I think that just not knowing what’s out there is easier on my psyche. I appreciate constructive criticism about things I can actually fix (I am always happy to hear from knitters about possible errata), but I’d rather take the head-in-the-sand approach to folks who aren’t fans of my design aesthetic or pattern layout. 

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

Hahaha, if only I could support myself! It took about three years for the business to start making a small profit. The years since then have all been in the black, but the amount of profit fluctuates wildly depending on what I’m doing (how many patterns I release, whether I’ve published a book that year, how much advertising I’m doing). My income covers the occasional mortgage payment and things like summer vacations and soccer uniforms, but I would have a lot of work to do before I’d be self-supporting in a meaningful way! 

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

Expect to do a lot of hard work. Hire a tech editor if you’re self-publishing. Network, online and off! Don’t expect to make a ton of money. Get used to rejection if you’re submitting for publication (expect 10-30% of your submissions to get accepted, and submit a lot – out of 10 designs submitted, maybe 1-3 will be published). Always act like a professional, even if you don’t feel like a “real designer” yet. Don’t take things personally!!!

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