Friday, November 29, 2013

An Interview with... Justyna Lorkowska

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 Justyna here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
I know it might sound cliché, but everywhere. Sometimes I come across a beautiful stitch pattern that stays in my mind for a long time waiting to become a garment. Sometimes it's the yarn, its color, drape - it might sit there in my stash for a year and then bam I have some knitting epiphany and I make a sweater from it in a week. Finally, and I know it will not sound very magical, I'm actually forced to create because I need a particular knit in my own closet. Most of my designs came to life because one of my kids needed a hat or a jumper or because I couldn't find anything I liked in the stores.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
At the moment I'm fascinated by short rows. This technique never ceases to amaze me. It's just wonderful that short rows allow you to shape your garment to accommodate for almost every knitter's figure. Additionally, when you start playing with them you can create really amazing shapes of knitwear. 
Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I enjoy looking at other designers' work very much. I just love seeing how they use different colors, yarns, stitch patterns; it's truly inspirational.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
Knitting patterns I used to know before being introduced to Ravelry were a lot different. Polish knitters can improvise and are very independent, very often they don't need instructions telling you how to make every single stitch (they can even make the whole garment out of memory!), so I must say I was surprised at how detailed English patterns can be. Such patterns are very good for beginners who want or need some hand holding, but at the same time these instructions can make more experienced knitters a little lazy. This is why I like making new designs - there's no template, no stitch counts, just me, yarn and my imagination.

The Vampyre

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
At the moment I have a group of fantastic test knitters whose help is invaluable to me. Most of them have been with me since the beginning of my designing career, but I also love working with newbies as they bring a lot of fresh insight. Their number varies depending on the design. For example, when I make accessories I do not need so many testers.

Do you have a mentor?
Many people I've met since the day I put knitting needles in my hands have had a huge influence on my creations. First it was my mom who taught me the first knits and purls, then it was the whole knitting community: knitters, designers, my knitting friends - they show me if I'm doing the right thing.
What impact has the Internet had on your business?
Enormous. Firstly, because I learned a lot about new knitting techniques from the Internet. Knitting in Poland, the country where I live, is still connected with the stereotype of an old lady knitting socks from some thick coarse wool. Unfortunately, the Polish knitting industry is not very well developed and most knitters turn to the Internet for knowledge about new styles, techniques or even to buy yarn. At the moment my business exists thanks to the Internet but I hope that one day knitting in Poland will become as popular as in the UK or the US, with numerous workshops and festivals.

Do you use a tech editor?
I admit that when I started writing my patterns everything was more like child's play, but it has changed since that time. Now I'm trying hard to make my patterns as comprehensive as possible with a team of test knitters and recently a tech editor.

Casual Lace

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
Oh, that's a hard question because I'm pretty bad at it. We have two small children so I work whenever they allow me to :-). Thankfully my husband helps me a lot, not only with the kids, but also with my work. He's the one who first discusses an idea for a design with me, chooses yarn, and then when the garment is ready he patiently takes a lot of photos. We also manage Lete's Knits website together. And when we finish our work we try to spend some quality time with our children - though I confess to having a small WIP bag with me all the time (because you never know when there's time to make one more stitch, right? :-)

How do you deal with criticism?
I believe that good and constructive criticism is needed if you wish to improve your skills. If you wish to be better and write better patterns you need to listen to others' feedback even if it's not something you'd like to hear.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
You know what they say? Where there's a will, there's a way. Knit and learn, listen to other knitters, find your own style and make it happen!


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Hand Knit Gloves - Motif Placement

An interesting question came up recently about glove design. I've knit many pairs of gloves for myself. I frequently work with the yarn leftover from other projects. I haven't published very many glove patterns, mainly because I hear knitters find them too fussy to knit. I do teach a class on how to knit gloves and the question that came up was about pattern placement. 

A student brought a pattern with her that had a single motif on the back of the hand. Her question was why was it not centered?  The answer is that the motif can be centered in one of two different ways. The first method centers the motif across the total number of stitches between the side of the baby finger and the side of the index finger. That total is normally 1/2 of the total number of palm stitches excluding the thumb gusset. This method seems to be the one most often used. The second method is to center by measurement. The baby finger is smaller than the others which shifts the center of the back of the hand over slightly. In my case the mid-point is just off to the outside of the tendon (baby finger side) that runs down my middle finger. Some glove designers choose to center motifs this way instead of by stitch count. I personally find this measurement method looks more correct to my eye when using a single motif but I know many knitters who would disagree with me. When the pattern used is not a single motif the centering of pattern works best across the total number of stitches. It's often difficult to assess which method has been used in the pattern photos unless there is one taken with the glove laid flat. If you would like to see and compare a lot of glove variations you can check out this search in Ravelry

If you would like to read more about knitting gloves and learn about the various tips I share with students, I have a 5 part series with links listed below:

Part 1 can be found here
Part 2 can be found here.  
Part 3 can be found here.  
Part 4 can be found here  
Part 5 can be found here.  

If you enjoy reading my blog, I'd really appreciate it if you would tell your knitting friends or share links to your favourite posts online with Twitter, Ravelry or Facebook. Word of mouth is really helping to grow my business as knitters respect the views of other members of our community. Thanks!

Monday, November 25, 2013

New Pattern - The Lucilla Drake Shawl

I released a new shawl pattern on Friday. It's worked with a classic top down construction technique. It starts from a small garter stitch strip of knitting.

If you are new to this technique I have a post with more detail here.

The lace pattern in this shawl is created with stacked hearts. They end with eyelets which create a scalloped bottom edge. The entire shawl is charted. It can be made larger easily by repeating Charts 3 and 4 any number of times before completing the final chart for the border.

You can find the pattern here.

The name Lucilla Drake is a character from Agatha Christie's Sparkling Cyanide. The detective story has two versions, one a short story and the other a novel. The novel features Colonel Race as the detective while the short story uses the more well known Poirot. The novel uses the basics of the short story,  but changes a number of details as Christie rewrote her own work.

Friday, November 22, 2013

An Interview with...Ann-Marie Jackson

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 Ann-Marie here and here on Ravelry.

Reedgrass / Photo credit Ann-Marie Jackson

Where do you find inspiration?
Primarily from fashion and landscape. Knitting has a pretty rich tradition that has produced its own enduring styles, and I find them continually inspiring: Aran, Fair isle, Lopi sweaters, 50s and 60s couture, Norwegian patterning, and Bohus knitting are just the beginning. I'm very interested in comfort and layering, so cold weather and dramatic landscape "stories" (e.g. Yukon tundra, a rustic farm in autumn, or a log cabin in a wintry forest) are all rich with ideas, textures, and shapes.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I think cables are beautiful, but anything that produces texture is usually pretty satisfying to me. I'm also partial to clever cast-ons; my favourites are long-tail, provisional crochet, and 1x1 tubular cast-on. It's a tiny part of the garment, but such an important detail for both form and function!

How did you determine your size range?
When I started designing, I used the size ranges I was seeing in many publications - the 32" to 50" bust range. But I'd like to expand this range, as I've received several questions from knitters about altering my patterns for smaller and larger sizes.

Brae Cowl / Photo credit Ann-Marie Jackson

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I constantly look at other designs - I find it inspiring. You can't be completely original; every thing's been done before. But there are endless ways to combine or rework shapes, patterns, and textures to add something new to the design conversation.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
I didn't know there was a controversy, but I have put some thought into the length and detail of patterns; I have yet to come to a conclusion. On the one hand, Brooklyn Tweed makes a point of writing "conversational" patterns - no abbreviations and lots of explanation. And I like knitting from these patterns very much. On the other hand, I once took a short workshop on Japanese knitting patterns, and was totally impressed by the conciseness. The schematic played a much bigger role in reading the pattern, and the knitter was left to use whatever increases, decreases, and other techniques she or he felt appropriate. I liked this because, in some ways, I don't think it's my job as a designer to teach people how to knit. But I do appreciate that some techniques must be clearly described if the knitter is to achieve the same detail or overall style in my design.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I do it all myself. I don't publish enough patterns annually to have others knit samples for me. I also sometimes work out design issues while knitting the garment myself, so I'll have to rid myself of this habit if I'm ever going to pass the sample-knitting to someone else!

Eira / Photo credit James Brittain

Did you do a formal business plan?
No. If I were going to create knitting designs and patterns full-time, or even if I were going to rely on the income from part-time design, I would definitely do a business plan.

Do you have a mentor?
No, but there are several designers and business people that have influenced me very much. Ysolda Teague, Jared Flood, and Felicia Lo are just a few.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
My business only exists on the Internet. So far, all of my patterns have been self-published on Ravelry, or in online magazines like Twist Collective and Wool People. I don't think I'd be going out on a limb to say that the vast majority of knitwear designers (at least, those without formal training in fashion or textile design) wouldn't be publishing their designs if it wasn't for the Internet.

Do you use a tech editor?
Yes. I have taken several workshops in tech editing/pattern grading, and so I'm comfortable doing it myself. But you always need a second set of eyes to find potential errors when you've spent so much time with a design.

Uji / Photo credit Carrie Bostick Hoge

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
One of the reasons I started designing knitwear was because I was fed up with the corporate world. If I was going to work overtime, I wanted it to be for me, and doing something I love! So, now I'm working for a really fantastic landscape architecture firm part-time, I'm converting the family peach orchard to organic production, and I'm designing sweaters in whatever time is left over. I'm so happy doing all three that they don't seem like work in the conventional sense, and I feel very fortunate to have these choices.

How do you deal with criticism?
Like most perfectionists, if I don't get criticism I conclude that my designs are mediocre and the editors and customers are just too nice to give it! Which is silly, I know. I welcome criticism, especially if it comes from an editor or designer that I respect and admire. Which is not to say I have a thick skin - I care very much what people think of my work, and have so far been lucky to get only constructive and well-meaning criticism.

Samara Vest / Photo credit Ann-Marie Jackson

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I think it would be a long time before I could support myself designing knitwear. Currently, I make enough to purchase yarn and make several lovely Etsy purchases per year! I've chosen to continue working in the field of landscape architecture, as well as being an organic farmer, so time is a limiting factor for me.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Know your skills, and know which ones you are and aren't willing to develop further. Photography, knitting design, knitting technique, website design, pattern layout, social media, business can't do it all, but you can do several of them well. As for the others, unless you're independently wealthy, you're probably going to have to find friends and family members to help you at the start.

Short Samara Vest / Photo credit Ann-Marie Jackson

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tips for Yarn Substitution

Having worked in my LYS for a short period of time I often assisted customers with yarn substitutions when the original yarn for a pattern was no longer available. In some cases the customer wanted a different yarn because of colour or fibre preferences. Occasionally they wanted to re-knit a favourite pattern but with a different look. Budget issues also were a reason for yarn substitutions, in some cases the original yarn was too expensive and in others the knitter felt they wanted a better yarn than the pattern called for and they had the resources to choose a luxury yarn. 

I've made a list here of  the tips I used when looking for an alternative yarn and the fibre and construction characteristics that you should be aware of.

Equal results:

  • Choose a yarn of the same fibre, yarn construction and gauge. Hint, it's not unusual for the exact same yarn to be distributed under a variety of labels.
  • Compare the weight in relationship to yardage for equal substitutions. Read here for more detail.
  • Choose a yarn which has similar memory or drape characteristics if you are changing fibres.

Different Results:

  • Choose a different fibre or blend.
  • Choose Superwash instead of hand wash only yarns.
  • Choose a hand-dye tonal instead of a solid.
  • Choose a yarn with halo vs. a yarn with a hard twist. 

Fibre Characteristics:

  • Wool has memory and will retain shape.
  • Wool varies in it's memory based on the specific breed. Some have bounce and elasticity others are firmer and create a stiffer fabric.
  • Superwash yarns have more drape, they won't felt and they have less memory.
  • Alpaca is a warmer yarn, it has more drape than wool and some halo.
  • Cashmere is soft, light and warm. It does not wear well.
  • Angoras are fuzzy and warm. They shed and can mat where there is abrasion.
  • Mohair is strong and has luster but has less memory than wool.
  • Cotton hemp and linen drape well but have little memory.
  • Silk and silky looking yarns have shine and drape but they lack memory.
  • Nylon adds strength and durability.
  • Blended yarns often mix the characteristics of each fibre, look at the percentages to assess which fibre will dominate.

Yarn Construction:

  • Single ply yarns have a softer look and will felt easily.
  • More plies that are tightly spun will wear better and showcase stitch patterns to their best advantage. 
  • Solid colours show patterning. 
  • Multi-coloured or variegated yarns such as hand dyed, heathers or tweeds obscure or soften stitch patterns. 
  • Novelty yarns require simple stitch formats.

Keep in mind when you work the swatch for the substitution that small swatches are unlikely to truly represent the nature of a specific yarn over a much larger piece of knitting. Either make a larger swatch or be ready to reassess once you have a larger part of your project underway.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Social Media and Marketing

I'm sure you are all wondering why the Miley photo is at the top of this post in a knitting blog.

Social media is a topic for all of us in the online world. It's difficult to get a handle on as so many people choose to engage in very different ways across the available platforms. An article that I recently read suggested that I need to be active on more than 7 platforms if I'm going to reach my marketing goals.I'm not sure that leaves me any time to design and knit but that's the subject of a different post.

The discussion about Miley twerking in the mainstream media was fascinating. Is this really news? Was it just a slow news day? What the heck is going on? 

I've linked at the bottom to one of The Onion's fake opinion pieces. Essentially it's all about main stream news organizations creating ad revenue by getting viewers to go to their websites and click. Then they direct you to a video or slide show to keep you on the site as long as possible. Why is increase the ad revenues even more. 

Oddly one of the things I notice in the online knitting world, is people are getting very focused on the same stats. I get questions about the stats on my blog and how that relates to sales. The answer is I have no idea because I sell on Ravelry and Patternfish and there is no way for me to link those sales to followers or page views on my blog. I do know that patterns sales are continually increasing at the same time as my blog readership increases but there is no direct proof that the two are related.  

Correlation does not imply causation, yet I see an almost frantic amount of linking,liking, friending, following etc. going on across all of the platforms. When I ask questions I get the sense that this is being done with a "just in case" mentality because none of us are really sure of what the implications are and which platforms will be a deciding factor for success in the online world.

From Wikipedia:

The Onion is an American news satire organization. It is an entertainment newspaper and a website featuring satirical articles reporting on international, national, and local news. Since 2007, the organization publishes satirical news audio and video online, as the "Onion News Network". 
The Onion's articles comment on current events, both real and fictional.,33632/

Friday, November 15, 2013

An Interview with...Corrina Ferguson

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 Corrina here  and her Ravelry group is here.

Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration everywhere. I take pictures with my phone of architecture, things on the TV. I sketch the drape and style of store-bought sweaters folks are wearing in meetings. I have a bulletin board and notebooks full of sketches and ideas.

Could you tell us a little about your love of lace knitting?
I think the best part of lace is the magic of blocking. You're knitting along, making a fuzzy lump, and folks look at you funny. And then you block it, and it's magic. You've made something amazing and beautiful - it was hidden in that fuzzy lump all along?

What is your favourite knitting technique other than lace knitting?
Right now I am totally in love with slip stitch colorwork. I recently did a shawl called Biellese and now I want to make everything in slip stitch. So many pretty applications of that sort of patterning and I think it's a great way to use variegated yarns. I have ideas!

How did you determine your size range on your garments?
Most of my garments are for magazines so I go by their standards. I've just started self publishing garments - my Dolinger sweater is offered in sizes from 32" - 50" bust, which is about what I shoot for. I figure the knitter can decide what they want to wear, it's not up to me to discriminate based on what size I think might look good in a certain style. And being plus size myself I like having options!

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I keep an eye on the hot right now list on Ravelry. But there are so many designs published that there's no way to keep up with it all. I try to make sure I'm not copying someone else's work, but I don't worry too much about being influenced. I just do my best to do unique things.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
I hate written instructions for my lace patterns. I want everyone to read charts. But I realize that many folks can't or won't read charts, so I try to offer written instructions as often as possible. That said, I think there's a market for all sorts of pattern types, but I worry that's there no way for a knitter to know what sort of pattern you write until they buy it. I don't like it when folks are disappointed.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I have three reliable sample knitters that I need to use more often. I just need to get ahead of my work load so that it's feasible to farm things out to them. Sometimes I change things on the fly when I'm knitting and you can't do that if someone else is knitting it for you.

Did you do a formal business plan?
I did not. I'm kind of coming from behind and trying to make one now. My business grew faster than I expected in the last couple of years, and I'm trying to carve out the time to really revisit that issue. That and marketing. I really need to work on my marketing.

Do you have a mentor?
I have a couple of mentors. A handful of folks who are way more experienced than me that I hit up, and then some folks I would consider one or two steps up contemporaries - if that makes sense. Folks that have more publishing experience than me that I use as sounding boards. I'm very lucky in that area!

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
I wish! Like I said I really need to go back and do a business plan. So I can guide my business more in the coming years instead of just following it where it goes!

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
I would not have a business were it not for the internet. I didn't start selling patterns until Ravelry came along. I was teaching in my LYS and selling patterns there that I printed on my home printer. But when Ravelry exploded I was able to start selling my patterns online. Self-published PDFs are my bread and butter!

Do you use a tech editor?
Absolutely! I find a tech editor way more reliable than the test knitters I had used in the past. I still use test knitters for some work. But having a tech editor has made all the difference in the PDFs I put out now. I'm still going backwards and updating my old patterns, but there is a great difference in my early work versus my current work. And I don't mean issues with errors - my tech editor makes sure my patterns are more clear and consistent than they've ever been, which is particularly helpful now that I'm having patterns printed for LYS distribution.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I don't! That is honestly the hardest part of my business. I get a lot of my best work done after everyone else in the family has gone to bed. Which makes for a very sleepy mama when the boys have to get up at 6 a.m. for school! I try to carve out time for myself during their school days, and luckily when I'm knitting my work is very portable. But sometimes you just have to say enough and put it away and really concentrate on family time.

How do you deal with criticism?
I've been blessed so far (knock on wood) that I've only had really nasty critiques come my way a handful of times. Sometimes I vent (privately) to my closest designer friends, but mostly I blow it off. The older I get, the less it bothers me!

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
Well, I'm married with two teenage sons, so I couldn't support our entire family on this income. But I could support myself - probably the last two years. My first pattern was published in the fall of 2007, so I've been doing this for six years. But I really didn't get serious about things until 2010.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Have a sugar daddy? Just kidding! I think you have to be realistic about the income levels (and the fluctuations in income) that a business like this offers up. Also, you need to be self disciplined - knit design and sample knitting and the like are all deadline based businesses and you'd be amazed how often life wants to get in the way of a deadline! And my best piece of advice is don't choose a cutesy name! I'm stuck with picnicknits and if I had to do it over again I would just go by my name. Trying to change your branding (as I am right now) is a nightmare! 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

New Pattern - The Mary Marvell Shawl

My husband and I spent this past weekend doing photography. I've just published the first of several patterns. You can find it here. If you are new to lace knitting, a pattern like this is a great introduction. Using a heavier weight yarn is much easier for beginner lace knitters. You can read more tips on knitting lace here in my previous post.

I knit this version from stash yarn. I use these two shawls in my class on working with hand dyed yarns. They demonstrate how colour variation impacts the perception of the pattern. I love both versions but I find them remarkably different.

Monday, November 11, 2013

High Fashion Knits

I love looking at high fashion knits and with the Internet it's so easy to find photos of runway shows and fashion exhibits. I enjoy the art pieces that are unlikely to be worn but have an interesting intellectual perspective. 

Designers demonstrate conceptual pieces to set a mood They know buyers are probably not going to place orders for these pieces.  Bizarre unwearable clothing has a place in a designers life because playing with ideas can result in innovations that impact the wearable pieces. They also bring media attention to the more wearable items in a collection. 

Unfortunately I'm confused by the unwearable pieces in the photos above. They are beyond over-sized and I find myself wishing the designer was able to share more about the concept or what they were trying to achieve. I suspect it could be very interesting to find out more. This is one of the limiting aspects of the Internet, the photos end up detached from the explanation.

Friday, November 8, 2013

An Interview with...Caroline Sommerfeld

Knitted Cats at Combers Beach

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 Caroline here and here on Ravelry

Where do you find inspiration for your colourways?
Ooh, this is tough to put into words. It is an interesting process for me as a lot of it is intuitive. Each colour is a labour of love, and takes a lot of thinking and planning, some conscious, some unconscious (in a way) as a colour will take shape in the subconscious for a certain period of time. I want a colour to be authentic to the cat(s) it represents, but it must also – and this is very important – make sense for a knitter to use! I see no point in producing a colour that doesn’t work up into something great. Not all cat colours look good as a knitted item, so that has to be taken into account in the design process.

An idea for a colour comes about as a combination of factors.  With the cat line, what helps is that I have known a LOT of cats over the years thanks to fostering stray and abandoned cats for many years, and I draw on that knowledge. In addition, beyond wanting to do colours based on cats I like, I consult other cat people and knitters. For instance, when I started the Meow line I had a meeting with the craft department of Meow Foundation where about 15 people got together to help me brainstorm the first set of colours. After that I went to knitters to find out what sort of things, including issues like certain lengths of colour repeats, would make them happiest. Third, each colour has specific cats and their stories as an inspiration. It might be only one cat, or it might be as many as six who form the direct inspiration, but there will come a point with each colour where I want to do something based on a story/cat that really inspires me. That makes the colour sing!

The process really is the same for any of the colours I do. There is always an inspiration behind a colour, and it is expressed as that colour. It could be nature, it could be a story, a place, a person, a song, a painting, but regardless there is a reason behind each colour I dye.

Please tell us about the Meow Yarn Collection.
The Meow Yarn Collection includes 18 colours that are based on the cats I have known during the time I have volunteered with the Meow Foundation, as well as the cats I have worked with, rescued on my own, and who have owned me. They are meant to reflect the essence of these cats, and bring to knitters something that can remind them of their own special feline(s). These colours are dyed on a range of yarn bases including 4 ply fingering/sock yarns made of 100% Superwash Bluefaced Leicester Wool (BFL), 75% Superwash Wool/25% Nylon, and 75% Superwash Merino/25% Silk. I am expanding the line this month to include 75% Superwash Merino/25% Silk Lace yarn, 100% Superwash Bluefaced Leicester Wool (BFL) DK, as well as a fabulous 52% Superwash Merino/48% Silk DK singles yarn based on feedback I have had from knitters. 

The goal of this collection is to raise awareness and funds to help stray and abandoned animals. We donate a portion of the proceeds on every skein of this collection to animal rescue to help with this vital work. Currently these donations are all being made to the Meow Foundation in Calgary, AB Canada, but I am pleased to report we are going to be expanding the program to include other charities as well! A number of our customers have indicated they wish they could help charities closer to home, and so starting in January 2014 all the proceeds from yarn sold to customers in the USA will be donated to an animal rescue charity in the USA. As our international sales build we will locate charities elsewhere too, but in the meantime we are supporting a number of international groups who knit for animal rescue charities. 

What is your favourite dyeing technique?
My favourite dye technique is immersion dyeing. I was a watercolour painter for many years, and I am fascinated by how one can layer colours over each other to get the most amazing and subtle effects. I feel this style of dyeing introduces a certain luminosity to the end product that painting yarn alone just cannot give to a yarn. I do incorporate some yarn painting, but it only adds highlights (or lowlights). I work only with primary colours, black, and some brown, and mix all my own colours according to my own unique recipes. I like to emulate the colours found in nature, so the shades of my colours are often different from a lot of the commercial yarn available to knitters.
How do you choose the fibres that you work with?
I choose the fibres I work with based on quality, on how knittable they are, how well they take dye, and of course on customer preferences. I have been a knitter for 44 years, and a spinner for 15 years, and I draw on this background (and on my studies about wool and other natural fibres) when sourcing my yarn. Being a spinner is a huge advantage as I can analyze a yarn and know for sure if it is going to wear well or if it is going to pill. I buy only the best quality yarn made from the cream of the wool crop because that makes for both the best result when dyeing, and for the best experience when knitting. It also means that the final project will wear well and last a long time, and I think that is very important. Many people buy this line of yarn in order to commemorate a favourite pet, or to make a gift, and they want the project to last. Top quality yarn means it will! 

How did you determine what weights of yarn you stock?
I determined what weights of yarn to stock based on demand from customers and from retail stores. Knitting trends come and go, but a fingering/sock weight yarn is always popular because there is so much one can do with it, so this is where the line began and where it focuses – on fingering/sock weight yarn. I am expanding the line to three other yarns including a high quality lace and DK weight due to customer requests. I don’t tend to use yarn heavier than DK as there isn’t as much demand for it, although I will do custom dyeing on any weight of yarn if a customer requests it. I am particular though, and if a colour isn’t going to make sense on a particular yarn then I will make alternate suggestions. It is important that a yarn be suitable for the colour ways themselves, since the colour repeats must still make sense in a knitted garment.

How do you come up with names for your yarn?
The names are based on a number of things.  Many are based on a specific breed of cat. I might have a very special cat in mind that I want to memorialize in a colour, and the colour way gets named for the breed of that cat (e.g. Blue Persian or Russian (Silver) Blue). Some are based on the name of the colour and tied back to the cat (e.g. Cat’s Eye Cobalt which is based on the vivid blue eyes some cats have). One is based on a piece of art work incorporating a black cat I saw reproduced all over Paris. And finally, two of the newest colours include the name of a special cat who is part of the inspiration for the colour way. 

Could you give us an idea of how long the process is to dye a batch of yarn and prepare it for sale?
Oh goodness, this can vary quite a bit between the colours. Some are extremely labour intensive and some less so. It breaks down into two groups. The easier colours take about one and half to two hours to dye. This includes layering colour on top of colour in the dye pot (even the simplest colours have at least three layers of colour on them), and then washing the yarn and putting it to dry. I always thoroughly hand wash all my yarn to make sure it is completely colour fast and at a neutral PH so the yarn will last for years. The yarn is laid flat to dry overnight on special racks (this preserves the spring in the yarn), and then labelled and packed for shipping. The more complex colours may take double the time to dye. For instance, Siamese Cat is dip dyed over the course of several hours in order to get the gradation of colour that runs from cream to deep chocolate.  It can take as long as four hours if the yarn doesn’t feel like cooperating, and just like its namesake it often does not. Maine Coon Kali is the most labour intensive as it is dyed in three separate steps using a lot of different techniques. It too can take as long as four hours for the dye process itself, and then there is the washing, drying, labelling etc. Orange and Brown Tabby have the most layers of colour applied, both coming in at nine different layers.

Do you look at other dyers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their yarns?
I love looking at other people’s yarn!  There are so many of what I call “yarn jewels” out there it would be a shame to miss them. It can be a lot of fun to think about how the dyer might have achieved the effect they have in a skein of yarn, or what dye they might have used, and one can learn a lot from this process much like oil painters who spend time copying the masters in order to learn their technique. I don’t worry about being influenced, because all my colours are inspired by specific pictures, places, memories and so on so whatever I do will have my own twist on it. It is inevitable that a dyer may end up with a colour way similar to someone else, as there are only so many ways to apply dye, but for me I feel (and hope) it will always be unique thanks to the process I use to develop a new colour. 

Are you a knitter as well?
Absolutely! I demanded that my mother teach me to knit when I was four, and I have never looked back. I have been knitting ever since and would never be without at least four projects on my needles at any one time. Well OK,  if truth be told more like eight projects… I love lace knitting, and the more complex and challenging the better!

Did you do a formal business plan?
Yes and no. It is tough at the beginning to do a proper business plan for such a business because initially one has to be very sensitive to finding the right niche and opportunity for your particular product.  Even so, right from the start I had certain goals in mind, even if I couldn’t put a time line to them. However, as the business grew and became a going concern I most definitely started using more and more detailed business plans to guide me. These are very important since they make for better company growth and better customer service. At the bare minimum any small craft business needs to keep track of costs and sales, as well as product performance to help guide their growth. It is important to identify how your money is working for you and to make sure it is working for you! It doesn’t do you any good at all gathering dust on a shelf. A good plan and tracking make sure this doesn’t happen.

Do you have a mentor?
Yes and no. I have always tended to do my own thing in my own way, but I have had one person in particular who has been a great inspiration and a great help to me along the way. She encouraged me to start my fibre business, and gave me material help along the way by allowing me to apprentice in her booth at trade shows. She has been a huge moral support, she is always more than willing to help me brain storm ideas, and she helps me whenever she can with industry contacts. Finding someone in your industry who can act as a mentor is a very important strategy and makes it all the more enjoyable. I have been lucky as a number of people have given me a hand along the way, and continue to do so. In turn it means I can do the same for people just starting out, and that is very rewarding.

Tortoiseshell Cat Inspiration

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
I have a background as a Corporate Controller (I did this for 20 years) and my specialty during this time was straightening out companies who were in a growth position, but where that growth had gotten ahead of their records and systems, and helping them to realize their goals. So I guess entrepreneurship is in my blood as it is something I have done in one form or another for a very long time. My business model in some ways is very simple. Find out what you and the customer want in terms of your product, make it the best it can be, market it carefully, and be smart with money along the way. Never outgrow your resources or diversify faster than your company can support. And most important of all listen to your customers! Great customer service is what it is all about and this is something that I never forget. The one thing I have noticed is that one has to have a very flexible business model in order to take advantage of trends and opportunities. Things can change on a dime if a fad for a particular colour or yarn comes up and you have to be able to respond to this sort of thing.
What impact has the Internet had on your business?
The internet has had a HUGE impact on my business. Online sales are much easier in this day and age of course, and thanks to the internet I have sold yarn to every continent except Antarctica! Social media via the internet has been very, very important for a number of reasons. Twenty, or even ten years ago, advertising would have been via routes like direct mail, or magazine ads, and it would take a long time and a great deal of money for one to gain product recognition and/or sales. Social media shortcuts this and changes everything. For instance, blog posts can go along ways towards making a company successful, and I have been very fortunate to have some great bloggers and reporters decide to promote or discuss the Meow Collection online. It has meant that we were able to achieve some goals in our charity program that we thought would take two or more years in only six months! It is both humbling and exciting at the same time to see what people really think about your product, and it is so rewarding to be able to see how happy it makes people. That is a huge thrill that really makes this business worthwhile, but at the same time it allows me to respond much more quickly to what customers want to see than I could have prior to the internet being so prevalent in daily life.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
That one is tough. I love what I do! It isn’t work in the sense that I have to get up and go to work and look forward to retirement so that I can finally do what I really wish. What I do is hugely fulfilling and so it can be hard to remember to take time off. What they say is true. Starting your own business means a lot of very hard work. The temptation is to work 14 hours a day, seven days a week, and one must firmly take control of that urge and take at least one day a week off or one risks burning out. It helps that some of the inspirations for this yarn, in the form of my cats, will make sure I take the time to pay attention to them!

How do you deal with criticism?
Criticism is tough for people, particularly when it is criticism of something that is intensely personal, like an artistic creation. Yarn dyeing is as much an artistic creation to a hand dyer as is painting a painting. But criticism doesn’t have to be bad. I feel it can be looked at as either something negative, or as an opportunity, and I prefer to see it as the latter. I would much rather say to myself if someone is critical, what is it that I can do to solve the problem that the person making the criticism identified? Often there is good solid help available to a business if they look for it, and this is one of the places to find it. I have been very honored in that there has been very little negative said about the Meow Collection. What little I have seen was very helpful because it pointed out that the line was lacking some of the cat colours that people really wanted to see. That gave me the OK to go ahead and expand the line to 18 colours and that means we can help more kitties through our charitable donations. In the end it was a win-win!  

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
The yarn branch of the company is what allowed me to support myself, and I would estimate it took just over two years to build that side of the company to the point where I am confident I don’t need a second job to make ends meet.  The great thing is that I did it in such a way as to have no debt so I am in really good shape to be able to grow the company! 

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in hand dying yarns?
This is not an easy industry to succeed in for a number of reasons. There is a lot of competition. You are in essence taking on companies like Rowan or Diamond or Noro or any other of the big commercial yarn companies head on. It is hard, hard physical work if you do it right. The hours are long, you spend a lot of time by yourself, and sometimes you will wonder why you did it. If you have a passion for this work it will make up for everything. So you must have passion! In addition, there are a number of things I would say are really important. First, get to know your market. Be a knitter, get to know more knitters, figure out what it is YOU really like, figure out what sells and put that all together! This is key and so many dyers ignore it. Yarns come and they go. You have to know what is current in your market and stay with it as it shifts. You cannot expect a colour that sold well this year to sell well next year. Second, come up with a concept for your dye work that is uniquely you. Don’t copy someone else as it always shows, not to mention the ethics of it are a dubious. It is OK to emulate technique, but dye Your colours in the way that makes YOU happy because others will recognize that passion and appreciate it. The best dyers all have their own “voice” and one can tell a skein of their yarn at a glance. Develop your own style. Third, use quality materials. Like artist watercolours where the professional grade just produces a better painting, use the best yarn you can find, and the best dyes, and make sure your yarn doesn’t bleed, or pill at a glance! Fourth, don’t diversify too much. Yes, one can get 30 or 40 or 50+ types of yarn to dye, but pick a small number of them and start with those yarns. The biggest and best indie dye companies all have a specialty and are known for it. You can add yarn types in as you grow and find a market for them, but it works better to become known for a specific yarn and style and work from there. Really if one thinks about it many of the big commercial yarn companies do the same. Fifth, network, network, network. Attend the big trade shows, but go to the smaller ones as well. See what your competitors are doing. If you can, find a mentor and work for them at shows for a while to learn the industry and to gain contacts. Go to knitting conferences, look at the magazines, find out what the trends are doing. Try to be a trend setter not a trend follower, but never forget or ignore what the industry is doing in general. You need contacts for this. Take knitting classes, go to knit nights, and know your clients.  Sixth, be more than one thing. Be a dyer, a designer, a sales person, a teacher, and anything else you can think of in your industry. It helps you bring in the money you need to make the company support you, and it helps you promote your yarn as well. Seventh, ADVERTISE. Knitters will happily seek you out if they know about you! Be creative and vary it. Use social media, have an online store of some sort, sponsor knitting classes and designers, and as you grow use some print media as well.  And last but not least, never, ever forget customer service. This isn’t about you, this is about your customers! Provide the service to your customers you want from others and the rest will follow. With a little hard work of course…   

Orange Tabby Dougie Inspiration
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