Friday, November 1, 2013

An Interview with ... Bristol Ivy

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 Bristol here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
Everywhere! I watch a lot of period dramas, and the lines and drape of the vintage garments will often get my brain moving. I'm also a big fan of "what if" moments involving technique--what if you played with the rate of increase in a tradition shawl shape? What if you started at an unusual corner of a sweater? What if you used shawl shaping as the inset on a cowl? I love daydreaming the possibilities inherent in unconventional techniques. And, if all else fails and I'm looking for shape and stitch inspiration, then I go to Pinterest. There are some amazing textile inspiration boards out there, and it's always so invigorating and inspiring to see what others are doing in our field.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
There are way too many of them to count, and they change constantly! Right now I'm crushing hard on tuck stitches, fisherman's rib, and brioche.  Winters here in Maine are rough, and having a big, textured, cuddly piece of brioche to wrap up in is a necessity. I also love a good clean tubular cast on, i-cord bind-offs, and any technique that blows my mind.

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I love looking at other people's work! I love seeing how people approach the same basic garments with their own individuality and creativity. One of the great things about the current industry is that there's so much sharing, discussion, and collaboration--I feel so lucky to be able to see the working processes of so many amazing designers. It definitely encourages me to keep pushing my own boundaries!

Could you tell us a little about your fascinating blog posts on The Stock(inette) Market?
Haha, I've always been a stats geek. I was an anthropology major in college (and was planning on heading to graduate school for symbolic and cognitive anthropology before deciding to pursue fiber arts as a career), and love looking at how trends develop and how people respond.  When Hot Right Now became more prominent in the Ravelry community, it seemed like the perfect way to start tracking trends industry-wide. I had already started doing some background work on pattern sales at my day job with Brooklyn Tweed, and this became the natural extension of that into a publicly available format.  To date, I've gathered over 9 million data points from twice-daily data collection of the first page of Hot Right Now, tracking for garment type, fabric type, yarn type, color, and whether or not the garment is modeled.  It's been a lot of fun--it's like a knitting forecast!

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
Honestly, a little frustrated. There's a big push for incredibly detailed data and constant availability, but with a matching expectation that patterns should be on sale or free. It's not a fair equation for designers. In addition, a friend made a good point recently that by tying knitters to patterns that walk them through things step by step, knitters aren't encouraged to be confident in their own abilities. They don't learn to read their knitting or see their errors. They don't "unvent" techniques or make new discoveries by making mistakes. As overly dramatic as this sounds, I think this can stifle the creativity of the next generation of knitters. So I try, in my designs and in my classes, to be comprehensive, but to encourage the knitter to do some exploration and experimentation.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
There is no way I could do this all myself anymore! :) I have a rotating crew of about five sample knitters that I'll ask depending on availability (sample knitters are a hot commodity here in Portland!) and on project type. They're amazing and I couldn't do it without them! Sample knitting is actually part of how I started in the knitting industry; it's a great way to get familiar with how other people write patterns and what their process is.  


Do you have a mentor?
While I don't have a dedicated mentor, I've been so unbelievably lucky to be able to be around so many talented and driven forces in the industry.  My hometown of Portland, Maine, and New England in general, is home to a crazy number of visionaries in the knitting world, and just listening in on the conversations that occur (I'm a shameless eavesdropper and people-watcher) is an education in and of itself.  Yarn companies, designers, writers, dyers--it's the best and most supportive community I could ask for.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
I wouldn't have a business without it! Ravelry has revolutionized the knitting world, and while that can cause discussions at times that the market is too saturated, I think that if you do good work, you'll be fine. Twitter as well has been a huge part of my last couple years--the same sense of community here in New England is worldwide there.  I've made some amazing connections and friends through it.

Do you use a tech editor?
Most definitely! I prefer to send patterns to a tech editor rather than test knitting, so my tech editor is invaluable. We're good friends, so it's not uncommon to get texts at 10:30 at night with "what were you thinking?!" :)

Could you tell us a little about your work at Brooklyn Tweed?
Best day job ever! I work behind the scenes in a variety of capacities, from running the wholesale pattern department, to proofing our patterns prior to launch, to coordinating contracts, yarn requirements, and sample knitters for our design team and guest designer collections.  The job is a constant learning experience; I never know what the day's going to bring and I get such a great perspective on the industry.  Also, there's a room full of Loft and Shelter that I can go wander in at any time--how do you beat that? 

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
This is something I'm not super good at, actually. I tend to be a bit of a workaholic, so recently I've been trying to restore a little more normalcy with reading, cooking, spinning, weaving, hanging out with friends, getting back into running, and so on.  The hard part is that knitting is what I love to do above all else, so to stop knitting feels more like punishment than a break! But between a full-time day job in the knitting industry, designing, and running stats for The Stock(inette) Market, it's good for me to recharge elsewhere every once in a while. 

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Knit patterns from anyone and everyone to get an idea of how you would write a pattern.  Read the magazines, including the trade ones like Yarn Market News.  Keep an eye on what's trending on Ravelry and read the designer forums.  Figure out what makes you unique, and make that your niche. And just keep going.  There's an "instant success or bust" mentality these days that just won't work in a career like this. As with any creative industry, there are a lot of people trying to succeed; you have to find the right place and trajectory for yourself, and just keep knitting!

In August, Away

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