Friday, January 10, 2014

An Interview with...Toby Roxane

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 Toby here and here on Ravelry. 

Where do you find inspiration? 
I find inspiration in all kinds of unusual places. Architecture is one thing that inspires me—for example, my Incarnation Hat is based on a motif in the ceiling of the Santa Maria de la Incarnacion cathedral. Also one time a towel shrunk in the wash into this interesting shape that gave me an idea for a summer top (as yet still in the works). I also like to follow high fashion—I look at all the runway magazines. Every once in a while I see a silhouette done in some other fabric and think it would be cool to translate it into knitwear.

Shawls, on the other hand, often tend to come from out-of-context stitch patterns, which I find in stitch dictionaries (I'm particularly fond of Barbara Walker's first two volumes, as well as those Japanese ones). It's fun to look at a stitch pattern I'm drawn to and try to find the best possible application for it.

Also, yarn inspires me a lot. When I get a new yarn, I often sleep with it on my night table so that it can "tell me" what it wants to be. My family thinks this is HILARIOUS...but I've actually gotten a lot of ideas that way. I get a lot of ideas as I'm falling asleep at night. I keep a sketchbook next to my bed so I can write things down in the middle of the night.

Going back to yarn, though, I really love hand-dyed yarn. I love that there's so much of it out there, and it seems to me like all the indie dyers just keep getting better and better. I consider hand-dyes to be kind of my niche: with all of the irresistible hand-dyed yarn out there, knitters need patterns that showcase them to their best advantage.

The inspiration for the design in the photo above.

What is your favourite knitting technique? 
Hmm...I don't know if this counts as a technique, but I've always been into stitch patterns that involve slipped stitches (as evidenced in many of my patterns, including Pennywood, Smockerie and X-Mitts). I think they tend to be a good solution for highly variegated yarn that would compete with lace or cables, for when you want something a little more involved than stockinette or garter stitch.

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs? 
I love to look at other designers' work. I'm not at all afraid of being influenced by their designs. I think I'm influenced by so many things, including high fashion, as I mentioned, that I welcome all of it. It stews in my brain and I'm confident that it distills down into something uniquely my own.

On the other hand, it can be easy to get sucked into comparing my work to that of other designers and that's always dangerous. I'd like to think there's room for all of us.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters? 
Actually, this is the first I'm hearing of it. I've heard about knitting patterns in other countries like Japan and Russia and how they'll just give you a schematic, a stitch pattern, and show you where to increase, decrease, pick up stitches, etc. When I get caught up in the little particulars of pattern writing ("should this say 'repeat rows 2 and 3 once' or 'repeat rows 2 and 3 once more?'") that type of pattern writing starts to look pretty appealing.

On the other hand, I think those kinds of patterns would be very intimidating for new knitters. I've spent about three years working at yarn shops and one thing I've noticed is the huge reluctance of most knitters to call themselves anything other than "beginners." I've met women who have been knitting for twenty years who refuse to believe that they might even be intermediate. Those knitters tend to get caught up in the "repeat once" vs. "repeat once more" language.

Back on the first hand, though, I like that the Japanese and Russian style patterns emphasize the bigger picture. They also make it very important that the knitter measures him or herself (or the recipient) accurately, which is something I don't think a lot of people do.

Ultimately, this debate is philosophical. The goal is to sell patterns and I'm going to write them however I think will sell the most (and keep customer service emails to a minimum). And I think right now that having everything spelled out explicitly is the best way to do that.

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

None! I'm a one-woman operation. I design everything, knit everything, write all the patterns, model them, edit the photos...I use a graphic designer for my books, but I do all the individual pattern layouts myself.

I'm definitely thinking of using sample knitters in the future though just because it would free me up to get more done.

Do you have a mentor? 
You know, my first thought was, "Nope!" But then I thought about it in broader terms than just a knitting or business mentor. In a more general sense, I would consider my mom to be a mentor. I ask her advice on almost everything. I help her with her knitting at all hours of the night, and she helps me with…everything else (often at all hours of the night).

What impact has the Internet had on your business? 
Without the Internet, I don't think I'd HAVE a business! I began selling patterns on Ravelry before I found a distributor, and Ravelry sales are a huge part of my business. Plus, I think the Internet, Ravelry in particular, has made it easier than ever for designers to network with each other, with yarn companies, yarn shops, etc. 

Do you use a tech editor? 
Yes!!! If there is one piece of advice I'd give new designers, it's to use a tech editor (and the best way to find a good one is to ask other designers). That's not always something that's apparent right away—I didn't know there was such a thing until I published my third pattern. I'd been using test knitters. Test knitters can be great, but, without getting long-winded about it, they are NOT a substitute for a good tech editor.

How do you maintain your life/work balance? 
Life/work balance? What's that?

Just kidding. Sort of. For one thing, I have a studio outside of my house where I go every day. My hours are noon to 8pm. That's not to say I'm not working ALL OTHER TIMES too—I come home and knit while I watch TV, which I guess technically counts as work. When I think of all the time I spend knitting at home, on the train, with my little knitting group, etc, and think of it as work, I start to wonder if I'm a workaholic. I asked my mom the other day if she thought I was a workaholic. She said, "You don't get up early enough to be a workaholic."

How do you deal with criticism? 
Not well. Luckily, I haven't gotten much—a knitter on Ravelry once included in her project notes that it took six whole days for me to respond to her question about an error in a pattern. I was pretty crushed. When I told my (non-knitting) friend about it, she said, "Wait...she paid how much for the pattern?" It reminded me that, for what people pay for patterns, they really get quite a lot, so I try to remember that. Still, it can hurt.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting? 
Read Shannon Okey's book The Knitgrrl Guide to Professional Knitwear Design. She covers everything you could possibly think of.

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