Friday, March 21, 2014

An Interview with...Michele Lee Bernstein

Michelle is wearing Sophie's Rose (designed for For Yarn's Sake LYS) and holding Rosaria (Rose City Yarn Crawl Mystery KAL). Photo Credit JJ Foster

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 Michele here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration everywhere, but especially in nature. I've been inspired by rain, flowers, leaves, trees. Inspiration can also come from playing with stitch patterns, and garment shapes. One of my first designs was inspired by sunlight sparkling on the Pacific Ocean. I organize a Crafty Moms retreat on the Oregon Coast each spring, and spend a lot of time watching the waves. My Pacific Shawl grew out of that vision.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
My favorite technique is usually the one I'm using right now! I love learning a new technique or stitch pattern and then featuring it in several designs. I've played with cables, lace, entrelac, thrumming, steeking. I design mostly accessories: shawls, scarves, hats, gloves...they are limited canvases that I get to embellish. I especially like making the most of a single skein, or two coordinating skeins of special yarn. No dye lot issues!

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs? 
I don't think any of us can design in a vacuum. I love looking through magazines and patterns on Ravelry to see what's new and interesting. We all want to put our own spin on things, to make something uniquely our own.

Could you tell us a little about your philosophy about teaching?
I love teaching. I think it's really important for knitters to know what they're doing, and why. It's not just about making the motions of knitting; it's important to see how stitches are formed so you can reverse the process and undo them! My favorite class to teach is called "Tink, Drop, Frog: How to Fix Mistakes." Students learn to unknit, drop stitches and work them back up again, and better ways to rip and get the work back on the needles without losing the whole project. I tell them that they are the boss of their knitting! I also learn from these classes; when a student uses a different technique than I do, it can be a challenge to figure out what's happening and why. My most interesting student was knitting completely opposite from the way I do; she inserts the left needle into the knitting on the right needle, and stitches move from right needle to left. She had lost her place in a pattern, and it was aha moment for both of us when I could read her knitting!

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
I don't think I dumb down patterns; I try to be very thorough in my explanations. If I'm too thorough, you can ignore the parts you already understand, but it's better to have too much information than not enough. With Internet publishing, I don't have to limit the number of pages, but I do try to be concise.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself? 
For me, there is a lot of trial and error in designing, so I am always the first knitter. I have three people who frequently test knit for me. It's always good to make sure that the item turns out the way I envisioned when someone else knits it!

Did you do a formal business plan?
No, I don't have a formal business plan. My main goal is to increase my knit-related income each year, and so far it's working. I design, teach, and tech edit.

Do you have a mentor?
I don't have a mentor, but I did confer with Chrissy Gardiner when I needed designer advice. She's smart, local, and very grounded.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
The Internet has made it possible for me to self-publish patterns and have an audience larger than just my local yarn shops. I sell my patterns mostly through Ravelry. I also love to blog; you can find me at I enjoy the camaraderie and relationships that come from blogging and interacting with readers and other bloggers. I know that blogging isn't as popular as it used to be, but it definitely has a place. I can craft a better story in a blog post than in a tweet or Facebook post. My blog is a home for my patterns and knitting tutorials, and also a way to journal about travel and other hobbies.

Do you use a tech editor? 
I do use a tech editor, but not if the design is super simple. I also do some tech editing for other designers.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
Sometimes that's hard! My husband and I both work from home, so work is always on. I designed Rosaria, the mystery knitalong shawlette for the Rose City Yarn Crawl, a local event here in Portland for 18 yarn shops. We did the KAL over four weeks before the crawl, and I was pretty constantly on Ravelry for it. But was that work, or fun? For me, it was both! 

How do you deal with criticism?
I haven't had a lot of criticism, but I try to learn from it and if it's constructive, I'll adapt later work because of it.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I am definitely not self-supporting at this point, but I love what I do. My husband is very supportive of my knitting career; I couldn't do this without him.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Knit and read lots. Know what a well written pattern looks like. There are industry standards for pattern writing, and if you use enough of those patterns, you will be able to write in that style. 
Relationships are important. Partnerships with dyers, yarn shops, and publishers can be mutually beneficial. And your relationships with your customers are most important of all. 

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