Friday, May 30, 2014

One Year Ago...An Interview with Jennette Cross

I've been doing interviews on my blog for quite a while now. Sometimes old interviews suddenly pop to the top of the currently being read list. 

Jeanette had two new patterns published in April and one in March.

You can read her interview here:

You can find her on Ravelry here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Which is Better for Sales, Full or Partial Photos?

I get pretty consistent advice from everyone that patterns must include clear photos which show the whole garment. I also often include stitch detail shots for added clarity. I've recently started testing out my first Ravelry ads using those clear photos. So imagine my surprise when another designer recently told me she has been experimenting with purposely unclear photos that are artsy instead.  She says she is getting the strongest click through on partial photos in her Ravelry ads. Does this mean I need a different photo for the ad?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Formal Qualifications in Hand Knitting

I love the quote below about formal education.

"Being formally qualified is overrated. Passion and results can be the best credentials there are. When we try to hide out lack of qualifications we actually weaken the potential strength of our brand. Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs. All billionaires. All college dropouts. Jimi Hendrix couldn't read music. Rachael Ray never went to cooking school. John Fluevog went from working in a shoe store to creating his own shoe empire."

Danielle Laporte The Fire Starter Sessions

The vest above continues to be my best selling pattern. This is from the April 2014 Patternfish newsletter:   

"It’s no surprise to the editor that there are two vests in the top 10 patterns of 2013. I rarely see a vest I don’t want to knit, and these two are among my favourites, Cabin Fever’s Side Pattern Vest by Deb Gemmell, and The Prudence Crowley Vest by Robin Hunter. Gemmell has a wonderful habit of encouraging knitters to apply their own ideas to patterns and become their own designers. The Side Pattern Vest is a wonderful example. Hunter’s flattering and surprisingly easy to knit pattern has been a favourite with Patternfish folk for years."

Deb and I have no formal certification, however we both have unlimited passion and curiosity when it come to our knitting. 

If you are looking for more information on hand knit design certification see my previous post here:

Friday, May 23, 2014

An Interview with ... Melissa McColl of LadeeBee Update!

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 Melissa here and here on Ravelry.

Melissa's business is growing! Her original interview was one of the most read shop owners interviews. It seems appropriate with her recent growth to ask her some new questions and get an update on her adventures in the knitting industry. You can read her original interview here.  

You've moved into a new and bigger space, please tell us how that came about?

I had been sharing a two level space with a lovely gift shop called Wise Daughters. She carried an array of handmade items by local artists,  but unfortunately, she was unable to continue the business and had to close her doors. I was faced with the decision to close after only one year or carry on by taking over the entire location. I could have found another spot to set up shop, but this is such a great space and we have a good established relationship with the owner of the building. After a year of operating in the lower level of Wise Daughters I felt confident that I could carry the space on my own. I really didn't even consider closing to be honest as I just don't see myself doing anything else. I felt that there was enough support in the community to sustain and continue to grow LadeeBee, so expanding seemed like the right thing to do.

You run workshops for both adults and kids how do the challenges differ for each group?
Adults may bring some challenges to the table when they come to a workshop. I can see that confidence often has to be fostered quite a bit . I think as we get older it just becomes harder to learn a new task. We have a lot of distractions in our lives and slowing down and relaxing to learn a new skill takes a bit of time. I find that anxiety can really hinder the learning experience, so I try to make students feel as comfortable and at ease as possible. Children on the other hand are quite accustomed to a learning environment and are asked to acquire new skills on a nearly daily basis. If there is any anxiety it doesn't seem to hinder them quite as much. Children will generally dive right in to the activity. If children are genuinely interested in the activity they will be very quiet and focused and determined to complete the task.

You are offering a variety of workshops which include topics other than knitting, how do you describe your shop to potential customers?
LadeeBee is a one stop destination for crafting inspiration. Because I enjoy a variety of crafts I have so many different departments in the shop. The main departments are yarn and beads, but in addition I carry supplies for cross stitching, embroidery, felting, spinning, and even a small section for handmade gifts. I think the shop is fun and cheerful and the idea is to assist my customers to scratch their crafting itch when they feel like making something. 

Is the shop equally split between the various crafts or is one more strongly represented?
I would say at the moment that yarn and fibre has the most representation in the shop. There is potential to expand the beading department in the lower level to give each department more or less a 50/50 representation with other crafts supported minimally. 

Sundays are your Stitching Bee days, which are open to all craft pursuits not just knitting, is this event drawing in more customers for you?
It's a really important event for me in many ways. The people that come regularly on Sunday are my core supporters. They offer this support by being my sounding board, generating activity ideas (such as the Mother's Day Tea Cozy Exhibit), they were there to help me set up when I expanded, and they are a nice group for me to engage with socially. I think its nice for other customers to see the shop active and busy so it brings a positive vibe to the shop. It doesn't necessarily bring in new customers directly, but as you can see it is an important group.

Could you tell us a little about upcoming workshops that are being planned?
We always run a beginner knitting and crochet course on alternate months. This month we are running a beginner crochet course. Coming up we have an embroidery workshop, needle felted gnome workshop, a pendant making class, wet felted bowls, beaded bracelets with memory wire, crochet booties, a top down knitted raglan cardigan course, a seaming techniques class for knitters, and a crochet floral necklace workshop. Phew! As you can see we like to have some core classes for knitters and crocheters with some jewelry making and other needlework workshops as well. Every month we will have the different crafts represented in this way in our programming. 

ETA Melissa has invited me to teach an introductory lace knitting class on June 14 1 - 4. It will be added to her website soon. 


Monday, May 19, 2014

The Magic Of Blocking, Step by Step

Blocking makes all the difference to ensure stitch patterns show up in lace shawls. It will improve the look of your knitting for most projects, especially those made from natural fibres.The two shawls in the photos above are unblocked.

Start by soaking the knitting in lukewarm water for about 15 minutes. I add a small amount of a wool wash. I usually use Soak but there are several good ones on the market.

I next remove most of the water from the knitting. I put the work resting and hanging freely on top of my tap to let most of the water flow away for 2-3 minutes.

Then I gently press the water out by rolling up the work in a towel and squeezing. I treat the work carefully, no twisting or wringing. I unroll the towel after about 5 minutes.

I use the blocking boards in my photos, stainless steel T pins and blocking wires.

I pin out the work using the straight edges, For a triangle shawl that would be the top and the centre spine. I do the top edges first. I gently tug on the spine to make it perpendicular. I make sure these target areas are totally straight and securely pinned before I work on the lower edges. I run the wires through the top edges and use pins in both the work and to secure the wires.

Once all the edges are straight  I begin pinning out the shawl points. I thread the wires into each point or along the edges if they are straight ones. I tug gently to stretch the work and I may move the bottom edges down again as the work relaxes. I adjust the level of stretch according to the fibre I'm working with. I pull more firmly on 100% wool than I do with silk and cashmere.

I assess and if everything looks good in terms of being in alignment I search for a place to leave the item that my cats can't get at until is is completely dry. 

Yes... cats do have a thing for wet yarn, I don't know why. 

Occasionally I do a second pass on the points. Sometimes they need a little extra work because the horizontal stretching interferes with the points being pulled down far enough. The silver grey shawl is a silk and sea cell blend. The point definition was good on the first pass. The purple shawl is silk and cashmere. I did not block it as firmly because of its delicate nature. I took a second pass after it dried the first time and worked on the points only. On the final blocking I moved the points closer together so I could pull a little more firmly, vertically. I smoothed the rest of the shawl away gently with my hands. I pinned each point and used a spray bottle of water to dampen the work at the edges only and then I let the points dry again before I took the work off of the blocking boards.

Here's the final photos of the grey shawl.

Friday, May 16, 2014

A Brief Interview with...Anna Cohen

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 Anna here and here on Ravelry. 

Anna is a mainstream fashion designer who has worked in Italy and the United States for major fashion houses as well as developing and launching a line of sustainable women's apparel. She is a graduate of FIT in New York and Polimoda in Italy. Anna's designs have been featured in Vogue, Elle France, Nylon, WWD and the New York Times. Since 2008, Anna has been working with the historic Imperial Stock Ranch, helping to develop woolen yarns and fabrics, to create the in house Imperial Knits Collection of hand knit patterns and to build a line of women's apparel featuring woolens that were developed on the ranch. This line, the Imperial Collection by Anna Cohen, will launch in Fall 2014.

Where do you find inspiration?

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I didn’t want to look at other designer’s work before I got an education in design. I then learned that looking at other’s work is a very critical part of the process. Artists of many kinds learn from the masters, try to copy them in order to learn the craft. Once  they are able to do this, they then have the skills and vision to be able to create their own style. 

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
Because I am a fashion designer with a specialty in knitwear (apparel production knitwear) and barely hand knit, I work with a technical interpreter to write the patterns and then we have various different test knitters test the samples. We work with between 1 and 4 test knitters in a season.

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

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Follow your heart and your mind. Shifting your relationship with a hobby into a means of income is an important consideration. If you are not business minded in one form or another, it is likely best to keep your hobby a hobby. If you are driven and inspired and have great ideas for how to build the business, and you can ask yourself if you would be motivated to do it if it weren’t about knitting, then I say go for it. The fire in you needs to be balanced between the business aspect and the creative, otherwise I suggest not to taint your creative outlet with a costly and in many cases difficult journey.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

How to do a Provisional Cast On with Waste Yarn

What is a provisional cast-on? It's a cast on which leaves live stitches at the edge. There are a few situations where you might want this set up for your knitting. Sometimes you want to be able to knit in the opposite direction. Many designs use multi-directional methods. I use a provisional cast on for garter stitch tab shawl starts. I also use one if I want to graft stitches at the top and bottom of the knitting together to create a tube. 

Many knitters swear by the crochet chain method. It's good, but I often hear knitters say they have problems picking up into the wrong loop which creates difficulties when they go to unzip the crochet chain. Look here for technique videos and tutorials on this method.

My favourite method is the waste yarn technique. I find this method is the easiest to teach to other knitters. I used the waste yarn method often when I was machine knitting. I also used it in a hat workshop to teach grafting skills quickly. Seeing the path of the waste yarn speeds up the understanding of  how to use a sewing needle to duplicate the path of the strand of yarn. I'll show you that in an upcoming post.

The reason waste yarn works so well for provisional casting on is that the knitted loops which will be worked in the opposite direction are more well matched to the knitting. A few rows of straight knitting means the knitters gauge becomes a little more even.  

Just cast on the number of stitches required in any method you like, knit a few rows of stocking stitch and switch to your project yarn. When you are ready to go in the opposite direction use a smaller needle to catch each stitch in the first row of your project yarn. You can clip the waste yarn out either before or after catching the loops on your needle. I use a sharp pair of small scissors and cut the waste yarn and pull it out of my project yarn stitches.

If you are a knitter who has done any grafting of stitches top to bottom, you know there is one little detail about the up and down directionality of the knitted loops. There is a mismatch of one stitch. My fix for that is to take the yarn tail of the project yarn and thread it through at the beginning of the work like this:

I cast on 10 stitches put my needle through the 9 loops that created and added the 10th stitch by putting the yarn tail on a needle and threading it at the edge of the work.  

9 Stitches from the 10 stitch cast on

Stitch 10 was created with a needle

Extra tips:

  • Use waste yarn of the same weight as the project yarn to maintain a matching gauge.
  • Use waste yarn of a highly contrasting colour to make picking up the stitches easier
  • Use a smooth yarn, to make for easy removal.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Errata - A Completely Unscientific Survey

I was talking to a knitter recently who had some problems with a pattern due to errata. It got me wondering what the actual rate of errata is for patterns. Most of my peers in the Pro-Knitters group are pretty clear that it is unrealistic to think we won't have some errata in our patterns. Patterns are often a collaborative process and we depend on others with fresh perspectives to point out errors. In my case three people including myself work on my patterns. The scary part, each one of us finds different errors. Some of those errors will impact knit-ability so I think of them as critical. Others are copy edit or layout errors. They are not so important but I want to avoid those as well. 

Here's the unscientific part. I took two online knitting magazines and randomly checked ten patterns for listed errata. I chose only garment patterns, all published between 2010 and 2013. One had an errata rate of six out of ten patterns listed errata on their site. The other had one out of ten. This is totally unscientific with a sample base too small to generalize statistically so I won't name the publications. The rate of error could be between 10% and 60% based on these results.

Knitter Rule: always check your pattern for errata before starting to knit.

Friday, May 9, 2014

An Interview with...Keith Leonard

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 Keith here and here on Ravelry. 

Your finishing business is a unique twist on making an income from knitting could you tell us how it came to be?

Knitting has been a big part of my life ever since my elementary school teacher (who remains my best friend today), Carol, taught me how to knit in a lunchtime knitting program. Since then, I have worked in six beautiful yarn shops, ranging in location from New Jersey, to Manhattan. When I graduated from college, I wasn’t sure what direction my career path would take. However, as my grandfather used to tell me, “Find your skill and use it.”
After learning the knitwear business while participating in several trade shows, I discovered there was a real need for an official knitwear finishing company. Quilters send their quilts out to be lined; needle pointers outsource pillows—Why not provide knitters with a similar finishing service? Unlike many knitters, I thoroughly enjoy knitwear finishing. I believe the finishing aspect of knitting and believe that the finishing is what makes the difference between a product that is “handmade” versus “homemade.”

Do you have any funny finishing disaster stories that you can share with us?

I can’t say I have encountered any disasters, but of course funny occurrences do pop up every once in a while! It’s always fun, for instance, when I receive a sweater with two right fronts! Of course, whenever things like this happen, I always contact my customer so we can decide on the perfect solution. Each item is unique, so when bumps in the road do appear, it is time to get creative. I can say that sweaters have been turned into Afghans and scarves! My aim is to avoid any finishing disasters. For example, I once received a sweater that was knit beautifully. I knew, however, based on the dimensions the sweater was never going to fit the man for whom it was intended. In situations like this, I am always upfront and honest. I would never want an unhappy customer, so I work very hard to catch all potential “disasters” before they have the chance to occur.

Your customers say your finishing skills are impeccable, could you share a few tips about how you got so good at finishing?

The first knitting store I worked at offered finishing services for their customers, and I learned through hands-on practice how to efficiently seam sweaters and properly pick up stitches. Whenever I teach classes, I always begin by asking my students to think back to when they first learned how to knit. I’ve found that most beginners cast on a few stitches and practice the knit stitch over and over again. At first their knitting is a bit uneven, but as they progress, their knitting becomes increasingly consistent. The same trend applies to finishing, although it is not everyday that one gets to assemble a sweater. I have created specific formulas that clearly lay out all the steps needed to properly seam any garment (as no knitted items are the same), and I give those formulas away when I teach my classes. I don’t want to keep any secrets- I would much rather the knitters learn from me!

Your other income source is teaching, what level of knitter do you focus on in your classes?

Along with knitwear finishing, teaching is a big passion of mine. My “Flawless Finishing” class, targets beginner to intermediate knitters, and has become quite popular. I am high energy and have a very positive outlook, and with my background in English and Special Education, I find that I am able to teach knitting skills to anyone and everyone. I attribute my teaching success to my belief that there are at least ten different ways to teach any given skill, which is so important, since everyone learns differently. When I teach a class, my main goal is to ensure that all students walks away with the “WOW,” factor as they grow as knitters and watch the magic of knitwear finishing unfold.

Please tell us a little about your teaching philosophy.

A big part of my teaching philosophy comes from all of the special education classes I took when I was obtaining my undergraduate degree. My main motto is that everyone can learn, just in different ways.  I make sure to accommodate the needs of all my learners. 

You also have an exclusive color, line of yarns available for purchase. There is a fund raising component in your yarn sales.  Please tell us about the inspiration for this color way and where the donations go.

Yes!  I am a very open person, and will be upfront and say that I battle with anxiety on a daily basis. The one thing I learned from my battle with anxiety is that you cannot let it control your life.  Knitting and knitwear finishing calms me. As for my color, Zen Yarn Garden is one of my favorite yarn companies out there. Both their base yarns and colors are INCREDIBLE, and I was honored when the owners Roxanne and Neville agreed to let me create a custom color for Knits All Done. The color is called “Keep Calm Keith,” and instead of taking a photo of a landscape or flower and turning it into a color, I decided to take the word “anxiety” and turn it into the ultimate blue! The color is a dark black blue. The black represents anxiety, and the vibrant blue represents growth and expansion. I donate 5% of yarn sales to Boston Universities Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders. I discovered this center while researching anxiety on Google, and was amazed by what it does for those who suffer on an extreme level. 

Your web site is beautifully presented. Did you design it?

Thank You! Yes. When I first decided to start Knits All Done, I hired a graphic designer to create a clean and crisp logo (which I wanted to be an accurate representation of the work that I do). As for the website, I got out some HTML books and spent many months learning how to configure the pages. The biggest factor was learning how to incorporate the online web-store into the website. Knits All Done is completely operated by myself, which means I do all the social media, photography, paperwork, and of course the finishing! The website is absolutely due for an upgrade as I have well over 300 beautiful photos of finished items to upload!

Did you do a formal business plan?

I did. My formal business plan was typed up on Microsoft word, and included every element of my vision for what I wanted Knits All Done to be. From time to time I still glance at it, just to reflect on all that has been accomplished!

Do you have a mentor?

Absolutely! I have many! Within the industry, the first person I went to with the idea of Knits All Done was designer and teacher Melissa Leapman, who guided me through the process, and continues to offer the best advice out there.  Franklin Habit is another great friend who is always there to provide advice. My Friend Shaina Bilow taught me many of my finishing skills and was a huge support system, as she helped me get Knits All Done off the ground.  Other friends have helped along the way, include my dear friend Tara, a fellow knitter who is also Knits All Done’s PR manager, Angela, my editor, and of course Carol, the woman who started it all! While I’m at it, I would also like to thank my favorite English Professor, Professor Golland. Without her, I would not have the writing skills to participate in fun interviews such as this!

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

This is something I am still trying to figure out! I wake up early and go to sleep VERY late. As of right now, I work around the clock. I always make time for friends and family, but to be quite honest, I love what I do so much that it doesn’t even feel like work. I pride myself on my fast turnaround time, and every day I am on the phone talking with knitters around the country so I can help them whenever they need to be helped. I learn from every customer, as I find that every knitter has a different story. In an effort to better maintain an appropriate life/work balance, I plan to start setting stricter work hours for myself. This will be the best way to keep my energy levels high, and maybe even get in some personal knitting time!

How do you deal with criticism?

I am a very positive person, and honestly haven’t come across any criticism thus far. Criticism is exactly what I wanted to avoid when starting my company. I know that the knitting world can be very competitive, and I wanted to create something unique and different that I can call my own, without leaving any room for negativity. With that said, I strive to make ever customer happy and am always welcoming of constructive feedback.

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

At this time I can honestly say that I am fully supporting myself. In late February, I flew to Florida to teach a series of classes at “A Good Yarn Sarasota.” Considering my love for Florida, I felt it was time to make the move to the Sunshine State! During the moving process, I still worked everyday and even brought finishing projects on the airplane with me. Knits All Done now has its own studio in Florida, equipped with 4 blocking boards. The beautiful knits I have been receiving daily here continue to spark my creative energy.

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

I would tell that person to work hard! One of my favorite inspirational phrases is “Keep Moving Forward.” The knitting world is filled with creative energy, so much energy that you really have to push through and invest yourself if you want to succeed. I am a strong believer that every knitter has his or her own specific talent within the knitting world. My advice would be to find it—and share it with the world!