Friday, June 27, 2014

An Interview with ...Maureen Foulds

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 Maureen's blog here. She is here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
Inspiration tends to sneak up on me. It could be a photo, a comment from a fellow knitter, a colorful skein of yarn that knows what it wants to be. With my Agatha Christie collections, it's a book title or plot element which magically aligns with a stitch pattern.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I love the beauty and magic of lace. The fact that one can create such beauty with sticks and string? Lovely!

You specialize in accessory patterns. do you have any future plans for garments?
Garments are part of my long range plan. While I've knit many cardigans and sweaters, I wear very few of them because they're either the wrong fit or I don't like the resulting fabric. Until I master the technique myself and produce garments I will wear, I don't feel like I can design for others.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I believe that as a designer you have to look at other people's work - how else can you continue to grow? Does an artist stop looking at other art, or a writer not ready anyone else's writing? I get inspired by other designers' creativity, which usually results in my thoughts spiraling off in its own direction.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
I prefer to focus on clarity. I try to make my patterns as clear and comprehensible as possible. I'm a technical writer by trade, so precise language is key. Whether I'm documenting how to use software or writing a pattern, I don't want my reader to be unsure of what to do next.
I also try to be cognizant of the fact that people of varying skill levels may be using my patterns. It's a tricky thing to find the balance between over-explaining or assuming too much. 

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I always knit the first sample myself to work out the precise details. I'm a very visual person, so I find I need to knit it myself to see how the 2 dimensional chart translates into a 3 dimensional object.
I'm very lucky to have a large pool of test knitters to draw on for my designs. Many of them have test knit for me multiple times. Anyone can request to be added to my list of test knitters. When I have a design ready, I'll post a call for testers in my Ravelry forum, ear burn the list and see who is available.

Did you do a formal business plan?
Not a formal plan, no. But I know where I'd like to get to and the steps I need to get there. I've been a project manager in the software industry, so I apply those skills to planning out each phase of my design endeavors. 
Every once in a while I pause to evaluate where I am in my plan and whether I'm ready to add in the next step. 

Do you have a mentor?
No, but I've been looking for a suitable mentor. I have a few people in mind as potential candidates. But it's a big step which requires a lot of thought. The fit has to be right in terms of personality, skills and career goals.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
There are elements of different designers which I would like to emulate. I admire the way Amy Herzog balanced her daytime career with her design career and family, eventually being able to make designing her full-time profession. 
I also admire Kate Atherley's knitting knowledge, especially when it comes to socks! And the way she has been able to build up a full teaching schedule. That's something to which I aspire.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
My business wouldn't exist without the Internet. I rely on sites like Ravelry, Patternfish and Craftsy for making my patterns available and growing my audience. I use social media to maintain a presence and build awareness. 
And more basically - I use the Internet to stay connected to the vast breadth and depth of knowledge that is out there about knitting, design, techniques, running a business. I spend a lot of time reading various Ravelry forums, fibre-related blogs, online classes, and so on. That's how I gain insight into what other knitters think, what they like to knit, what they don't like in a pattern. It's how I find new opportunities for my designs. And it's how I meet a lot of talented people.

Do you use a tech editor?
Absolutely! I think it's a necessity for anyone who wants to be a professional.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
It's difficult. I work full-time and have a family. I'm fortunate that I am able to work from home several days a week, which really helps me reclaim several hours back to the "life" portion of the equation.

How do you deal with criticism?
Chocolate! Actually, I welcome constructive criticism because I want to put out the best pattern I can. I know I'm not perfect and I know my weak areas. So when testers, editors or knitters point out errors or other issues, I'm grateful. I'd rather hear about any errors before I publish a pattern than after. 
My toughest test came back in May when Kate Atherley tech edited one of my patterns. She warned me upfront that she was blunt and honest in her edits and not to take it personally. I was nervous! But everything she pointed out - I was nodding my head and agreeing. Every point she made resulted in a better, clearer pattern.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I'll let you know if/when that happens! I've been very fortunate to build a fan base after only 18 months of designing. But I'm nowhere near supporting myself yet.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Don't do it to get rich. Do it because you have a passion for it. But also realize it's a business. You need to be professional. You need to figure out what makes your offerings unique. You need to figure out what image you want to project, how you'll market yourself, how you'll advertise and build your brand. 
Most important - approach it like a business not a hobby. Don't be afraid to charge for your time and skills.

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