Friday, July 11, 2014

An interview with...Anne Carroll Gilmour

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 Anne here and here on Ravelry. 
Where do you find inspiration?
It is everywhere I look, of course nature is a big influence and I live in stunningly beautiful surroundings but I have also been inspired by the way shadows fall, architecture, visual art, science and so much more, once I designed a series of knits that were inspired by a vintage barbed wire collection from a cowboy museum in Wyoming. If your eyes are wide open to possibility, inspiration is all around you.
What is your favourite knitting technique?
That's a toughie, I really love texture (Cables, knotwork, Gansey type knit/purl relief etc.) but I also love color, especially in classic Fair Isle style stranded knitting. Lace is a big fave too so it's hard to choose just one that tops the list..
How did you determine your size range?
That's something that varies with each design, I try to include as many sizes as the design elements allow, but for some really complex cable designs and charted lace or color work you need to work within set repeats and what reads well and will resolve without a whole lot of hassle or awkward spaces. Sometimes that dictates where sizing can stop & start and limit how wide a range you can include.
Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I try really hard not to be too influenced by other knitters work, to that end I work in a sort of backward fashion. When I get an idea, it usually presents itself fully formed in my head. I'll do some sketches and swatching first and only then take a look (Ravelry makes this really easy) to make certain there isn't anything too similar already out there. If there is, I'll scrap the idea and come up with something different.
How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
I didn't know there was such a controversy. I write some patterns that are really simple and some that are extremely complex, and others that fall somewhere in between. I always try to make it clear what skill level is necessary for any particular design. Of course there are always knitters that try something that may be a bit more advanced than what they are ready for but that's how we learn and grow, right? (Also a good reason to take a few classes before getting mad at the designer for creating something that might be a little beyond one's current skill level ;-). It happens - but only very rarely thank goodness!
How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
It varies for each design, I usually put out open calls for testers. I don't have what you would call 'regular' test knitters who always do this for me (I WISH!) But I have been fortunate to have really great testers who see my notices in the Wildwest Woolies group on Ravelry and they have done a fabulous job (many thanks to any of you who might see this interview!)
Did you do a formal business plan?
That's another I WISH, but I am just not that linear. My life as a designer, indeed as a human in general, has been pretty random 'seat of your pants flying' you might say.
Do you have a mentor?
Probably my biggest influence in the textile world has been a wonderful Scottish gentleman named Norman Kennedy. He was the Master Weaver/Spinner/Dyer at Colonial Williamsburg (a living history community in Virginia) in the late 60s-early 70s when I was growing up there. I hung around quietly and learned so much just watching and listening- he is an incredible knitter too. He's also a great traditional singer and story teller. It's been a real treat to have him as a life-long mentor.
Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
I would answer this question the same way I answered the business plan question above- maybe you could call it the 'barely controlled chaos' business model?
What impact has the Internet had on your business?
Pretty huge, it has just made everything a whole lot easier as far as getting my proposals out, getting text and graphics to testers and editors not to mention saving lots of trees! I admit to having a somewhat love/hate relationship with technology but when it's working well I am very grateful for it.
Do you use a tech editor?
Every chance I get!
How do you maintain your life/work balance?
Just a sec - gotta get the door . . . er, what was the question?  Oh yeah - that, well, it's a challenge, sometimes it doesn't get maintained at all! I am very lucky to have loved ones that put up with me and a pretty flexible schedule most of the time, and technology helps a great deal here too!
How do you deal with criticism?
I try to take it with grace, fix and improve what I can (but it depends on the nature of the criticism) It's important not to take it too personally and be objective.
How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I'll let you know . . .
What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
I think it's important to really get lots of skill under your belt. I was lucky because I started when I was 8 years old and have been in love with knitting ever since (that's well over 40 years ago but who's counting?) When you are truly comfortable with a wide range of techniques, that's when you can really play and let your imagination run amok. One of the hardest things is just believing in your ideas and seeing them through - then the really tough work starts when you attempt to write them down for other knitters to follow - this is where having a deep skill set is most valuable, at least in my experience. The best advice of all though, is JUST DO IT and HAVE FUN!


  1. Many thanks Robin, this was a fun interview. I tried very hard not to follow my usual tendancy to put the British 'u' in 'colour', 'favourite' etc, then realised it would have been ok, you're from Toronto! (I am not a Canadian myself but was the 1st US born person in my family and learned to spell from my New Brunswick Mom and Nova Scotia Dad :-)!

  2. Excellent interview, I'm a big fan of Anne's designs!

  3. I really enjoyed this, I love her designs!