Friday, August 29, 2014

An Interview with...Lori Law

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 Lori here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?

Everywhere. I am constantly influenced by things in my environment, nature, colour, seasons, emotions, books, movies, photos. I try to remain open to possibilities. I know I can't develop all of the creative whims which come my way, there are not enough hours in a day. However, I write things down, and if I am still compelled at a later time, I will roll with it in some format.  I've also done a fair amount of designing for Anne Podlesak's lace clubs over the years, where Shakespeare has been the source of inspiration.

What is your favourite knitting technique?

I don't have a favourite on any given day, but my go-to design/general knitting elements are lace, cables and colourwork.

Your design focus seems to be on accessories, could you tell us a little about that?

I have been doing accessories for a long time because it allowed me to develop more as a dyer and have pattern support for the yarns I dye which work well for shawls and socks. Over the next year, however, I will be (finally!) publishing sweater designs. I have several sweater ideas, some of which I've already churned out the multi-sizing for in spreadsheets, which I've been working on here and there for about 10 years. My issue over the years has been finding the time to actually get them knit up and tested and fine-tuned. But, I currently have two sitting here waiting on the final go-through which I just need to set aside the time to do, aiming to get them published by September.

Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?

I roll through the Ravelry patterns section about once a week. I am not really looking for anything other than eye-candy a lot of the time. I usually don't take the time to delve very deeply unless I'm looking for something to knit for myself but I enjoy looking at pretty knitting, like most knitters do.

But, in terms of other designers' work influencing my own? No. I like certain things, I have a few designers I watch mostly because I enjoy looking at or knitting their work, or they are friends and I like to see how their latest design came out. I might think, hey, I like the shape of that shawl, I'd like to do something in that shape. I think I have a fairly strong sense of what I tend to lean towards when I'm working so a lot of my chosen techniques are fairly solidified so I can call on them when I need them. And I also specifically don't go looking because I do not want that anxiety about someone else having done what I'm doing invading what I have going on.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?

I don't. I actually didn't know there was really a controversy. I thought it was designer's preference as far as pattern writing style goes? I try to present my work as clearly as possible. I personally don't like reading through long-winded procedures. So when I am explaining what to do I aim for clearly and concisely. If a knitter has a question, I am available via email to help. I think I'm doing okay in this respect because I have had very few enquiries about techniques and how-tos in my patterns over the years.

Recently, a knitter mentioned, “I’m in the middle of knitting these for the second time, and it strikes me just how well-written this pattern is. When I made my first pair, I was still pretty new to knitting, so I hadn’t encountered badly-written patterns and just figured this one was the norm. No, it’s exceptionally well-done and clear.  I’ve “stolen” the heel and gusset combo for several of my other socks that I’ve knit in the interim because I think it’s just beautiful. But when I wanted to make my mother a beautiful pair of socks, there was no other candidate, only Sleepy Hollow. :-)”

What a heartening compliment, eh? 

When I put patterns together, I try to break everything down into steps and work on the principle of one thing at a time. I write patterns that way – I will have a spreadsheet version which I've done the actual design knitting/numbers/charts with, but when I'm writing the actual pattern language for publishing, I will start with 'cast on 64 sts, join into a round being careful to not twist the stitches, PM for beginning of round', which I will do, then I will write the next step and knit it, and so on. I tend to skim when I'm reading things and I do not like the idea of skimming over a copy-pasted pattern and missing something crucial when publishing. I do not like accidents so I try to keep them from showing up in my work.

And I think being hands-on (every time, even though it's a slower process) allows me to not only think like the knitter who might someday knit the pattern, but also to write things up clearly. It also makes me more objective about the pattern, I think. I think patterns are like road-maps.

I don't think we need to rewrite the basics all the time. There are a ton of books and YouTube for that and other websites which outline basic techniques.

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

I am still the everything knitter. I knit each pattern myself. Usually twice. That is the cool thing about designing socks. :)

Did you do a formal business plan?

Not so much in terms of long-term projections. But I started with a budget to buy yarns and dye of $1000. I gave myself two years to have it work. At the time I started my youngest was months old so I was home with him anyway, and later I was working retail part-time and also still doing a fair amount of web development work, so I sort of slid into it one skein at a time. I have a degree in Fine Arts with a Consumer Studies minor, and I had owned a restaurant previously, so the combination of creative + business didn't intimidate me too much.

In terms of how things have developed over the years I decided I wouldn't try every yarn available to dye, sort of stuck with what I like to work with when designing and built around that. In terms of future developments, I'm leaning much farther into weaving than knitting. I have missed that creative finished 'thing' over the years. A lot of knitting design work is conceptual. I have sewing skills I can put to work as well. I'm working on a few styles of hand-woven bags as well as other woven items using hand-spun. One thing I enjoy especially with weaving is how quickly things can work up vs knitting.

I do think it's a business where you need to be flexible. But with limits. No dyer/designer can do everything with every yarn, you know? But, OTOH, if you're open to creative opportunities, you can develop those which work for you. When I started, I was a knitter with an arts background. I crocheted occasionally. Now I'm a dyer, spinner, weaver, knitting designer. The weaving happened by accident – my MIL called one day wondering if we knew anyone who would like a loom which was being unloaded from a resource centre in Victoria. It was like, boing! I had the loom for 4 years before it was put together and warped. I read books and learned as much as possible online and finally have gotten to the point where I'm a confident weaver. It had moved across the country with us from BC but life sometimes doesn't allow for everything at any given moment, so I bided my time picking up bits of weaving inspiration here and there over the years until the time came to get on with it if I was ever going to get on with it. And, now I have two floor looms, and inkle and a mini-inkle. LOL. I still don't have room for both to be set up at once, but I'm working on that. I also have an antique sock knitting machine which is a whole other enjoyable ballgame in addition to everything else.

Do you have a mentor?

I have a few online pals and a few offline pals who I swing things by with, and a few offline, as well. Although I don't consider them mentors, I have to say Koigu and Philosopher's and Handmaiden were definitely inspiring way back. I first encountered Koigu about, oh, 16 years ago? during the local fall art studio tour here, in there area, and it was a wow moment. But it was still another nearly 10 years before I dyed my first skein. But the seeds of potential were planted that day.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

Not particularly. When I got into dyeing, there were only a handful of indie dyers around (2005) compared to nowadays. I started doing skeins and then developed for wholesale, which also helped me to develop repeatable colourways. I had to give those 'dye on demand' colourways a break over the last several years because of health issues. But the health is much better these days so I'm going to be bringing those back very shortly. I think choosing from a variety of colourways allows folks more options than a skein which is only going to be around once. I also like the rhythm of dyeing when you've got familiarity to work with.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?

Huge. I wouldn't have made it otherwise because I didn't have the resources to hire a rep to go door to door with my yarn to show to shops when I was starting out.

Do you use a tech editor?

Yes. Me. I also tech edit the work of others (something else I'm going to be outlining better on my website in the near future), and of course, I edit all the patterns available on I also have a few fellow designers who will review things for me before I hit the official published button.

Lori's hand dyed Yarn

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

Some days, not very well. LOL. It is getting easier as I go forward. For the last five years I've had some serious health issues which were very hard to get ironed out. It's been hard to keep working in a pattern which I felt was productive and fresh. Also, my youngest has ASD which requires diligent parenting and awareness. So, I only dye when he's at school, for example, or if I have childcare available. My husband works from home a lot of the time as well so we work it out between us to be sure our son's needs are covered while we're working. A lot of my designing work happens late at night into the wee hours.

How do you deal with criticism?

I have been lucky to not have to face negative criticism too often. But I appreciate constructive criticism. I think, however, in the online world, people tend to be more blatant about their likes/dislikes than they would face to face, which can be hard to swallow, especially if you're working alone and having to motivate yourself on a daily basis to put stuff out there. I try to take everything I see/read with a grain of salt and know it might not be quite as extreme as it sounds. If there is something which crops up between myself and a knitter, with either a pattern or a yarn issue, I do my best to rectify the situation to a positive end.

In the end, however, I myself am probably the most critical about my work, really.

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

Several years. There was a point where I could have gone 'bigger' if I'd really pushed to develop the means to do so. There is a fine balance as an indie designer/dyer, IMO, in being able to remain hands-on and also be self-sufficient without getting in over your head. I've hired people on a need by need basis to help out with shows or skeining, but I don't feel I want to get into a situation where I have to hire someone to help with actual dyeing production because I think then you are entering the territory whereby you're not an indie anymore, you are a company. I don't think that's for me. So I tend to be a little modest in terms of what I offer to folks because I don't want to get in over that line. One year, however, I wound up doing outsourced club dyeing of huge double-sized custom skeins which turned out to be for 400+ people when I'd initially agreed to dye for 150. That was a frustrating time because it took over a lot of everything in my life. I don't really want to go there again although the financial rewards are great. I tend to live frugally to avoid being in a constant rat-race. Sometimes I do dream of having a fun-coloured late model Mini Cooper to whiz around in. LOL.

There are days when I think, gee, it'd be so easy to just have a 'regular' job with a pre-ordained paycheque date, but I know even if I did have that, I would still be designing and making things with wool. It's kind of compulsive. So, hey, let's have that compulsion be an income source.

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

I don't know. It's fun sometimes and sometimes it's hard. Like most things, I guess. If you enjoy it, try it. The one thing about doing things professionally nowadays versus even 10 years ago is the culture online is so developed, the market is there. OTOH, I find the need for blogging and social networking these days to be quite overwhelming at times. There is not a lot of downtime. Because if you're not actually working on designs or yarn, you are on Facebook or Ravelry or Twitter or Tumblr or Instagram or LinkedIn or... it can be exhausting. And keeping your website fresh can also take a lot of time and effort. OTOH, the social networks are also inspiring and fun. It's all about 'being there' vs just putting your work out there and talking about it, these days. There is a lot of interaction involved in the business these days. There are also organizations where membership can be helpful, something I haven't yet jumped into, like TNNA. I know I don't do enough of the social side of it. However, having all of these things available is so great! If we were all just sitting in our log cabins designing in isolation like 100 years ago it wouldn't be the vibrant knitting world it is today. Everything is so incredibly global now and the opportunities are exceptional. So, my advice in terms of building a knitting career would be to know it will involve more than just knitting to be successful. It's also a very subjective business.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Contest and Book Review - Basic Knitting and Crocheting for Today’s Woman

Schiffer Publishing sent me an ebook version of their newest knitting and crochet book to review. They will send a hard copy to a contest winner, the only limitation is that you must be in the U.S. 

To win please put a comment on my blog. The comment should answer these two questions: What is your biggest knitting challenge? What level knitter do you consider yourself to be, novice, intermediate or experienced?  Please include your Ravelry name so I can PM the winner. If you are not on Ravelry please include an email (if it isn't included on the profile you use to post comments). I'll use random number generator to pick a winner on Sept 2 at noon my time. You can check back on that date for the winner. If I can't reach the first random number due to missing contact info, I'll move onto the next one.

The book has a meditation theme with the recognition simple projects allow for feelings of relaxation to flow. The projects are both crochet and knitting with more of the latter. All the projects are very simple to execute, few require shaping and stitch patterns are simple and repetitive in nature. Most depend on multicoloured yarns to up the visual complexity.  I felt the accessories and home decor designs were the most successful and would appeal equally to novice and advanced knitters alike. 

The projects have not been loaded into Ravelry so I've included a few photos for you in this post. It's a small book just 40 pages and does not include a how to do the basics section.

The publisher's description follows:
"This knitting/crocheting book offers fourteen projects that are fun to make, while allowing the knitter to escape the stresses of the day. Using basic knitting and crocheting techniques, make throws, baby wraps, meditative yoga mats, a table runner, scarves, baby blankets, wrist warmers, and pillows. As the stitches unfold into an amazing art form, the warm colors will help soothe the mind and body. Design patterns are broken down, row by row, in easy-to-follow instructions. The use of color, combined with the ease of the designs and the pattern stitches, provide knitters and crocheters of all skill levels a chance to unwind as they complete these wonderfully colorful yet simple projects."

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Noreen Elliot Shawl - New Pattern Release

I almost didn't publish this pattern due to the common use of the stitch pattern. It's known as Frost Flowers and appears in the Barbara Walker A Treasury of Knitting Patterns. I've used the stitch a number of times but never in a published design. I knit the shawl for myself because I wanted it and then decided I should share the pattern after I completed the charting.

The shawl is worked bottom up. The stitch pattern is charted to make the transitions simple to follow, as each section decreases. Each right side row shortens by four stitches, making the work “feel” as though it is speeding up as you approach the end. The lace pattern appears complex. It is formed with only two sets of four pattern rows which are each repeated three times and then offset, over 24 rows. The project is listed as advanced because there is patterning on both the right and wrong sides of the work.

The sample shown used approximately 500 yds (460 m), 100 g of 100% alpaca, 3 ply fingering weight, in colour Pelorous from One Skein at a Time Dye Works. The yarn is from a local Toronto, Canada, hand dyer, available only at retail shows.

Suggested Alternative Yarns

Knit Picks Gloss Fingering Yarn: 70% merino wool, 30% silk.
Indigodragonfly MCN Sock Fingering Yarn: 80% merino, 10% cashmere, 10% nylon.
Or, any 3 ply fingering weight yarn.

The name Noreen Elliot comes from Agatha Christie's short story The Golden Ball. Noreen is the leader of a fashionable group known as the "Bright Young People".