Friday, December 5, 2014

An Interview with...Ashley Rao

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.

Pan Am Jacket

You can find Ashley here and here on Ravelry

Where do you find inspiration?
My designs usually start with an idea for a small detail of the finished work -- a braided racerback (Admiral's Knot Halter), front lapels defined by a bias panel (Tara Jacket), or cables splaying out from a collar (Twelve Cables Pullover).  I mull over the detail for a while until it explodes into an idea for the overall construction of a garment.

Admiral's Knot Halter
What is your favourite knitting technique?
I love cables, and I love ribbing -- both simple techniques that create terrific texture and lend themselves easily to graphic shaping.

How did you determine your size range?
Most of my sizing is built around the Craft Yarn Council's standard body measurements, which is typical in the handknit design world.  While there certainly is no "standard" body type, their metrics are a hugely helpful resource -- it's easy to know your own body type and design for that, but harder to understand what dimensions change most between sizes.  For example, how much deeper should the armholes be for a 48" bust than for a 32" bust?  When I first started designing, I drafted a sample body type for each size that let me visualize how hips and busts and armholes varied across sizes.  I review those drawings each time I start a new pattern.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I try to look at everything -- traditional textiles and contemporary fashion, buildings, drawings, ceramics.  The more you are exposed to, the deeper the toolkit for your own work.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I knit my samples myself.  I love it, and it is an important opportunity to trouble-shoot unanticipated problems.
Do you use a tech editor?
Absolutely! Tech editors offer, at a minimum, a second pair of eyes on a pattern. At best, a great tech editor can help streamline and simplify the documentation of a design -- creating a significantly more user-friendly pattern.  And eliminating errors that would haunt you forever.

Arrowhead Camisole

Did you do a formal business plan?  A mentor?  Do you have a business model that you have emulated?  
I don't have a mentor or a formal business plan, but I've been reaching out to women whose work I admire and who have established successful, sustainable businesses within the knitting world.  I met with Norah Gaughan to talk about her work with Berroco and subsequent move to independent design.  I'm currently apprenticing with Anna Wallack (owner of the Misha and Puff children's clothing line) to better understand handknits for the retail world.

Googly-Eyed Gator

Later Gator Hat

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
Knitting is terrific for portability and multi-tasking -- I can (and do!) knit everywhere.  I sketch constantly.  Computer-based work -- design calculations, documentation, and correspondence -- is reserved for the evenings (after the children are in bed).

How do you deal with criticism?
Handknit designs are most successful when the process of making them is fun and the final result is satisfying -- sometimes that combination is hard to achieve!  I've learned to stay out of KAL forums that feature my work unless someone asks me a specific question -- I'm happy to help, but overhearing knitters' in-process frustrations can be an ego-deflating experience.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting? 
I'm still looking for that advice myself!

Plumage Pullover

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