Friday, January 30, 2015

An Interview with...Mary Ann Stephens

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 Mary Ann here and here on Ravelry. 
Her blog is here.

Where do you find inspiration? 
Everywhere. I realize that must sound trite, but it’s true. For example, some recent inspirations: tire treads, Samurai armour, an old postcard, a heating grate.

What is your favourite knitting technique? 

Spice Route Gloves

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs? 
On the rare days when I get a free moment, I do enjoy looking at all sorts of artistic work, old and new, knitting included. I think we’re all influenced somewhat by others’ work, especially in traditional knitting, where certain time-honored techniques and motifs are held dear by all. But, I feel that for a design process to have integrity, it must be independent from start to finish.  So, I peruse artwork,  I study techniques, but when it’s time to design, it’s just me, yarn, needles and a nice, fresh Excel spreadsheet.

Polar Chullo

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters? 
Hmmm, I wouldn’t know much about that.  I’m lucky, I have brilliant customers and it seems they revel in the details, so I fit them in, wherever I can. 

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself? 
Not enough! I’d love to find more.

Gentle Hat

Did you do a formal business plan?  

Do you have a mentor? 
Mother Nature.

Amaryllis Hat

Do you have a business model that you have emulated? Can we call “Chasing after three teenage sons and fitting things in whenever I can” a business model?

How are you using social media to grow your business? Ineffectually.

Do you use a tech editor? 

Tiger Lily Jacket

How do you maintain your life/work balance?  
I don’t.  The two are intertwined 24/7.

How do you deal with criticism? 
It depends upon the criticism. If someone finds an error in my work and is kind enough to let me know, so that I can correct it for future readers, I think that’s a wonderful, generous thing they’ve done and I try  to show my appreciation. Then again, since I have a predominantly internet-based business, and the anonymity of the internet can foster all sorts of strange behaviors, my encounters can run the gamut. Not every criticism is entirely appropriate…or rational. Sometimes, the healthiest response I can muster is to remind myself that some folks might need their medication adjusted. ;)

Amaryllis Mittens

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself? 
Ha! ROFLMAO! I certainly didn’t start my knitting business with thoughts of supporting myself financially. If that had been my primary goal, I never would have started my knitting business to begin with.  Let’s be clear about this: If money is your main motivator, knitting design may well be the very worst job in the world for you. I left a Wall St. job in finance (Treasury Analyst / Senior Business Analyst) so that I could support my family in every OTHER way than financially, and so that I could follow my passion. In that vein, knitting design becomes a wonderful endeavor with countless benefits.  And once in a while, someone even buys a pattern or two!

Chevron Fingerless Mittens

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting? 
Start today. No, don’t give up the day job just yet.  But get swatching, start knitting, write that pattern up, get it up on Ravelry, see what becomes of it.  And have another one in the works, before you’re done with the first.  As an indy designer, you run your own clock, so you’ll work things in as you can.  You’ll know when it’s time to call it a “career”. 

What’s next for you? 
Hopefully, lots more of the same. I love it!



  1. Good advice, good words here. I love her designs. Thanks for sharing!!!

  2. Great interview! Love learning more about people who were able to leave corporate america and follow their passion!

  3. Love the interview - it's nice to read a bit about the person behind those wonderful intricate designs

  4. Great interview. I especially like this part of Mary Ann's answer about making money from knit design: "I left a Wall St. job in finance (Treasury Analyst / Senior Business Analyst) so that I could support my family in every OTHER way than financially, and so that I could follow my passion."

    There's wisdom there and there is beauty in every one of her designs. Thanks for sharing.