Friday, July 24, 2015

An Interview with...Judy Furlong

Judy sitting in her Orkney chair, wearing her original cashmere version of Monte Carlo, published in The Knitter, Issue 37, April 2013. Photo © Evans and Furlong.

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 Judy here on Ravelry.

From sketch to published design. Ritz was published in Knitting Magazine, Issue 17, October 2005. Composite photo © Evans and Furlong, photos of model © GMC.

Where do you find inspiration?

Everywhere!  From the yarn, from ‘people watching’ to see what kinds of things are actually being worn, asking what I’d like to wear myself or what would look good for a particular purpose.  When it’s for a magazine, for instance, there’s often a brief or a mood board to work from, so a lot of inspiration can come from interpreting that.   Sewn designs can often inspire me to try to create a particular look – I’m a sewer and a weaver too, so there’s a lot of cross-fertilization and fusion going on.  It’s varied really – sometimes it comes from the catwalks and sometimes it’s the colours of the countryside, it really does depend a lot on what the end purpose is.

What is your favourite knitting technique?

The one that works best, and by that I mean the one that suits the task best.  I don’t really have a favourite technique – there are so many very different methods available to knitters and knitting designers and they all have something to offer, so much to explore and enjoy. 

To tell the truth, I’m slightly allergic to a lot of the pigeon-holing of techniques.  I think it can become a bit too academic.  There’s a whole gradation of techniques and methods to be used and for me at least it’s all about achieving the desired effect, rather than what the particular approach is called, and sometimes – again for me – that means modifying what you might call a ‘standard’ technique a bit to do that.  Hope that doesn’t offend the purists too much and I’m certainly not saying my approach is the only one, or the right one.  It’s just the right one for me. 

How did you determine your size range?

It’s almost always dictated by the commissioner – the magazine or the yarn company.  I do like to push it to the highest possible range that any given design will take, but of course not all designs work for every size, particularly at the extremes, big or small.

Judy’s hand-woven tartan stoles. Top left (on dress form) is Wallace, top right is The National. Photo © Evans&Furlong. 

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

Yes, but almost always couture and catwalk designers rather than other knitters.  I like to feel that their vision and cleverness influences me, but that’s a different thing, of course, from outright theft of their ideas!

Not all tailoring techniques translate to knitting, but it can take you to some interesting places and open up lots of new ideas. 

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

It’s news to me; I can’t really say I’m aware of it.  As an idea?  There’s plenty of room in knitting for out-and-out beginners and the incredibly able, and everyone in between, but no one pattern can realistically be expected to accommodate the full range of competencies.  I think we can pretty safely trust knitters to do what they’ve always done when it comes to picking patterns – know their capabilities, and then push themselves a bit.  Isn’t that how we all get better?

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

Until a year or so ago, I used to have a team of 12, but these days I tend to do it all myself.  Who said control freak?

One for the boys - Kells, published in Knitting Magazine, November 2005. Photo © Evans&Furlong.

Did you do a formal business plan?

No, not in the spreadsheet, cash flow, profit and loss projection sense.  However, it’s a job like any other – a serious undertaking, so of course I had to consider whether taking on a particular project, or working for x,y or z made commercial sense.  I mean it’s not hard to be busy and paid badly.  Sometimes it’s important to be quite hard headed – business-like – about things.  So I didn’t have a business plan, but I did plan my business, if you see what I mean.

Do you have a mentor?

No, but I was undoubtedly inspired by meeting and working for Deborah Newton many years ago when I was living in the US.  I wouldn’t presume to call her a mentor, but she certainly helped the embryonic designer in me develop.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

No, not really – other than what I said about business plans. 

Do you use a tech editor?

Yes, through the magazines and publishing houses – and they’re just brilliant!

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

Run away into the garden as often as I can!  No, seriously knowing how much to take on (it’s taken me a while to get that right) and learning how – and when – to say ‘no’.  That said, life feeds into work, so I’m not sure there’s a hard distinction.

Another from sketch to finished piece. Judy's latest for men is the Norfolk Slop, published in The Knitter, January 2015. Photos © Evans&Furlong.

How do you deal with criticism?

Burst into tears, throw a complete tantrum and swear I’ll never design another ****** garment ever again!   Then cool down and probably end up conceding that maybe they’ve got a point. 

Proper constructive criticism is one thing – no one’s going to say it’s easy to hear, but if it’s fair, you can’t really grumble.  Spiteful nastiness just for its own sake, or just to prove how much cleverer that person thinks they are is a different thing entirely, and as we all know, the Internet has made that easier to do.  But that’s a modern life thing, not just a knitting thing.

I suppose it really depends on who is doing the criticizing – if it’s someone you respect and who knows what they’re on about.  Of course it doesn’t make the experience any more pleasant but as the old saying goes, better a wise man’s scorn than a fool’s praise. There’s a great story about the poet Robert Burns, that when someone he’d never met before was lavishing praise on him, he replied “I don’t know who you are Sir, so I do not know if your opinion is worth having.”  Not a bad mantra, I think.

Flavya designed for Fyberspates and published in August 2010, reworked as Gleam Lace Flavya, published in October 2014. Photo © Evans&Furlong.

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

If you mean to be able to pay the urgent bills – a few years, and a bit of luck along the way.  If you mean the luxury yachts, fast cars and caviar lifestyle I’d like to become accustomed to…...well, let’s just say I’m still working on that!

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

Don’t force it and don’t despair. Remember it’s a career your aiming for, and accept that it may take a bit of time to get there.  If it doesn’t work out for you at first, keep trying, but even if it never does, it doesn’t mean you’re no good.  Luck does play a part in it – getting the opportunities, seizing the chances – but it’s better to have tried than spend the rest of your days wondering if you could have made it, and they do say you can make your own luck. I’m not entirely sure if that’s true, but I do know achieving things is a whole lot easier if you stay positive, although I also know it’s not always easy to do.

What’s next for you?

A couple of interesting things have come along recently.  One is the virtual exhibition being planned by the Center for Knit and Crochet who want to feature some of my work in that – it’s really pretty exciting to be part of such a ground-breaking project that will archive the technique for generations to come. 

The other is that it looks as if I could be working with Creative Knitting magazine in the States.  It’s early days right now, but that’s looking like another exciting opportunity too.

Aside of them, I really have seriously neglected Ravelry!  I’ve finally decided that it’s time to do what I’ve been threatening to do for years and get all my patterns up on the site, so I’m going on a serious drive to get that done.  Revisiting ‘old’ designs is quite fun really, so I don’t know why it’s taken me quite so long to get around to doing it.  That life work balance thing you mentioned before, maybe?
Another from sketch to finished piece. Judy's latest for men is the Norfolk Slop, (on female mannequin) published in The Knitter, January 2015. Photos © Evans&Furlong.

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