Friday, August 21, 2015

An Interview with...Jenise Hope

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 Jenise here, on Pinterest here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
My favorite place to find inspiration is in my own closet - one of the best things about being able to knit is having ability to knit myself a top just like my favorite, but fixing those little details I don't like, or improving the fit.  For instance, adding bust short rows, or shortening it slightly (since I am petite), or making it in a fiber or color I prefer and can't find or afford in stores.  I am actually in in the midst of releasing a collection (2015 sweater collection: of sweaters/tops that are all better versions of the staple items in my personal wardrobe.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
Working in the round.  For a silly reason - I hate turning my work around!  I don't know why I feel that I waste so much time and effort in the couple of seconds it takes to turn my work around, but I just hate it.  Besides working in the round, I love Kitchener stitch.  And the more complicated it is (working in pattern stitches, anyone?) the more accomplished I feel when I get it done perfectly!

How did you determine your size range?
Initially, I had a look at the CYC standards, and started working with them.  Going from 28-50 inch bust sizes was 6 sizes, and when I have tried making more than six sizes, it just muddles my brain.  I guess you could say I am stuck in a size rut now :)  Also, I am confident within that range, but I have minimal experience fitting larger or smaller sizes than that and I would rather not offer a badly-fitting size.  As it is, I have adjusted my sizing charts at the upper range here and there.  More weight does not mean longer arms, or broader shoulders, so I have tweaked numbers here and there to fit the shape most women are.  Right now the ladies making my sweaters seem to be primarily in the 34-42 inch bust range, so the range just makes sense to me.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
One of the best places to learn what works, is to evaluate FOs and see how the different factors like the yarn, stitch pattern, style lines, and ease play together to make a more or less successful design.  I simply can't knit all the sweaters, and so I often browse patterns and projects on Ravelry just to see what worked and what didn't, and what different choices do to the overall effect.  Looking at pictures won't do it all, but combined with experience knitting, pictures of other sweaters can do a lot for learning about designing them.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
I usually write my patterns with a more experienced knitter in mind, and often use "advanced" techniques like grafting or wrong and right side patterned lace.  So I don't feel a need to write to the lowest possible skill level, and as an advanced knitter myself, I don't like having to skim over instructions on how to purl mixed into a pattern.  If you can't purl, k2tog, cast on, or cast off, those are best left out of the pattern besides a short note.  If the knitter doesn't know how to do it, it is up to them to check their "how to knit" book, or to utilize you-tube, which is likely to teach them much better than my wordy explanation. The one time I think tutorials should be included in a pattern is when an unusual technique is used, like an uncommon cast on, or a confusing form of a stitch that might be confusing for the knitter to look up. 

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
As much as I would like to do it all myself, my wrists won't allow me, and I love being able to write more patterns than I have time to knit samples too.  At any given time, I am likely to have 1-3 knitters somewhere slowly working on something.  Right now I have a larger than usual group knitting for me, about 7.  There is a second sample of a sweater, a big colorwork blanket, and a bunch of little accessories over a number of ladies.Test knits, when I do them, are more informal and involve 4-12 knitters at a time.  They tend to be more like a KAL in my group.

Did you do a formal business plan?
Ha!  No.  I wrote my first four patterns on a whim, for fun.  It wasn't till I started having good sales that it even occurred to me that it might be a viable business.  I have had the privilege of having the basics of life (food, housing, transportation) covered by my family, and I was free to decide this was a route that might be worth trying, and be free to experiment without worrying about this months rent.  As a result, I put a good year and half into full time design before it started making a decent amount of income, and now with three and a half years of full time work behind me, I am enjoying good sales and income.  It wouldn't have been viable if I needed to pay rent every month - only now am I getting to the point where I could live off my design income if I needed to.

Do you have a mentor?
For design?  Not really.  The only way I survived the first year or two was by reading and reading in the designers groups on Ravelry!  From there I picked up a lot of helpful information, and then my own experiments and charts did the rest.  Design is different for everyone, you really have to experiment to figure out what is going to worth your time.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
Not intentionally.  I tend to work in fits of "hey, this might be fun!" and see what ends up being the projects that make the money.  It always surprises me what will make the most sales. It took me about a year before I was confident enough to think I could work on a magazine deadline, and by then I was usually making more off my self published designs than most publications pay, so I more or less accidentally ended up following a primarily self-publishing model. 

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
Before my marriage, life and work were well melded and blended till you could hardly tell which was what, besides taking Sundays off.  If I'm knitting and having coffee with a friend, is it life or work?  If I'm on vacation with my family, but getting photos of my newest sweater that I'm wearing that day for the website, is that life or work?  Now that I am married, I usually take Saturday and half of Monday off as well, so I can spend some time focused on us and the household. For myself, I would tend towards the workaholic side, and I usually deal with that by making myself prioritize relationships.  If there is an event with friends, I go.  I might bring knitting along, but I have a rule that if the project gets to the point where I can't follow the talk anymore, I put the knitting away till I'm alone and can focus on figuring out the knitting.  I love my work!  It often enough feels like relaxing and fun, so there is a sense where knitting is my life as well as my work.

How do you deal with criticism?
By seriously asking myself if it is true or not.  If it is, change.  If it isn't, move on and forget.  If it is something silly, who cares.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
Three years of working full time.  Partly due to the amount of learning that has to happen before you can consistently make acceptable-good designs, partly just learning the ropes of the business side and figuring out what my work is worth.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Keep Learning.  Keep pushing yourself.  Once you make something, be sure to look back at it and evaluate.  Think about what you did wrong, or what could have been done better.  Think about what worked and what didn't.  This process of constant evaluation (and do it when you see other designers work too) builds up that intuitive sense that tells you what will work and what won't when you design your next projects.

What’s next for you?
A publisher of printed books recently contacted me, asking me to write a book/pattern collection for them, so that's the current big project!  Otherwise I still have a couple sweaters left in the 2015 collection, and a number of other projects live on in my mind, waiting till I have time to turn them into a pattern.

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