Friday, August 14, 2015

An Interview with...Kari-Helene Rane

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 Kari-Helene here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
Often, my inspiration comes from knitting itself. My brain seems to analyze what I am working on and interpret and change and design from it as I go. Sometimes I am not quite sure how it happens! A design will just pop up in my mind and I have to quickly jot it down! I love looking at vintage knitwear and vintage fashion and draw a lot of inspiration from photos and illustrations. Other times I can find inspiration in very random things. Once I designed a jumper based on a picture of a field! 

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I am partial to a good cable. There is so much fun to be had with cables. There are endless possibilities of different combinations and I love how they affect the work. I use cables to manipulate shape, such as on the back of my Duchess Cardigan.

How did you determine your size range?
I wanted to be able to appeal to a wide range of women but have decided to stick with what is mostly used in the commercial world, XS-XL.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I do not think there is anything wrong with being influenced by other peoples work. I do not approve of copying, but there's a long way from copy to influence. I believe we are all influenced by what is going on around us, consciously or not.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
Before being asked this question I did not realize there was an ongoing debate on this topic. I am aware that some knitters need further explanations than others, but that is just how we are all different and what level of experience we are at. When Purl Alpaca Designs started I was still learning about pattern writing and over the years I hope and think I have improved my pattern writing. I will always attempt to explain as much as possible, but it does happen that I will have to make edits or changes to a pattern. I am always happy to help knitters struggling with one of my patterns, and will always answer emails, Facebook messages and tweets to explain. 

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I have a list of about 10 with 3-4 that I use often. There is too much knitting for me to do it all.Tracy and I run Purl Alpaca Designs on our own and between us we have a lot of different task to keep on top of. Running a pattern writing/knitting business is unfortunately not just about knitting!

Did you do a formal business plan?
Yes we did. In fact over the 8 years we have been working together we have done several. Also, at the beginning of every year we have a meeting where we sit down and plan what we would like to achieve in the year ahead. At the end of the year it is really good to sit down and look at everything we have done, and if there is something we have not, we can talk about why and how we would like to deal with this differently next year. 

Do you have a mentor?
At the beginning of my career I worked really closely with Andrew Jones of former Modernist, Max Mara and Marc Jacobs. He helped me a lot when learning about pattern writing and translating my designs into understandable patterns for others to follow. I can still ask him for help when I need it, but I find I can manage more and more on my own. I think it is important to never be afraid of asking for help. We improve our own work by talking to and listening to the advice of others.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
I think I have drawn on a lot of different designers and companies when deciding how to set up Purl Alpaca Designs, not only in the knitting world. When we started out, there were hardly any pattern businesses showing the finished product on their stands at exhibitions for people to touch and try on. To me, coming from a ready to wear background, this was an important part of our display and has proven very popular with our customers. 

Do you use a tech editor?
Yes, I do. She is wonderful and helps me a lot. We often have discussions about how to keep the design details intact when grading and it can lead to interesting challenges. I enjoy the maths involved in knitting, but it is essential to have someone there to make sure it all ends up right!

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I work from home and my home life and work life tends to float into one. I try to keep my working hours to normal working hours, but usually I will keep working on my knitting in the evenings. It is interesting when your hobby becomes your work how 8 hours are no longer a normal working day. I strive to take time off at weekends to enjoy time with my partner or play sports. I play Ultimate Frisbee competitively and will be competing for Norway at the European Championships this summer. It is important to me to stay fit and healthy as I believe this improves your ability to work efficiently when needed! 

How do you deal with criticism?
It depends where the criticism comes from! I always value constructive feedback from customers and other professionals and will as much as possible try to take it on board and make changes where needed. However, I am not always that good at taking criticism in other areas of my life. This is something I am working on.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
Even though both Tracy and I have now been working full time with Purl Alpaca Designs for several years I would not say we are fully able to support ourselves on the business. We do take a wage, but it is not even near minimum wage. This is also something we are working on! 

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Take your time. Do not expect to be self sufficient or rich over night. It is a slow process, but when you get it right it's a fantastic feeling!

What’s next for you?
I am currently working on our new collection of patterns. We launch one collection every year of approximately 12 designs. We usually launch in September/October. We are also hoping on having our first retail unit before the end of the year!


  1. Such a nice read! I've had the pleasure of meeting Kari-Helene and Tracy last year, their designs are really stunning! Looking forward to your new collection, girls! :) xo Carmen

  2. Such an inspiring lady! It's so refreshing to meet people that are truly passionate about what they do and are happy to share their skills. We need knitters that keep pushing the limits of knits with creative wearable designs. xo Ida