Friday, February 5, 2016

An Interview with...Heidi Kirrmaier

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 Heidi here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration in almost anything I look at, sometimes in unexpected places. I have a tendency see lines and geometric patterns in many things, from buildings, landscapes and artwork, to clothing I see people wearing or in fashion magazines. My designs are often centred around one particular shaping element and I don’t typically add much embellishment beyond what is required to incorporate that element and construct the remainder of garment around it.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
Because my designs often involve non-conventional, seamless construction, a provisional cast-on is a very useful technique for me.

How did you determine your size range?
My patterns generally cover a standard range from XS to XXL, with no more than about 3 inches between sizes. Sometimes a design will have inherent increments that dictate the possible sizing. Either way, I try to include about 8 sizes so that the majority of knitters will find a suitable size, minimizing the need for customization. Nevertheless, I do encourage knitters to make adjustments if they feel they need to in order to achieve a fit they prefer.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I think it is important to be aware of what is going on in one’s industry, but I don’t fear being influenced by others’ designs. As it is, I have more ideas than I will ever be able to produce!

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
Every designer has to decide where to strike the balance between how much detail to include in the pattern, and keeping the instructions concise. Ideally every knitter would have the same level of knowledge and skills, but this is not the case, making it difficult to determine the right balance. While I personally do not believe patterns should be expected to repeat instructions for common techniques that can be found elsewhere, if a little extra information can easily be included to provide clarity then I think there’s no reason not to include it. If a special or unusual technique used in the design, then it is reasonable to include the details for that or at least provide a reference or link to find more information about it. In the end though, a pattern is just a pattern and should not be expected to be a comprehensive knitting manual!

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I knit samples myself, but I always have my patterns test knit by others. There are a variety of knitters who do this for me, most of them volunteers.

Did you do a formal business plan?
I don’t have a formal business plan, primarily because designing is my second occupation. I have a fairly demanding full time job in a completely different industry. This means I have a limited amount of time to dedicate to designing, so I basically create designs as they come to me and take time I need to complete the patterning process. So far, this has generally resulted in releasing a new pattern every few months for the past 5 years or so.

Do you have a mentor?
My evolution into designing happened rather organically via Ravelry. I started by posting projects, many of which I had designed myself. Others took interest and asked if I’d write up the patterns, so I slowly started doing that and my business grew from there. As such, I haven’t had a mentor, but I’ve learned a lot by going through the relatively public process on Ravelry and receiving open feedback from many knitters.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
My business model is quite simple; it amounts to having clarity around what my focus should be, at least for the foreseeable future. There are a lot of different activities that can be undertaken in the field of knitting (for example: retailing, teaching, tech editing, sample knitting, photography, yarn production / dyeing, etc.), each of which requires a somewhat different skill set. For me, I have no doubt that my strengths lie in the technical and aesthetic aspects of design. Given the limited hours I have, it makes most sense for me to focus on the creation of new designs and pattern production.

Do you use a tech editor?
No, I do all the math, and triple (and quadruple!) checking of all the numbers and pattern components myself. For confirmation, I rely on my test knitters to point out if they discover any inconsistencies or errors.

How do you maintain your life/work balance with both a full time job and a part time knitting design business?
Actually, designing itself provides me with balance. My day job involves a lot of responsibilities and can be stressful at times, so I thrive on knowing I get to immerse myself in a very different world to counterbalance that. Both the creative and mathematical aspects of designing energize me, as does being connected with a community of crafters who regularly put a smile on my face when I see their creations. I do take my designing business very seriously though; I work hard to ensure my patterns are of high quality and that I am available to answer questions should the need arise.

How do you deal with criticism?
I take all feedback into consideration. There are many ways of approaching the various elements of designing - including the visual lay-out of a pattern, the pattern writing style, and the actual design - and it is natural that people will have different preferences. I try to accommodate those where I reasonably can, but I know it is not possible to please everyone all the time.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Decide what your strengths are, and focus on those. For example, if you love knitting and think therefore you want to open a yarn shop, you need to realize that this will not mean you will be spending a lot of time knitting, but rather you will be hiring staff, buying inventory, and doing accounting (or hiring staff to do accounting!) You may very well have several skills, but be sure to be deliberate about how to effectively apply them, and recognize you may need help if you start your own business. Be realistic about the time commitment and expenses it will take to be successful. Lastly, once you have a career in knitting, it is no longer a hobby!

What’s next for you?
More good designs and satisfied knitters, I hope!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much! I am a big fan of Ms Kirrmaier's scarf pattern Windward and want to try some of her other designs in future.