Monday, May 30, 2016

The Gauge Curse I knew there Had to be One! - Knitting Myths and Superstitions

According to Franklin Habit there is a gauge curse:

"Swearing in front of witnesses that you never swatch because you never need to will curse you with seven years of incorrect gauge."

You can read about his other lesser known curses here

However it's a well known knitting myth that knitting a sweater for a significant other before marriage can lead to  the relationship breaking up. There is even an old Ravelry group testing the curse. You can find it here. There's another group for believers of the curse here

The belief in this curse is so pervasive there is a Wikipedia page here. That page does give some interesting alternative explanations for the myth.

The good news is the Ravelry groups are pretty much inactive, perhaps it proves the myth hasn't happened enough for much posting.

Has it happened to me you ask? Unfortunately yes! Do I believe the myth? No, but then I'm not really the superstitious type. I did knit my husband a few sweaters in the early days of our marriage only to realize he just doesn't wear sweaters. We will be celebrating our 25th anniversary next Christmas eve.

Friday, May 27, 2016

An Interview with...Cosette Cornelius-Bates

 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
Cosette here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
When I was dyeing, and embroidering on knitting a lot, my inspiration came from all over the place.  For my designs I have to say my inspiration is either something in my environment - nature and place being most likely - or it is a person.  Generally it is the person I am making the original garment for.

Because I am such a color driven person, I can also be easily inspired by random colors ending up next to each other.  I also like to explore a technique I'm working with in many different ways, so a technique will often re-appear in my designs from a particular period of time.  It can be pretty inspiring to see how many different ways a technique can apply.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I love doing color-work with one color in each hand.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I've been on a bit of a designing hiatus, so I've had the pleasure of knitting other designers designs!  It has been lovely.  I've learned things and made beautiful creations.  I'm not at all afraid I will be influenced by their designs, but I also don't think influence is a bad thing.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I try to get everything tested in all sizes.  Usually friends (in real life and online) are doing it.  I wouldn't enjoy knitting the same thing over and over and if someone else wants to help out, who am I to say no.  They do get free patterns or free yarn (back when I was dyeing).  

Did you do a formal business plan?  How do you maintain your life/work balance?
Nope.  And my business changes every year.  Right now my husband is working 3 jobs and doing a full time doctorate in another city.  So, survival mode has reduced the business down to just running local fiber events.  My main job at the moment is to chase around my 2 and 4.5 year old.  So life/work balance varies depending upon the needs of my family at that exact moment.  When I had one child and my husband wasn't in school, I was committing a bit of time each week to designing.  Then graduate school happened and I had to pull back.  But kids are only little once and the doctorate will be over in a year.  And so we move on.

Do you have a mentor?
The way I started designing was when a publishing company approached me to write a book.  I'd never before even considered writing down a pattern.  So, no mentor except the ones I've found via books.  I've been flying by the seat of my pants for 10 years and figuring things out as I went.  When I started my WordPress blog I could only figure out how to insert one photo per blog entry.  Oh, how the times have changed.  My business has also changed from selling artsy hats at Indie craft fairs, to dyeing my own lines of yarn, selling hand-spun, to running fiber clubs, to designing, to running Indie fiber festivals to... whatever is next.

Do you use a tech editor?
Depends upon how complicated the pattern is.  I do a lot of accessory design and I find that I don't necessarily need one for those.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
I have purposefully kept myself to myself, publishing my patterns independently, not selling my yarn in stores because I wanted control of my business and my life.  I have such an unusual business in how much it has changed and that it isn't just designing.  I would say that if nothing else, you need to have drive.  You need to work as hard at this job as you would at any other.  This is your good work and do it well.  That and treat your body well.  Yoga, massage, or whatever you need to take care of yourself. 
What’s next for you?
Realistically, next up is one more year of semi-survival mode, a completed doctorate, and maybe a move.  I will run one Indie Knit and Spin marketplace and one Spin In.  I'm not sure when I'll get back to designing.  Or, rather, to actually doing the math and layout of the designs I've been making.  And so up next, I think I'll finish the sweater I'm knitting for myself, choose a new project, and just keep on creating.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Planning your Knitting Wardrobe

Are you a knitter who plans in advance how you will wear your knitted garments and accessories? Or do you just get excited about a yarn or pattern and leap right in with no idea how you will wear it?

I'm in the former category. I always choose the yarn colour with an idea of what I'll be wearing the finished item with. I have a clear idea in my mind regarding which silhouettes and garment lengths I prefer. The combination of leaving the corporate world and a weight loss four years ago meant I ended up slowly replacing a lot of my clothing. I was reasonably strategic with the new purchases and kept the colour palettes fairly neutral. I have basics in black, white, grey and lots of denim. These items give me a simple backdrop for the knits. Last fall I bought a pair of burgundy skinny jeans and they work surprisingly well with other neutrals and these two sweaters.  

What about you, are you planning ahead or do you end up with wardrobe orphans of great knitting without having the rest of the outfit ready to wear?

Monday, May 23, 2016

And your point would be.....

I've always had lots of clothes, some would say too many. One of the reasons for this is, I view my clothing budget as part of my entertainment budget. After sharing my frustration previously with my De Quervain's Tenosynovitis perhaps I should add it to my health care budget too!

I've used various organization methods for my clothing and I purposely change them up every few years to see new combinations. I've organized by season, by item, by colour, by location in my home, by outfits and I've combined the previous methods in different ways. 

My shawls were mixed in with my hand knits with everything sorted by colour. I recently pulled the shawls and scarves out and stacked them in no particular order in one place. The plan now is to rotate the stacks so they all get equal love. I take one off of the top of the stack and when it goes back, it goes to the bottom. 

And no the photos do not show all of the shawls and scarves I've knit. I have been knitting for a long time you know. What? you're surprised by the number, and your point would be.......

Friday, May 20, 2016

An Interview with...Sara Gresbach

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 Sara
here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?

I generally find inspiration for my designs in the world around me, just my everyday life. Sometimes it’s a place, or a feeling, or a song that brings me joy. Sometimes it’s the people I love that inspire me to create, and sometimes it’s just a fantastic texture found browsing a stitch dictionary that I just have to make.
What is your favourite knitting technique?
One of my favorite techniques is cabling without a cable needle. I love how intuitive it is and how quickly it changes the texture of a fabric with out a lot of fuss.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I love to browse new designs on Ravelry, and I still knit other designers’ patterns quite often. I find I learn something new with every project. Sometimes it’s exploring new techniques to accomplish something I really want to design, and sometimes I just want the ease of following someone else’s instructions. I have a tendency to feel a bit burned-out when the only knitting I’m doing is design-related, so adding in other peoples’ designs helps to keep my sanity level regular.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
I don’t have a really strong opinion about this, but in general, I try to add links and helpful tips into my patterns wherever I feel it will head-off the need for a knitter to contact me with questions. I’m always happy to provide pattern support for my designs, but it removes the step of knitters needing to contact me if I can provide them with the info I think they might need to make something work. It’s more empowering, and time-efficient, if someone can figure it out on their own.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I do all of my sample knitting myself, which can be daunting when things just aren’t flying off the needles as quickly as I’d like. I utilize test knitters on a volunteer basis and have a great group of knitters, including my sweet mom, who often work up my designs to perfect the finished pattern for me.

Did you do a formal business plan?

“Sanctuary” to be published around May 15th.

Do you have a mentor?
I have been lucky enough to surround myself with lots of seasoned knitters. My mom taught me to knit and it’s something we have continued to share and encourage each other with. We often turn to each other for help and advice. I attend a knitting group at my LYS, Main Street Yarn Shop, and the owner, as well as a great group of other knitters, are a constant source of support and laughter. I would be lost with out them.

Do you use a tech editor?
Absolutely! I would be a mess with out her attention to detail. Just when I think I’ve got something really polished, she helps to make it just a tad more shiny for me.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I used to be a lot harder on myself and get really stressed out about designing. I’ve taken a more relaxed approach in the past couple years, and I think it’s actually allowed me to be more productive. I have learned not to push the process. There are days when the process comes easily and inspiration just flows, and days when it doesn’t. If I feel like I’m forcing anything too much, I step back and take a break, because I know my work isn’t as good when it’s forced. I also used to feel rushed to get something started if I felt inspired, which often led to frogging and re-working things. I’ve learned that letting an idea ruminate and bounce around in my head for a while, sometimes a long while, really allows me to develop it. By doing this, I am usually able to start a project when it’s the right time to start it, and I am more prepared because I have taken more time to think it through from several angles.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I’m still working on that! I’m a mom who works from home. When I quit my job as an Occupational Therapist, I had no intention of starting any type of career from home. I just wanted to be with my kids and be more available to my family. I look at my designing business as something that has allowed me to be at home with my kids and be there for my family in a way I couldn’t have if I’d continued full time employment. And it helps to support my knitting addiction, so everyone wins!  &

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
If it’s a true passion for you, then I would say, jump in and give it a try. It’s not for everyone, and it definitely has it’s highs and lows, but it can be very gratifying. Obviously, if you don’t try, nothing will happen. If you give it a go and find it’s not for you, then at least you know.
It has become quite a competitive market in recent years though, so I guess I would say be prepared to produce as much of a consistent, high-quality product as possible to stay relevant. Do lots of reading and research and develop a relationship with a tech editor you really trust, that’s a must.
And make sure you are still finding enjoyment in it. For most of us, knitting started out as a hobby that brought us joy. If it turns into something that brings you no joy and only stress, it’s time to re-examine your process.

What’s next for you?

I have no big future plans for my knitting career other than to keep up what I’ve worked so hard to build. This was the first school-year that both of my kids were in school all day. It’s been great to get a feel for managing my time and painting a realistic picture for a design schedule. Summer will probably be quiet for publication since it means more family time, but I will be busy working behind the scenes on a few Fall designs I’ve already got brewing. 

Add ca

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Knotty Situation

I'm playing with some Noro yarn right now for an upcoming design. It's a yarn knitters either love or hate. Many object to the knots which occasionally turn up. I don't think there are many more knots than most yarns. I think the bigger issue is that the knots break the sequence of the colourway. 

I rewound each ball onto my ball winder keeping my fingers on the yarn so I could break it whenever I found a knot. I do this with almost all yarn I use which is in balls for this reason. When I don't, I'm always sorry when a knot shows up close to the end of a row and I have to go backwards. 

I didn't think to count before hand but most of my balls (seven out of ten ?) did not contain knots. I didn't find more than one knot in any of the balls. I had decided I would start my pieces in the same spot on the colour way. The balls never start at the same point so I rewound several balls slowly and wrote down the sequence. I got two slightly different sequences and one ball that completely skipped over several colours. I did have a customer when I worked in my LYS who was a Noro fan and she told me she occasionally found balls in reverse sequence. She also said she had given up on following the colour sequence because it was just too much trouble. I realized after playing around with the complete balls that while they mainly follow a sequence it isn't always exactly the same. 

I spent a little time in the Nuts for Noro Ravelry group. There are a few knitters there who spend time making the sequences match but as some point out, it can be next to impossible unless you are working in the round. I found posts about colour runs in longer and shorter lengths and balls which just skip some colours completely. 

I think I may just go Zen here, it is what it is and let it happen and not worry about how the colours align. It's more of a surprise that way and in the end they are all going to repeat somewhere in the garment.  

Monday, May 16, 2016

Deliberate Practice or Natural Talent?

I've been told on many occasions that some of us just have natural talent that others don't. I just don't buy that argument. 

I'm reading Peak by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. Ericsson is the originator of the10,000 hours idea. Unfortunately he wasn't too happy with the way his work was distilled down to a sound bite. You may remember I have some issues around the sound bites of knitting myself. Here, here and here.  

He feels that the concept of deliberate practice wasn't given enough attention. When most of us practice something, we often just do repetitions of the things we already do reasonably well. Deliberate practice is different. It's about working on the things you don't already do well. It's challenging and can be mentally exhausting. If you have ever spent a weekend at a knitting retreat you have probably realized how much effort goes into developing new skills and improving existing ones. At the end of every event I've been at, attendees speak about the mental overload they feel. 

Taking the classes at a retreat is part of deliberate practice. Teachers help you set goals for learning by presenting you with a series of steps which can be broken down into  discrete skills  for you to practice. Deliberate practice is a big topic and I won't try to reduce it into a paragraph here. If you are interested in improving in any area of your life, you'd find the book an interesting read.

I think that part of the reason I've never lost interest in knitting is that I continue to have areas where I'd like to improve my skills and I see various techniques I'd like to try. Deliberate practice is just part of my knitting routine. On the other hand I always have a simple carry around project for relaxing with. 


Friday, May 13, 2016

An Interview with...Ewelina Murach

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
Ewelina here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?

Everywhere: I look out for patterns and colour combinations wherever I go. I often have a camera with me and take photos of anything that seems interesting: it can be a random pattern created by different colour bricks, unusual angles in a building, or even a pattern created by cracks in the pavement. I spend some time every week looking for interesting images online – images of garments (not necessarily knitwear), interesting patterns, shapes - it can be anything. I also have several sketchbooks where I collect my ideas.

Sometimes inspiration comes from yarn – I see a skein of yarn and immediately know what I'm going to make. But that does not happen often – life would be too easy that way.

Usually the something that inspires me is just the starting point: I see a stitch pattern or garment construction that grabs my attention or need a particular kind of garment for my kids. Then comes swatching, sketching and more swatching - and that is the process where I get most ideas. Very often what comes out at the end has nothing to do with the original idea, but that is what makes designing exciting.

What is your favourite knitting technique?

I like trying new techniques and tricks, but my firm favourite is lace or lace combined with cables and stockinette stitch – I love the fabric they produce and endless design possibilities they offer. Recently I have also fallen in love with garter stitch, which I avoided since the first scarf I made for my teddy bear at the age of 6, wrongly thinking garter stitch is for beginners only.

How did you determine your size range?

I make the size range as wide as possible, but I stop at size 3X for adults – I have found it really difficult to find test knitters for sizes 2X and larger. I never really see finished projects in the largest sizes, so I'm not sure there is a demand. 

When I design for kids, the size range depends on design elements used. Sometimes a design is suitable for a full range of sizes from newborn to 12 years, sometimes it is not. For example, a wide lace panel, like the one I used in Leaf Lace Cardigan, would not work with a raglan construction for baby sizes because it is too wide, so the smallest size is 2 years. With some designs, I do not go higher than 8 years - a design that looks cute on a toddler, might not necessarily appeal to a 12-year old.

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

Yes, I look at other designers' work all the time – because there are so many awesome designs out there and you can learn so much. I believe if you want to be a designer, you need to know what is happening in the knitting world.

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

Patterns should be detailed enough to give knitters enough information so they can successfully complete a garment, without having to work stuff out for themselves with a spreadsheet. 

To make my patterns more accessible, I used to include tutorials in my early patterns, but I do not do it any more, instead I provide a list of links to tutorials available on the web. I also list the skills used in the pattern, so knitters can make their own decision whether the pattern is at the right level for them.

When I'm not sure how detailed my instructions should be, I use feedback from my test knitters – I try to have test knitters of different levels of experience, which gives me a picture of what knitters using my patterns might find difficult.

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

I always knit my own samples. This helps me to figure out pattern details, and make sure my instructions work – I write the pattern while I'm knitting. Sometimes things do not work the way I assumed they would, and I have to make changes to the design. Only after I have finished all tricky parts of my sample that require shaping or changes in the stitch patterns, and I'm satisfied everything works, I grade the pattern and have it tech edited and test knitted.

I do not have a set group of test knitters, many change from project to project, but there are several people who have tested most of my designs. I usually have 1-2 test knitters per size, the biggest test I have run had about 30 test knitters.

When I work on a simple design, like a cowl, scarf or a hat that is not very complex, I usually test it myself - although I might change this in the future.

Did you do a formal business plan?

I'm not sure this can be called a business plan, but yes, I do have a plan, which helps me to focus on my objectives and steps I need to take to achieve them. I usually plan for 3 month periods. Without a plan I would probably keep getting excited about new ideas, start new designs and never finish most of them – as I used to do when knitting was my hobby, not a job. Having a plan helps me to focus on my priorities so I do not waste the little work time I have every day. It also reminds me I need to sell my patterns, not only have fun designing them, which is something I tended to forget until quite recently.

Do you have a mentor?

No, I do not – but I have learnt a lot from my own mistakes. I used to concentrate on designing only, forgetting I was creating products that needed to sell – until I realized it was affecting my family and I couldn't go on this way. At the moment I'm taking an online course helping me with non-design aspects of running a business, such as planning and getting things done. I also subscribe to Fizzle, which is a brilliant site with lots of help and short courses on different aspects of online business.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

I'm in the process of creating my own business model, one that will work well for me and my family. There is no point copying someone else's model if your context is different.

That said, there are several designers I admire not only for their designs, but also for their business model – one of them is Justyna Lorkowska.

Do you use a tech editor?

Yes, my amazing tech editor, Rachel Brown, checks most of my patterns. The exception are simple designs, like scarves, cowls or hats – I tech edit them myself. I did a tech editing course run by Joeli Caparco ( a few years ago, and even considered it as a career, but tech editing for others would mean even less time for designing so the idea was quickly abandoned. It was a brilliant experience though, and it changed the way I write patterns.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

As for many parents of young kids, who work from home, that's tricky. I try to separate work and family as much as I can: I get up at 5 am to have 2 hours without distractions: I work on patterns and reply to emails and messages, than switch the computer off when my kids get up around 7. After my daughter has gone to school, I look after my 17-month old son, and knit whenever he plays on his own – sometimes it's 5 minutes at a time, sometimes he can keep himself occupied for more than half an hour. I switch my computer on again when he has his afternoon nap, and work for another 1-3 hours. In the evening, after the kids have gone to bed, I only have enough energy left for 1-2 hours of knitting in front of TV. The evenings are the time when I knit any tricky parts I need to concentrate on, that is why I usually knit at least 2 projects at a time – something easy for the day (like sleeves), something more complex in the evening. I work this way 7 days a week. 

To maintain just a bit of balance and my sanity, I do not read emails at weekends and have a lie-in (i.e. get up around 7, not 5). My working space is separate from where I spend the rest of the day (except knitting – I knit everywhere), and I do not read emails or go on social media when I'm with my son.

How do you deal with criticism?

It depends on the reason and the source of criticism. If it is constructive criticism, I see it as feedback, not criticism, and a learning opportunity that helps me to improve my work. Otherwise, I ignore it – you can't please everyone.

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

I'm not there yet, as I only work a few hours a day, but the money I earn is a substantial addition to our family budget.

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

Do what you love and what makes you happy, but do not quit your day job until you know you can support yourself from designing.

What’s next for you?

Finishing several patterns I started before I took my baby break in 2014-15.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Adjustable Shawls

Adjustable shawls are shawls which for reasons due to the mathematics of stitch repeats can be easily made smaller or larger. They are my favourite variety to design because they can be sized up or down based on the needs of the knitter or the amount of available yarn. 

As usual there is a Ravelry group for lovers of this type of design.

You can get lots of ideas for shawls which fall into this category from the group. There's a long thread here listing many of them. 

Why aren't all shawls designed this way you ask? It's usually due to the the size and shape of the stitch repeat. Which means sometimes gorgeous stitches don't get put into shawls if you are aiming for adaptability.

My Mary Westmacott Shawl is a good example of one which cannot be easily adjusted. It is created with the beautiful Oriel Lace stitch. I love it so much I used it in several projects for myself before I started designing.  

It's a bottom up design and can be enlarged by adding additional repeats at the cast on.  The wrinkle is that if a knitter does add repeats there will come a time when the chart runs out but you will still have stitches on your needle. If you are a confident knitter and can maintain the pattern while shaping you are fine and can just keep going. Before I wrote patterns I did this for myself often. I would have a chart of the stitch repeat and I wouldn't bother charting anything else. When I make a pattern to sell I want to give you good value for your money, so I chart out everything. That means less experienced knitters have the ability to work on more complicated designs which would be outside their skill set.

This pattern was designed to work with a single skein of
Mini Maiden, Handmaiden Fine Yarn.
The entire shawlette is charted. It can easily be made larger by repeating Charts 2 and 3 any number of times more before completing the final chart for the border. The question is how do you calculate this based on your available yardage. I think I'll leave the answer and a few more examples of adjustable shawls for another post.