Wednesday, June 29, 2016

More on "I think I see Something"

Three queued items, the oldest is from Jan 2015

There were a couple of interesting comments on my previous post.

Cassie said:

"Hi Robin, I've noticed a big change in the last couple of years of customer reaction on Ravelry. It used to be when I published a design there would be a surge of sales (and occasionally I'd end up on the hot right now list). But now there is hardly any reaction and low sales. Patterns seem to sell most 2-3 years after publishing, probably after a few projects have been posted to Ravelry.

Cassie's comment is in alignment with what I'm experiencing. There isn't much reaction when I release a pattern. Even though I'm seeing a slow but steady increase in overall pattern sales I don't get very many project pages popping up. I see a lot more sales than those project pages would indicate. Is it possible that knitters see new patterns popping up so fast they pay less attention now?

Renee Anne  said:

"I've noticed that, too. Also, people like me that don't have a ton of time to knit wind up making things like Clapotis many years after publication. And then there are designs that I've done that are just sitting in Ravelry, no projects....except mine, of course (because I make prototypes of anything I design because I'm crazy that way). And then, someday, someone makes something and woo!"

This comment made me wonder if the ability to queue patterns keeps knitters going back to older patterns in a way they never did before? In the past you might put a marker in a magazine or book on a pattern but if you put it on a shelf you might not come across that pattern again for a long time. Now with your own online queue you can revisit those patterns more frequently and are reminded which yarn in your stash works with the pattern. I did a little investigation on some of my Ravelry friends pages and I saw lots of projects in their queues. What do you think?

Monday, June 27, 2016

Peak Performance

I'm still thinking about peak performance and how all of it relates back to acquiring and improving our knitting skills. I posted earlier here about the book Peak. Yes, these are the things I ponder and I hope they make me a better teacher.

The writers listed some things that were likely to lead people to higher levels of performance. Interestingly, all are things I see happening in the knitting world. The list included that the skill often started as play. The individual received praise and encouragement as they learned more. That curiosity is a factor, I think we see that expressed by the technique junkies. Not surprisingly, there is often social time spent with people who share the same interest. Many students find role models. Sometimes they compete with others or themselves to improve. It's common to take lessons and engage in deliberate practice. Knitters develop habits which support their ongoing improvement. 

One of the most fascinating concepts to me in the book was the discussion of skills versus knowledge. It refers to what you can do versus what you know. Knowledge is considered to be facts, concepts and rules which go into long term memory. However when you try to use knowledge, short term memory and attention limitations get in the way of performance. The way to get around this limitation is by making the information part of a mental representation. Then all the knowledge becomes part of an interconnected pattern. This provides context and meaning. By trying, failing, revising and repeating the mental representation is formed. So to engage in deliberate practice we need to plan for what we want to be able to do not what we should know. When we are learning we need to break down the process into steps. Then master one at a time, while working towards excellence. The concept of mental representations works partially through what known as chunking to get around short term memory limitation. As in reading, we go from letters to words to sentences. You can't remember every letter in a sentence instantly but we remember many whole sentences as a single unit. You could however then focus in on individual words and letters. The sentence has created a high level, big picture view. So the mental representation is a structure which corresponds to an object or an idea or a collection of information. The mental representations of knitting are what's required to control your hands movements to produce stitches. These representations are used to respond quickly and accurately in specific situations. 

Interestingly not all experts can break down the steps verbally. Often when one knitter shows another knitter a technique we need to demonstrate it first to be able to verbalize it. I know right now you can instantly divide knit stitches into knit, purl, yarn over, and cable but you couldn't when you first started knitting. Do you remember struggling to identify garter versus reverse stocking stitch? 

When developing any new skill, comprehension comes slowly in the beginning. As you progress, the more you know, the more you will understand. More complex skills can be understood because you've already developed a mental representation of the underlying information. If you started to try to learn a more complex skill such as entrelac, brioche or steeks right after learning garter stitch, the information would seem random. You would be unable to use it at that point. Interesting isn't it?

Friday, June 24, 2016

An Interview with...Amy van de Laar

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 Amy
here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?

So many places! Nature is a big one - I've based stitch patterns on leaves, feathers, clouds, stars, crystals, and honeycomb, for instance. I've also based patterns on Daleks, the neck of a guitar, and old-school computer games. I really love inventing stitch patterns and then seeing what they want to become.
Editors note: If you are not a Dr Who fan. The Daleks are a fictional extraterrestrial race of mutants principally portrayed in the British science fiction television programme Doctor Who.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I'm torn between cables and lace! I love texture in knitting, whether it's made by yarn-overs or cable crossings.

How did you determine your size range?
I design accessories, so my sizes for each design are really determined by what the stitch pattern repeats will allow. I like to offer 2+ sizes for hats, and I always include suggestions for modifying the size where possible.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I look at other designers' work all the time. I love browsing patterns on Ravelry, and I follow a lot of designers on Instagram. Looking at all the different colour-combos and shapes and stitches that are possible, keeps me inspired!

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
I think making patterns more accessible to different kinds of knitters is great! Personally I like to be given more information rather than less, and just skip over any explanations I don't need. I think using a pattern layout with the abbreviations, stitch glossary, and additional tips on a separate page is helpful, so knitters can look up the info they need and the actual pattern instructions can be more succinct.

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

I use volunteer test knitters frequently, to help check my patterns for knitability by different people and in different yarns. I have a few lovely people who are frequent testers, and I put out open tester-calls on Ravelry. And I always knit each design myself first, checking my instructions and tweaking things as I go.

Did you do a formal business plan?

No. I kind of gradually fell into designing seriously over the span of a few years.

Do you have a mentor?
Not formally. But I read and take part in discussions between designers in Ravelry and Facebook groups, and on Instagram and Twitter, and I find it so valuable! I also get a lot out of Tara Swiger's podcasts on marketing and other aspects of running a craft business.

Do you use a tech editor?
I've worked with a few, but am currently in search of one. I'd like to find someone local-ish if possible, but there don't seem to be many tech editors based in NZ or Australia. I do have a proof-reader who is brilliant at checking all of my maths.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

I'm not that great at this. I have a tendency to get obsessed if I'm solving a problem, like trying to make a stitch pattern work, and it can be hard to get my head out of 'work mode'. I'm trying to get better at using weekends for taking a break, instead of additional work time.

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

I definitely don't earn enough to support myself through designing. I have a partner who earns a very good salary, and we live quite cheaply - for example, we have two flatmates to help keep rent costs down. I'm still building up my business by trying out different strategies to make it more profitable, as well as increasing my portfolio of patterns.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Find out as much as you can about the industry: read a lot, and ask a lot of questions. Join the Ravelry groups for designers and budding designers, read blogs, listen to podcasts, anything you can find. Know what you're getting into, because you may not be able to make as much money as you might expect. Knitting design in particular is getting more and more competitive these days.

What’s next for you?

I'm working on a three-piece collection (a shawl, cowl, and wrap) based on a deceptively simple leaf-lace stitch contrasting with garter stitch. The samples are knitting up unusually fast, which is great! They're in a kind of sweet spot between being good tv-knitting and not being too boring. I'm totally in love with the colours, too!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

I Think I see Something

I had lunch with another designer friend on Friday. We were talking about sales, the international nature of the knitting business and how social media plays into all of the above. I think I'm seeing something new. I've noticed many of my patterns seem to find an audience long after publication. I know many industry insiders who are all about the release. They try to manipulate the "hot right now" in Ravelry, they only advertise new patterns and they avoid publishing close to the dates the well known online magazines publish. I've never seen one of my patterns on "hot right now". I have occasionally gotten an email saying I was there but clearly it was for such a short time I didn't look quick enough.

I think in some way sites like Ravelry, Patternfish and Love Knitting may be changing the world of knitting patterns. Buyers don't really care when a pattern was published, they want a pattern which meets their needs. Once they get past the early pages and do a search on the parameters they are looking for they see older patterns and often don't even know when the pattern was published. What I'm seeing is patterns like this one starting to sell more months after it was published than it did at the time of release.


Monday, June 20, 2016

Why am I doing this?

One of my non-knitting friends recently asked me why am I so interested in making clothing.

I've been sewing and knitting since I was in my teens. I was heavily influenced by my mother who sewed, knit and crocheted. People become garment makers for many different reasons. Some of us want unique garments, some have special fitting problems, others just have a need to know how the magic of garment creation works and love to learn all of the techniques required. We have a need as humans to adorn ourselves, it's a form of artistic expression for many of us even when we don't make the clothes. Just check out the outfit pages in Pinterest to see how people are using clothing as self-expression.

Some garment makers have very little interest in current fashion and take a more historical approach to their learning path. You see this with knitters too. We keep Fair Isle designs and specific lace traditions (Orenburg and Estonian) alive when they would otherwise disappear. 

Why am I doing this? I can't not do it!

Friday, June 17, 2016

An Interview with...Jimenez Joseph

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 Jimi
here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
I get inspiration from everywhere! Never a day goes by when something catches my eye and I don't think, "hey, that would look so cool knitted up", or "I wonder if I can make a stitch pattern look like that!".

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I'm still exploring this... but right now, 'top-down seamless, set-in sleeve' is looking favourite. I like this because with my broad sloping shoulders I need something a little more structured. Anything that doesn't require seaming is always a winner! 

How did you determine your size range?
The size range was based on my very first commissioned sweater design, where the range was set at XS to 3XL. Ever since then, I've stayed with this sizing structure, purely because I felt that I was supposed to. The larger sizes don't always work for some of my designs, but the majority of them go up to 3XL. It's nice to see my designs knitted up on the larger sizes - it makes me feel proud.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
When I create a design, I (perhaps foolishly) think that I've created something new that no-one has done before. To be absolutely sure, I would then trawl the entire Ravelry database for anything similar. If my design resembles something already out there, then I would either change it, or reject the design altogether. So in answer to this question, yes I do end up looking at other designers' work, because I am careful about mimicking knitting trends or other designs. My aim is to bring 'something different' to the table and I think that is what people who like my work are looking for. Particularly in an industry where nothing is new under the sun!

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
In this technological age, it's no longer necessary to teach knitters to suck eggs since we have access to YouTube and Ravelry. But I always make sure that any techniques that are required in my patterns are aided by a link to a video tutorial, or such like. Any assistance I can offer the knitter is always a good thing.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
All the samples are knitted by myself. In many cases, twice! I have volunteer test knitters who test the pattern before its release. It's a fun time for us, almost like a mini KAL!

Did you do a formal business plan?
If you call breaking my leg in a sporting accident, then learning how to knit while I convalesced, a business plan... then yes! ;-)

Do you have a mentor?
I wish I did! All that I have learned was through Ravelry and YouTube. However, I do have Ysolda Teague to thank for her work that inspired me to focus on designing and writing patterns.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
Not really, no. It doesn't interest me to enter design submissions for magazines. If I am asked to, then I will seriously consider it. I like to challenge myself based on yarn that I already own, so the only restriction is the yarn and nothing else. I can take my time with my work, but ultimately, the intention is to enjoy what I do.

Do you use a tech editor?
Yes, mostly for garments, where size grading needs a second pair of eyes. Steph Boardman ( is a great tech editor!

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
There is no balance, they just inter-mingle! I knit while waiting in the car on the school run! As you can imagine it's hard, but I do try to book myself a slot so that I can work on knitting maths for my patterns. I need these hours of uninterrupted time to do this - not easy with a needy teenager... not to mention a needy husband! LOL!

How do you deal with criticism?
I'm still waiting for someone to test me on this one, but this is what is amazing about our community, everybody is helpful and supportive. Any feedback that I have encountered has only been there to help me improve. So I've never really seen it as criticism. The knitting industry is great because although we are armed with sharp sticks, nobody wants to stab you in the back! 

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
Hahahahaha....!!!! What I earn keeps me in yarn, I suppose! :-)

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
I was once told, "If you love what you do, then do it, irrespective of monetary gain. Once people can see that you have a passion for your craft, then they will get behind you and the rest will follow". I think this is true.

What’s next for you?
I'd love to publish a book, but I want it to be a book that not only showcases some of my designs, but also my sense of fun! How about a pop-up knitting book? Hmmm! ;-)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A Pattern Promotion and Project Numbers in Ravelry

Here's some "inside the designer world" discussion. I've been told there are knitters who won’t buy a pattern that has a low number of projects or good project photos, as they don’t trust the pattern. They say the more popular a pattern is, the more people who want to knit it. Popularity on Ravelry is measured by project numbers, photos, comments and forum discussions. Another designer recently told me she overheard a yarn shop owner tell a customer not to buy one of her new patterns because Ravelry isn't showing any projects. She was pretty upset about it and so am I. 

I'm always encouraging people to "please, please, please post photos in Ravelry"

Here's what my numbers tell me. I used five of my patterns in the shawl and garment categories based on sales in Ravelry and Patternfish. The range of projects to pattern sales is .02 to 2.8. I know when I ask, knitters they tell me they would rather be knitting than spending time on Ravelry.

Last summer I offered a free pattern to any one who created a finished project page. I only had a few people take me up on the offer. I'm going to make the same offer again this year.

I'm running it as a special promotion. From now until August 31 2016, if you post a project page with a photo of any of my patterns shown with a completed project, I'll give you a promo code for a free pattern. You can choose any of my patterns that are available on Ravelry. Just email me (my contact info is at the top of this page) give me the project page link or the details, your Ravelry name etc. I'll send the promo code to your email. Happy Knitting!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Barbe's Gift - New Pattern

My newest pattern is named for a member of my monthly knitting group. Barbe recently passed away after a long illness. She asked our group to come visit and go through her yarn, notions and books. When we asked what she wanted us to do, she said she wanted us all to pick yarns for ourselves and knit some things to remember her by. I knit these two samples from her yarn. 

We asked if donating some things would be in alignment with her wishes and it was, so many of the books, needles and yarn have been donated to various groups here in Ontario. Barbe worked for many years as a volunteer at a program for the homeless called Out of the Cold. I was able to send many of her things to a YMCA program for homeless women. I also gave all of the pink yarn to my guild for Knit for the Cure. 

Today, I'm sharing the wonderful photos taken by my friend Flora. This is the first time I've used mixed mannequin and modeled shots for one of my designs. I'd love to hear what you think about this. I've had many requests for modeled photos but I'm not convinced that I can do this effectively myself. Unfortunately a professional model is too expensive for me at this point in time. You can read more of my thoughts on this topic of model versus mannequin here. Be sure to read the comments for opposing views. You can go to the the Ravelry pattern page to see all of the photos and detail shots of the stitch.

Friday, June 10, 2016

An Interview with...Lorraine Pistorio

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 Lorraine
here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?

My inspiration for a pattern design comes from everywhere around me. My little grandchild inspires me, as well. Since I design toy animals, sometimes, I want to find a unique way to accomplish something, so that will be my inspiration for a new design. Sometimes, a thought just pops into my head or I’ll get an inspiration while I’m sleeping.  I’m a very visual person, so I have to be able to “see” the finished product of what I plan to design, in my head. If I can’t envision it, I can’t write a pattern for it. I spend a LOT of time thinking…working it out in my head…how I will proceed…different ways to accomplish the look I’m after…searching for the easiest way for the knitter, who will follow my directions, to achieve success and enjoyment from the pattern. I’m inspired by the challenge of placing something on the earth that I’m proud of, that others can learn to do and the desire to create something that will bring enjoyment to a child.

What is your favourite knitting technique?

I enjoy knitting in-the-round using the Magic Loop method. This creates toy animals without all the seaming of body parts later. Magic Loop also makes it easy to knit any number of stitches to be knit on the same needles.

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

I enjoy seeing the lovely toy animal designs of others. There are so many different ways to interpret the look of an animal. I design mine to look different from others, to create my own signature look.

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

I’m not sure there is a controversy. I do feel that everyone learns in different ways, so patterns should offer adequate information so knitters will be successful in knitting the pattern. Having been a school teacher, I know the importance of writing directions clearly, so someone else can follow them. Much time is spent typing these initial directions into a format that is visually pleasing and orderly, and in an understandable jargon. I also rate my patterns at the “intermediate” level, since there is a lot of shaping involved. Today, through the Internet, there is easy access to information. So if there is something in the pattern that the knitter may need help with, help is not far away. I include a lot of information, both written and with pictures, and I also include my email address at the bottom of all my patterns, in case a knitter should still have a question.

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

Test knitting is valuable. But I don’t want to rely only on test knitters. In the end, it’s still my responsibility to put out a finished product that is as error-free and understandable as possible. When I first design a pattern, I do so using a “work yarn”, not the yarn I intend for the actual finished design. Using this work yarn, I write down my pattern directions as I go, using pencil and paper. When I feel it is written correctly, I type the pattern directions into my computer and print out a copy. I use this computer copy and the intended yarn to create the design again. I read and follow my directions as printed, looking for anything that may seem awkward or incorrect. Then I leave the pattern alone for a couple of weeks and go back to it with fresh eyes, proof-reading again.

Did you do a formal business plan?

No. Actually, this is just a hobby that happened to turn into a small business. I retired from my educator’s position and finally had time to get back into knitting. I enjoyed creating these toy animals and started writing up the pattern directions. Before long, I was selling the patterns on the Internet. So there’s no formal business plan. I do try to create some goals for myself, but I keep it fun and pressure-free.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

Since I’m retired now, I make my own schedule and it’s very flexible.

What’s next for you?

I’ve always got lots of ideas for new designs floating about in my head. I keep a list, so I don’t forget them. I’ve got two new designs ready to go, but I like to allow time in between putting patterns out. I don’t feel rushed to get them out. I remind myself that I’m retired from the scheduled life that I had for so many years. Like I said, I keep it fun and pressure-free. This is just a creative outlet I enjoy as a hobby. I continue to challenge myself to grow and learn and find new ways to achieve shape in knitting in a simple and enjoyable way. I try to create products that have a certain sweetness to them…that will bring enjoyment to those who receive them.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

It's my Seven Year Anniversary

It's my Seven Year Anniversary for the blog, WOW!

I have learned a lot over the past years. 

I've written over 1000 posts, the first one is here.

I've done around 350 interviews on the blog.

I've made more knitting friends.

I joined a photography group for knitters. 

I made a top 100 list this year.  I'm way down at the bottom but I'm very happy to be on the list considering the company I'm in.

As a result, I had over 20,000 page views of the blog in the last month. 

I see a lot of traffic going to my topic index and I love knowing many knitters see me as a resource.

I'm selling more patterns. Of course there are more to sell now. 

Here's hoping the next seven years will be as much fun.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Read more Blogs!

I occasionally get someone telling me blogs are dead while pushing video and image only social media. If that’s what you prefer that’s your choice. I however love blogs! I’m a fast reader and I enjoy reading a variety of blogs everyday. I follow fashion, knitting,photography and development and some of my friends through blogs. I can see on my blogger stats page that I continue to attract new readers so I know some people feel the same as I do. 

This is from Seth Godin (entrepreneur and  marketer) and I agree.

Good blogs aren’t focused on the vapid race for clicks that other forms of social media encourage. Instead, they patiently inform and challenge, using your time with respect.

Here’s the thing: Google doesn’t want you to read blogs. They shut down their RSS reader and they’re dumping many blog subscriptions into the gmail promo folder, where they languish unread.
And Facebook doesn’t want you to read blogs either. They have cut back the organic sharing some blogs benefited from so that those bloggers will pay to ‘boost’ their traffic to what it used to be.
RSS still works. It’s still free. It’s still unfiltered, uncensored and spam-free.

I use Feedly to organize my blogs. Just google it and you will be able to set up your own feed. 

You can read his whole post here.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Five years ago...

I have some interviews promised but I didn't get one in in time for today's post. I looked back at my old posts and found that I've published around 350 interviews to date. Most of them are indexed here. Go down to the bottom of the page for the list.

I'm going to link to an old post today.  Five years ago I interviewed Jodie Lucas. 

I love the photo at the top of her interview. 

I looked to see if she is still active and the answer is yes, those amazing sheep pillows were published in May 2016. 

So of course now I'm curious about some of the even older interviews. Are the interviewee's still in the knitting industry? I may do a little investigation and let you know later.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Knitting Maxims and Myths

After posting about the gauge curse on Monday I went back and read a few of my old posts about myths.

Here's an updated version of a post from 2011:

Have you ever noticed that common maxims that are true often have an opposite that is also true? 

Look before you leap versus he who hesitates is lost.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder versus out of sight out of mind. 

Deeper analysis tells us that while both are true we often need to look more closely to understand why that is the case.

As an example this quote: "Absence diminishes mediocre passions and increases great ones, as the wind extinguishes candles and fans fires." Francois de La Rochefoucauld

Here's a list of knitting maxims, myths and personal rules which I hear frequently. The personal rules are the most dangerous, leading to many a knitting disaster. You will notice a few that are exact opposites. When you are having trouble with your knitting projects you might want to rethink some of these, especially the personal rules.

I don't need to do a swatch. I have perfect gauge.

But I'm always a size "X"!

I only knit with....(fill in the blank with a needle type or yarn).

You will be the only knitter in the world that can make stocking stitch edges that will not roll.

Yes - I can knit that item in the (extremely short) specified time. 

And the related one: This year all my Christmas gifts will be hand knit items.

Row gauge doesn't matter. 

Row gauge is critical to success.

Knitting is easy.

Knitting is hard.

You must hold your needles in the correct way.

There is no one single way to hold your needles.

Only old ladies knit.

Only cool young hipsters knit.

You must complete every project.

You must abandon projects that aren't working.

Buttonholes are too hard.

Buttonholes are easy.