Friday, February 10, 2017

An Interview with...Robynn Weldon

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 Robynn here and here on Ravelry. You can find her elsewhere as @woollythinker on Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest.

Where do you find inspiration?
Everywhere! I have far more ideas than time to develop them all – I’m sure this is true for most designers. A design might start from a technique I want to play with, or an evocative word, or just the need to keep my children warm. My most recent designs were for a collaborative collection, Lost in the Woods, with a forest theme. For that I used my usual methods of developing ideas (swatching and experimenting with the yarn or stitches that were intriguing me, thinking about silhouettes), but at the same time thinking of how I could reflect the forest mood in each design. It was a different process for me but very effective!

What is your favourite knitting technique?
Whichever I’ve used most recently! Right now I’d love to be doing more brioche, after my scarf Pravigan, but I’m working on the last Lost in the Woods design – so my mind is full of textural stitches.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
Absolutely I do, all the time. I think it’s a mistake to worry about influence; of course I am influenced by others, we all are (design is everywhere!), but that’s a good thing. That’s how fashion works. It would be boring to try to copy someone, but I do want to see what’s in the air, what people are responding to, what triggers my own excitement.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I knit my own samples, but I use test knitters to get feedback on my patterns. I have an email list of maybe 20 testers, plus I usually (when the design isn’t strictly confidential!) put out a call on Ravelry. Most patterns get tested by 4-5 knitters. I also always use a tech editor (usually Kate Atherley, who literally wrote the book on pattern writing). Besides catching errors, working with a TE has helped me enormously in developing my pattern writing skills.

Did you do a formal business plan?
No. Business plans are fantastic tools but I consider myself to be in an apprenticeship phase. I don’t have much time to work on design – small children! – and don’t expect to earn much at this stage. I set myself creative goals, but not financial ones.

Do you have a mentor?
No – but I do chat a lot (on Ravelry, email etc) with other designers. I’ve formed strong connections with a few in particular, at similar career stages to myself, and those relationships are great for support and problem solving. I’d be too shy to ask a more experienced designer for mentoring, but the Ravelry Designers group is amazingly helpful.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I don’t! Most of my life is taken up with childcare. That’s both life and work I guess; at any rate it doesn’t leave much room for anything else. I get up at 5am to work on designs, and sometimes freelance editing or copy writing work. I have a part-time job that takes up the four mornings a week my toddler is in playgroup. Then afternoons are all about the kids; once they’re in bed, I have an hour or so to knit in front of the TV. There’s never even close to enough time for all the work I have and want to do. It’s exhausting and often frustrating. But it’s a choice. I could just not design, which on paper looks like the easier option! But I need my own projects – focusing entirely on the children (and boring paid work) makes me completely miserable. So although my time is pretty much entirely taken up with work of one kind of another, at least it’s different kinds of work. I’m looking forward to a slightly gentler pace (and more time for creating) as the kids grow.

How do you deal with criticism?
I’m lucky in that I haven’t had much – probably because I’m not well known as a designer. I also haven’t been submitting to magazines (I don’t think I’m ready for the deadline pressure yet), so I haven’t had to cope with rejection of a beloved idea! Any less-positive feedback I get has been more customer support (“why isn’t this working!”), rather than outright complaints or criticism. I’m sure that will change if and when I attract more attention!

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
It hasn’t happened yet (I have fewer than 20 patterns for sale and earn well under €100 most months; my output is slow, thanks to the kids, so that won’t grow fast). I honestly don’t expect to support myself with design alone. I read an interview with Debbie Bliss years ago in which she said it was impossible to make a living from design alone; hence her yarn line. That was before the explosion in self-publishing, but I’m now hearing the same from even the best-known of indie designers: you need more than one string to your bow. So a lot of designers also do teaching, or tech editing, or whatever. I don’t see myself as ever being a full-time designer. Partly for that reason, but also because I crave variety. I do layout and copy editing, and it’s great working with other designers on that, but I’m also keen to find other business opportunities (I used to run an online yarn shop). I really, really love
working in this industry – it’s not just the creative fun, I also love the people involved, and the passion that runs through it. So fingers crossed for a(nother) needlecraft-related business in my future!

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Understand the commercial realities: this is not an easy way to make money. Be flexible, look for as many income streams as possible, and be super professional – build your skills, know your strengths, and remember it’s a people business, so build your relationships. If you’re designing, don’t take shortcuts: using a tech editor and test knitters, and working on great photography, will pay off. Put out the best product you possibly can, right from the start. Spend some time in the Ravelry Designers group, reading through old threads; there’s so much invaluable experience and advice there. And have fun. Because it’s a wonderful industry to be in.

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