Friday, March 31, 2017

An Interview with...Raquel Oliveira

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 Raquel here, here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
I usually try to get a lot of reference in my mind from other designers, things I see in stores and by weirdly staring at strangers in the middle of the streets! It’s amazing how much staring we do, right? I also have stitch dictionaries where I actually gather more specific inspiration. I love to try a new stitch and see how that works in different types of yarn. Sometimes a pattern pops up in my mind and I know exactly what I want to do!

What is your favourite knitting technique?
That always depends on what I’m learning at a specific moment. I’m constantly trying new techniques and improving the ones I already know. Currently I’m navigating through lacy patterns and discovering a whole new world. It took me a while to get into it, I believe I was afraid, like many knitters are. It’s crazy how what we are afraid of becomes so comfortable and way “easier” then we thought.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I do study a lot of other designers’ work. I believe we can always learn something new and different from so many people. I love to have references in my mind and that helps a lot when it comes to creating your own design. It’s impossible not to be influenced but you also learn that you have your own style and it’s always very clear once the design is finished.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
So far
I’ve been doing the samples by myself, since it’s what I love the most. Getting to knit your own design is the reward for working so hard in designing the thing in the first place! I’m not ready to give that up yet! I love to knit, and to design, but to design without knitting is, for me, not as fun. Although I understand that eventually, if I want to get things done in a short timeline, I’m going to have to learn how to share! LOL. I’ve just recently started working with test knitters. For my first book, I did it all by myself, and now I’m looking for more test knitters to help me out with different sizes of sweaters for adults. There’s no way I can do that by myself and they will see things that can be improved, that I might not see.

Did you do a formal business plan?
Well… they (whoever “they” are!) tried to get me to do that, but honestly it was too much for me. I know what I want for my business, it’s here, in my mind. I hope that’s enough! Ha,ha,ha. Plus I think a plan, as useful as it is, might get more stuck than free. I always count on me changing my mind about the whole thing. So in a way I almost don’t want to be attached to a business plan, if you know what I mean.

Do you have a mentor?

Unfortunately, no! I wish I had someone to receive mentor-ship from. I had to learn everything by myself and it’s still very very hard. It takes way longer to achieve a certain level of knowledge when you have to do the hard work yourself. I had people in the field giving me tips here and there about a lot of things but all my questions and fallouts had to be dealt with by myself. Still do. I believe that’s one of the reasons I love to teach, host workshops, give private lessons, and I’m always available to my friends through email, social media or telepathy! Ha,ha,ha, I don’t want people to go through it alone.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
Not really… I think I saw different people doing different things and I got for me what I connected with the most. I believe my business is a mix of a lot of business models I admire. I mix designing, teaching in person and through video tutorials. My main focus is designing but I like to teach in parallel, specially when I turn a non-knitter into a knitter, or even crocheter. I just love how they quickly get addicted, just like me! Ha,ha,ha.

Do you use a tech editor?

You know what? I don’t, but I definitely should. One of the things I want to change this year. I believe I’m slowly adding more and more professionalism into my business. It all started as a hobby and just recently it became more professional.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I have a 4 year old at home and between motherhood, taking care of my home, being present as a wife, I also manage to have some time for my business. Luckily, my daughter goes to preschool full time, and I have week days to work, and night for teaching when my husband can be at home with her. Of course that sometimes she gets sick and I have to drop everything for a week and be a full time mom. It’s the main reason I gave up my full time job out there to be present in her life when she needs me to.

How do you deal with criticism?

I try to understand their reasons and learn from it. I also try not to take it personal or get my heart broken! He,he,he. It’s always hard to receive criticism, but I also know that it’s impossible to make everyone happy. So criticisms are expected and I have to just accept that.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Try to find someone who could be your mentor. Someone who’s been through what you want to go through to give you insights and shortcuts. Study a lot, not only the techniques themselves, but the field and other designers, you can learn a lot from observing what other designers are doing. Connection and collaboration are keys to build a strong community and they help promote your business. Don’t be afraid to reach out, talk to people and ask questions. More often than not, people will be happy to help and lend you a hand. We’ve all been there and some of us are still going through it. Don’t think you are bad when you see other people’s work, you have your own value and style. Do what you love only, don’t try to be someone you are not! I can’t stress that enough. What works for someone might not work for you. Be present in social media. Think of what you needed the most when you were learning how to knit or how to read a pattern.

What’s next for you?
I’m working on my second book now and I hope to get a lot of great connections this year. I might slow down a bit next year to focus on another child, but I won’t stop teaching or designing.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Tips for Building a Hand Knit Wardrobe

The last seven years have been a time of transition for me both in my personal and professional lives. I've also had corresponding transitions in my wardrobe. I've gone from working in an office environment to working from my dining room table. I lost some weight five years ago and it was enough that most of my clothing no longer fit properly. I was hesitant to buy very many new things at first because I wanted to be sure my new habits for eating and exercise stuck. About six months in I started slowly updating and buying new basics. As an aside, if you want proof that clothes that are too big make you look bigger, I heard "oh my god have you lost more weight" many times as I started wearing my new clothing. 

Working from home means I no longer have a need for the office appropriate clothing I wore in the past. I now attend many knitting events so most of what I bought is evaluated based on the question "does it work with my hand knits"?

Fashion Stylists use a number of different methods to help their clients with wardrobe planning. There are plans for recipes, uniforms and capsules. All of these plans can work for you. You can see my sweater style recipe here. Note how it goes from super casual to moderately dressy for one sweater.

What is most important is to put in the work to figure out the answer to the question "how do you want to look?" There are many style blogs and books which can take you through a series of steps to determine the answer to this question. The end result is a phrase or statement that has the ability to make all of your wardrobe (knitting) choices much easier. I've written a full post on this topic here.

Being stylish often means both fitting in and standing out at the same time. You need to be dressed appropriately for the occasion or activity and you want to express your personality. At the same time you want to be in your own comfort zone, wearing clothing that makes you feel great.

When it comes to our hand knits, usually they are the star of our outfits. We knitters don't often knit basics which could be easily purchased. I finally knit myself a plain black cardigan, however I rarely wear it when I'm getting together with knitting friends. It gets worn when I'm wearing a print dress or blouse with black in the print. Most often as an additional layer against air conditioning in the summer. When I'm with knitters, I want to wear the knits which they have the ability and knowledge to appreciate.

As to styling your hand knits, the ideas will be different based on what the item is. I think the single best tip is to look at the styling you see with the pattern. The designer, stylist and photographer have already done the work for you. You can increase the formality or make their recipe more casual by switching pants for skirts and flats for heels. Search out outfits which appeal to you when looking at knitting magazines and books. It's also a good idea to take note of what you don't like, to help clarify what really works for you.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Lessons from the Stashdown

Photo from Learn2Knit

What am I learning from my Stashdown, well sometimes liking and wanting aren't really the same thing. Not every yarn needs to come home with me. It might be better if I leave some yarns which don't work with my overall knitting plan wherever they already happen to be. 

You can never go wrong with good basic yarns.

I should donate more of what I don't want rather than try to force it. I did realize startitis is often a message from your unconscious it's time to let something go.

The thought that someday someone else has to deal with all that yarn if I don't is becoming much more disturbing. 

On the positive side I really do have some lovely yarns to keep me busy for the next while between design projects.

I truly love the design challenge of making something great from what's turning up while I'm sorting through the stash. See my post here on what I've been doing. 

One pattern four ways:

Friday, March 24, 2017

An Interview with Wendy Peterson

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 Wendy here and here on Ravelry.

Where did the idea for come from?
I mentioned to my husband, David, that I had looked for a yarn substitution website, feeling sure that one would exist, and was surprised when I couldn't find what I was looking for. I wanted to be able to look up a yarn and see what was available that was similar to it. He's a computer programmer and knew that I was looking for some way of working from home while our children are young, so he said that we should make a site like that ourselves! I thought we might be biting off more than we could chew, but I was also excited to think that we could provide a useful service for knitters and crocheters. It took longer than we first anticipated, but I was really happy (and scared!) when we put the first beta version of the site live.

How do you go about researching all of the yarns in your database?
I make a lot of swatches! I love swatching a new-to-me yarn and getting a feel for its properties. I haven't tried every yarn in the database - we hold details of over 8000 and even I can't quite bring myself to swatch them all! So I used what I'd learned from the swatches (and many years of knitting) to help David write the program to score how well one yarn matches any other. I provide details to the YarnSub software about a yarn's fiber content, gauge, yarn construction and density, and it does the rest. There are still improvements that I'd like to make, and any mistakes in the data can cause problems too of course. I welcome emails from knitters or crocheters who tell me where a suggested substitute doesn't seem right, so that I can try and fix it.

Please tell us about your husband's role in running the site.
Like I said earlier, he was very involved in making it happen - not only writing the software, but also believing in my ability to pull off the yarn side of things and write articles for the website. He also loves graphic design, so looks after the look-and-feel of YarnSub too.

Do you have plans to monetize YarnSub?
We have affiliate links on YarnSub, so we do make some money from it. Being able to work from home and having flexibility to work around the needs of my two boys feels like a huge privilege at the moment. It's not all plain-sailing, as there are certain times of year - like when manufacturers release the next season's yarns - that there's an avalanche of maintenance to do. And I have to get through a great deal of procrastination before I can write the newsletter!! But generally working on YarnSub is a joy.

What kind of feedback are you getting from knitters who use the site?
Sometimes people ask me to add specific yarns or brands to the site, or tell me about a problem with our yarn data, or ask why a particular yarn isn't showing up as a closer match. The fiber community are a very supportive bunch though, and even people who point out something they don't agree with usually say that they love the site! I do get the odd terse email, but mostly people tell me how useful they find YarnSub and that they're very glad it's there. I'm always pleased to have an opportunity to improve it, and I really appreciate when people take time out of their day to get in touch.

What is your favourite thing about knitting?
It's hard to pick just one thing. I love the fact that I can dream something up in my head and then translate that into an actual thing. I love the connection between the yarn in my hand and the people and animals involved in its production. I love the knitting community and how you can sit down with a knitter and chat non-stop - or just knit, and either is wonderful. I love the never-ending learning opportunities, whether it's picking up a new technique, learning about a new yarn, or finding out what other knitters are up to. I love the fact that I can combine it with watching the TV or travelling on public transport and feel that I'm also doing something productive with my time. But if I were forced to choose just one thing, I think it would be the feeling of calm that settles around me every time I pick up my needles and start knitting. My world is okay when I'm knitting.

What’s next for you?
I am a bit obsessed with shaped intarsia, where you create smooth outlines to an intarsia motif by increasing and decreasing either side of the color change. I'm really keen to release some designs using that technique. And of course I'll continue to work on YarnSub - adding new yarns, writing articles for the newsletter and making improvements wherever we can.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Knitting a Wardrobe that Lasts

Since I've been working on the dual process of reorganizing my hand knits and my ongoing Stashdown, it's naturally led me to thinking more about the topic of knitting a wardrobe that lasts. Lessons were learned from both projects.

Reorganizing has made me value classic designs and silhouettes even more. They give a garment longevity. 

Really good, strong wool passes the test of time with flying colours.

And speaking of colour, it's really important to work with colours you love and colours that work with the rest of your wardrobe. We can love colours which we don't feel comfortable wearing. Choosing them to knit with, leads to owning a wonderful garment which you have to force yourself to wear. Pay attention to that! It's a lesson going forward in choosing patterns and yarns.

I did notice that some of the items which I still liked that aren't being worn are in colours that I lack garments to wear them with. A few of those items are in a holding pattern. Do I donate them or purchase things to wear them with. I'll let this decision alone for a while. Sometimes I find if I decide to decide later, my answer becomes very clear without spending a great deal of time on it. Things get processed in my unconscious in the same way design challenges work themselves out in the background when I stop trying so hard.

The next lesson is, letting go is hard. I did find that leaving the items I was conflicted about in open laundry baskets where I could see them every day helped. It took about ten days of seeing them and I felt much more ready to let them go. 

The Stashdown has had similar lessons which I think I'll address in another post.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Why I'm not Knitting

After finally beating back De Quervain's tenosynovitis  and getting back to more knitting time, I had a bizarre accident. I was out during a windstorm when a blowing plastic bag hit my legs. I tried to turn to let it blow off, not realizing it was wrapped so tightly around me that I just toppled over. 

Mainly I feel grateful that I didn't break my wrist. What you can't see in the photo is that the parts of my arm that aren't black, blue or purple are a yellowish green.  I'm waiting for the swelling and bruising to go down. I did try ten minutes of knitting yesterday but it was very awkward. I'll try again in a few days.

Friday, March 17, 2017

An Interview with...Kelly McClure

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 Kelly here and here on Ravelry. 

Where do you find inspiration?

I love to get outside when I'm not knitting. We recently purchased a ten acre homestead and I feel so fortunate to be able to go out for a hike on our trails every single day. The beauty of this place never ceases to overwhelm me! The patterns and elements that I see in nature undeniably end up in my designs.

What is your favourite knitting technique?

I have to confess that I LOVE grafting/Kitchener Stitch even though many knitters despise it. I find that I use it often, not just on sock toes, but to complete the top of a hat or to join two ends of a cowl. I get so much pleasure from seeing the "perfect" result.

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

I absolutely check out other designers' work! There is so much wonderful inspiration out there that I would be crazy to ignore it, although I get a special pleasure from coming up with an idea that is 100% original. 

Once I have an idea in mind, I always do a thorough search to make sure that I'm doing my due diligence to ensure that I'm not inadvertently "copying" or creating something similar to another person's idea, even if mine is a free pattern. My aim is to always contribute something brand new to the common tapestry. 

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

It really depends on the pattern. I try to make sure every design is test knit at least once and I'm lucky to have many volunteers. My favourite test knitter is my mom. Even the simplest ideas need another set of eyes. If the pattern is a bit more complicated, I try to have it tech edited as well.

Did you do a formal business plan?

Not originally since I was just selling knits at markets and on Etsy, but once I started designing professionally and dyeing yarn for sale, I did do one...I can't say that I've followed it very closely, though...

Do you have a mentor?

Actually, I don't think I really do, although there are lots of talented and incredible women who have supported me over the years and who currently support me. I'm very lucky to live in a community that loves fibre!

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

Not really, but I'm always squirreling away ideas.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

It's very easy to let knitting become a huge part of your identity (and it's so darn popular right now - how are we expected to resist?). I consider myself extremely lucky to be a full-time knitter. My job is not's more like 8 am to 11 pm. But it doesn't always feel like "work" when I'm at home in my pyjamas with Netflix on doing something I love! 

Sometimes it's really hard to tear myself away from a juicy project, but I have a new puppy, Lois, who needs lots of attention and exercise, so she motivates me to put down my needles and go on an adventure.

How do you deal with criticism?

Sometimes it's difficult to receive criticism when you've worked so hard on a pattern and have watched it come together over many months. I'm very stubborn and I'm pretty sure I'm always right. Criticism helps me to consider other perspectives and remember that, in fact, I'm not always right. Luckily, most people in the knitting community are very kind and largely the feedback I get is about minor errors.

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

I often have a part-time job in an unrelated industry and then delve back into knitting full-time. I would say Bohoknits was around part-time for about 4 years before I started designing hats for a professional company (Ambler Apparel) and that made a huge difference for me.

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

Learn all you can and always challenge yourself by learning new techniques. Knitting has experienced a major Renaissance in the last ten years, so take advantage of that. Pay attention to what is going on out there and listen to the pulse of the knitting community. They will never steer you wrong!

What’s next for you?

I am planning to release a new eBook of five or six shawl patterns in the next month or two! I would also like to continue dyeing yarn and fibre, however, my studio is a bit defunct until we renovate the space at our new house.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Pom Pom Crazy

I found this on a Spanish blog, it really did make me laugh when I saw it. There's more silliness over there. If you want to check it out just follow the link under the photo.

The blogger also has a Pinterest page.  It focuses on yarn but it includes some really cute pom pom projects as well. Many of them focus on home decor, toys and accessories. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

An Interview with...Holli Yeoh

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 Holli here and here on Ravelry. 

Where do you find inspiration?
My inspiration comes from little moments in my day to day life, stitch dictionaries, street fashion, costumes on TV, nature, fabrics and stitch patterns found in retail shops. The list goes on! I’m always snapping photos with my phone as a visual reference to remind me of ideas I’ve had while I’m out and about. For instance, the frothy waves behind the ferry made me want to recreate them in lace, which ultimately became my Wake design.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
Anything to do with knitting! Usually I’m most enamoured with whatever technique I’m exploring in a current design. Right now I’m playing with designing a heel construction for a sock.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I used to be worried that I would be too influenced by other designers’ work but not any more. I’ve found that even if something they’ve done excites and inspires me, by the time I’m finished exploring the idea it has become my own.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I used sample knitters for the first time when I worked on my book, Tempest: a collection of 11 patterns designed by Holli Yeoh for SweetGeorgia Yarns. Our timeline was too tight for me to do all the knitting myself. Giving up that control was one of the most difficult parts of the project! I would have caught problems earlier or made different decisions if I had done the knitting myself. It was also tremendously time consuming. Between sample and test knitters I was communicating with 45 different knitters on that project!
I do use test knitters occasionally for other projects, which I find helpful. Their input helps me produce a better pattern with clear instructions.

Did you do a formal business plan?
I laughed out loud at this one! I’m chagrined to admit that I’m mostly flying by the seat of my pants and having a great time doing it!

Do you use a tech editor?
Most definitely. I love working with tech editors. They have such a great way of massaging what I’m saying by just tweaking a word here and there. I also appreciate the peace of mind they provide that my numbers are correct.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
When my son was small I worked while he slept and later, when he was in school. It was a very part-time endeavour. I really wanted to submit designs to magazines and books, but wasn’t confident I could work with the short timelines. Once my son was more independent (and taking the bus to school!), my time freed up substantially and I have the luxury of devoting as much time to designing as I want. He’s a teenager now and as a family we now focus on creating family time since we all have our solitary pursuits. Oh, and we won’t get into house cleaning. ;-)

How do you deal with criticism?
I don’t think anyone really likes criticism. If it’s valid and constructive I try to learn from it. Sometimes I need to ponder on it before I see its merit and find a way to apply it to what I’m doing. I thank them for reaching out and let them know that I’ve heard them.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Take care of your body! Get in the habit of stretching and taking frequent breaks both from knitting and the computer.
Also, if someone wants to write knitting patterns, read everything you can get your hands on: forums, patterns, technique books. I spent a lot of time reading patterns to determine what I liked and didn’t like about how they were written. From that I was able to pull together my own style sheet for how I wanted my patterns to flow. I listen to what knitters have to say about patterns and their difficulties in following them and try to incorporate their needs into my patterns to avoid their frustrations.
Remember that it took practice to learn to knit and designing and writing patterns also takes practice. The more you do it, the better you’ll get.

What’s next for you?
I’m always working on secret projects for third-party publishers. So far this year already I expect at least nine new releases.

I would really like to work on another collection and enjoyed the collaborative approach when I worked on my book. I’ve have several ideas I’ve been mulling over but I’ve yet to decide on my next direction.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Hand Knitting versus the Fashion World

What's the disconnect here? I have a weird fascination with the type of garment in the photo above. This one is from Vogue Magazine, it's from Paul & Joe (Pre-Fall 2017 collection). I found it on Pinterest. It's interesting enough for Vogue to cover it on both their British and American websites. I'm guessing that fashionista types must like it, if it gets that sort of coverage.  On the other hand I can just hear my knitting friends listing off the problems they would have making something like this. They would likely say:

  • It's inside out.
  • It's fake or cheater's Fair Isle.
  • The ends aren't sewn in
  • The edges on the scarf are unfinished and that's why it's rolling up. 
  • It looks like a bunch of leftover scraps. 

Did I miss anything? What do you think about the difference between fashion and hand knitting aesthetics?

Monday, March 6, 2017

Tips on How to use my Patterns as Stashbusters

I just spoke at a local guild on this topic so I'll share a few of my ideas here. First, why? I've been working on busting my stash since last summer. I donated a lot of yarn which I knew I wouldn't use to a group in a shelter. Another friend was running classes there and they got some of my stash. I've also realized it doesn't matter how old you are you can't escape the lessons your family taught you. In my case my  Grandmother never got over the depression. Being wasteful just seems wrong to me. Finally, I really get a kick out of working on design challenges and this has been a lot of fun! I've got two stashbuster patterns, both with super simple knitting, mostly garter which allows me to combine very different yarns together.

Here are the tricks of the two designs. First working top down or sideways, while increasing and decreasing means you can knit as long as you have yarn.

Both patterns require a minimum of three colours/yarns and you can go crazy depending on how many ends you want to deal with in the second version which is the Ruth Kettering Wrap.

My earlier stash buster is the Dolly Bantry Shawl.

There are several colour strategies I used for both patterns.

Pick one variegated or multicolored yarn and choose other yarns that look right to your eye when you put them together. The green and mauve wrap on the left of the top photo uses that combination, which is mainly green and mauve.

Choose three solids - two neutrals and a colour or two colours and a neutral. In the photo at the top you will see these versions as well. Or you could go monochromatic and choose all one colour or even all one neutral.  

What about a rainbow spectrum based on a colour wheel?

If you do use a colour wheel and want to use three colours, a harmonious mix could be analogous groupings. Pick three colours in a row. As an example yellow, yellow/orange,and orange.

Remember if you use complimentary colours (across from one another on the wheel), equal proportions don’t work as well, use the Ruth Kettering pattern not Dolly Bantry and shift the complementary proportion to be about a 1/9 ratio.

Keep in mind, colour is very personal so feel free to ignore my suggestions and experiment. What is pleasing to my eye might not be to yours. 

Once of the reasons I had so many bits of yarn I could combine is that we are often drawn to the same colours. You will probably find the same situation when you dig into your stash.

Mixing yarn weights works in these patterns because you are changing yarns very quickly, so there are no large areas of a single yarn. It's often a good idea to start the edge with the heaviest yarn before switching to lighter yarns.  

The picots were added to my second design as a place to bury the ends and keep everything neat with multiple yarns.

The samples have as many as three to four different weights in them. They vary from lace, fingering, dk, worsted, aran and include a thick and thin handspun.

For needle size, I use either the needle recommended for the heaviest yarn or one size up. If you are a tight knitter go up two sizes, you want a drapey fabric for a shawl/wrap.

For the Dolly Bantry pattern the smallest one has 154 yards as its shortest yardage for a single yarn. The lower edge is started when about 45% of the yarn is used up.

The Ruth Kettering Wrap has a total of 600 yards (200 each colour of light fingering) in the black, green and yellow version. You can get more details on the pattern and project pages about sizing.