Friday, April 28, 2017

An Interview with..Valerie Miller

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 Valerie here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
Most of the time I’m inspired by the yarn. I'm a purchase-first-plan-later kind of knitter. When I feel ready to start the design process, I dive into the stash and a yarn usually jumps out at me. I then design around that yarn, considering its texture, color or color pattern, and drape. Other times a design idea will pop into my head while doing mundane tasks... dish-washing and daily commuting really get me daydreaming! For this I keep my day planner handy to jot things down before the idea floats away. I keep knitting graph paper in there just case!

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I love most techniques (even plain stockinette and fussy seaming!), so I'm going to have to flip that question around and say that my least favorite knitting techniques are complex, evolving cables that require me to keep notes, and intarsia. I love the end results, but those are the techniques that slow me down the most… and I'm a slow knitter to begin with!

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
Honestly, I feel it's nearly impossible not to be influenced by other designers. I don't think you can completely isolate yourself from other creatives and still expect to feel challenged and inspired. I’ve often thought that musicians must have a similar dilemma, with musical scores being composed of a limited number of defined key components. Countless have come before, combining those elements in what seems like every which way possible, and yet beautiful, original works are released every day!  
Before throwing myself entirely into a design I'll spend at least an hour scouring Ravelry to make sure I haven't subconsciously or serendipitously repeated an existing design. I'd like to think other designers do the same!

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I try to do the test-knitting myself by making 2 samples of each design. I don't feel comfortable asking knitters to test-knit for me for free and since I pay a professional tech editor for her hard work, hiring test knitters without the certainty that I’ll sell enough patterns to break even is too costly a gamble for me right now.I did have four wonderful volunteer test-knitters for Glenvalley. I was and still am just blown away by that kind of generosity, because I really feel like test-knitters should be compensated. So until I reach a level where I know for certain I can pay both test-knitters and my editor, I'll probably continue to do the test-knitting myself.

Did you do a formal business plan?
I consider my dabbling in design more of a hobby. My most popular patterns are free and I like to encourage people to donate to local food banks and shelters in exchange. If I manage to sell enough copies of a pattern to cover the cost of the yarn, editor, and a portion of my photo editing software subscription, then I'm golden! My day job isn't in a creative field so I really appreciate the creative outlet designing affords me. I'm not aiming for it to become my principal source of income.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
By letting housework fall by the wayside ;)
I have a ridiculously long work commute and that's when I do the majority of my knitting. I don't get home in the evening until about 7 and then it's a dance of cooking, dish-washing and lunch prep. Usually the photography has to wait until the weekend. Since I both model and photograph the designs, I have to use a self-timer and really take my time. Every time I rush things I regret it later!

How do you deal with criticism?
If the criticism relates to the fit, accuracy or clarity of my patterns, I'm rather grateful it! I recently pulled one of the first patterns I designed because some Ravelers were disappointed with the fit. A design might be free but what use is it when it doesn’t fit well?

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I don’t expect to ever be able to support myself from designing. A more realistic goal for me would be for the hobby to support itself. That would be amazing.

What’s next for you?
Since I’ve just recently published my Northumberland shawl pattern, I’m resting my brain a little bit and just enjoying knitting some plain vanilla socks. But a few days ago I came across some beautiful skeins of Viola yarn in the stash and put them aside for a lightweight cardigan design. Turning an idea into a tangible garment is addictive!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Knitters Frolic and Robin Hunter Designs for Signature Yarns

Edited to add: A sharp eyed reader pointed out there is a price discrepancy on the top two photos. It turns out the kit with this yarn is $49. Patrick has updated his website as well if you are ordering online.

Here's another one of my patterns. This one is specifically for summer worked in an organic cotton yarn. Patrick will have kits with the yarn and pattern at this Saturday's Knitters Frolic event in Toronto. This is another of the collaborations we have worked on together for Signature Yarns. I'll be in the Signature Yarns booth for part of the day, come say hello! I'll be at the Sunday Social as well.  

Monday, April 24, 2017

Toronto Knitters Frolic

If you are local and plan on attending the Toronto Knitters Frolic, I'll be in the Signature Yarns booth for part of the day, come say hello! I'll be at the Sunday Social as well.  

Patrick will have kits with the yarn and pattern collaborations we have worked on together. Here's just one of the featured patterns.
The Glenhost Wrap has been interpreted 3 ways, in Americo Original Winter Flammé, Cardiff Cashmere Classic DK and Prism Petite Madison. They are all lovely!

Friday, April 21, 2017

An Interview with...Willow and Sasha (Knox Mountain Knit Co.)

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 Knox Mountain Knit Co. here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?  
Sasha: I love the outdoors! So I definitely find inspiration in nature and in the beautiful region in which I live, the Okanagan Valley of BC. In fact, that's the whole premise of Knox Mountain Knit Co. We aim to name our patterns after what their inspiration came from. In each pattern, we write a little paragraph about this, so that knitters can have a connection to the pattern and place.

Could you tell us a little about your company name change and how it came about? 
Sasha: We were formerly known as Okanagan Knit Co. Since the company members changed in January 2017 we decided to change our name and start fresh.  

One of our most popular patterns was a hat called 'Knox', with an all-around mountain motif, named after our local Knox Mountain. We chose the name Knox Mountain Knit Co. in honor of that. 

What is your favourite knitting technique?
Sasha: That's like asking a music lover what their favorite song is! How can one choose? But seriously though if I had to choose one, the first that comes to mind is cables.  I've also done a wee bit of colourwork/intarsia/fair-isle and I'm definitely interested learning more about it! Maybe even a pattern one day!

Willow: This changes constantly! I’m always on the lookout for new ways to do old things.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
Sasha: Yes! I want to support them as much as I can. I want to knit all the things! I sometimes choose a special pattern and knit it just for me to get my mind off of thinking about new designs 24/7. 

Willow: We also keep an eye on other designers because we don’t want to put out a design that looks like a copy! Sometimes we will come up with a great idea and then check Ravelry and someone else has already done it. Social media also makes it pretty hard to not know what is going on in the knitting world. My Instagram feed is full of amazing designs from other designers!

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

Willow: Usually the process is that one of us will come up with a design and knit it, then the other one of us will knit it and suggest tweaks, then we will send it out for testing. We aim for five-ten testers per design, and have a couple of really lovely knitters who have tested for us on almost every design so far. Testers are such an integral part of the process! They manage to catch things that Sasha and I miss even after knitting the pattern a few times. Sasha ends up knitting most of the samples because she can bang out four shawls in the time it takes me to knit one!

Do you have a mentor?
Sasha: Yes! Taiga Hilliard. I used to do test knitting for her and although we've never met in real life we have become close friends. Test knitting for her has taught me a lot about knitting because it forced me to try new things and pushed me out of my comfort zone. Taiga has given me the best advice and has encouraged me every step of the way! I feel blessed to have a great friend in her.  

I'd also say Willow is my mentor. We bounce ideas off of each other and have no problem saying if we like it or dislike it, or if there is a better way of doing things. We are a great team and don't easily get offended with each other. I look at constructive criticism as feedback not failure!

Willow: I do have a few knitting friends who I turn to for knitting advice often (Sasha included!). It is so helpful to be able to bounce ideas off someone. Sometimes you hit a point where everything just seems like the worst idea ever, but a fresh set of ideas can come up with something brilliant! Every design we do is a compilation, and I think it really makes our designs shine! We put the best of both of us into each one.

Do you use a tech editor?
Sasha: Willow is the tech editor! And she's REALLY good at it! She's highly efficient and makes our PDF’s look gorgeous and professional. She takes really great photos too! She's a Jane of all trades.

Willow: I don't consider myself an actual tech editor, but I am figuring out a lot as we go!

How do you maintain your life/work balance? Sasha: There is NO balance, ha-ha! I think about knitting/designing all day everyday. I think about it when I wake up, when I drink my morning coffee, when I'm driving to the grocery store, when I'm making dinner, when I'm exercising, when I'm watching TV, even when I'm sleeping. I would love to quit my day job and just design and knit all day.

Willow: I haven’t figured this out yet. My day job is my young children, and they take up a lot of my time, but I try to sneak in knitting whenever I can! And then I usually stay up way too late knitting and then regret it in the morning.

How do you deal with criticism?

Sasha: I haven’t come across much. People in the knitting community are quite lovely! But if I did, I tried my best to always be kind. And try to remember not everyone is going to like you and that's OK. We all have different likes and dislikes in life. It's what makes us unique!

Willow: I try to just tell myself that most people really are just trying to help, even if it doesn’t come across that way. That being said, so far, the knitting community has been so great and supportive, and any criticism we have encountered has been fairly mild!

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself? Sasha: I never got into this for the money, but if I make some in the process it means more money for yarn! We are having a lot of fun and enjoying the journey and if we can make a few bucks and great friends along the way then I'm happy.

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

Sasha: Anything is possible! If you think of a concept, write it down and figure out a way to make it happen. I don't consider myself a designer. I'm just a girl who wants to create cool things that I want to wear!

What’s next for you?
Sasha: We are getting very excited for Knit City this year! We've booked a booth (our first one ever) and have an exciting collaboration going with one of our favorite Indie Dyers! Stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Halesworth Wrap

Patrick of Signature Yarns popped by the other day to show me the second finished sample of The Halesworth Wrap. (Hey, if I can't knit as much as I would like, I can at least drool over someone else's knitting.) This one was knit by another friend of ours, a fellow Village Yarns alumni. It's fantastic but definitely not for the faint of heart when it comes to colour. One of the things we're noticed is that gorgeous colour helps knitters really see a pattern. They may chose different colours when we show them the options but it gets their attention!

If you are interested, the pattern includes links to my blog post series on reading your knitting. I use the three stitch patterns in the wrap as examples for how to understand each stitch pattern. It really helps you to eliminate errors in your knitting when you acquire that skill.

I took a few quick photos to share here. 

The yarn in this version is a cotton rayon blend. It has a little sheen from the rayon and knits up with a crisp hand which makes those stitch patterns really pop. 

Here's the original with a less bold colour combination.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Friday, April 14, 2017

An Interview with...Sarah Schira &

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 Sarah here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
I love using places as my starting point. I have spent most of my life on the prairies, where the vast sweep of land and sky encourage you to look for lines and textures. Sometimes I design explicitly from a place and sometimes a project on the needles starts to remind me of somewhere.

For example, the Travelling Landscapes shawl was a challenge I set myself last summer. I designed and knit a shawl inspired by our travels during a 4 week trip to Europe. It was one of the most exciting things I’ve done.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
Cables. Such a simple technique for so much beauty. 

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I’m a “capital K” Knitter above all else! I can’t imagine not indulging in the glorious hobby of pouring over knitting patterns, thinking of colours and textures and how the shapes might work in my wardrobe.
I often consciously turn away from looking at other designs when I’m beginning to work for the first few days. There are other times right at the beginning of some projects when I look at dozens of patterns trying to see how a particular element can play out on different shapes or in different colours.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I don’t currently use sample knitters, but I definitely use test knitters - they’re such a vital part of the process! They catch mistakes, yes, but they also show me where things were confusing or where the layout made things less clear.
The number of varies from project to project: I like a minimum of 2 people for every size and I make sure that there are people knitting from charts and written instructions.

Did you do a formal business plan?
Yes, I do, although maybe not as formal as a small business that needed a bank loan to get started. I spent 15 years homeschooling my two children and now that my youngest is graduating this spring, I would like to earn a living designing and teaching knitting. I’ve been designing sweaters and accessories for us almost since the first months I was a knitter, but I’ve only recently started to share them with others. 

Do you have a mentor?
No, unfortunately. &

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
I’ve been paying attention to what my favourite designers who seem to be making a go of it are doing, but I don’t know if that is exactly what you mean. I’m still feeling my way into this in terms of both the design side and the business side.

Do you use a tech editor?
For some projects yes, when I want a second look at the math or charts beyond what the test knitters provide.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
By always prioritizing life. Work serves life - if it isn’t helping me create the life I want to lead, then it’s counter-productive. I definitely set myself up to be swamped occasionally, but I’m learning from that and getting better at anticipating which tasks need more time or shouldn’t be combined with others.
I went through a period in my 20s as a mother of young children where I lost myself. We moved a lot as university students, demands were high, and - other than my husband - support was low. I was overweight, tired, and overwhelmed. Ever since then I’ve tried to prioritize a sustainable balance.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I’m not there yet! I’ve been publishing designs for almost 2 years but I am still homeschooling my son. I’m easing into this as a full time business, and I’m happy with the progress I see but I’m not yet pulling in much of an income.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Be patient - it takes time to build up all the processes and habits that you will need. You’ll need time to sort out how you approach things, and you’ll be doing *a lot* of things. From photographing to finances, from grading sizes to figuring out what your web host should be, there’s a lot to this that isn’t knitting.
Also, on a very practical note: listen to pretty much every podcast that Tara Swiger has put out. It’s called Explore your Enthusiasm. She is a business coach for artists, knitting designers, and other creatives. Her podcasts can really help you sort out your mental approach to the process and help you avoid pitfalls.

What’s next for you?
I’m working on a new collection of accessories. I’m thinking of trying the approach where people can buy the whole collection at a discount and I release the designs over the space of a few months. I know I love the way that anticipation and surprise add awesomeness to life.
I’m also starting to submit to magazines. Now that I feel like I have my bearings, I’d really like to see what that process is like.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Ergonomics for Knitters

Bag available here

I had some success knitting yesterday. It took three different projects before I figured out what I could knit. After using my heat pack and stretching I started experimenting.

1) I had started a swatch before my wrist sprain and had decided the gauge was too tight. I ripped it out and started again a needle size up. I was really struggling with the movement and my first thought was "uhoh" my gauge may be really messed up on this swatch. Then I remembered when I teach absolute beginners it's often easier if I start by casting on and knitting a few rows for them so they have existing stitches to work from. 

2) I got out a vest which I had put aside recently. I had about four inches of knitting completed. Humm, this was definitely easier. I wasn't feeling awkward, I knit for about 20 minutes and then took a rest. There wasn't any pain but the yarns in that project are sturdy wools, some in that crispy category.

3) While I was resting, I remembered I had another project in which I was working with very soft yarns with a loose gauge on straight needles. Number 1 and 2 are both on circulars. Eureka! I did two more 20 minute sessions of knitting. I don't want to overdo it. 

4) Lessons learned, maybe multiple UFOs aren't as bad as I think they are!  OK, I do have too many but that's a different post topic. Other lessons, try changing the needle style, use softer yarns and looser gauges for easier on the hands and wrists knitting.

Next time I'm going to do a roundup post on various sources of info on knitting ergonomics.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Still not Knitting...

This is how I feel

My wrist sprain is still stopping me from spending much time knitting. Right now 20 minutes seems to be about the maximum. I'm finding it rather frustrating. I'm diligently doing my stretching and exercises, but the real exercise is the exercise of my patience. 

I thought I'd spend some extra time blogging and write some posts for later publication. Guess what? When I'm not knitting, I'm not thinking so much about knitting and for the first time in the seven years I've been blogging I seem to be struggling for topics. Normally the ideas just seem to appear from nowhere so this is a surprise to me. 

I have been reading quite a bit. I've gone back and read a couple of Nevil Shute novels. My Grandmother was very fond of his books and I've read all of the collection in my local library in the past. I've just reread A Town Like Alice and Trustee from the Toolroom.

I've also made some jewellery. I think I'm able to do that since the movements are much less repetitive 

I think my next move will be to spend some time on other knitting blogs and perhaps watch a couple of Craftsy classes for inspiration. 

What do you do if you can't knit?

Friday, April 7, 2017

An Interview with...Patti Waters

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 Patti here and here on Ravelry.

Patti added a disclaimer to her interview as I invited her to do the interview based on her inclusion in a Canadian designer Knit-a-long. I'm including the disclaimer here since some of my readers are ones who are following that event.  

Patti says: "In the interest of full disclosure, I am not technically Canadian. I am a US citizen, and a permanent resident of Canada. I work and live in Canada, but I wouldn’t want to imply that I am a Canadian when I am not."

Where do you find inspiration? 
I draw a lot of inspiration from patterns I see in nature, though they appear very loosely related when translated into knitting.

What is your favourite knitting technique? 

I love cables. I love the intricacy of a very complex cable pattern, when I have had enough coffee to follow it that is.

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

I look at other designers constantly. A good writer should read all the time, and a good designer should knit other people’s patterns. We are all a product of our experiences, and I am absolutely influenced by the other knitting I see and work on, but that is a good thing. Creativity is always a collaboration in some way, nobody exists in a vacuum.

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

Some I do myself, and some are friends and/or volunteers found via Ravelry.

Did you do a formal business plan? 

Do you have a mentor? 

Not exactly, I have several people I go to for advice, some more on the business end, and others more on the knitting end.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated? 

Not really, I never meant for this to be my sole profession, but when I took ownership of Passionknit, where I had been working for several years, my designs had become staples around the shop.

Do you use a tech editor? 

No. I have a very technical mind, and I proof my own work extensively.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?  

Carefully. My bottom line is not the bottom line, my family comes first. Work is the thing I fit in when I can, and if it has to suffer so I can spend time with my family I am OK with that.

How do you deal with criticism? 

Depends on how it is delivered. Constructive criticism that is offered up politely I always welcome. Other types are harder to swallow, and I try not to let them get under my skin.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself? 
I still do not support myself with my designs, but Passionknit ( does provide me with a stable salary.

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

Participate as much as you can. Write a blog, chat on Ravelry, post on Instagram, work in a knitting shop, teach classes, and anything else you can do to engage with other knitters. The more you engage with knitters the more invested they will be in whatever you are doing, and the more inspiration you will draw from all the beautiful knitters and knitting you see.

What’s next for you? 

I have taken a small break from designing since I returned from my maternity leave to take ownership of Passionknit almost right away. The last year has flown by, and I am starting to settle into my new roles, so I am hoping to find more time to design and write.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Tips for Knitting Oversize Garments

I frequently hear from knitters that they are unhappy with shapeless garments. I think sometimes it's because they chose easy knitting over good fit. That is however, a valid choice depending on what you want from your knitting and what your personal style is. In other cases they're unhappy because it's a new silhouette to them and has some different rules for success.

Those of us who knit shawls are used to those looser gauges, we want it because of the extra drape it creates in the fabric and we expect the fabric to behave in a certain way. With garments we have a different expectation which is usually for a more structured fabric.

Here's a sample of the type of garment I'm referring to:

If you want that style it's best to adjust your expectations. 

Here's my tips on how to create and wear this type of garment.

Many oversized garments are knit with relatively fine yarns at a looser gauge, This because, when executed in light flowing fabrics, these garments hang from the shoulders and depend on collapsing against the body. The lines of your body need to be suggested in some way so that you don't look big and boxy. 

A bouncy resilient wool might not be your best fibre choice for this. A soft merino may work and think about using alpaca, cashmere, silk or any blend of those fibres. Consider any non-wool yarns including silky synthetics.

You can see in the photo above how sheer this fingering weight merino sock weight yarn is when knit at a looser gauge. It also has more upper body shaping in the neckline and raglans than some of my other examples.

Here's an example which is sheer showing the shape of the body underneath.

Do note the difference in the way the garment hangs on a mannequin and how it sits on the body in the second photo. The decrease in fit means the garment shifts around on the body more. I like both of these but I know from experience no shoulder shaping often creates a garment which falls backwards at the front neckline. If that will annoy you, you should be aware of it.

In the example below the cardigan drapes around the body beautifully but may be likely to slip off of the shoulders. It's a pretty look but perhaps not for someone who doesn't like to fuss with their clothing. On the other hand since it's a cardigan the open front means the body lines can be seen and it looks small in relationship to the garment, which can be slimming on many women.

Think about the styling, going big over narrow is better on most women. 

Exposing both your wrist and ankles can help to define proportions.

Be realistic about your body shape, remember what I said above about how the garment will collapse against the body. If you are very curvy think about where it will protrude on you. 

These garments do often look best on taller or slimmer women especially if they have longer limbs. A curved upper back may be problematic as it will impact the way the garment hangs.

Do look at Ravelry projects on a variety of sizes and shapes to better understand how the garment works. Try to find any which are similar to your own proportions. If you do find some, assess the styling it might tell you how best to wear the garment yourself.

Monday, April 3, 2017

How to Write Knitting Patterns

I've improved my pattern writing quite a bit from my early days. I frequently feel the urge to go back and rewrite my early patterns as I implemented improvements to my instructions. I started by doing research. I read other published patterns, followed Ravelry threads to find out what knitters didn't like and published a few accessory patterns first. I've learned a lot from the various tech editors I worked with. Doing pattern support and helping other knitters face to face has given me clues into how knitters can misinterpret instructions and how very imprecise skill level ratings can be. It's a work in progress and every new design has it's own unique challenges. 

I think what surprises knitters is just how very detailed writing a pattern can be. A decision needs to be made for choosing every word, every font, every sub heading and every bit of punctuation. Standard writing guides can't answer all of a pattern writers questions which is why I continue to think of my patterns as a work in progress. If I see a better way of explaining something in the many knitting blogs I read I'll take note for my future patterns. 

I do hear knitters criticizing the patterns of other designers and often feel I need to defend them. I think that's because I have the deeper knowledge of just how difficult it can be to do. Yesterday, I spent almost three hours knitting and writing twelve lines of stitch pattern instruction. It incorporates the shaping instruction into the stitch pattern for a wrap. Ultimately I've written it that way because it makes the instructions much easier for the knitter to follow. 

If you are curious about the process take a look at this Style Guide for Knitty magazine. Here are the additional notes just to give you a sense of what is required.

I haven't even touched on the topics of grading patterns for size, learning software to create schematics or charting stitch patterns.