Friday, May 4, 2018

An Interview with...Cheryl Toy

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
Cheryl here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration? 
It is everywhere! My biggest problem is how to keep track of inspiration so that I can draw upon it later. I’m very often inspired by yarn. It is exciting to me to see yarn in a pretty skein, full of promise, and then imagine how it might be transformed. As a former film Art Director, I get a lot of inspiration from classic cinema. I find it interesting to look at a garment from the 30’s or 40’s and think how it might be brought to life with modern tools and techniques. Also, I find a wealth of inspiration in British television because it is so well researched and curated.

What is your favourite knitting technique? 
I’d hate to name just one, partly because I’m always finding something new to try and partly because I’m relatively new to knitwear design and don’t feel I’ve done enough to declare a specialty. I do love knitting cables. I love stranded color work. I am a sock-aholic. Shaping techniques, particularly directional shaping, is something I’m spending a lot of time exploring lately, along with twisted and travelling stitches.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs? 
I am a compulsive ogler! I am very influenced by other designers, having come through design school in the Beau Arts tradition. I think it is essential to look at the work of others in order to develop a strong acumen. It’s also practically impossible to avoid, therefore it’s essential to learn the fine line between ‘influence’ and ‘imitation’. Also, I think the Beau Arts tradition trains artists to be a little more generous with ideas, treating them more like a wellspring rather than aiming for the one ‘right’ idea.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself.
I couldn’t possibly do it alone and remain self-supporting. Numbers vary depending on my workload. Right now, I’ve got 7 talented people knitting. I am very blessed to have met some incredible practitioners along the way and so grateful that they’re willing to bring their expertise and feedback to the table. It becomes a very collaborative process, especially with design for publication. At that point you’ve got an editor and a tech editor as well as sample and test knitters. I find it very rewarding.

Did you do a formal business plan? 
Not to begin with because I really didn’t think this career path was very realistic. I sort of fell into it with the first publication, the cover of Interweave Knits, whereupon things began to really snowball. Then I thought “Cheryl, you need to get a plan”. I think a formal plan is the gold standard. Currently, my plan is in a rapid state of evolution!

Do you have a mentor? 
How long a list are you willing to publish? So many people, yourself included, have offered advice and support, sometimes without even knowing it. Elizabeth McCarten (interview here) has had a tremendous impact on my work, in both design and process. The knitter I think of as my guru turned my hand back to knitting after many idle years. She is Bette Bornside of the Bornside Yarn Co., a precious little yarn shop in Fauboug Marigny. I try to see her every week when I’m in New Orleans. She still inspires and advises me.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated? 
Not specifically, but I do enjoy the guidance I receive from Tara Swiger who produces a daily audio podcast as well as teaching classes. She has also written several books. She is an online coach for people who have given up their day jobs to work on what they love. Tara is both practical and inspiring.

Do you use a tech editor? 
For self-publishing, I had always used a test knitter. When I started working with magazines where a tech editor is assigned to the design I felt like I’d died and gone to heaven! I feel extremely spoiled and special when I get to work with a good tech editor. I learn a tremendous amount every time, not just about a specific style sheet but about the beautiful code that is a knitting pattern. Tech editors have helped me to love the technical writing part of my job. 

How do you maintain your life/work balance? 
I don’t actually do that very well yet. Right now I’m just trying to keep all the balls in the air! I’m finding that diarizing everything in my desk calendar keeps me from feeling overwhelmed. At first I resented the time that it takes to write everything down, but lately I rather enjoy it. It helps to know that every little task has a tiny moment reserved especially for it. It also builds anticipation when it’s time to start a new project or put together a bunch of design submissions. I don’t know what I’d do if I had a family!

How do you deal with criticism? 
It’s never easy, but drawing once again on the Beau Arts tradition where we had a critique-a-week, I find there’s a way to create safe space between myself and my idea. That way, criticism is never personal.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself? 
It’s hard to say because I didn’t start at square one and say “Ok, now let’s become a knitwear designer”. It kind of evolved. I didn’t really consider my first few designs as a career even though I was toiling away at it. Generally I think a person should consider two or three years without much income.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting.
I’ll use the words of the immortal Elizabeth Zimmerman, “Knit on through all crises.” Smartest words ever spoken. If you want it, keep doing it. Identify your specific vertical track, decide on your income streams, and work away at them. 

Pattern will be available in June 2018

What’s next for you? 
Well, because I’ve aimed so much at publication over the last year, self-publishing has lagged a little. Right now, though I’m still submitting a lot of material, I’m working hard at the self-publishing end of things. Starting May 1, knitters can find some new material in my Ravelry shop and a blog facelift. I’m adding a style post every week and new releases on Fridays. I’m also looking at adding some new classes to my repertoire.

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