Friday, July 27, 2018

Problem Solving in Knitting

Image from Pinterest artist unknown

This summer  I'm going to be doing some re-posting of older blog posts. I'm choosing ones that seem to be popular based on the number of views and links they get.
I answer a lot of knitting questions. I belong to several different knitting groups and there is a variety of skill levels at all of them. I like answering these questions as I often learn more from the process of figuring it out than the knitter who asked it in the first place.

When I worked in my LYS, I assisted many knitters with patterns that were giving them trouble. Once we had a customer who was so unhappy with my answer she ended up quizzing all of the three other staff members who were in that day and even though we each gave her several options to solve her problem she still went away unhappy muttering to herself "that there must be a book that would explain how to do this properly". In this situation I think it was a case of the Buddhist quote: "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear” and our student wasn't yet ready. 
I was often surprised by something that happened fairly regularly. A customer would come in with a question and be shocked that we could not instantaneously answer. Usually it was with regard to a specific pattern. Often the question was posed in such a way as to mislead us as to the nature of the real problem. Many knitters were surprised when we would ask to see their work. It was a common experience when assisting knitters that the customer thought we should be able to resolve their problem without reading the pattern or picking up our needles to test a stitch pattern when they said it was wrong. 
We were frequently questioned as to why we couldn't just look at the knitting and see where their mistake was in the pattern. We would also get phone calls asking us to explain pattern instructions based on what the knitter said was going wrong, without allowing us the time to read the pattern or the option to examine the work. We could relate to the frustration the knitter felt, but felt very limited in our ability to solve the problem. It made me realize that interpreting patterns is much more layered and complex than it initially appears to be.

When I read Sally Melville's comment about this on her old blog site I was struck by how accurately she explained it.  Sally said "I liken knitting patterns more to mathematical proofs than recipes. So imagine sticking a few lines in the middle of a mathematical proof under someone's nose and asking Can you explain this? It's no wonder that the folk in the yarn shop can't do it!"

I think Sally's analogy is the best one I've seen on this topic. So please when you are asking other knitters for help; be patient and understand that they need to work through the problem slowly. Once they do they can answer the question and figure out if the pattern is wrong or if the knitter is making an error in execution. Often the end solution is simple but it's buried inside a long chain of individual steps.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Ravelry Pattern Reviews

Do you read project notes on Ravelry? 

I was poking about on Ravelry looking for potential interview subjects when I clicked through to check how many designs a designer had published. I liked a detail on one of the garments so I went to the page for a better look and then the projects hoping for a better detail photo.

What I ended up noticing were these competing reviews.   

"This pattern is very poorly written. The instructions....."

and then:

"I loved working with this well written pattern." 

So who do you believe? 

It reminded me about a conversation with a knitter who was crazy for a pattern that one of my interviewees had published but then didn't buy it because one project page had a negative comment. I was struck by the strength of the "negativity bias".

From  Psychology Today

"Your brain is simply built with a greater sensitivity to unpleasant news. The bias is so automatic that it can be detected at the earliest stage of the brain's information processing."

I try to take this into account when I read negative reviews but I agree it's difficult. 

BTW both of these patterns were designed by very prolific designers with long careers in the industry. Both had been published in numerous places as well as self-publishing.

Friday, July 13, 2018

An Interview with...Petra Breakstone


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
Petra here and here on Ravelry.

Petra supplies complete knit kits, yarns, individual patterns, e-books and fabulous shawl pins...

Where do you find inspiration?
Literally in anything. From a color combination that strikes me, a shape, a store display, a movie, a flower, a bird and so on. Sometimes I wake up because I had a great idea and need to write it down immediately so I won't forget. It's endless I tell you. I have to tell my brain to shut up, literally.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I like lace knitting, sampler type shawls/garments with many stitch patterns to not get bored, all knitted in the Continental knitting method.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
Shapes, colors and lines may strike up an idea for me, yes.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself? 
It fluctuates, you loose some and you acquire some. My current test knitter pool consists of 50 plus volunteers. Some garment tests require up to 27 testers at a time to get all the sizes done.

Did you do a formal business plan?
Along the way I made one, when I applied and actually had a yarn cart in a local mall with seven knitters along with myself manning the many mall hours. Not when I started.

Do you have a mentor?
No I don't. It might help though.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
I just followed my way of doing business of when I rescued a knit shop years ago that I owned for more than four years. It really is more of a knit party. I tend to want my knitter friends and myself to have a good time. Business sometimes is secondary. 

Do you use a tech editor?
Yes, Uta from Germany, she started test knitting for me and always had great feedback. So I fired my then editor and hired Uta. She and I have been a team for a while now. She is all about the grading, the charts, schematics and numbers. I am about the design and aesthetics.

How do you maintain your life/work balance? 
What balance? I don't have any, I work all the time. Well I love my work and having an online business with knit kits, yarns and other knitting related goodies plus a Ravelry page and two online knitting groups, there isn't a whole lot of time left at the end of the day.

How do you deal with criticism?
I always reply, first and foremost. My goal is to make people happy with my work and so I do find ways of doing just that. In fact I go out of my way to make people happy and 99.97% of the time that is possible. Then there are a few times that the nature of the people criticizing won't allow you to make anything right for them which I have a hard time with when that happens.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
Years and I am not where I would like to be now, which is due to me being too generous with sales, promotions, freebies and such. If I had a business manager, he/she would scream at me...

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
For me it's a two fold question, having not just a pattern business but also selling physical goods. I think though if knitting is not in your blood, then don't do it. It has to be a way of life, or you have to have money to go in big from the get go.

What’s next for you?
More designing and not just knitwear but gadgets and tools for knitting. I have shawl pins manufactured and have other goodies in the works that I can't talk about just yet. My mind is always going and surprises me with new ideas. Hopefully for a long while to come.

“Knitting is like therapy, only with two sticks and some pretty string, but in the end you have something pretty to show for.” 

Friday, July 6, 2018

An Interview with...Andrea Hilton

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
Andrea here, her yarn is here, and she's here on Ravelry.

Drainage DK

Where do you find inspiration for your colourways?
Tributary Yarns is rooted in a deep love of the landscape around me in the wilds of northern California. My favorite colorways are inspired by my favorite places, and often my favorite swimming holes. I am fortunate to live so close to Redwood National Park, the Pacific Ocean, and many pristine rivers.

What is your favourite dyeing technique?
I almost always dye in large hotel pans on a stove-top. I like to be able to spread out the yarn and make sure each bit of yarn is receiving the proper color. Sometimes I do speckles. Other times, I stick with tonals. It’s a mix. I don't have any hard and fast rules about my process. I like to experiment and see what works with what. I can’t say I have innate talent based on killer color instincts that I draw from. Sometimes I just dye a painfully ugly skein. It’s all part of creating.

How do you choose the fibers that you work with? 

I started Tributary Yarns to promote domestic, sustainable wools, but the fiber wasn’t back from the mill until recently. I stalled by dying a fairly standard sock base and some silk blends (I love silk blends!). So far, I’ve found my Stream Sock and River Silk/Merino bases to be the most popular and need to work harder to convince my readers that knitting with real, happy wool, such as my Watershed Worsted, grown right here in the USA, is a worthwhile endeavor.

How did you determine what weights of yarn you stock?

I personally love all the weights and knit with almost all of them (although less so with lace and bulky). I have found most of my sales go to fingering weight yarns, which has been the main driver for me. Sadly, it doesn’t do me a lot of good to dye a ton of heavier weight yarn if it’s just going to sit on the shelf.

How do you come up with names for your yarn?
Water-bodies are pretty much my schtick. I have Stream Sock, Freshwater Fingering, River Silk/Merino Fingering, Watershed Worsted, and Drainage DK in my shop. In my other life, I work as a hydrologist, supporting river and fisheries restoration. That’s why I am so passionate about my domestically sourced, sustainable bases. They really are so much better for our little planet.

Could you give us an idea of how long the process is to dye a batch of yarn and prepare it for sale? 

I tend to dye yarn every other Friday and Saturday when my son is with his father. I transform my kitchen into a dye studio and have at it. I often do 20-30 skeins over the course of a day or two, depending on the base I’m working with. Between dying, skeining, labeling, and un-dying my kitchen, I’m pretty busy on those weekends. I suspect my endeavor is fairly small-scale compared to other, more established indie dyers. For me, it’s still an economy of scale.

Do you look at other dyers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their yarns?
Absolutely, I look at other dyers’ work, especially on Instagram. There are a lot of talented indie dyers out there. I see their skeins and am blown away. Dying is so fluid that I’m not sure it’s possible to plagiarize a colorway. (I could try but probably wouldn’t succeed.) I suspect most indie dyers are purchasing dyes from one of several primary suppliers, and I know most order bases from the same wholesalers. Like pretty much everything else, we’re all just selling different variations of the same gorgeous yarns. That’s also why I’m so passionate about my Watershed Worsted and Freshwater Fingering bases--they’re regionally sourced and not the same ol’ variety of bases stocked by every other dyer. They’re truly unique.

Are you a knitter as well?
Uh, ya. I am an OBSESSIVE knitter. Before starting Tributary Yarns, I focused on designing and selling patterns on Ravelry. I like to knit every day, most typically after my son is asleep at night. I settle in on the sofa and watch a show while I toil away.

Did you do have a formal business plan?
(Laughs.) Nope. Maybe someday. It’s in my head, though.

Do you have a mentor?
I don’t have a mentor. I could use one though! (Volunteers, please make contact via email!). I have been inspired by a lot of amazing knitters and dyers I have connected with online since starting my blog, This Knitted Life. I’m grateful for those relationships.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated? 

Try. Fail. Try harder. Stumble. Keep going. Surely you can do this.

What impact has the Internet had on your business? 

Without the Internet, I probably wouldn’t have a business. I’ve also recently partnered with my local yarn shop. In addition to stocking my yarns, they also offer my inventory online through their web portal. This saves me the time of taking product photographs and updating my own online shop, which I found abysmally tedious, and allows me to spend more time simply creating. 

Some fun Stream Sock colors in Andrea's shop

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I’m supposed to have balance in my life? Hmmm. I will have to work on that. I just do my best every day. I have a lot to do in a scarce amount of time. Most days, I run out of steam before I run out of tasks. I don’t beat myself up when I crawl onto the sofa at 8:00 p.m., calling it quits. I’m human. Realizing that and acknowledging my limitations while forgiving myself for my imperfections is really the best I can do. 

How do you deal with criticism? 

I started designing in 2013, after the birth of my son. I starting dying last winter. In all of my years in the fiber industry, I have not received a single criticism. I am constantly touched by the kindness, support, and love that has been offered to me by total strangers. Knitters are remarkable human beings, and for that, I am thankful.

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

Ya, I’m still working on that. I don’t think I will be quitting my day job anytime soon.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in hand dying yarns? 

If I can do it, you can do it. But make sure you really love it and are self-motivated. It’s not easy, and it probably won’t be an overnight success. You’ll lose money before you make money. And you’ll make a lot of messes. That said, dream big. Anything is possible. You are a bright star. 

Some of Andrea's favorite River Silk/Merino colorways.