Friday, September 28, 2018

Life Changes, an Update

Things are shifting here at Robin Hunter Designs. My husband retired six months ago so my daytime schedule has changed significantly. 

In June I got fed up with the ongoing pain in my left wrist so I took a month long break from knitting. The pain completely disappeared during that month. I went back to knitting and it's bothering me again so I'm carefully monitoring how long I knit, doing my stretches and exercises and icing it whenever I feel any discomfort. 

I'm actively working on three new designs. I've finished a cardigan which has to be graded. I've got two shawls on the go right now. One is vortex shaped and the other is a shallow triangle. 

I'm working towards a slower version of my previous life. Having my husband home is creating an environment which makes me want to slow down and stop rushing through life. This summer we spent time enjoying our balcony garden, reading, cooking and we had some fun watching Netflix. At the same time we've been getting more done at home. We finally replaced our front hall closet doors with mirrored sliders and we have new lighting fixtures in the kitchen. We've got a long list of home maintenance items to work our way through. 

I did a fair bit of jewellery making during the time I wasn't knitting and I got interested in sewing again. I've bought fabric for a dress and a jacket. Hubby is cleaning and oiling both my sewing machine and serger so I can get started. I'm trying to stay creative without putting so much stress on my wrist.

This week we're going out of town to see a play and enjoy dinner at one of our favourite restaurants. I expect life will continue to evolve in new ways as we get used to our new status of two retired people. 


Friday, September 14, 2018

An Interview with...Sheila Toy Stromberg

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
Sheila here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?

Oh my gosh, where don’t I find inspiration would be a shorter list! I am trained as a traditional artist (painting, drawing, printmaking, the works) so really I just see the whole world around me as inspiration. I see a shape or texture or color and it gets my wheels turning. Other times, it’s the yarn itself sitting in my hand that inspires me and drives the design. I view my designs exactly how I paint; the work is a composition that must be balanced, have a focal point, and something unique about it.

I feel like I’ve succeeded in a design if I can make a garment do what I dreamed up but sometimes the knitting goes differently than I plan. I try to just roll with it and let the yarn be what it wants to be. I try not to be too forceful with the design process because, just as with painting, the work will tell you want it needs to be. You can fight it and end up with something mediocre or you can embrace the material you’re working with and let it shine. (Easier said than done!)

What is your favourite knitting technique?

Right now, I enjoy designing lace the most but I’m a sucker for a nice cable as well. I really like focusing on one technique or garment type at a time and falling down the rabbit hole. The more I focus on one thing for an extended period of time, the higher the learning curve and the more I am able to understand and manipulate that technique to do just want I want. I find that mastery really enjoyable!

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

I definitely like to see what’s going on in the design world but I try not to fixate on it too much because it begins to impact my originality. But just as with art (and really everything in life), I don’t think you can come into a conversation without knowing what has been said before you and what is being said right now. It doesn’t mean we all have to agree or be doing the same thing, but seeing other people’s work can inspire you and spark ideas that you couldn’t have come to on your own. There is nothing wrong with being inspired by other people’s work, but inspiration and duplication are two different things. I always try to come from a place of originality or bringing a new twist on something instead of stealing. 

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

Presently, my samples are always done by my own hand. I never want to become so detached from my design process that I’m not knitting every day. I also write all my patterns myself, do all the sizing/math, marketing/promotional, photography, and almost always model my own garments. It’s kind of exhausting sometimes but my designs are 100% me and that feels good.

Right now, I have a handful of perpetual test knitters on my roster and I usually open all my designs up to a couple new testers! I strive to have every single size of every single pattern tested so I know how to correct the sizing before the pattern is released to the public. I absolutely couldn’t produce the volume of sizes I do without my amazing testers! I always post a call for testers on my Facebook page, so look there for future tests! 
Coming soon!

Did you do a formal business plan?

I don’t really have a formal business plan but I do set annual goals of what I want to focus on each year and then a monthly goal of how to achieve my annual goal. I think setting goals is the most effective way for me to do what I want to do. I don’t always achieve every monthly goal I set but just having those goals makes me reach higher than I would have without them.

To be entirely honest, I never planned any of what my life has turned out to be at the current point (but I mean that in a good way!). I sort of just started putting patterns out because knitting and crocheting completes something inside me and I was making up all these designs anyways so I figured I should share them with the world. Then I was met with unexpected success and I thought I would give it a real go and I’m so glad I did! I think that I’ve been able to keep my business casual for the most part and it works well for the artist inside my heart.  

Do you have a mentor?

I’ve been really blessed to come into my own as a designer in an area rich with local designers, dyers, and local yarn shops. My favorite yarn shop, the shop I learned to knit in, recently closed and it was a big loss to me. The owner, Verla Younker (her shop was called Unraveled Sheep), really actually started me designing. She would give me design assignments and help me when I was stuck. She put me in contact with some amazing local designers who always patiently worked with me and helped me. Locals from my shop who helped me get started and still inspire me were Verla, Amy Tucker, Mary Triplett, Marian Ju-Scozzare, Katy Carroll, Carolyn Greenwood, and Miriam Felton.

I think it’s really important for designers, makers, and humans to be around their people. You know, the people that share your crazy passions, that encourage you to keep doing what makes you happy, and make you laugh. Go to your local yarn shop! My new shop is The Wool Cabin and it’s a great and encouraging place I can bring my design and crazy ideas and have fun with friends old and new.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

Yikes, not really! I just follow wherever my heart, yarn, and interest leads me. I seek out collaboration opportunities with dyers and yarn companies that I like. If I like working with them, I do it again. So I guess my business model is “fly by the seat of my pants and it will magically work out or maybe it won’t and I’ll be fine either way”.

Do you use a tech editor?

It depends on the pattern and what I’m planning to use it for. If it’s a free pattern, the cost of teching it is not something I can recover, so I typically don’t run it through tech. If it’s a pattern with a lot of directions, sizes, and elements, I do like to have my tech editor (Min Jung) look it over. She is a math wizard and is so detail oriented. It helps my patterns so much! Otherwise, I have a few good testers who give me tech edits and look things over for me. 

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

Honestly, the balance is hard sometimes. I have 3 small children and 3 small businesses so life gets a little overwhelming sometimes. My husband and I are also foster parents and during a foster case the balance is even harder. We just adopted a foster placement this summer and I didn’t put out a pattern for months (which is contrary to one of my monthly goals!). But you know what? I didn’t even let it bother me because other things needed to be my focus at that time. I really just try to remember that everything has it’s time and season and nothing is going to last forever. Having little kids in my home is not going to be forever. It makes it a little easier to let stuff go sometimes and sometimes I do have to push my work off for the more important things in life. It does help me to have deadlines and monthly goals but being realistic that sometimes those things are going to have to slide is pretty important in my life right now. I do occasionally start to feel guilty that I haven’t completed a design or put out anything new in a while and then I need to remind myself of what my number one priority is, which is my family.

It’s hard when the thing that re-energizes you (which for me is producing art and designs) is something that needs to be neglected for the time being. And if I’m being entirely honest, putting out work feels a lot more instantly rewarding than being in the trenches raising kids. It feels good to be appreciated for something I designed, worked so hard on, and used my brain to create but I know that if I check out on my kids now that I’ll regret it later. Isn’t the tightrope walk of parenthood just beautiful? I feel guilty sometimes if I don’t put something out and I feel guilty sometimes if I’m working instead of being entirely focused on my kids! It’s hard to let all that go and just try to exist and do the best job I can.

I do have a rough daily schedule in place and that helps me do the thing I need to do until the time for that is over and then move to the next thing. I make sure to keep my 2 hours at the end of most days for actually knitting and not just writing patterns. I need that mental break and reconnection with the making process and it helps recharge me for tomorrow. 

How do you deal with criticism?

Well a degree in painting certainly beat all the personal-ness out of criticism for me! Getting critiqued daily on something that your entire soul is in was a lot harder than someone not liking a hat I designed. So I think of criticism in the following way:

1. Are they right? Is there some error/problem/issue with the design that I failed to see before publishing?

I immediately go investigate the issue and see if they are right and there’s an error or if they are incorrect. If they’re right, I go correct it. Problem solved and I don’t think about the criticism again.

2. Are they wrong? Is it a matter of personal taste/style? Are they just having a bad day and taking it out on me?

If this is the case and there is no issue, I either respond as nicely as I am able to at the time or ignore them if the criticism needs no reply. I know this will surprise you, but people are not always polite when they email me. So, sometimes I do need to walk away from the issue for a couple days because I know if I respond immediately I will be curt. I try not to get personal because, of course, it isn’t personal. They don’t even know me so it can’t be personal. So I just acknowledge to myself that it was their problem, not mine, and move forward. 

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

Well, I suppose this is a difficult question for me because this is not my only revenue. I don’t know if I could fully support all my family’s needs if I only focused on designing and did that for the majority of my day. I design more on the side.

I measure my success in designing by my original goal when I started publishing patterns: can I support all my desired yarn purchases with my designs? I really started selling patterns to enable myself to buy whatever yarn I wanted whenever I wanted to, no matter how crazy expensive the yarn was. I was able to do that within the first year of selling patterns. This year I’m focusing on publishing print patterns for sale in local yarn shops and by private yarn vendors. I do make a good amount of excess money currently and I believe print patterns will be even more lucrative! 

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

I would tell them to go for it! Give it a shot for a predetermined amount of time and see what happens. Start with what you are able to do at the moment and see where it leads you. And don’t be fearful about claiming this moment to try it. Be bold. Brazenly tell people you’re a designer. You might feel a little like a fraud at first and that’s OK. The secret is we all feel a little like a fraud for a long time before we start believing it ourselves (and that goes for every designer, artist, and maker that has ever existed so you’re in good company).

I would also recommend that you do everything you can to support and build up other people in the fiber arts world. We all need each other. We need to have a support group. Promote other designers, it’s not hurting you at all. Seek out collaborations. Talk to people. Tell them how much you love what they’re making! They need to hear that. Be supportive as much as you can and this community will hold you. There is room for you because you have something unique to say. You have something to contribute that no one has thought of before. We want you here!

What’s next for you?
Hopefully world domination? Just kidding, I don’t need the stress. I’m hoping to continue to make relevant new work! I am going to get my patterns in more shops in print form and one day get a book published (that’s a goal for another year, but I do want to do that down the line). I want to continue to make designs that are sized for a variety of body shapes and sizes because everyone deserves pretty designs that are fun to knit. I want to seek out more collaborations with new dyers because working with glorious yarn keeps my work energized.