Friday, November 23, 2018

An Interview with...Lisa McFetridge

Upcoming publication please see the note at the bottom of the post.

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
Lisa here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration everywhere that I can see the play of different colors, including, but not limited to:  store displays, walks in the woods, flower gardens, wallpapers.  Pretty much everywhere.
What is your favourite knitting technique?
I am a stranded knitter.  I like to use traditional motifs from Scandinavia and Fair Isle but many of my motifs are mine, created as I need them to execute a new idea.  A good example of this is my collection "Exploring World Cultures" which takes a look at many different cultures, many with no real knitting traditions.   Once I have found motifs / stories relating to the country, I turn them into motifs and create a piece that tells a story about the country and its history and folklore.  (See the Ravelry Bundle "Exploring World Cultures") This is the type of stranding design I love.  To make a design that is efficient and tells a story but doesn't look childish.
Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
That is a great question.  I don't look too much at others work mainly because I knit small pieces only.  Hats, mittens, cowls etc... as I like to move quickly onto the next piece.  If I need one of these pieces, I design them.  BUT, I am influenced by everything I see, especially play of color.  I am more likely to notice color combinations than the design.  My mantra when teaching stranded design classes is "Color changes everything"   When someone posts a photo of one of my own designs, I am often taken aback at how their choice of color changes the final product.  Any knitter who takes a pattern and makes it his/her own by changing colors, or making pattern modifications to suit their needs, is a designer and I am influenced by what they do!
Two of my most popular designs are inspired by Olympic Hats - The Latvian Hat from 2018 and the Slovak Folklore Hat from 2014.  
How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?

I have had many over the years.  It depends whether or not  I have lots of new elements in a piece if I have it test knit.  I find testers on Ravelry and have had a wonderful experience with the process.
Did you do a formal business plan?
No.  When my youngest was small, I began designing.  This was in the paper publishing world.  It was labor intensive, printing patterns, flyers, doing mailings.  In the end, making money was difficult.  I taught a lot at that time in local shops.
I stopped publishing for about 10 years, then discovered Ravelry.  I still remember figuring out how to put a pattern up and creating my designer profile.  About 5 minutes after putting it up, I had my first sales.  I was blown away at how easy it made the whole industry.
Now, of course, there are so many patterns available as well as free patterns to compete with, but still, it makes a one-person business much easier to run.  There are now many other sites now, Etsy, Craftsy, LoveKnitting, Patternworks.  I sell on many of these as well as WEBS.
In truth, my business plan has evolved over time.  I have geared my business toward charity.  Nearly all the money I make with my patterns goes to charity.  I don't really advertise this fact though I have many patterns that explicitly state that all proceeds go to charity.  I have created many hats for specific events, the most well known being the Boston Strong hat created after the Boston Marathon Bombing.  All proceeds to the victims fund and also a large volunteer effort to put a hat into the hands of every victim who wished to have one.  Photos of some of these folks in their hats are shown at the end of the movie "Patriot's Day".   
Do you have a mentor?
My truest mentor is Susan Shabo, a designer and my first knitting teacher and a cheerleader for me over time.  She is a wonderful person.
Do you use a tech editor?  
I used to, but since my pieces are all small, I have a formula for sizing and find that I don't need a tech editor unless I have something so new or different that I am not confident.  Usually in this case, test knitters turn up issues in the instructions.
How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I set aside a certain number of hours a week to work on design.  After that, I volunteer.  I work for a dog rescue, a homeless shelter, I dance with Alzheimer's patients and am currently training to be a hospice volunteer.
How do you deal with criticism?
Initially it stung.  Now I take it in stride.  The Internet is a wonderful thing, it brings so much to the knitting community, allowing connectivity and sharing of ideas and advice.  The flip side is the anonymity, folks can say things in a way that they wouldn't if they were sitting across from each other.   
I have had few issues in this vein, one after I published a simple hat using a traditional tree motif.  A raveler saw the hat and commented that I had stolen the design as she had knit one similar from another pattern.  I responded that I had not seen the other pattern, but that since it used a simple, traditional motif, there were probably lots of similar hats.  It was fine in the end.  I try not to make it emotional or angry, as it solves nothing.  
How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I have never tried to support myself, always considered it "extra money" and have been very happy with what I make.  My background is in computers, so I could make more money in computing, but this gives me money and the flexibility to do the other things I like in life.
What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
It is a niche business and some folks make a true living at it.  I think of it like sports.  Everyone has a team they love, merchandise they love to buy, but when it comes down to it, there is only room for a limited number of players who can become Superstars.   I do it for the love of design and am rewarded with followers and purchasers of my product.  I won't live in a mansion because of it, but I have raised a lot of money for charity, I have met some of the most amazing people, I got to teach on a knitting cruise and get to do what I love.
My advice:  Be ready to work hard, have a real business plan so you can measure goal attainment and give yourself time to "become".  You have to survive the first few years of losing money or breaking even before you can assess your real future.  Working for yarn companies if you can find a partner, is a big help.  Stick with it and you get to something you love.
What’s next for you?
It's winter.  New Indie yarns.  More hats.  It never gets old.  There are so many designs that percolate in my brain.  Time to knit...

The “Storyteller’s Gift Cowl” is so named as the knitter creates the gift of a story to the recipient.  Use the charts here or create some of your own.  Many here are versions of ones used in many of the hats in my World Cultures Hat Series - motifs from around the world, many not meant as knit motifs, but created from folk motifs.  Knit a cowl using the charts shown here or make up a new combination of charts.  A blank chart is included for personal use.  When finished, wear it.  When the right time comes, find someone who can use the warmth of a hand knit hug.  Gift the cowl to that person, wrap it around his or her neck.   It may be someone you have never met, or someone you know quite well, someone in need of your hand knit support.  That person may choose to pass it on in the future.  One day you might receive one back... 

The first cowl I made to give away has a special story.  A friend lost her adult son in workplace accident.  In the family’s grief, they did courageous thing and donated his organs.  Four people were saved.  My friend is the first recipient of a Storyteller’s Gift Cowl.  All the motifs are here:  A trio of hearts, one healthy, one broken and one large heart representing her son’s gift; a happy pup, Mingus, her son’s favorite; music motifs representing his work and love of music;  stars, sun & moon, a connection to the song “Close Your Eyes”;  the word MOM (WOW upside down) she is both to me;  an anchor for Hope; a flower from a knit class we were to attend together in Vermont at the time of her son’s passing.

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