Friday, January 11, 2019

An Interview with...Asja Janeczek

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
Asja here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?

Everywhere. Movies, magazines, street fashion, fashion pictures available online, sometimes it’s the nature that inspires me, the landscape, sometimes it’s the movie and a garment I see there, but it can be a music I listen to, which evokes the images of a design to my mind. But very often it’s a combination of a few that works the best for me. I am more a knitter than a designer, and what I mean here, is that I knit and discover while working on the new construction what I want to do next with it, rather than having a concrete vision of a garment in my mind and to find ways to bring it to life. I very often start knitting having only the raw concept, like for example, I want to make a cardigan, I cast on and I experiment and try different approaches on the way to see what works and what doesn’t. Since this approach to design requires a lot of trials and errors and unfortunately is time consuming, it’s not the most effective way to work, but I enjoy the process very much and I learn a lot along the way. This is probably why most of my sweater designs are so different from each other, because once I crack the code and I understand the construction I get easily bored with it and I want to try something else. For me having a challenge in front of me is the thing that inspires me the most.

But yarn and stitch patterns are somehow a huge part of it too. I recently learned to make swatches, like a lot, and not every swatch I make turns into design, but it’s there waiting for me, ready to inspire me when the time comes. My dear friend once told me that I am more like a musician who plays the piano but doesn’t know how to read the notes. And as funny as it sounds, it’s exactly how it is. I know how to make the purl and knit stitch, and the rest is just enjoying the process and experimenting, a cracking the code.

What is your favourite knitting technique?

I don’t have any favourite, as I very often switch between few, but unfortunately I am not a huge fan of cables. I would love to change that in the future and I hope that the 2019 will be a good year to give it a go. I hate to sew the garment, and I doubt it will change in the future, so as long as it’s possible I make the garments seamless.

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

Of course I do, I love to browse the ravelry and take a look at what type of designs are hot right now, and I don’t think we should be afraid of it, as a designers. It clearly shows us the trends in knitting industry that we should somehow follow if we want to succeed, but it is one thing to get an inspiration from a design that already exists, and to treat it as a starting point for your own idea, and totally different is to copy it. I am not afraid of getting influenced by existing designs, because we should get influenced. This is the way we designers challenge each other to make something new. I see a wonderful design that already exists and I make my own piece which is something totally different. There is a thin line in respecting copyrights that shouldn’t ever be crossed, but honestly, it’s getting harder and harder to make something new and fresh nowadays, because the industry is flooded with a variety of patterns, and even if you make a new type of construction, knitters very often choose the designs that they know how to make. So you may end up working very hard to make something completely new, and it may not even get noticed by the wider audience.

Like I said, it’s a thin line between getting influenced and inspired to make a new design, and to make the same piece but in a different way. You have to be cautious, self-aware, observant, but the best way, for me at least, to avoid creating similar items to the ones that already exist, is to work according to my imagination. I often start with the stitch pattern and I experiment. The worst case scenario is that I will come up with a design that will not be popular, but at least it will be mine.

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

I’ve been publishing my patterns since almost 5 years now, with an one year break in between, so there were many test knitters who were there with and for me along the way, but since I started a group on Ravelry there are probably 10 - 15 test knitters I really like to work with and I can rely on. Depending on the design there are between 10 to 20 person involved in one test knit, and there is often more than one pattern that is test knitted at the same time, so the group could be really large, but I discovered throughout the time that the more the merrier, because all the support and suggestions that test knitters bring with them to each test knit it’s absolutely irreplaceable. If I learned anything since I started writing up knitting patterns, and I learned a lot, it’s them who I am most grateful for.

As I already explained, as a knitter explorer I couldn’t really delegate making a sample on anyone, so I don’t have the sample knitter. Anyways, I am sure I wouldn’t enjoy it at all as the knitting itself is the highlight of my work. All samples I’ve ever designed I made on my own. But I imagine I could use a help whenever I crack the code and the most of the intriguing part of making the sample is already done, like the sleeves or collars. Maybe someday…?

Did you do a formal business plan?

Absolutely not. I still have problems with admitting the fact that whenever I knit I work, and even more, I am my own boss now. J But I have to go back a little bit to explain how the knitting has evolved into “work” for me.

I little before I came to live in Germany, I just got married to my husband and I just got my diploma in psychology I studied in Cracow, but I somehow landed in a small village with no perspective for me. And when I started believing that it will change for the better, life has happened and my Mum had a stroke. Unfortunately we lost Her few days later. I was 26 years old at that time and I just began the adult life and it all stopped at once. So I was traveling back and forth between my husband and my family living in Poland for a long time, I couldn’t actually start a life here in Germany living with a one foot stuck in Poland, I had to choose at some point, and it may sound funny and impossible but it was knitting that saved me in that rough time.

I picked up knitting, I already knew the basics so I quickly moved to more advanced projects, but I had to learn how to follow the knitting patterns. I started blogging about things I made, which opened a wonderful opportunity to find and keep in touch with Polish speaking crafters, who soon became my friends. And since I was always rather an explorer, I quickly started making my own things and designing, although I wasn’t aware I was doing it. Realizing that fact lead me to writing patterns soon after. I know that when you want something to happen, you start with a dream, and then goes the plan, and then you follow the steps you’ve planned to achieve your goals, your dreams. But it’s not always the way your life guides you. I have never even imagined I would knit for a living, but I am super grateful that knitting was there for me when I was in a need for something to save me. And that it is still saving me in an everyday struggle. I don’t know whether this knitting business I have will get bigger or not, the knitting will be there for me, and that’s fairly enough.


Do you have a mentor?

I don’t have the mentor who I could speak to, but I have few idols I admire and I get inspiration from.

Do you use a tech editor?

I tried once, but it didn’t end up well for me at least. Since I publish mostly in English, and I am not an English native speaker (I was born and raised in Poland), I gratefully welcome any native English speaker test knitter in my tests and gladly take all suggestions they have for me under consideration. Anything else, like grading the garment pattern, charts or drawings and pictures I do on my own. It has been working very good so far, but I don’t rule out the possibility of hiring tech editor in the future, when I find someone suitable and brave enough to work with me. Remember, each new design of mine means a new algorithm ;)

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
It’s hard. There are times when I feel like I am working even when I sleep. Each time it happens I make a pause, I stop, either by going on a trip, or taking few days off, I try to avoid then all the work related stuff and take good care of myself, because after these very work intense days my creativity just vanishes. In order to be able to create, to design, I focus on me for a short time. It usually helps, but it takes time to heal.

How do you deal with criticism?
My husband is a real blessing in terms of making the criticism more digestible. We talk a lot about opinions that somehow bother me, and either he proves me wrong and I have no other choice than to accept what was written or claimed about my work, or he just makes me laugh about it and shows me how truly this opinion that became somehow so cruel in my head is irrelevant to me and to our life. But of course, a lot depends on the subject of the criticism I am dealing with. If it’s a stating the fact about the mistakes I made, or the garment I designed, it’s hard to argue with it, you have to accept it and take a lesson.

Fortunately for me, those times when I am completely overwhelmed with opinions happen a lot and these are the most supportive compliments I get, and the times when I must deal with a real criticism are only a small percentage of many wonderful, heartwarming and appreciating comments I am super grateful for. The community of knitters are the most kind and supportive people!

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

I am still not there yet. ;)

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
You have to be creative and brave, that’s for sure, and enjoy the process of making and trust your instincts. It’s not always enough to have a good idea though, because you may work hard and leave your heart and the soul in everything you do and it may still not get you where you want to be, but being open minded and looking for opportunities and seeing so called failures as a one step towards your goals, that’s the hardest part.

I have learned that although you may think of yourself as a one person company when you are a knitwear designer, you will thrive when you are part of a larger project. So look for opportunities to team up with someone! I have been designing for a couple of years now, and there are still scary and challenging moments in this job for me, which I made even more terrifying in my head than they really are, but these are my tops of the mountains to conquer. Whatever it is that stops you from making the knitwear design your thing, name it and overcome it. You may end up living your dream, and I guess it is worth it to fight for.

What’s next for you?

I have been enjoying the travel and knitting combo last year a lot, so I guess these are my goals for next months, to travel in order to take part in the knitting events. I will be at EYF in Edinburgh in March, which I am so looking forward to, and I would love to visit Porto in Portugal and take part in Knitting with Friends in June. Those are the pleasures I have in my plans, but I am sure I will be knitting and would love to join up with the yarn companies and make few collaborations too. I am sure I will be knitting a lot. I just can’t imagine my life without it.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019


Progress, that's my word for 2019. Every year I choose one word to inspire my year. I put it at the top of my Google task list so I see it everyday. I use it to guide what I'm doing everyday, it informs my decisions and shapes my day to day experience. 

I've lost track of how long I've being choosing a word but it may have started soon after I stopped working full time for other people. Some years the word is a reaction to the previous year's word. The year after Productivity was the year of Fun. A little self correction was happening that year!

It usually takes part of the month of December to choose my word. I add it to my task list with the current word and then try it out. I see where it takes my thinking and mull it over for a while since I'm committing to it for a year and I want to be sure I'll have room to grow with the word.

Last year's word was Enough. The words often shift slightly in focus during the year. Enough was originally about gratitude for everything I have, but as the year developed it added a second component which helped me to be a little easier on myself and the high standards I set. It morphed from about being about things and experiences to being kinder about my self.

This quote was what pushed me to rethink the interpretation.

 “Accepting oneself does not preclude an attempt to become better.” From the Letters of Flannery O'Connor

Give it a try, one word and the focus it provides can make some interesting shifts in your life.