Friday, March 8, 2019

An Interview with...Stephanie Earp

Black Sea (credit Dianna Walla)

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
Stephanie here and here on Ravelry.

Galore (credit Joseph Baron)

Where do you find inspiration?
Often, in my own closet. I’ll look at the store-bought items I love and try to parse what it is about them that I like - is it the shaping, the colour, the fit? I do keep my eye on fashion trends, and I really like to browse street style posts on Instagram and Pinterest. I generally ask myself three things about my designs. Is it fashionable and contemporary? Is it impressive, as in, would a knitter want to brag about having made it? And is it special, something that you couldn’t buy off the rack?

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I’m having a moment with circular shapes in knitting, both in colourwork and lace, so right now I’m very into Estonian lace increases, creating many stitches from one.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs? 
I definitely look at other designers, and I love to knit from other designers’ patterns. I learn a lot when I do, from better ways to phrase instructions in pattern writing, new techniques and even different layout ideas. There are only so many ways to design a sweater, or a shawl, or a pair of socks, and it’s inevitable that some designs will have similarities. I had a moment last year where I had a design almost ready to go, it was in tech editing, when a very successful designer posted a preview picture of an upcoming design that really did look a lot like mine. More than one person sent me a private message about it, so it wasn’t just my imagination. I was worried that if mine came out after hers, people would think I’d stolen the idea, so I rushed mine out and as a result, it had errors in it. And then the other design didn’t come out for another six months. I created a little crisis for myself out of nothing. So now I don’t worry about it and I extend the benefit of the doubt anytime I see similar designs. Sometimes things are just in the ether and more than one designer pursues the same path.

Sweet Vicious (credit Owen Campbell)

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I knit my own samples 99% of the time, and I do run test knits through a group on Ravelry. Testing is a funny thing - most of the time, the pattern is fine. Maybe a little feedback over layout will come back, or something small like forgetting to include the phrase ‘bind off’ and the end of a cuff. But every now and again, a test saves you from disaster. I had one design that didn’t fit over anyone’s head. I mean, my sample did, but obviously something about my knitting style (very loose!) let me get away with it. If it wasn’t for my testers, I would have released it. I still feel bad thinking of it - all that work for a garment they had to rip! I’m extremely grateful for the time they invested.

Did you do a formal business plan? 
I haven’t yet, though I keep saying I will. I do have goals that I’ve written down, though. Most of them are not really financial goals, more about making connections, getting out to more events, doing more teaching. And now that I’m thinking of it, having those goals clearly established has definitely gotten results, so maybe it’s time to add some hard figures.

Do you have a mentor?
I do have a few mentors. I’m very lucky to have my friend Dianna Walla as a mentor, she’s been incredibly generous about sharing her expertise and experience with me. She’s told me she has a few people who did the same for her when she was getting started as a designer. So it’s cool, I feel like I’m part of a chain of people lifting each other up, and I’d like to do the same for others when I have more expertise to share. I also have a whole gang of amazing knitters to touch base with from working at my LYS, Espace Tricot in Montreal. The wealth of knowledge inside those four walls is crazy. 

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
I don’t really have a business model I’ve emulated, but I do look at a few ‘personas’ that have inspired me. I think I found my public voice when I started listening to ‘My Favorite Murder’ a popular podcast that combines comedy and true crime. I’m definitely an extrovert and can have a dark sense of humour, and I worried about being myself on social media, in a community sort of renowned for introverts. But letting go of that and just being myself has made the social media aspect of this job so much more fun. In fact, I’d honestly say I love it. 

Do you use a tech editor? 
Oh yes! I need a tech editor, big time. I turn out some pretty terrible first drafts. And sometimes terrible second drafts. It took a few goes to find the right person for me - but I really did. My editor knows me well enough now to question anything and everything. 

Vionnet (credit Dianna Walla)

How do you maintain your life/work balance? 
Honestly, I don’t. I knit all day, and I knit all night, and then I dream about knitting. It’s probably not at all sustainable, but I just passed the one-year mark in doing this, and I figure I’m going to give it everything I’ve got for at least another year and see where that gets me. 

How do you deal with criticism? 
Ha! Poorly at first, and then after a sulk about it, I start to take it in and see how I can use it and grow from it. I try to not respond until I hit that second phase of things, if at all possible. 

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself? 
I don’t yet, although I’ve had a few months that were pretty great. I need to get to a place where those good months are the rule, not the exception. I’m seeing this time as an investment in building a small business, and like any other business, I think it’s normal that it’s not earning me a living wage in its first year, but the next 12 months will have to change for me to be able to keep going.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Work in a busy, modern yarn shop if at all possible. It gives you great insight into what people want to knit, what elements of a pattern they struggle with, and what yarns are out there.

What’s next for you?
I have several designs in the pipeline, in test knitting and tech editing now so they’ll be coming out over the next few months. I’ve been investing more time in submitting designs ideas to magazines, which has been fruitful, so I’m working on those too.

Straylight (credit Dianna Walla)

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