Friday, June 28, 2019

Patternfish - An Interview with...Me

This interview originally appeared in the Patternfish newsletter. I'm adding it to my blog as several other interviews I did were lost when their on-line sources disappeared. The interview was published in June 2011 so some of my responses are out of date.

Designer of the Month: Robin Hunter

Robin HunterLike many other designers, Robin Hunter combined a lifelong love of textiles and fibre arts with a corporate career before happily retiring to provide Patternfish and the rest of the knitting world with her designs. A quick look through her patterns shows to what extent Hunter challenges herself. Shawls, socks, hats, and scarves in configurations at once unique and wearable are her trademark. We wait with anticipation for each of her new designs. We interviewed Hunter to find out about her designing history and views of the knitting world.

What inspires you? What are you passionate about? 
I look at everything for inspiration, art, theatre, fashion and the outdoors. I love bright strong colours. I live in a condo with a huge terrace and I garden in pots. The colours of the flowers are often an influence on the colours of yarn I choose. I've been passionate about fashion, clothes and the arts all of my life.

Which design is your customers' favourite? 
The two biggest sellers are the Prudence Crowley vest and the Evelyn Howard scarf. I'm working hard on growing my portfolio so my best sellers will change as I add patterns. I was very pleased that these two turned out to be popular as I feel strongly that they are true to my design aesthetic even though they are very different.

Which designers do you admire? 
The interviews I've done with many fabulous designers on my blog have widened my knowledge of just how many talented designers there are. I've found admirable qualities in them all so it's really hard to narrow down to just one or two. I especially admire those who push the envelope by developing new techniques or those who take an existing technique and raise the standard. I've taken a lot of classes in the past with wonderful knitters like Sally Melville, Debbie New, Lily Chin, Annie Modesitt and Maureen Mason-Jamieson so I will give them all credit for inspiring me.

Describe your perfect day. 
I get up at 6 AM with my husband, play with my cats and then snuggle into the corner of the couch to drink a great cup of coffee and read. I do a few quick household chores, some mornings I exercise and then I start working. Generally I work on the computer from 10 AM to 3 PM, blogging at, pattern writing, and developing course materials and lectures. I start knitting at 3 PM, either working on samples or swatching. Some days I spend time reading about knitting in the big three magazines or in books but I usually knit until 8.

In what ways do you spend your time that would surprise people? 
I doubt that I do anything very surprising, no bizarre or peculiar behaviours that I can think of and that I'm willing to share. However I'm a voracious reader. I read blogs, books (both fiction and non-fiction) and I'm a ballet and theatre fan. I don't drive which always shocks non-urban types; however, I live within sight of a subway station in Toronto and I walk a lot which is great for both my weight and my happiness level. I also like peanut butter and bacon sandwiches.

What is your favourite knitting technique? 
I'm a knitting generalist who skips from one technique to another. My interests lie in a good fit that flatters the wearer and adding details that make my work stand out as different. I have a fair bit of experience in pattern drafting and I'm very frustrated with the simplistic form that many existing knitting patterns take. There are a lot of small details that would make a big difference to the end result so I try to work out how I can best incorporate these into my patterns.

When did you start knitting? Who taught you? 
I started knitting in my teens and designing in my twenties. I'm not sure who taught me to knit as I have no recollection of learning. My mother and both of my grandmothers knit so it may have been one or all of them.

What's your design process? 
I approach design from several different directions but essentially I like to have design parameters. It can be the yarn itself, a silhouette that I've seen and want to adapt, a stitch pattern or a request from someone. The Pinwheel cardigan was an adaptation from a lace linen hat that I was asked to knit for a class. I was asked for a vest pattern for a magazine submission and that lead to 2 completely different designs, the Prudence Crowley vest and a more conservative design that will be published next Fall.

When did you start designing and what was the first design that you created? Which is the first that you sold? 
I no longer recall my first design since I have been designing for myself since the late 70's. I started by using patterns and adapting them. I was always the kind of knitter that liked a pattern but thought it would look better with a different neckline or another modification so I would change it up in some way. I'm self publishing and the very first pattern I sold was at a shop I worked at. Karen Dinner, the owner of the shop, encouraged me to publish more widely and put me in touch with Julia Grunau of Patternfish. The Patternfish business model worked for me because I don't want to give up my own copyright and the thought of running my own website didn't appeal to me.

Which is your favourite design? 
I love them all, they are my babies! I wear everything that I knit but I do end up with some favourites, the pieces I feel are the most flattering on me. My friend Mary Pat often models my designs in our Guild's fashion shows. When I see the designs without the influence of my own figure concerns, I love them even more.

Where have your designs appeared? 
Currently my patterns are available exclusively on Patternfish. (With the closing of Patternfish they are now all on Ravelry and I'll adding them to LoveKnitting soon.) I plan to expand into wholesale in the next year or so. Hopefully, shops will be interested in my patterns as well as my lectures and classes. I also will have a design in the magazine A Needle Pulling Thread next fall. I dislike working to deadlines as so much of my corporate career involved very tight timelines. At this point I haven't submitted to any magazines mainly for that reason.

Do you teach/do you like it? 
I love teaching! I find students very inspiring. They push me in directions that I wouldn't have thought to go on my own. I find the challenge of giving back very stimulating to my own process. At one level knitting is just yarn and 2 sticks and at another it's a complex layered web that has still has many hidden jewels left for me to discover.

Where do you think the knitting/crocheting/fibre world will be in 10 years/why? 
I think it will remain very much a niche market and sub-culture as it is today. The Internet has changed things forever. We are now all connected in a way that is allowing our culture to flourish. In the past there were highs and lows and we thought the knitting traditions might die, but I now have confidence that knitting will live on and evolve.

Do you look at other designers' work? 
I look at everything and I usually have one of two reactions. "Wow, why didn't I think of that" or "That would be better if you changed something".

How do you deal with criticism? 
I like constructive criticism; it truly allows me to grow because it gives me a direction to focus on. That's helpful and I can learn from it. So far I've been lucky; people have been really encouraging and kind.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting design? 
You have to be prepared to work long hours and have an alternative income source to get started. It's a creative pursuit for me. The market is changing right now as we go from a marketplace run by the traditional publishing world to an ever evolving model of self publishing. I think that if you are serious and focused there is potential for a fulfilling career but probably not one that will make you wealthy.

How do you maintain your life/work balance? 
That is turning out to be harder than I thought it would be. I seem to be working all the time. The good news is that I love it, it's not like working for someone else and to be honest it doesn't really feel like work.

The Prudence Crowley Vest

  • Evelyn Howard

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Ten Years!

Today is the ten year anniversary of writing this blog. It was meant to be a record of the changes I would experience moving into the knitting industry. I went back recently and read the annual birthday/anniversary posts I wrote and it was very interesting for me to take the time to review the past. 

I no longer keep to a strict schedule of publishing a post three times a week. I post occasionally and on my own timeline. Interestingly I get over 4500 visits per month in spite of this. I can see on my stats page that readers are following links and often arrive after searching a topic of interest to them. Entry comes about equally from Google and directly from my Ravelry pages.

I now have 65 published designs. All but one are on Ravelry now that Patternfish has closed. I'll be adding the Patternfish exclusives to LoveKnitting in the near future. Some of them may get new samples in the coming year as they could use some updating and better photos.

Speaking of LoveKnitting, I have noticed the customers there are very different. They buy different patterns, mainly garments not accessories. When I get the monthly sales report it's common to see all my sales were of garment patterns. I did a quick comparison and while I've sold a lot more patterns on Ravelry the LoveKnitting customer has bought garment patterns at around ten times the percentage rate of the garment sales on Ravelry. The smaller number of shawl pattern sales also tend to be of the more difficult patterns. While it's not always possible to know where pattern support emails come from, the only one I ever got which I could identify as coming from a LoveKnitting sale was a real case of errata in a pattern, not a question about understanding the instruction which is the most common type of pattern support I do. 

I was in a photography group for knitters. That group did eventually collapse. However one of the members and I turned it into a monthly lunch date which has been followed up with trips to many galleries, shopping, visits to various fibre shows and one outing to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. Many of those outings give me inspiration for my designs 

This past year I had several offers for teaching and speaking events. However my husband retired in March of 2018 and I no longer have the same interest in spending my time prepping and doing those events so I turned all but one of them down.

I stopped doing interviews here on the blog not because I planned to but simply because the requests were no longer being responded to. In the past generally two out of three requests would be happy to be interviewed. In this last year I was increasing the number of requests and rarely getting a response, so it seemed time to let it go.
My collaboration with Signature Yarns continues and works well. I get to work with gorgeous yarns and it's a great deal of fun bouncing design ideas off of someone else. I'm currently working on two designs for release this Fall.

I'm aware the knitting industry appears to be thriving with retreats, events, guilds and new yarns shops opening up here in Toronto. There also seem to be lots of enthusiastic knitters. Unfortunately I'm hearing the insider news about more and more pros leaving the industry. Designers stop publishing and disappear, there are fewer classes being run locally. The constant pressure of having to provide photos for an active social media has been cited by a few as becoming a barrier to getting the actual work done. High numbers of followers don't necessarily mean good pattern sales or invitations to teach and speak at events. Compensation has been stagnate over the last ten years and in some case substantially reduced. Twist Collective has shut down. Patternfish is about to. Classic Elite is gone. Knitty had to change their approach and ask for support through Patreon to keep going. I think for many the ability to make a living  is a hard path to follow.

I've returned to sewing and have made a number of garments in the past year as well as recovering all of our living room throw cushions. I started sewing again mainly due to the poor quality of purchased clothing at retail. I'd been noticing that many of my older purchases are in great shape and are being worn frequently while much newer garments are wearing out very quickly due to thinner fabrics and poorer construction methods. It's also hard to buy anything in natural fibres and everything at retail seems to come in black or neutral colours. I'm really not happy about throwing out clothes because they are of such poor quality they can't be donated or recycled while at the same time I'm not getting much wear from them myself. I also like the idea of having unique garments that I can fit to my shape and preferences.

Here's links to the first post and the anniversary posts.

2009 My first blog post - Monday, June 8, 2009   






Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The Making of a Milliner: Hat-Making Projects

I was recently offered a copy of, The Making of a Milliner: Hat-Making Projects. This book will seem a little off of the topic of knitting. However, most of the hats I have knit have been heavily influenced by the millinery class I took years ago. Here's an example of a classic pill box style trimmed with a loop stitch to emulate a fur band. I also own a large collection of my own purchased hats.

I've always used the classes I took on topics other than knitting as an influence on my own work. They often shifted how I approached construction, fit and embellishment from what other knitters were doing.

The author, Jenny Pfanenstiel owns her own company Formé Millinery. She has a celebrity following, having designed hats for Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, and Barbara Corcoran. Jenny's work has been featured in Vogue, Tatler, Country Living, Vigore, and Belle Armoire. She is the winner of the 2012 FGI Rising Star and both the 2009 and 2012 Hatty Awards.

The book provides a great introduction if you are interested in the construction of different styles of hats. It's full of colour tutorials that explain the basics. Even if you don't want to make your own hats there are sections in the book which will be of use to any hat wearer. 

Many wooden blocks are used in the shaping of hats which is something that non hat makers are surprised by. If you are a knitter of hats you have probably used bowls or plates in the blocking process. Note that milliners also use the term blocking in shaping their projects.

There are sections on how to take measurements and how to choose flattering styles. The seven designs include a cloche, a cowboy, and a straw-brimmed hats, as well as several fascinators.There are detailed photos in each tutorial so you will see the process for both wool felts and straw hats which are blocked into shape.

You will also learn how to make hatpins, apply ribbons and work with feathers. I have found these skills very handy over the years to customize purchased hats. 

I especially enjoyed the Fun Facts scattered through the book providing a little bit of the history of millinery. 

The book provides supply lists which are very useful as the tools for millinery work can be hard to come by. 

Here's a few more of my knitted hat designs to help you see how understanding millinery technique can relate back to your knitting.