Friday, June 28, 2013

The Interviews - Yarn Shop Owners

The list below provides links to the interviews I've done with a number of yarn shop owners. Several of them have told me they read the blog and enjoy hearing what their peers have experienced. 

Mary's Yarns:


Little Red Mitten:

Eliza's Button and Yarns:

The Black Lamb:

The Yarn Company: 


Shall We Knit?:

River City Yarns:

Never Enough Wool:

Three Bags Full:



Wednesday, June 26, 2013

YarnOver SleepOver Retreat Photos

I was thrilled with the experince of running a retreat with a sub-group of the Pro-Knitters group I belong to. Click here to see our flicker page. The photos below are from our marketplace.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Row Gauge - It Matters

I've ranted on about row gauge on many occasions. You can read about my views here and here.

My friend Glenna has an excellent, detailed post on the topic which I want to share with you. You can read it here.

Please appreciate the effort I'm currently making to avoid shaking my finger at you and muttering "I told you so" from behind my laptop...

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Interviews - Hand Dyers

Yarn from Sophie's Toes

The list below provides links to the interviews I've done with hand dyers. They are often even more illuminating when you can compare the responses of the different business owners.

Rhichard Devrieze

Emily Parson Greene

Tracey Schuh

Gail Callahan 

Stephanie Earp

Mercedes Tarasovitch-Clark

Kim McBrien 

Lindsey Ligett 

Tanis Lavallée

Caroline Sommerfeld

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

How to Accomplish More

I'm often asked how I manage to accomplish as many things as I do. I'll share a few of my productivity tips here.

A few years ago I read a blog post about choosing a one word New Year's Resolution. I've experimented with various words now for several years. This year's word is productivity. I need to grow my pattern portfolio to increase my business to fund more investment in the resources I need to keep moving forward. 

I use a Google task list to keep track of all the things I do. Number 1 on the list is the word productivity. I remind myself everyday by moving it to the next day's list so I don't lose sight of the annual goal

I have my list broken into groups of things to be done, mainly work projects and items for my personal life. 

To keep my enthusiasm up I've assigned myself  a list of books to read throughout the year on this topic. I read one per month. I started with the classic David Allen, Getting Things Done and have worked my way through a number of related topics, most recently David Rock's Your Brain at Work.

I've been targeting simple things such as getting enough sleep, exercise, taking enough down time and eating well. More recently I've changed up my working schedule by targeting my own energy ebbs and flows more accurately.

What do you do to get everything done?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Designer Secrets - Fitting Hand Knits

In an effort to continue my own self education, I often read both the blogs and books published by other designers. On occasion I will disagree with what they write. When my view differs from theirs I try to delve deeper into my own thought process to consider why my opinion deviates from theirs. Today's small epiphany is; I sometimes disagree because many of us design for our own body shapes and figure challenges. Our personal experience skews our opinion in alignment with what works for us as individuals.

Sleeve cap design for set in sleeves is a perfect example of this. My preference is for a narrower sleeve with a high rounded cap which is larger than the armhole it will be set into. I have on occasion read that some designers want a cap that is smaller than the armhole and many match the armhole exactly. I was reading the method someone uses to achieve an exact match when it struck me that she is very slim with proportionally long limbs. My upper arm is rounded with extra padding. Others vary in the amount of muscle roundness in their upper arms. So of course we differ in our opinions! While I do always suggest to knitters, it is best to ascertain their own sleeve cap preferences, I will include this information when I teach in my future classes. The best cap may be determined by the roundness or flatness of the upper arm of the wearer. Duh! 

If you enjoy reading my blog, I'd really appreciate it if you would tell your knitting friends or share links to your favourite posts online with Twitter or Facebook. Word of mouth is really helping to grow my business as knitters respect the views of other members of our community. Thanks!

Friday, June 14, 2013

An Interview with...Chrissy Gardiner

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 Chrissy here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?

Everywhere! My main source of inspiration is my giant library of stitch dictionaries from all over the world. When I’m getting ready to start on a new design, I sit down with a stack of them and page through, marking stitches that catch my eye and trying to figure out interesting ways to modify them to fit a particular garment or combine them with other stitch patterns that have grabbed my attention. I’m also constantly inspired by garments I see in movies or on the street. My ”The Dude Abides” socks from my book “Toe-Up!” were inspired by Jeff Lebowski’s famous Cowichan-style sweater in the movie The Big Lebowski. I’d been trying to come up with a colorwork design for weeks, and as I watched the movie for the millionth time one night, I was suddenly struck by the colorwork pattern of this sweater. I paused my DVR and quickly sketched out the motif. It was truly serendipitous, because the design fit perfectly on a 64-stitch sock!

What is your favourite knitting technique?

This is a tough one, and I have to say it’s a tie between mattress stitch, which is always miraculous to me, and Judy’s Magic Cast-On, which helped me overcome my aversion to toe-up socks.

You focus on designing socks, could you tell us a little about the reasons why?

This just sort of happened without much input from me, actually! When I was first starting out and submitting lots of designs to various publications, it seemed that the only things I could get accepted were socks. I decided to go with it, and there are really a lot of things to love about socks. I like always knowing what size needle to use to get gauge, I love being able to grab a 400-yd skein of sock yarn and know I’ll get a pair of socks out of it without too much “will I run out? NONONONO!” stress, and I find that socks are a nice little canvas for playing with stitch patterns and colorwork designs. I’ll wear colors and patterns on my feet that I would never wear if they were incorporated into a sweater.

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

I’ll page through my knitting magazines when they arrive in the mail, but I don’t spend a lot of time looking at others’ designs. It’s impossible not to be influenced by other designers’ work, but I do want to try to minimize it as much as possible. I have a terrible memory, and if I see something I like and then want to design something like it six months later, I’ll never be able to remember if I saw it in a knitting magazine, on one of The Real Housewives, or if it came to me in a dream.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?

I think this is a little bit of a tempest in a teapot. There are so many great designers out there, and so many different styles of pattern writing, there’s something for everyone. No designer will ever be all things to all people, so if knitters want something that’s a little more sophisticated, there are designers that will cater to that. There’s a huge market out there for knitters who just want to knit, have fun, and not think too hard. I really try to gear my patterns toward these knitters and teach them a little something in each of my patterns. I have gotten a couple comments questioning the extra techniques I include in my patterns, but I figure if someone doesn’t want a tutorial on Judy’s Magic Cast-On, they can just skip that section!

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

I always make sure that at least two people have knit each of my patterns before I unleash them on the general public. I have a stable of about 50 potential test knitters to draw from, and about 5-10 regulars who do the majority of my test knitting. I also have two tech editors review each of my patterns. I tend to do most of my own sample knitting as part of my design process. I tend to do a lot of tweaking and ripping as I work through the design. I do have a couple sample knitters that I’ll use to reknit a design that I’ve already worked up, but this isn’t something that happens too frequently. 

Did you do a formal business plan?

Absolutely. I’ve actually done a few business plans – one when I was first starting out, then another as I shifted my publishing from being mainly published by others to a heavily self-published wholesale print pattern business, and the most recent when I started self-publishing books. I probably need to do another update to reflect my shift from mostly print to mainly digital over the past year or two. 

Do you have a mentor?

I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of help on this wild journey! When I was first getting my self-publishing business up and running, I got a lot of great advice from Chris de Longpre, Janet Szabo and Jill Wolcott (and I know there are others I am forgetting). As I moved into self-publishing books, I’ve been lucky enough to count Cat Bordhi as a mentor and I can’t thank her enough for how much she’s helped me. Janel Laidman was a graduate of Cat Bordhi’s Visionary class the same year as I was, and she has been a great inspiration and sounding board. She’s the one who came up with the framework for the gorgeous design for my newest book, “Indie Socks”.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

Sort of? I’ve really incorporated bits and pieces of lots of other designers’ business models into my own business. I’m also constantly changing things to reflect where I want to go and how I need my business to fit into my family life (which is getting busier and busier as the kids get older and require more shuttling to and from various activities). 

What impact has the Internet had on your business?

It has made it a heck of a lot easier in some ways and much more difficult in others. I absolutely love the Ravelry pattern sales system – after spending years printing and sleeving patterns to send off to shops, I really adore being able to sell my patterns without any intervention on my behalf. On the other hand, the competition is incredible. Since there are no barriers to entry now, there are an incredible number of patterns to choose from, including the huge number of free patterns available. I try not to spend too much time lamenting this, because free patterns aren’t going away (nor should they). I really try to focus my energy on how I can make my patterns stand out from the crowd, which includes making them as fun to knit and as error free as humanly possible. 

Do you use a tech editor?

I use two, and it’s absolutely the best money you can spend if you’re self-publishing patterns. Seriously, you can hire a good tech editor for an hour for the cost of a skein of sock yarn. If you as a designer make sure that your pattern is in tip-top shape before you send it to your tech editor, it shouldn’t be overly expensive. I always go through my patterns with a fine tooth comb, including rechecking every stitch count and bit of math, before I send it to my editors. The pattern also goes through test knitting and formatting – the tech editors are the last people to touch it before it is released. Having a solid style sheet for your patterns will also help your tech editors be efficient and save you money. 

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

It’s a constant battle. I’ve really had to scale back over the past few years in order to maintain my sanity. For instance, I don’t travel to teach and I rarely teach locally. I don’t do a lot of submissions to other publications any more in order to avoid deadline-itis. I try not to work nights and weekends, even though it’s really easy to do since my office is right there, calling to me. My business hasn’t grown as much since I’ve taken these steps, but my kids also aren’t trying to hide my knitting from me anymore. 

How do you deal with criticism?

I rant about it to my husband, and then I really try to put it on a raft and send it out to sea. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve never been the subject of any really brutal criticism, but even the relatively benign stuff still stings. Being told that your work is boring, doesn’t add anything new to what’s already out there and your layout is cheesy isn’t going to make your day better. I don’t actively monitor reviews of my stuff, and I think that just not knowing what’s out there is easier on my psyche. I appreciate constructive criticism about things I can actually fix (I am always happy to hear from knitters about possible errata), but I’d rather take the head-in-the-sand approach to folks who aren’t fans of my design aesthetic or pattern layout. 

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

Hahaha, if only I could support myself! It took about three years for the business to start making a small profit. The years since then have all been in the black, but the amount of profit fluctuates wildly depending on what I’m doing (how many patterns I release, whether I’ve published a book that year, how much advertising I’m doing). My income covers the occasional mortgage payment and things like summer vacations and soccer uniforms, but I would have a lot of work to do before I’d be self-supporting in a meaningful way! 

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

Expect to do a lot of hard work. Hire a tech editor if you’re self-publishing. Network, online and off! Don’t expect to make a ton of money. Get used to rejection if you’re submitting for publication (expect 10-30% of your submissions to get accepted, and submit a lot – out of 10 designs submitted, maybe 1-3 will be published). Always act like a professional, even if you don’t feel like a “real designer” yet. Don’t take things personally!!!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

WWKIP Events

Well here's a little laugh for us knitters. Knit in Public day at a local venue in Toronto is presented on a background of crochet. I wonder how many knitters they heard from about this?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Happy Blog Birthday to Me!

In June of 2009 I started this blog as a challenge to myself. 

The first entry reads in part "Someday soon I'm going to become a full time hand knitting designer. I'm going to write about this change in my life and hopefully look back to assess what I did right as well as the mistakes I make along the way."

I didn't quit my full time job at the time, however I did resign the following March and since then my life has changed in many ways for the better. 

The blog has been part of that process and has added to my experience in many ways.

Writing a blog can be challenging. I have quite a few sites explaining grammatical rules book marked for all of the questions that come up. This month I'm joining a writers group because while my writing has improved I want to get better than I am currently, at expressing myself.

The entries in a blog need to be concise and informative. I've had to run series to address some of the topics I've chosen. Some of my posts have been mainly photos, short and sweet as a contrast. I get to test out different formats and styles of writing in this manner.

I've done a interview series which has turned out to be very popular and has lead to me making friends with others in my field that I wouldn't have met any other way. 

When I look at the stats I see that people are reading me from locations all over the world. I often see google translator being used to convert my posts into Russian, Estonian and German.

The blog has made me more thoughtful, there is something in the process of writing that adds clarity to our thinking. 

Happy Birthday to you my blog and many thanks for all the great things you have given me!

Friday, June 7, 2013

An Interview with...Elizabeth Smith

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 Elizabeth here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?

Just about everywhere I’d say! I’ll often get inspiration for one design from a number of different places, and the combination of those things results in the final design. Living in the Portland, Maine area is really inspiring to me—not just the landscape but the vibe and culture of Portland. When I’m brainstorming a new design I’ll often be thinking of the fashion aesthetic we have in this city—a combination of rustic meets downtown—being fashion-forward but also having a very natural and rustic feel.

What is your favourite knitting technique?

I love seamless knitting, so any technique that enables this is one that I usually love. Top-down sweaters, short row shaping or the three-needle bind off are good examples—all of these techniques are easy and fun ways to accomplish seamless knitting.

How did you determine your size range?

I try to have a range of at least 6-7 different sizes with most of my designs. I like to have as wide a range as possible within the confines of a particular design.

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

Of course! I love admiring other work, whether it’s another sweater design on Ravelry or a knitted garment I see at a local boutique. I think it would be nearly impossible to work in a vacuum and never admire or be inspired by other people’s work when you are in a creative field such as this.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?

I think there are lots of different kinds of knitters out there so there is a need for lots of different kinds of patterns. I am personally all for detailed instructions and it’s something that I provide in all of my patterns because I write for the beginner knitter in mind. Not everyone will like this writing style, and that’s okay! But I know a lot of knitters that appreciate that extra detail and it’s something I enjoy doing.

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

I do it all myself. Many times I tweak a design after I’ve already started knitting it so designing-as-I-go is an important part of my process.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

I’m not sure if I would call it a business model per se, but I have a business and marketing strategy in terms of the kinds of patterns I want to create, my target audience, and how I intend to reach my audience. I think finding a niche is important in any industry, including the knitting design world. My education and professional background is in marketing, so it’s just an ingrained habit of mine to approach any work I do with my marketing strategy hat on at the same time. I’m very much a left and right-brain kind of creative (which is probably why I like designing so much!)

What impact has the Internet had on your business?

The Internet IS my business! Well, for the most part at least. I started designing after Ravelry was created so I don’t know what it’s like to be a designer in the pre-Ravelry days. Without sites like it (including Patternfish and now Craftsy too), I’m not sure I would have even started designing because I wouldn’t have known how to get started. These sites have made it possible for a lot of knitters to make that jump into designing and I am so appreciate of them!

Do you use a tech editor?

Oh yes, of course. I have an excellent tech editor and I wouldn’t dream of publishing a pattern without one. When I’m designing and writing a pattern, I’m so involved in every little detail that it amazes me that errors still slip by, but they always do. Having a good tech editor is priceless.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

I don’t have much of a life/work balance to be honest but I love what I do for work so that’s okay with me. I work a lot of different jobs which keeps me pretty busy, but I enjoy all of them so I don’t mind not having as much “free” time as I used when I worked a more traditional work schedule.

How do you deal with criticism?

If it’s constructive criticism I definitely welcome it and try to learn as much as I can from it. You can’t make everyone happy all of the time, but I try to learn as much as possible from all the feedback I get. Some criticism isn’t always constructive and in those cases I just try to not let it get to me too much. I think whenever you put your work “out there” you have to expect that not everyone is going to always have nice things to say and it’s all about learning how to deal with it in a positive manner.

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

I’m not able to support myself solely on the money I make as a knitting designer, but through the years the percentage has increased. Technically my job title would be “knitting designer/yarn shop associate/software development project manager/web marketing professional” (in no particular order!), so I wear a lot of hats when it comes to how I make money. But I prefer it like this—having multiple revenue streams where you aren’t relying 100% on any one income source (and in my opinion is the more stable option in this economy).  Knitting design fits well into this kind of model since it can take a while to become profitable and it’s not always consistent income throughout the entire year.

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

I’d say go for it! For me, it was a slow process—I didn’t quit my day job on day 1 to dedicate myself to knitting design 100%. It’s been a very gradual process for me even to get to the point I’m at right now (where I consider designing to now be one of my part-time jobs). I had started by just fitting in design work at night and on the weekends and then slowly I was able to dedicate a little more time to it as the years went by. So if someone is interested in pursuing a career in knitting but not sure how they can make it work with their existing job or family responsibilities, I’d say just start in any way you can. Even if it’s just something you can work on once a week or on the weekends, give it a try and see where it might go. You never know where it might eventually lead to.