Friday, May 29, 2015

An Interview with...Lisa Chemery (Frogginette)

Madame Entrechat

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.

Where do you find inspiration? 
I would be poetic to say that nature or architecture, or even particular yarns inspire me, but the truth is that I mostly find inspiration just looking at children around me. What do they like to wear? What will be comfortable/practical? But then of course it has to be fun to knit and stylish, too!

I like to spend time online looking at children's fashion, in particular vintage styles. I'm also sometimes inspired by children's books and illustrations. 

What is your favourite knitting technique?
I am attracted to modular knitting and slightly unconventional construction methods and I love finding stitches that look tricky but are very easy to work.

It's not exactly a technique, but I'm now exploring a more streamlined construction style, trying to use the properties of specific stitches to my advantage when thinking about shaping a garment.

How did you determine your size range? 
I try to give a large range (sizes 3 months to 8 years) so that when people buy one of my patterns, they can hopefully get their money's worth and make several versions as the child grows. This is also why I like offering patterns that are easy to customize or have "options" like pockets/sleeve length etc...

Tiered Coat and Jacket

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I really enjoy looking at other designers' work. I have a pretty definite style by now and a backlog of ideas, so I'm not worried about being influenced.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
I think it's important to be aware of your customer base. I try to make my patterns very clear and accessible to new knitters so I do include many helpful tips/stitch counts etc... 
However, I am mindful of the layout of the pattern and make use of footnotes when I feel like an explanation would be helpful to some knitters for instance, but might be cumbersome in the body of the pattern. I also separate the detailed instructions from the heading, so that hopefully a more experienced knitter will be able to skip the details and "get" the general instruction at a glance. 

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I knit my samples myself but I get my patterns test-knit in every size. I usually have one to two test-knitters per size for any given design. 

Latte baby coat

Did you do a formal business plan?
No, though I have some idea of what I'd like to accomplish each coming year.

Do you have a mentor?

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

No, but I pay careful attention to what "veterans" of this business have to say.

Do you use a tech editor? 
I do, and she is really essential to me because I can be forgetful and make the silliest mistakes, and it's nice to have another set of eyes (and another brain!) to go over what I wrote and make sure that it actually all makes sense!

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
I work from home and have young children so it gets tricky sometimes, but I am fortunate that childcare is affordable and the norm in Germany where I live. So it's a bit easier now to separate my life from my work, and to feel fully engaged in one or the other. When the kids were small, it was a lot harder. I felt like I was always playing catch up and feeling frustrated that I wasn't able to design as much as I wanted to.

How do you deal with criticism?
I haven't gotten much negative feedback, but if I receive an email from a frustrated customer, I try to respond with as much kindness and understanding as I can and usually get a lovely reply.
Summer into Fall
How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
I released my first pattern in 2008 but have only been pursuing this as a business since early 2012, and my business has been growing steadily ever since. I'm very fortunate that I'm able to support myself doing what I love and I'm eternally grateful to my customers and to Ravelry for making it possible!

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Be patient! Designing, writing and grading patterns is a much longer process than most people realize. Having great ideas is the easy/fun part but then there is a lot of work involved before you can release a good pattern.

The second thing is, if you want to be successful, try to be aware of what people actually want to knit, not just what you want to design ;)

What’s next for you?
Two of my designs will be featured in two upcoming books this year. In terms of self-published patterns, a few more kid designs are in the pipeline. Later this year, I am planning on releasing grown-up versions of my more popular patterns, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Yarnovers, How to Remember Which Direction to Wrap the Yarn.

This question comes up in classes frequently. Which way do you wrap the yarn to create a yarn over?

Most instructions give you the four possible variations of placing the yarn over as follows:

A Knit stitch, yo, knit stitch.
B Purl stitch, yo, purl stitch.
C Knit stitch, yo, purl stitch.
D Purl stitch, yo, knit stitch.

Then you are given four sets of directions:

A Knit 1, bring the yarn from back to front between the needles, then knit the next stitch with the yarn running over the top of the right needle, the yarn strand will create a yarn over on the needle.
B Purl 1, take the yarn from front, over the top of the needle to the back and under to the front again, purl 1.
C Knit 1, bring the yarn forward between the needles, then take it back over the top of the right needle and under to the front, purl 1.
D Purl 1, leave the yarn at the front after the purl stitch and  knit the next stitch; the yarn will move up and over the needle to create the yarn over.

I find this creates too many instructions for the novice lace knitter to remember. I prefer the instructions to be based on stitch orientation. 

It’s important to understand for most knitters stitches sit on the needle in a specific way. The yarn from the loop’s right leg is at the front of the needle. The yarn going to the loop’s left leg is at the back of the needle. There are knitters who work in other manners, however almost all reference materials will assume this stitch mount. 

Therefore, create your yarn over by wrapping the yarn over the needle in whatever direction maintains stitch orientation for the yarn over.  

I find for classic knitters, once they understand what I mean by orientation, the direction of the yarnover becomes immediately obvious as they wrap the yarn around the needle. They see instantly when they go wrong.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Model vs. Mannequin - Which do you Prefer?

Model vs. Mannequin. This topic is hotly contested. I fall on the mannequin side of the debate. I feel beautiful, young, thin models create aspirational looks, however does that create disappointment for the customer who puts on the garment and realizes it doesn't look as good on her. Last summer I put on a dress and loved it until I saw it on someone else (she had a knockout figure). I didn't buy it. Models can also narrow the marketing to an age group even for very basic items which are essentially ageless. Like sweaters.

On the other hand mannequins can be unrealistic and appear static giving the same look to every garment. My husband who works in a large corporate retail marketing department would argue this is a good thing for consistent branding.

Then there is the fit issue. People say they need to see it on a real body. However unless the garments fit the models properly, what's the point? What you see is how it fits them not you with no guarantee it will fit you. This really hit home for me when I was asked to assist in correcting the poor fit of a sweater pattern's shoulders before the knitter checked the schematic and compared it to her own measurements. She assumed the pattern was at fault. What she saw was how it fit the tall thin model not how it would fit her shorter average weight figure.

The photos at the top of The Barbara Franklin Cardigan are not impacted by the shape of my body. The ones at the bottom look very different as the garment molds to my shape. It's my best selling cardigan and I don't think it would be if I modeled it in the pattern. What do you think?

Friday, May 22, 2015

Three Years Ago I interviewed Lorilee Beltman

I created this blog  to provide a way of tracking my development as a knitting professional. I occasionally go back and read old posts. I find the interviews are often even more enlightening now that I have more experience regarding the topics the interviewees discuss. Here's one from 2012: Lorilee Beltman,

Recently Lorilee has become known for an interesting new technique, vertically stranded colorwork, and many of her recent patterns include this technique.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Fully Fashioned Decreasing, Should You or Shouldn't You?

Half a sleeve cap sewn into an armhole strip

First a definition. This one comes from:

Knitting the Perfect Fit Essential Fully Fashioned Shaping Techniques for Designer Results by Melissa Leapman.


The shaping details being referred to are decreases, they reduce the number of stitches to narrow and shape the kitting. They appear at armholes, around necklines and in sleeve caps. A variety of techniques can be used, depending on the purpose they will serve and the desired look of the finished knitting. Decreases can slant to the right or left, or be vertical depending on what technique is used. When shaping the knitter might choose to work a left-slanting decrease on the right-hand side of the garment and a right-slanting decrease on the left-hand side of the garment. This is done to emphasize the visual detail of the shaping. If the decreases are placed one or two stitches in from the edge, they become a decorative detail. 

Many experts feel placing the decreases inside the knitting as opposed to on the edge makes it easier to seam the pieces together. I've tried both methods and I have to say I disagree. I rarely knit stocking stitch so I always place my decreases at the edge of the knitting so they will be invisible once the pieces are sewn together. I don't like the shaping to interfere with the stitch pattern. I've never found it difficult to seam the edges together.

There are many areas in knitting discussion which assume the knitter is working in stocking stitch and questions are answered with that paradigm in mind. This limits our thinking. Details matter if you want to achieve the best possible results. 

I've been teaching a new class, Capology. I was surprised by how many students asked why my sleeve cap samples were so smooth and tidy. I knit the samples in stocking stitch and worked my shaping on the edges. The decreases were therefore invisible after seaming. It lead to a lively discussion about why are knitters told they shouldn't place shaping at the edges. When I asked if they had trouble seaming none of them knew because they had never tried it. This leads us to something I always tell students. "Never substitute my judgement for your own". Your knitting style and project materials vary therefore your results will too. I guess I should change to "Never substitute my judgement or anyone else's for your own".  

I think somehow the preference for fully fashioned shaping to cut and sew methods in manufacturing has crossed to hand knitting in a non-nonsensical way. What do you think?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Even More Tips for Knitting Lace

Track what row you are on when you put the work down. You can use a pencil to tick rows off, or a post it note, or a magnetic board and ruler.

Check your work frequently, you can more easily correct errors in the next row than you can many rows later.

Count the number of stitches of each repeat on the wrong side, purl back row to catch errors.

How to eliminate a bunny ear at the cast off edge end. Work cast off to the last two stitches, k2tog instead of working each stitch separately.

Blocking makes all the difference to ensure stitch patterns show up in lace. It will improve the look of your knitting for most projects, especially those made from natural fibres. Start by soaking the knitting in lukewarm water for about fifteen minutes. Add a small amount of a wool wash. Remove most of the water from the knitting. Gently press the water out by rolling up the work in a towel and squeezing. Treat the work carefully, no twisting or wringing. Unroll the towel after about five minutes. Use stainless steel T pins to pin out the edges on a towel or blocking board. Start with the straight edges, for a triangle shawl it’s the top and the centre spine. Do the top edges first. Tug on the spine to make it perpendicular. Check to make sure these target areas are totally straight and securely pinned before working on the lower edges. Pin out decorative pointed edges. Gently stretch the work and move the bottom edges down again as it work relaxes. Adjust the level of stretch according to the fibre. Pull more firmly on 100% wool than delicate silk or cashmere. Do a second pass on the points of scalloped edges. Sometimes they need a little extra work because the horizontal stretching interferes with the points being pulled down far enough. Use a spray bottle of water to dampen the work at the edges only. On the final blocking move the points closer together to allow more pulling vertically. Just smooth the rest of the shawl away gently without wetting it or repining. Pin each point and then let the points dry again before removing from the blocking board.

Read these notes again in 24 and then 48 hours to move the information from short term to long term memory.

Watch for wandering yarn overs beside stitch markers. If they go astray, it can cause errors in stitch counts.

Choose charted rather than text patterns. Knitters who use text stitch patterns struggle to learn to maintain stitch patterns while shaping with decreases and increases. Knitters who use charts never need the same amount of help to learn this skill. Chart knitters generally make fewer stitch pattern errors and find their errors more quickly.

Ignore the “knitting police” you aren’t doing it wrong! You are doing it in a different way.

Learn where you go wrong habitually and check for that error. I am most likely to accidentally drop yarn overs so I pay attention by looking at the shapes they create in the pattern.

Make sure you review and understand what the chart symbols mean.

Remind yourself lace knitting is economical. You can buy a lot of lace weight yarn for not very much money and have the fun of a project which will take you months to complete. That's a lot of knitting fun which ends with a beautiful finished project.

Friday, May 15, 2015

An Interview with ... Vladimira Ilkovicova

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 Vladimira here and here on Ravelry. She is on Tumbler here.

Two Button Cardigan

Where do you find inspiration?
I get inspired by the yarn itself, when I can feel it and work with it. Many times I find an inspiration in bed, when I'm falling asleep.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
It's hard to say; I like almost all of them (except ribbing). I usually use one color. When working Stockinette stitch, I prefer the Combination style of knitting and knitting in rows with a circular needle because it's faster and my hands are not stiff after long hours of knitting.

How did you determine your size range?
I use the traditional four sizes S - XL or six S - 3XL, depending on the design or the request from yarn companies I work for. I follow the Craft Yarn Council size charts.
Do you look at other designers' work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I do all the time, but not with the intention to copy them. I think that in the age of the Internet, it's not possible not to be influenced by other designers' work even if you don't want to. I'm obsessed with anything about knitting and fashion photography. It can be seen on my own Tumbler blog full of knitwear pictures from other designers.

How do you feel about the so called controversy of "dumbing down" patterns for knitters?
I think there are skill levels to determine how detailed patterns should be. It wouldn't make sense to "dumb down" the pattern which is intended for experienced knitters.

I learned to knit as a child in Slovakia. My grandmother taught me just knit and purl stitches - I knitted intuitively and followed almost no patterns. I learned to sew at a very young age as well. Before I started designing professionally, I had to do a lot of studying, mostly American patterns. I admit that some of them seemed maybe unnecessarily detailed to me at first, but it's always better to be more detailed to avoid knitters' questions after the pattern is published.  I try to adjust to the American market, but I include selvedge stitches in my patterns which is not common in the US. 

Bulky Jacket

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I do all the sampling by myself and so far I've been able to handle it as my designs have mostly classic construction. I can't imagine having the first sample knit by somebody else, as I often change the design in the process. Knitting is my favourite part of the designing. 

Did you do a formal business plan?
No, just short term planning.

Do you have a mentor?
No. Internet and magazines are my mentors. I learned a lot from Internet groups of professional designers.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
Not really.

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
Huge. Without the Internet, I wouldn't be able to do what I do.

Do you use a tech editor?
Yes, I've been working with quite a few and it's been  very helpful.
How do you maintain your life/work balance?
Work is my life. I don't mind if I have to knit for whole day.

How do you deal with criticism?
So far, I haven't had severe criticism. Knitters who contact me are usually polite, even when they find an error. Without the feedback I wouldn't be able to grow. When I started the business, I feared criticism, because knitwear design is not just about knitting and pretty pictures, but it turned out well.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
It was more off and on than gradual change. My original profession is a teacher of Art and English, but I worked in other fields such as decorative painting, fabric design, illustration or in the office.  I started to work as a freelance knitwear designer about 7 years ago before I moved from Slovakia to Canada. In Canada, it was impossible to make a living as a freelance designer right away.  When I came back to Slovakia, I designed Christmas lights for one year. Now I'm able to support myself thanks to designing for yarn companies. It works better for me than self-publishing, because as a self-publisher you have to be more out here and I'm quite introverted person. But I still do self-publish and have my website redesigned.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Don't do it for money. Pay attention to every detail. Try more things to find out what works for you.