Monday, October 28, 2013

Body Image and Knitters

I've written on this blog and spoken publicly about the issues surrounding knitters and body image many times. Over the past few years I've experienced more than my usual share of these issues. Due to health reasons, I upped my exercise and improved my diet with the result that I took off enough extra pounds that my blood work went back to the healthy number ranges. 

The first thing I noticed was that I had a period of forgetting that I now looked different. I was surprised when I looked in the mirror and became very aware that the image of myself in my mind did not match up with the reality. I had to actively look at myself everyday for months before my self image started to readjust. It took about six months before I started feeling that I was being consistently realistic.

During this period I got a lot of compliments on the changes. The next thing I noticed was a slip back into the nitpicking mode of pointing out to myself the things I don't like about my own appearance. This realization is frustrating! It does make me understand more about how difficult it is to maintain a positive body image even after a huge improvement in both health and appearance. I hope to stop this negative thought process so I put it on my Google task list to read this whenever I catch myself slipping into this behaviour. If you decide to do the same let me know if it helps you.

Friday, October 25, 2013

An Interview with ... Melissa McColl of LadeeBee

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 Melissa here and here on Ravelry.

Tell me how you got into the business of running a yarn store?
My path to having a bricks and mortar business was a bit of a winding road. Previously, I worked in the non-profit sector in a young parent resource centre. A few years into my job I was diagnosed with major depression and was ordered on leave by my doctor. During my medical leave I starting knitting almost all of my waking hours. I taught myself to crochet and to use knitting machines. I was in acquisition mode, buying up buttons, fabric, yarn, machines, and filling my home with things that made me happy. During my treatment I opened two Etsy shops. One called LadeeBee and the other Vintage Baby Revival. LadeeBee was focused on vintage buttons and for Vintage Baby Revival I designed and created knitware for babies and toddlers. I took my business a little further with the knitwear and exhibited at the One of a Kind Show and sold my items at local boutiques. Eventually, I decided not to return to my position at the young parent resource centre and to focus on crafting and creating for a living. An acquaintance of mine decided to do a big bead destash and gave me several bags of supplies free of charge. I started selling on a live auction website called Tophatter. The site was in its infancy and I was one of the first sellers to get on board. I sold off all of the supplies swiftly and at a massive profit and decided I wanted to do more of this. I sourced more jewelry supplies and began a steady business on Tophatter. 
I live in an up and coming neighbourhood called the Junction in Toronto and I always would say dreamily "I would love to open a yarn shop right here!" I never thought it possible because I lacked the finances to kick start a business so I never gave the idea any serious thought. By this time I had become friends with Mary Breen, the owner of Wise Daughters Craft Market, where I sold my baby knits on consignment and sometimes worked part-time. Wise Daughters had a gallery and workshop space in the lower level but Mary felt the space was underutilized. I suggested I could open a yarn shop and Mary agreed it would be a perfect fit with her locally handmade market. In fact many customers called her shop looking for craft supplies already. So in one serendipitous afternoon it was decided - I would have a yarn, bead and craft supplies shop in my beloved neighbourhood, the Junction. 

How long have you been in business?
I opened the bricks and mortar business in January 2013. 

Do you run the store by yourself or do you have employees, and if so, how many people work at your shop?
I mainly run the business on my own, but I have had occasional employees and even volunteers. 

How did you choose the yarns that you carry in your shop?
Truth be told, I am still choosing the yarns for my shop. I did not open the shop in a traditional way. I am growing slowly over time. I started off with a destash of the yarn from my own studio and now I carry Cascade 220 Superwash and 220 Superwash Sport, Cascade Magnum, Cascade Eco Duo, Manos Lace, and TurtlePurl Softshell Turtle Toes (a Canadian indie dyer). I purchased a lot of indie dyed sock yarn from a knitter who was destashing her own stash, and I am selling yarn on consignment for a local yarn shop that recently closed. As you can see I've had to be very creative in filling the shelves and also choosing a distributor with small opening order terms. I do want to have the best of the best and have my sights set on Sweet Fibre, another indie Canadian dyer, Socks that Rock, Malabrigo, and Noro. I love natural fibres and the beauty of hand dyed yarns.

What have done to create a sense of community in your store?
I am fortunate because much of the community was already built in when I opened my shop. Mary and I agreed that she would hold on to her workshops and borrow back the space to operate the classes. It is a pleasure to see so many activities, not just fibre related crafts, taking place in my space. I have also started a Sit N' Stitch I call a "Stitching Bee" on Sundays. Anyone can drop in during store hours on Sunday with their knitting, crochet, needlework, spinning, or beading project for a stitching social.  Together Mary and I plan special events for Worldwide Knit in Public Day and we participate in our local community events as well.

What is the biggest lesson running a yarn shop has taught you?
The biggest lessons are in patience and perseverance. Shelves don't fill up as quickly as I'd like and some days it feels like I'm spinning my wheels. You've got to be tough and focused and remain energetic as much as possible. 

What is your favourite part of what you do running the shop?
I feel so satisfied when I help someone find just the right thing for their project. I enjoy engaging my customers and finding out what they are working on and what materials make them happy. I am delighted when they find something in my shop that causes them to be excited and inspired. 

We've seen many cycles in the yarn industry of the market increasing and then falling again. What are your thoughts on where things might be headed now? 
I am really excited about the direction the industry is going. There is definitely a renaissance happening right now. The public is really becoming interested in doing things by hand again and connecting with the DIY spirit. I take personal responsibility for being an advocate for the crafts and sharing my passion with others. I feel if we all do our part we can see a long and prosperous future for the yarn industry. 

Do you have a mentor?
I do have two important mentors in my life. One is Mary Breen of Wise Daughters. She opened her bricks and mortar business four years prior to LadeeBee's arrival. She is a constant source of support, information, and comic relief. The other is Gloria Williams, a long time knitting expert. She has personally taken me under her wing to show me the ropes of teaching and has advised me in the nuances of yarn shop operations.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?
None in particular. I have visited dozens of yarn shops across the country and the US and have picked up on some things that I have emulated or aspire to emulate. I adore Purl Soho's (NYC) online presence, their advertising and of course their physical shop. I love the representation of fabric, yarn and needlework crafts. The General Store in Brooklyn is also similar. There's a sweet little shop in Peterborough, Needle in the Hay, that I adore as well. I gain inspiration from a variety of shops. 

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
The internet was really my jumping off point. Once I had a stable income from online sales I was confident I'd be able to open the bricks and mortar location. Now that I have a location I can expand my inventory that I offer online. I am no longer confined by the space of my home based business. I love the opportunities that the internet offers. I have shipped things all over the world, but  I am truly most excited when I have a new Canadian customer. 

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
Work is life at the moment and I am happy with that. I come to the shop 7 days a week even though we are closed on Mondays. Because I live a block away from the shop I tend to live my life in a 1km radius and benefit from zero commute. Luckily, I am easily accessible to my family.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
Right now the shop is self sustaining and all profit goes right back into reinvesting in inventory. I imagine this will be the cycle for some time.  It has taken five years to get here and I imagine it'll be another five before I can say I am supporting myself. 

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in running a yarn store? 
My advice is to recognize that everyone has their own path. Be open to yours.

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, Ravelry or Facebook. Word of mouth is really helping to grow my business as knitters respect the views of other members of our community. Thanks!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Standard Measurements?

I found a great chart created for a sewing blog that I want to share with you.  You can review the chart here. I want you to notice that there are 6 different pattern companies included. The sizes run from 4-26 American and 30-52 European. Only one company gives a chest measurement.  Look for the variation between the companies, measurements can differ by as much as 2.5 inches. Look for the petite measurements. There aren't very many are there? In Canada the average woman falls into the petite height range. Check out how many companies list shoulder length. Look at how the grading is done, does it appear to be consistent within each company to you? 

The point I'm making here is that these differences all reflect standard measurements. The standards are specific to specific sources, they are not standards that apply to all bodies.  This is why it is so important to compare your measurements to those of any pattern (sewing or knitting) and to make the necessary adjustments for good fit.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Understanding the Hand of Knitted Fabric

Modern knitters tend to put a high priority on the softness of the yarns we choose to work with. I believe it is up to every knitter to decide for themselves which yarns they work with. I choose yarns for a variety of reasons related to cost, colour, texture, intended use and wear-ability. Every yarn has a place in the knitting world. It is up to us to decide if the yarn aligns with our needs.

Often the best way to determine if the yarn is worthy of our time and effort is a pros and cons list. 

I'd like to address an interesting pro of hard-wearing yarns. Most knitters know a yarn in this category. Usually 100% wool, it feels a little rough to the touch and is often used for garments that are not worn next to the skin. These yarns are tightly spun and provide excellent stitch definition. Items made from these yarns last for years and rarely pill. They create a somewhat stiff fabric which is warm, usually worn in the winter or on chilly days without a coat and with a soft layer of clothing next to the skin. The stiffness of that fabric has an additional benefit in a well fitting garment. The fabric tends to skim past the body and can be surprisingly slimming, in that it does not cling to the jiggly bits that some of us wish to disguise. If you would like to confirm this for yourself try on and compare two garments that have positive ease of about 2 - 4 inches. One should be in a soft yarn, perhaps a superwash or an alpaca or cashmere yarn. The other should have a fabric hand that is much stiffer. 

I've included photos of two of my sweaters, the grey one is a worsted weight wool, the burgundy is a superwash DK. Photos are static, they give the knitter no information about the fabric being created. I suggest that you actively work towards understanding how a particular knitted fabric interacts with your body and the appearance you wish to achieve. Both garments are the same size and include waist shaping but only the burgundy one clings. It does that even when I add the same oxford shirt under it that I wear under the grey sweater.

Friday, October 18, 2013

An Interview with... Helene Rush

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 Helene here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
Everywhere. I can see a fabric, printed or woven and an idea for a knitted piece will come to me. It can either inspire a color combo, or a texture. Sometimes, just squinting blurs things into something new. So keeping my eyes and mind open to new possibilities is important - and fortunately, my brain works that way all by itself. The internet has made going on an inspiration expedition easy, and super portable with my iPad.
What is your favourite knitting technique?
I am all over the map with that one. I know I have a "style" (at least I am told that by knitters who like my designs), but I equally like to design cables, lace, color work, you name it. I like to take a pattern stitch, or color chart, and rework it into something else. I recently designed a child's mosaic blanket. The idea came when looking at a Barbara Walker mosaic chart, and even though the design was abstract, I could see rabbits. So after playing with graph paper, my rabbits came to life.

How did you determine your size range?
When I began designing in the early '80s, I wrote patterns in sizes from 32" to 40", in 2" increments. That was considered a wide range of sizes, and pretty much the norm. Well, people have grown larger (me included) since then, and including sizes into the 50"+ is now the norm for me. Occasionally, a design will not lend itself to larger sizes, or mathematically will only work in a few sizes, and then my standards don't apply.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
When I started 30 years ago, you would pretty much only get to see knitting designs in printed publications. One time I designed a sweater for a magazine, and another magazine came out at the same time, and my sweater and another designer's sweater were practically identical. Neither of us had seen the other's prior to that. So similar ideas can be born to two different people without one imitating the other. I am not afraid of being influenced by any specific designer, but I would say my designing evolves and goes with the flow of what seems to be what knitters are interested at the time. You can't help but see others' designs while navigating the world of knitting.

You have been an amazingly prolific designer. Please tell us a little about how you have accomplished so much?
I am a knitting/designing maniac. It is almost an addiction. Right smack in the middle of designing/knitting a project, my mind will drift toward another idea and I just can't wait to get that one on the needle. It never ends. I am also a fast knitter, and I've gone home on Friday and returned to work on Monday morning with a finished sweater. And as I've said, I've been at it a long time. Sold my first design in 1979. I wrote five books in five years in the 1980's, had three children during that time as well. Became the editor of McCall's Needlework & Crafts magazine in the early '90s, and Cast On magazine in 2002, and so on… I basically never say no to anything knitting related. And I am an overachiever.

Could you tell us about your role in the running of Knit One, Crochet Too?
I am the big boss, the queen of everything! But seriously, my role includes designing yarns (deciding fibers and selecting colors), designing all our patterns (about 50 per year), some photography, designing ads, all the general accounting, and making all the important decisions. I have a great team (my two sons, and Joyce and Deb, too) and we all get along great. I think everyone likes to come to work in the morning, and that makes me happy :)

How do you feel about the so called controversy of “dumbing down” patterns for knitters?
Do you mean spelling out all the little details so knitters don't have to think too hard about what to do? Humm, I am not a big fan. Back in the days, all patterns were written for print, so abbreviations and truncated sentences were the norm since space was a premium. By rating patterns by skill level, knitters could stick to those they felt comfortable tackling knowing that no one would be at the ready to help them as they do now via email, or online forums. I still write without including what specific method to CO or BO, or how to work increases unless one method is an integral part of a design. I have taught beginner knitting classes before. I always made sure my students learned how to "read" their knitting - recognizing a knit and a purl stitch, how to count rows, all the basics. I wanted them to become accustomed to figuring out if and where a problem had occurred and how to fix it. These days, the hand-holding seems a bit much.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I have about half a dozen knitters I work with regularly. Up until last year when I developed a major case of tendonitis, I did most of the knitting myself. Now, to minimize injury, I work what I call "Frankenstein" sweaters. I may knit the front, or whatever part of the design needs to be finessed, then once I know that works, I pass the rest on to a knitter. I often ask the knitters to send things back without the neck being done, for example. I then work that section here to be sure it is just right.

Did you do a formal business plan?
Purchasing Knit One, Crochet Too required financing from a local bank and the SBA [Small Business Administration], so I had to provide a business plan. I had no clue how to do that and had to research it. It was a great exercise and I recommend it highly to anyone who is considering purchasing or starting a business. It forces you to realistically look at everything financial before taking the plunge.

Do you have a mentor?

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

What impact has the Internet had on your business?
For a couple of years I designed websites, so I've been a big proponent of including a web presence in my business model. A few years ago, I partnered with Shopatron as our order processor to make it easier for knitters to purchase our products through our website. Through this system, retailers get a chance to fulfill those orders on our behalf.

Do you use a tech editor?
We do all our tech editing in house. I have outsourced in the past but after marginal success, I decided to keep it here. I've done tech editing for others throughout my career, and although nobody is perfect, I think we do a pretty good job.

Twin Peaks Cardi

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
My partner of 17 years also owns his own business, so he totally gets it when I am under deadlines. I make vacation plans months in advance, not knowing how crazy work may be at that time, but I stick to those plans. That way I get to travel quite a bit, and we also own a house on the ocean Downeast, Maine, where I booked us for three separate weeks this past summer, and I was there with bells on!

How do you deal with criticism?
I don't like to hear it (who does?), but I have learned that one person's voice does not represent everyone. I assess the comments to evaluate if there is something there worth considering, and if not, I move on.

How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself?
It took about five years back in the '80s before I quit my job and started designing full time. At one point I was earning more than my then husband. With Knit One, Crochet Too, dear boyfriend offered to help out should I need it that first year, but I am happy to say that I never had to take him up on it. These days, it is easier for designers to find opportunities (calls for submissions) and to self-publish. Ravelry has revolutionized the knitting world for designers. It also created a lot more competition. So it is a double-edge sword. My situation is unique in that I am still a designer, while selling my own line of yarn. It's hard to know how the financials would work out right now if I was only designing.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Plan on working super hard, never burn your bridges (you may have the opportunity to work with that one person you didn't agree with yesterday), be honest, be organized, and meet your deadlines!

To my readers: 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!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

How to Knit Flattering Raglans

At a recent Knit night when asked what I was knitting, I showed a bottom up raglan I'm working on. We ended up having the "raglans are not flattering discussion". This is another one of the sound bite statements in the knitting world that I take issue with.

You can read the row gauge doesn't matter post here and the stripes aren't flattering post here.

Garments are created with multiple components and variations that all work together with the individual shape of the wearers body. Look at the photos of the raglan at the top of the post. This garment is a top down raglan. What element is your eye first drawn to? Mine goes to the textural cable stitch patterns first. Now look at the raglan line. It's not very noticeable is it? I used lifted increases on either side of a single stitch. This garment was customized for me from the original design, the pattern photo looked like this:
The pattern includes the modification instructions for a variety of body shapes. It also includes several methods to make the raglan shaping. Some are more discreet, some use yarn overs as a decorative detail like this version below.

Let's look at this garment modeled by Deb (my co-author).
This raglan has the added element of colour creating a striping effect and a face framing collar. 

Now it's your turn, what elements make the garment below flattering to the wearer? Hint, list the design elements.

  • V neckline
  • Vertical columns of lace
  • Waist shaping
  • Detail on the cuffs
  • Body shape flares out from the waist to the hem
  • Texture and colour variation of the yarn used
BTW: you get extra points if you noticed that all of the garments have V necklines, all have an eye catching element of some sort and most include some form of a vertical design element.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Upcoming classes at Linda's Craftique

I'm booked to teach two classes at Linda's Craftique.

I hope to see some of my local readers there.

October 26th, 10am-5pm (with a break for lunch)
Gloves 101

What’s better than knitting socks? Gloves of course! Class members will learn all the basics of glove construction in this workshop aimed at the beginner glove knitter. Students will work through a mini glove sampler to practice the skills required from cast on to shaping and finishing fingertips.

Supplies required: Students should bring 100% wool in a worsted weight yarn. Light colours are recommended. Needles required are 5 or 6 inch double pointed ones in a 5 needle set. They should be in a non-slippery material like wood or bamboo. Needle size should be appropriate to the weight of the yarn according to the knitter's style and leaning towards a tighter gauge. Bring a sewing up needle, some markers and a little bit of waste yarn as well as the general supplies for any class: paper, pencils and scissors. 

November 23rd, 1-4pm
How You can get the Most out of Hand Dyed and Variegated Yarns

Have you ever bought a multicolored yarn and then been unhappy with the results when you started knitting? It's time to learn about techniques for working with hand painted and multicolored yarns. Topics covered will include: types of colour repeats, types of stitch categories to show off the yarn to its best advantage, how to mix with solid yarns and how to choose lace patterns that work.

Supplies required: Multicolored yarn and solid colour yarn in small amounts, appropriate size needles, stitch dictionaries and the general supplies for any class: paper, pencils and scissors.

If you would like to see me teaching at your local shop please let your LYS owner know you are interested. Thanks

Friday, October 11, 2013

An Interview with...Beckie Paul of Unraveled

Beckie is on the left and her staffer Stacey is on the right.  They are both wearing a Gradient  by Shibui knit with Silkcloud.

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 the shop here  and their Ravelry group is here

How long have you been in business?

We've been open since April 2012

Do you run the store by yourself or do you have employees, if you do how many people work at your shop?

It's mostly just me, but I have a very supportive Mother who works for me when I need her to, or when she kicks me out for a rest, and Stacey, my student who also kicks me out on Sundays when I need a rest!  I am really lucky to have them with me in this.  My Fiancée Josh is brave enough to accompany me to knitting fairs and shows :-)

How did you choose the yarns that you carry in your shop?

Oh, that's the fun part!  I started choosing yarns based on what I wanted to knit with, what I could not find anywhere else, and anything that got my heart racing.  I still shop for the store in the same way.  I have to love something if it's coming through the doors and is going to take up precious space on the shelves.  We don't have a lot of room, so I need to make every square inch count.  If I don't love it, I won't be able to sell it.  The products I have are the products I love.  I choose colours in every range, and definitely take customer feedback on colours and bases into account. I can't carry everything but I try to cover a lot of bases in every weight.

What is the biggest lesson running a yarn shop has taught you? 

Running the shop has taught me to pick my personal battles. I have learned that everything that needs to be done cannot possibly be done all at once, or all in one day, a week, a month, sometimes a year.  I am still struggling with this, but picking my battles is my biggest lesson.  What is immediate, what is for tomorrow, what can wait a week, what is a nice to have, what is a luxury?  Those are the filing boxes on my list.  

What is your favorite part of what you do running the shop?

Oh, so many!  My favourite part though is my customers, and their support of not only the business but me personally too.  I could never have imagined before opening the store how close I would grow with my customers - who are now friends.  They can pick me up on the rough days, and make the good ones even better.  They come with great stories, beautiful project ideas, and finished projects to show off and share with the other customers in the store.  I could not have gotten where I am without the wonderful knitters who frequent the shop - I genuinely look forward to the days I know someone is coming in for a visit. I'm extremely lucky to have the customers I do; my favourite part by far!

We've seen many cycles in the yarn industry of the market increasing and then falling again. What are your thoughts on where things might be headed now? 

I think sites like are helping to keep the fibre industry relevant and are causing continuous growth.  Many of my newer knitters have learned online, or saw something on Pinterest and decided they needed to knit and take it up. The more access people outside of the community have to knitting information the better, and the growth of knitting communities online helps keep existing knitters interested to keep learning and making, sharing and commenting.

Did you do a formal business plan? 

ummm... no? :-D  I did figure out expenses and project ahead as to what numbers I needed to meet monthly just to pay the bills.  I knew that every cent that comes into the business over the next few years will go back into it and I think my customers have noticed this as the stock grows and diversifies over time.  I can't even believe how much the store has changed in a year :-) Best business plan ever if you ask me! just kidding...

Do you have a mentor? 

My Mom.  Sounds cliché perhaps, but she's the best business person I know.  I grew up with my parents running a business and like to think they imparted some know how on me during those years.  Since that time my Mom is my adviser, shrink, and best friend.  I bounce almost every idea off of her to see what she thinks; she's the best sounding board I could ask for.  I wouldn't have been able to even think about starting and running my own business without her.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated? 

No - just trying to run things my way.  I wanted to create the shop I wanted to shop in that I couldn't quite find, I've succeeded in my vision and just keep hoping I find like minded individuals who enjoy what I'm doing and what I'm selling.  It's never a good business strategy to go out and copy the competition - if we all do our own thing it makes the entire field better for the customers to shop in.

Did you take any courses in how to run a business before you opened? 

No, none. 

What impact has the Internet had on your business?

Facebook is fantastic for business.  I use it to get any and all information about the shop out there quickly.  I love it - I can post new items as soon as they come in, share pretty fibre pictures, and pass along information about events and upcoming classes.  I think it's invaluable, I'd love to find the time to be more involved in more aspects and forums of social media, but right now I have time for just FB mostly.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

This is probably my biggest challenge.  I am constantly on duty right now and am finding spare time without the store being involved tricky.  It's hard to step away even for a second when its just me.  Late night email replies, packing online orders before and after work, store orders for re-stocking, sourcing new items - it doesn't all go away when the doors close at night.  I'm getting a bit better at taking a day off on Sundays to spend with my family, but it still involves work in some capacity.  My pup has adapted to sleeping around my computer - they share my lap, he's doing better at maintaining his work/life balance than I am at this point!

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in running a yarn store? 

Know what you're getting into - it's more about running a business than knitting all day everyday.  Don't get me wrong, it's fantastic, but I've had to come to terms with talking and thinking more about knitting and spinning than actually knitting and spinning.  There is only so much time in a day, and unfortunately when your income depends on how much work you get done and how hard you work, something has to give.  My sacrifice is less hours spent actually putting needles and yarn together.  

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

More on the Barbie Factor - Click on the Image to See the Whole Chart.

Is a Barbie Body Possible?

This information was originally published here.

For my previous post on the topic go here.

For a look at the influence Barbie has on makeup go here.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Shirley Paden's Craftsy Class, Handknit Garment Design

Shirley was kind enough to send me a discount link to her Craftsy class early in September that I shared with my readers. She gave me access to the course so I could ensure I was passing a valuable resource to you. 

I've already read her book and knowing her long history of teaching I expected the class to be very good and it is. I particularly like the beginning of Shirley's class. She walks you through the process of developing a concept for your design by examining your objectives of the who, what, where and why of the project.

She also spends time on the very important topic of yarn choice and how to work with that choice, matching the yarn to specific stitches and results. 

The balance of the lessons deal with the nuts and bolts of the design process. The students really have an opportunity to get into the mind of a designer. You will get all of the information on how to go about developing a custom fit garment. I was especially impressed with the sections on the The Magic Formula. It's the kind of knitting math that scares many knitters off but is very helpful in working decreases and increases in a balanced manner. I've taught it before and I can see this is one place that a video class excels by allowing the student to replay segments as required and work through real sweater numbers for themselves. 

You get about four hours of video class time, as well as materials you can download to work through. The class is meant for an individual knitting their own garment not for someone looking to learn how to write patterns to sell. I realize that many knitters don't want to design from scratch, however the real advantage in taking a class like this one, is you will learn the necessary skills to take any existing pattern and customize it to your individual measurements. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

An Interview with...Elizabeth McCarten

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 I find inspiration?

The answer is, “in a lot of places”. I love clothes from certain periods of history, especially Regency, Edwardian, and 1920s women’s fashions. The silhouettes from those times, with either high or low waists, are so flattering. Think “Out of Africa”, “House of Eliott”, and more recently, “Downton Abbey”. The latter inspired my Downtown Jacket with its back flaps that evoke a riding jacket. Some binge viewing last Christmas holidays of the 1987 BBC production of the Lord Peter Wimsey/Harriet Vane mysteries led to Harriet’s Jacket (I think I’m revealing my age.) So, TV and movies are definitely a source of inspiration. My fantasy trip would be a walk through the BBC wardrobe department. 

A second place I look to for ideas is books—not necessarily knitting books, although I have some favourites in that category. At the top of the list is “Poetry in Stitches”, by Solveig Hisdal, now out of print, I believe. The lush photographs of Scandinavian textiles and landscapes as well as the slightly irreverent approach (the bird’s nest hat/crown comes to mind) appeal to me most strongly in the dark days of winter. My Trellis Waistcoat emerged after some prime time with this book. Lisa Lloyd’s “A Fine Fleece” is another book I keep close to hand. Her beautiful garments from handspun represent to me the highest form of the art and craft of knitting, and spurred me to take up spinning with both drop spindle and wheel. Likely, I wouldn’t have come up with the Buttonbox Waistcoat without this book. An example of a non-knitting book that has influenced me is “William Morris, Artist, Craftsman, Pioneer”, by Ormiston and Wells, a gift from my husband. This had a huge influence on “Vinland”, the hat and mitts set you see in the most recent issue of Twist Collective. 

Finally, I look to ready-to-wear fashions. I design clothes that I want to wear, so I keep my eyes open for garments that look good on me. This is something of a challenge given that I don’t live in a big city with access to lots of interesting fashions. If I try something on and love it so much that I want to wear it out of the shop, then I try to figure out just what makes it so successful. Is it the silhouette, the way it drapes, the colour, the style of the buttons or the type of closure? Often I’ll purchase an item and use whatever quality that made it special in a design of my own. The shawl collars you see on my cardigans evolved out of this experience.

What is my favourite knitting technique?

I’m not sure if I have one favourite technique. However, I do have a favourite approach, which is to knit seamlessly and, as much as possible, in a way that allows me to try on a sweater while it is still in progress. There’s something so organic about a garment knitted without any seams, and while I understand the arguments in favour of seaming, I just don’t enjoy working that way. Knitting is supposed to be pleasurable, right? So, I employ most of the tricks of the seamless knitter, including top-down, bottom-up, and side-to-centre construction, steeks, perpendicular joins, and even double-knitted pockets (in a soon to be published Cossack-collared jacket). When it comes to finishing, you’ll notice that I use quite a bit of I-cord. This is probably due to the influence of Elizabeth Zimmermann, on whose books and videos I cut my knitting teeth, back in those pre-internet days. I just love the way I-cord finishes a knitted edge and allows you to position invisible buttonholes while trying on an almost-completed cardigan.

How do I determine my size range?

I’m a small woman, only 5’1”. I started designing out of frustration with the process of constantly having to alter other people’s patterns to fit. Since I design for myself and for my bird-like daughter/model, it’s safe to say that I’m most comfortable sizing patterns for small women. The details on my garments, including shawl collars, front openings, and vertical cables, are all meant to help the wearer look taller, but because many of my designs involve try-on-as-you-knit techniques, they’re pretty easy to adjust lengthwise, if necessary. I try to be precise about where any length adjustment should occur. As far as width goes, most of the designs I’ve published on my own go up to about a size 48” bust.  

When I’ve designed for Twist Collective or Knitty, I’ve had to extend myself and grade the designs up to larger bust sizes. I really think, though, that it’s very difficult to write a pattern for a tailored piece that works well across a very wide range of sizes. The problem has to do with body shape. Two women, each with a 50” bust, might be completely differently proportioned. My friend Deb Gemmell (who is even smaller than I am!) has devoted time to exploring this issue in her  recently published booklet for larger women, and I think anyone in the large size category would do well to have a look at their thoughtful suggestions.  

Editor's note: I was Deb's co-author on the booklet. Our observations and measurements were taken on many plus size women who volunteered to assist with the project. The range of specific measurements showed zero correlation to one another which is not the case with standard sizing which is based on bone structure as opposed to weight distribution.

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

I definitely look to see what other designers are doing. I remember Lucy Neatby saying in one of her classes that she avoids doing that and, when you look at the creative ingenuity of her work, it’s apparent. I don’t aspire to be so inventive. My work (or is it play?) is all about ending up with wearable garments. I don’t subscribe to any print knitting magazines, but I keep abreast of what’s current online and I look at things on two levels. First, I take note of designs that provoke some sort of immediate emotional attraction. Then, I step back and, as with ready-to-wear fashions, I try to analyze on the intellectual level what exactly is going on in a design that’s raised that response. Finally, at some point down the road, I might use that element in a way that incorporates my own unique seamless and try-on-as-you-knit approach. The small cuff details in my Wakefield Redux and Zora cardigans are a good example of this process; both were inspired by Lisa Lloyd’s heavily cabled cuffs in her Gaelic Mist cardigan.

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

I’m on the fence on this. Having acquired a lot of my knitting skills through Elizabeth Zimmermann’s famous newsletters, I learned early on to enjoy recipe-style patterns, in which a lot of the details are left for the knitter to work out. I was living in Washington, DC during those years and, if I was stumped, I could pick up the phone, call Schoolhouse Press, and most often Meg Swansen herself would answer and offer assistance. I still prefer to knit from a sketch with only a few numbers, Japanese style. 

However, I recognize that there are a lot of knitters who need more details, so I try to cater to them as much as possible by specifying which method of cast-on to use, where best to make length adjustments, which method of increase to use where, etc.  At the same time, in only one design, Harriet, do I indicate an exact number of stitches to be picked up for borders. This is in part due to the fact that a knitter may have chosen to lengthen a garment, in which case the total number of stitches would be different, and in part due to my loathing of the traditional method of dividing a border up with pins and picking up a set number of stitches in each segment. Instead, I always give pickup ratios (2 stitches out of 3 rows, for example), one for straight edges and another for diagonal stretches. In addition, I always state clearly to pick up and knit into the back of a stitch at corners and other areas where there are little gaps to close. This is a trick that many less experienced knitters benefit from having spelled out. 

The one area that I find really tough to deal with is mirror-imaging. In my Perth Cardi, which incidentally is the design I wear more than any other, the pattern stitch is centred in both the front and back and mirror-imaged away from the raglan seamlines. To put this into words or charts for each size would take an extraordinary amount of writing. But simply to say, “Centre the Chart pattern stitch in the front and back sections in the next row”, would be insufficient for a great many knitters. So, I adopted a sort of halfway house in that I state that the pattern is to be centred, but then I go on to explain how to calculate this. My hope is that this will encourage less confident knitters to move away from being mere “blind followers”. That said, In Brookline, Twist Collective’s tech editors were uncomfortable with this approach and chose, for simplicity’s sake, not to mirror image the pattern stitch. If you follow the pattern as published, the mirror-imaging won’t be there, but I hope confident knitters will feel free to do it on their own initiative.

How many sample/test knitters do I have working for me or do I do it all myself?

I do it all myself right now, but I’m starting to think about using help. There are only so many hours in a day and, believe it or not, I have a life beyond just knitting! (I’m a former lawyer and remain a performing musician in the field of early, i.e. pre-Bach, music.)

Did I do a formal business plan?

Are you kidding? I just go with the flow and learn by trial and error. I have the luxury of not having to live off my knitting, so any income that emerges at the end of the day is always a pleasant surprise. That said, I’ve recently begun to earn enough that a business plan might be in my near future.

Do I have a mentor?

Not exactly. I have designer friends who are useful when I need to chat about something of either a design or business nature. Natalie Servant has been incredibly helpful with getting me up to speed on Ravelry, Deb Gemmell is always full of information on the business side of knitting, and Fiona Ellis has been generous with her referral to Vogue Knitting (and her spare room!)

Do I have a business model that I have emulated?

Not so far (see my answer above re my lack of business plan). I’m at the stage when I’m really just starting to think along these lines. I admire Kate Davies’ work very much, and I love the way she’s been publishing independently while supporting the British wool industry. A few weeks ago I had dinner with Juju Vale, who works out of Loop, the UK yarn shop, and spends her summers here in Kingston, ON. She was quick to point out that independent publications are their best sellers and has encouraged me to think in this direction. I’d love to do something of that sort, but honestly have no idea how to get it going. Combined with some teaching, that would be a satisfying career. And given that I’m getting launched at age 56, there’s no time to lose!

What impact has the Internet had on my business?

I wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t for the Internet. The Internet is SO important, let me count the ways:

1.       As in the book publishing world, it’s democratized the design world by removing the traditional gatekeepers. All you need is a good design, well-written, with great photos, and there you go, courtesy of Ravelry.

2.       In turn, the Internet makes the work of other designers accessible to me, both for viewing and purchasing. The way Brooklyn Tweed markets its products through Look Books is brilliant.

3.       Knitting is more affordable than ever. There’s no need to buy a whole book of patterns; just purchase the one design you want. Need yarn from across the continent? Just click and order.

4.       The Internet has made possible a direct line of communication between knitter and designer. Having problems with instructions? Dash off an e-mail message and you can get an answer quickly. Last month, when a knitter wrote regarding her version of Harriet’s Jacket, “I l.o.v.e. the pattern!” it made all the number crunching involved in writing up the design worthwhile.

5.       The errata problem is more easily solved. Remember the old days when you’d buy a book in a yarn shop and, if you were lucky, there’d be a little slip of paper (which you’d inevitably lose) tucked into the flyleaf with the corrections printed on it? Thank goodness those days are gone. Now, at the click of a mouse, an entire pattern can be updated, with notices to all purchasers. However, I’ll add that it’s important for designers not to succumb to the temptation to be less than meticulous just because corrections can be made more easily.

6.       Online magazines are exploring new business models that compensate designers more fairly for their efforts. With Twist Collective, designers earn ongoing royalties amounting to 50% of their sales. I’m so lucky to have been able to participate in this venture.

7.       Ravelry is, in my opinion, at the heart of why and how the Internet has become so important. Project posting can generate excitement about a design and increase sales momentum. Before knitting a pattern, knitters can check out what other knitters have had to say about it. The ability of knitters to connect online to learn new techniques, share experiences in a knit-a-long, or organize travel to a fibre festival has increased interest in knitting in general and grown the customer base. Ravelry allows me to see who’s buying my patterns, where they are, and what other projects they’re interested in. I’ve discovered that outside of Canada and the US, my biggest client base is in Germany. Who’d have guessed?

8.       While Ravelry tends to focus attention on the hottest, most talked about designs, blogs are a means for designers to maintain interest in past work. I try to highlight older designs from time to time by re-working them in new ways. It’s been fascinating for me to see my reader base grow, while during this same time I’ve been developing my own unique voice as a blogger. Blogs are also a great way for designers to offer a slice of their own life to readers. Not all designers want to do this, or have the time, but I enjoy it and have the impression that for many of my readers, the blog is a little escape from their day; it’s the fantasy life they’d like to have (financial pressures off, no 9 to 5 job, no commuting, historic homes with Lake Ontario out the front door…) Having such a connection with my customers keeps them interested in what I’m doing and looking forward to what’s next.

9.       Finally, the Internet allows me to become a teacher. Through my blog, I’m able to offer mini-tutorials in various areas relevant to my designs, such as steeking, attaching I-cord borders, working perpendicular joins, grafting underarms, etc. These are among my most viewed posts. Recently, I’ve begun including links in my patterns to these posts so that knitters are alerted to their existence as a source for extra help.

Before leaving this topic, I’ll add that there can be such a thing as too much connectedness, and for reasons of privacy and to avoid too much distraction, I’ve decided not participate in either Twitter or Facebook—at least for now.

Do I use a tech editor?

Not at this time, unless I’m dealing with a publication that provides one. I tend to turn out designs rather slowly because after I write up a draft in multiple sizes, I like to knit one or more versions from the draft instructions. This usually results in a second or third draft before the pattern is finally published online. I should add that my background in legislative drafting and legal editing has turned out to be surprisingly good practice for pattern writing.

How do I maintain my life/work balance?

My work is mostly my play, so this isn’t an issue. The only hectic moment I’ve had so far was when I was knitting the sample of Brookline for Twist Collective and, because of the timing of the holidays and Canada Post’s schedule, I ended up knitting frantically all Christmas morning while everyone else in the family was unwrapping gifts. Worse things could happen!

How do I deal with criticism?

I try to take a deep breath and view the criticism as objectively as possible. When I brought Zora out last spring, one Ravelry member complained that my lovely, evocative photos didn’t properly show the front of the cardigan. I acknowledged, publicly, that she was right. I explained that I had had a rough time getting time and cooperation from my daughter. Isabel, who was in final exams in her computer science degree, and the end result was that I really didn’t have any good photos of the front. I decided to post a couple of the not-so-good ones and stated that I hoped that would help. I’m currently spinning for my own Zora and hope to get some front photos of it being worn by me.

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

I’d start by pointing out that a “career” doesn’t have to mean a job that generates an income large enough to make one self-supporting; a lot of designers, like me, see it as a means of producing a nice second income for a household, one that covers a lot of life’s frills (for me, that means clothes, travel, and, of course, wool). Assuming someone already has adequate design skills, I would recommend learning as much as possible about the non-knitting areas needed to be successful. Those include, but are not limited to, photography, web design, and how to start up and run a small business. Having a commerce, graphic design, or computer science degree would be helpful. Start to gain a reputation by submitting to knitting publications, and build a network online and in the real world by attending events where there are opportunities to meet and talk with designers who’ve made it. Be creative and take chances, but keep your day job (ideally something not too exhausting) until you’re ready to make the leap. I’m not there yet, but I’m definitely enjoying the ride!

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, Ravelry or Facebook. Word of mouth is really helping to grow my business as knitters respect the views of other members of our community. Thanks!