design advice archive
June 01, 2016
DEAR KNITTER: When you design what comes first, the yarn or the idea? -- CHICKEN OR THE EGG
DEAR CHICKEN OR THE EGG: It isn’t as simple as to pick one or the other; my design process wavers between the two and intermingles between each other. Sometimes I get inspired by the yarn, sometimes I have a design in my head and I look for a specific yarn that will be the best match, sometimes it a combination of the two that spark ideas and process.
As you might imagine, I have a lot of yarn in my stash. Being surrounded by my craft, my tools and the yarn inspires me all the time, so in many ways, without even knowing it, the yarn inspires me unintentionally. Just like if I walk out of my house, the mountains, the ocean, the trees, the plants in my garden, the people I pass all unintentionally inspire me. This is the mind/brain of a designer, of an artist; a forever busy mess of cluttered ideas and vision.
Working on my first collection I chose a specific local yarn dyer, SweetGeorgia Yarns, and a color theme. I allowed myself to be unrestricted by the fiber or yarn weight, but to keep the perimeter around the single yarn company and color. This gave me a bit of a guide to start with and to go back to when I jumped too far from the lines. For this collection I did not have any preexisting designs in my mind or ideas, I let the yarn inspire me fully.
I would encourage any designer to not choose one or the other but to accept any inspiration that may come from within, outward and/or from the yarn. When studying other designers, the biggest lesson I have learnt is no two designers design the same. To allow yourself the peace of not judging your own design style and to be confident in your design grace is sometimes a struggle; be open to the possibilities, creativity and all inspiration is magic!
May 11, 2016
DEAR KNITTER: When do I quit my job to follow my passion and become a knitwear designer? –READY TO QUIT
DEAR READY TO QUIT: There is never a right answer for this and there are many factors to weigh in before you make the leap. Although every one’s journey will be different, for me it took about five years of honing my craft before I made the official jump from part time employee to full time self-employed. Looking back perhaps I could have quit earlier and put 100% into designing/teaching/website and I probably could have made it work; but, I had a great gig at a local yarn shop and I was still learning. After leaving the yarn shop to get back into the tailoring fashion design world, where I thought I should be, I truly realized knitwear was my passion. It was there where I fully realized, in order to get to the next level in my knitwear business, I needed to quit my day job and put 100% into The Crafty Jackalope.
If I look back at my work history pattern I will see entrepreneurial trials sandwiched between jobs. I remember always having the feeling, when working for other people, that I could be the owner/founder of a company: I work so hard for someone else, I put in 110% in everyday, why can’t I do that for myself? Why am I not doing that for myself?
It was never an issue following my heart to quit my day job; it was always the logistics and the reality of the risk. Starting a business, running it and financially fueling so it can grow is not cheap; it takes a lot of work, time commitment and money. I probably spend ten to twelve hours per day during the week working on the business and my weekends are always partially spent working as well. The great thing about knitting/crochet is that you can do it practically everywhere; downside, you are always working! It is definitely a balancing act between family life, friends, health and business but the journey I love and the work I am passionate about.
It is such a personal decision for anyone considering quitting their day job to start a business. I think you will know when the timing is right, when you are willing to take the leap. You must be prepared for failures along the way, and turn the failures into lessons. Some failures you cannot bounce back from, but all failures open doors to new paths and to change. And lastly, consider everything not just your heart when making the decision and always follow your instincts and gut.
March 23, 2016
DEAR KNITTER: I got a bad review on one of my patterns I designed, how do I mentally recover from that? – HEARTACHE
DEAR HEARTACHE: Failure is part of being an entrepreneur; when you are the boss/creator/controller there is no buffer between you and your work, product or service. Failure can sting a bit. Personally it makes my heart race a little when I know I have let my customer or client down in some way; however, that excelled heart rate, that bite in the ass is usually a good thing…yes, you read that right, a GOOD thing. Of course you cannot base your business off bad reviews, or failures. You cannot sustain a business if you keep failing. But, you can learn from these hiccups, improve and often find new inspiration, new paths, new positive outcomes from failures.
Dealing with a bad review on a pattern you designed: the first step is to evaluate the review. Remember, you cannot appeal to everyone; is this review just based on personal taste? Is there something in the review that you can take from and improve? If there is not enough information in a criticism (like: “this pattern sucks”) I will always follow up asking for elaboration. If the reviewer cannot elaborate from “this pattern sucks” then it is pretty hard to improve on that other than looking deeper to see if other people have made similar comments. If these comments are becoming a pattern, it is time to relook at your patterns with a critical eye to see if you can spot areas to improve. If you get a bad review with reasons why, this is a great opportunity directly take the criticisms and improve in areas specified.
You are not your pattern: I understand that putting yourself/your work out there can be scary; but, it is important to realize that even though you created/designed your patterns and they are a reflection of who you are and your design esthetic, these patterns are not you. The reviews are not about you as a person; rather, they are about your work. It is imperative to create the work you feel best represents you as a designer and through the reviews you can hone in your skills to create even better work. More importantly it is how you deal with the customer/reviewer and how you move forward and learn.
Customer service is key! I like to design patterns that appeal to all skill levels; I have patterns that are super simple and I have more challenging ones. No matter the level, I always get pattern questions about certain techniques or clarification requests or help with visualizing; where one person reads my patterns with ease, another might be confused. The fascinating thing about knitting and pattern reading is no one knits the same and everyone learns differently; some people are Visual learners, others are Auditory or Read-Write learners, some are Kinesthetic learners. As designers we cannot write patterns that always gear to one way of learning or another. We can, however, certainly try: include written instruction and charts when applicable; we can write patterns as clearly and unassuming as we can; we can keep them clutter free and direct. But no matter how great your pattern is written there will always be questions. These questions are not criticism. It is important to answer the questions quickly and to the best of your ability. You can also use these questions as a way of improving your patterns; if you keep getting the same questions, perhaps add additional information or clarification on your pattern; make a written, photo, video tutorial on the technique.
Free or paid patterns: whether your pattern is free or paid, the quality and customer service/pattern help should be the same. I often hear designers complaining about having to help customers whom acquired their patterns for free! What? No matter how you offer your patterns, this is your work, your reputation and the service and care should be exactly the same.
Testing your patterns: As I talked about before, getting your patterns test knit on Ravelry’s Free Pattern Tester’s Group is a great way to get criticism when YOU want it and are prepared for it. Keep in mind, the test knitters love to give their opinions and that is essentially what you want them to do!
How do you recover from a bad review? You read reviews in a way where you don’t need to recover. Distance yourself from them and do not take it personally. Use that sunken feeling as a jumping stone for improvement and bettering your designs/products and/or service!
February 17, 2016
DEAR KNITTER: I have some ideas for knitwear design, where do I start? – ASPIRING DESIGNER
DEAR ASPIRING DESIGNER: This is a bit of a loaded question; however, there is always a starting point. I would advise that your first design be simple; mine was The Flower Headband. Don’t quit your day job yet, try these simple steps to start the design process:
- Grab a note book or sketchbook and start by sketching (it doesn’t have to look pretty; this can be for your eyes only, so only you need to understand it).
- Write down the info about the yarn you chose: name/company/color/dye lot/yardage/meters (keep track of how many skeins you are using).
- Write down the needle size(s) you are using.
- Write down any notions you are using: st markers, cable needles, st holders…etc.
- SWATCH. Swatch in St-st and swatch in the pattern you are going to use.
- Measure your swatch(es) per inch and per 4 inches. This will give you the base for our math. Let’s say you want to make a hat that has a 24” circumference. If you are getting 20 sts per 4”: divide 20 sts by 4” = 5 stitches per inch. Then times 24” x 5 sts = 120 sts to cast on.
- NOTE: There is a lot of math in knitting. Getting yourself a good calculator if math is not your strong point is key as a designer!
- Now you have your swatch, you have written down your essential info (yarn & needles & notions), you have a sketch, you know how many sts to cast on. The important step now is to WRITE DOWN EVERYTHING YOU DO/KNIT. Never assume you will remember!
- Write down how many sts you CO; did you start with a ribbing; how many rows have you worked; what stitches are you working; do you change needle sizes; are you increasing or decreasing; do you have a st pattern you are following…etc…
- NOTE: Your written details are probably one of the most important steps!
- Now you have your written instructions & your final design knitted. Here is the part where you have to decide what you can do on your own and where you need to hire a tech editor. It is really important that your patterns look professional and are written out in a way that is easy to understand for your audience. Often times, how you personally knit is not necessarily how someone else knits.
- NOTE: This is where I study the patterns I love. I look at other designers and see what they have done, how they have formatted, how they speak to me, instructing me to do their steps, what I like, what I don’t like. DO NOT COPY, be INSPIRED and LEARN.
- Either write out your pattern or get someone to help you. A few programs that you can use for formatting patterns are: Word, or Pages on iPad, or my program of choice, Adobe InDesign (big learning curve if you are not familiar with the program).
- Take some great photos (take them yourself or hire someone). Photos are what sells your pattern/design; make sure they are great!
- It is always a good idea to get your pattern tested. In the testing process you will get valid tips on how to improve your pattern, to fix mistakes and get an insight on how your readers will understand your pattern.
- Ravelry is the best resource, not only for knitters but for designers! Here are some helpful links:
- You now have your pattern formatted and tested! What next? I choose Ravelry as the best place to publish your first pattern and patterns their after. You need to add your pattern to the data base by going to your notebook tab and clicking contributions, follow the steps and upload your pattern. Then, you need to e mail Ravelry to set up a pro account!
- Other avenues to become published are magazines; and other online pattern resources like PatternFish, Loveknitting, Craftsy, Knitty to name a few. Hand dyers often publish patterns and designing for them can also be a great outlet. Go to your favorite magazine websites and in the designer area there are often sign up forms to get onto their design submission list (they will e mail you every time they are looking for submissions).
Don’t be discouraged; be confident in your own style. It takes a lot of work to go from idea in your head to final pattern. It takes many hours, many frustrations, a lot of restarting/reworking to get a final pattern out that is quality and that you can be proud of. It takes a lot of work after: promoting, marketing, getting noticed, social media…etc. But, if this is your passion and you enjoy the process, then the reward is worth it!
Do not compare yourself to any other designers out there; be confident in your own style: own it! I have given you just one suggestion on how to get started, but as a designer, you need to figure out your own process. I guarantee your process, whatever it is, will be different and that is OK! Every designer has their own way of designing; whether it is methodical, planned out and organized, or scattered, hectic, and passionate. If you stick with it, you will build an audience and create a fan base; and the amazing thing about these fans/knitters, is the fact they not only love your style, but they also love another designers style! There is no point in comparing or trying to compete; as designers we can work together, we can help each other, we can have our own voice and point of view and still share the same audience simultaneously; it is a beautiful thing!