Friday, July 31, 2015

An Interview with...Tuulia Salmela

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 Tuulia here and here on Ravelry.

Where do you find inspiration?
My motivation to knit comes from a very personal need: I knit for myself, items I would love to wear. That is the greatest source of inspiration for me. I also love to play with colors and shapes and combinations. My favorite color is a teal blue, but I find it impossible to stick with one color everyday, so I see my eye seeking for colors and combinations all the time. Sometimes a certain colorway sparks inspiration also for a garment, sometimes I need to create a colorway for a sweater or a cardigan I already have in mind. Inspiration for colors often comes from nature, but inspiration for knitwear designs can come from anywhere.

What is your favourite knitting technique?
Anything top down! I loathe sewing seams and I don't really see them as necessary for knitwear, so I try to avoid them as much as possible. I also have a soft spot for stranded techniques, because they provide another way of working with and combining colors.

How did you determine your size range?
I suppose it was a bit of an accident. Early in 2009 and 2010, when I was teaching my TTS (The Tailored Sweater method) classes and came to realize how differently sized my students were. I selected a size range to match most of my students. However, I believe one does not become a knitwear designer overnight but it is a continuous process, and as my skills in scaling and grading and other aspects of pattern writing have improved, the size range in my patterns has also widened at both ends of the range and also in between.

Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs?
I love browsing what others have created! It might influence my designs, but I am not afraid of it, I celebrate it. Firstly, I think two people can be inspired by the same things at the same time - I have had this happen to me with my Deep in the Forest Mittens. That pattern was published at the same time with another, very similar design. I don't see this as a problem, because more patterns provide a larger selection of designs for knitters to choose their favorite. Also, I find great inspiration in seeing what others have created, because it sparks my imagination! For example, there might be a clever way of using colors, or an attractive neckline, or perhaps an interesting sleeve construction. I don't browse the Internet or magazines in order to copy anything, but to see what else is there. Usually my favorites list and my queue on Ravelry tends to grow several pages in each of these browsing sessions :D 

I have noticed so many times, when working on a design of my own, happily knitting away, that something I have seen online or in a magazine has stirred my imagination. I can't pinpoint it to any particular design I have seen, but I am certainly influenced by the works of others. I might take an element, and design a garment around it. As I design all of my garments around The Tailored Sweater method, they become my designs, but one cannot escape the influence of other designers in this age of the Internet, so some ideas might resemble the works of others. Finally, once or twice I have given up an idea simply because I have seen that idea already in a published pattern, and someone else has already done it better than I could have.

How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I sometimes use 2 or 3 test knitters, sometimes I do everything myself. This depends on the item I'm working on and schedule etc.

Do you have a mentor?
Not officially, no. I am lucky to have friends in the knitting community on whom I can rely on for support and advice on all things knitting.

Do you use a tech editor?
I am lucky enough to have super meticulous test knitters who comb through my patterns with such vigilance that no tech editor has yet been needed.

How do you maintain your life/work balance?
As my hobby, knitting, became my work, I decided to take on new activities such as skiing, fishing, camping, etc. I have a very active dog to keep me busy with activities off the couch, and I have noticed I need to stay physically fit to avoid neck and shoulder pains caused by knitting and working on the computer.
I welcome constructive criticism for it gives me a chance to provide better patterns and better yarn for my fellow knitters.

What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting?
Work hard, really hard. Learn from others, and keep an open mind (and a journal) for ideas and inspiration.

What’s next for you?
Well, there are a few hundred colorways I still need to test and about a dozen notebooks with ideas for knitwear garments - I think I'll work on those for a while!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Inspiration - Where Does it Come From? Part 2

This is part 2 of the inspiration series. See Part 1 here.

We are going to do a series of exercises to help you learn to generate ideas. As you become inspired, make a simple sketch. You do not need to have artistic skills to do this. Use simple line drawing. I can promise you from experience that the project is always more beautiful than the sketches.
Spend about fifteen minutes on each exercise and do as many drawings as you can before moving on to the next challenge. Try to turn off any critical thoughts, don’t concern yourself with the “knitability” just focus on getting the creative process flowing. 

Don’t stop at one idea, immediately try to think of another.

Just to get you started we’ll discuss one to show you some possible ideas. The prompt is a zigzag. How do you knit a zigzag? Some of the potential ways are as lace, as a knit, purl combination, as colour work, as bobbles and as a shape created through increases and decreases. That’s five different versions, can you think of some more?

Here's a basic sweater line drawing as an example.

Do one like this and cut the drawing out from the centre of a piece of paper, leaving the border intact. 

Exercise 1

Using your basic sweater shape cut out, flip through books with photos or magazines, laying the cut out over pages and moving it about until you see some potential sweater designs. How would you knit what you see?

Exercise 2

Set yourself a challenge; knitting lace, working with beads, using mosaic patterns, a limited or large quantity of yarn. Now think of some more challenges and add them to the list. You can work on as many of these as you want or pick one and do as many sketches as you can on that one challenge.

Exercise 3

Pick an event. It could be a dressy evening outing or a casual lunch with friends. It could be a walk in the park. Now think of more events and list them. Next start sketches of the garments you would wear for each event. Think about what yarns you would choose to work with what colours you would pick and what stitches you would choose.     

Exercise 4

Pick up a ball of yarn.  What kind of knitting does the yarn suggest to you? Start asking your self “what if” questions. What if you knit stocking stitch, cables, or lace? What if you combine the yarn with another?  Start looking through stitch dictionaries for inspiration.

Exercise 5

Pick a motif at random and design a sweater. It could be a heart, or a flower or an animal. I want you to play with ideas. Draw a Fair Isle version. Draw one version as an Intarsia garment, do the next one as an Icelandic yoke design. Do one with the motif on the borders only. Now think of some new versions of traditional garments.

Exercise 6

Pick someone that you know and design a sweater for them. What if you designed theme sweaters for a group, your kids, your choir, and your siblings? You want a design that they would like so think about what colours they wear, what garment shapes would they like, a vest, a cardigan or a pullover. What fiber would you use? What about textures, would the sweater have cables or stocking stitch? Flip through some stitch dictionaries for texture ideas. 

Exercise 7

Repeat any of the above exercises for a different project, a hat, a shawl  or a blanket.

Friday, July 24, 2015

An Interview with...Judy Furlong

Judy sitting in her Orkney chair, wearing her original cashmere version of Monte Carlo, published in The Knitter, Issue 37, April 2013. Photo © Evans and Furlong.

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 Judy here on Ravelry.

From sketch to published design. Ritz was published in Knitting Magazine, Issue 17, October 2005. Composite photo © Evans and Furlong, photos of model © GMC.

Where do you find inspiration?

Everywhere!  From the yarn, from ‘people watching’ to see what kinds of things are actually being worn, asking what I’d like to wear myself or what would look good for a particular purpose.  When it’s for a magazine, for instance, there’s often a brief or a mood board to work from, so a lot of inspiration can come from interpreting that.   Sewn designs can often inspire me to try to create a particular look – I’m a sewer and a weaver too, so there’s a lot of cross-fertilization and fusion going on.  It’s varied really – sometimes it comes from the catwalks and sometimes it’s the colours of the countryside, it really does depend a lot on what the end purpose is.

What is your favourite knitting technique?

The one that works best, and by that I mean the one that suits the task best.  I don’t really have a favourite technique – there are so many very different methods available to knitters and knitting designers and they all have something to offer, so much to explore and enjoy. 

To tell the truth, I’m slightly allergic to a lot of the pigeon-holing of techniques.  I think it can become a bit too academic.  There’s a whole gradation of techniques and methods to be used and for me at least it’s all about achieving the desired effect, rather than what the particular approach is called, and sometimes – again for me – that means modifying what you might call a ‘standard’ technique a bit to do that.  Hope that doesn’t offend the purists too much and I’m certainly not saying my approach is the only one, or the right one.  It’s just the right one for me. 

How did you determine your size range?

It’s almost always dictated by the commissioner – the magazine or the yarn company.  I do like to push it to the highest possible range that any given design will take, but of course not all designs work for every size, particularly at the extremes, big or small.

Judy’s hand-woven tartan stoles. Top left (on dress form) is Wallace, top right is The National. Photo © Evans&Furlong. 

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

Yes, but almost always couture and catwalk designers rather than other knitters.  I like to feel that their vision and cleverness influences me, but that’s a different thing, of course, from outright theft of their ideas!

Not all tailoring techniques translate to knitting, but it can take you to some interesting places and open up lots of new ideas. 

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

It’s news to me; I can’t really say I’m aware of it.  As an idea?  There’s plenty of room in knitting for out-and-out beginners and the incredibly able, and everyone in between, but no one pattern can realistically be expected to accommodate the full range of competencies.  I think we can pretty safely trust knitters to do what they’ve always done when it comes to picking patterns – know their capabilities, and then push themselves a bit.  Isn’t that how we all get better?

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

Until a year or so ago, I used to have a team of 12, but these days I tend to do it all myself.  Who said control freak?

One for the boys - Kells, published in Knitting Magazine, November 2005. Photo © Evans&Furlong.

Did you do a formal business plan?

No, not in the spreadsheet, cash flow, profit and loss projection sense.  However, it’s a job like any other – a serious undertaking, so of course I had to consider whether taking on a particular project, or working for x,y or z made commercial sense.  I mean it’s not hard to be busy and paid badly.  Sometimes it’s important to be quite hard headed – business-like – about things.  So I didn’t have a business plan, but I did plan my business, if you see what I mean.

Do you have a mentor?

No, but I was undoubtedly inspired by meeting and working for Deborah Newton many years ago when I was living in the US.  I wouldn’t presume to call her a mentor, but she certainly helped the embryonic designer in me develop.

Do you have a business model that you have emulated?

No, not really – other than what I said about business plans. 

Do you use a tech editor?

Yes, through the magazines and publishing houses – and they’re just brilliant!

How do you maintain your life/work balance?

Run away into the garden as often as I can!  No, seriously knowing how much to take on (it’s taken me a while to get that right) and learning how – and when – to say ‘no’.  That said, life feeds into work, so I’m not sure there’s a hard distinction.

Another from sketch to finished piece. Judy's latest for men is the Norfolk Slop, published in The Knitter, January 2015. Photos © Evans&Furlong.

How do you deal with criticism?

Burst into tears, throw a complete tantrum and swear I’ll never design another ****** garment ever again!   Then cool down and probably end up conceding that maybe they’ve got a point. 

Proper constructive criticism is one thing – no one’s going to say it’s easy to hear, but if it’s fair, you can’t really grumble.  Spiteful nastiness just for its own sake, or just to prove how much cleverer that person thinks they are is a different thing entirely, and as we all know, the Internet has made that easier to do.  But that’s a modern life thing, not just a knitting thing.

I suppose it really depends on who is doing the criticizing – if it’s someone you respect and who knows what they’re on about.  Of course it doesn’t make the experience any more pleasant but as the old saying goes, better a wise man’s scorn than a fool’s praise. There’s a great story about the poet Robert Burns, that when someone he’d never met before was lavishing praise on him, he replied “I don’t know who you are Sir, so I do not know if your opinion is worth having.”  Not a bad mantra, I think.

Flavya designed for Fyberspates and published in August 2010, reworked as Gleam Lace Flavya, published in October 2014. Photo © Evans&Furlong.

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

If you mean to be able to pay the urgent bills – a few years, and a bit of luck along the way.  If you mean the luxury yachts, fast cars and caviar lifestyle I’d like to become accustomed to…...well, let’s just say I’m still working on that!

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

Don’t force it and don’t despair. Remember it’s a career your aiming for, and accept that it may take a bit of time to get there.  If it doesn’t work out for you at first, keep trying, but even if it never does, it doesn’t mean you’re no good.  Luck does play a part in it – getting the opportunities, seizing the chances – but it’s better to have tried than spend the rest of your days wondering if you could have made it, and they do say you can make your own luck. I’m not entirely sure if that’s true, but I do know achieving things is a whole lot easier if you stay positive, although I also know it’s not always easy to do.

What’s next for you?

A couple of interesting things have come along recently.  One is the virtual exhibition being planned by the Center for Knit and Crochet who want to feature some of my work in that – it’s really pretty exciting to be part of such a ground-breaking project that will archive the technique for generations to come. 

The other is that it looks as if I could be working with Creative Knitting magazine in the States.  It’s early days right now, but that’s looking like another exciting opportunity too.

Aside of them, I really have seriously neglected Ravelry!  I’ve finally decided that it’s time to do what I’ve been threatening to do for years and get all my patterns up on the site, so I’m going on a serious drive to get that done.  Revisiting ‘old’ designs is quite fun really, so I don’t know why it’s taken me quite so long to get around to doing it.  That life work balance thing you mentioned before, maybe?
Another from sketch to finished piece. Judy's latest for men is the Norfolk Slop, (on female mannequin) published in The Knitter, January 2015. Photos © Evans&Furlong.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Inspiration - Where Does it Come From? Part 1

I ask the question "Where do you find inspiration?" in all of my interviews on this blog. I think the most common answer is everywhere.

Here's a list of potential sources:

Other fibre arts
To fill a need 
To solve a problem
Stitch Dictionaries
Retail Fashion 
Vintage Fashion

I’m one of those knitters with so many ideas for knitting, I’ll never be able to knit all of the projects that my ideas generate. When I teach I have found my students ask questions which show me the design process is an enigma to them. I think we are all creative but not all of us know how to kick-start the process. For some the process is so intuitive that that they are unable to articulate the actual steps that they follow.

I have a number of strategies that I use to develop my original work. I often buy yarn with absolutely no idea of what I will do with it. I'm confident I will always come up with something. 

Your starting point for designing your own patterns is to become a sponge! You must start by soaking up ideas from everywhere. You need to start to see the world in a new way. You must practice by making everything into a sweater design. I know this may sound rather odd but just start looking around for colours and patterns that please your eye. Look at fine art, fashion, other fiber arts and interior design for ideas.  Look at knitting patterns, especially the ones you don’t like. Look carefully at those patterns, decide what it is you don’t like, and then consider how you would change them to make them better. Look at your environment, interiors and outside. Travel is a common source of inspiration for all designers as the colours and patterns of other cultures look fresh to our eyes. All of these influences can be a jumping off point; you can make the translation as literal or indirect as you choose. 

It’s as simple as looking at a sunset and imaging the colours in the horizon as a shawl or perhaps the yoke on a cardigan. Start to think about how you would go about knitting it. You would choose your yarns by colour and start to develop stitch patterns suitable to your idea.  

Now play the “what if” game. When I said sunset, what colours did you think of? Was it a blazing sunset over the ocean? Alternatively, did you think of a delicate pastel sky in the spring after a soft rain? There, you just designed two different colour ways for your shawl in a matter of seconds. Now play “what if”. What if it is a sky full of clouds, what if the sunset is over an autumn forest. What if there is a bird silhouetted against the sun? The possibilities are endless. Something as simple as the colours and textures of cobblestone can lead to a completely new list of ideas. This takes practice and the more you do it the easier it will become. 

See Part 2 here.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Economics of Knitting - Classes

One of the the very kind compliments I frequently get on my classes is that I share so much information and new technique skills. That compliment was recently followed up with a question. "Why do the American teachers have so little content in their classes?" I'm in Canada and we do get foreign teachers here at some events but we are a large country with a small population. Many teachers are locals even at our larger venues.

That one did throw me for a moment. There is a lot pressure from students for small classes and a lot more pressure from venues for larger classes. Larger classes mean more profit. I set myself a personal standard which includes knowing that every student, even the really experienced ones leave my classes with some new knowledge. 

Increasing class numbers creates a problem for me because  my teaching plan timing is based on student numbers. More students means less material can be covered. As it is, I also have to adjust during the class based on student skill level which varies widely between classes and between students and is completely unknown in advance. 

After I thought about it, I realized the person asking the question had been attending some of the big knitting events with large classes in the U.S. She is also a very experienced knitter and very open to new information. I shared my insight with her and suggested she might want to focus on different kinds of classes to see if she can find a better fit for her learning requirements. I also thought to myself "whew I'm glad that started with a compliment and wasn't a complaint about my class".