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Category Archives: Making It Work

Working With Creativity: 6 Tips From My Inbox

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The second post in an accidental series on working with your creativity. Thank you for your feedback! The first post was about finding inspiration and taking hold of your own ideas. This post is derived from numerous email conversations I have had over the years. Grab a cuppa and let’s go!

1) I am not creative but would love to know how I become one.

I believe that we are all born creative beings but somewhere along the way, some of us lose confidence in our own creativity. One of the defining things about us humans is that we make stuff. Look at us! We made fire and flint tools; now we land tiny machines on comets!

Do you cook? Do you bake? Do you garden? You are creative.

So, your job is actually to allow yourself to play and make stuff just for the sake of making. Get in touch with your younger self who told herself stories whilst playing. Make time to faff about.

2) I am really creative but things never look like they are supposed to. What am I doing wrong?

This is a really big question.

First of all, I hear you: I have all these ideas in my head and they rarely come out looking like what I expect. That is a perfectly normal phenomenon – so normal that it was discussed many thousand years ago by the famous Greek philosopher Plato in his Allegory of the Cave. So, be kind to yourself and look at your creative project with an objective eye. So, it doesn’t look like it’s supposed to but does it look like something else that is just as great?

Secondly, there is something to be said about practising your skills and knowing the tools of your craft. It is pretty straightforward: if you are an excellent cellist, you will find it easier to write a great piece for cellos; If you are a skilled lace knitter, you will find it easier to design a lace pattern; If you are a writer, having a good vocabulary helps you write characters who sound like actual individuals.

In summary: be kind to yourself but also acknowledge when you need to brush up on skills.

3) I’m a writer & designer, but I’m yet to write & design anything. Can you help me get started?

Some tough love: if you don’t write or design, you are not a writer or a designer. Simple as that. I used to date someone who called himself a writer but he had never written anything. It was all in his head. Unless you get the words out of your head and on to paper (or screen), it doesn’t count.

Some less tough love: I am a creative and I know all about fear and how easy it is not to do anything – your brain will give you a tonne of reasons why it’s easier not to create. My personal demon is how nothing I create will ever measure up to the ideal version in my head (see above!). When I get a visit from that particular thought, I sit down and play. I doodle and I play around with scraps of art material. And then I get on with things. Months later I will look back at things I made and wonder why I ever found them troublesome and imperfect.

The best way to get started is to sit down and make some stuff. It doesn’t need to be Pride & PrejudiceMona Lisa, or the most elaborate cabled cardigan ever – you just need to get started. It gets easier.

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Pinterest: sorting out what’s in your head

4) Where do you find inspiration? What books can you recommend?

You need to hunt your own narwhals. Find out what is specific to you and your interests. In the words of a (not very good) 1990s British song: I got to be myself/ I can be no one else..

Try narrowing down who you are as a creative being and what you will mine for inspiration. Essentially, it is not about finding a lot of influences that look great on paper. You need to nail down who you are because it makes creative decisions a lot easier.

I’ll use myself as an example: I like art, music, books, history, culture and films. Pretty generic, huh? I like early 20th century avant-garde art, Antipodean weird pop music, TS Eliot, prehistoric archaeology, print culture (particularly early printing), and the film director Todd Haynes. Looking closer, all these things/people seem to inhabit a place of instability and societal shifts. That’s a pretty rich seam to mine from a creative point of view. It also means that I can easily identify what aligns with my values and my skill set. I’d be so bad at designing a collection of baseball-inspired sock patterns!

The only piece of advice I can give is that you should try to look outside your particularly creative field. If you are into knitting, get really good at knitting but also keep tabs on other creative fields, read about other interests, and listen to podcasts about deep sea exploration (or whatever). The author Vladimir Nabokov was obsessed with butterflies, the poet Emily Dickinson was allegedly a passionate baker, and the actor Vin Diesel loves table-top gaming.

Who are you as a creative? What makes you you as a maker?

5. What tools do I need to get started? What do you use?

Many people love having beautiful, expensive tools and they have elaborate rituals that help them in their creative work. But I am going to give it to you straight: a £50 journal, six types of washi tapes, three expensive pens, and the perfect mug will not make you a writer, designer, or artist. These things may make you feel you are settling into a creative space – which can be very helpful – but the starting point is always your own imagination.

(Having said that, I do love stationery as much as everyone. I even have washi tape in the house, but I mainly use it for taping up sprained fingers.)

I like uni-ball rollerball pens – they are easily available, feel good in my hand, and not so expensive that I’ll cry if I forget one on a train. I use small journals: unlined for sketches and general mindmapping; squared for quick charting and schematics. I use Scrivener for writing, Open Office for spreadsheets and databases, Stitchmastery for knitting charting (Crochet? Google is your friend) and Scribus for general layout. You need to figure out your own configuration and (this is crucial) you need to learn how to use the software programmes, so they become helpful tools rather than something that stops you making.

Remember: Your imagination is the important thing. You cannot buy that.Caspar David Friedrich - Wanderer above the sea of fog

6. Best advice ever for a wanna-be creative?

Butt, meet chair.

Sit down and do it, in other words. Don’t wait for inspiration. Make inspiration come to you. The more you are sitting in that chair working away, the more likely it is that you will have a brilliant idea. The idea of floating about your life waiting for inspiration to hit is a terrible notion brought to you by Romanticists who were mainly aristocratic wastrels floating around high on opium. So, don’t do that.

Do this: Butt, meet chair.

I occasionally teach classes on designing, creativity and how to move from vague ideas to full-blown project. Keep an eye on my workshop schedule if you are interested. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be adding other blog posts on working with creativity and various aspects.

Everything Is About Narwhals: Finding Inspiration & Working with Creativity

This is a long overdue post. I get asked a lot what I am reading, how I work and where to find inspiration. I hope this post will be a road-map for you to discover your own inspiration and finding your own creative path.

First, let us travel back to my childhood in Denmark. I grew up in a small town of roughly 3,000 people and I loved our local library. My favourite section was what the local library classification system (DK5) called the “00-07 section: General Works” – a grab bag of encyclopedia, books about books, interdisciplinary books etc. As a child, I’d walk in, pull down a few books and sit in a chair reading until my mum returned from the shops. It was a scattershot approach but it led me to different sections I never would have discovered otherwise. I learned about Roman slaves, costume history, parapsychology (hey, section 14 was just the next book case along) and so forth.

I’ve spent some time thinking about this in the context of ebooks & digital downloads (which I adore). I love being able to walk over to my book shelves and discover a paragraph about historical knitting, domestic work, or even a technical run-down of various cast-ons. I crave context and knowledge. I relish discovering new ideas simply by picking up a random book.  I am a big fan of owning physical (knitting) books – that chance of discovery is priceless.

All if this is written from the perspective of someone who works with knitting professionally on a full-time basis. I realise I am writing this from a privileged perspective (and as someone who does not mind a cluttered home).

What do you do if this is not your reality? Let’s take a look at the general principles of everything is about narwhals.

  1. Chance: Start by opening a random book,  or typing in a random word into Google Image Search, or walking down a street you don’t know.
  2. Open Your Eyes, Ears & Mind: what is interesting? what captures your imagination? what is different? what is new? what is awesome?
  3. Document. Keep a commonplace book; use Evernote (making sure to tag), take photos, draw and doodle.
  4. Everything is About Narwhals. Suddenly you will notice the same thing everywhere: you’ll see the same motif recurring or the same ideas propping up in all sorts of places. If you get interested in narwhals along the way, suddenly you’ll realise everything is about narwhals.
  5. Begin Your Creative Project. You’ll have your scattershot notes, your own sources, your own documentation and your own story. How does it all fit together?
  6. Make stuff! And hopefully share it with the world because the world needs creative people.

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Narwhal by chibiwolf1005

Obviously not everything is about narwhals, but it is a neat way of explaining how creativity works for me. To couch in more high-brow terms, my creative work is synthetic (derived from Greek “synthesis”:  ‘with’ + ‘placement’ – σύνθεσις). I work my way to a coherent idea by placing many ideas together and then I find out what happens. 

So, while I can tell you what I am reading and I share photos on Instagram of amazing things I see, the really important thing is that you go out and find your narwhals.

Let’s look closer at steps 5 and 6 above.

5. Begin Your Creative Project: you have your narwhal idea, you also have scraps of paper, doodles, and maybe even a Pinterest mood board (here’s a random one of mine). This is the point where you sit down and try to make sense of it all.

  • Do you have a colour scheme?
  • Do you have recurrent motifs?
  • Do you have stories you want to tell?
  • How do you want to communicate your ideas?

This is when you start sketching or writing. Remember you are currently working to put things together and you are working your way towards a project. Do not be afraid of commit ideas to paper because you are not making final decisions. Just play and combine.

6. Make Stuff: you have your big idea ready to go and you know the colour/motifs/story. This is the time to create your beautiful piece.So, sit down and make it. Take ownership of it as well because it could not have come into being without you. You rock.

Addendum: I occasionally teach classes on designing, creativity and how to move from vague ideas to full-blown project. Keep an eye on my workshop schedule if you are interested.

Change Is Good; Change Is Slightly Scary

Casa Bookish has seen some pretty big changes over the last few weeks. It is a really exciting/scary time for me and I want to share a few glimpses of what is going on.

Team Bookish has expanded slightly. I’ve admitted that doing admin isn’t my idea of a great time (and that I spend too much time on it), so going forward some of you will start encountering Katherine rather than myself. She has vast experience organising creative brains and she’s already made my working life a lot easier behind the scenes. I hope you’ll welcome Katherine to the Bookish fold  – she enables me to focus more on designing and she loves a good spreadsheet!

You may have heard me mention this on social media: I’m working on a rather big project. I’m currently doing research and getting the details right, so I can start talking about it properly. It is a book-sized project and it’s a somewhat ambitious & left-field one (this is from a woman who did a collection inspired by Mesolithic archaeology, land art, and psychogeography!).

I’ve shared a few images on Instagram recently that I think you might find interesting.

I keep journals – commonplace books and creative journals, more specifically. I’ve kept them since I was 14 years old and they are some of my most prized possessions. They are probably not interesting to most people (I jotted down a lot of ‘profound’ lyrics when I was 14) but I love looking through them.

The images I think you might like are from the creative journal I kept when I was working on the Doggerland collection (the Mesolithic archaeology one).

I find it so fascinating to see how I was working towards a very specific design vocabulary – dots, lines .. more complex motifs – and working on the basic conceptualisation of the projects – .. tools out of what’s available .. not making heirlooms but making practical items for here and now. I remember looking at Late Mesolithic pottery and thinking about how the decoration was achieved by pressing reeds into fresh clay – how would I translate that into knitting?

Right now I’m working with a new creative journal filled with similar musings on a completely different topic and a very different concept. Yet again I’m thinking about design vocabulary, colour palettes, and doing the necessary groundwork.

I really, really hope you’ll like it.

Clutching My Gladioli – On Making It Work as an Indie

Currently BBC4 is showing a series about the independent music business in the UK. The series traces how record labels like Factory, Rough Trade, Mute, 4AD, and Beggars Banquet made it possible for less mainstream bands to release records. Many of the bands turned out to be hugely influential and enduring (Joy Division, New Order, The Smiths, Depeche ModeThe Stone Roses, Suede, Franz Ferdinand, and Arctic Monkeys to name but a few!) and today UK indie labels continue to champion new music that would never be signed by major labels.

As someone working as an independent knitting designer, I recognised a lot of what was being covered in the documentaries – from small record labels operating out of a bedsit in Sheffield via creatives forming loose partnerships to dealing with complex distribution problems/solutions and worries over intellectual properties. I love many of the bands covered by the documentaries, but it was eye-opening to see how much of the amazing music was being created in an environment that was in many, many ways similar to how the indie knitting industry works.

Everything I do is created at my kitchen table. I have a small nook with a desktop computer (which needs replacing) and some bookshelves where I keep all my designing resources. I create my own layouts, my partner does my photography & art, I model my own designs, and everything passes through my hands. I deal with emails, accounts, wholesale, distribution, workshop dates, social media, marketing (which is always my sore spot), and obviously pattern designing & writing. I hire in technical editors to work on my patterns, but what you see is what you get and you get me.

And most indie designers work like that. Some have pooled resources, others have grown to the stage where they have one or two people on staff. But we are all just very, very small independent ventures.

Why be independent? Is it that much fun to do accounts at 11am on a Friday night? I think most people understand the allure of having full creative control – and yes, being able to decide what to design in which yarn is amazing – but the allure of intellectual property is even stronger. Quite simply, indies choose to own the right to their work.

I learned a hard lesson when I first started out: I handed over the rights to a pattern for a pittance and saw somebody else make a lot of money from it when I could barely cover rent. And that got me thinking. I still work with mainstream publications on occasion (and some of them are incredibly indie-friendly and lovely!) but time & experience has taught me to be wary of Big Besuited Companies offering me deals too good to be true.

Indies pay the price by having to do all the things – including all the tough things mainstream publishing would normally have done for us – but I maintain it is worth it.

So, clutching my gladioli, I began thinking about where indie knitting businesses are heading.

The BBC4 documentaries on UK indie record labels traced the trajectory from bedsit record labels with rough DIY graphics to bands like The Smiths appearing on prime time TV and finally a world where indie labels are regularly outselling the big record companies.

Knitting is not the music business (there’s a big difference in gender make-up for one thing! It made me sad to see many female musicians simply disappear as indie music became bigger in the 1980s and 1990s) but maybe there are lessons to be learned there.

Here are some of the lessons I have gleaned from the documentaries:

  • Surround yourself with people who understand and support your ethos.
  • Don’t try to follow the crowd but embrace what sets you apart.
  • Take control of as much of your own operations as you possibly can.
  • Choose your collaborators with care and imagination.
  • “Indie”can become a very diluted term when Big Besuited Companies realise it is an untapped market – this will result in products that look, talk, and walk like indies but have big money and committees behind them.
  • Digital marketplaces mean that everybody can sell their products (music, books, knitting patterns) so quality control is difficult. Indies still need gatekeepers (or “curators” as I believe the Pinterest generation calls it!)
  • Don’t believe the hype lest you want to turn into Morrissey!!

There isn’t a right or wrong way of making it work  as a creative. Some people work best as part of a larger team with stylists, graphic artists, distribution centres, remote printing, and so forth. Then you have stubborn donkeys like me who enjoy having my fingers in every pie.

What about you as a knitter?

Some knitters love following a particular design house and yarn brand with big budgets and aspirational marketing; others find themselves more at ease at an indie show where they get to know the dyers and the designers. Some people prefer buying a magazine with glossy ads and a plethora of patterns; others like buying single patterns they have especially chosen for one particular yarn. And some prefer to just spin their own yarns and knit without a pattern.

The world is your oyster – you can to pick and choose as you like. And as an indie girl that really makes me happy.

How To Pitch It Perfectly – Going From Big Asks To Favours

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Sometimes I let my love of colour get the better of me. I have dug out my green coat (the one I only wear occasionally lest I wear it out) and I’m cheerfully pairing it with an orange knitting project. Colours feed my soul.

But I cannot live on colour and sunshine alone.

The First Lesson: The Difference Between Favours & Big Asks – And Why You Need To Know It

Recently I’ve received emails from very different people with an identical message: hey, I’m just going to ask you for a favour.. Favours are good and I like being able to help where I possibly can. I like introducing like-minded people to each other. I like being able to vouch for someone being fabulous. I like skimming a friend’s magazine proposal before it’s submitted. If I can help, I am happy to do so. But, do me a favour has taken a very strange turn. This past week I was asked if I could turn over the copyright of my most popular pattern to a publishing company I had to google (in return I’d  get .. a link to this blog!?). Could I share my email list of clients with someone wanting to work as a technical editor? Today I was asked to donate a substantial monetary-value amount of goods to an event to which I had not been invited (I actually queried this favour and I’ll share the astounding reply in a second). I don’t consider these requests favours – I consider these Big Asks.

Favours are reciprocal – Big Asks are not.

If you are sending an email, ask yourself if you are requesting a favour or a Big Ask. Do you have a prior relationship with the person you are contacting? Do you have mutual friends who can vouch for you? Is what you are requesting something of huge benefit to you but not to the other person?

Favours come with an expectation that at some point the asker will be in the position of helping you out with something. It is a mutual beneficiary situation: if I help a friend by proof-reading his article, he might lend me a place to sleep next time I pass through his town. If I introduce a friend to another friend – maybe one day one of them will introduce me to someone interesting. Sure I end up feeling great about helping out people, but I also know that I’ll have an IOU in future reserve if I ever need it.

Big Asks come with nothing. I don’t know the person asking. The request has come out of nowhere and typically the Big Ask would result in me handing over significant sources of income to complete strangers. In return? Frequently I am promised exposure in the vaguest terms possible – but we all know that is not a valid currency. Once I’ve helped out with the Big Ask, chances are that I’ll either never heard from the asker again or I’ll keep getting Big Asks until I have nothing left to give.

So, you have something you want to obtain – this can be anything from advice on how to pitch a submission to getting more clients or staging a successful event. How can you turn your Big Ask into a favour? The answer is surprisingly simple: ask in a way that will benefit you both. Examples:

  • I’d like all rights to your most popular pattern/photo/song!” = “Do you have a pattern/photo/song tucked away that you’d like to publish through us?”
  • I need a list of your clients/I need an introduction to XYZ” = “Hey, I am really interested in South American farming communities. Can you point me in the right direction? Awesome article on crop rotation, by the way. Do you know Crop Rotation Expert Phil? I’d love to introduce you guys”
  • I am hosting AN AWESOME EVENT OUT OF THE BLUE and I need 150 goodie bags!” = “Hi, I am currently planning an event focused on crop rotation practice. I was wondering how your schedule looks for next March and if you would be interested in hosting a panel on Peruvian popcorn plantations?”

See how rephrasing works? It’s pretty cool, no? You are still asking for something, but you are starting a conversation that might lead somewhere really good.

The Second Lesson: Don’t Sabotage Yourself and Your Project Before You Start

Remember I queried why I was being asked to donate to an event and not asked to work the event? I received this answer which floored me: Because you are too famous and therefore too expensive for us.

My pub landlord used to be in a Glasgow indie pop band – if I were arranging a local music festival, why shouldn’t I ask him if he’d like to DJ or play a couple of tracks? At worst he’d be busy or outwith my budget – but if I didn’t ask I would never know. Is he famous? I honestly hadn’t heard of his band until I moved to Glasgow, but now I realise the band meant a lot to other local bands in the late 1990s. Fame is an exceptionally relative term – someone’s famous musician is another person’s pub landlord. And he still needs to pay bills.

Do not assume that something or someone is out of reach. That is not your decision to make.

Take all your knowledge about favours and Big Asks, and make a list. Who would be awesome to have on your team? Who could help turn your kick-ass idea into a kick-ass reality? Who would be a big draw for your event? Think big and reach out in the way we talked about earlier. You may get a couple of cold shoulders (“Okay, maybe asking Taylor Swift to headline Aberdour Festival was a bit ambitious..”) but you will get responses from many awesome corners too. Remember, it is not up to you to decide if somebody wants to be on Team Awesome – but you’ll never know if you don’t approach them in a friendly way.

My Personal Lesson: It Is Not About Me. It Is About You.

It’s been a really crap week so far with a lot of soul-destroying Something For Nothing emails in my inbox. Hey, am I too approachable? I have been turning down many Big Asks this week. Hey, am I not approachable enough? For every fifteen Big Asks, I get just one favour through and those fabulous emails are usually prefaced with a “hey, I know you are busy but I thought I’d drop you a line..”

And then it dawned on me, that all this has nothing to do with me. It’s about people either not realising I exist (fame is an exceptionally relative term!), people thinking I’m too busy for them (they’ve made their decision without consulting me), or people thinking I cannot bring anything to the game (okay, okay, this one is about me and my poor knowledge of Peruvian popcorn farms). I can fret about looking unapproachable in my green coat and kitschy sunglasses – but that is who I am and my outfit has nothing to do with approachability. I have a contact form, people can get in touch on social media, and plenty of people come up to say hi when I am working at festivals or shops.

So, I’m going to continue be kick-ass at my job. I’ll keep wearing my yellow shoes & my capes. I have some fantastic things in store over the next .. gulp .. eight months. And I hope to find far fewer Big Asks in my inbox and far more favours. Deal? Deal.

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Peer Reviews & Mentorships: Tips & Hints for Knitting Designers

 

Recently I came across a claim that peer reviews and mentorships were unknown to most knitting designers. It was said that unless you were one of the lucky ones, you had no access to peer support and you were on your own. I am here to tell you that this is wrong. I am also here to tell you how you can get your own support network started along with some tips on how to navigate the waters.

 

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  • Be open about wanting to meet other designers. If you don’t say you are interested, no-one will know!
  • Be kind and open-minded in all your interactions. If you come across as hot-headed or impatient, other designers may feel they cannot approach you.
  • Think about what you can bring to the table (and be honest with yourself).
  • Reach out to others via social media, Ravelry or emails. You are not confined to your geographical location.
  • Establish the practical aspects: will you set up a message board? arrange a Google hangout? Skype? How often will you check in?
  • Remember: be pro-active, generous and kind.

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  • DO agree upon the outcome of any peer review before you get started. “I want to know what gaps you see in my portfolio”
  • DO be honest with yourself about why you want to be mentored/interact with peers.
  • DO turn any negative feedback into productive action points. “I see a lot of toe-up sock patterns; I’d love to see you try different construction methods!
  • DO be generous with your feedback and skill-sharing: “In my day job, I work in a non-profit and write a lot of applications. I think your magazine submissions can be sharpened up and I’ll show you how.” – “Great! I do a lot of photography, and I’d be happy to teach you how adjusting shutter speed can help you.”
  • DO be professional. If you receive some unexpected feedback (“I see a lot of toe-up sock patterns; I’d love to see you try different construction methods!) listen carefully and with an open mind.
  • DO be supportive. If someone in your peer group experiences success, be the first to cheer alongside her.
  • DO ask tough questions: “Where do you see yourself in five years? What steps do you need to take to get there?”
  • DO introduce others to interesting opportunities: “I saw this call for cat-themed accessories. Alison, that is totally up your street
  • DO be honest about industry experiences: “Sarah, I think it’s great that Unicorn Yarns  of Antarctica have approached you. LOVE their yarns! Just make sure you are happy with all the T&Cs. I had a tough time with them last year and want to make sure you know what you are doing!” or “Sarah, have fun working with Unicorn Yarns  of Antarctica. LOVE their yarns, and Jessica in the Head Office is great.”
  • DO your research.
  • DO peer reviews regularly and check in with each other.

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  • DON’T participate in peer reviews, support groups or mentorships thinking everybody is out to scam you or steal your ideas.
  • DON’T waste people’s time. Nothing is more off-putting than spending a lot of time on helping someone out and getting a “LOL, this isn’t even my day job, kthxbai!” in return.
  • DON’T cold-approach people at trade shows. Shows are busy, everybody is tired & stressed, and even the nicest person can be startled by a full-on approach coming out of nowhere. Start off with an email, a PM, or a tweet.
  • DON’T spend all your interactions on complaining or being negative. It is fine to raise worries or complaints, but always try to be pro-active and turn negatives into positive action points.
  • DON’T be intimidated. Even super-successful people are just people.
  • DON’T gossip. What is said at peer group stays at peer group.
  • DON’T expect magic answers. Mentors and peers can help you analyse your portfolio or help you figure out your niche. They cannot make you successful overnight.
  • DON’T be a bully. If negative feedback is unavoidable, make sure your criticism is constructive and relevant.
  • DON’T seek answers just from knitting designers. Read the business section, borrow books on how to juggle a portfolio career, and ask other sectors smart questions.
  • DON’T give up. If you don’t find the right mix of people or if you fail to find a more experienced designer willing to mentor you, just keep trying.

Comments are always welcome and discussions are encouraged x

Proof of the Pudding – Or What Do You Do All Day?!

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I knit a lot but probably not as much as people assume. Like most knitters, I knit when I’ve finished work for the day and I need some downtime. The difference is that my day job involves writing, editing, and designing knitting patterns. The fact that I don’t knit during my work day surprises people. Most of my day is spent on the computer answering emails, chasing invoices, entering data into a spreadsheet, and working with various software programmes (chart editors, layout programmes and word processors). Occasionally I head outside for photo shoots or teaching appointments, but mostly my work is desk-based in front of a computer.

Being my own employer, I have had to learn to do a lot of things because if I don’t do something, it doesn’t get done. This include things like payroll, marketing, customer service, distribution, procurement etc. Just because I am a one-woman business, it doesn’t mean I don’t have to think about how I do taxes, how I tell people about the things I do, how I can help people with any problems they may encounter, how I get my hard-copy patterns printed, where and when to buy office supplies etc. I have also had to learn how to put together a professional-looking layout and what changes I have to make from getting it ready as a PDF and a hard copy pattern.

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A typical day runs from 9.30am to 5.30pm with breakfast & lunch at the desk. I try to deal with emails/messages at the start and end of every day. I could probably spend every single day just on emails and messages! I look at specific customer support requests – these range from “what do you think of these colours?” to “could you explain what a garter stitch tab cast-on is? I’ve looked at videos and still do not get it”.

I then spend time on the latest pattern I’m designing (I’ll talk about design process in a later post). I open up the chart editor and the spreadsheet. Depending upon the complexity of the design, I can spend a fortnight crunching numbers before it is time to start writing a pattern. I spend lunchtime catching up with social media – some people regard it as marketing but I think of social media as a great way to have social interactions with great people without leaving the house. Twitter is a lifeline of joy when you work on your own.

After lunch, I get back to my spreadsheets and my number crunching. I make sure to transfer key numbers from my spreadsheet to a pattern template so I can tell if a pattern makes narrative sense (no need to start talking about neckline numbers when people are still working the bottom rib – even if I need to know the basic neckline numbers at this stage). I double-check the chart in my chart editor and may correct the stitch pattern, so it will work with armhole shaping further up. Spreadsheets are magic, I tell you. I may also be working on other people’s patterns as a technical editor.

I dip into social media and check my email to make sure I am not missing any urgent business. A yarn company may have emailed me to let me know they are out of a shade I wanted for a future design, and I have to open up my design proposal to see what I could use instead. A customer may have emailed me about problems buying the pattern and I have to liaise with Ravelry and LoveKnitting to solve the customer’s problems. I try to get on top of emails by 4pm.

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After 4pm, I focus more on the “soft side” of my work. I browse Ravelry to check out colour and texture trends. I spend time on Pinterest looking through recent pins (I subscribe to a number of trend forecasters’ feeds). I look at dyers’ websites to check out new stock and if I can see any colour trends. I also spend the 90 minutes between 4pm and 5.30pm on doodling and playing around with ideas in the chart editor or on paper. I browse RSS feeds via Feedly where I subscribe to a large number of blogs and websites ranging from knitting and fashion to art, design and technology. I don’t always get my daily 90 minutes of inspiration because I may be in the middle of a complex project, but I love when I am able to set aside time.

By the time 5.30pm rolls around, my partner is home and we spend some time decompressing over a cup of tea. We get dinner sorted and by 7.30pm I am usually sat in the sofa with my work knitting. And that is another day over and done with. I work like this Monday to Friday but I may teach at a festival or at a LYS Saturday or Sunday, so my day off may fall on a Monday or a Wednesday instead.

This post was written in response to a ‘what do you actually do all day long?’ request from a couple of readers. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section!

Book Review: Kate Atherley’s Pattern Writing for Knit Designers

atherleyI get a lot of emails. Some deal with my own work, but a surprising amount of messages comes from people wanting to write patterns. Maybe my epic Twitter rants about poorly written patterns are to blame; maybe it is because when I teach I go on about things like gauge and chart symbols. Who knows?

What do you do if you didn’t fluke a background in technical writing? Up to now you had to rely upon your knowledge of others’ pattern writing skills and try to imitate their way of writing instructions. I understand why people do this, but it does not allow for reflection upon your own style and you may fall into adopting other people’s bad habits without realising there are other options. Or you asked people like me who does have a background in technical writing (and who is horrifically busy) or you ask in Ravelry fora with somewhat mixed results.

Anyway, it’s been really frustrating for me that I have had nowhere to send all these lovely people. There are some great pattern design books in the world (like Maggie Righetti’s Sweater Design in Plain English) but no pattern writing books out there. With Kate Atherley’s book, Pattern Writing for Knit Designers, that drought is now at an end. It is not a knitting book filled with patterns; it is a book telling designers how to write patterns that are clear, concise and easy to follow. Kate Atherley is one of the most highly regarded technical editors in the business and her wealth of experience shows.

The book is a master-class in how to think about pattern writing. She discusses everything from how to structure a pattern (and provides a pattern template), which abbreviations to use, how to think about communicating cables and deciding upon formatting to why a designer’s relationship with their technical editor is so important, working with and defining style sheets, how to self-publish, how to work with publications (and what they expect of you as a designer) and how to making easy-to-follow charts.  It is an incredibly comprehensive book.

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Kate’s voice is authoritative, but never condescending. She assumes the reader is clever, resourceful and able to think for themselves. Look at the excerpt above: the three examples of a repeat within a row have an identical outcome (in terms of how many stitches you have at the end) but Kate goes through the examples one by one, and lets the reader work out why some formats are more effective than others.

And she makes you think about how writing patterns means communicating to someone who is not you. I find this is a pitfall for many designers who assume knitters work in the same way as themselves and find it hard to write for others. Writing for an audience is a real skill – and writing technical instructions for others to follow is even harder. I really like the way Kate makes you consider your audience before you begin writing.

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In short, this book is a marvel. It is a technical and dry in places (which I obviously love), but after a dense paragraph about the taxonomy of cable stitches, Kate shows why you need to wrap your head about how to classify and name cable stitches – and she does so in a wonderfully down-to-earth manner. More importantly, she makes sure you will enjoy writing that cabled hat pattern of yours. Most importantly, Kate makes sure that your cabled hat pattern will make an enjoyable knit for knitters who will talk about your well-written pattern to others and keep coming back for more. Huzzah!

I should point out (in the name of full disclosure) that I am cited in the book and that I was asked to read an early draft of this book, but that does not alter my praise of this book. Whether you are an aspiring designer or an experienced designer/tech editor, this book will instruct and help you. I keep a copy next to me on my desk as it comes in handy on a daily basis. The book is full of great advice from other designers and technical editors – and has a great deal of links to useful resources. As Kate says, the book won’t help you come up with designs but it will teach you how to write great patterns people will want to make again and again.

And happy knitters make for a happy knitting world.

You can buy the book here and it costs CAD$25. A real bargain for what you’ll learn.

Thinking About The Future

KW_photo00For the past eight years or so, we’ve enjoyed a surge in quality indie designers offering amazing patterns for us to download. A digital revolution has changed crafting completely: knitters (and crocheters) came out as the winners because we suddenly had all these fantastic designers at our disposal with just one click of a button. From Ysolda Teague & Stephen West to Kate Davies & Gudrun Johnston, many designers started with a single pattern and gradually started growing as designers and businesses. I don’t know if you know, but the knitting & crochet community is going through a bit of a sea-change at the minute. Making that same journey is going to be awfully hard in years to come and the real losers are the knitters and crocheters.

It’s a dull and technical thing, really. The EU is changing laws about digital sales (in an attempt to stop Big Business from dodging taxes) but the UK is implementing the laws in a way that’s very damaging to small sole traders (if you want to learn more, Woolly Wormhead has written extensively about it).

Digital downloads have changed the knitting industry forever but incoming legislation will complicate things immensely. The knitting community I love and treasure so much will now become an bit of a gated community for many aspiring designers. It worries me and saddens me because I am a firm believer in diversity and innovation.

On a tangentially related note,  I found this essay by an American indie rock band interesting. They talk about the realities of going on tour and how they are “making it” rather than “having made it”. Sometimes it really hits you hard when you realise how much daily grinding is involved in creatives trying to make a reality of their dreams and talents.

Me? I wrote an article for Wovember about the relationship between sheep, wool and designer. Because that is where I am at and that is what I do.

ETA: I write this from a UK perspective because that is where I live. However, these law changes affect anyone who sells digitally online to EU customers – even designers living in Australia, the US or Easter Island.

Knitting, Needles and Wednesday News (Of Sorts)

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I have had a hectic start to September, so I am pleased that I am spending most of today knitting a sample. I am trialling some new-to-me knitting needles – you can see the KnitPro Nova Cubics in the photo – but I’ll write more about the needles once I’ve had a chance to trial the other ones. My tool kit is so important to me; good needles make all the difference if I am knitting to a deadline and I cannot rely on one type of needle to work for every kind of knitting. I’m knitting my current sample in Malabrigo Rios that I got from Love Knitting – it’s a yarn that definitely needs a smooth needle with a blunt tip.

It’s been a while since I had a chance to do a real round-up, so here we go!

+ I went north-north-north to the quirkiest, most delightful yarn shop I have seen in ages, Fluph. I taught a class on lace shawls but we deviated a bit from the script as most of the students were textile students who wanted to understand how to design lace as much as they wanted to understand how to knit shawls. So, we talked charts, fabric bias and how to position lace within a given shape. Good times with bonus dog cuddles at the end.

+ Glasgow University is hosting another Knitting in the Round seminar – this time on Sanquhar gloves. It’s “an informal public event to explore Sanquhar knitting – its history, its current popularity, the skills required, the wool needed and the patterns recorded” – November 1, 11am-3pm, Sanquhar in Dumfriesshire.

+ A couple of workshop dates have been added: Glen Gallery Crafts in Cullybackey, Northern Ireland is hosting me for two workshops on Nordic colourwork knitting on November 14 and 15. Before then I will be at McAree Brothers in Stirling on November 8 running a lace workshop in support of The Knit Generation (I’ll tell you more about the book later).

+ Finally, there’s an interview with me over on the Playful Blog today. I talk about what it’s like being a freelancer and I give my top 3 tips on how to make an impact in the fibre industry. Ms Playful and I are hosting a Twitter hang-out on September 9 where a panel of industry experts will be on hand to give their tips on how to make the leap. You won’t believe who we got lined up for this hang-out. Chills.

+ I am heading down to spend time on Susan Crawford‘s farm next week, so I will make sure to take lots of photos from this inspirational place and hopefully I will also be able to share a sneak preview from Susan’s forthcoming book. We have plans brewing, plans.

But first I need to finish my sample. Tea’s brewing and I have sneaked a couple of Abernethy biscuits from the cupboard. Shh.