Robin Hunter Designs - How to become a Professional Knitter
I've been knitting my whole life. I started making garments for myself in my teens and then explored sewing, tailoring and millinery. I want to teach knitters about fit and flattery and turn them into fashion stars! A knitting blog about career transition, personal development and the search for fulfillment.
Simple garter stitch keeps the focus on the shaping in this project. The wrap is worked sideways creating a curved upper edge. It’s easy to wear and perfect for wrapping around your neck. Starting from one narrow point, the stitches increase on one edge and decrease on the opposite edge creating a series of triangles. The shape is sometimes called a vortex shaped shawl due to the way the stitches swirl as the shaping stitches are worked. The cast off edge works a separate series of triangles along the second side of the curved triangular shape. The pattern includes extra details to assist the knitter with yarn substitutions.
Last Friday I published Part One of this post with links to fascinating articles about size and fit issues in the fashion industry. Almost all of these links came from the fashion blog Wardrobe Oxygen.
One of the many fashion blogs I follow is Wardrobe Oxygen. Last week she published links to various articles on the issues around sizing in the fashion industry. I was surprised to see a source I have linked to in the past mainly because I think of it as a makers resource. I've read a lot of the archives due to my interest in pattern drafting and fit issues. There are so many good articles to link to I've broken the list into two parts. Here's the first part. All these ones are from Fashion-Incubator.
Back in 2012 my husband and I did a video on all of my tips for making bobbles. I taught a session on them at my knitting guilds skills exchange evening. Since most of my readers couldn't be there we did a video presentation on my topic: Knitting bobbles without turning the work. The link is at the bottom of this post. The video includes several techniques for increasing and decreasing the stitches of a bobble. There are two methods for creating bobbles without turning the work, as well as a number of extra tips for successful bobbles.
Then bobbles fell out of favour and I stopped teaching them. I know they are back again because I'm suddenly getting Youtube notifications. The video is up to 31,095 views. So I thought it was time to remind you about the video. Of course for me the fun part is seeing how much I've changed, I'm both significantly greyer and slimmer than I was back then.
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.
Where do you find inspiration? Often, in my own closet. I’ll look at the store-bought items I love and try to parse what it is about them that I like - is it the shaping, the colour, the fit? I do keep my eye on fashion trends, and I really like to browse street style posts on Instagram and Pinterest. I generally ask myself three things about my designs. Is it fashionable and contemporary? Is it impressive, as in, would a knitter want to brag about having made it? And is it special, something that you couldn’t buy off the rack?
What is your favourite knitting technique? I’m having a moment with circular shapes in knitting, both in colourwork and lace, so right now I’m very into Estonian lace increases, creating many stitches from one.
Do you look at other designers’ work or are you afraid that you will be influenced by their designs? I definitely look at other designers, and I love to knit from other designers’ patterns. I learn a lot when I do, from better ways to phrase instructions in pattern writing, new techniques and even different layout ideas. There are only so many ways to design a sweater, or a shawl, or a pair of socks, and it’s inevitable that some designs will have similarities. I had a moment last year where I had a design almost ready to go, it was in tech editing, when a very successful designer posted a preview picture of an upcoming design that really did look a lot like mine. More than one person sent me a private message about it, so it wasn’t just my imagination. I was worried that if mine came out after hers, people would think I’d stolen the idea, so I rushed mine out and as a result, it had errors in it. And then the other design didn’t come out for another six months. I created a little crisis for myself out of nothing. So now I don’t worry about it and I extend the benefit of the doubt anytime I see similar designs. Sometimes things are just in the ether and more than one designer pursues the same path.
How many sample/test knitters do you have working for you or do you do it all yourself?
I knit my own samples 99% of the time, and I do run test knits through a group on Ravelry. Testing is a funny thing - most of the time, the pattern is fine. Maybe a little feedback over layout will come back, or something small like forgetting to include the phrase ‘bind off’ and the end of a cuff. But every now and again, a test saves you from disaster. I had one design that didn’t fit over anyone’s head. I mean, my sample did, but obviously something about my knitting style (very loose!) let me get away with it. If it wasn’t for my testers, I would have released it. I still feel bad thinking of it - all that work for a garment they had to rip! I’m extremely grateful for the time they invested.
Did you do a formal business plan? I haven’t yet, though I keep saying I will. I do have goals that I’ve written down, though. Most of them are not really financial goals, more about making connections, getting out to more events, doing more teaching. And now that I’m thinking of it, having those goals clearly established has definitely gotten results, so maybe it’s time to add some hard figures.
Do you have a mentor?
I do have a few mentors. I’m very lucky to have my friend Dianna Walla as a mentor, she’s been incredibly generous about sharing her expertise and experience with me. She’s told me she has a few people who did the same for her when she was getting started as a designer. So it’s cool, I feel like I’m part of a chain of people lifting each other up, and I’d like to do the same for others when I have more expertise to share. I also have a whole gang of amazing knitters to touch base with from working at my LYS, Espace Tricot in Montreal. The wealth of knowledge inside those four walls is crazy.
Do you have a business model that you have emulated? I don’t really have a business model I’ve emulated, but I do look at a few ‘personas’ that have inspired me. I think I found my public voice when I started listening to ‘My Favorite Murder’ a popular podcast that combines comedy and true crime. I’m definitely an extrovert and can have a dark sense of humour, and I worried about being myself on social media, in a community sort of renowned for introverts. But letting go of that and just being myself has made the social media aspect of this job so much more fun. In fact, I’d honestly say I love it.
Do you use a tech editor? Oh yes! I need a tech editor, big time. I turn out some pretty terrible first drafts. And sometimes terrible second drafts. It took a few goes to find the right person for me - but I really did. My editor knows me well enough now to question anything and everything.
How do you maintain your life/work balance? Honestly, I don’t. I knit all day, and I knit all night, and then I dream about knitting. It’s probably not at all sustainable, but I just passed the one-year mark in doing this, and I figure I’m going to give it everything I’ve got for at least another year and see where that gets me.
How do you deal with criticism? Ha! Poorly at first, and then after a sulk about it, I start to take it in and see how I can use it and grow from it. I try to not respond until I hit that second phase of things, if at all possible.
How long did it take for you to be able to support yourself? I don’t yet, although I’ve had a few months that were pretty great. I need to get to a place where those good months are the rule, not the exception. I’m seeing this time as an investment in building a small business, and like any other business, I think it’s normal that it’s not earning me a living wage in its first year, but the next 12 months will have to change for me to be able to keep going.
What advice would you give someone who wants to pursue a career in knitting? Work in a busy, modern yarn shop if at all possible. It gives you great insight into what people want to knit, what elements of a pattern they struggle with, and what yarns are out there.
What’s next for you?
I have several designs in the pipeline, in test knitting and tech editing now so they’ll be coming out over the next few months. I’ve been investing more time in submitting designs ideas to magazines, which has been fruitful, so I’m working on those too.
Here's a repeat of an old post to finish up this month's topic of stash busting.
I just spoke at a local guild on this topic so I'll share a few of my ideas here. First, why? I've been working on busting my stash since last summer. I donated a lot of yarn which I knew I wouldn't use to a group in a shelter. Another friend was running classes there and they got some of my stash. I've also realized it doesn't matter how old you are you can't escape the lessons your family taught you. In my case my Grandmother never got over the depression. Being wasteful just seems wrong to me. Finally, I really get a kick out of working on design challenges and this has been a lot of fun! I've got two stash buster patterns, both with super simple knitting, mostly garter which allows me to combine very different yarns together.
Here are the tricks of the two designs. First working top down or sideways, while increasing and decreasing means you can knit as long as you have yarn.
Both patterns require a minimum of three colours/yarns and you can go crazy depending on how many ends you want to deal with in the second version which is the Ruth Kettering Wrap.
There are several colour strategies I used for both patterns.
Pick one variegated or multicolored yarn and choose other yarns that look right to your eye when you put them together. The green and mauve wrap on the left of the top photo uses that combination, which is mainly green and mauve.
Choose three solids - two neutrals and a colour or two colours and a neutral. In the photo at the top you will see these versions as well. Or you could go monochromatic and choose all one colour or even all one neutral.
What about a rainbow spectrum based on a colour wheel?
If you do use a colour wheel and want to use three colours, a harmonious mix could be analogous groupings. Pick three colours in a row. As an example yellow, yellow/orange,and orange.
Remember if you use complimentary colours (across from one another on the wheel), equal proportions don’t work as well, use the Ruth Kettering pattern not Dolly Bantry and shift the complementary proportion to be about a 1/9 ratio.
Keep in mind, colour is very personal so feel free to ignore my suggestions and experiment. What is pleasing to my eye might not be to yours.
One of the reasons I had so many bits of yarn I could combine is that we are often drawn to the same colours. You will probably find the same situation when you dig into your stash.
Mixing yarn weights works in these patterns because you are changing yarns very quickly, so there are no large areas of a single yarn. It's often a good idea to start the edge with the heaviest yarn before switching to lighter yarns.
The picots were added to my second design as a place to bury the ends and keep everything neat with multiple yarns.
The samples have as many as three to four different weights in them. They vary from lace, fingering, dk, worsted, aran and include a thick and thin handspun.
For needle size, I use either the needle recommended for the heaviest yarn or one size up. If you are a tight knitter go up two sizes, you want a drapey fabric for a shawl/wrap.
For the Dolly Bantry pattern the smallest one has 154 yards as its shortest yardage for a single yarn. The lower edge is started when about 45% of the yarn is used up.
The Ruth Kettering Wrap has a total of 600 yards (200 each colour of light fingering) in the black, green and yellow version. You can get more details on the pattern and project pages about sizing.
Here's another example of the results of my ongoing Stash-Down.
It was raining so much it Toronto the day I finished this, that I struggled to get any photos at all. The sun came out for a few minutes so I started snapping. You can see the light changing fast in these. By the time I turned the mannequin around to do the back it was so dark I'm not bothering to include those shots.
There won't be a pattern for this one but if you would like to create something like it first read this post for the tips and tricks.
The sweater was worked top down so I could add in yarn if I needed to. I didn't. I did the sleeves bottom up because by then I realized I had more than enough yarn. In this case all the yarn is red, however the reds vary and I have multiple weights and fibres. Everything from lace to worsted weight as well as cashmere, silk, wool, and rayon to name just a few. The worsted was some Cascade 220 purchased for a hat and scarf but unused and some Knit Picks which came to me by way of another friend's stash down. Some are leftovers from other projects and were of very small amounts.
Do a swatch to define a gauge when mixing weights together. I used the needle size which I would normally use for a worsted yarn. I did the knit one row in each of three yarns trick and repeat. (Make sure the weights of the three yarns are all different.) Then I changed out yarns a few times. Make a bigger than 4 inch swatch. Block it. Pick a simple top down sweater which matches the gauge. Start knitting.
Recently one of my friends found out I mix yarn bases and told me I was scaring her. Don't be scared! This works because each yarn is used in one row at a time. You can mix as long as you don't do any large areas in a single weight. If you do, it will revert to it's normal gauge. The fabric will drape. The hand is more like a silk or cashmere blend even though about 70% of what I used is 100% wool.
I knit the length to about 3/4's of what I wanted before the band and then I put it on my mannequin for about 48 hours. I had to take it off and do the neckline part way because it was stretching out too much to be sure about the overall length. Once I knit the neckband I got a much more accurate length. The armholes also looked a little sloppy but after I did the neckline I realized the sleeve seams were going to take care of them as well. I did a saddle shoulder which may have added to the stretch there.
I did all the edges in one of the worsted weight yarns for consistency.
I'm still picking away at my stash-down project. It's moving along slowly between my pattern development projects. I haven't got a firm timeline in mind but I have realized that the focus has resulted in a stash-less policy which I didn't specifically put in place. I've not made a single purchase from the yarn vendors who are often at my monthly guild meetings. I've also stopped buying the raffle tickets since the prize is so often yarn. I've been in yarn shops without buying as well. It's funny how one word can have such a big impact on one's strategy.
At the last guild meeting I sat beside a friend who has been doing both stash-down and stash-less for at least a year. We discussed the problem of all those single skeins we buy from hand dyers which are often not enough for a project. It means buying more to make use of what you have, if there isn't a good companion yarn already in stash.
As you know from a previous post I have two patterns to address the blending of different yarn scenario.
I've just come across a blog series on stash which I would like to share with you. There are 17 extremely insightful posts on the topic here.
They are written by Felicia, creator of The Craft Sessions. Her stash includes both yarn and fabric but her journey of discovery applies to all stash or hoarding. I hate to use that word but saying it to myself has had a positive impact on my behaviour. It seems the word stash sounds more innocent to my ears. The series runs from Oct 2014 to Sept 2015 and reflects her changing thinking throughout. I especially liked the post on restrictions and the one on desire. I've read widely in the area of positive psychology. When I first came across the idea that desire is actually a stress it was a light bulb moment for me. Even bigger is accepting that fulfillment of the desire doesn't lead to happiness! Take a look and let me know what you think.
What am I learning from my stash-down, well sometimes liking and wanting aren't really the same thing. Not every yarn needs to come home with me. It might be better if I leave some yarns which don't work with my overall knitting plan wherever they already happen to be.
You can never go wrong with good basic yarns.
I should donate more of what I don't want rather than try to force it. I did realize startitis is often a message from your unconscious it's time to let something go.
The thought that someday someone else has to deal with all that yarn if I don't is becoming much more disturbing.
On the positive side I really do have some lovely yarns to keep me busy for the next while between design projects.
I truly love the design challenge of making something great from what's turning up while I'm sorting through the stash. See my post here on what I've been doing.
It's February, how many of you have already forgotten about your resolutions? When I google the topic of stash busting I get 190,000 results. Of course they aren't all just this year which just means it's an ongoing battle.
I'm going to use this month to revisit some posts to highlight stash busting strategies.
First up, some previous thoughts on stash management.
Tossing the Stash
Sometimes we just can't escape our past. I'm working on a stash down. I'm looking at good yarns but often in small amounts and different weights. I tried to bundle some of them up for donation and then fell into the trap of feeling wasteful. This is where my past comes in. My paternal grandparents came to Canada from Scotland in the late 1920s. My grandmother came from a family who while they weren't wealthy, they were hard working merchants and enjoyed the fruit of their efforts. She was the oldest daughter in a large family and all of the kids worked in the family business at very young ages. She never got over the depression. She was frugal to a fault. She lived with us from the time I was 10 so she had many opportunities to share her concerns about money. It also didn't help when my husband saw some partial balls (too small to donate) in the garbage and started teasing me that maybe I should keep it because someday I might not be able to afford yarn.
I had my social knitting project to work on since my current design project isn't very portable. My friend was working on some complex lace and cursing herself for not having something more appropriate for social knitting. My project is relatively small so it won't last much longer.
I'm on the garter stitch short row section of this pattern:
I'm knitting it in this gorgeous yarn from a trip to Rhinebeck a few years ago.
I realized this morning while sorting my stash that the yarns I'm not happy about not using could be used for some very simple social knitting projects, either in garter or something equally simple. I started grouping for colour and I wanted to share a super simple trick for combining colours.
See this, it's Malabrigo Rios in the colour 856 Azules. They already developed a great colour palette that I can use as inspiration.
Here's a few other yarns in my stash that fall in the same colour range.
The trick...all you do is hold every yarn up against the original multicolored yarn, if it looks good together to your eye put it in the use pile. If it doesn't, it goes elsewhere. I'll probably double up that lace weight. I'm thinking a maybe a cowl or a cape-let mixing the yarns together. I have more yarns than I show in the photo. I'll poke around on Pinterest and Ravelry for some inspiration and see how this goes.