J: First off, thank you for writing this book! It is the finest resource Iâ€™ve ever read for a knitting designer. Invaluable if you are starting out or if youâ€™ve been in the business for a while, it concretely makes sense of the â€˜mysteryâ€™ and shifting sands of the design business.
We love that you love Knitty. Talk about why Knitty is important to the industry and how best new designers can utilize it.
S: In my opinion, Knitty really raised the expectations bar early on in terms of helping designers who were new to the business to establish a standard format, create really great photos and all the other good stuff thatâ€™s essential to putting oneâ€™s best designer foot forward, so itâ€™s easy to love! (In fact, I know that Iâ€™m not the only one who has recommended Knittyâ€™s style guide for pattern formatting to those who have no idea where to begin!)
New designers can use Knitty as a beautifully-edited example of What To Do in terms of pattern presentation and collection-building â€“ look how each issue of the magazine makes sense, how the patterns relate to each other, how thereâ€™s a great mix of pattern types and techniquesâ€¦and then, in the archives, see how things have changed over time.
J: What benefit do you see Knitty providing to established designers?
S: For established designers, using Knitty + Ravelry is a marketing research exercise in itself â€“ each time an issue comes out, a handful of Knitty patterns immediately shoot into the stratosphere in terms of the â€œNew and Popularâ€ list. What is it about those patterns (and not one of the others) that made people sit up and notice? Are there trends? Is there something you could adapt for your own use when designing your next pattern? It always pays to watch what knitters are choosing to knit if you want to make sure your next pattern will sell well.
J: Lots of blogs and newsletters have recently changed their approach into â€œsell, sell, sellâ€ with little useful or interesting content. How do you keep the balance between authenticity and selling in social media?
S: 90/10. Thatâ€™s how I see itâ€¦ 90 is me, personally and 10 is â€œok, buy my stuff, pleaseâ€ (Maybe even less than 10%!) I try very hard not to post a million â€œI just put out a new X and you should buy itâ€ tweets or Facebook updates, Iâ€™d much rather just be me, talking about the goofy stuff I personally like to talk about when Iâ€™m not discussing business.
So, for example, of the 17 tweets Iâ€™ve posted today, one was â€œI’m not above using my cute dad to sell a few more patterns. http://twitpic.com/2azzqaâ€ — which, technically, is a businessy tweet because Iâ€™m showing off my dadâ€™s photo on the Ravelry featured pattern page wearing my latest design. But notice I didnâ€™t say BUY MY PATTERN JASPER NOW. I pointed out that making my dad be Mr. Male Model is kind of funny. The majority of my tweets today were me moaning about my webhost screwing up my email service, and responding to people who either a) suggested new hosts for me or b) said my dad was adorable.
I personally am much more likely to click through on things that offer me information instead of just a sales pitch. Useful content makes you useful, which in turn leads to trust, which in turn leads to sales. You have to be in it for the long haul.
J: What is the bare minimum for social media for a knitwear designer?
S: Pick one account and stick with it. Better to just be on Twitter or just be on Facebook than do a horrible job of both. (Of course, you could also use one of the services that will update both for you and therefore capture eyeballs in either place.)
J:Â Not all budding knitwear designers can or want to make it a full-time job. What advice do you have specifically for part-time designers?
S: Establish expectations for your customers. For example, if you can only respond to email after 5:00 p.m., put a disclaimer on your webpage/Ravelry profile/etc. Some customers expect you to get back to them immediately, which isnâ€™t always possible even for full time designers, and they will tar and feather you if you donâ€™t. Then, if anyone gives you grief, you can politely point them to the disclaimer. Most everything else will be the same for a part time designer â€“ keep it professional, make sure you can meet any deadlines set by magazines or whoever else youâ€™re working with, etc.
J: Once youâ€™ve had some success in designing, it seems like opportunities come out of the woodwork. What should a designer keep in mind when choosing a project to take on?
Iâ€™d like to just flat-out quote myself from a recent interview with Kim Werker that was held live on Twitter: â€œYou take a project for 1 of 2 things: money, or publicity. Sometimes you get both, but if it isnâ€™t worth just ONE, donâ€™t! I have taken projects where I wouldnâ€™t have made ANYTHING after paying the sample knitter/etc, but was great PR. However, it was MY CHOICE â€” anyone touting a project solely for publicity or â€œexposureâ€ should be immediately suspect. Our hilarious friends @Ravelry got it right.â€
In addition, you should take projects that will challenge you â€“ why do the same thing 15 times in a row?
J: How do you manage your time with so many projects happening simultaneously?
S: My computer is my backup brain. I never delete emails (well, except spam!), so I can always look up whatâ€™s already been said about an ongoing project, etc. I am a compulsive list-maker, too. I have a ton of â€œthings going onâ€ textfiles sitting on my desktop that I can pull up and work from, reminderwise. Iâ€™ve been trying to find the perfect project management software but nothing has really fit the bill 100% without costing an arm and a leg, so for now itâ€™s lists upon lists upon lists.
J: With so many outlets for designs, patterns run the risk of looking alike. How do you keep your design ideas fresh?
S: I like themes, because Iâ€™m a very visual person, and it helps me categorize all my ideas. So, for example, Iâ€™m working on a fall/winter pattern collection thatâ€™s inspired by 1920s Vienna, carnivals and one particular artist I like. I started with one particular pattern I wanted to design, figured out what would go with it and provide a broad range of pattern types, and then went backwards from there. I useÂ style.com, Ravelry and other sources to see whatâ€™s out there but when it comes right down to it, itâ€™s the circus in my head + what I want to personally knit + what yarn is calling my name.
J: What about burn out? You have 70,000 things going on all the time — do you ever lose sight of the dreamy part? How do you find your way back to being/feeling creative?
S: Iâ€™m, to quote my boyfriend, â€œAmish on weekendsâ€ because I turn the computerÂ OFF. I sit around and knit and watch TV and do housework and stare into space and play with the dog and pet the cats and make elaborate, ridiculous foodstuffsâ€¦everything butÂ work work. It helps. Some of the ideas for the new collection came about, for example, as the result of watching a terrible, terrible movie about Klimt on Netflix. It was seriously one of the worst movies Iâ€™ve ever seen, one of those movies thatâ€™s so awful you canâ€™t turn it off because youâ€™re worried there might be something even worse to laugh at in the next scene. But it did make me re-examine some of the things I knew about that era, and remember pieces Iâ€™d liked at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, and start to think hmmmm, these things would go together, and this yarn would work, and and andâ€¦ In short, donâ€™t be afraid to â€œwasteâ€ time doing something that seems silly because you never know when inspiration will strike.
J: How do you create a design style that is unique to you? â€“ the best examples are Norah Gaughan and Ysolda. Is it even important to have a style?
S: I think so, yes, if only because it helps drive repeat business. If someone likes the way you do X, then it only stands to reason they will like X1, X2 and X3. You have to be careful not to get stuck in a rut, though!
J: What did you learn about your designing self and your business writing this book?
S: I really need to outsource more of the things I donâ€™t do as well or as quickly. One example â€“ Iâ€™m a much slower knitter than my test knitters. If I want to keep up, I need to outsource more of the sample knitting, and rework my patternwriting process. Itâ€™s a lot harder for me to write the pattern before I knit the sample, but in order to outsource the knitting, Iâ€™ll have to do it in that order. It takes away some of the serendipity, but serendipity doesnâ€™t always pay the bills. I wish I could just sit and knit all day and make someone else write it all down, but thatâ€™s not how it works at this level.
J: Whatâ€™s next for you?
S: More books! Cooperative Press is publishing over a dozen books by other people in the next 18 months or so, and I could not be more excited. Iâ€™m also co-authoring a book on tech editing with the fabulous Alexandra Virgiel that will fill a major hole in the market for both pro designers and knitters who just want to make their work better. Weâ€™re going to keep pushing the envelope with technology in particular, which is exciting and scary all at the same time. (I love technology). I plan to keep teaching online as well, because itâ€™s an amazing way to reach people all over the world without leaving the comfort of my desk!
BONUS CONTEST POST!
Shannon has very generously offered to give one lucky commenter to this post a copy of her new book. PLUS, to get you jump started on your design career: the choice between one of her online classes OR an one-one consultation with the pro herself.
To win, just leave a comment to this post telling Shannon why you want to win this great prize. Comments will be closed Friday, JulyÂ August 13th at 5pm EST, and the winner chosen by Shannon, and announced in the WWW post next Wednesday. Good luck!