Monday, September 8, 2008

becoming a knitwear designer: present day

when i first started out on my own, i had visions of designing and selling finished garments; either one-of-a-kind special order type things or making small runs of things for boutique type stores. in order to be able to make my things affordable, i knew i wouldn't be able to hand-knit things. so, i dug out my two hand flat knitting machines and went to work designing and making some things. i opened a shop on etsy (you can see my shop here:, i held some home parties (think tupperware but with knits), i developed a direct marketing list and began to mail and then e-mail postcards, and i put some things on consignment locally. somewhere along the line i began to knit and crochet with wire and beads so i added jewelry to my offerings.

although i had some success with this, it became increasingly apparent to me that it was difficult to make a living selling finished items when i was the sole employee. in addition to designing and making everything (which i enjoy immensely), i had to do the accounting, pay the bills, do marketing and sales, search out vendors to supply me with my materials, and a myriad of other things which are often less appealing to me. with that in mind, i had to start investigating other methods of bringing in income with my knitwear design.

one of the things i had long ago thought about was seeing if i could publish some of my designs as patterns. i researched submission guidelines with knitting magazines, yarn companies, and other knitting publishers and thought i'd give it a try. i was pleasantly surprised when two of my first designs submitted were accepted and published. the first, twisted rectangles was published by jca, inc in their reynolds saucy sport book in the spring of 2007. the second, yellow fitted tank was published in knitsimple's spring/summer 2007 issue. since then, i've published designs with Y2Knit (lilah and kalinda); one planet yarn and fiber (analise); knitter's magazine (fracture-spring 07; bamboo leaves, chalk stripes, and tickled pink--all winter 07; fractured tulip and kiwi bands--spring 08; sand & surf--summer 08; and two more coming in the winter 08 issue), and another style in knitsimple (traveling stripe vest-holiday 07). i also will have some baby hats and booties in a knitting book, tops & toes, due out in february 08.

although i've had quite a few designs make it into magazines, i had many more designs that weren't chosen for one reason or another. it seemed logical then to try my hand at self publishing. i owe a big thanks to my lys owner, karen wilkins of temptations in dublin, oh as well as diane kraus who also works there to help me get going. they both have given me generously of their time and offered me their opinions and insights regarding self-published patterns in general and my designs in particular. this is a wonderful shop, i highly recommend it if you live in the columbus, oh area or are visiting. karen and her staff are incredible.

so far, i've released 3 patterns: marnie, cassandra and allison. all are avaiable for download directly from the sidebar of my blog. marnie will also be available in select yarn stores that carry tilli tomas ( yarns and patterns. cassandra and allison will also be available in select yarn stores that carry o-wool products ( i'm working on several new designs at the moment, so look for new patterns to be posted soon.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

becoming a knitwear designer: the retail years

after graduating college, i moved to the boston, massachusetts area to work on a ladies' sportswear line. i spent about two years doing product development for them, with varying degrees of responsibility. our design director developed most of the group concepts, color stories, and prints for our lines, but the rest of us on the design team collaborated with her as well. after the groups were established, we created and specified garments, embroideries, prints, and appliqu├ęs for our own portion of the line. we would then have to put the styles actually ordered through a series of approvals for color, pattern, fit, and construction. and finally, we would have to grade the styles for the different sizes we offered. at any given time, we would be working on multiple seasons so we would often be developing one season while doing approvals for one or two others. it was great to be able to work on all parts of the development process; having to do the more technical end of things helped us develop smarter to begin with. i enjoyed this job for its variety and the great group of people i worked with. but, i'm a midwesterner at heart and missed being closer to family. so, after two years, my husband and i decided to move back closer to home.

my next job was with a major girls' retailer doing product development. this role was fairly undefined at first as the buyers all did their own product development prior to me joining the company. i had to put many systems in place to help improve the process. sizing and grading needed to be evaluated to make it more uniform. for the first two years, i developed the specifications for most product categories there as well as doing all the fit approvals. thankfully there was someone else to approve color and pattern (there are only so many hours in the day). as the company grew, so did the department. a separate creative design department was added. my job became more and more narrowly focused; which kind of took the fun out of it for me. i learned tons and got to travel some places i would never have gone to otherwise (although i didn't get much opportunity to see much outside the offices and factories i was visiting). i spent 11 years there so i met and worked with many different people. some continue to be life-long friends.

all during my retail career, i kept knitting. mostly i knit baby gifts. i rarely knit something from a pattern so i was designing sweaters all along. here are a few of those early designs:

so, when my department was re-organized and there was no longer a place for me, it seemed natural that i try do something with my knitting. in my next post on this, i'll talk about what i've done with my knitting up until now.

Monday, July 21, 2008

allison pattern available for download

here's the latest of my indulge distinctive knitwear patterns available for sale. it is knit in o-wool balance, vermont organic fiber company's lovely blend of 50% organic merino and 50% organic cotton which, in my opinion, has a similar hand to raw silk. top off that favorite outfit with the perfect fly-away cardigan...knit in a simple lace rib with a button closure.

skill level

to fit bust sizes:
33(35, 37½, 40½, 44½)”/83.8(88.9, 95.3, 102.9, 113)cm
finished chest:
36¼(38, 40, 43½, 47¼)”/92.1(96.5, 101.6, 110.5, 120)cm
finished length:
23½(24, 24½, 25, 25½)”/59.7(61, 62.2, 63.5, 64.8)cm

worsted weight (sample uses: O-Wool Balance—opal)
855(910, 992, 1083, 1201)yds/782(832, 907, 990, 1098)m
US 7/4.5mm straights
US 7/4.5mm 29” circular
(1) 1” button
st holders or WY
tapestry ndl

22 sts and 27 rows = 4”/10cm in lace rib st on US 7/4.5mm ndls

Thursday, July 17, 2008

cassandra pattern available for download

my second pattern is now available for download. the sample is knit in o-wool's classic 2-ply. o-wool is made by a wonderful organic wool company, Vermont Organic Fiber Company. You can check out their website here:
a lovely lace layering up quickly in a super simple lace pattern and a tie front crop cardigan with minimal shaping.

skill level
To fit bust sizes: 33(35, 37½, 40½, 44½)”/83.8(88.9, 95.3, 102.9, 113)cm
finished chest:
35(37, 39½, 42½, 46½)”/88.9(94, 100.3, 108, 118.1)cm
finished length (back):
12(12, 12½, 12½, 13)”/30.5(30.5, 31.8, 31.8, 33)cm

fingering weight (sample uses O-Wool Classic 2 ply; 100% certified organic merino in sage) 1176(1250, 1339, 1451, 1614)yds/1075(1143, 1224, 1327, 1476)m

US 3/3.25mm straights

crochet hook
US B/2.25mm

st holders or waste yarn
tapestry needle

22 sts and 34 rows = 4”/10cm in vandyke lace st

Monday, July 14, 2008

Knitter's cover surprise

I had a happy surprise when I received my latest issue of Knitter's magazine: my sweater on the cover! If you don't subscribe to the magazine, you can see it here:

This sweater was a bit of a chore for me. Two of the yarn colors were on back order so I didn't receive them until the day before I left on vacation. I hurriedly knit a gauge swatch to be able to figure out my pattern so I could knit all the way to Florida. "Hurriedly" being the operative word here...I was way off in my gauge when I was knitting in a more relaxed manner in the car. So, I had to frog several inches, rework my pattern and start over!

I was ever so glad to put it in the mail after vacation (unlike the bamboo sweater I did for the Winter 2007 issue...I hated to part with that one!)

Friday, June 27, 2008

becoming a knitwear designer: the college years

the university of cincinnati's fashion design program starts with a year of foundation classes. you spend the year on liberal arts classes and basic drawing and studio classes where you learn the fundamentals of design together with graphic and industrial design students.

starting in year two, fashion classes take up most of your time. you take classes like construction techniques, fashion drawing, flat pattern, fashion history, textiles, and draping. beginning at the end of year two, you have a design class each quarter focusing on different areas of fashion (children, dresses, tailoring, bodywear, and knitwear or leather). then in senior year, your design classes are spent designing a small collection of 5 outfits. the designer must come up with a theme for their collection and then do any necessary research to be able to draw the collection and then make the patterns and construct the garments. at crit, the judges' scores determine which, if any, of your pieces will be shown in the senior segment of the end of the year fashion show.

some people approach knitwear design "on the needles," figuring things out as they go. i approach it the way i was taught in school: i look for inspiration, then do many rough sketches before ever picking up sticks and string. after choosing yarn and swatching, i plot out my pattern before beginning to knit.

next in this series, i'll discuss my post-collegiate years working in ready-to-wear.

Monday, June 23, 2008

marnie pattern available for download

well, it took me awhile to work the kinks out in order to get marnie it finally is!

skill level

to fit bust sizes: 33(35, 37½, 40½, 44½)” /83.8 (88.9, 95.3, 102.9, 113)cm
finished chest:
35(37, 39½, 42½, 46½)”/88.9 (94, 100.3, 108, 118.1)cm
finished length (crop):
13(13, 13½, 13½, 14)” /33 (33, 34.3, 34.3, 35.6)cm
finished length (long):
23(23½, 24, 24½, 25)” /58.4 (59.7, 61, 62.2, 63.5)cm

mc—dk weight yarn (samples use tilli tomas fil de la mer—goldenrod and whisper)
cc—worsted weight yarn (samples use tilli tomas rock star—pinecone and whisper)
crop, ¾ length sleeves:
mc: 796(847, 898, 991, 1076)yds
cc: 133(148, 163, 178, 192)yds
hip length, long sleeves:
mc: 1141(1201, 1297, 1400, 1538)yds
cc: 255(300, 345, 390, 435)yds

US 6/4mm and US 8/5mm, straights

crochet hook
US F/4mm crochet hook

stitch holders or waste yarn
tapestry needle

25.5 stitches and 30 rows = 4” (10 cm) in seaweed stitch on smaller needles

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

becoming a knitwear designer: the beginning

i thought i would start out telling a little about how i came to be a knitwear designer...

i can't remember not being interested in clothes. i designed and made clothes for all my dolls using my hand crank singer sewing machine. i loved watching sonny and cher and the carol burnett show just to see what bob mackie would come up with next (my personal favorite was the scarlet o'hara curtain rod dress). i begged my mom to teach me how to use the "real" sewing machine so i could make my own clothes. i laugh now when i look at pictures of some of those creations...what was i thinking?

deciding to try to make my love of clothes somehow into a career, i went to the university of cincinnati to study fashion design. now i know what you are probably thinking...cincinnati to study fashion design? isn't that in ohio? while cincinnati is no hot-bed of fashion, it does have some things going for it. there is a wonderful art museum with an excellent costume collection. a really great theatre (playhouse in the park). they try (or at least they did when i was there) to bring in a new york designer to head up the panel for end of the quarter crit (when you showed your project for the quarter and be critiqued on it). uc's fashion program also makes up for its midwest location by requiring you to participate in a professional practice (co-op) program. so, while it takes you 5 years to graduate from the program, you graduate with 6 quarters (roughly 1 1/2 years) of practical work experience in your field. this also allows you to "sample" parts of the fashion industry with no long term commitment to try and find what suits you best. you can do your internships anywhere you can find a job that relates to your major, so you get the opportunity to be exposed to cities that more readily come to mind when you think "fashion". i did most of my co-ops on the costume end of things as i had dreams at the time of moving to los angeles after graduation to become a costume designer for movies or tv.

it was on one of those co-op jobs that i learned to hand-knit. one of the performers in the show taught me the basics in our down time between shows. i still have that first sweater i made. it is a huge purple wool sweater that my daughter would be mortified if i ever wore it in public again. some things you just can't ever part with, though.

for my last co-op, i went to andover, mass to work for mast industries, a division of the limited (they've since moved to columbus, oh). i worked on the only non-limited account that they had at the time. a ladies' sportswear line called cambridge dry goods. i worked mostly with the cut and sew product manager but also was able to help out on a few sweater projects while i was there. fortunately for me, my boss and i got along great and they hired me to be her assistant when i graduated.

in my next post on this topic, i'll talk more about what i learned at uc and how it influences the way i design.

in the meantime, i will be posting the first of my self-published hand knitting patterns. marnie is a tie front cardigan in super-chic crop or more traditional hip length with two sleeve length versions to choose from. it is knit in tilli tomas' fil de la mer (seaweed and silk blend) accented with tilli tomas' rockstar (beaded spun silk). if you aren't familiar with tilli tomas you should check out their website i'll end with a couple of close up photos of marnie. You'll have to check back to see the whole thing!