Designing… Is it something only designers can do?

Every so often an interesting thread pops up on my twitter feed about the design world.  I follow quite a few of the designers I admire so a conversation about this very thing is bound to pop up from time to time.  The recent discourse is based on a blog post by Kristin Nicholas.  The gist of it is that she is no longer interested in designing knitwear.  She goes on to blame other designers from stealing her market.  I suspect that is true.  The “industry” has changed and more people are able to self-publish their patterns.  But from my point of view, I don’t think that it’s a bad thing.

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The majority of the commenters on her blog post are sympathetic.  For them, Kristin Nicholas is a legend.  They are (rightly) encouraging her to pursue other creative outlets which bring her joy.  However, there are a few other commenters who have been known in the knitting world for a while; they are also lamenting the decline in their businesses because of the “hot young thing,” a phrase I find condescending.  They are other notable designers and even yarn makers.

I know of Kristin Nicholas from Knit & Crochet Today which I’d record on my DVR a decade ago.  She was a frequent guest offering helpful tips, so when I found her photos on Instagram I immediately followed her account.  Did I notice a lack of knitting there?  Yes.  Did I care?  No.

However, I think the problem is not so much that she is losing a desire to knit.  I suspect that she is losing her income as a result of losing her brand and is trying to blame others for this shift.   And I wonder if I’m one of the people she’s blaming.

I’m a lace shawl, wannabe sock knitter who has a knack for not relying on other people’s patterns when it comes to knitting everything else under the sun.  I’ve even considered selling a few of my well-loved patterns next year.  (Perhaps this is why I’ve been paying listening closely to the designers.)  But why shouldn’t I be able to share my designs?

On her blog, she asks:

I would love to hear your thoughts. Where do you buy your knitting patterns now? Do you ever buy knitting pattern books? Do you only knit from free patterns? Do you follow the “hot knitters”? Do you follow knitters on Twitter? On Facebook? Or do you just like to knit to knit and could care less about what everyone else is doing? Are you a knitwear designer? What are you thinking about it all?

I buy my patterns individually from Ravelry.com.

I buy my pattern books from yarn shops, used book stores, new book stores, and Amazon.com.

I have knit free patterns in the past, but I have no problems buying patterns.  I also have no problems working up my own patterns.

Who are the “hot knitters”?  I follow whoever’s voice I like, but I don’t follow them because they are popular.  Ysolda Teague?  Yes.  Stephen West?  No.  Andrea of Pineapple Bird Knits?  Yes.  Jared Flood?  Occasionally. Orange Smoothie Knits?  Certainly.  Sarah of Long Tall Yarns?  Absolutely.  The list goes on.

I use Twitter, but I am selective about who I follow there (as I am on Instagram, Ravelry, WordPress, etc.).

I knit because I LOVE to knit.  I enjoy seeing other people’s work (hence, my various social media accounts), but hardly ever have I had the desire to be a copycat.  I think the only time I saw a pattern that I had to knit was Alex Tinsley’s howl cat, and I think I was five years late to the party on that one.

Am I knitwear designer?  I don’t know.  You tell me.

Well, enough of my thoughts, what are yours?

 

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8 responses to “Designing… Is it something only designers can do?

  1. You are a designer. If you change one thing about a pattern you are a designer. I think the conversation is more about are you a professional designer who makes their living selling their designs. The knitting world has evolved just like many other sectors and professional designers are going to have to evolve too if they are going to make a living in this field. I am not a professional designer. I am a passionate knitter who gets patterns from all sorts of places but I always use Ravelry before I buy a pattern, book or magazine. Ravelry has changed the knitting world. Not only do I see what is available and get inspired but I get reviews too.

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    • Thanks for adding your perspective! I think you are right that she is talking about earning a living as a professional designer. The people I know in RL who design often have to supplement their design work with a job which provides them with a living wage. I know of only two who have been able to launch their own brands (neither of which involve knitting) and keep them operationally successful. We all have to start somewhere, and I think that’s why I’m mulling over her post so much. I also don’t think she’s giving knitters much credit.

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  2. Sarah of Long Tall Yarns? Ha! I should post more often 🙂

    Seriously, this is an intriguing post. I love using Ravelry for patterns when I’m browsing for something specific. When I see two similar patterns and one is free, I will pick the free one. I am a knitter on a budget who will SOMETIMES splurge for something special. Occasionally I experience a little pang of sympathy for the designer trying to sell their work when the knitting world is so filled with options.

    So what do the professional designers offer that would make me purchase their pattern? Pictures and lots of them. If I can see the item from every angle it gives me confidence that it will work for me. Or that I will be able to modify it into what I need. In professional photos, the lighting is right, and both the yarn and the model are flattered by the pattern. For me, the photos sell. If I can’t see clearly the shaping of the back, sides, neck, closures, etc… If the description mentions a gusset that can’t be seen in the pic? I will never purchase that pattern. Likewise, good photos and good descriptions are the way to reach my stash and my wallet.

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    • Yes, I have learned to be quite discerning when it comes to buying patterns, individually or from a book. It wasn’t tell I read (in more than one book! I’m not quick, mind you.) about what to look for exactly. Does the model stand oddly? Is she positioned in a way which hides a feature? Why cover the neckline with a scarf? Is it only shown from one angle? Etc. I’m done being surprised.

      Other times, the cost of the pattern is prohibitive. I’ve had some of Kristin Nicholas’ Christmas stockings queued for quite some time, and every year I think I will finally purchase it, but $12 is not justifiable. This is one of the reasons I think she’s selling her brand more than the pattern.

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  3. PS, I think you are a knitwear designer. You have made several successful patterns that are documented and replicate-able. I think you have moved beyond the phase of knitting something “inspired by” something you saw in a book somewhere to “designing” original items.

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    • I have had an email sitting in my draft folder since 11/17/12 about wanting to collaborate a knitting book with you. I’ve never had the courage to hit send. (But now that I’ve mentioned it, I have to, huh?) I think that you have designed some pretty awesome stuff yourself. You make the stuff of caliber, my dear.

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  4. Nicely provocative post! I agree with nothingbutknit that if you mod a pattern then you are designing–but it’s nice to give some ping-back credit to the originals from which you’re drawing. I feel no shame in becoming a good-enough knitter to look at an object and think about–or even know!–how it’s constructed. That’s what I call learning and progress and self-sufficiency. Plus, I know myself better than most and I know what features I will like (or not like) about a pattern. What I do like about professional patterns is that yes, there are pictures, but they are often also test-knit, and one can learn a lot about new constructions techniques even if one never knits up the sweater or other object. But, I don’t really work directly from patterns for sweaters or pants anymore because I know about knitting mod math and what I like.

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    • You bring up a good point about self-sufficiency. I am more apt to buy knitting reference books than pattern books.

      I remember when there was a shift in how I chose patterns. It changed from merely buying a pattern for the sake of the FO to buying a pattern because I wanted to learn a new technique. (However, that being said, I don’t think that a pattern designer is required to teach a method of knitting or a technique in his or her patterns. It can help, but there are plenty of resources out there to explain differences in increases, ways to wrap and turn, how to hold the yarn for color dominance, etc.) As I’m working on my own patterns, I try to offer tips so the knitter can produce the most polished hat or sweater possible. The way I see it, the happier they are with it — the more than likely someone else will see the FO and want to knit it, too.

      I guess litmus test regarding self-sufficiency is whether or not the knitter is willing to knit a DROPS design.

      Oh my goodness, so many thoughts. You bring up the editor, and tester, and photographer. How are these people adjusting to the change in the industry?

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