My kids have two qualities that I respect possibly above all else when it comes to creating. They're not alone in this either. Many kids, if they've been allowed to experience the true freedom of crafting without parental restraints and hang-ups (i.e. our fear of mess and insistence on the "right way" to do things), have this. It is these two simple crafting qualities that make them, to me, the most awesome crafters there are. It's not about talent or technique, or even their skills or ideas. It's all about the way they approach their art and craft.
They're fearless and they're confident.
They're not afraid to just immerse themselves in their craft and get on with it. Procrastination is not a word in their vocabulary. If an idea or inspiration hits, they just go with it. They don't find excuses as to why it might not work. They are not afraid to experiment and see what happens. They're not afraid of making mistakes and they're brave enough to know that they can learn from their mistakes.
They're confident in both their abilities and their beliefs that they can make those seemingly crazy ideas work. They have a confidence in their skills and abilities that I really admire; one that doesn't really always equate with reality but I love that they are confident enough to not actually realise that or even care. They are so confident that they make their own rules and take risks. They don't let anything beyond their own ideas define them. And I love them dearly for it.
I also am a wee bit jealous and sad that as an adult, like so many others, I think I've lost these qualities. While I've learnt a hell of a lot in all the years I've been crafting as an adult, that knowledge about rules, conventions and technique is not always beneficial. It is this knowledge that at times can be completely stultifying to adult crafters; and it is this knowledge that brings to us fear and insecurity.
We worry about things totally beyond our control; like perfection. The crooked seam in our dress, the loose stitch on the back of our cardie, whether or not the colours and patterns we have chosen are quite right or even match. And then there are the techniques that we know we have to tackle but avoid or put off because we don't think we can execute them perfectly; the sewn buttonholes, zipper insertions, kitchener stitch and short rows, just to name a few. We let ourselves be dictated to by rules of colour and fabric matching, technique, convention and construction, and worry endlessly about our choice.
What I love about kids, however, is that when they immerse themselves in their craft and art, they are so blissfully unaware of all these rules we adults define our crafting by. They just go with their instincts. They combine fabrics, patterns and colours that make me wince inwardly. They do the weirdest things with paint, clay, feathers, beads and other textiles. They hack away at stuff with their scissors endlessly and use copious amounts of sticky tape and glue. They immerse themselves in the moment and just go with the creative flow. They don't find excuses to not do.
Every time I sit down and craft with my kids I am reminded of something; the important lesson of not being so precious about how I approach my craft. The surroundings and materials don't have to be just perfect. You don't have to find just the right time to start a project. Sometimes the most satisfying craft comes from the "let's just do it now" approach and let's make do with what we have. We don't have to ponder and procrastinate, we can just do and enjoy the moment. I love crafting with them as they force me into action, they make me get on with it. They don't want to wait for the right fabric to arrive next week, they want to just sew that damn thing right now.
Lily will often wander into the studio when I'm sewing and want to sew too. She wants a dress just like the last washi dress I made. I keep putting her off because she wants to use some of my precious Liberty fabrics, I tell her she needs to get her own, as I want those for projects I've planned. Why am I planning them? Why haven't I already made them? she wonders. Anyway last Sunday, she worked her magic and before I knew it we were sewing for her instead of me, which probably expains why those projects are still in the planning stage. We made a pillow case. She chose three different fabrics based simply on the principle of what she likes; she took no notice of colour or pattern matching rules. And she didn't even have to Facebook or Instagram her options to make sure everyone else thought they were ok. She was fearless and confident in her own choices.
Sometimes I see this fearless approach in new crafters. I have many knitter friends whose first project were soakers or longies; garments that involve two advanced techniques, kitchener stitch and short rows. These ladies didn't know these were advanced techniques, so they didn't know that convention suggests we are supposed to be in awe of them. And they weren't, they just had a crack and it didn't matter if they weren't perfect, because they were learning and it was part of the process. I also met a lovely lady at the first Craft Sessions who had made a cowl on circular needles, finished it and realised it had a twist in it. So she CUT it, yep cut it and seamed it up. "OMG!" I said to her, "You steeked! That's fabulous." So many knitters are daunted by steeking, but she wasn't because she didn't know she was supposed to be.
I guess what I'm saying is something along the lines of the old saying, "Knowledge can be a dangerous thing". While it brings us a great command of skill and technique; it can also at the other end of the spectrum limit our potential by stifling our exploration of our craft.
So how do we find the balance?
How do we approach our craft in a fearless manner but yet still be conscious of constraints?
i think we take the opportunity to learn from our kids and their freedom of expression. In the process, the best gift of all we can give them is to not impinge on their creativity. Allow them to be messy. Don't insist on rules for crafting such as colouring in the lines or stitching things in a certain way, in fact, get rid of the colouring book and allow them to create their own image rather than have it instilled on them. Allow them to follow their instincts and ideas even if you know it won't work. Allow them to make mistakes and experience failure, and then allow and help then to learn from it. Allow them to experience boredom rather than always creating an experience or opportunity for them. Bored is not a word my kids use, they know I'll say to them "That's fantastic! Boredom is a great opportunity to sit with it and explore your own creativity." Boredom is really really good for kids to experience.
Giving your kids the gift of creative expression as children, will help to ensure they are more daring and creative adults. It is also the single biggest indicator of success in later life.
After you've allowed them all that, now allow the same for yourself. Watch them and learn from them. Allow yourself to take risks. Allow yourself to try something new and don't be afraid of mistakes. Don't let the rules and conventions of crafts stifle you.
Be brave. Be daring.
And craft like a kid.
Recently a friend dropped over unexpectedly and I was in the middle of writing and grading a new pattern. I was seated at the dining table in front of my laptop, with bits of paper, swatches, yarn and garments strewn all over the table. I was deep in concentration as I was focusing on nailing the numbers for a specific aspect of the garment.
My friend, a knitter, looked at me and said, "So there's a fair bit more to it than just the knitting." Ah, yep.
Anyway this comment did get me thinking about the perception of knitwear designers and what they do with their work day. Knitters probably have a better idea of what knitting design entails than a non-knitter, but even then I do think that there may be a romanticised idea of time never-ending spent knitting.all.day.long. Being a knitwear designer sounds like a great reason to just knit all day, perhaps even sitting on the beach or somewhere else rather lovely and maybe it is for some, but for me that is just not the reality.
Don't get me wrong, I do sit on the beach and knit, but it's more a case of squeezing in some knitting into the everyday routine; taking my knitting along to Surf Groms or Nippers and knitting while my kids are engaged in their after school activities.
This may surprise you, but in my general every day I often don't get to knit until I sit down after putting the kids to bed at night.
Since that comment I've been conscious of trying to work out the time ratio between the time spent knitting the sample garment and the time spent on all the other stuff that goes on behind the scenes to writing a pattern. Unfortunately, because I lack the super committed organisational skills required to work this out, I haven't done it. I'd love to at some stage have a time sheet and actually figure it all out, but I'm realistic enough to know that that's probably not going to happen. I suspect just as much, if not more, time goes into not knitting than the actual knitting for a pattern. Maybe I'm just not as efficient as other designers, particularly those who outsource the grading, but I think for me that's the case.
So what does go into a knitting pattern?
Obviously, there's the knitting of the sample but often it doesn't just begin with mindlessly casting on and something magically appearing on the needles. I say often, because sometimes, just sometimes, an idea does come thick and fast and literally flows from your brain onto the needles, and it does happen just like that, but that is a rarity, unfortunately.
Generally, pre-knitting involves sketching a picture of the design, choosing and swatching the yarn, sketching out the pattern instructions and working out the numbers for the sample size.
Post knitting tasks involve finishing, blocking, tightening the pattern instructions and fleshing them out into a pattern, grading or working out the numbers for all the sizes, garment measurements worked out, schematics made, models sources, photo shoots arranged, photos taken, photos edited, pattern layout, a personal edit and possibly there may be a second sample knit.
From there the pattern goes to third parties; Tech Editors and Test Knitters. Some designers tech edit first and then test, others prefer testing first. This process alone can take anywhere from two weeks up to five to six weeks depending on the garment design and its complexity. This part involves a constant stream of communication; sometimes aspects of the pattern needs to be discussed with Tech Editors and even changed. Often this might even involve rewriting part of the pattern. At this stage, I've even made major changes that meant I needed to knit a new sample. Most of the time taken is simply giving Testers adequate time to knit the pattern. Good Tech Editors and Test knitters are worth their weight in gold!
Once the Tech Editor is happy with the pattern, final edits are made and the pattern is ready for release. Upon releasing a pattern, photos and pattern information needs to be loaded onto Ravelry and any other sites/platforms the pattern sells from. Coinciding with that, the pattern needs to be marketed, be it via Facebook, Ravelry forums, Twitter, Instagram, blog and other social platforms.
My working day doesn't begin until 11 or 12, which sounds ideal really, starting work at that time of the day. Before that time though, I'm getting my children ready for school, riding to school with them, riding a bit extra for my morning exercise, doing all my essential housework (because stupidly I don't have a cleaner). During the day while the kids are at school, I try and squeeze in the work jobs that require concentration and that I can't get done when the kids are in the house, all that maths stuff really and even answering emails, but come three o'clock I'm back on my bike riding back to school to met the kiddies and ride home again. Sometimes if I'm lucky I might squeeze in a bit of work before I have to make dinner or even after dinner, but our eldest Lily has a full-on after school schedule of water sports so that's becoming a rarity. Luckily, my DK is very supportive. I try not to work on weekends, and I have a policy of not checking or answering emails then. That's my time off, my time for my family. I do still knit then though.
It's hard enough to explain it to knitters but when the inevitably question arises in a conversation with a non-knitter as to what I do, I have to admit that I'm not always comfortable with my answer. To a non-knitter, it's a bit of an odd concept to explain that I write knitting patterns and sell them on the internet for around $6 a pop. Even saying it, it sounds a bit flakey and not something that really is going to bring in an income of any sort. And sometimes, yes, I do get those looks.
So what sort of answer do I give?
It varies between the broad covering, "I'm a designer" which can sometimes be enough to not evoke any further questioning, to the more specific "I'm a knitwear designer". With their lack of knowledge about Ravelry and the online knitting community, non-knitters really just don't get it though. They don't get that this is a career and not just something I'm phaffing around with while I'm avoiding real work.
I guess part of the issue there is the undervaluing in our society of craftwork as a career.
I think that's slowly changing, I hope that's changing.
Is that what you thought would be involved?
Or did you have a more romanticised vision? I wish it was more romantic!
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Textile artist, knitwear designer and teacher.
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