Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Free or not to Free, that is the question

I read a thought-provoking blog post by Robin Hunter today, titled The Economics of of Knitting - Free Patterns. In fact, when I tried to write a succinct comment on her blog, I realized I had more thoughts on the matter than would fit in a short comment.

A friend of mine once described me as "Switzerland - always neutral" because I tend to see all sides of an issue. Oh, I have opinions on things that matter to me. But I was blessed (cursed?) with an education that taught me to always look at something from many different angles.

As a knitter, I'm tickled pink when I find out that something I want to knit has a free pattern. I also believe that often you get what you paid for. I've seen some terrific free patterns and I've seen some really terrible ones, ones which I, as an experienced knitter, had difficulties deciphering.

But as a designer, I have to look at the effort I put into creating a pattern. What is that time worth to me and what value am I delivering? Robin made an interesting observation in her blog post, that often designers price based on what they think the market will bear rather than what will cover their costs. That is certainly one of the considerations I make when I prepare a pattern for publication.

When I design a pattern, I have some basic criteria:
  • I want something I think will look attractive. I want it to be classic, clean and elegant. (Although I do have a few 'novelty' ideas bouncing around in my head.)
  • I want it to hold my interest through the 25-30 hours required to knit a pair of socks. 
  • I want it to challenge me without being too difficult or fiddly.
  • I want it to be simple enough to be fun without being boring.
When I go to publish the pattern, I also have criteria for deciding how to price it:
  • If it's a simple pattern that just happened to catch my fancy and didn't require much effort to convert into a sock, then it's a candidate for a free pattern. 
  • Conversely, some patterns require more effort to turn into a sock. 
    • The stitch patterns need to be re-written for in the round. 
    • Calculations need to be done to fit the stitch pattern into sock sizes.
    • Adjustments need to be done to center the motifs and make the leg flow nicely over the heel and into the foot.
  • Number of sizes available. Am I offering 1 size or multiple sizes? Each one needs it's own calculations, testing and pattern modifications
  • Hours spent having the pattern test knitted, photographed and doing pattern revisions.
  • Finally, what are similar patterns selling for? Too much and no one will buy it, too little and I'm undervaluing my efforts.
I once calculated the average amount of hours I spend on creating, knitting and writing a pattern for release. Then I calculated how many copies of each sock pattern I'd have to sell to make even minimum wage ($10/hr) for that work. With pattern prices of between $1.99 and $2.99, I'd have to sell 450-500 copies of each pattern to earn that minimum wage for the hours spent creating that pattern. And that doesn't include the ongoing marketing time and pattern support or Knit-a-long efforts. I can't even begin to imagine the time and effort it takes designers to produce sweaters or cardigans, with multiple sizes. 

Clearly right now this is a labor of love. And I do love it. Every minute of it, otherwise I wouldn't do it.

I'm sure I had a point somewhere in all this. I can understand that people would rather have a free pattern than pay for one. Especially with the economic troubles that have plagued everyone the past several years. Many don't have the luxury of choosing to pay for a pattern. I totally understand.

But on the flip-side, if you want a quality pattern that has many hours of a person's time poured into perfecting it. A pattern that gives you hours of knitting enjoyment and results in a beautiful finished object. Then I think that pattern is well worth a few dollars given back to the designer. A designer who more often than not is carving time out their days spent with family or working a 'regular' job, to follow their passion and creativity.

Then there's the "but I can figure that out on my own" argument. As crafters we've all done that. We see something for sale in a store, or see it online and think "Oh, I can make that." And the more experience one has, the easier it would be to figure out how to replicate a design. Personally, I'm happy (and fortunately, able) to pay $5 to a designer for a pattern that's exactly what I want. That saves me the time spent doing gauge swatches and all sorts of math to figure out increases, decreases, necklines, and all that.

Simply put, everyone has their own reasons and criteria for deciding whether or not to pay for a pattern or look for a free version. There's no clear cut, one-size-fits-all answer. Which leaves me sitting here in "Switzerland" looking for the next project to cast on and wondering where my Swiss chocolate is.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Styles Court socks

I just have to say this: I love, love, love my new sock pattern Styles Court. These are a wonderful example of finding just the right pattern to show off the yarn and vice versa.

The pattern is quite simple, which is why I've posted it as a free download. It's a 4 row repeat, with the front and the back of the socks repeating themselves. So easy to memorize! Which makes it perfect for tucking into your purse while traveling or waiting for appointments.

The yarn is the delightful Sheepy Time Knits Sheepy Feet, in Midnight Blue - a yarn club colorway which won't be available for public release until November 2013. You can bet when it becomes generally available I'll be stocking up again! The subtle tones of the yarn bring the herringbone pattern to life, adding some visual depth to an already elegant pattern.

This is one pattern you absolutely want to knit in a solid or semi-solid color. The subtle texture would just get lost in the rapid color changes of a variegated yarn.

The pattern is suited to an advanced beginner. You should know about basic sock construction and be comfortable knitting in the round. Check out my blog post on Sock Basics for a refresher if you need to. I keep the instructions in my patterns "needle neutral", meaning that I don't write specifically for DPNs, magic loop or 2 circular needles. I prefer reference the front & back, heel, top, instep and sole of the sock. You can use whichever method you prefer and adjust how your stitches are distributed on your needles based on that method.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Palette Cleanser

On the weekend I spent a few pleasant hours at the annual alpaca shearing at the 1 Stop Alpaca Farm. My daughter and her friend spent hours exploring the farm, playing with the border collies (who loved playing fetch, but also loved to drop the ball into the pond), and springing around the bouncy castle. I spent the time knitting and chatting with some acquaintances from our Monday night spinning group.

While at the  event, I started a sock with some Lang Jawoll Aktion sock yarn that I'd purchased on sale at Mary's Yarns in Unionville. The lovely blues of this self-striping yarn kept catching my eye every time I passed by my yarn shelf. So I cast on and decided to knit a simple 2x2 ribbed sock, something I could knit from memory.

The sock quickly became addictive, as I kept wanting to finish a color and see the next one begin. It was a delightful change from my usual semi-solid sock yarns and more complex patterns. And I continued knitting while watching Zero Dark Thirty with my husband.

By mid-Sunday afternoon I had 1 sock done! What a fast knit. Of course, with the equivalent of a serving of sorbet between the salad and the main entree, I'm now well primed to finish up my second Herringbone Rib sock, a new (and free!) pattern that I'll be releasing soon.

Sock details:
Lang Jawoll Aktion sock yarn. 75% wool, 25% nylon
2.75mm needles for the cuff
2.5 mm needles for the sock
2x2 ribbing for 16 grams
ribbed heel flap for 2.5 inches
continued 2x2 ribbing on top of foot.
plain toe until 14 sts remained top & bottom.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Tips and Techniques: Magic Join

Just a short post as this video really explains it all. I found this while browsing Ravelry the other day.

I have one of those mitred square blankets I'm knitting with various colorways of Noro Silk; the blanket has been languishing in the time out corner for ages because of all the ends to weave in. It sounds like this might be the perfect technique to eliminate weaving in all those ends!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Handmade in the UK - Another amazing Tin Can Knits book!

All images coutesy of Emily Wessel
@ Tin Can Knits
Have you found “the one”? You know, the minute you see them you love everything they do? I have, and their name is Tin Can Knits. (I’m talking knitting designers here, not love! Focus, people, focus!)

Some people might find it odd that as a designer I’m pointing you to someone else. But Emily Wessel and Alexa Ludeman of Tin Can Knits are just that special. I knew, last year when I first saw their designs, that this dynamic duo has “It” - star potential. (See my previous posts about them: interview, Pacific Knits, and Low Tide cardigan.)

I instantly fall in love with each of their designs. They have 4 books out, each filled with amazing sweaters, shawls, hats, mitts, socks… Everything!

And these designers do it right. Each of their garments is available in the widest range of sizes: the patterns are sized from baby to grandma, feature sensible seamless construction, and are written in their clear and concise style.

Emily Wessel, a Canadian now living in Scotland has released her Handmade in the UK book. This new book is filled with travel sketches, lace knits, and exquisite locally-produced yarns - it is an aesthetic response to the beauty and pleasure she has experienced in her home in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Get what you want - buy your favourite design individually, get a great deal on the ebook, or you can pre-order a special signed print copy (limited quantity), and they will email you your complimentary ebook so you can get started knitting right away!

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored “commercial”. I started test knitting for TCK last year and fell in love with them. I really believe these ladies deserve to have all the success in the world. And I’m thrilled that they’re Canadian. If I ever recommend a product or design, it’s because I personally enjoy it. My opinions aren’t for sale.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.




Monday, May 20, 2013

Mirkwood Shawl - released to the wild


As I sit here trying to think what to say about my first shawl pattern being released, the word "Wow" is the first thing that comes to mind. Not very eloquent, but it's the first thing my overwhelmed brain comes up with.

This adventure started on April 6th, just six weeks ago. When I suggested a custom Mirkwood themed shawl to go along with the Mirkwood colorway that Mandie from Sheepy Time Knits was planning, I had no idea what was ahead of me.

I'll admit it: I had never designed a shawl before. I've knitted lots of them, including some crazy epic lace shawls. But I've never sat down and done the math and charting to create one from scratch.Thus began the crash course on charting lace shawls. I went through the half dozen books I have with lace shawl patterns. I searched the Web. I tried to convert the stitch patterns I'd selected to work knitted top down.

I banged my head against many metaphorical walls. I came to realize that not all stitch patterns can be easily converted to work "upside down". I began knitting. And I inevitably ripped out many stitches.

When Mandie told me she expected to have her Middle Earth themed colorways stocked in her shop in early May, I trembled. Logically I knew two diametrically opposed truths:

  1. From a business perspective, it was best to get the pattern out as close to the yarn launch as possible. No sense in collaborating if the yarn and pattern launches happened too far apart. And part of the collaboration was that Mirkwood yarn purchasers receive a coupon code for a discount off the pattern. So really - there should be a pattern for them. 
  2. It wouldn't be the end of the world if the pattern wasn't done for the yarn launch. Stock prices wouldn't fall. Shareholders wouldn't get angry. (Mostly because there are no shareholders or stocks.) The important thing was delivering a quality pattern which had been properly tested and presented.
But I had given myself a challenge. And I don't back down from a challenge.

The testing phase was a whirlwind of activity. As always, I received plenty of excellent feedback and differing points of view which all got incorporated into the working pattern to make it better.

Several weeks ago I picked May 20th as the release date for 2 reasons. Firstly, it was the earliest reasonable date that allowed for testers to complete the shawl.

The second reason is much more personal. May 20th would have been my Dad's 76th birthday had he not passed away last September. So for me the releasing the pattern on May 20th is part talisman and part tribute. He would have been so proud of everything I've accomplished. And anything that happens on his special day has to turn out well. Love you, Dad.

Friday, May 17, 2013

A Study in Socks - Yarn Choice

There are so many ways to approach this topic. Do you choose the yarn first or the pattern? Does it make a difference? Does fiber content matter? Why does it matter? Colors: solid, variegated, tonal, self-striping, self-patterning?

I'll do a blog post on each of these questions, but I'll try to boil it down to some essentials here with regard to fiber characteristics. Just enough to get you thinking about your choices.

Which came first, the yarn or the pattern?
It depends. Have you found a sock yarn that you absolutely love and now you just need to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up? Or did you see a pattern on Ravelry (or elsewhere) and now you just have to knit it, but don't know what yarn to choose.

The only certain thing is that you should consider the characteristics of one when choosing the other. Not all sock yarn is created equal and not all patterns knit up the same.

What do I mean by this? Let's take a look at this sample of sock yarns that I chose from skeins I have at home and talk about two main characteristics: loft and twist.

There are a few characteristics I'd like to point out here. The first is fiber content. As you can see, I prefer my sock yarns to have a bit of nylon in them for durability. But just because they all have merino and nylon in them doesn't mean they will knit up the same.

Sample 1
Let's look at the odd kid out (get it: kid - mohair...from a goat...lousy pun). Fiber #1 has mohair in it as well as merino and nylon. This makes it fuzzier than other yarns without mohair. This is called the halo. Alpaca and mohair are fuzzier fibers, giving yarn a halo. As a result, items knit with these fibers will have less stitch definition; patterns will be 'softened' and won't appear as crisp as with other yarns. I don't recommend knitting an intricate design with a yarn that has lots of halo. Your hard work won't show up as nicely.

Sample 2
#2 is a nice plump yarn with more loft than the other yarns. Loft refers to the amount of air between the fibers. The yarn is bouncy and has a nice twist which you can easily see in the photo. Because of the loft and thickness, this yarn is not the best suited to lacy patterns unless you use very large needles. Yarn overs and other lace stitches would get lost in the plumpness of the yarn if you were knitting socks.

Sample 3
#3 has a nice tight twist as compared to the other yarns. In addition, it is a bit thinner too. This yarn shows great stitch definition and is well suited to cables, twisted stitches and more detailed patterns. If knitting socks, it will make a nice firm fabric. It would also show lace off nicely due to the tight twist. The yarn might feel a bit harder on your hands while knitting with it, but it softens upon washing.
I used this yarn to knit my Intertwined socks, which show off the cables nicely and have a firm fabric between the cabling.

Sample 4
This yarn has a nice even twist, with a touch more loft than Sample 3 beside it, but not as much as #2. I used this yarn in my Leafy Lace socks and I think it shows off the lace stitches nicely. And with the nice twist, that isn't as tight as #3 it will provide great stitch definition too. It is also a tad softer to the hand than #3, despite having the same fiber content. This is because it has more loft than #3.

Sample 5
This one falls between #4 and #2 on the loft and twist spectrum. As you can see, there's a bit of fuzz to it and the twist isn't as easy to see. It should still provide nice stitch definition though. A good, middle-of-the-road yarn.

Sample 6
A bit more loft than #5, with a nice twist. The fuzz on this yarn isn't necessarily due to fiber content like #1 with its mohair. Some yarns are just more prone to fuzzing with handling as you can see if you compare this yarn with numbers 3 and 4.

There are also sock yarns with a bit of silk or cashmere in them, making them nice and soft. The silk would add some sheen to the color as well. Silk is often called "Nature's nylon" and can add strength to a sock yarn. And I haven't talked about different wool blends: Blueface Leicester (BFL), generic wool, and so on. Different wools have different levels of softness to them. There really are so many factors that can influence how a yarn will behave when knit up; I won't try to cover them all in one post.

So what does this mean to your sock knitting? Try to think about what kind of yarn would be suited to your pattern to give you the results you want and vice versa. For lacy patterns, avoid yarns with a lot of halo (fuzziness) and consider how the loft (amount of air in between fibers) will fill in the holes when using smaller needles for socks.

If you have a pattern that is very detailed, pick a yarn with a tighter twist to show off the stitch definition to its best advantage.

So how to decide? That's where Ravelry comes in handy. Ravelry is great for seeing what others have knit, either with the yarn you have or the pattern you have picked out. Take a look at the projects completed with the yarn you have (or want to buy) and see how they turned out. Does the pattern look good? Is it visible and clear? Or, if you have a pattern you really want to make, then take a look at what yarns people have used? Which yarns do you think look the best?  Look past color at this point and just think about how well the pattern/stitches turned out.

Of course, the proof is in the pudding, as they say. When it doubt, swatch it and see if you like how it looks.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Upcoming pattern release and sale

I have several exciting things in the works right now. One of them is the release of my first ever shawl design, the Mirkwood Shawl.

This shawl came into being as the result of a casual email conversation with the owner of Sheepy Time Knits, an independent yarn dyer. I'd subscribed to one of her yarn clubs and was thoroughly won over by her yarns and colors. In fact, I'm working on a sock design with some of her Sheepy Feet yarn right now.

During our conversation, Mandie mentioned her upcoming Middle Earth inspired colorways. I asked if she'd be interested in a custom-designed pattern to go along with one of the colorways, and voila - a plan was hatched!

I'd originally planned to design a sock pattern. But as things fell out, I felt that the All Your Base yarn lent itself better to a shawl. I didn't let a small matter of never having designed a shawl before get in the way. I researched "Mirkwood Forest" (which for the first few days I kept calling Milkwood) for inspiration and browsed through hundreds of stitch patterns looking for ones that complemented the theme.

I spent dozens, upon dozens of hours figuring out how to turn stitch patterns into a triangular shawl. I charted. I sketched. I cast on. I tinked. I revised my plans. And I pounded my head against the nearest wall. And eventually it all fell together...

While I was waiting for my Mirkwood yarn to arrive, I began knitting one of the samples in some All Your Base, South Pacific that I'd previously ordered from Sheepy Time Knits.

Now, here we are,  4.5 weeks after the idea was born. A week before the pattern is finally published. The final test knitting is being completed. A few last tweaks remain to be made to the pattern. And the pattern page is up on Ravelry. I have a better appreciation for all the hard work designers put into a shawl design, and I've learned so much in the past month.

To celebrate the pattern launch, I'm going to be having a surprise sale on Monday, May 20th, starting at 11am EST (to give a fairer chance to multiple time zones).

Beginning 11am EST on the 20th, enter the code Mirkwood and receive a discount of 40%, 30% or 25% off! There are limited quantities of each discount available - the earlier you purchase, the higher your discount.

Separately, between May 20-27th, 2013, anyone who has purchased one of my other patterns will receive $1.50 off the Mirkwood Shawl. No code necessary!

Friday, May 10, 2013

A little bit of everything

I've been AWOL from my blog for a while, for which I apologize. But I have good reasons, I promise!

I've been overwhelmed with inspiration for designs since January and I've been scrambling as fast as I can to get all my ideas down on paper, tested and released into the wild. It's been an exciting ride seeing these ideas come to fruition. And even more thrilling to see the enthusiastic response my designs have received on Ravelry. Check out the new additions here (Ravelry link).

Swirl socks
There's a knit-a-long (KAL) for my Swirl socks going on right now in the Sock It To Me 2013 group on Ravelry. SITM 2013 is a group for knitters who are new to socks or just want to stretch their sock knitting skills in a supportive environment. The mods choose a new (and free!) official sock pattern each month. After one member had recommended some of my designs, I decided to offer the group one of my patterns for free for a KAL. They chose Swirl, which for many is their first attempt at knitting a toe up sock. I have to say, I'm impressed with everyone's progress so far! And the members are so supportive of each other, answering questions and finding videos online to demonstrate techniques.

I've also been collaborating with the owner of Sheepy Time Knits, an independent dyer, on a design to complement her new line of yarn/fibres in colors inspired by Middle Earth. (I confess...I still need to watch the Hobbit.) You should go check out the colors she's come up with. They're gorgeous. I'm eyeing up some of the Mithril in Silky Lace.

Mirkwood Shawl, shown in Mirkwood, All Your Base yarn,
from Sheepy Time Knits
The shawl I've designed for her Mirkwood colorway is a fingering weight shawl that incorporates motifs brought to mind by Mirthwood Forest in Tolkien's Middle Earth. But I've also knit up a version in her South Pacific colorway that is stunning. You don't need to be a Tolkien fan to knit this shawl.


Mirkwood Shawl, shown in South Pacific, All Your Base yarn,
from Sheepy Time Knits
The Mirkwood shawl is being test knit now and the pattern is due to be published on May 20th. Keep an eye out here and on Ravelry for release day specials!

Speaking of Ravelry, I've created a Maureen Foulds Designs group on Ravelry for fans of my designs. Come join us! We'll have KALs, show off our WIPs and FOs, answer questions, preview patterns and announce specials and sales.