Sunday, January 19, 2003

Swimming in an Ocean of Fiber

My life is full of coincidences - good and bad (mostly good) - and this week has been another example of wacky similarities. Several friends wrote to me on the same day asking "How did you become a knit designer?" Here's a brief history of my life in fiber;

When I learned to knit I was older. A friend's roommate showed me the knit stitch - I went home and immediately forgot what she showed me, but sort of 'made up' my own method and never looked back. As soon as I'd finished my first row I knew that my future would be inextricably tied up in yarn and needles. I never dreamed that I'd have a future in the knitting world (that sounds odd to me - I prefer to think of knitting as a collection of bays, eddys and currents in an ocean of fiber.)

I saw a sign at a yarn store from a designer asking for knitters to work up samples - I began knitting for her, and asked myself, "Why on earth aren't I designing this stuff?"

In my typical Virgo way I put together a few design "packets" I was working blind, I had no idea what was required by copying the instruction style - complete with schematics and charts - from a copy of Vogue Knitting. Then I sent my designs to Vogue Knitting. And - surprise! - VK hired me - not as a designer, but as a technical writer!

It became clear very soon, though, that my very unorthodox method of knitting - while fine for me, personally - was a barrier to my ability to write a good pattern in the traditional Western style of knitting. I left (was asked to leave, actually) Vogue Knitting but continued to design for them as well as other knitting magazines throughout the mid 1980's.

At the same time I began knitting for 5th Avenue designers, working up samples for them to send to China to be copied, and found more satisfaction through that because I didn't have to pretend I didn't knit the way I did - Combination Style - which was viewed as WRONG by just about everyone in the hand knit publishing world at that time.

After a few bad experiences with other knitters really coming down hard on me in public about my knitting (one unforgettable experience was the woman on a train in Cologne who took my knitting out of my hands to show me the correct way to knit) I just packed it in. I went to grad school for Costume & Set design and severed my ties to the world of hand knit publishing. I knew I was a good knitter, but I felt like an idiot.

Not much knitting in the 90's - I did various jobs, none of which I will go into here, but most of them in the Theater/Television realm. With my pregnancies I suffered carpal tunnel, so even when I wanted to return to knitting to work up a few baby things I couldn't. It made me sad.

In Fall 2000 I read Priscilla Gibson Roberts article in Interweave Knits on different styles of knitting and - lo and behold - there was a detailed explaination of the Combination Method (finally - my weird way of knitting had a name!) I felt legitimized. Lovely.

I submitted a bunch of sketches to IK and they took one - then another - then I submitted to other mags, and they took one, then another. I still haven't had anything in VK since my return to the hand knit world, but - having seen what the editorial process is like from the inside - I know that has less to do with the beauty of a design and MUCH to do with how a specific design fits into an editorial vision for a specific issue! A really terrific sweater may not be useful in a certain issue - but perhaps in a few months it will be just the right thing! I feel much less fragile now than I did 15 years ago, rejection is easier to take, and that makes success easier to achieve. There's irony for you!

My dream is to write a book - I have several ideas for some good ones - but the knitting book market is so saturated right now and, sadly, so many publishers are really eager to publish a book on SIMPLE AND OUTRAGEOUS KNITS! but not so much on specific techniques that teach a knitter to understand and inhabit their craft. Too bad. Maybe my ideas will be perfect in a few more months (years?) Heaven knows I certainly have odd ideas.
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