Sunday, August 09, 2009

Time Well Spent

I've been blogging less and less - I think it's a combination of 3 things:
1. Summer. I'm enjoying it altogether too much!
2. Twitter. I'm tweeting and that can take the edge of my blogging hunger.
3. Uncertainty. I'm struggling with the loving what I do / am I earning enough dilemma.
This has been a good one - and it's not over! We've not done anything terribly special, just local stuff, but we've enjoyed every minute of it!

I've been working outdoors a lot, but taking time to do stuff with Gerry and the kids - mostly biking and gardening, mostly with Max

(Here's Max and his friend Charlie. Or, as I like to think of them, Huck & Finn. This was after we biked to the Mississippi, before they discovered the "Hidden Falls")

I think that although Gerry's doing amazingly well, we will never escape our newfound realization that life is SO very finite - more finite for some - and we need to enjoy as much of it as we can while we're able!

This week I plan to take Hannah and a friend to the Science Museum to FINALLY see the Titanic Exhibit. We'll go again with Max, but it's important that while he's visiting friends in NJ this week, I do something special with Hannah - just for her!

This past week Hannah and a friend took some classes at The Textile Center and LOVED them!

I think her friend may actually be moving toward a fashion career - or at least moving toward a lifelong appreciation of good clothing, fiber and color. Yay!

And we've been taking advantage of our garden bounty - which is actually pretty scarce, but we're proud of it...

Some beans, some peas, and a couple of tomatoes are growing. The crab apples are actually redening, so I will be making jelly this year.

If you're not tweeting, if you're part of the "What the heck good is THAT?" crowd, let me tell you that I was once in your ranks!

I used to think, "What a ridiculous thing to do - why would anyone want to know what I had for breakfast?" But it's much more than that.

Now I tweet. You can follow me at

I'm unique - I work alone in my home, so I don't see anyone but my family for days at a time. Twitter allows me to connect with other designers and writers who are friends (and who have become friends through Twitter & Facebook) so Twitter is the cyber water cooler where I can share jokes or a current problem with "co-workers" and get some immediate support or a reality check.

Because my twitter is linked to my facebook (who knew I'd have one of those... I'm also Modeknit at Facebook) all of my tweets show up immediately, and THAT'S allowed me to link up with a whole NEW variety of friends and fans who I hadn't realized were out there. It's been great as far as renewing old college and grad school friendships - very cool!

Perhaps it's that lull period when the work on a book seems absolutely overwhelming, perhaps it's tiredness, perhaps it's that 99% of MY professional world is at Sock Summit right now and I'm not, but once again I struggle with the big question.

Should I be doing this? Or, more specifically, is there a better paying job I should be doing that would satisfy me and help make my family more secure. Would trading some peace and happiness for some bucks make sense - and is it even possible?

It's something I struggle with constantly. The pay scale for freelance designers has to be among the lowest (right down there with actors & artists) and the amount of work is absolutely daunting. And once the work is done, it's never done.

Mistakes are discovered in patterns (sometimes my fault, sometimes part of the editing process) and even with no mistakes, a good deal of time goes into answering emails from folks who need a point clarified, or want to know of a good substitution yarn (seriously folks, when you write to me for a good yarn substitute I just google it like you would...)

And yet I LOVE what I do. I love the designing, love the writing, love the teaching, love the interaction with the knitters.

However, I don't love the fact that on average I spend about 70 hours a week on my designing, knitting and math. I can't really afford to have anyone else knit up my samples, not right now...

The rewards are great, but there's so much effort for a very tenuous return.

Turning things inside out five ways from Sunday, it's hard to see how - as long as the industry pays such low amounts for designs and teacher travel & accommodation rates are so low - anyone can do this professionally and also support a family.

This is why I diversify - teach AND design AND write - and why I self publish many of my books and patterns. But without industry backing in terms of financial support, it's a very hard and lonely road.

I know some folks who read this may be thinking, "Well, who in the world do you think you are, doing something you love and then complaining it doesn't pay well enough..." That's a voice in my head I hear constantly.

Who in the world DO I think I am?

I'm taking a risk by not pursuing designing gigs and teaching engagements which I feel offer unfair compensation, and the groundswell of knitters, crocheters and other teachers who are beginning to follow my lead is gratifying. But will it be enough - will it be SOON enough? Can I hold out long enough, or do I cave and crawl back to the larger entities that balance their budgets by unfairly compensating their contributors.

I've said it before, it's an odd world where the designer of a sweater - 3 weeks of work in knitting and pattern writing - gets paid a third of what the photographer earns for the 3 hours of shooting. (Not to mention the stylists and models)

I'm obviously thinking hard about this. Your input is welcome.
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posted by Annie at


Blogger KnittyLynn said...

If it were me, I would stop asking what do I want but what is good for my family right now.

I feel that you have set yourself up for the battle about income provided to designers (which I understand and agree with) but is it right to become almost a martyr with a large part of the price being paid by your family?

With Gerry's situation is it better to have the steady income a job outside the home could provide (work for the man) or the flexibility to help whenever wherever when it comes to his treatment? Starting a new job would provide it's own problems with that..time off etc.

Those are the things I'd be thinking about.

Whatever you decide, good luck!

August 09, 2009 11:52 AM  
Blogger Anni said...

I totally agree with you. I'm at the beginning of my design career but the low pay is already annoying me espcially when editors who should know how we feel try to pressurise you into accepting less money. I'm lucky in that I've been a stay at home Mum so money is not that important but it does make me thinkg about whether I can do this longterm.

Teaching rates are a lot higher in teh US than here in the UK I think, but then you may need to travel longer distances than we do. I only teach at a local store now but was turned down for teaching at a larger store further away because I asked too much. But I had to cover petrol and hotel stay on top of all the usual stuff. It's not easy.

August 09, 2009 2:45 PM  
Blogger Joanne said...

You're not alone in struggling when it comes to the "should I be doing this designing thing?" question. My work equations are a bit different from yours, but I am also questioning it. I think a lot about being paid fairly for my work and find the current situation very frustrating. I don't know what will be the right choice for me--still thinking on it--but I'm a) not at sock summit and b) thinking along the same lines... good luck with your journey!

August 09, 2009 3:08 PM  
Anonymous Dani said...

I'm a total lurker, but I'd like to add a commment. If you go off and do something that doesn't make you happy just for the money..... that decision will impact your whole family and maybe not in the way you want. Yes it can be tough when you're the sole bread winner (I am), but too many times my fammily has suffered from my attitude because I hated my job. One of the few things I truly regret is making that decision to chase the almighty dollar.

I would suggest looking for ways to leverage your time better. Are there friends/fans who would be willing to knit up your samples for free? (for ex, I'm an early reader for a writer friend and we both benefit from the deal -- I get an early look at her next novel and she gets feedback.)

Best of luck with the decision. It's not an easy one.

August 09, 2009 11:40 PM  
Blogger Vermont Designs said...

Anni, your blog is a must-read for me, I hope you never feel you must give it up (or designing). I have succumbed to Facebook and enjoy it, but Twitter is not for me, I love to read a well-constructed sentence. Internet, Blogs & FB have replaced the daily newspaper in such a short period of time! Cheers, Shelagh.

August 10, 2009 4:25 AM  
Blogger Jean Ashley said...

I'm a lurker too, but I have to comment on this post.

I have always wanted to believe the adage "do what you love, the money will follow", but I can't bring myself to do it. The main reason is that I feel that (for me) turning what I love to do into work commoditizes (real word?=) it. When something is a commodity, its value is determined ultimately by whoever wants to pay for it. What I think it's worth is of little consequence to the purchasers of it, regardless of it's artistic quality.

Throughout history, it seems as though most successful artists (who were successful during their lifetimes) have tended to have one or more patrons who were willing to support them. Many artists of the Renaissance painted patrons or their families into paintings at their request, for money. I would seriously doubt that these artists' idea of "art" would include that sort of thing, but as a practical matter, it happened. If making money as an artist was important to them, they did what they were asked to do, and probably did what they wanted to do on the side.

I consider myself a creative person, with lots of abilities. I have taken my writing/editing ability and turned it into a job. It pays the bills, and allows me to pursue what I really love on my off hours. It's not ideal, because I like to believe that I should spend my day doing what I think about all day long, but I'd rather make money with a talent I like less (if that makes sense) than risk losing my love of crafting by worrying about the almighty dollar.

I greatly admire anyone who can make a living doing what they love while still loving what they do--KUDOS to you and everyone else who does! If artistic pursuits of all kinds were more celebrated and deemed more important than they are now, perhaps I'd change my mind. But for me, right now, I just don't think I could do it.

August 10, 2009 1:06 PM  
Anonymous Roz said...

Tough tough tough. There has to be a way to do what you love and keep your family housed, fed and sustained. Love alone doesn't put food on the table. :-(

On the other hand, doing soul-numbing work would kill your spirit for sure.

Tough tough tough. We'll keep thinking with you.

August 10, 2009 8:15 PM  
Blogger Deborah said...

I hope you find your answer and like most questions, I am sure you will find it inward. It is what YOU have to live with, not us and what YOUR family has to live with. I am a lurker and came out to ask you what I can do to help...I subscribe to Vogue, do I renew or not. Let them know I'm not renewing in support of the designers who are under-paid? Do I continue to subscribe and complain to Vogue, when your group gets bigger, how they don't seem to have any good designs and why not. Been thinking about that and wanted to ask for your input.
P.S. I hope you feel better soon!

August 11, 2009 8:28 AM  
OpenID suzynjackson said...

Dear Annie,

I read this post yesterday, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. I have a bunch of ideas – I hope that some of them are helpful.

First of all, there’s no doubt that what you do is art, and there’s a long history of artists having “sponsors” (

However, you’re also a small business owner, and it seems that you’ve hit a classic small business plateau, where you can’t physically work any more hours, but there’s just so much more to do. It seems to me this is a great time to look at your business and see where you could streamline and grow.

(My comment is too long - posting in pieces)

August 11, 2009 9:48 AM  
OpenID suzynjackson said...

* Take a look at things you’re doing that are not bringing in money, and see if you could eliminate them. Case in point: looking up yarn substitutions. You wrote the pattern, you recommended a yarn – I reckon your job is done. If you want to be nice, you could spend a half an hour writing up instructions for how to Google for yarn substitutions. Create a form email that you can copy/paste any time someone asks: “Thank you for your interest… I can’t recommend specific yarns, but here’s how to look up possibilities… All the best…” Put the instructions on your website, too. Then cross that off your list.
* Now look at all the tasks you do that don’t depend on your innate design genius. Could you hire a virtual assistant to help you with booking classes, travel arrangements, replying to people who ask for yarn substitutions? advertises on Ravelry as “the needlearts industry's virtual assistant” Or google "Virtual Assistant" for more options that you can shake a stick at.
* Could you hire an intern? Have him/her go through your Sent folder and compile all the yarn substitutions you’ve looked up so far ;) Seriously, I’m sure there’s a ton of grunt work associated with self publishing – dealing with printers, warehouses, shipping, ordering… That’s invaluable experience for a high school or college student with an interest in design and/or publishing.
* Maybe you could afford to have someone knit up samples if that person lived in an area of the world where living expenses are drastically lower than MN? There are wonderful fair trade/microfinance organizations working with crafters in places like Equador, Peru, and South Africa – have you investigated working with them?,,
* Have you considered hiring an agent or publicity rep? Yes, they take a cut, but theoretically, they’re supposed to bring in more money than they charge. Again, it’s a matter of where you want to spend your time and energy – negotiating business deals, or designing?
* Are there ways you could expand your business to make more money doing what you already do? Could you offer online classes to a global audience? Offer your books as digital downloads? Break up your books (if you’re willing) into a library of individually downloadable patterns (for a premium price, of course), available on your site and ravelry? Could you teach design at a college or university (History on Two Needles reminds me so much of everything my costume design prof, Suzanne Dougan, taught me)? Could you create unique one-of-a-kind knits for a couture clientele?
* There’s always the option of taking a side job. I have brought in $50/hr and more freelancing as a business editor (if you can write and edit a book, you can probably keep the grammar straight on a business proposal.) 10 hrs a week = $2000 gross/mo to float your family.

August 11, 2009 9:48 AM  
OpenID suzynjackson said...

Finally, there’s a plethora of resources for small businesses online. Some of my favorites include:
* Danielle does “firestarter sessions” for entrepreneurs.
* is always an inspiration.
* and both focus on small businesses (with very different approaches).
* The Four-Hour Workweek ( is full of ideas on how to streamline your business to give you more time to knit/design/live.

Take these ideas or leave them. I just wanted to make the point that there are a lot of options for you to consider before you discount your creative work. (In fact, Seth Godin has written about the slippery slope of just trying to be cheaper than your competition.)

You’re a hero to everyone who wants to be taken (and paid) seriously as a creative professional.

All my best to you,


August 11, 2009 9:49 AM  
Anonymous CP said...

Hmm... tough questions.

I know what you mean, though.

It is always an issue. Seems like most people cannot do what they love and still make money at it.

I have found a great solution is to tweak what you love and do that.

Meaning, you might love the creativity of knitting, but maybe there is another occupation out there that allows you to create, while earning incredible money, working far fewer hours and designing knitwear in your spare time.


Hard call, really.

August 11, 2009 11:24 AM  
Anonymous Annika said...

Is there a reason that you have not explored the possibility of getting a test knitter for free? Most smaller designers just offer the chance to knit a pattern early plus a copy of the final pattern, and people line up around the block (so to speak) for the chance. If that does not work for you, could you possibly do some sort of work trade? I don't have a specific idea in mind, but I am beyond confident that you have something to offer that would appeal to a knitter. The trouble there is walking the line of not committing too much of your time (the very thing you're trying to avoid).

August 12, 2009 1:36 PM  
Blogger Annie said...

Hi Annika,

It's not that I haven't explored the possibility of using a test knitter for free - I often draft knitters to "beta test" a design in exchange for a free pattern.

But the actual knitting of the first (and sometimes 2nd and 3rd samples) while I'm working through a design are something that I need to do, or is enough work that I need to pay someone to do it.

Aside from the moral issue (asking someone to take on such a huge task - I require lots of careful notes - for free) I feel that you truly do get what you pay for.

When I want feedback on how easy or hard a finished pattern is to understand, I like to recruit folks at Ravelry or through my blog for that. But when I need a working sample knit up it's not something I'd be comfortable handing off to someone to work gratis.


August 12, 2009 6:19 PM  
Blogger gale (she shoots sheep shots) said...

Hi Annie,
Your feelings about unfair remuneration for the amount of work and vision and craft that goes into knitwear design & samples is 100% on target.
But when you say " odd world where the designer of a sweater - 3 weeks of work in knitting and pattern writing - gets paid a third of what the photographer earns for the 3 hours of shooting. " you're placing the same judgements as others do to knitwear designers.
You might see the photographer shooting for 3 hours on the set but believe me, the hours of work and investment that go before and after that 3 hours in order to produce the finished images completely and reliably and beautifully publishable is way more than the photo shoot appearance. (sound familiar?) .
We're all in the same boat Let's row together!

August 12, 2009 9:59 PM  
Blogger Annie said...

I hear you Gale, but the point is - no matter how much prep and post work goes into the photographer's day - their fees have kept pace with inflation.

Hand knit designers fees have stayed stagnant since the mid-80's, photographers, stylists & models fees have increased dramatically - tripled in some cases.

I don't want to get into a comparison of who deserves more per hour, etc.

My point was that for one person on a project to be paid three times what another key team member on that same project receives is adding insult to the injury of very low designer compensation.

And it happens simply because it can.

August 12, 2009 10:23 PM  

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