The Many Hats of Making a Living

Samples of my work from graphic design classes

Samples of my work from graphic design classes

Making a living in the fiber arts is tough. Everybody’s path is different, but mine seems to involve many different types of work. And it is interesting to see how things I’ve picked up along the way in my life, side explorations, even, are becoming useful.

Back when the discipline of software quality assurance was in its infancy, I worked for a company called Interleaf. It was a special place to work, so much so that people who moved on stayed in touch on a mail list called “Interleft.” One of the ways it changed my life was by exposing me to the world of graphic designers and publishers, to fonts and formatting, leading and layout, to indexing and tables of content and the list of effective pages.

It took a while for me to realize one of the things I loved about that job was creating test documents: trying to think like our users, and arrange elements on a page and within documents.  After moving to California, I took some graphic design classes at various UC extension schools, learning more about typography and principles of graphic design (aside: mash together Robin Williams’ memorable principles acronym and the advertising slogan for milk, and ask yourself: “Got CRAP?” ;-).

Photo of Real World Illustrator 7 by Deke McClelland

Deke McClelland’s book was my first guide to Illustrator’s features.

I also had to learn something about using Adobe Illustrator. It was fun, learning how to make shapes, cut holes in them, size and flip type on a path, and MORE! One of class assignment was to collect our work into a book, and get it bound. Fascinating…

But I never did anything with what I learned. I stayed safely in software for many years… until  the move to Fiber World.

I began working in the industry by teaching at the LYS. That lead to designing small projects for classes. Which lead to designing for publication. Which, because I don’t mind numbers, think spreadsheets are cool, and like thinking about ways to present information on a page (c.f. Interleaf experience), lead to tech editing.

When I started tech editing, my familiarity with Illustrator came in handy: I could draw schematics and charts for patterns.  But because I always want to know EVERYTHING about how tools work, I used my lynda.com subscription (which I got to learn iMovie (to make this video) and WordPress (for this site ;)) to learn MORE. Video being the new book, you see… (nice to come across my former “teacher” Deke McClelland on lynda.com; he’s as good on video as he was in print).

So, circling back around:

Near the end of last year I got a request for proposals from Coats and Clark, looking for projects to showcase their new Sizzle cord (it’s really cool). I came up with some necklaces created using twisting and plying techniques. Other designers used macramé knotting techniques to make colorful friendship bracelets with Sizzle.

And I was asked if I could create illustrations for the techniques. That’s a bit more than an intarsia chart or sweater schematic…

Hemstitch illustration

KLITCH hemstitch illustration

Could I deliver? Could I draw illustrations that were good enough? I’d done some illustrations for my KLITCH class that made me happy (after watching those Illustrator videos on lynda.com, ha ha). But this, this was for someone else. Did I know enough to do it the “right way?”

A very good friend and former colleague once told me, as he saw me hesitating, on the brink of starting something: “Beth, you already know what you need to know. Just do it.”

So I did.

2-ply Z-twist cord illustration

The end result seems to do the trick. I tried to keep it simple, not overcomplicate either the end result or my working process. I hope the illustrations help crafters learn how to knot and twist cord; I learned a lot in creating them.

And now I have another hat I can wear.

Split-Ply Darning illustration

 

KLITCH Your Knits

Embellished class homework swatch and sample patterns

The KLITCH’d homework swatch and recent designs using techniques T and L.

A little over a year ago I came across The Weaver’s Idea Book by Jane Patrick. I’m a sucker for books (in general) with photos of intricate fabric textures and colors (specifically) playing gloriously in new and unusual (to me) ways. It made me want to weave. It made me wonder if any of those effects could be worked on hand knits. It made me pull out other books, and read and think about how techniques from other fiber arts could be worked on knit fabrics.

The end results were several pattern designs (check out the faux couching on Creative Knitting’s Summer 2013 It’s All in the Details) and a class: Through, On & Around: KLITCH Your Knits! KLITCH is an acronym created from the 6 technique areas we explore in class: Knotting, Lacing, Inlay, Twining, Couching (faux, not true couching) and Hemstitching. Look for it on the schedule of STITCHES South, Midwest and East!

The projects I designed in Creative Knitting’s recent Knits In No Time special issue show how twining can be used to create a pot holder, coasters, and table runner or scarf from I-cord, and how fancy lacing can tie seed stitch strips into a scarf. Imagine making strips in different colors or yarns, and lacing or twining them together in a contrast color—how fun would that be?!?

Trellis hemstitching worked on elongated stitches of a cowl.

Trellis hemstitching worked on elongated stitches of a cowl.

My latest KLITCH experiment is a cowl, worked in Cascade Yarns Longwood, with elongated stitch as fillings in a double-decker garter stitch sandwich. Longwood is spongy soft, great to work with, and superwash to boot. Hemstitching in turquoise 220 Aran will wrap the elongated stitches on both sides. If that’s not enough decoration, maybe I’ll do some knotting in the eyelet rows…hmmmm….

Listening to the universe

universe-03One of my personal goals in the last few years has been to listen to my own intuitions and trusting them to guide my life’s next steps. It’s hard to unlearn the habit of self-doubt (vacillation between choices and therefore indecision, really. But as the song says, if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice). As I have started to trust my inner voice, I’ve heard the Universe answer back, and I’m learning to listen. Small ways, little things, coincidences really.

This morning I woke up at 5 a.m., and when sleep wouldn’t come again decided to go get a little work done at the local cafe. Before diving in, I pulled up my feedly.com news feed, which I hadn’t really used since setting it up in December with my brother, my source for new tech these days (January has been a busy month… SIGH.)

universe-02Scanning my feed, I clicked through to see the paper 777 model made out of manila folders and glue, checked out a DIY tartan skirt (look for knitted plaid somethings from me soon) and downloaded some free round icons. Having swallowed sufficient refreshing caffeinated beverage to bring the brain more fully online, I turned to an article on typography and why it matters.

It provides some great information on typefaces, and I tucked the link away to use in some future information design class. But it was the quote of Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement address that woke me up.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

universe dotsAnd there it is: trust. Trust, and getting past the fear, the buts, the I can’ts. Every small coincidence helps me feel like the dots I’m placing now will connect up in the long run. And really, who knows what they’ll make when I join them together?

Want to learn how to knit pleats and welts?

Pretty Peaks and Valleys, Creative Knitting Winter 2013

My design Pretty Peaks and Valleys, Creative Knitting Winter 2013

It’s STITCHES class proposal time! And I’m brainstorming class topics to tempt you, the knitting and crocheting fiber enthusiast student.

If I go with what currently interests *me* most, one of the class proposals would be about those fabric-folding techniques known as pleats and welts (aka tucks).

I’ve had a thing for tucks for some time now, as those who have taken my 1-hour Market Session A Taste of Tucks can attest: they’ve seen the swatches. My favorite looks like the skin of a Shar Pei puppy.

The interest in pleats has been more recent, and apparently  is shared by the likes of Alexander Wang, Michael Kors, Proenza Schuler, etc, for Spring 2014 (see here and here). Whoo hoo, I’m on-trend!

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The glory of words

Humpty Dumpty on the meaning of words

From Through the Looking Glass

Like a small child loves playing with sand, I love playing with words. Which isn’t the same as having those words say what I mean. As such, this is one of my favorite quotes. Would that we all had Humpty Dumpty’s ability to make a word mean exactly, precisely and only just what we choose, all the time. Most of us are just not as gifted as that cantankerous and contrary old egg.

I’ve had occasion to think of this quote several times in the last few weeks.

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Streak of Lightning: a little help from my friends

2013_CKSIP_AllSeasThrw_CVRI’ve had this not-so-secret love affair with log cabin knitting going for the last few years. There are partial blankets with different types and arrangements of blocks tucked away in my stash, waiting to become full-size things. They come out 4 times a year, when I teach the Playing with Patchwork 1-hour Market Session at STITCHES events. I was thrilled when I saw Creative Knitting’s Autumn 2013 Call for Proposals was all about afghans—at last, an excuse to make a full-sized Streak of Lightning afghan!!! AND I got to work with some great yarn, Cascade 220 Superwash, in beautiful colors.

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The color of the spirit

Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

I love blue. Cobalt, sapphire, indigo, navy, ultramarine, aquamarine, cyan, cerulean, cornflower, blue green: all the blues in the crayon box and MORE! But not feeling blue, nooo. When life gets a little discouraging, I know it’s time to throw Tubthumping (or my current favorite song) on repeat and bounce around the room for a while.

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A beginning…

…and not much else yet.

In 2002 I started a small business called See Jane Knit. I explored selling handknits, launched a very small pattern line, and began teaching knitting locally, in the San Francisco Bay Area. The business grew and changed as I figured out what it could become, and decided what I wanted it to be. So much has changed that it’s time for a new name, new branding & marketing, and a new website.

And this time, I’m going to write about it, as it develops, to clarify and share and record.

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