It’s already the last week of term, and I’ve only just cleared the freelance decks. So the entire first term of kindergarten and my much-anticipated me time has been taken up with Other People’s Stuff. Which is clearly not terrible – a lot of it has been stuff I’m pretty excited to work on, for various reasons, and no freelancer is ever that unhappy to have a lot on! But still. If I went and did anything foolish like getting a Real Job now, this shit would only get worse. Maybe for that reason, I’ve been thinking a lot about my knitting-related work. What I’ve been trying to achieve, what I hope to achieve in future, what I know I’m doing wrong, and why, and whether I actually want to change that.
When we moved to Switzerland, with a baby and a (nearly) kindergartener, I knew I was facing a career break and figured I could use the time to give designing a shot. Treat it as an apprenticeship, rather than a real business opportunity (because I knew I wasn’t likely to get far in profit terms), and focus on learning as much as I could. It’s hard to tell how well I’ve succeeded at that goal. My pattern writing is definitely a lot better than it was to start with (three cheers for tech editors! thirty-three cheers for Kate Atherley!) and I’ve managed to improve some subsidiary skills (photography, drawing schematics) a little bit. But mostly I feel about as far from really getting anywhere as I was to start with.
This is almost certainly an illusion. I have achieved enough that I have people (dyers, magazine editors) asking to work with me, which is wonderful and encouraging. But I’m still not ready. Even with kindergarten, so far, I don’t feel I have enough control over my time to commit to real deadlines. I’m also nervous of the creative pressure – what if things just don’t work out the way I planned? That happens! And it takes time to fix! I really don’t want to let anyone down.
So I’ve been spending my limited designing time pretty unstrategically. There’s no plan, other than a decision to pursue adult knits rather than kids, which really don’t seem to be my forte. But beyond that very broad choice, it gets vague, and a bit worrying. My upcoming design plans are mostly garments. And garments (Pavonis excepted) don’t sell for me.
I can think of two likely reasons for that (leaving aside the unproductive question of whether I’m just shit at it; Twist & Shout did well at least) – one, I’m not a great model. And there’s only so much I can do to improve our photo shoots, especially considering the evidence: Ravelry’s Hot Right Now garments are all shown on slim models. People say they want to see designs on bodies that look like theirs, but we all pay more attention to images with that wow factor; we all react to pictures that make us feel, I want to be her. And we all want to be slim. Or, put differently: we want to be chic. The Instagram aesthetic, the look of the most successful patterns these days, is clean, sophisticated in an understated way, very chic. And chic means slim. Fatter bodies may often be beautiful, but they’re not chic.
Second problem: I haven’t proved that I can design well-fitting garments. I don’t have enough of a track record.
There’s one thing that would help with both of those problems: publishing in magazines. I’d be very happy to do that, in principle. I’m not so successful that the magazine fee wouldn’t be a fairly solid alternative to unreliable earnings from self-publishing; having the mag handle photography would be a huge plus; and having magazine-edited patterns in my portfolio would be reassuring to customers. Is great plan! But it’s not going to happen very soon, because of other things I have lined up that need to be done first. Stupid choices? Almost certainly.
Other stupid choices? Writing a newsletter (which actually costs me money) that’s basically for people like me, people interested in the things I’m interested in, rather than for “customers”. Why am I writing for other designers? It makes no sense. But it’s a lot of fun, and I wouldn’t have anything to say if I were just writing about my own designs. In other channels, too – hello Instagram! – I’m prioritising my own enjoyment over marketing strategy. I have no interest in pursuing the Instagram style: flatlays, careful seasonal styling with flowers and leaves and such… those pics can be so pretty and I believe they get attention, get followers, build your market, but I just. Don’t. Wanna.
The only conclusion I’ve come to is this, and it’s not exactly a positive one. I know the chances of making money as a designer are minuscule. I think my designs are pretty good, and I write good patterns, but it’s a crowded market and I’m not the next Ysolda. So if this is basically just a glorified hobby, I may as well design the way I want. Forget business strategy and just have fun. That’s… fine. I guess.
But I’m putting an awful lot of work into this. I’m doing it because I love designing, I love everything about writing and selling patterns. (Ok, everything except the sodding photo shoots.) But even if this is about creative satisfaction – it’s a lot more satisfying to see people actually responding to what you’ve put out there! I don’t want to have my artworks rotting away in the garret, as it were. I want them to be seen and enjoyed. I don’t mean to be pretentious in calling my patterns “art”, I’m not interested in elevating them, just trying to make a point about what I’m doing my thing for.
I have a formula in my head: 1. Make the things. 2. Sell the things (meaning, make them available for purchase as widely as possible). 3. Market the things. The point of this 1-2-3 is that they all have to work together – no point in making if nobody can buy it; no point in putting it up for sale if you don’t tell anyone it’s there. Making has to come first, obviously, and that’s where most of my energy should and does go. But it’s only part of the whole exercise. Marketing has actually been a lot of fun in itself; creating my website, putting together my newsletter. I don’t think I’m doing it very well. There’s a lot missing, and I’m not getting great results. But it’s still part of my thing. Part of what I’m learning, too.
So I’m… back where I started, I guess. Still learning. Still glad to have the chance to do that. Forming pretty clear ideas about what I should do to get better results, but also pretty sure that I don’t want to do all those things, or at least am not ready for them.
Eh, whatever. I’ll just keep knitting.