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An interview with Jen

August 29, 2010

I have decided that one of the most fun parts about having this blog is interviewing people, to see what they know, and what they are willing to share with us. Today we have an interview with Jen Johnson, Jinniver on Ravelry. Jen is a knitter, and has been dabbling in design for as long as I have known her. She has recently had several designs accepted for publication. Check out her designer page on Ravelry here. Check out Jen’s blog . I am not telling you that just because she says nice things about us.  

Name:

Jen Johnson

Occupation/Yarny type:

Designer, knitter

Number of years you have had a relationship with yarn:

Three, not counting a brief fling as a child (which ended when I realized it wasn’t a good idea to just knit any loop that appeared on my needle, including yarn overs and split stitches) and at the Naval Academy (where I knit my then-fiancé an earwarmer that I recently learned he still has). I started knitting when I was expecting my daughter…and living in south Texas, where there’s not much call for knitwear, at least not what I thought of back then as knitwear (mostly sweaters, hats and scarves).

What is your motivation when you buy yarn?

It’s changed a lot since I first starting knitting, but one thing is the same: the yarn has to talk to me. Sometimes it’s a whisper (“You know, I’d really look pretty good in that design you’re thinking of”) and sometimes it’s a shout (“YOU MUST TAKE ME HOME, PUT ME IN CRYSTAL, AND WORSHIP ME!”), but it has to have something to say. My husband says he thinks the whole “yarn talking” thing is crazy, but I’ve noticed he has stopped complaining about the Three Irish Girls Georgia Peach sitting in the crystal bowl on our dining room table. I think Miss Georgia might have had a word with him.

Where my buying habits have changed is that I do tend to focus more on projects than I did at first. That doesn’t mean that I only buy yarn with a SPECIFIC pattern in hand. It’s more of a case where I think, “Ok, I really love this yarn…but what would I do with it?” Then the yarn and I have a conversation and I settle on, say, a tee for my daughter, and I can buy the appropriate amount of yarn. Before my buying was more haphazard.

What is the most interesting place that knitting/yarn/crocheting has brought you?

If you mean a physical place, so far it’s been Rhinebeck and the Maryland Sheep and Wool (MDSW) festivals. Both opened my eyes to so many more possibilities in the world of fiber. Rhinebeck was my very first fiber festival so it was a bit overwhelming; by MDSW I had a better sense of what was in store for me. MDSW was also one of the first places where I picked up a skein of yarn, decided it would be perfect to knit into something for my daughter, and then found myself picturing EXACTLY what I wanted to make with that yarn—a design of my own.

But the other “place” that knitting has taken me to is a place where I can just experiment and where not everything has to be perfect the first time. I used to write, and I got very familiar with writer’s block because I couldn’t just start scribbling down any gibberish that came to mind until I found something that worked. Anything I wrote HAD to be the next logical part in the story and it had to be just right. With knitting, I’ve found I can just work up random swatches and enjoy the process, even when I don’t get the look I want or the stitch pattern doesn’t work with that yarn.

What do you like to knit and design best? Why?

I love knitting and designing children’s clothes. That’s partly because I like quick results, and children’s clothing is smaller and therefore quicker, and partly because I’ve got lots of children to knit for! Besides my own son and daughter, I’ve got a niece and a nephew, and there’s another baby on the way in my family. I also feel there’s more freedom in designing for children—you can do crazy or silly things and they love it. They’re also my most honest and hardest-to-please critics, so they’re a challenge! When my clothes-loving niece or color-sensitive son gives something I’ve made their stamp of approval, I know I’ve earned it.

What do people say about your ‘habit’?

I come from a crafty family, so none of them are particularly fazed by the fact that I always have yarn and needles in hand. My friends enjoy seeing what I make next, but it’s strangers that seem particularly impressed, mostly (based on their comments) because they think that what I do is so very difficult. I tell them it’s really not, but most of them seem to think I’m just being modest.

I have it from a very reliable source that you put together a really great proposal when you are looking to have a design published. What tips do you have for beginners in your field?  

My number one tip: KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE! I put together a design proposal for Three Irish Girls, and the first thing I did was consider Sharon’s yarns. Most of her colorways have been variegated, and those can be a challenge to match to the right project. No one wants to knit miles of stockinette, but stitch patterns that are too intricate can be lost in variegated yarns. So I put together designs and stitch patterns that would work with variegated yarns, not against them—and I made sure to point that out in the proposal! Give the person making the decision a reason to pick yours.

Tip number two: make sure the decision maker can “see” your design. Sometimes you might already have a finished sample, but more often all you’ll have is a sketch and a swatch…and I have trouble drawing a straight line even if you spot me a ruler and graph paper. So I had to draw a picture with my words. That doesn’t mean you have to put in a bunch of flowery language and superlatives; just describe your design concept clearly and fully. Add details that a person might not be able to see in a picture, especially ones that might make your design more saleable. For example, I pointed out that my designs would have no seams or picked up stitches. I don’t have anything against either, but I read Ravelry forums enough to know that there are people out there who hate both.

Tip number three: don’t forget the basics! My rule is that if you’d find the info on the top of a pattern, it should be in your proposal. That includes the sizes you plan on including (and if the publication/person you’re submitting your proposal to has specific requirements for sizing, follow them!), your suggested needle size and gauge, and your yarn. If you want to use a specific yarn, put the yarn name in, but also add the yarn details (i.e. weight and fiber). If your yarn support is provided, the person you’re designing for may want you to use a different yarn, so they’ll need that information (and if you’re going to be able to keep the sample, let them know what you’d like as far as yarn, including colors you’d prefer).

Tip number four: there are some things you SHOULDN’T include. Don’t send your entire pattern, even if you already have it written out. Not only does the decision maker not need to see it at this time (short and sweet is the key; they need a good description, not a long pattern to decipher), you put them in an uncomfortable spot if they say no. Down the road they may publish a similar pattern and would now feel vulnerable to claims of copyright infringement. Also, don’t include poor quality photographs or sketches. You don’t have to be DaVinci (trust me on that one!), just make sure you’ve got a clean sketch that will give the decision maker a good idea of what the final design will look like. For photos, take them in natural (but not bright) light, and use photo editing software as needed for color correction, cropping, and brightening.

What do you wish you knew when you started?

Actually…I AM just starting! So, I’m not sure what I don’t know that I’ll need to know yet (if that made sense). Instead, I can tell you what I’m glad I DID know. I’m glad I knew it was okay to put myself out there and possibly fail. I’m also glad I knew that I didn’t know everything and it was a good idea to look for good sources of info. Right now I’m rereading Shannon Okey’s “The Knitgrrl Guide to Professional Knitwear Design,” which is an amazing source of info; I highly recommend it to anyone considering designing professionally. I’m also taking several of her online courses at her Knitgrrl site.

Who/ What is your inspiration?

My first inspirations are my son Jeffrey and my daughter Lexie. I want to design items that they want to wear, and they can be particular. But they’re both still of an age where they think it’s special to wear something that Mommy made just for them, so I need to exploit this as long as I can! Jeffrey challenges me with his color sense. The other day I had him helping me pick out buttons for his baby cousin’s Mossy Jacket I’d just finished knitting. I was mostly trying to keep him occupied in the store, but he kept shooting down all of my (obvious, at least to me) suggestions. Finally, he pointed out a set of red-purple buttons I would have NEVER considered on my own…and when I put them next to the yarn I saw that they brought out the small sections of red-purple in the yarn that I hadn’t really even noticed. They were absolutely perfect. I need to make the same kind of reaches when knitting for Jeffrey. As for Lexie, I have the challenge of knitting girly items that aren’t too girly (because she likes girly that isn’t too girly), that aren’t too different from what she sees on the older brother she worships, and that will hold up as she follows in his every footstep.

I am frequently inspired by yarn. I love color—the more the better!—although I’ve had to learn when to fully indulge myself and when to rein it in a bit. I’m also very tactile, so I pet yarn every chance I get (another habit my husband doesn’t get, although he’s learned to appreciate a soft yarn…or at least to fake it to humor me). So I love looking at different colors and different fibers and trying to think of the way to showcase them to their best advantage.  For example, I recently found a great cotton/linen blend in one of my local yarn shops in more subdued colors that I think would look great as a knit polo shirt.

Lastly, my biggest designer inspiration is Georgie Hallam, who also designs children’s patterns. I love not only her designs but her design philosophy. Her designs are seamless and easy to knit, and her goal is to design a pattern that a busy mom can knit…and put down…and pick up again…and put down…without screwing it up.  Her designs have simple lines and are unfussy but not boring or oversimplified. I want the same things for my designs.

Thanks Jen!

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. August 29, 2010 8:51 pm

    You’re welcome, and thanks for asking me!

  2. Cheryl permalink
    August 30, 2010 6:36 am

    Great interview!!! Also, Jen what a great insight on designing. Go Girls!!

  3. August 30, 2010 3:52 pm

    Great interview, Jen! :D

  4. October 11, 2010 5:54 am

    Just as an FYI: the blog linked above for me is going to be closed because I have a new website. I can now be found at http://themagpieknitter.com/. :-)

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  1. A child’s inspiration « The Magpie Knitter

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