• The Magpie Knitter…

    ...trying to get from "Oooooh, shiny!" to a design.
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  • Jen Johnson began knitting in 2007 while pregnant with her daughter and does most of her knitting for her daughter and son. When she couldn’t find the patterns she wanted, she added designer to her job titles of Navy wife and mother. Jen loves the inspiration she gets from all the beautiful yarns available, as long as she doesn’t get distracted by—ooh, shiny!
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When am I a “real” designer?

Recently, I’ve had reason to ponder this question. I mean, yes, I design things and therefore I am a designer in that sense…but when I’m staring at those forms were I have to fill in my profession, at what point do I stop putting in “homemaker” or “stay-at-home mom” (as appropriate) and start writing, “designer.” Or maybe “knitting designer.” Or, to borrow a phrase from Shannon Okey‘s The Knitgrrl Guide to Professional Knitwear Design, “intellectual property developer in the textiles field.” For example, recently my son brought a form home from kindergarten asking if any of the parents had an interesting career they’d like to talk about for career day…and while I’d love to talk about knitting and designing, did it really qualify as my “career”?

I wouldn’t have used the term while I was designing free patterns for fun, but it was clear to me that I was just doing it as a hobby. So at what point does receiving remuneration make this my job and not my hobby?

Certainly at this point, just starting out, I won’t be making enough money to support myself, let alone a family of four–but I don’t need to, since my husband does (and I know how lucky I am to be in that situation). He’ll tell people that he just hopes I’ll make enough to offset my yarn purchases. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I mean, I know he’s half-joking when he says it, and the other half is based on firm knowledge of how much I stand to feasibly make any time soon…and considering the size of my yarn purchases sometimes, offsetting them would take a fair amount! Yet it still feels a little patronizing and belittling, although I know he doesn’t mean it that way (and, come to think of it, I’ll need to talk to him about this before he reads it on my blog!). He’s probably my biggest supporter, never doubting I could do it and never murmuring a complaint about all the yarn I’ve brought home because, “I’ve thought of a great design for this!”

Last week my husband was having some minor, elective surgery done–minor enough that I was allowed to sit in and observe if I chose. Steve was noncommittal on whether I sat next to him or in the waiting room, and I half-joked that I’d probably stay in the waiting room so I could knit–only half because I really have spent most of my sitting time working on design samples. So Steve asked if I could knit in the room, and the answer was that as long as I didn’t actually knit over the incisions as the surgeon was working, that was just fine.

I sat there next to Steve, knitting and chatting with him, the doctor, her med student, and the Army corpsman as the doctor worked away. The corpsman, a very nice Sergeant, watched me work for a bit and then asked, “Is that knitting or crocheting?” His wife has just taken up crocheting, so he was interested, and we talked a bit about the difference between the 2 crafts. Then he asked what I was working on, and I told him.

“She designed it,” Steve piped up. “She’s a designer, and the pattern for that is going to be published.”

So…I guess I’m a designer, and I should stop saying it in an apologetic tone. And next year, when the career day forms come home with Jeffrey, maybe I’ll sign up too.

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Ooooooh, shiny!

That’s me.

Only it’s not really shiny things as much as pretty colors…namely, pretty colors on yarn.  I started knitting in August of 2007 while pregnant with my daughter Lexie (in southeast Texas, of all places–not really known for a place where one needs a lot of wool sweaters).  I think I’d only been knitting for 2 days before I got distracted by another yarn and pattern and cast on for a baby sweater while the scarf for my son Jeffrey was still on the needles.  And so it began.

When I couldn’t always find the perfect pattern for the beautiful yarn was in love with, I decided to branch out and design my own.  My early designs were usually single-sized patterns for one of my kids, like the dress for Lexie or fingerless gloves for Jeffrey…and they didn’t always work (let us never speak of the golf ball shaped thumbs on the toddler mittens again).  But whether I ended up with an awesome finished object or an…um…learning experience, I loved the process and getting to see my children in something I designed…and then getting to see other people in something I designed.

Where this is going…

So, when my favorite independent yarn dyer, Sharon of Three Irish Girls, announced a call for design proposal submissions, 2 designs that had been vaguely floating around in my brain coalesced and jumped to the forefront.  The situation couldn’t have been more perfect.  First, I’ve had more “ooooh, shiny!” moments with Sharon’s yarns than with any other I’ve seen.  Second, my children are older now–Jeffrey starts kindergarten in the fall, oh, my!–and I’m ready to branch out from my stay-at-home mom career.  I honestly had never considered becoming a professional knitwear pattern designer…but I couldn’t ignore the signs, even if I wanted to.

I thought and researched and scribbled and erased and swatched and frogged and rethought and jotted and typed and blocked…and finally, sketched.  That last was probably the hardest part.  I, um…have trouble drawing a straight line with a ruler.  I was the despair of every art teacher I ever had when it came to proportions.

Oh, and to complicate matters…Sharon had specifically asked for designs that would showcase her yarns.  Most of her colorways are variegated so I was trying for designs that had more interest than stockinette but would neither be lost in nor compete with the yarn.  And I had to capture that in my sketches too!

Finally, I had my best attempt at each proposal together and emailed them in.  I learned it’s hard to type professional sounded submission emails with your fingers crossed, so I had to compromise with crossed toes.

Note to self: Uncross toes before trying to walk.

Then all I could do was wait.  It helped that several of my friends in the Three Irish Girls group on Ravelry had also submitted design proposals, so we got to wait together.  I wasn’t too nervous–to be honest, I thought my inexperience would work against me and it was unlikely that my very first design proposals would be accepted…until the day Sharon planned to announce her decisions.  Then I was hitting the Send/Receive button on my email client several times an hour…right up until the email was sent out apologizing that due to the number of submissions, decisions would be delayed a day.

And…?

As promised, the email arrived the next day.  I steeled myself and opened it.

“Thank you so much for your lovely design submissions…”

Uh oh.  It sounded like the beginning of a polite and kind rejection letter…

“–we are very pleased to offer you the opportunity for publication with Three Irish Girls!”

I had to apologize to the kids for scaring them with my inadvertent shriek.

So, here I am.

And welcome to The Magpie Knitter!  Here, I’ll be working to overcome to my “ooooh, shiny” tendencies to create beautiful designs…and maybe amuse you as I go.  Enjoy!