Asking Questions

Asking Questions . . . An Interview with Photographer Gale Zucker

Welcome to the second installment of my Asking Questions blog series – when I ask questions of people in the fiber world that I particularly admire (and think y’all do, too).

This installment features an interview with photographer Gale Zucker.  (You can find Gale on Instagram, her currently-being-updated website, or at her blog - She Shoots Sheep Shots.)  As an amateur photographer, I have long admired Gale’s aesthetic when it comes to fiber and knitwear shots, and I was super eager to learn more about her work, her philosophy, and her life.

I think you’ll all enjoy learning more about Gale.  She is as kind, gracious, warm and engaging as you'd imagine she is -- her personality just shines through in her photographs!  (I really wish we could all just be sitting around a beach fire somewhere . . . chatting and knitting and drinking gin and tonics -- with plenty of crunchy-salty-snacks.)  (I also want to spend a sunny afternoon out on her floating carpet.  Just sayin'.)

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photo provided by Gale Zucker; Gale is shown working for the Hudson Valley Textile Project, shooting at Wing and a Prayer Farm in Vermont

Kym:  Hi Gale!  I’m so excited to have you join me here for this Asking Questions blog post.  Let’s start at the beginning.  Can you tell me about learning to knit?  Like . . . when did you learn to knit, who taught you, what were some of the first things you made?  What are your first memories of knitting, and why did you want to learn to knit in the first place?

Gale:  I always loved fiber crafts. I grew up in a maker and artist family - we all knit, crocheted, sewed, embroidered, crafted anything and everything: popsicle trivets and pencil holders! Hangers covered with boondoggle/gimp!  Beaded flowers!  Sand art terrariums! Hand embossed stamped leather belts! Woodburning! Shrinky dinks! My dad did not craft with us but he's an inventor mechanical engineer and probably the most creative thinker I'll ever meet.  Messing around with stuff to see what you can do was highly supported.  I learned to knit and crochet as a young kid - 5-6 years old - from my grandma and my mom - but truthfully was too impatient to enjoy it.  I embroidered a lot and sewed clothes, starting from 4th grade -- many crookedy zippers!  

I definitely remember loving crochet in 9th grade, making granny vests (long vests with a tie closure in front), scarves and bucket style hats. I started knitting a brown sweater in 10th grade and never finished it. Knitting more than one project at a time was definitely NOT cool in my family.....so that was pretty much my only knitting till I graduated high school.  In college I knit all the time since I could cast on a new project with impunity. (But still monogamously! I didn't start having more than one wip till I was 40). I knit a lot of sweaters, and I think they are still my favorite kind of project. 

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photo by Gale Zucker

Kym:  How about photography - when did that interest pop up in your life?  I’d love to hear about your journey as an artist/photographer!  When did your love of photography intersect with your love of fiber?

Gale: I got a little camera at age 7 and never turned back.  I am nothing if not consistent in my interests! I learned to use a darkroom when I was 11 and loved it. In college I started out majoring in environmental science but what I really loved was documentary photographers who used their art for environmental advocacy (like Eugene Smith's moving Minimata photos in Life magazine - especially this one).  I spent most of my free time my freshman year in a campus darkroom. So in my sophomore year I transferred to the University of Minnesota where I could major in Photojournalism at the Journalism school there. 

I worked as a newspaper and magazine photojournalist from my mid twenties until I was in my forties, as a regular weekly contributor to the NY Times, and shot on assignment for national magazines and book projects, everything from TV Guide and Forbes to Woman’s Day and Yankee and Parade, Coastal Living and airline mags -- I had lots of great adventures.  I moved from that to shooting for universities and hospitals and non-profits, and then to working on longer term projects (for my soul) and commercial projects (for supporting our family).  It never occurred to me to combine professional photography work with my love of fiber, although I often got assignments to shoot sheep farms or weavers from editors who had no idea of my affinity. I facetiously started a portfolio called She Shoots Sheep Shots thanks to those assignments  -- and it later became my blog name, in 2005. 

Also in 2005 I was working on some gritty social issue projects about youth at risk, youth ageing out of foster care, youth in the judicial system...and I was knitting a lot and reading knitting blogs to de-stress. A book agent/packager I was working with asked me if I had any book ideas, expecting some kind of social issue subject.  I surprised both of us by blurting out that I wanted to visit fiber farms around the country and do photo essays about them along with a knitting pattern for each one. That became Shear Spirit,a book I co-authored with writer Joan Tapper. 

I am making it sound instant but it took us months to get a proposal off the ground, then get the contract we wanted (from Random House, with a very good budget-- knitting and craft books were having a MOMENT).  I shot it mostly in 2007 and it published in 2008. While working on that, I shot the 2nd Mason Dixon Knitting book, having befriended Kay and Ann through blogs...and as one thing leads to another, my work moved more and more into the fiber and knitting and yarn and knitwear fashion worlds. I love it!  I can immerse myself in two favorite things, knitting and photography, and get paid for it.

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photo by Gale Zucker; pattern is The Susurrate Shawl by January One Designs

Kym:  What is your basic process . . . when you go on assignment as a fiber/knitwear photographer?  How do you find the great locations you use for your photo shoots?  What do you think run-of-the-mill knitters (like me!) might be most surprised to know about what goes on behind the scenes on knitwear photo shoots?

Gale:  My photo shoots start with a conversation with the creative director or the author or designer and a mood board of some kind. Pinterest is very helpful for that --  we pull things that appeal to us vibe-wise, not necessarily with knits in them. I love looking at a collection of mood pictures and extracting the aesthetic or parameters we'll use for a shoot.  I try to get clients to define their aesthetic verbally, as well. Some just say "do you thing, Gale" but others have a direction in mind.  Then we think about models and settings and styling to go with the aesthetic. The model has to be able to pull off the look, and the background needs to support the style.  I am lucky to live in a beautiful part of the country (shoreline New Engand) in a small community but near a large city.   I've been here for ages so I "collect" locations in my brain (and phone) for just the right photo shoot. I am also willing to ask for access to places as locations, mostly everyone is helpful when you say you want to do a photo shoot. 

I don’t think you are run-of-the-mill by any means! However, I get what you are asking. Often the most natural looking of my photos have lots of un-natural things going on to make them look just right. We block off the sun with huge 6 foot square silk scrims...there's makeup, there's careful angles that jussssssssst manage to avoid the wrong thing creeping into the background. I spend a lot of time laying on the ground or crawling around. I spend more time than I like gathering wardrobe and shopping.  It's hard to do that when you are a knitter trying to get a photo of yourself in a FO shot for Ravelry and no one around to help!  I bet most knitters don't know that at virtually every photo shoot ever, there is someone knitting away furiously on a piece that isn't quite done when we start shooting but has to be in the photos!  Sometimes the models are wearing a damp -from-blocking sample or one with ends discretely hidden not woven. 

Also - for all the fun-looking behind the scenes work I share online there are many days of me grinding away at my computer in my office. I have editing, retouching, estimating projects, writing contract and agreements, making spreadsheets for shoots and styling and bookkeeping work ....not picturesque and at times very tedious. 

Kym:  How do you balance your own creative pursuits with your photography work?  (If I were photographing all those awesome yarns and brand new designs, I’d have a never-ending to-knit queue.  And a stash to match!)

Gale:  Balance?? hahahahhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaahahahaha!!!   Have you seen my queue??!!!

I do what I do and avoid pressure on knitting or making. My photography work is extremely deadline-oriented so I tend to avoid 100-days-of projects .... or KALs with rules, for my own creative pursuits. I do not like rules, tbh!   I've never been a big shopper or stasher -- but wow does stash accumulate when my clients give me yarn to play with. It’s kind of a dream come true in that way.  I wouldn't be able to indulge in much of the yarn that gets gifted to me! And I often purchase a skein or two from businesses that I want to support. So yes, there's plenty of yarn here! This year, for 2019, I decided to finish one wip for every new knit I cast on and make. So far it's been a very satisfying plan.

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photo by Gale Zucker

Kym:  When I talked to Kirsten back in May, she mentioned how helpful it is (for designers) to have knitters update their finished projects on Ravelry - with photos (she said “good, modeled shots”!).  Do you have any quick-and-easy advice for knitters about taking good (or even just decent) modeled shots of their projects?

Gale:  Do I have advice? I ALWAYS have opinions and advice ;-)  !

Find a spot with open shade or indirect light to make the photos. Use your phone. The optics and lenses are fabulous and very light sensitive.  I love using an app called Bena (for IOS) that lets you take motion activated selfies, allowing you to have time to pull yourself together for the pose and see yourself while doing so.  It is easier than a remote trigger or self-timer or holding the phone up with your arm, and lets you get more flattering angles. Many Android phones have gesture activated shooting so check that out as an alternative.  Showing FOs on a human form (instead of a hanger or flat on the sofa) is so much better for Ravelry and your fellow knitters!

Kym:  You do so many cool things BESIDES knitting — what do you enjoy the most?  What do you reach for first when you have downtime?  How do these other “hobbies” (“practices”?) influence your photography work?  What advice do you offer to others . . . in terms of “following your muse?”

Gale:  I'm an extrovert-- so in my downtime I enjoy hanging out with family and friends and being part of a tight community in my quirky neighborhood. It’s an old beach neighborhood, not fancy, but lovable.  A group of us women are devoted to being in the water as much as we can from June to October. We take long swims together at high tide in the ocean, and chat while we swim and meet almost every morning in warmer weather for deep water aerobics while we blab. We collectively bought a floating carpet last summer, which has been a riot. I like to be active and be outside. In a never-woulda-predicted-it turn, I became a granny younger than I'd have expected, so I spend a lot of time hanging with my fave 7-year-old.  Lately we've been playing wiffle ball and testing slime recipes. Fortunately she is a mermaid and will be in the water with me in a blink so that all works out well.  

TBH I am not sure how any of this influences my work, although I do think being social and getting energy from meeting people helps me connect well with other humans and that shows in my photos.

My best advice is don't overthink and don't analyze--just do it.  Whatever the creative pursuit, this applies. Knitting and making are not about perfection, and they are not brain surgery. Dive in first and think about it later and then dive back in!

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photo by Gale Zucker

Kym:  How do you deal with stress in your life?  

Gale:  1) A good gin and tonic or margarita and crunchy salty snacks.   2) Yoga and swimming. That's what really keeps me sane.  3) Avoid the front section of the newspaper during the week, avoid political anything on FB, and since the last presidential election, no discussion of our so-called leadership during dinner. We get too ratcheted up!  4) The months of the year that are colder with short days really get to me. Every year I think of something that makes me happy that I haven't been doing enough, and add it to my routine.

This winter I realized how much I love seeing the sunrise over the water, and I was only catching it on days when I had an early morning job and would catch a view on my way. How silly is that? It’s a 1-minute walk to the beach!  I started getting up and taking a walk on the beach to see the sunrise daily. Amazingly my 7-year-old granddaughter decided she'd like to join me, so it’s become a wonderful thing we do together almost every day. (Even more amazing, occasionally her father, my oldest son, joins us as well). I started being a sunriser because I am buoyed by the light and colors of sunrise on water, but I've become addicted to the natural world changes that we see day to day: migrating birds, sea creatures that are active right on the shoreline at dawn (who knew), and my already sizable sea glass collection is expanding almost too fast.  It definitely reduces stress to have that peaceful beautiful start to the day.

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photo by Gale Zucker; pattern is Lane's Island Pullover by Lori Versaci (Berroco Portfolio, Volume 6)

Kym:  Anything else you’d like to talk about/say?  Trends you see?  Things that make you crazy?  Things that bring you hope?

Gale:  Lots of things make me crazy! Don't ask! 

Trends - silver hair being appreciated - and not called grey. Comfortable clunky shoes being fashionable (I live in 3 inch platform sandal Tevas-best invention ever!). Knitting and crafting and sewing seems to be hanging in there, with new knitters joining in who missed the entire knitting blog/knitting revival period from fifteen years ago. I kind of like that....I hope you weren't expecting something deeper than that! 

One thing that brings me hope is the intense and up-front discussion of racism happening in the knitting and making community, as well as in larger society. From my own little niche within the knitting and yarn industry, I see positive change regarding inclusion and representation in the photos for patterns and books and yarn. In the past year, every single client has asked for POC and increasingly, for models with different sized and larger bodies. 

Most photographers reflect their own world when they set up photo shoots or choose their subjects. I'm part of a multiracial family and have a diverse social life, so I have always represented that in my photos. Interestingly, I have always had clients say they appreciate the inclusion, or comment that they loved my range of models, long before the recent online conversations. Not to say I haven’t felt the established racism. A couple of years ago I had a chat with a would-be client who asked if I could use "normal" looking models. When I asked what she meant (tho I was kinda suspecting I knew...), she said "you know--models who wouldn't be too...distracting." And that pretty much ended our conversation about working together. (I don't think this person's company is thriving. I totally believe in karma.)

Kym:  Would you like to promote anything?  Upcoming books?  Classes?  Anything at all?

Gale:  One more word about inclusion of race, age, body type, anything... please take the time to message any yarn company or business who you think is doing it right!  Just a quick "I love that silver haired model/larger model/POC model I saw in your pattern collection" goes a long way. I was horrified to learn that yarn companies/publishers regularly get emails and calls from customers saying what they don't like, but not many supportive messages.  Cranky people take the time  --so we need to as well!

I'm excited about a bunch of projects I am photographing this summer, starting this week. I'll be visiting fiber farms for the Hudson Valley Textile Project, a fibershed collaborative. I'm doing photography for some beautiful collections and books and indie designers this summer and autumn, but they won't be out for a while. 

One thing I am super excited about is I will be at the New York Sheep & Wool Festival (aka Rhinebeck) helping my friend Jani Estell with her Starcroft Fiber Mill booth -- its her first time there ever. She's the one who uses the wild Maine island sheep flock as her wool base and it's gorgeous stuff. I'll be selling some of my sheep photos there -- cards and small prints on wood. But just come say hi!  

And hopefully by the time you publish this my professional website, which is in overhaul, will be back up at www.gzucker.com.

Thanks so much for interviewing me! This was fun.

Kym:  Thank YOU, Gale!  Now I need to find a way to get myself to Rhinebeck so we can meet in person – and maybe find a gin and tonic or margarita!

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If you respond with a comment to this blog post, you will be automatically entered into a drawing for a copy of Drop-Dead Easy Knits, a fabulous book by Gale Zucker, Mary Lou Egan, and Kirsten Kapur.  (I have two copies to give away!)  The deadline for commenting is Tuesday, July 9.  The winners will be notified by email.

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For read my previous Asking Questions interview with knitwear designer Kirsten Kapur, click here.


Asking Questions . . . An Interview with Knitwear Designer Kirsten Kapur

Once upon a time, nearly 10 years ago now, I was on the brink of launching this blog. I asked a few knitters I respected (although didn’t necessarily know) for their feedback and advice. One of the knitters I turned to was Kirsten Kapur.  Kirsten didn’t know me from any other knitter, but I asked her anyway because I followed her blog, I knit her patterns, and I just generally loved her style. 

She was super gracious then – offering me encouragement and welcoming me to the blogging world.  As she’s become a bigger and brighter star in the knitting world, I still like following her, I knit her patterns, and still . . . I just generally love her style.

When I was first toying with a new idea – Asking Questions – I talked to Kirsten and asked her what she thought, and -- if she’d be willing to be my first interview “subject.” She was equally gracious now as she was 10 years ago, when I was writing my first blog posts.

So.

Here we go!  Please read along as I ask questions . . . of knitwear designer Kirsten Kapur!

(. . . and be sure to read all the way to the end for some special surprise treats. . . )

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Kirsten Kapur wearing Bradford Road. Photo by Kirsten Kapur.

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Kym:  Hi Kirsten!  I’m so excited to have you join me here on my first ever Asking Questions blog post.  Let’s start at the beginning.  Can you tell me about learning to knit?  Like . . . when did you learn to knit, who taught you, what were some of the first things you made?  What are your first memories of knitting, and why did you want to learn to knit in the first place?

Kirsten:  I don't actually remember learning to knit, so I must have been very young. My mother was always making things -- sewing, quilting, knitting, bargello, needlepoint, flower arranging, gardening, she even made large braided rugs for our kitchen and family room. My earliest memories are of playing on the floor of my mom's sewing room while she made clothes for my sisters and I. I wasn't very good at sitting still while someone tried to teach me a new skill, so my mom just let me play with the materials. Eventually I figured things out on my own and started making very simple dresses for my dolls out of scraps of her fabrics.

At some point I must have picked up yarn and needles, and either she showed me (in a rare moment of sitting still) or I figured out how to make a knit stitch on my own from watching her. As a teenager I quickly learned that my mom would buy fabric and yarn for me when she wasn't willing to buy new clothes, so I started making my own. I knit and sewed through college and in my early twenties, but at some point I stopped knitting and didn't pick it up again until I was in my early 40's. Just as knitting blogs were becoming popular.

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Models wearing (clockwise from top left) Dover Lane (photo by Gale Zucker), Bradford Road (photo by Gale Zucker), and Targhidean (photo by Kirsten Kapur).

 Kym:  So when did you start playing with knitwear design?  Was designing something that always appealed to you. . . or did you just kind of fall into it?  When did you realize you were, truly, A Designer?  What is your absolute favorite Through the Loops design?  Do your designs ever surprise you?  And Where do you tend to find your design inspirations? 

Kirsten:  In my twenties I worked first as a clothing designer, and then eventually as a textile designer, where I designed prints for fabrics. Knitting is the perfect combination of the two since it involves both the shape of the piece as well as the surface texture.

I hadn't knit for years, but in the early 2000's I picked up my needles again. I discovered knitting blogs, around 2004 and read them voraciously, but rarely commented. I loved all of the conversation about different techniques that I'd never been exposed to, and the projects being posted were very inspiring. I wanted to try it all. As a result I learned a lot of new skills. Finally in April of 2006 I decided I wanted to be part of the conversation and started Through the Loops. It was a great community, everyone was very supportive and welcoming.

From the moment I discovered independent knitting patterns, I knew I wanted to try designing. Within a few months of starting my blog I published my first pattern, drawing on the skills I honed in the garment industry as well as those I learned from other knit bloggers. My first few patterns were pretty simple, but as my skills grew I started to publish more complicated things. A few years later I took the plunge and purchased charting software. That changed my design significantly since it allowed me to easily manipulate stitch patterns, and fit them into shapes other than rectangles. I love the way charting patterns is part puzzle, part drawing, and the way it simplifies the process of making one stitch pattern morph into another. Access to this software led to a lot of shawl designs. In the early days most of the money I made designing went toward supporting my knitting habit.

But as my kids neared college age I decided to take it more seriously and try to help pay for their educations with the income. That's when it became my full time job. My designs surprise me all of the time. I make a lot of decisions as I knit the sample, especially with shawls. So I seldom know exactly how something will evolve when I first cast on. I have a rough idea of shape, design, and basic structure, but beyond that decisions are made, and things are changed as I knit. Some days I feel like I'm ripping out more than I'm knitting.

I'm not sure what my favorite design is. I wear my September House pullover all winter, my Bradford Road wrap is my go-to on cold days, and I have a pair of Kanagawa mittens that I knit for myself using 11 colors, that are super warm. I also love the colors in all three of these knits. But I have a soft spot for a few of my sleeper patterns too. There are some patterns that I really like that hardly anyone has knit. A few that come to mind are Teresa's Pansies (there's not a single project listed on that one), Anticipating Autumn, and Atlantic Avenue.

Sometimes inspiration is easy, I wake up in the middle of the night with a eureka moment. Bradford Road was one of those. Other times I see a yarn and instantly know what I want to do with it. Then there are the times when the inspiration just isn't there. I have worked with some gorgeous yarns that for one reason or another just don't work up the way I'd envisioned. These take a lot more thought, swatching, ripping, and reknitting. For these I usually start with stitch dictionaries, and my charting software and go from there. 

Teresa's Pansies GZ
Model is wearing Teresa's Pansies. Photo by Gale Zucker.

Kym:   So what is your basic process . . . from design inspiration to pattern release?  And what do you think your run-of-the-mill knitters (like me!) might be most surprised about regarding the process of getting one of your designs from inspiration to sales? 

Kirsten:  Design inspiration varies. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with a new idea that I just have to get on the needles, other times I'll see a yarn that immediately inspires a pattern. But there are also times when inspiration doesn't come immediately, and takes a fair amount of work. I'll pour over stitch dictionaries, knit swatch after swatch and really push myself to come up with something I'm happy with.

Once I have a plan I make the basic charts which will evolve and change a lot as I make the sample. If the pattern is a garment I create a spread sheet with all of the sizes from the start. Sometimes a pattern won't work for all sizes, and I want to know that up front.

After all of the charting, spreadsheets, and planning I cast on and knit my sample, which as I've said can change a lot as I knit. I fully write the pattern as I knit. This way I can do an initial vetting of the pattern, and if there's a repeating stitch pattern I can knit from both the charts and the written instructions to make sure they both are correct.

Once the pattern and sample are complete the pattern goes to test knitters and my tech editor. They all make my patterns better by pointing out confusing parts, suggesting alternate wording, or finding true errors. While all of this is happening I do photos. Sometimes I do the photos myself, other times I hire my friend Gale Zucker to do it. If I'm designing for a yarn company like Miss Babs, or mYak, they take the photos.

If a pattern needs a tutorial I make a video and put it up on YouTube. After I get all of my feedback from test knitting and tech editing I put the finishing touches on the pattern, add the final photos, and get it ready for publication. On publication day it's uploaded to Ravelry, and I post about the release on InstagramFacebook, in my Ravelry group, and usually send out a newsletter.

I think the thing that would surprise most run-of-the-mill knitters is how difficult it is to get new designs noticed. There are so many people publishing patterns these days that new releases can be missed very easily.

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Model is wearing Olives in November. Photo by Kirsten Kapur.

 Kym:  I’ve knit several of your mystery shawls over the years, and I know many of my blog readers have knit both your mystery socks and mystery shawls. When you design a “mystery knit,” how is it different from designing a “regular knit?"  How do you decide where to break down the clues — and how does that impact the design?  What makes a GOOD mystery design?  Do you like knitting mystery knits yourself? 

Kirsten:  I love designing mystery patterns! The process is very different than my other designs. First of all the people who participate in my MKALs are talented and adventuresome knitters. They are not necessarily advanced knitters, but are the kind who are fearless and willing to try new things. This allows me to throw a lot into a design, so the patterns are an absolute delight for me to create.

In order to be a good mystery, a pattern can't be predictable. Something new, and hopefully surprising, needs to happen in each clue. I think some of my best designs have been mysteries because in order to push the MKAL participants, I end up pushing myself. Last year's mystery shawl, Vine Pops, is one of my favorites. I like the way one clue flows into the next on that design.

With socks the clues break down pretty easily into cuff, leg, heel, foot, and toe. With shawls it's not quite as obvious. It depends on the design, but usually I start a new clue at an obvious change in the design. This can make some clues much shorter or longer than others. Usually the first clue is shortest. I think of it as a little warm up. The next several clues are usually the longest, and ideally the last clue is on the shorter side too when people might be starting to burn out.

I seldom have the time to knit other's patterns, so I've never actually participated in a mystery KAL. I'd love to do one of Romi's though. Her patterns are gorgeous, and intelligently designed. 

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Model is wearing Vine Pops. Photo by Gale Zucker.

Kym:  How about . . . I give you a soapbox and ask you to talk to knitters about what it’s like to be designer.  What would you like us to know about designing as a profession?

Kirsten:  Unless you are one of the top designers -- and I mean the very elite -- designing is an extremely hard way to make a living. A single pattern takes hours and hours from concept to publication. I would venture that most full time designers who publish regularly work much longer hours than they would in most other jobs. Many also travel a lot to teach to make ends meet. Supplies, good tech editing, sample knitting, and photography, are expensive, so until sales cover those things, a designer isn't making an income.  

Kym:  What can knitters do to support the work of designers we love and follow?

Kirsten:  If you like a designer's work, be sure to support their new releases, even if you won't be knitting them right away. If you see a pattern you love from a designer you've never heard of, take a chance, and buy the pattern. Knitting patterns are not very expensive at an average of $6-8, compared to independent sewing patterns which are anywhere from $14-18 for a pdf file -- more for a printed pattern.

You can obviously support designers by purchasing their patterns, but there are other things you can do too, repost and talk about their work in social media, to your knitting friends, and in knitting groups, join their mailing lists, follow their hashtags on Instagram, or simply head over to their designer page on Ravelry from time to time and see what's new. It's so easy to miss new releases. You are also really helping the designer if you upload your project to Ravelry (extra points for good, modeled photos) and if you like it, give the pattern a five star rating.

Kym:  What can knitters do to encourage new and emerging designers who may not get as much notice as some of the more established designers?

Kirsten:  There are so many talented designers who deserve to be noticed. When I teach or go to a knitting event and see everyone wearing the exact same shawl, sweater, or what-have-you it worries me. The incidence of this has increased over the years that I've been designing and teaching. I want the variety of design choices to continue to grow, but if it's hard to be noticed, some lesser known or newer designers probably won't stick to designing very long, and we could miss out on some really great work as a result. I'd love to see people commit to knitting one design from a more obscure designer for every super popular pattern that they knit. You might just discover the next big thing!

Mutti's Blueberries GZ
Model is wearing Mutti's Blueberries. Photo by Gale Zucker.

Kym:  You do so many cool things BESIDES knitting -- sewing, weaving, fabric design, shoe-making(!) — what do you enjoy the most?  How do these other hobbies or practices influence your design work?  What advice do you offer to others . . . in terms of “following your muse?” 

Kirsten:  Right now I'm all about sewing and ceramics. I'm completely obsessed with both. I give myself Mondays off from design work and spend the entire day in the ceramics studio. My twin daughters moved out recently so I finally have the space for my own sewing room (whoohooo!). As I've gotten older it has become more and more difficult to find ready-to-wear that fits me well, is comfortable, and that I feel good in. Sewing is the perfect solution. I've got 8 or 10 go-to patterns for tops, skirts, pants, and dresses that I know work well. I'm constantly looking for more so I can have some variety. Luckily there are a lot of wonderful independent sewing pattern designers, so there are many options.

My sewing pattern searches have shown me how important seeing images of designs on a variety of people with different body types, ages, and skin colors is. I do a lot of hashtag searches on Instagram to find photos of projects made from specific sewing patterns to see if the pattern might work for me. My daughters are mixed race, and many of the models I've used over the years have been people of color, so I think I've done a pretty good job of showing different races. However, they've nearly all been young and/or thin. Searching for sewing patterns has made me realize that I could definitely do a better job of showing my designs on more mature models, and on larger bodies -- frankly on people who look more like me. I'm actually considering using myself as a model for my own designs from time to time. When I can find someone else to take photos, that is.

My advice to others is to be fearless, try new things, and don't be afraid to be bad at something. My first few ceramic pieces are homely, warty things, and I love them because they represent a new adventure -- one of them holds my pot scrubber by the kitchen sink, and the other sits on the table next to my knitting chair and is the perfect for holding tape measures and stitch markers as I work.

I can honestly say I was the worst in my ceramics class when I first started about 6 weeks ago -- I'm not being humble here, I could not get that clay to behave! But I'm pretty proud of the things I'm making now, this morning I even drank my coffee from a mug I made. I still have a lot to learn, but for me things are the most exciting when I'm discovering and trying to master new skills. Likewise, shoe making was very far out of my comfort zone, and I can't say I wear the shoes I made very often, but I had a wonderful time and learned so much. 

Warty Little Pot
Kirsten's warty little pot! Photo by Kirsten Kapur.

 Kym:  How do you deal with stress in your life?  

Kirsten:  I have knit my way through the loss of both of my parents. I can't imagine spending those hours by their bedsides without the comfort of knitting. I feel lucky to have a strong creative drive. As my father used to say, "What do people without hobbies do?" I am at my happiest and most relaxed when I am creating. I could do a better job with exercising. In the past when I have been committed to exercise it has really helped relieve stress. But where to fit it in with all of this making? ;)

Kym:  So what’s coming up for you next, Kirsten?  Tell us what you’ve got up your sleeves!

Kirsten:  My annual TTL Mystery Shawl KAL is normally in June, but this year I need to push it back. I have a few too many deadlines to get a good design completed in time, and my tech editor is in the process of moving, so her time is very limited. I hope to do the KAL in September this year -- maybe we could all meet up at Rhinebeck to show off our shawls, meet in person, and take a group photo.

Beyond that, I'm dabbling in textile design right now. If anyone wants to see what I've been up to, my Spoonflower shop is here. Sometime down the road I hope to design some simple and approachable knitting & sewing patterns that use my original textile designs. I haven't completely finalized my plans for this, but they would involve yarn and fabric that coordinate so that you might sew a simple skirt and knit a top that work together. I'd like these to be very simple sewing patterns that are approachable for those who are new to sewing. That's down the road though. Probably in 2020 at the earliest.

KK wearing her print & yoke designs
Kirsten wearing her print and yoke designs. Photo by Kirsten Kapur.

 Kym:  And that’s it for my questions, Kirsten! Thanks so much for this behind-the-scenes look at your work and your life.  I appreciate your taking the time to talk to me and allowing me to share your story. Bye, now!

Kirsten:  You’re welcome, Kym.  Bye!

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Not only was Kirsten gracious enough to answer my questions, but she has also offered the following extra-cool treats:

  • From now until May 15, all Stepping Away From the Edge readers will get 20% of Kirsten’s self-published patterns. Just enter the coupon code MULHERNMAY when you check out on Ravelry, and the discount will be taken off your order.
  • AND . . . If you respond with a comment to this blog post, you will be automatically entered into a drawing for Kirsten’s digital version of Saturate/Desaturate. (This is Kirsten’s ebook featuring featuring 5 of her fabulous designs).  The deadline for commenting is Thursday, May 11.  The winner will be notified by email.