I sometimes feel a bit of a fake when I tell people that I’m a knitwear designer in conversation. I do design knitwear, and I even get paid for it occasionally, something that I am very excited about and proud of. But I’m really an amateur. I don’t have any formal training and I’m no Elizabeth Zimmerman or Meg Swansen when it comes to creativity, inspiration, or clarity and beauty in writing. But I do have an idea or two now and then, and I know how to do enough basic math to get the numbers right. It’s a great hobby that almost pays for itself…
Back when I was slaving away writing code for the software company, I dreamed of quitting and forging a living out of knitting-related jobs – teaching, designing, maybe even working in or owning a yarn shop some day. In my research, I discovered that almost nobody makes a real living with knitting. There are a few super-star designers who do perhaps, and owners of successful yarn shops do…but I know well-published designers who couldn’t live off their earnings. So why do they – we – do it? Because we can’t help ourselves. Because knitting makes us happy and for me a couple other reasons. Because I have a faint dream that some day perhaps I’ll be better, more efficient, and maybe much more popular so that perhaps I could make more money than I spend on yarn and materials. And because it feels great to know that someone else wants to knit the things I thought up.
Yesterday I was at a baby shower for a friend. I had knit a little sweater for her, and since this is a friend that I know through a knitting group, we had surprised her with a whole layette that a few of us knit as a team. I wrote up patterns for all the pieces, and Kari knit the blanket, Keri knit the hat and booties, and I knit the sweater. Pam happened to open the sweater first, and was quite emotional when she saw it. The look on her face made me feel so great – there is nothing better than having someone love a gift that you knit for them.
Pam’s mom, also an accomplished knitter, didn’t know that I design knitwear and she asked me if I would mind sharing the pattern. She was thinking that I had knit the sweater from someone else’s pattern, and she was basically asking me to photocopy it for her, I think. This is SO common, and I don’t want to villify her personally, but really people making copies of patterns are a big reason why designers don’t make more money than we do. I try to educate people as I can, but that’s another story.
Back to the conversation at hand. I answered her by saying that I haven’t written up the pattern for that little sweater yet, but that I’m planning to eventually. It took a couple more minutes of explanation from me and the other girls at the party to help her figure out that I design almost everything that I knit, that I teach knitting in a yarn shop, and that I am a published designer. One exchange that I remember in the conversation was “Well, you should sell your patterns at yarn stores!” and me saying “I do”. Anyway, the point of the story is that I felt very flattered by the whole conversation, and later Pam opened the afghan her mom had knit for the baby and I had the chance to sincerely admire it and tell her what a lovely job she had done. And that’s a great feeling too. When another knitter respects me and I can tell them that they are doing nice work too. Because everyone needs to hear that.
And another little anecdote from this weekend. This week I got a call from the store saying they had run out of a couple of my patterns and need more. Now, they only buy six copies at a time, but still…it feels great to know that people are buying my work, that they like what I made and want to make it too. That’s the good side. The slightly sad side is that tonight I spent an hour printing, collating, assembling and stapling my little patterns. I typed up an invoice for a paltry amount and thought about all the hours that went into knitting, writing up, photographing, and laying out the documents. And the hourly rate that all this would work out to if I dared try to think it through would be tiny. Which leads me back to why I sometimes feel like a fake when someone asks me what I do for a living and I tell them that I’m a knitwear designer as well as a full-time mom.
Still, there is the potential that some day I might write a book and get it published. But even in my wildest dreams, I don’t hope to compete with Elizabeth.