Name That Game

I thought about keeping this guy under wraps until the pattern is ready, but it’s been such a long journey getting to the final design, I just have to share a preview!

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You guys, I am PSYCHED at how he came out. For what it’s worth, this is my favorite mochi yet. (I guess that’s not actually worth very much, since my latest design is always my favorite…but still!)

Quite a lot needs to get done before we will have reached a final pattern, but there’s no reason to drag out the process, so rest assured that I’m on it, and there will be a pattern before long. However, somehow this arcade game mochi is still nameless! Would you like to name him? Leave your suggestions in the comments—if I choose yours, you can expect to get the pattern for free when it’s ready! (No guarantee that I’ll for sure use a name suggested in the comments…but maybe!)

Websites as Toys

It seems like the internet is getting more powerful every day, which is cool, but also scary, right? I think that’s why I find extremely simple, possibly useless websites to be so attractive. The art/design website The Fox is Black recently introduced me to some of these sites (which they called “single-serving sites“), and I’m thinking this could be a very deep rabbit hole indeed.

If you have a few spare seconds, click on the below to see some of my favorites.

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I think we’re pretty used to silly “toy” apps by now (sound effect apps come to mind), but there’s something really bold about a whole website built upon one simple concept. Websites can do so much, yet these do so little.

I have one more for you—a simple idea, but mind-blowing nevertheless. Take a virtual stroll through any random place in the world…

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As many different things as the internet is becoming, I love that it’s also becoming a place for some of us to create new forms of art and play and for the rest of us to enjoy the results.

Joan’s Hot Tub Snowmen

It may be March now, but that didn’t stop us from getting more snow this morning in Chicago. (SIGH…) I think these snowmen, made by Mochimochi friend Joan, have the right idea!

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I love all the action in this scene! It makes the snow just that more bearable for one more week.

Joan used the patterns for Mochimochi Snowmen and Tubby. Check out more photos on her Flickr page.

Shop Talk: Being Your Own Boss

Last night I realized that I didn’t have a Shop Talk post planned for today, and I started to feel a bit panicky. But then I remembered that there’s no one making me write these posts every Friday; in fact, I might be the only one who even notices if I don’t write one. Freedom! And yet here I am, writing a Shop Talk post. Why? Because my boss said so.

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Don’t let any frustrated freelancers kid you—being your own boss is awesome. You get to set your own hours, you can drop everything for a new crazy project if you want to, you get to go to the grocery store during non-peak times… it’s like normal life, but better. All you have to do is be able to tell yourself what to do. That means more than just motivating yourself to get stuff done and managing time—it means setting goals and figuring out a career path on your own. These things can be really hard when you also feel like you’re kind of improvising all along the way.

Working for yourself requires a balance of structure and chaos, and solo work and collaboration. I think that’s reflected in this little list I’ve put together of things that help me be my own boss. Hey, speaking of lists…

Lists
When I was a kid, I hated any classroom exercise that involved lists or outlines. My creative powers couldn’t be boxed in! But at some point the awesomeness of list-making was revealed to me, and now I am all about lists: I make a list of goals at the beginning of each year, I make a list of stuff I want to do for each month, each week I start a list for stuff that I want to get done each day, and every morning I make a list for the day. Lists are the closest substitution for having someone tell you what to do, so the idea is to take them seriously. But it’s also important to know that lists can be constantly revised based on changing situations. I don’t usually get to everything on my day’s list, but that’s not a failure—the purpose of the list is so that I don’t have a moment in the day where I feel aimless or bored. There are probably hundreds of list-making apps for your phone, but I prefer to use simple text documents and sticky notes for mine, for instant access and easy revisions.

Deadlines
Deadlines serve a similar function as lists, but I use them in a different way. I make myself deadlines for significant stages in a project—for example, if I’m working on a new pattern, I set a date by which I’ll have something to send to my tech editor, a date for when I’ll send it to testers, and a date on which I’ll release the pattern on my website. I put all of these on my calendar along with my doctor appointments and galas and other important events. There’s something about putting things on my calendar (which is on my computer and sends alerts to me on my phone) that makes me take them seriously.

Time Off
Without a break, all the endless lists and looming deadlines can be a real slog, so taking time off is important, but tricky. I have no qualms about taking a Tuesday afternoon off to visit a museum, but then you’ll probably find me working most of the following weekend. And I’m never totally off of my email for any length of time—John and I have to be the 24-hour customer service staff if someone has a problem with a purchase. But aside from the annual burnout, I’ve found a way to balance my schedule so that it works for my own lifestyle—almost always working, but super flexible hours, and a few extra curricular projects. And at least a couple of actual sort-of days off each month. If that means moving deadlines back sometimes, that’s fine. Plus, big ideas need time and space to develop, so taking a walk on a beautiful morning instead of editing patterns can pay off.

Mentors
One of the tough things about my job is that, while there are tons of successful creative people out there whom I admire greatly, there’s no one person I can point to and say “I want to do what they’re doing,” and use them to model my career after. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t have mentors, experienced professionals who are willing to give me advice and help open some doors. I’ve been so lucky to encounter people who are generous with their time and resources just because I asked nicely and they liked my work enough to help me out. Without really consciously doing it, I’ve managed to put together a team of mentors who support various interests of mine, including yarn shop owners, authors, designers, artists, and artist reps. It’s important to have someone to turn to when I need some advice or an introduction, and these relationships all came about naturally, just through an email or because I talked to someone at an event.

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Just hanging with Debbie and Nell Bliss, as you do.

Peers
Like mentors, peers are awesome for advice and sharing resources, plus they’re great for an empathetic response when I need one. My ideas about what’s possible in my own career have certainly be enhanced by seeking out other designers, authors, and artists who are going through a similar process as me. And like with my mentors, anybody who shares some aspect of my work can be a peer to me. Shout-outs to Stacey Trock and Kim Werker in particular!

Online Resources
Obviously, the internet is there to help. I don’t go overboard with reading advice for people running small businesses, but I do occasionally check out the Biz Ladies series on Design Sponge, which is written by guest bloggers who run amazing small, creative businesses. The Designers group on Ravelry, which I’ve been mentioning a lot lately, is also a great place for someone like me to be. I don’t post there myself very often, but just reading what other designers are talking about helps me feel like part of a community of professionals.

Being a good boss to myself is really different from being a boss to someone else, which I may have to do someday. But at least I’m pretty happy with my own boss, even if my boss thinks I could have written a better blog post today. Maybe it should have been two separate posts, about time management and figuring out a career path. Whatever, boss.

Previous posts in this series:

Tech Editing and Pattern Testing

Online Marketing and Social Media

Writing Books

On Being Burnt Out

Self-Publishing Patterns

How I got Started

Ann Arbor Library Now Offering Mochimochi Patterns

I have some exciting news today for Ann Arbor residents! The Ann Arbor District Library now has 20 of my patterns available for download FREE to all of its cardholders.

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How is this possible? Well, this cutting-edge library wants to offer unique items to its cardholders, so we’ve worked out a licensing arrangement for a three-year period. I get a licensing fee, the library gets to offer something new, and the people of Ann Arbor get to knit up Sleepy Snakes, Luvbots, and Gobbledyghosts—everyone wins!

As far as I know, pattern downloads is a new idea for a library, and we have Erin the librarian to thank for that! She invited me to speak at the library last summer (there was also a robot Mochimochi display and a Gnomes vs Snowmen-themed hunt that tied in with the library’s summer game), and things just got rolling from there. I’m planning to return this summer for another event—I can’t wait!

A town where designers are supported, and all the knitters can download patterns for free… sounds pretty ideal to me. Let’s hope more libraries see the potential in this kind of partnership!

Insert Coin

A little update on how the arcade mochi is coming: He’s lost some of his negativity!

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That’s right, no more “GAME OVER” for this guy—all you need to do is insert a coin! It was the happier colors I’m working with that inspired the change.

Now, it may sound really simple to switch out the letters on his screen, but I had already established that they would be 3 stitches wide, and that presented a problem when it came to the letter N. After going through several iterations in which it looked like “IMSERT COIM” and IHSERT COIH,” I finally gave up and made the N four stitches wide. That means that the letters are just ever so slightly off center, a reality that bothered me at first, until I decided not to let it bother me anymore. He’s going to be super cute!

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So now I almost have all of the main pieces finished for my second version. I did reconfigure the structure of the seams just a bit, so that all of the pieces could be laid flat for blocking.

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So I’ll need to stitch them together again to make sure they fit properly. Then it will be time to add all the fun embellishments that I’ve been looking forward to for months. The finished design is feeling really close now!

Shop Talk: Tech Editing and Pattern Testing

In my last Shop Talk post, I did an overview of how I market a new pattern after I release it on my website. Today I’m going to take a couple steps back and talk about how I make sure that the pattern is as clear and user-friendly as possible with the help of some very important people: my testers and tech editor!

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First, some definitions. A tech editor is someone who goes over a pattern closely, checking the stitch counts, row counts, measurements, and all the knitting language, correcting any errors or unclear wording along the way. A pattern tester is a knitter who tries out a pattern before it’s public to make sure it works like it’s supposed to.

If you ever visit the Designers group on Ravelry, you’ll see much discussion about these two roles, and which is more important. The short answer is that while you can certainly release a pattern without using either a tech editor or a tester (and I’ve certainly done this on occasion), if you want to make sure that the pattern is as good as it can be, both a tech editor and testers are a really good idea. But the way these two checking processes work is different for each designer.

My tech editing/testing process

I’ll admit that it’s only recently that I’ve started having all of my patterns tech edited. I know other designers would find that shameful! But my main two reasons were that my patterns don’t needed to be graded for different sizes/measurements and my testers were already fantastic about noticing errors and typos. However, my tech editor (a former tester) has done wonders for my patterns and now I wish I had started working with her earlier.

So now, when I have a close-to-final version of a pattern, with all the images included, I send it off to my tech editor first. We agree on a date by which she’ll send me her notes, usually a week or so from the time I send it to her. I’m sure all tech editors are different, but mine has a superhuman attention to detail, and she makes notes on even the tiniest bits of wording. I love this about her, even though it means that when I get a pattern back from her, it looks like it’s been in a knife fight! Once I receive this very red document, I go over all of the suggested changes, most of which I accept.

My tech editor’s contribution is more than just correcting numbers and punctuation—she questions wording that I’ve used for years with the goal of making it make better sense. In this process, it’s important for me to forget my ego for a bit and just take the feedback at face value. Sometimes that’s hard when I’ve already poured hours into pattern writing, but being open to another perspective is only going to make me a better designer.

After I’ve revised my pattern with my tech editor’s help, it’s time to send it to my testing pool. I keep this process simple: I have a list of about 40 testers, and I send an email to them all (using BCC) with details on the pattern (the size, the type of yarn and needles needed, the techniques involved), a photo of the finished project, and a deadline for sending feedback to me (usually 2 weeks out). The first 3 or 4 people who reply with interest will get the pattern to test. Testing means following the pattern as written and letting me know if they run into any questions, typos, or anything that seems unclear to them. I also request a photo of their finished project.

If a pattern requires a particularly large amount of yarn or some kind of special yarn that most people don’t have on hand, I do my best to send the testers yarn to work with. But for most tests, my testers can just use scraps from their stash—this makes perfect sense to me, as I think most people who use my patterns do the same anyway. It’s also interesting to me to see how a pattern turns out for someone using a really different type of yarn than the original design.

So testers provide me with a final-final check of a pattern, to make sure that everything in it “works” in another person’s hands. At this stage, I’m not anticipating making significant changes to a pattern, but sometimes a big change has to happen when multiple people have the same problems with one section. In that rare situation, I make the change (possibly re-knitting and re-photographing the toy), then I run it by my tech editor, and then find a couple of new testers to try out the revised version. All of that adds time to what’s already a long process, but taking some steps back at this point is better than having a sub-par pattern that hundreds of knitters will be frustrated with.

One more thing that testers do—they create finished projects! If they share their photos online at the time of a pattern’s release, other knitters can see that the results can be replicated. If you’ve ever searched for a pattern on Ravelry, you know that it’s a huge plus to see that multiple people have used it already and have created cool things!

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Finding (and compensating) a tech editor and testers

From the Ravelry discussions that I’ve read, finding a good tech editor can be difficult, as they’re in high demand. I got lucky—my tech editor found me, and she happens to be one of the best. If you’re looking for a tech editor, a good place to start would be this thread in the Indy Pattern Designers group. (The discussion was started 6 years ago, but is still actively being posted on by people seeking tech editing work.) A good tech editor is not necessarily a prolific designer, but she or he should be extremely well versed in all types of knitting techniques and should have a good grasp of writing styles and abbreviations for knitting patterns. This is a professional position, and should be treated as such: references are a good idea! This is also work that should be paid for, and it’s a good investment that a designer should be willing to make.

What you should be looking for in test knitters is quite different: a test knitter should represent the average knitter out there, not a designer or someone particularly expert in pattern language. Myself, I try to maintain a pool with a mix of skill levels, although I do ask that my testers have some experience knitting toys, just so that they’re not completely lost with a pattern. Like my tech editor, most of my testers came to me, although sometimes I recruit testers from people who have contacted me about a problem that they’ve had with one of my patterns. If you’re looking for testers, a great place to start is the Testing Pool group on Ravelry. (By the way, I have all of the testers I need for now, but I’ll get the word out when I’m looking for more!)

You can make a great case for paying testers just like you would a tech editor, but for me, it’s important that my testers have the role of fan instead of employee. Everyone who tests patterns for me is doing so only because they wanted to be part of Team Mochimochi—I love that! And the many hours that my testers put into testing means that they would have to be paid very little for their work, and I’d rather that they enjoy the knitting in itself instead of being distracted by how much I’m nickel and diming them. That said, I send my testers another pattern of their choice once the test is finished, but I like to think of this as a “thank you” pattern rather than compensation for the work.

Final thought to this mostly image-barren post

My tech editor and testers do more than find errors in my patterns: they make me see my designs from a new perspective. They make suggestions about different techniques that I can incorporate (often introducing new techniques to me in the process), and they make me question the way I present those techniques. Even if I’m not going to make fundamental changes to a design once it’s in the tech editing/testing stage, I keep the feedback I receive in mind when I’m going forward with future designs. The whole point of writing a pattern is so that others can follow it, so it makes sense that it should take a team to develop that pattern. Go team!

Previous posts in this series:

Online Marketing and Social Media

Writing Books

On Being Burnt Out

Self-Publishing Patterns

How I got Started

Threes

Last week I blogged about two video games that helped me get through the coldest days this winter. Since I normally get excited about a video game about once a year, I thought that would be it for a while, but then John introduced the iPhone game Threes to me over the weekend. I’m in love!

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Threes is a tiny game about matching numbers. I love this modest description. It’s accurate—this is not a complicated math game, as you might think at first glance—but everything that the game does around its simple premise, it does extremely well. What initially caught my eye about this game, though, were the characters that embody each number. I saw John sliding around numbers with cute, animated faces on them, and I had to play what he was playing.

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I’ve always thought that numbers—at least the first 20 or so—have personalities. The odd ones tend to be more interesting, almost villainous sometimes, while the even ones are goody-goodies who occasionally cheat on tests to maintain their 4.0 GPA. I bet I’m not alone in my numerical character assignments. Threes takes that idea and runs with it: We’re actually introduced to each of the numbers as individual characters, some of whom have bigger personalities than others.

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The characters in Threes are charming, but I hardly noticed them after a while, because the game itself is just really great. John just wrote a piece for The A.V. Club about how perfect its opening tutorial is, and he’s right—this game has one of the best introductions I’ve ever played. Threes is a $1.99 right now in the iTunes app store. SO worth it!