While I was feeling a little un-inspired (and maybe also a tiny bit sorry for myself) on Friday, a package of happiness arrived: Spanish and Dutch editions of my first book, Knitting Mochimochi!
I had heard that the Dutch version had been in the works, but I had no idea the title would include as fun a word as knuffels. Knuffels! According to sources on Twitter, the word means both “stuffed animal” and “hug.” Simply the best word in any language period.
Amigurumi de Punto Mochimochi was a complete surprise, and a very welcome one! It appears to be intended for the market in Spain, but I’m hoping it will find its way to other Spanish-speaking countries too.
With the Swedish version, that makes four languages that this book is available in. Next, the wooooorrrld!
I was going to talk about writing books today—I actually had a post about 80% finished—but then I decided to instead address something that’s going on with me right now: I’m kind of burnt out. The second half of 2013 was so intense with projects, travel, and our move to Chicago, that I had to scrounge up energy from reserves that I didn’t really have, and now I’m paying the price a bit this January. I haven’t melted into a depressive puddle on my couch (although I do happen to be on my couch right now), but I am lacking some of the excitement and creative energy that I rely on to keep going.
This kind of feeling used to make me panic (what if I never want to make something again? Do I have to give up and just get a real job??), but getting burnt out is not the end of the world. It happens to me about once a year after finishing a major project like a manuscript or an art show, this feeling that I’m not terribly excited about much, and the thought of big projects makes me want to get back in bed. It’s not a good feeling, and it FEELS like the kind of feeling that won’t go away, but it always does. It just takes time, and that’s the frustrating part: you can’t force inspiration or excitement.
When I was a senior in college, I was accepted into a Fulbright program to study in Japan for the following year. Unlike most Fulbright grants, this one wasn’t for research toward a graduate degree, but just a year of free academic study. (How great is that?!) Because I’d changed majors halfway through college, I was working on my thesis right up through August, and the program started in September. I recall turning in my thesis and feeling giddy about going to Japan. Then when I got to Japan and we were having our orientation for the coming year of study, I realized that I had zero interest in 12 more months in libraries reading about and watching Japanese wartime films. (That was my chosen area for some reason.) We were going around the room talking about what we planned to do with our year, and when it was my turn, I decided to be honest and say that I had just turned in a thesis two weeks before, and I wasn’t really feeling terribly academic right now. To my relief, the program director reassured me that it was common to feel sapped after such a big project and I shouldn’t worry about it—I should just relax and let myself recover. To my surprise, he then said that it could take months, or maybe even a FULL YEAR, to feel inspired again, and that that was OK. (Seriously, how great was this program?!) So I took him at his word and signed up for flower arrangement classes. And eventually I was motivated to write a big paper about leftist filmmaking in the 1920s, or something.
Academia turned out not to be my life’s passion, but I know that I’m passionate about making things with my hands and creating characters and stories. I’ve been doing this long enough that I no longer question whether I’m cut out for the job that I do, and it’s OK to just let myself enjoy other things for a bit. I stayed a little longer than usual in my pottery class the other day, and I’m planning to go in for some extra studio time soon. This is also a good time for me to catch up on some of the more mindless tasks that come with my job: winding yarn for kits, updating my mailing list, etc. I am also continuing to work on designs (I’m looking at YOU, unnamed arcade toy), but maybe I don’t have to write an entire book chapter this week if it makes my head hurt to think about.
My aim with this post is not to complain, but to get my thoughts down so that I can eventually move on. And I also think that, while the creative parts of the internet can be inspiring, they can also make us feel like if we’re not being inspired every second of our lives, there’s something wrong with us. Not true! Downtime is part of the creative process. Let it be. Maybe go to a museum, or take up flower arrangement.
Previous posts in this series:
I got to spend last weekend surrounded by yarn inspiration, knitting celebrities, and sneaky snowmen—it was Vogue Knitting LIVE! This was the fourth year in a row that I’ve been at the NYC show, and my seventh total at VK LIVE. Sometimes I don’t do a recap only because I forgot to take photos, and anyway the hotel lighting is not very conducive to good photos. But good photos be damned—I wanted to blog about it this time!
Some designers go to VK LIVE as teachers, but I’ve always participated as an artist, which means that I get to display one of my crazier projects and hang out in the marketplace all weekend, chatting with all the knitters and seeing their reactions to my weird tiny mochis. (I also sell my books and kits to cover my costs.) This time I showed my favorite stop-motion animation clips from the past couple of years, which had the advantage of a simple setup: instead of stitching things together for hours, I just had to plug my laptop into a TV screen. That’s my kind of preparation.
BIG WEEKEND HIGHLIGHTS:
• I got to meet the gal who writes those knitting lists for Buzzfeed. And look, she included my toys in a new one after VK LIVE!
• I saw not one but two beautiful Katniss-inspired cowls.
• Amy Singer stopped by to give me an update on the gnome I gave her years back at TNNA.
• The first three sneaky snowmen were found by a family of knitters! They each won a copy of Huge & Huggable Mochimochi.
• Vickie Howell told me I was on her “short list”(!!!)
• Pretty much everyone who stopped by my area was really nice—not one eye roll or “you have too much time on your hands”-type comment that I was aware of!
• All weekend I visited with the awesome people from the newly-opened La Maison Tricotée in Montreal.
• I met my first yo-yo artist—whoa.
• So many people told me they saw my animations on Nickelodeon last month!
(I’m the one fiddling with my iPad while everyone waits patiently.)
• I’m pretty sure Franklin Habit waved at me as he breezed by on the way to another class.
As exhausting as VK LIVE is, it’s also exhilarating: it’s like the entire knitting world has gathered at one place, and everyone is psyched to be there. I’m so lucky that hanging out at these events is part of my job!
The next VK LIVE is happening this March in Seattle. I’m actually not sure if I’ll be there or not (I’ll announce here soon if so), but if any of you west coasters are considering it, this is my official endorsement!
Uh-oh, looks like someone missed they day they covered the late Cretaceous Period in history class…
Have you taken fun photos of toys you’ve knit from Mochimochi patterns? Share them in our Flickr group! Then everyone can see them on our gallery page, and they’ll also automatically be entered in our next big photo contest.
Thank you for all the comments to last Friday’s inaugural Shop Talk post! Sometimes the thing that stops me from talking about how I run my design business is the idea that I ought to have actual wisdom to impart, but I also understand that it’s helpful just to hear about someone’s personal experience, even if they’re not so wise.
Since last week I wrote about how I got started, I thought I’d take this week to go into more detail about what exactly it is that I started. I bet many of you are familiar with the basics of how independent knitwear designers (or notwear designers, in my case) make a living: we knit up something lovely, we write up the instructions on how to make it, and then we sit back and watch the money pour in as thousands of knitters buy the PDF pattern as a download. Right? Well, not entirely wrong, but it’s not so simple either.
For the curious, here’s a step-by-step breakdown of what goes into my pattern making process.
1. THE IDEA
I have an idea for a toy. If it’s something that I’m excited about knitting and something that I think other people might want to knit too, I get started on the design. (Occasionally I also do a search on Ravelry to make sure there isn’t something too similar already out there.)
2. THE DESIGN
Design time! The time involved in the design process can vary wildly, from hours to weeks, depending on size, complexity, whether I have to start over a few times… a while back I wrote a more detailed description about what goes into designing a toy.
3. THE PATTERN WRITING
Once I have a finished toy that I’m happy with, I start writing up a proper pattern using the notes that I took as I was making the toy. Like the design process itself, this can take hours or days, depending on the complexity. (I do refer back to my older patterns for wording, but I also strive to always be making my instructions as clear as possible, so I still find myself struggling with how to best describe techniques that I’ve been using for years.) As I type up the pattern, I make notes to myself about which parts should have a photo illustrating a particular step.
4. THE RE-KNITTING
Once I have the basic pattern written up, I also have a list of additional things I need to knit for the photos that will go in the pattern. Depending on how many steps need photos, I might be re-knitting parts of the project two or three times over to show different techniques. (I like to have all the materials ready for the photo shoot, instead of stopping along the way to knit and take actual process photos. Although sometimes I’ll go in reverse, shooting a later step, then ripping it back to an earlier step for the earlier photo.) I also often make an entirely new toy using different colors or some other variation. Because variety!
5. THE PHOTO SHOOT
Photo time! In addition to the step photos, I take white-background photos of the toy from multiple angles—it’s always better to take more photos than you think you’ll need rather than realize you need more and have to set everything up again. Speaking of setting up, here’s what my setup looks like, more or less.
(If I look sweaty and disheveled in this photo, that’s because those lights are hot! And I’m usually just naturally disheveled.) I use a tripod and my camera’s timer to take photos that involve both of my hands, like this one.
I also try to take other, more fun photos in natural environments. It’s interesting how some toys are so much easier to shoot out in the world than others!
6. THE PHOTO EDITING & PATTERN FORMATTING
The photo fun continues as I use Photoshop to adjust what I’ve taken (including erasing the backgrounds) and insert the photos into the pattern. I also play around a little with page layouts at this point, trying to get to as close to a final pattern as I can. There are lots of different software options for this, but I’ve found Word, despite its shortcomings, to be easy to use and just fine for my patterns.
7. THE TESTING & EDITING
Now that I have a pattern, I send it out to my testers and my tech editor. This is a crucial step, because no matter how many times I closely read over a pattern, I can miss little errors. And instructions that seem natural to me may be baffling to someone else who isn’t living in my head.
8. THE FINAL EDIT
The feedback from testers and tech editor is in, and I make the final edits to the pattern. Final pattern achieved!
9. THE RELEASE PREP
Now it’s time to begin the process of releasing the pattern out into the world. I go back to all those photos I took in Step 5 and reformat some of them as images to use on my website (homepage, shop, and blog) and Ravelry ads (if I’m going to advertise).
I also write up descriptions to use on my blog and email newsletter.
10. THE RELEASE & PROMOTION
On release day, I start by uploading the pattern to E-Junkie, my download service, and I get the button code for my website. Once I’ve put the pattern up in my shop, I list it on Ravelry, then I start the announcements: newsletter is first, then blog, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Flickr…. there are probably more that I should be using, but that’s enough for me!
11. THE RESPONSE
Now I wait and see what kind of response I get. There are usually a few questions from customers that come in when I first release a pattern. And the first week that I have a new pattern out, I’m often on Ravelry, checking to see if any projects have been listed. It’s always exciting to see the first one!
So that gives you an idea of what goes into releasing a pattern: a lot of time invested up front! Most of the time I seem to have two or three different patterns in development at once, each at a different stage. (Right now I’m at Step 2 and Step 6 with two projects.)
And of course, with all that, there’s no guarantee that a pattern will be successful—after doing this for seven years, I’ve gotten only slightly better at guessing what will be popular with knitters. Getting a pattern noticed is it’s own process that I’d love to go into more detail about in a future post.
But if any of you budding designers are wondering if it’s worth all the work, for me it’s worth it when I get to see this:
To date, there are 950 Boos listed on Ravelry, each one of them unique and awesome. Getting to see my idea realized in someone else’s hands is simply the best part of this job.
Previous posts in this series:
I’m excited to share another adorable project by someone who took my toy design workshop at the Lion Brand Yarn Studio back in October. Kalliopi came to the class with a really specific idea: She wanted to design a cell phone holder in the shape of a sheep’s head. And here it is, just like her sketch!
Super cute! I’ve always said that my cell phone needed an adorable animal to snuggle with when I’m not using it. And you can even make one of your own—Kalliopi’s pattern is available for purchase via Ravelry.
I recall that in the workshop we talked about making a boxy shape by knitting a rectangular flat piece first, then picking up the stitches around the four sides of the rectangle and knitting them in a round to make the sides. (This is a technique that I’ve used in several of my more angular designs.) The pocket on top is a matter of binding off stitches in one row and casting them back on again in the following row. But I think it’s the details and proportions of the face that really makes the design. Nice job, Kalliopi!
By the way, I’ll be giving a talk all about designing knitted toys this Sunday (1/19) at Vogue Knitting LIVE in NYC! Come to the marketplace stage at 11am to catch it.
Just when you thought the tiny gnome couldn’t get any tinier…
I’m already getting excited about knitting a ton of these guys for a fun photo shoot! There will also be a pattern, probably in the spring.
2014 marks two and a half years that Mochimochi Land has been my full time job. (It was my almost-full time job for four and a half years before that.) I don’t normally talk shop here, but since it’s a new year and maybe some of you are thinking about starting new projects, I thought I’d begin a weekly series of posts about being a designer and running a small business. Today, my story of how I got started.
One of the best things about my job is that I get to do so many different things: I design patterns, of course, but I also work a lot with images (photography and graphics), I write, I teach, I make art, I give presentations, and I pack and ship online and wholesale orders. Pretty much none of this is related to what I studied in college—my major was media studies and Japanese—so if you had told my just-graduated 22-year-old self that I would be doing all of these things as a job ten years later, I would have said you had the wrong person.
After college (and an extra year studying in Japan), I moved to NYC with John, and my first (and only) “real” job was at an art agency and gallery. My work mostly consisted of coordinating projects by email and looking at contracts, but being around art was something new and inspiring for me. After a year or so I decided that I was ready to do something else, but I didn’t have anything specific in mind. I did have a knitting hobby, which had started in college and had grown more intense thanks to my mother-in-law, Bonney. I had also just designed my first toy in 2007, blobby creatures for my coworkers.
When I made these guys, I didn’t instantly think “THIS will be my new job,” but I did think “This is awesome and I can’t wait to design all sorts of toys!” I had a new passion, and after talking about it with John, I decided to take a few months just to knit toys and blog about them, and see where that might lead, whether to a different idea, a new career direction, or just some time for reflection before looking for a new job. It was a big help, of course, that I had a supportive husband and the financial flexibility to leave my full-time job. When I gave my two weeks’ notice in early 2008, my boss suggested a part-time arrangement instead, which turned out to give me a nice balance of freedom with my new project and a little stability with my office job.
The first place I shared photos of my toys was Flickr—I remember putting a photo of the Uh-Ohs (one of my first designs) in a knitting group, and before long I was seeing comments from people asking for a pattern. When I replied that I’d never written a pattern before, I received offers to test from these helpful strangers. That’s how I got my first testers, who helped me figure out how to write and format a pattern. (One of those testers was Angela Tong, who is now a designer and teacher in her own right.)
I still remember the brainstorming session that John and I had when we were trying to come up with a website name. Eventually I suggested something with the word “mochi.” Why? Because it was one of my favorite Japanese foods; because it’s soft and squishy, like a toy; and because I wanted to make toys inspired by minimalist Japanese character design, so a fun Japanese word seemed fitting to me. Mochi.com was taken, and so was mochimochi.com. So the “land” in Mochimochi Land was just a matter of URL necessity at first, but as my designs grew in number, it seemed natural that they should exist in their own imaginary land. (And at some point people started referring to my creatures as “mochimochis” and as “mochis,” which was also not intentional from the beginning, but a happy development that I embraced.)
Aside from Flickr, I had some early online press from Craft magazine that brought people to my website. But my audience really grew in 2009 after I signed up for Ravelry, which was still pretty new at the time, and exploding in popularity. Seeing all the excitement for Ravelry as an online meeting place for knitters, it was beginning to dawn on me that there was actually a market for digital patterns, and it might be bigger than I’d thought.
At this point you’ve probably figured out that I never wrote a business plan. My plan was just to start really small, publishing a few patterns as I went, and see what happened. It helped that there is little overhead in basic pattern making: I just needed the knitting supplies, a camera, and a computer. As time went by, I gradually added other dimensions to my business, like teaching and taking wholesale orders for kits.
As I’ve grown my design business, I’ve also taken on big knitting projects that aren’t directly related, like art installations and eventually also animations. These projects didn’t fit anywhere into a profit-making plan, but as a self-employed, self-directed person, I’ve wanted to continue to challenge my creativity, keeping my curiosity alive while I turned my hobby into my job.
If there’s something to take away from my “how I got started” story, I think it’s that there’s no secret formula to starting a small business, and it’s OK not to have it all figured out right at the beginning. But it does help to have a close-to-obsessive passion about something, an inclination for working independently, and the willingness and resources to invest a few years in it before you can make it your main income.
If you have any business or designing questions, or a suggestion of something else I should talk about that relates to these topics, or if you have your own story to share, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!