When Jean Moss wrote and asked if I'd be interested in joining the blog tour for her latest book, I was super chuffed. Glowing, even. And naturally I said yes.
To me, Jean is one of the original indies. Although as you'll discover when you read on that she doesn't consider herself a self publisher, she was one of the first named designers to rise above the brand of the yarn company and be recognised for her own capabilities, which isn't as easy in the UK as it is in the US. Add to that the independant knitwear business she ran for many years, with the numerous designs for many famous fashion houses firmly under her belt, and the patterns and kits available on her website, Jean has on more than one occassion proved that you can successfully be an independant knitwear designer. Furthermore she has retained her personal and approachable touch, which to me is the key factor when defining what 'indie' really means.
For my stop on the blog tour, I wanted to ask Jean some questions about her experience on publishing, as well as her perspective on the design process. As a self publisher, I'm always fascinated to hear how others in the industry approach their job (self publishing can be pretty isolating at times) and I hope you enjoy reading about Sweet Shawlettes through Jean's own words.
1) When you start a fresh design, is there one part of the construction or a physical point that you start with first? For instance, when I design a Hat I start with the crown, and provided the maths of that works out, I move downwards into the body and brim sections. It may not be knit in that direction, but that's where my thinking starts.
My approach to knit design is a holistic one. I always travel an identical path – drawing, yarn selection, swatch, specification sheet, chart, pattern, schematic. Every design has its own cooking time – some simmer slowly like a casserole for months, while others are immediately on a fast boil and just tumble out. The point at which I start on each design is determined by the pattern – e.g., top down shawl, mobius scarf (in the middle), or bottom-up circular cowl.
If I'm starting a big project like a book, I need a couple of weeks of displacement activities, like gardening, playing guitar or cooking, to mull things over, sketching ideas as come into my head. Balance is important in book-making, so I make a book plan with the chapters, their inspiration, how many designs in each chapter, then make mood boards which reflect each chapter.
Next comes the decision making, editing and tweaking the drawings to fit into the framework of the book. I'm very keen on sustainable and ethical fibres and would have liked ideally to include more than eventually made it into Sweet Shawlettes.
However, the timeframe was so tight, that I knew I had to use yarns I'm familiar with and trust, so in the end the majority of the projects used many different Rowan yarns, including their gorgeous eco-yarns. Once I've decided on the yarn I choose the colours and try to make sure the different projects in each chapter sit well together, making a coherent whole colour-wise.
2) What was the greatest challenge to you when writing this book?
This may come as a surprise, but the timeframe for the book was alarmingly short. I was asked to write the book in November 2010 and I had to deliver the completed manuscript with samples by the end of March 2011. It did seem like a huge ask from scratch, but I’ve always found it hard to turn down interesting new projects, so it didn’t take me long before I jumped in and agreed.
The schedule seemed to dovetail with other things I was committed to at the time - Knit Morocco, one of our knitters’ tours was due to start in the last week of March. I reasoned that if I could eliminate all other projects for the next four months, it was doable. However, I certainly couldn’t have done it without my band of trusty knitters who tested every stitch, but it did require an unswerving daily commitment.
3) Which is your favourite of the Sweet Shawlettes, and why?
I find it hard to design knits I wouldn't wear myself, so it's fair to say I've loved each project in turn as I've designed it. However, the project I chose to knit for friends this Xmas was Drift from the Couture chapter. I love big cables and this easy cowl is quick to knit and fabulously wearable, plus it also allows me to indulge my passion for buttons. It's a versatile piece and doesn't have to be worn as in the book - the cable pattern creates holes regularly throughout the fabric, offering many different ways of buttoning it.
4) As a well established, well published and respected designer, how have you found the change in publishing models/methods in recent years?
There are many factors that contribute to a book's success and after the author, the next most important one is the publisher. In the past I've had my share of trials and tribulations with publishers and come to the conclusion that there has to be trust on both sides - trust from the publisher that the designer will deliver the goods on time in a professional manner and trust from the designer that the publisher will honour the contract, be true to the designer's vision in the making of the book, and lastly and very importantly, distribute and promote it well.
At this point I should say that I'm really pleased by the way things turned out with Taunton. They did a fabulous job and I can't thank them enough. I was given complete control over yarns, stitches, colours, styles, techniques - something I really value. I was kept in the loop about each process of the book's production, consulted on the book's design and to my utmost surprise and great relief the editors at Taunton actually listened.
However, in a previous hardcover book that shall be nameless, in the same situation I was treated like a jobbing author and ended up with a book I hated, where the images reflected completely different sweaters to the ones I'd designed. The book was supposed to have the title Chic Knits - Audrey Style but no homework had been done and at the eleventh hour when I thought I'd sent the book on its way, the rug was pulled from under and all mention of Audrey Hepburn had to be deleted. This was because the publisher refused to pay the five figure sum which the Audrey estate demanded for the right to use her name. I also loathed the photography, though I'm sure technically it was spot on. The languid ladies-that-lunch, dreary styling on models that were a million miles away from how Audrey would have looked wearing them, made me want to weep.
5) There are now many avenues for a designer who wishes to be published, all with their pros and cons - could you share some experience on the benefits of being published with a larger publisher?
I should say at the beginning that I've never self-published so I don't have that avenue for comparison. I do have some experience of taking the book to print-ready stage – I did a couple of books using Araucania Yarns (In The Mood and Wandering Spirits) and I was given a finite budget to deliver the book on disk, paying all costs except the printing. I enjoyed this immensely, it was great to be involved at all stages and exciting, if a bit scary, to know that you only have yourself to blame if anything goes wrong.
There are financial benefits of going with a large publisher, although you have to be quite a hard-nosed negotiator, or get someone else to do it for you. You have the advance, though compared to years ago this seems to be ever-diminishing. I know some publishers offer a one-off fee and if you're new to publishing this is not a bad idea, as long as you make sure that they're offering fair recompense for your work. The royalty question is fraught with problems. If you look in the small print there are many different types of percentages and it's hard for a book to earn more than the advance, so the lesson here is to try to make sure you get an adequate sum in the first place.
Large publishers will help with promotion and seek out distribution in other countries, but you still have to do much promotion yourself as you're competing with other publications which have access to large publicity machines e.g. Sixth & Spring Books, Vogue Knitting and Yarn Market News.
You do get the benefit of an editor, who if you're lucky will make helpful suggestions and improve your work. This may seem obvious but it's important to make sure that your editor knows something about knitting (not talking about a technical editor here, as many publishers expect the author to deal with that), which in my experience isn't always the case.
Styling, photography and book design are expensive items which help to convey your vision to your readers. A good publisher will recognise the importance of this, but others take the view that once a manuscript is delivered the author is no longer needed, in which case you may be shocked when the finished item finally lands on your doormat.
Thank you so much Jean for sharing your design and publishing experience with us here!
Sweet Shawlettes is an interesting book. Firstly, it's not all traditional shawlettes, more a collection of small garments that can be worn or draped around the shoulder, which for me is a unusual take on the idea - it opens up fresh possibilites, style wise, and allowers the knitter/wearer/gifter more choice. Secondly, the book is divided into sections determined by style or influence (Country, Couture, Folk, Vintage) and as someone who thinks more in terms of sculptural form and texture, again I found this interesting, and am certain this is something that knitters will see as a winning angle. The different sections each provide a different angle, from the highly practical through to the innovative an into high fashion.
There are a few favourite pieces for me, namely the 'Empty Circle' design shown above (circles! Hats!) and given the wide range of styles, there really is something in there for everyone.
All in all, a great book for small projects, odd skeins or gift knitting and I don't doubt you'll enjoy it. You can find more details about the book from the Jean Moss website, or by visiting Amazon or Ravelry.
And now, there's a giveaway! Jean's publisher have very kindly offered one copy of Sweet Shawlettes for one lucky commenter. To enter, all you need to do is visit the project gallery on Jean's website, then pop back here and tell me which design is your favourite, and why. It could be anything - it's construction, it's use of texture, the use of skills in the design - whatever grabs your interest.
I'll leave the giveaway open until the end of the tour on the 22nd March, when a winner will be randonly selected. Good luck!
This giveaway is now closed and I'll be contacting the winner shortly. Thank you for reading!
Here's the full itinery for the tour - there's loads of great stuff to read!
Wed 7 March: Jen Arnall-Culliford
Thurs 8 March: Needled (Kate Davies)
Fri 9 March: Rock and Purl (Ruth Garcia-Alcantud)
Sat 10 March: Woolly Wormhead
Mon 12 March: Yarnscape (Alison Barker)
Tues 13 Mar Confessions of a Yarn Addict Anniken Allis
Wed 14 March: Joli House (Amanda France)
Thurs 15 March: This Is Knit
Fri 16 March: The Knitting Institute (Knitting Magazine)
Sat 17 March: Life’n Knitting (Carla Meijsen)
Sun 18 March: ConnieLene (ConnieLene Johnston)
Mon 19 March: Just Call Me Ruby (Susan Crawford)
Tues 20 March: Tiny Owl Knits (Stephanie Dosen)
Wed 21 March: Ulla-Bella (Anita Tørmoen)
Thurs 22 March Heike Knits Heike Gittins