>Hitting a smaller target: Part 3

>Free-lance crochet design is never a sure thing. Hell yes, I still get rejections.  But I keep plugging away at it because I can’t NOT do it.  If you love to crochet, keep your day job.  No matter how creative, innovative, or brilliant your crochet designs, don’t count on getting rich as a crochet designer if your heart’s desire is to nest at home in your piles of yarn and periodically send out designs, samples and patterns.  Even if you score a few book or booklet deals, the income you can expect from being a professional free-lance designer and author will barely support the activity.  You may earn yourself a rabid, dedicated fan base {hey, guys!}, but that don’t pay the cable bill.

There are designers with greater aspirations who have built empires through hard work and career versification.  These are the world-class celebrities, the brand-names,  the ones who not only design for publication but also may design for fashion production (a whole other aspect of crochet design), tour, teach, lecture, cruise, podcast, produce videos, become show hosts or crochet experts on TV craft programs, write technical articles and books, write other than crochet books, align with companies, manufacturers and distributors to merchandise themselves with their own yarn and tool lines, lend their names to various promotional activities, monetize their websites and blogs by accepting advertising, heck, some cross over or have always been cross-overs to knitting and are able to tap that vein. Truth be told, they are not rich, either. At least not by way of crochet.

If I were to be completely objective and not my natural reticent self, I’d have to admit that I am moderately successful at what I do, in the context of what one can expect from what I do.  Although I have plans to branch out into teaching, as for those other paths to the perception of greater success, they would probably make me miserable.

It’s funny.  I know squat about fashion, but because today I design garments, through association my work has become fashion. Very few consumers know that I began designing accessories, and have over three dozen published bag designs, more bags than any other category of design I’ve done. All I ever claim to know or do is crochet.  And what I excel at is making whatever you want into a publishable crochet project.  I trustingly and naively depend on editors and yarn companies to tell me what they want, or what they think consumers want, or more accurately, what they plan to convince consumers they want.  I make money creating whatever that is.  In a sense I am a hired gun doing crochet on demand.  And this is OK with me.  I love a challenge.  I enjoy taking my skills to the edge.  After all, I get to nest at home in my piles of yarn and periodically send out designs, samples and patterns!

What’s happening to me now is that I am gradually being prodded out of my nest and it’s scary out there.  I’ve spent years in the pursuit of crochet excellence according to those lessons I learned, driven almost exclusively by editorial demands.  I allowed my design course to be plotted by suits. Sorry for the unfortunate word choice because not every employer is a suit, but I am making a point here. In the tunnel-visioned effort to produce for them doable designs for most of the crochet audience, at the same time balancing plus size fit and flattery with keeping the patterning to a minimum,  I rather lost sight of a few things.  Like, Man, am I out of touch with reality!

One of those things, at first a nagging suspicion at the back of my brain, just last week brought to the front by a few friends’ comments, is that I have neglected the lower end of the sizing continuum.

This is not about the current and amusing efforts by several Ravelry crocheters who have succeeded in scaling down some of my designs to fit babies or teddy bears. That’s so funny and fun that I don’t have the right to either judge or contribute to the activity.

Nor is this about going where I have recently dared to go, girl sizes.  I am testing the waters with the Clarity Cardigan in the Spring 2010 issue of Interweave Crochet and coming this fall a skirt for NaturallyCaron.com.  I will let you know how that’s working.

What I am hearing is that there’s a population of smaller sized adults encountering fitting issues with some of my designs.  I didn’t see this coming.  Using the same yarn, working to perfect gauge, making the smallest size and whatever adjustments for length or shaping are offered in the pattern or devised by the crocheter herself, the women are still swimming in their resulting garments.  In my books I have suggested that, for a more body-conscious fit you should make the size where the finished bust measurement of the garment is less than your body bust, resulting in negative ease.  Negative ease is not the same as tight.  It means taking advantage of the stretch and drape of relaxed gauge crocheted fabric and asking it to mold to your shape.  What I did not anticipate was that a few women are so off the chart that there is no such option to downsize.

How can I make this fracking thing smaller… that is what I’m hearing. Dang it, but I’m not going to leave tiny bodies out of my chief MO (modus operandi: method of operating). They deserve to get a good fit too, even though we may secretly envy and despise them and wish they would stop posting images of their skinny little selves! I thought of a way to publicly address the problem, but I have to be slightly careful sneaky about it.  I don’t own the rights to many of these designs so I can’t just make changes to the originals and pass around new versions.  I also have no way to go back, revisit and re-write any of the published patterns that do belong to me, not even the ones in my books.  I will be allowed to make small corrections if and when my books go into future printing {like that’s gonna happen}, but for changes of any magnitude there can be no do-over.  Be assured you won’t leave this series empty-handed; in the following installments I will offer concrete tips and advice on this matter.

Before I can help you deconstruct my MO, I need to delve into the reasoning behind my peculiar style of seamless design.  This is something you must understand before you try any radical alterations.  My design story may prove enlightening for all who attempt to crochet this way, not just for seekers of small-size adjustments, so please be patient and come along.

Doris designs begin with yarn, always yarn.  I can propose, or an editor can suggest/demand, what sort of garment is needed for such and such an issue of a magazine, and we can reach agreement on an overall silhouette or impression, (for instance a fall/winter cardigan with 3/4 sleeves and collar), but that is an intellectual exercise, a step in a particular direction.  A wish.  For it is the yarn that tells me what it wants to be.  Happiness is when the editorial vision matches the desires of the yarn sent.  Agony is when the yarn refuses to cooperate and become the design it’s earmarked to be.

How does yarn speak?  How do you know when the design is right?  It’s like how you are sure you like dark better than milk chocolate.  How you feel better wearing blue and not rust.  How to tell if you are in love.  You just know.

Listen for the voice.  I pull an end from every skein and roll it between my fingers to assess the properties of thickness, density, roundness, twist and texture.  Do not rely solely on the hook/gauge suggestions or weight/yardage and fiber listings on the yarn label, or the wpi (wraps per inch) info to tell the whole story.  Your experienced fingers can gather more information about that yarn than anything you could read. This is the beginning of hearing the  yarn speak.

Each yarn has one optimum gauge for my purposes of top-down seamless lace garment construction.  A bit of tinkering and experimentation (some call this swatching, but what I develop is not your usual swatch) will soon tease out of the yarn what this gauge should be. The choice of yarn therefore is of such incredible overriding importance because the yarn totally dictates the gauge, that gauge helps determine which stitch pattern to use, that stitch pattern creates the fabric, that fabric is what makes the garment work.

I am not insisting that there is only one gauge and one way to use a particular yarn.  All I am saying is, for my very particular method of design and for each specific project, a yarn will tell me where it is happiest.  Once the piece is finished, blocked and put on the body, if you’ve been listening all along, that yarn will show you its greatness, how it behaves, moves, breathes, drapes and yes… you will hear that yarn sing.

It is an organic way of working that may seem at odds with the cherished notion that you can swap out yarns as desired.  Technically, you can’t and expect the same results. I can’t just plug and play.  The thing that I crocheted was grown from a chatty skein of yarn, using my hook, my personal tension and overlaid with whatever mood I was in at that moment in time. I am not saying that yarn substitution is inadvisable.  Far from it.  I am a champion of crocheters’ prerogative.  But be prepared for the distinct possibility that the result might not be the same as mine.  If you can go with that, then by all means, use whatever  yarn you please and love it.

Do you begin to see why sizing organic designs to span as much as 20 inches difference in bust circumference might be problematic?  If that yarn is singing, you don’t want to mess with the magic.  On the way to developing my current MO, I explored other, easier methods to achieve varying garment sizes.  I have on occasion called for changing hook size, which alters the gauge and changes the fabric, hardly ever for the better.  Smaller sizes use a smaller hook and get tighter fabric, larger sizes use larger and larger hooks and get looser fabric.  I could take that shortcut every day and be home for dinner.

I have also tried adjusting the main stitch pattern to get a wider repeat; I have tried adding rounds to a basic motif to get bigger and bigger building blocks.  Solutions like these do not essentially change the fabric.  But you gotta know that in organic design everything is connected; seemingly simple adjustments can reverberate and screw up the garment proportions to the point where entire separate sets of instructions (and diagrams, and schematics) are required for each size.  I once designed a motif tunic where the patterning topped 8,000 words.  Nobody wants such bloated patterns.

Stubbornly, obsessively, I insist that every size enjoy the same perfect fabric throughout all the interior stitch manipulations necessary to achieve seamless top-down shaping for as many as six different sizes, all of which should have correct proportions. Even in the best case scenario, when the stitching itself is comparatively simple, the written pattern is invariably a nightmare for me and for the crocheter.

While I am here, a sidebar: Why stop at 2XL?  That is a cruel joke on the truly plus-sized audience.  For sizes up to 5XL and 6XL there is little hope of being included in traditional fashion crochet publishing.  A few brave crochet and knitting authors and publishers have offered collections of plus size only garments, where the sizing begins at Large.  Without the need to cover the small end of the range, the designer can build plus size proportions from the ground up. Instead of being the afterthought, grudgingly tacked on at the end of the process, this group becomes the focus.  It’s the sane way to serve this segment of the audience, in the same way there are specialty clothing lines and shops for plus sizes.

However, from the viewpoint of a designer and author, plus size only patterns and books are a tough sell and I leave it to braver souls to go there.  Not only is there industry reluctance to provide photography with larger models (BTW, that means a size 14), but there is the assumption (possibly correct) that such targeted, specialty publications will never sell as many copies as more general interest ones and the return will never be worth the investment.

The logical venue for all such specialty products is, as many readers are already thinking and saying, self-publishing.  I am constantly fielding the question from fans, “Why aren’t you selling your own patterns?”.  The short answer is, “I am a crocheter, not a publisher!”.

But what about the All Shawl?  Okay, that is a self-published pattern of mine and honestly, it sucked the life out of me to produce.  It has been hosted at Ravelry for nearly two years and to date has racked up an impressive 20,000 downloads.  But it is a free pattern.  Did I make a ginormous mistake by not putting a fee on it?   If I had charged one dollar, or even just a quarter per hit, you might think I’d be raking it in.  But you might be wrong.  For free, everyone will come.  For even a tiny price, many will choose not.  So the All Shawl is and will remain a free download (see link on left of page).

You might insist that what I am doing right now and what I am about to offer here soon could be considered self-publishing.  Not to duck the issue, but pardon me while I collect my thoughts and get back on point (thereby ducking the issue!).  I have one more piece of my MO puzzle to discuss in the next installment.  Then the shrinky-dink fun begins. 🙂

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5 thoughts on “>Hitting a smaller target: Part 3

  1. >Doris,Thank you so much for doing this series. I find the whole idea of pattern grading very intimidating. Any insight into this process is very welcome. I have decided to start small in the pattern grading department (literally) by proposing designs for toddler/young child garments. We'll see how I handle the math if any of them gets accepted. ;)Elisa

  2. >Great insight into an aspect of the crochet pattern publishing nightmare.There are so many BBWs out there that hate clothes shopping because of the size issues, I being one of those.The fact that you take the time to rebuild each pattern so it comes out perfect for a BBW is nothing short of awesome! I have most of your books except for the latest one, which I'm saving my pennies to eventually be able to buy it.Don't ever let anyone stop you from doing what you do best!Angel

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