Friday, September 19, 2008

Blog Tour: Casual, Elegant Knits

Hi everyone! I hope everyone had a great summer. I surely did: I had a great visit with my family and friends in the Czech Republic. Now, I’ve been back from my travels in Europe for couple of weeks. Kids are back to school; and we’ve finally adjusted to our new routines. After being sick for a week; finally, I am ready to dive into knitting, crocheting, designing, blogging and work overall with newly restored energy and new ideas.

I am starting up my first blog entry of the year (school year) with an interview with one of the authors of a new book Casual, Elegant Knits, Faina Goberstein. This book is a great collection of wearable designs for both men and women. The book is divided into three sections: City Life; Elegant Afternoon; and Gotta Have It. You can see the whole collection on Ravelry. Without further to do, here is the interview.

Me: Hello Faina! Thank you for inviting me to be part of your book tour for your new publication Casual, Elegant Knits, which you co-wrote with Dawn Leeseman. I feel really honored to be part of it. Today, I am the last stop of your book tour; and there was much asked and said about all the great designs in this book, so I wanted to focus more on how the book came all together and on the process it took to create it. There are so many books on knitting these days; how did the idea leading to the creation of this book come about?

FAINA: Hi, Simona! First, I have to say that I am so glad to have this opportunity to talk to you. Thank you very much. I am a big admirer of your designs. Now the book. It was a natural step for us. Dawn and I are helping out at the local yarn shop HeartStrings Yarn Studio. We always talked to each other about our designs, looked for each other’s approval, and even had a little line of patterns together. Once we started talking about the design possibilities, the number of ideas was overwhelming. To sort it all out we needed to start a big project. We made a decision to write a book. It seemed to be the best outcome for us at the time. Although each of us had some individual designs that could be incorporated in the book, we needed to have a clear understanding of the book theme. We spent many hours on trying to finalize the main thought of the book. As you said, there are so many books on the market. We wanted our book to stand out. We knew that we should go with something that would showcase us as designers and some projects that we wished as knitters to have available. Thus came the main theme for the book: a knitwear ensembles for both men and women consisting of classic and stylish pieces that people would want to wear.

Me: Where did you find inspiration for your designs?

FAINA: Different sources for different designs, but in general, the love of fashion in men and women’s clothing is something we both share. Dawn is more drawn to colors and textures and I love the architecture and details of stylish clothes.

Me: With so many yarn choices out there, how do you pick the right yarn for a particular project? Do you have yarn companies send you samples and then you choose; or do you work with the yarns you are familiar with and worked with before?

FAINA: We are fortunate to be working at the yarn shop and be friends with the very supportive and encouraging owner Joanne Wilson. She helped us to get the yarn we needed for the proposal. Some of the yarns we needed she already had in her store. For my Vintage Hat and the Lacy scarf I wanted something soft and romantic with just a little mohair. For the Tweed Polo Dawn needed textured yarn that will not be too hot to wear. Once we had our proposal accepted, the yarn companies were kind enough to supply the yarn for our projects.

Me: What was the time frame of creating your new book – taking it from an idea to a proposal to the finished product?

FAINA: I would say it took us two years in all.

Me: What do you usually include in your proposal in order to catch an interest of a publisher?

FAINA: You know, we do not have that much of experience. Our proposal was the first for us and we were so lucky that the publisher liked it and even did not change anything. We did a very thorough research about publishing companies. Once we saw that Martingale & Co is a good match for us, we followed their clear instructions what to include in the proposal. We had many assays written about our idea of the book and what readership we are trying to target, we gave an initial table of contents, send few of our knitted samples, included many sketches, pattern samples, and project descriptions. I do believe that a publisher is looking for new ideas that are marketable and not over the top. Another observation: They love organized proposals. They can tell from it if a designer understands what this job involves.

Me: How did you choose your publisher?

FAINA: We printed out many publishers’ guidelines and compared them. Some publishers want you to take care of models and photography. Some ask for too much work for a proposal. Others sounded like it would not be easy to work with them. When we read very clear guidelines from Martingale we felt we have found it. It was very clear what we needed to do, what the company obligations would be and it was working for us.

Me: Some knitters may think that working on a knitting book must be lots of fun, which I hope it is; but I imagine it also must be tremendous amount of work. Taking it from my own experience working only on one pattern at a time (actually sometimes it is 2 or 3 designs at the same time for different publishers!), so I can only imagine there might be some stress involved with deadlines and such when working on a book. How do you deal with the pressure?

FAINA: Yes, you are right. It is a tremendous amount of work. There are stages where you can relax a bit, but there are some times where it is very stressful. Right at the beginning, when we had to check with the yarn companies on the yarn availability, we had our first shock. The two yarns we used for finished projects were not going to be available. We had to redo the Tailored Skirt, the Watercolor Shawl, and the Scalloped-Edge Purse. We were most of the time on the schedule. There was no stress coming from the publisher, thank G-d. After all the garments were designed and made by Dawn and me separately, the work on the writing began. We were sitting at the computer every day from 9 am to 9 or 10 pm. Dawn practically became part of our family for the time. We work together very well, so our stress only came from clarifying the patterns, correcting mistakes, writing up little romances for the patterns. Sometimes we had to show each other how did we knit a particular stitch, so we can write it in a simple way. Our knitting styles are different. I knit continental and Dawn knits the English way. I have not even realized that I am writing brioche stitch patterns suitable for continental knitters only. When she tried to knit from my description it did not look like what I meant. To incorporate both knitting styles, we had to change the language a little. Overall, I would say everything went very smoothly. Needless to say, when we put everything in a huge box and sent it away, it was a huge relief. I also have to mention two of our biggest cheerleaders and helpers: my husband Simon and Danny Leeseman. Simon was our men’s wear “consultant”, and both he and Danny were right there to help us to ship something, listen to all the details (poor men), and carry our stuff here and there. Since we were working in my house, Simon had to take care of the house and get used to the fact that his wife talked only about knitting for two years.

Me: What was the most fun about creating a new book, and what was your least favorite part?

FAINA: I always love the beginning of the design process. It does not matter if it is for a book or a magazine. It is very exciting to come up with that perfect match of the yarn, stitch patterns and the pattern outline. I also love to knit and see my creation to fruition. After that starts the part that I like the least: writing the pattern for many sizes. It is tedious and sometimes it creeps into your creativity. Not every line of the design is looking good on all sizes.

Me: Did you have a free hand on picking the models and how the garments were presented (e.g. where the pictures are taken) in the book?

FAINA: Martingale & Co took care of the layout of the book and the photography with their models. We had a big input on how we want the garments to be worn. For example, I asked the model to wear boots for the Little Flirt Skirt. We were very specific how the hats and sweaters must be worn. We also asked for the outside shots. I think I would enjoy so much be a stylist when they were shooting, but we are far from them. I have to repeat myself and say that we never were sorry that we sent the proposal to Martingale. They are great to work with. They said to us that they want our input as much as we can provide, because we know the best about our designs and we need to showcase them.

Me: I’d also like to ask you a few questions about the garments presented in the book. After my first listing through the pages, I was especially impressed with the men's knitwear presented: The garments and accessories are very classic and modern at the same time; and it’s something a guy would actually wear. From my own experience, this is particularly hard group to knit for. I made a few accessories for my husband; and I regret to say many of them are not worn much.L But my husband fell in love with the Driver's Cap, which I now HAVE to make for him! How did you come up with such a clever construction for this cap?

FAINA: Thank you, Simona. I am very proud of this hat. I actually tried to imitate the hat out of fabric that you can buy in a millinery shop. Of course, there are differences between sewing and knitting, so I had to modify quite a bit to get the shape. I made one and it was too big and too wide, so I did some changes in the design. The stitch pattern that I chose also had to remind a corduroy fabric. I think it does.

Me: I also like the Tweed Polo very much. This design is very versatile: its simple lines and one color make it very chic and classic, but this pattern can be easily used over and over again to create different looks by adding color stripes; elongating the sleeves to make polo long sleeve shirt/pullover, which for a intermediate knitter should not be very hard at all. What the inspiration behind this garment?

FAINA: Well, since Dawn is not here, I am going to answer for her. I hope I am right. In our second collection Elegant Afternoon our man had to have a lighter sweater that is suitable for the theme. We knew that it had to be a shirt with a short sleeve. The rest came from Dawn liking Polo shirts.

Me: I was quite impressed with the Triple-Pocket Bag. It quite completes the whole look of the model. How did you choose this project? Did it come at the same time with the Driver’s Cap?

FAINA: Yes, it does complement the Driver’s Cap. We thought that another felted bag would be too heavy for this collection. We also added three pockets for functionality of this bag.

Me: There have been thousands of hats made for women, but your Vintage Cap is very unique. I loved the great idea of using a tie to finish the look of this cap! What inspired you to design this hat?

FAINA: It is a combination of a very long scarf and a hat that I made for myself when I was a university student in Russia. I came up with so many different ways to wear it. So, in this hat, I attached the scarf to the hat and continued to play with it.

FAINA: Simona, I want to know what are you working on. Did you draw any of your inspirations from the styles you saw this summer in Europe or in Czech Republic in particular? I am very interested to hear about it.

Me: Faina, every year when I go to the Czech Republic, I take my stitch dictionaries, my pencils and my drawing book and hope I will work on some designs; but rarely I do find enough time to do it. I did not hold my hopes up this year. I had committed myself to 2 projects I hoped I would have finished before I left for my trip, but the late arrival of the yarn for these projects caused me to take the projects with me; so more than half of my trip I was working on it – knitting everywhere I went, even by the pool where I took my kids (some people thought I was crazy?!). Even though it’s always fun to work on a project, I have to say that this time it was a bit stressful with the deadlines and me being so far away. I could finally relax when I mailed it. After that I had to take a break from knitting for couple of weeks. Then I started a fun project - crocheting a coat for myself, which is now finished. Every year I also go to Styl & Kabo, which is an international fashion, textile, footwear and leatherwear fair in Brno. There I usually get plenty of inspiration, but this year I was unable to attend. As far as of what I am working on now: I am drawing a collection of designs for tweens, which I am hoping to be able to work into a book proposal. Your insight into a book making was very informative for me, so I know what to expect. Further, I am drawing a few proposals for couple of magazines and for a new booklet of one yarn company. Just like for you, this is one of my favorite parts of designing, so I am quite enjoying it.

Back to your book, though, what was the one question you were dying to answer but nobody asked you?

FAINA: Actually, I am so impressed with all the questions we were asked. We covered an incredible amount of topics. I do not think anything is left to discuss. I am so grateful to all 16 participants of this blog tour not only for taking their precious time to do this, but also for the depth of the questions and the interest they showed to their fellow designers. I felt that I’ve made so many friends through this experience. I also hope that we gave a good background description on our book and people will be more familiar with what to expect from our designs. We would be very happy to know that after two-year work we came up with a collection of patterns that many would want to make and wear.

Thank you, Simona, very much for the great finale of the blog tour. Good luck with your design work and I am looking forward to seeing your name in Vogue Knitting Interweave Knits, and many other magazines again and again.

Thank you, Faina! It was a pleasure to speak to you about your new book and what it took to put such a great project together.