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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

So, you want to be a sample knitter?

Every so often I get an e-mail or a Ravelry message from a knitter or an e-mail forwarded from a magazine from someone who wants to be a sample knitter. It sounds good, doesn't it? You get paid to knit!

So what do I mean by the term sample knitter? 
A sample knitter is a knitter (or crocheter if we're talking about a crochet designer) who knits for a designer or yarn company. She'll be sent the yarn and pattern and will knit the sample and post it back to the designer for photography. She has to knit the sample in the size the designer want and won't get to keep the sample.

First thing  I want to make clear is that sample knitting won't make you rich and it's difficult. 
How much sample knitters get paid varies from designer to designer. When I first took on a sample knitter I asked a designer friend how much she paid her knitters. I used that as a guide to set my rates, which varies on whether it's a garment, shawl or an accessory, which size, difficulty & yarn thickness. So a complicated laceweight sweater in a larger size would pay more than a chunky sweater in size 10. Some designers pay per metre or yard of yarn used. I find it easier to pay per item. However much the designer pay, it's not going to make you rich or pay your mortgage. It may help pay for some of your own yarn purchases though. 

Designers aren't making a small fortune either. There's no danger of my husband having his dream come true and being able to give up work early. Knitwear design is very poorly paid. I would imagine that out of everyone who works on a knitting magazine, designers are probably the poorest paid, which is kind of ironic as without designers there wouldn't be a magazine to publish.

So if sample knitting is so poorly paid why do people do it? 
Sample knitters are knitters who love knitting. If you have a lot of time to knit you may be struggling to afford to keep up with your knitting habit. The more you knit the more money you're likely to spend on your hobby. So by taking on some sample knitting, you get to knit without having to pay for the yarn and you'll earn some spare cash which may perhaps fund part of your yarn habit.

So what does sample knitting actually involve?
The designer (or yarn company) will send you the yarn and the pattern. You will knit the item, perform any finishing instructions (although I tend to do all the finishing myself) and then send the item back to the designer. When the pattern if published you get the satisfaction of knowing you helped the designer do that and you can point out to your friends and family, that you knitted that.
 The swatch above is the only picture you'll have, in addition to the pattern, to knit the sweater below, which is my new design for Let's Knit: Pamela knitted in Debbie Bliss Paloma.

Sounds like fun doesn't it?
It may be fun but it's not easy. I can't speak for other designers but my sample knitters will get a pattern written up in the size they're knitting and sometimes that pattern isn't even complete. I may just send them the pattern for the back of a sweater, just so that they can get started on their knitting. Then before they finish the back, I'll send them further parts of the pattern. So you may have to start knitting and not even have a complete pattern to knit from. As you'll be knitting the first sample of the pattern you won't have nice, glossy photos to compare your knitting too. I don't know about you, but I usually use pattern photos to help clarify any difficult parts of the patterns or anything that's slightly confusing. As you're knitting the first sample of this pattern you won't have pics. You may have a pic of the designer's swatch and maybe a sketch or schematic.

So you have to be a confident knitter. 
My patterns won't have been tech edited/checked by a pattern checker before my knitters knit them. I write the pattern, and I do double check it (if I have time) then e-mail it to my knitters and they start knitting. There's very likely to be error or things that are't all that clear. If you come across any unclear bits or something that looks like an error you've got to be willing to contact the designer and ask her if there's an error or to clarify the instruction. Whatever you do, don't just carry on knitting, hoping it'll work out in the end. Your designer won't thank you if you ignore an obvious error. 

Did the designer tell you you'll be knitting a size 10 but this sweater seems like it would fit a size 20? Then contact the designer to make sure there isn't an error. Obviously you have to make sure you're knitting to the right tension first, but you all knit tension swatches, right?! right??Checking your tension is ESSENTIAL for sample knitters. You can't just hope your tension will be about right. The designer will need the garment to fit a certain size as dictated by the magazine, which is usually a size 10 in the UK and it will have to be knitted to the tension set in the pattern.

Sometimes you may not be sure if it's an error but I always say to my knitters, if there's anything you're unsure of, no matter how silly it seems, PLEASE ASK ME! I'd rather have a thousand 'silly' questions than receive a garment back 3 days before the deadline which is 5 inches too big or has an obvious error. 

If you're anything like me then you may get halfway through a sweater and get bored and it's so tempting to put the garment aside and cast on something else but if you've promised the designer you'll do this knitting by a certain date, chances are that this will only be a few days before the designer's deadline with the magazine and if you miss that deadline the designer will miss her deadline and that means the magazine may miss their deadlines. You not getting the knitting done on time may mean that the garment won't feature in a certain issue which means the editor will have to fill that space with something else and may not want to work with that designer again.

Life happens.
Most editors are understanding and most designers are too. So if something serious happens: you get ill, your child get ill, someone close to you passes away, some other disaster or emergency happens, then contact your designer ASAP. If you contact her early enough then she may be able to make alternative arrangements with the magazine or secure an extension but she'll need a good reason. 

Whatever the reason for your delay, tell the designer ASAP. Stuffing the garment in to a postal bag and sending it back to the designer half finished 2 days before the deadline without any warning won't earn you any brownie points. And yes I have had a sample knitter send something back to me un-knitted with a note to say she couldn't do it. It meant i had to ask for an extension. Fortunately that item was for a yarn company so the deadline was a bit more flexible than for magazines but it also meant I had to spend my family holiday frantically knitting a deadline item which did impact the time I could spend with my family. Needless to say the knitter didn't knit for me again. Or another time when the knitter said she could do the sweater in a month then took nearly 2 months. It was my first design for a magazine I'd never worked for before so I had to ask for an extension which was embarrassing for me and some editors may have never offered me work again. Luckily this editor was really understanding and didn't hold it against me.

I know that life happens, sometimes disasters happen. Anything from minor things to serious illness can get in the way. If your husband is admitted to hospital with a life threatening illness then a sample knit for me will probably plummet to the bottom of your priority list and I do understand that. I really do! As long as you notify me as soon as you can. All I need is a quick e-mail to let me know what's going on. If you think you can still do the knit but it'll take longer then let me know. If you can't do it then tell me straight away and post the sample back to me.

Finally, you have to keep the knitting you're doing confidential. If it's for a magazine or book then the chances are that the designer isn't allowed to talk about it in public. That means you can't blog about it or tweet progress pics. Or complain about this horrible yarn you're working with on a design for designer x while posting a picture of the offending yarn and design. I know sometimes you may say yes to something then start knitting and decide you don't really like it or don't like the yarn and cryptic messages may be okay but imagine if you're knitting a designer for me and then the yarn company who's supplied the yarn reads your blog post about this horrible yarn you're using for this really nasty designer which noone in their right mind would want to knit. I don't expect my sample knitters to love everything I send them and sometimes even I end up hating a yarn I'm sent. Just be careful what you say in public, please!

Also, you can't upload progress pics to your Ravelry profile and you may have to be careful about knitting on the item in public. I'm happy for my knitters to knit on the item in knitting groups as long as they use their discretion.

So after all that do you still want to do sample knitting?
Then you're a star and just the sort of person designers rely on to do their job. My regular knitters are worth their weight in gold and i really wish I could pay them more for their work. If I get paid more by a magazine then I will pay them more.

You've decided you really want to do sample knitting and you're now wondering how to go about it? 
Contact your favourite designer or yarn company and ask them if they need any new sample knitter. Magazines may sometimes hire sample knitters but most designers organise their own knitters. Be prepared to prove to the designer that you're as capable as you say you are and have some pics to show her, a link to your Ravelry profile for example. If you've knitted for other designers or yarn companies then mention that too.

In summary here's what I expect of my knitters:
  • Be realistic about your experience and abilities. Don't say yes to a technique you've never done before. 
  • Be realistic about the time you have available. If it normally takes you 6 months to knit a sweater don't say yes to knitting a garment for me in 2 weeks.
  • Life happens and sometimes things are more important than knitting but keep your designer informed. If something happens that'll delay your knitting and make you unlikely to be able to meet the deadline then tell the designer ASAP!!!
  • If you're unsure about something, or think there may be a serious error, tell the designer immediately. There are no silly questions, and you may have discovered a major error. Don't be shy about asking questions.
  • Be discreet and agree to treat any knits with confidentiality. Don't slag off the design or yarn online.
  • Be professional. Knitting may be your hobby but your designer is a professional doing a professional job and she relies on your to help her meet her contract. 
  • Don't expect to become rich but it is fantastic to see a design you knitted in print.
Marly Bird is an American designer and podcaster and she did a podcast recently discussing 'contract knitters and crocheters' and it makes interesting listening for aspiring sample knitters and designers. You can listen to it here.

I'm so grateful for my sample knitters and I really treasure them. I'd love to be able to pay them more than i do because they're worth it! I can't do what I'm doing without them. They are truly amazing ladies and I'm so grateful to them.

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All the pictures in this post are my designs and you can find them all in my pattern shop.


Jzblue said...

This is really helpful, I am just thinking about finding some sample crocheters I have one that I think I can use. It is quite scary but the points you bought up are brilliant and I will definitely use them as a guide for my sample crocheters.

Thx Nicky

Kerry said...

Excellent article.

I actually contacted a few companies earlier this week to ask about being a sample knitter and one of the things I did was include a link to my ravelry page so it's good to know that's the right thing to do.

Nordic Nic Nac said...

Hi, lots of useful information to be had here. Thank you for posting.

Hei, mye nytting informasjon her. Takk for postene.

Hilsen Karine