Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Interview with Shannon Okey-- She's Coming to Town SOON!

Hey Y'all,

So, as previously noted here, Shannon Okey, aka Knitgrrl, is coming to HCW to teach a bunch of classes. You should sign up now-- don't wait because the classes will likely sell out. I was just taking a look at Shannon's latest book, The KNITGRRL Guide to Professional Knitwear Design, and it is packed with really smart info for those of you ready to take a commerce leap with your designs. You can pick up a copy at the store now, or watch here for details about Shannon's book signing. I recently interviewed Shannon via email to ask her about her classes and about her life as someone who makes a full time living in the world of knitting. Here's what she had to say.

HCW: We are so psyched you're coming to HCW-- can you tell me a little bit about your teaching style? Will we be doing a lot of listening, a lot of hands on, or a combo?

SO: I tend to do both, and I really, really like questions from an active and engaged group -- that's so much more fun for me! -- so I like to encourage everyone to ask as many questions as they want, even if it seems like we're going off topic a little. Often everyone discovers they wanted to know about [that] too! For classes like dyeing, I really do like to hand off a lot of the actual "doing" to the students, and get them going without too much fanfare. After all, I won't be there with you if you decide to do it again in your own kitchen...so it's good to really dig in and try it for yourself. In classes such as sweater design, I'll have students measure each other, because a. it's more accurate, b. you get a better sense of what you're doing because it's easier to see it applied to someone else and c. nothing breaks the ice like measuring your neighbor's bustline for her!

HCW: Lots of us who are seriously dedicated to knitting fantasize about making a living that is knit-centric. But no doubt there are drawbacks. Tell us a little bit about how you came to do this full time, the rewarding parts, and the hard parts.

SO: Exhaustion is a big one. I have what I suspect is bronchitis right now. Am I at home in bed? No, I spent 30 minutes chipping ice off my car so I could drive to my studio. Yesterday, when the ice storm rendered even that impossible (and left my boyfriend working from home, too), I stuck it out on the couch for a good 10 hours. I work crazy hours. Earlier this month, I did three back to back teaching dates in Philadelphia, Long Island and Manhattan. I drove the 8 hrs there because I've learned it's about as fast as flying, by the time you work in all the security nonsense (plus my dear friend Andi came along as a helper -- I love any excuse to spring her from her mom-duties!). The last class ended at 8, we went out to dinner, and then we attempted to drive home that night. I used to be able to do an all-night drive standing on my head. No more. Getting older is a drag for a workaholic like me.

So, yes, it's crazymaking and exhausting, but I love it and that's what counts. I get to hang out in a big old former factory building in a giant-windowed space filled with yarn and art -- my studiomate Arabella is a painter -- and no fluorescent lights (a big deal for a migraine person like me)! I get to make terrible, rude jokes with Arabella -- no HR department to worry about!

How'd I get to do it full time? I committed to it back in 2004 when I moved from Boston back to my hometown of Cleveland. My boyfriend is a major help and supporter. I couldn't do it without him, really. I always manage to pull enough income sources together (between writing for magazines, writing books, publishing other authors through my business Cooperative Press, doing design work) to equal at least what a "normal" job would pay, but this is a lot more flexible, which works out great for both of us. I get to be the domestic engineer, too, that's another aspect of my work life. If it means never working in a regular office again, I'll scrub the kitchen sink. Yes indeed.

HCW: You just mailed out Silk Road Socks preorders. Tell me about the book.

SO: It's a book of 14 sock patterns based on Oriental rugs by Hunter Hammersen, and it appeals to the geeky side of me, which really informs a lot of what I want to publish. The more history-filled, the more technical, the more obviously-passionate-about, the better. No one needs another book of 50 easy projects you can do on big needles.

HCW: Speaking of books, you head up Cooperative Press. Can you tell me a bit how it works-- do you accept queries from knitters hoping to publish or do you seek out designers and ask them to write books?

SO: CP does accept proposals -- but keep in mind, of course, that right now I'm the only full-timer (I do have college interns in the summer), so my response time might be slow! I literally do everything on the books, from editing to layout to sometimes even photography (and even if I'm not pressing the camera button, I am running the shoot, as I just did for the 10-book Fresh Designs series we're putting out this year). So far it's been a mix of people approaching me and me approaching them!

HCW: You'll be offering a session called Designer Bootcamp with a focus on your book: Guide to Professional Knitwear Design. I remember reading a NYT piece about an Etsy shopkeeper who makes a ton of money with her very simple scarves. I think that the media tends to focus on the handful of people who make it big in crafting. What about other folks-- is it "worth it" to try to market yourself if you only have time to run a little side business?

SO: Absolutely! Look, it's not "little" if it means something to you. And I think most people would agree that if you're going to invest the time into doing this at all, you should try your best to do it well. Not to mention -- and I hate to sound jinxy here -- but in this economy, are you completely certain your job is safe? You never know when you might end up with a severance check and a need to turn that side project into your full time gig. Why not set it up to succeed from the beginning?

HCW: Anything else you want to tell us?

SO: I can't wait to come to Austin at last! I have cousins in town, and a lot of friends (Austin being the crafty epicenter it is), and a burning, burning need to eat a LOT of tacos and food-truck fare. P.S. if anyone can sneak me into SXSW Interactive, I'll be your best friend.

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