This month was my five-year college reunion, which is a little hard to wrap my brain around. It somehow feels both like more and less time has passed since then. This blog became much less personal after I graduated college for a number of good reasons, but lately I’ve been thinking of where I’m at and how I got here, and I thought I’d share. Get ready for a long post!

I started designing knitting patterns my Sophomore year of college. I was really getting into vintage and twee dresses and couldn’t find knitting patterns that suited my style, so I decided to create my own. Agatha and Miette were some of the earliest ideas in my sketchbook, and Miette was the first I chose to tackle because it seemed easier for a new designer. Around this point I got it into my head that I might enjoy being a knitting pattern designer, so instead of the simply knitting Miette for myself, I wrote out the pattern and knit three different versions because I didn’t entirely trust my writing skills.

I vividly remember sitting in my dorm room with my best friend Kevin, showing him what I was working on, and talking about whether or not Miette should be a free pattern. We decided that since I hadn’t published much before, I should make Miette free and charge for my next ones. It seemed like a smart move because there were fewer free patterns at the time, and it would help me develop a larger audience.

I should note that my parents paid for college, so I did not have an on-campus job, and summer jobs were a rarity when I grew up. This gave me a good amount of free time to work on my blog and designing patterns.

Over the summer, I had Miette test knit and released the pattern. It was more popular than I expected, so I decided to keep going. I submitted to the Knit Picks Independent Designer Program and had the pattern accepted. In its early days, the program offered designers a $100 advance on pattern sales, so it felt like a safe way to test the waters of selling patterns independently and provided some cash to reinvest in more indie designs. It also gave me a much needed confidence boost that helped keep me working when my next pattern submission I created that summer, a design for Knitty, was rejected.

After that summer, I continued to design regularly while in school. I only released a handful of patterns every year, but my designs provided me with enough spending money that they felt like a good use of my time.

When I graduated college, designing knitting patterns felt like a backup plan to supplement my income if I couldn’t find a job that paid more than minimum wage. As I searched for jobs, I worked on new designs, but I managed to find a well-paying job working as an editor for a cake decorating magazine. Working in publishing had been my goal, and I felt so lucky to have gotten into that industry so quickly out of college.

My editor job started off great and was a ton of fun, so pattern design got put on the backburner for a time. I still kept this blog up and released a slow trickle of designs that I had created while job hunting, but I mostly just was enjoying working a 9-5 and spending my free time reading, watching movies, and knitting just for fun. The job was really creatively satisfying, and it was fun to be immersed in a new corner of the craft world that was filled with some wonderful, innovative people.

About eight months into my job, the magazine made some big changes in an attempt to grow quickly, and it stopped being my dream job. I began to find myself fantasizing about becoming a full-time designer, and I started working on new designs after work and on the weekends, as well as sending out submission proposals to magazines. I also started aggressively saving money, which was manageable because I was living with a roommate, and Seattle’s tech boom hadn’t reached its full force yet.

My plan had been to save up somewhere around 6 months of savings and to work on building my pattern portfolio before resigning from my editor position, but around three months after I started in on this plan, I was laid off from the magazine. I spent a couple weeks at a loss as to what to do next. With my savings and current design income, I could go three or four months without worrying about bills, but that was it. At the same time, I didn’t really want to start job hunting when self-employment was my long-term goal.

Then I got an email from the editor of that crafts section of Tuts+ asking me if I would be interested in contributing knitting content. It was an incredible moment of good luck because the timing was perfect. Writing a few pieces of content for Tuts+ every month allowed me to give self-employment a try without worrying as much. The consistent, reliable income was exactly what I needed to feel confident about my taking such a big gamble.

It took roughly five months of growth to get my design work to cover all of my bills, even with the Tuts+ work I was doing, but I finally made it happen. And that’s what I did for a couple of years! I put out multiple patterns a month, had to stay on a pretty tight budget, and always be working, but it was fun and didn’t mind.

I had been doing that for maybe a year and a half when I found out that Tuts+ was going to phase out their crafts section. I had recently agreed to do a pattern collection for Knit Picks, so I wasn’t immediately worried about it, but I knew I’d have to find something new to do that would provide at some predictable income.

I spent a few months wondering if I should get a part-time job or just deal with the hustle of finding regular, commissioned design and writing work, but then one of my friends, Erin, brought up the idea of starting a knitting magazine. I had been talking about that as my long-term goal for years, and she wanted to know what would need to happen to make it real and if I wanted to partner with her. And so Stranded Magazine got started!

We realized that starting a magazine was a lot of work for two people, so we brought in a third friend Monica to share the load. We outlined how much we’d need to contribute in order to start up the magazine without investors or loans, and it simply wasn’t realistic for me with my unpredictable income, so I knew it was time to find a part-time job.

The company Monica worked for was hiring a part-time position, and Monica convinced me to apply even though it was a field that I had never thought about– pension benefit administration. But I decided I might as well apply because she was so enthusiastic about it, and when I got a job offer, I decided I might as well give it a try because the opportunity was offered to me. I felt a little defeatist about leaving full-time self-employment, but I also was of the mindset that if things came my way, it couldn’t hurt to at least give them a try.

I’m glad I had that attitude because two years later, I’m still working part-time there, working on Stranded Magazine, and doing my Untangling Knots thing. I work more than is ideal but am strategizing on how to change that. I’m still a little surprised about how good of a fit my part-time, office job is. I get along well with my coworkers and feel incredibly valued and appreciated in a way that I didn’t when it was just me alone in my apartment all day. It’s also nice to have job that doesn’t feel so frivolous but to not have to give up on my fun, creative work.

My favorite thing about no longer designing full-time is that I can really focus on the design work that I love the most instead of taking on every project to pay the bills. Since I scaled back a bit, my goals have all revolved around putting out good stuff for KALs and the OAL, with everything else as a bonus, and I feel really happy about the patterns that have resulted from doing less designing overall. I hope you guys do too!

When I was in college and imagining what I’d do in the future, I always thought I’d work at a weird, unrelated job while designing part-time, then I’d be an independent designer for a bit, and then maybe I’d get a job at a magazine as an editor. I’d never guess that I’d do that in the opposite order, but I’m pretty happy about how things have worked out.

8 Comments

  • That was really interesting, thanks Andi. I often wonder how independent pattern designers get by, and if part time jobs on the side are always necessary. I’m glad you’ve got a balance of work you enjoy now.

    • Some designers make it work by teaching classes, selling physical items, or doing other knitting industry work like I used to, but designers who do nothing but write patterns and make enough to pay all of their bills are fairly rare!

  • Thanks for your honesty, both about the privilege of your parents paying for college and also your struggles to make all the pieces fit together. Both are tricky areas to be up front about, but make the article much more compelling.

  • This was a very interesting read. We, at Heirloom Woven Labels, wish you and your magazine success in your future pathways. We always love to hear about a new generation interested in the fiber arts….it brings us all back to a basic way of life. Thanks again for sharing your experiences.
    Linda Stuart
    Heirloom Woven Labels

  • Thank you so much Andi, after I read this article I just found out that all I´m doing to became an independent designer is WRONG!! no problem, as you, I´m so persistant and I will start from the beginning, keeping my designs of course but improving the next ones that I´m working right now and most important and what I have to work more is to became an expert in submittions to magazines and sites, and I will do it, I´m in Lima Perú right now, I live in Italy and I found your blog while I was preparing my trip to Perú, I bookmarked and keep it safe to read it as I´m doing right now, is 5.27 am in Lima Perú, cold weather and I´m so happy that with your article I have a more clear scenary of what I have to do.
    Thank you again my dear and I love your sweater, I will give it a try to Miette as soon I purchase some soft alpaca here in Perú!
    please keep in touch!
    Lilia Vanini

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