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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Secret Project Details

It's been all "hush hush" around neoknits recently and it can be so very very hard to keep a secret. I'm not able to tell you what I'm working on, but to keep things interesting, I'll be posting some progress pics along the way!

Now, to give you a little bit of a background on all the secret knitting going on around here. I was contacted a few months ago by a very wonderful woman who just started her own hand dyed yarn shop online. She wanted me to design a few sweaters with her yarn so she can then sell the patterns on her site. This would go back to secret 1 and 2. What is the mysterious yarn shop? That would be Sundara Yarn! If you aren't familiar with her site, take a look. Her variegated yarns are to dye...I mean to die for!

What about secrets 3 and 4 you ask?

Well, shortly after submitting my secret magknits project for June. (Which will be up any day now!) And it's up now! Check it out here! I was asked by the lovely Kerrie of Hipknits to design 2 sweaters with her sock weight and aran weight cashmere. How could I say no to cashmere!

Speaking of cashmere and secret 4, here's my progress so far:


I love the sock weight cashmere! It's interesting to be knitting a sweater out of sock yarn. The great thing is: sock yarn = good yardage! I'm hoping to make the sweater out of no more than 2 balls.

So that's the skinny! I look forward to sharing little details here and there about all 4 secret projects. The first two designs for both shops should be ready by late summer/early fall. And on that note, I better get back to my knitting!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Finished and In Progress

Thanks to everyone who left a nice comment about my little fashion industry series. I hope you enjoyed getting a little glimpse of behind the scenes action!

I finished my chameleon socks a week or so ago. They were surprisingly really fun to knit. Somehow endless stockinette isn't so bad when the colors change on you. I did a short row toe and heel and they fit so well! I'm just glad I was finally able to contribute a finished project for Project Spectrum for once!

chameleon socks finished

Speaking of PS, I also picked up DB's green (boring) raglan again this week. See for yourself:

DB progress 5-25-06

I've knit 20" already and started the decreases for the armholes last night. Yay! DB told me to stop working on it. He swears bad things happen when I work on the sweater. He's so freakin' paranoid! Plus I promised I wouldn't have it done before the wedding anyway! I have plenty of other things to keep me occupied like.........

secret 1
Secret 1

secret 2
Secret 2 & 3

Not Pictured:

Secret 4

Yep, lots of secret knitting coming my way! Look for more details on Secret 2 soon! (Oooh, secrets, don't they just eat you up!)

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Part IV: A Day In the Life of a Sweater Designer

In part IV, I hope to give a better idea of what my typical day is like. So here we go!

After partnering with a recruiter, I was sent on a few interviews over many months. Finally, I found the position I was waiting for, quit dollhouse, and set up shop across the street. I was hired at KBL Group for the Juniors sweater designer position. I was thrilled that all they did was sweaters and I wouldn't have to take a back seat to denim or sportswear anymore!

Just a little background into KBL. We have 3 in house lines for Men's, Kids, and Juniors. We also sell to numerous private label accounts. Private label means that the stores buy our goods, but slap their label or name on it. We also work as a design service to some private label accounts developing special styles for their use only. It keeps my job interesting by working with such a variety of accounts. One day I could be working on a cashmere sweater for a high end account - the next I'm working in cotton for a mass market, budget conscious superstore.

So now, onto a typical day:

Working hours are 9am to 5:30pm, but the designers usually don't stroll in til about 9:30ish. This may sound really cool, but when you consider that sometimes we work til 7 or 8 or 9 - coming in 1/2 hour late really doesn't make up for that!

So when I arrive at 9:30ish, the first thing I do is read and answer all emails from our office in Hong Kong and sales. We answer questions, solve problems, and get updates on the status of our samples. At about 10am, we receive our boxes from HK with our samples or swatches and check everything in. Production will also receive fit samples and pass them onto design to check measurements and details.

After taking care of production, I start my "designing" for the day. I put "designing" in quotes because it doesn't always involve original creative ideas. For example, some recent projects:

- translate 18 styles from cut and sew to sweaters
- put 15 European styles into work for customer A
- put 10 European or store bought styles into work for customer B

Putting a style into work involves the following:

- Doing a sketch of the garment in Illustrator
- Creating measurements or specs for the garment on an Excel spreadsheet
- Pointing out and explaining any details
- Researching special stitches
- Choosing yarn and color

When designing an original style, research and rough sketches are added to the above list. When I design for the Junior line, it is for the most part original styles. However, I rarely have time for the line now. Our customer base has expanded so much during the past year and most of our customers insist on buying knock-offs. Only about 20% of my time is spent on actual designing.

As I mentioned before, design is in a constant struggle for power with sales. But the only thing worse than sales, are buyers. When people complain to me about how bad this store looks or that one looks I say "blame it on the buyer." I see so many creative, awesome pieces of clothing go unloved and unrecognized on the showroom racks. I swear that no matter what, a good number of them will search out the ugliest, poorest fitting garment in the room and LOVE IT! Sadly, the old saying "the customer is always right" gets big play here. Sales are out for money and they really don't care if the buyer wants to dress you in a machine made version of a fun fur vest. Sales people for a higher end line who have a reputation to hold up will not usually steer the buyers in a wrong direction, but in the mass market - they have no conscience.

Speaking of poor choices on the buyer's end. When the store doesn't move one piece of that hot pink fun fur vest, guess who gets the blame? Not the overbearing salesperson that said, "oh it's gonna be the hottest thing ever!" No. The designer gets the blame. Doesn't matter that the buyer requested the style herself and gave you the original sample to knock-off. Doesn't matter one bit. It can be very frustrating, but you learn to harden your skin and give the buyer the finger when you're down the hall out of sight!

I'll usually work on spec packs up til lunch, take a walk, eat and continue to work on the designs for the rest of the day. If I finish up a group, I prepare a box for HK if something needs to be sent and send an email with all specs and details attached.

The above "typical" day is how things should go MOST of the time, but things are rarely that simple! Meetings take up a good part of my day sometimes - whether we are going over this season's colors, sketches, or buyer's requests. We go shopping occasionally - "research" trips we call them. We make appointments with color, trend and swatch services. We are thrown projects at 5pm that "NEED TO GO OUT TODAY!!!!" It doesn't matter that the project might have been sitting on their desk since 10am and they just "forgot" to give it to you earlier. (Can you tell I have much contempt for sales people?) My days can be calm, but when they are crazy - they are really crazy.

Even though things can be crazy and almost bring you to the verge of a nervous breakdown, I couldn't imagine doing anything else! I love being a designer and I wouldn't change it for the world. I really enjoyed sharing and I hope you all enjoyed reading! As promised, I will be back soon with some info on Fall 2006 trends and colors. I hope to keep you updated every season and I hope the info will be both interesting and helpful to you all!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Part III: My First Fashion Job

Thanks for the nice comments about the first part of my series on fashion school. I'm glad you guys are still interested! So here we go onto part 3, my first job.

On May 22, 2002 I graduated at Radio City Music Hall with my BFA degree from FIT. Our guest speaker was Alec Baldwin and Calvin Klein was supposed to show up too, but he got stuck in France. We also had a very nice letter from former President Clinton read to us by the FIT's president. I even got to walk across the stage to accept my Art and Design medal I won. It was a great day. Everyone was happy and there were many rounds made on the graduation party circuit. But now what?

After a two week much needed vacation, I hit the streets. I used FIT's career center, WWD (Women's Wear Daily), and word of mouth to find jobs. I faxed and emailed resumes all day long. I got up early every morning to check for updates on FIT's website. After a few days, I received a few callbacks and with portfolio in toe, went on my first interviews. It was a little scary, but after two or three I really got the hang of it. Some companies I fit in with, others I didn't. I was getting a feel for different companies and different areas. I determined I was most comfortable in a smaller, less corporate environment and stuck to applying for jobs in the Juniors area.

One Juniors company really liked me and I was called back for a second area. I ended up getting the job, but there were two problems. I was going to be an Assistant Technical Designer in the cut and sew division of the company. I wanted to be an Assistant Sweater Designer. The other problem was the hours were 8:45am to 6:30pm. That's a bit more than 8 hours a day!

So I went back to the company where I interned for some advice. Turns out that was the best move I ever made! My old boss gave me a job lead that I could not have gotten from anyone else. I learned early on - never burn bridges in the industry. It is a really small world and you never know who will give you your next job lead.

So I made an appointment for an interview, went up that same day and got the job! I was to be the Assistant Sweater Designer for Dollhouse! It was my dream job and I was just sooooooooo happy.

I started a few days later and did the usual assistant stuff. Sketching, making boards, running errands and buying trims. Because I had a bit of experience from my internship, after a few weeks I started doing specs and designed a few sweaters here and there. A lot of students expect to design straight out of school - and there are a few who do - but everyone has to start at the bottom.

Eventually I took over doing all the specs and production work. The designer was then left to concentrate on designing, plus she hated doing specs. When you are an assistant, you get to do all the things the designer hates to do. Luckily I liked working on specs!

Sadly, about a year and a half after I started, the designer was fired. Another designer was brought in, but even more responsibility fell into my lap now. I was no longer an assistant, but silently promoted to a designer. I say silently because I was not given a raise or clearly told my responsibilities were now to help design. Being promoted without a raise can be a pretty common thing. I didn't mind because I knew that I was building my resume and I would be even more valuable if and when I decided to leave.

A few months later, I was asked to head up the sweater line for Jou Jou, a cheaper denim line we also owned. I worked strickly with the salesperson to develop the line. One thing that always amazed me was how much input sales had in the design process. Not all companies work the same way and usually a design merchandiser works with design to plan the line. The sales team had a lot of power at dollhouse and we hated it. Salespeople were basically the people in the merchandising program at school. They all wanted to be designers, but they couldn't draw. Then once they got out into the industry, they just tried their best to make designers lives miserable by controlling what gets put in. Again, it doesn't happen everywhere, but it's more common than not.

Then after working on Jou Jou for 6 months, my salesperson quit and I was back on the Dollhouse line. Then a few weeks after that, the other Dollhouse designer quit. They didn't bother to hire anyone else, so it was just little old me! Here I was 2 years out of school and in charge of a sweater line for a pretty well known brand. I could not have asked for a better career move when I accepted the job just two years before - even though I was severely underpaid. The opportunity for growth made everything worth it.

However, nothing is perfect. After about 2 1/2 years, I got sick of being treated like a second class citizen to the jeans line. Denim had a bigger market and got more attention. I attempted more than once to get the boss on board with the sweater program. I even quit once or twice. Sometimes you need to resort to getting another job before your boss will take you seriously or give you a raise. Sad but true!

But what about all the parties and fashion shows you ask? What about all the fun stuff you see on TV? Well, I did get to experience some of that, but it was a very, very, very small part of the job. My first year there, we did participate in the 7th on Sixth shows (YM Mega Denim) and we did have a cool little show in our showroom the second year. Typically, the fashion show is just a small blip in time. A designer works for months designing, planning, and making sure every detail is right. Then a week or two before the shows, they sometimes work 12-15+ hour days to fit the models, take care of last minute changes, and deal with problems. Then you have your show - 30 minutes and it's over. It's really quite crewel actually.

So in my first few years I learned:

1. Sales can be a force stronger than design
2. Design usually gets the short end of the stick even though we do the most work and work the longest hours
3. Creativity? No, it's the latest knock-offs from Europe
4. Never burn your bridges, you never know who can help you down the line
5. Pick a company where it's easy to grow
6. Never work for anyone that requires you to be in at 8:45am (by the way, I was hired no less than 3 times for 3 separate positions for this company! I never accepted, but I'm not sure why I kept giving them a second and third chance. They sucked everytime!)

After 3 years at dollhouse, it was time to move on. In Part IV, I'll discuss how great recruiters can be and the responsibilities of my current designer position. Basically I'd like to give a "typical day in the life of" picture.

Thanks for following along! As always, feel free to email any questions to neoknits AT yahoo DOT com.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Socks + A Few More FIT tidbits

Since May is the month of Green!

Here is my wonderful Green May music mix I won which was put together by Anjo over at The CraftyModster.

green cd

I was very excited to see Matthew Sweet included! He's one of my favorites - thanks Anjo!

And I'm actually working on something that is green this month! My chameleon socks have made a strong comeback after the broken needles incident.

chamelon sock

Technically, this is sock number 2. However, I didn't really like the way sock number 1 came out, even though it fit perfectly. I just didn't like the way I finished off the toe. So I cast on for sock 2, knowing that it would now be sock 1. I started with a different color and accidentally changed from 2x2 to 1x1 at the cuff. So even if I wanted to use sock 1, I would have to knit a fourth. The funniest thing is that sock 2 doesn't fit as well as the first and I still messed up on the toe finish. Ugh! So I need to rip back the toe a bit and add about 1/2", redo the kitchner correctly this time, and I'll be in business - for winter.

3 socks

So anywho, I now will have 3 socks. Maybe I'll even have enough yarn left over to make a friend for sock number one. I guess I'll never be a victim of second sock syndrome!

I was asked by dani d (unfortunately I didn't have any contact info for you!) about the housing situation at FIT - so here's the deal. The campus offers 3 dorms for students - one co-ed, one for girls, and one with apartments. I lived in the girls dorm my first year and the apartments my second year. The girls and co-ed dorms are typically shared by 2 students and rarely will be shared with 3. The apartments house 4 students each and has two bedrooms, a kitchen and bathroom.

I only lived on campus for two years because I didn't make the lottery for my third year. Too many people needed a place to stay and freshman were given priority. However, I was lucky to even be on campus for two years. After my second year, the housing office changed the rules to allow students to stay on campus for only one year. I believe you could still be entered into the lottery for the second year, but housing is not guaranteed. I'm not sure if the situation has gotten any better over the last 6 years or not, but plan on finding your own apartment after the first year. It really stinks that FIT can't find better housing alternatives, but since they are a state school, they have more rules they need to follow.

I also never mentioned that FIT has sports! Most people are absolutely stunned when I mention I was a member of the tennis team. In fact, I was division champ for first doubles my first year, and fifth singles champ my second. Most students didn't even know we had sport teams. So if you were a sporty chic, you could join basketball, tennis, volleyball or bowling. Being on the tennis team was tough because we didn't have a home court. We traveled everywhere, mostly on weekends. It was hard to juggle in a busy schedule, but it helped to get rid of so much stress.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Yarn for Sale!

I'm doing a little spring cleaning and I'm finally ready to part with my Colinette Point 5 I bought a few years back. I have 10 skeins in color 118 Velvet Damson. I'd like to sell the whole 10 together unless several people are interested and it works out that I get rid of it all. I'm asking $160 for all 10 skeins, or $16 each if it's split up.

point five

point five detail

The color is a little off in the pictures. It's a very nice dark blue. I guess the best way to describe it is being between royal and navy.

If anyone is interested in enhancing your stash, please email me at neoknits AT yahoo DOT com. Thanks!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Part IIB: FIT Experience Years 3 and 4

Sorry for the delay in posting part B! I've been so busy lately, I don't even know where everything came from! Without further delay..........

Year 3

At the beginning of year 3, we were exposed to a few more areas of the industry before we chose our specialization for the second half of the year. We learned about lingerie and corsets, knitwear, and activewear. The foundations/activewear class was very interesting - but very technical. It's amazing how many special skills can go into designing such a teeny-tiny garment! We also had our usual drawing classes and a computer class or two thrown in.

Of course my favorite classes were on knitwear! However, at this point in time, I didn't know this would be the direction I would go in. We had a machine knitting class and a pattern making class dedicated to sweater design.

In the pattern making class, we learned how to draft sweater patterns and sew them together with sometimes very difficult sergers. All of our designing was done on a cut and sew basis. In fact, in my year and one half in the knitwear program, we never did any full fashioning! Basically, every sweater design began as a rectangle. From there we modified the neck, length and armholes. Needless to say, the class didn't really produce too many fabulous garments! Simple raglans - yes, fabulous cable sweaters - no.

In our machine knitting class, we used Brother knitting machines to learned about gauge, different knitted structures, and how to make rectangle "blanks" for our patternmaking class. Our very first project was a scarf and the whole point of the project was to learn about gauge. We had to knit a 60st by 100 row swatch, measure it and find the gauge. We then wrote a very basic knitting plan, or pattern, for our scarf. Basically we all ended up with a nice, curled up rectangle with fringe on the ends! We weren't allowed to use the ribbing part of the machines yet and they failed to tell us that jersey curled! We all found it out the hard way.

We spent the rest of the class learning about some simpler stitches that we could achieve with punchcards. For those of you who have never used a knitting machine, this is the part that allows you to do patterns. A series of holes are punched on a plastic card and it allows you to do lace, tuck stitch, and fairisles. Again, we didn't get too deep into things - we learned tuck stitches and birds eye jacquard.

Towards the end of the semester, we the patternmaking class and machine class worked together to help us put together our final project. We drafted the pattern in one class and knit our rectangle blanks in the other. Once the blanks were complete, we took them back to the pattern class and everything was cut and sewn together.

In the second half of the year, we chose our specializations and as you know, I chose knitwear. I just fell in love with sweaters and knitting. I had learned how to knit when I was eight, but it just never quite stuck. However, at this point, I still had not revisited handknitting. Machine knitting was all we were taught and that's what I stuck with. We furthered our skills with the machine and learned how to knit lace and use the ribbing attachment.

We also had courses in line planning, fashion drawing, U4ia, and fashion merchandising.

Year 4

Year 4 was the final hurrah before we were expected to go out into the real world - and they threw us right in off the bat. We opened up semester 7 with our design internship. Some people chose to work for the Calvins and Anna Sui's of the world - others chose mass market companies.

I chose a missy sweater company that sold to places like Cato, Macy's, and Avenue. Well, actually I cheated because I had been working at this company part time since semester 6. If we already had a job that would fulfill the internship requirements, we were more than welcome to stay. Plus, most internships didn't pay - mine did and I was lucky.

I learned so much! I learned how to do layouts (full size artwork: for example stripes or intarsia), how to spec a sweater, how to fit, and how to fill out a spec worksheet. I did a lot of colored flats and boards for presentations. And there were so many things that they didn't tell you in school - like THE FASHION INDUSTRY IS NOT REALLY CREATIVE!! Most things were knock-offs. If it wasn't a knock-off, the sweater was "inspired" by a knock-off. It was a bit depressing, but at least I was learning things that would come in handy later on down the road instead of running to get coffee for the Calvins of the world!

To round out the semester, we had a class in Plus size/Petite design, advanced sketching, introduction to knitting principles, and faces and places in fashion. Faces and Places was a really great class or rather lecture series. Every week, we would have a different speaker from the industry come talk to us. We heard lectures from Cynthia Rowley, Renzo Rossi from Diesel (his nephew was in my class!) and David Wolfe (fashion trend forcaster), just to name a few. Introduction to Knitting Principles was a tough course. We learned about how sweaters are produced on industrial machinery. This involved dissecting swatches and drawing needles plans. Our final exam basically consisted of one question - we needed to plan out a pleated fabric - THAT CONSISTED OF OVER 250 NEEDLES! If you think math for drafting patterns is hard, this class would have made your brain explode! It didn't help that the professor wrote the only textbook available for the course either. Oh, and I finally started to handknit my final year of college. My final year! Don't even ask me why I waited so long - I was crazy I guess.

Final semester meant thesis time! What does one do for a fashion design thesis? A mini collection of course! It sure beats writing some 1000 page term paper! I designed 3 outfits and one was used for our senior collection exhibit. We also had a portfolio, manufacturing management and screen printing class. I have some pictures around somewhere of my final garment, if I can find them I'll post it. My theme was earth so I put little sheep on my cardigan!

Whew! That's a lot of words there. I know I kinda skimped on some areas to make it a bit shorter, so if you are interested in more information or have questions - feel free to email me!

Next up will my first job and what to expect when you are fresh out of the box!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

PS May - Green

knitting bag

View my complete green photoset for May here.

Where did April go? I blinked and it was over. I never even got the chance to work on my orange sweater! Hopefully I'll be able to finish something for May! I have my eye on my chameleon socks and the DB boring raglan. Of course the raglan won't get finished, but at least I'll be working on something green!

Not sure if some of you had noticed or not, but the Magknits secret project bar has reached 100%. It will be in the June issue of Magknits. Yay! I made the deadline!

Also, Part IIB - 3rd and 4th year of school coming soon!