We are happy to kick off the New Year with knitwear designer Mandy Powers. She has been receiving well deserved accolades all over the knitting community lately with the recent (self) publication of her first book, The Red Collection and we thought we’d join in. We feel very lucky that Mandy designed for us back in Winter 2009.
Hi Mandy, thanks for joining us. Why don’t you start by telling us how you got into crafting.
I have always had a crafty bug, starting with making scrunchies and laminated bookmarks with my best friend in elementary school. I didn’t really get serious with crafting until I had my first kid, and my Mom gave me her old sewing machine. I sewed clothes and diapers and quilts for my son. Then my sister and best friend were knitting, and I demanded they teach me! Once I got the basics down, and learned how to hold my needles from my mother-in-law, knitting felt very natural to me. For about the first year, I was a casual knitter. Then I discovered the online knitting blog community and Knitty, and knitting quickly became my obsession.
You design knitwear and have just self published your first book, The Red Collection. How did it all come about and why don’t you tell us a bit about your self-publishing journey.
When I started knitting, I could not imagine ever knitting anything without a pattern! But as I became a better knitter, I also realized I had ideas of my own about what a hat should look like, what colors work together, and how patterns should be written. Ravelry was making it easier than ever before to start publishing pattern and so in April 2008 I published my first design, the Two by One pattern.
I kept self publishing patterns, sharing the process on my blog, and getting really great feedback from knitters. But I wanted something more! Being a stay-at-home mom is really the greatest of jobs, but I needed a bigger challenge. I turned 30, decided that I’d write a book, and then proceeded to tell people about it. There was no turning back then! I published The Red Collection about a year after dreaming it up, in October 2010.
To make the book happen, I spent a year sketching, knitting, designing, and researching how to self-publish. I checked books out from the library, and planned and planned and planned. I bought a fancy camera with my knitting money (money earned from selling patterns) and learned to use it. I recruited a friend’s daughter to be my model. I learned how to self-publish by setting small goals and cheering myself on as each step was completed. I’m really proud of my book, and I can’t wait to get started on the next one, knowing that I can make it even better the next time around.
Are you a work-at-home mom or do you have a work space out of the home? If you are a work-at-home mom, how do you juggle your work duties with your mom duties?
I work from home; my computer is in my bedroom, my knitting chair is in the family room, the knitting stash is spread throughout my house. Juggling work stuff with mom stuff is a daily struggle. Because my kids are still young, and I have one not in school yet, I am a Mommy full-time and a designer part-time. That’s what I like best about self-publishing — no deadlines! You never know when a kid will be sick or the schedule will be jam packed with school projects and activities.
What inspires your creativity?
I am inspired by color, beautiful yarn, nature, great photography, fashion, everything and anything! Whenever I go through a period when designs aren’t working or I’m bored with my projects, I find renewed inspiration by flipping through my collection of knitting books and putting pencil to paper to sketch. Scribbling colorwork designs on graph paper always get my creative juices flowing!
What do you think has been your biggest struggle as a working mom?
I think the hardest thing is balance. You need to be on the computer a lot, but you need to spend time actually knitting, and then of course, you want to have plenty of time playing with your kids! There are sometimes stretches of days where I feel like no work gets done and my lists of things to do just gets longer and longer. But that challenge also keeps life interesting! And because I’m my own boss, no one is going to punish me for choosing to read books with my daughter for an hour rather than working on that to-do list.
What are your goals for yourself and your business for your future?
My main goal right now is to knit mittens for my family! The kids have both outgrown last year’s mittens, and I seem incapable of just knitting mittens — I feel compelled to design a mitten pattern, which just complicates the whole situation. And that’s keeping my kids from having warm hands! So first up, mittens.
I’d also like to write another book, get published in a knitting magazine, write a shawl pattern, take a photography class, teach more knitting classes, redesign my website, etc. The list of goals is always changing and growing!
What other hobbies do you like to dabble in? What is your favorite way to relax?
I love watching TV at the end of the day, after the kids are in bed. This is also when I get a lot of knitting done! The house is quiet and I get quality, uninterrupted time to focus on my current project of choice. I also like to read, go to the movies, bake, drink coffee, and knit with my friends.
Do you have any advice to give other women that are interested in
starting their own small business?
I recently bought the book Handmade Marketplace by Kari Chapin, and I was excited to finally find a book that focused on the really, really small business of crafters. If you are a crafty sort of person who is thinking of trying to make a buck, get this book!
Some other things: Get a good camera, or learn how to use your current camera better. Be prepared to do a lot of work that is not directly related to crafting time (answering emails, offering support for your designs, keeping your website updated). Don’t get discouraged when your first pattern isn’t a hit – keep designing and building an arsenal of patterns that you’re proud of.
What is your favorite game to play with your kids?
Our latest obsession is Twenty Questions and we play every night at dinner. My daughter is always a princess, a horse, or Katie (the neighbor’s dog). My son can choose the most obscure thing like “doorknob” – we had to give up on that one. I thought it was pretty funny when the other night I was Elizabeth Zimmermann, and my husband was able to figure it out (“Are your initials EZ?”). For someone who doesn’t knit, he sure has picked up a lot from me!
This has been great, Mandy, and very informative. Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?
Although my beautiful model and I both have red hair, she does not belong to me (I get that question a lot!). Her name is Mallory and her mom is a knitter and close friend of mine.
Thanks Mandy! Best wishes and congratulations on the success of your book!