If not now, when?


I've been absent on the blogging front for some time now, and the truth is that I've been having a sort of knit-design-related identity crisis. It's not that I haven't been knitting: far from it. I've been working steadily on several designs for the past three months or so, but somehow as each sweater or shawl begins to take shape, I find myself unsure of how it's turning out. It's not that the final product isn't matching the picture in my head—I know how to deal with that, which is rip out and revise. No, my problem lately has been that I'm just not sure whether what I'm ending up with IS what I want, or not. Which makes it really hard to get anywhere. Am I done, or just getting started? Is this a success, or a failure?

A little while ago I realized what's behind this lack of confidence: as is so often the case, the culprit is money. Specifically, it's the question of to what extent I want design work to be my "job" (or a job), and to what extent I want it to be an art project that satisfies other, non-financial requirements. Is it okay to have an art project that makes a little bit of money, but is not my main source of support? Do I want to try to expand Family Trunk Project into more of a full-time job— which would mean teaching more classes, getting loans to publish pattern hard copies or books, traveling to trade shows and trunk shows in order to sell said hard copies? And if I don't want to do those things, does that mean I'm not committed to my art form? Does it mean I should be working on pursuing some other career path—going back to school, or searching out a full-time day job?

Questions like these are challenging enough on their own, but they've also been directly affecting my design process because I haven't been sure what my basic goals are. Will a design be a success if I conceive a project in my mind, then realize it in the physical world? Or will it only be a success if it sells a certain number of copies? If the latter, what is the magic number?

What's more, these questions were giving me designer's-block because I've been feeling conflicted about the TYPES of design concepts I should be generating and pursuing. The other day I made a sketch of a design that was very exciting to me—the kind of challenge I'm not entirely sure how to execute, but feel 90% sure I could crack. My brain started humming with all the different approaches. Then I thought about trying to grade it for my normal range of sizes, and got a sinking feeling—the cardigan yoke isn't modular, so while I might be able to figure out two or three sizes, my normal ten or twelve was out of the question. Combine a small number of sizes with a fairly advanced pattern, and would anyone buy it? Did I care? Since I didn't know whether I cared or not, into the hibernation pile it went. Like I often do when stymied in my fiber-related life, I knitted blanket squares instead. Knit, knit, knit on the blanket squares.


The other night, though, a conversation with a friend got me thinking. He has his own creative project in the works, and he's looking for a way to finance it so that he can take his time, not cut any corners, concentrate on doing his project right without worrying about money all the time.

It occurred to me that what he wants is exactly what I already have.

I have a day-job I genuinely enjoy, which pays me enough money to pay my mortgage and all my basic expenses. I'm done by 12:30 every day. Sure, we could all use more money, but basically, anything I make on top of my paycheck is icing on the cake. At the same time, I have my afternoons free to work on whatever art project I want, however I want. If I can't take the time to explore complete artistic freedom now, when I have arranged the time and money to allow myself to do so, when WILL I be able to?

Anything could happen in the future—I might decide to go back to school, or have a baby, or move to another country, or open some kind of shop. Who knows? But for now, I have a precious space to delve into what most interests me about making things with my hands. So, an early New Year's resolution: throughout 2011, I will prioritize experimentation and personal interest level over any concern over a pattern's popularity or financial profit. I will still work with test-knitters and make my patterns the best I can, because that's only fair (and continuing to improve my pattern-writing is a personal goal as well). But if I end up putting out a pattern in only a few sizes, or an idiosyncratic design that is likely only to interest me, so be it. This is my time to explore my own creativity. Hopefully other people will find the process interesting.

Experimentation! If not now, when?


Photos feature squares from my slowly-progressing Barn-Raising Quilt. While cogitating on all these weighty Life Issues, I've been knitting squares and joining them together. I now have 31 total, sixteen of which are crocheted together. I think I'm shooting for a final total of 80 squares, but really—who knows?


  • Huzzah! Worthy goals, and the means to achieve them! I look forward to your output as always. I have similar thoughts, although, actually, with a husband working uncertain freelance gigs and a lot if years experience as a stay at home mom, I need to consider the financial viability of most patterns, myself. I have a particular monetary goal that I wish to meet before I get to branch out quite as I want to, but I hope to get there eventually! Inspiring post and I can't wait to see some of the mystery projects.

  • Thanks so much, Kristen. And I should clarify that I definitely feel you on the need to consider financial viability - not only is money a necessary survival consideration but the feeling of making money from something creative is really powerful, and I wouldn't want to dismiss that. But in my case, it got a bit ridiculous because getting so stuck on agonizing over finance versus creativity meant I wasn't putting out anything at all! Anyway, hopefully now that I've worked through some of this stuff, I can break through the block and blog about some actual knitting. :-)

  • Hurrah! I was delighted to read your conclusion. Your posts about your process are always interesting, and your photographs are eye candy of the highest order, and I had been missing your knitting blogging.

    Experimentation is awesome and I'm excited to see what you're up to.

  • Aw thanks, Rebecca! Glad to know the process posts aren't a drag for people, and it feels really good to have all this down in a post. On to the knitting itself!

  • Congratulations! Your realization is just the sort of attitude that fosters the best sort of creative work.

  • Thanks, Gaidig. It's quite a relief to have cut the anxiety cords. It bet 2011 will be great. :-)

  • Emily,

    The need of creativity vs finance is something that plagues many of us. I applaud your attitude and your process. I have always enjoyed your designs for their aesthetic and creativity. As you now know, we have very different body types. Not everything you design will work for me, even if it can be done in my size. That doesn't take away from the joy of watching your visions take form and admiring the finished object. I look forward to seeing and reading about your expirementation. And if every now and then you come up with something that will work on my frame, that is icing too.

  • I love your designs, your knits and your blog! These life, work and money issues can make heavy going, but as you know, nobody is just one thing. I guess I mean that it is hard for most people to identify themselves with just one of their activities.

  • Emily I know coming to a decision about something like this is so hard. But the fact that you do have a job you like is a major blessing and it's fabulous that it gives you the freedom to explore your creative and artistic side.

    As someone who is large size I can perfectly understand that not all patterns can be sized up and out, or that you really may not feel like doing so with many - I've seen some of those difficulties first hand in my own knitting. I think that even viewed as a professional service, not all patterns have to be offered in all sizes, so long as some are, in order to keep that audience as engaged in your creative process. It is also worth remembering that there is a lot more knitting involved in a size 50 sweater than there is in a size 32, so we are less likely to knit as many ;-)

    As a blogger, your posts always make for fascinating reading, you are eloquent in your passion and intellectual curiosity and that makes what you write interesting to read. If, financially it makes enough money to pay for itself and perhaps for some of your pleasure knitting, all the better for you. I have a long history of my creative pursuits eating up my budget (yarn acquisition is very expensive so is book and music acquisition and we won't go into what semi-precious stones and sterling findings cost, thank you very much).

    The artistic side and the commercial side don't always go hand-in-hand, but you may really not enjoy all the promotional work that is necessary to "sell" the products of your creativity and the time that takes up. If you are receiving the artistic rewards of your design process, there is no harm in not chasing the commercial rewards as well, given that you have already taken care of your day-to-day needs. Regardless know that you have someone in your corner in Greece cheering for you, and always willing to test knit anything you'd like.

  • valid points on all accounts. focus on what YOU want to design and the rest will fall into place. enjoy the process and the outcomes. and feel free to chronicle your process here when you have a chance. i struggle with some of these very things- so much that i've never actually even started designing (although i have lots of sketches). your family trunk project is truly inspiring to me and i look forward to more great designs.

  • Tantej: Thanks for your words of support. The balance between finance and creativity is challenging, as is another balance you bring up - wanting to design things I'm personally excited to wear, versus designing things I think will flatter a wide range of body types. I'm excited to do both things, and I really do want to offer a wide range of sizes as a general rule, but it's nice to hear that people understand there can sometimes be exceptions to that. :-)

  • Max: Such a good point about it being hard to identify yourself with just one of your activities. In the US our culture is so much about "You are what you do for money" that it's hard to keep in mind how many other factors play into our identities. Thanks for the encouragement! :-)

  • Susan, you are always so sweet! I really appreciate your ongoing support, and, like I said to Tantej, even though it is generally a priority for me to offer a wide range of sizes, maybe it's good to realize that sometimes it's just not feasible. This conversation also makes me think about the possibilities that a larger garment offers that a smaller one doesn't - maybe I should start a few designs with larger people in mind, instead of always sizing up. Food for thought, and thanks again. :-)

  • Duni, thanks so much for the nice words. It means a lot to hear that other people go through this same stuff! I hope you do find it worth it to develop some of those sketches someday, even if the whole grading/test knitting/self-publishing thing seems like a lot. :-) And so glad you enjoy the blog!

  • This is something I struggle with all the time; I dream of a dayjob that would take care of some of the bills and still leave a bit of time for drawing and printing. Wondering whether the thing you're making will be liked, and whether it's an effective use of your time, can be completely paralysing creatively.

  • I was so pleased to see you were "back" - and then read rapidly through to the bottom to see what you'd decided. Phew! I think you're absolutely right to opt for freedom. No designer can be all things to all people. I say, follow your instincts because that's what's made your work so good this far.

  • Jesse, it's so validating to hear that other creative people struggle with these issues too. I know it intellectually, but still so helpful to hear it specifically. I certainly agree about the paralysis issue - it's so easy to get sucked into a trap of worrying about what we *should* be creating, rather than actually making anything!

  • Christine, thanks so much for the supportive words. I'm relieved to be back in a place where I'm excited to talk/blog about designing again!

  • So glad you are back. Welcome to the world of creative endeavors! Designing for fun versus making a living is vastly different in how you approach projects. Follow your heart. I like the baby idea, myself! (Sorry) Love, love, love your blanket. I guess you have scraps of yarn like I have scraps of fabric.

  • Thanks for the supportive words, Sharon! Thought you might like the blanket; it reminds me a little bit of our lovely quilt which is getting a lot of use. (And imagine my tongue stuck out at you about the baby comment, haha.)

  • Good. I'm glad you decided what you did. I think what makes your designs special IS the unique aspect of them. They are not boring, they have interesting and well-thought out details. They don't look like anything else. They look like Emily, which I think would be a sin to take from the world, your special flame. When you cater to the masses, you get watered down, and since there's already so much of that boring fluff out there, I love that you are going to stick to original Emilys.

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