Thursday, June 11, 2009

My Staff

A few weeks ago I got an e-mail note from a woman named Evelyn. She was knitting a teddy bear I designed for the book I wrote with Melanie Falick called Knitting for Baby and was having trouble with the shoulders. I was in the middle of one of the last crunches on my upcoming book - Color by Kristin - and just didn’t have the time to answer. So I didn’t, much as I wanted to. When you do what I do, you have to spend your time where it is needed most. Most publishers have a staff person or a tech editor on retainer that I can pass pattern problems onto. As far as I know, this is not the case with STC so I usually have to help knitters through problems they have with books I have written for them. Honestly, this is one of my least favorite parts of my job.

When I write and design for a knitting book, I give the publisher the instructions my knitters have made the projects from. Then the publisher’s tech editor puts those instructions into the house style (every publisher has a different style). At the same time, the tech editor checks math and tweaks the instructions so that they are understandable and hopefully perfect. Tech editors are the un-sung heroes of the yarn industry. They stay behind the scene, tidying everything up and making authors and publishers shine. They strive for perfection and clarity. A good tech editor is in high demand and most of them are extremely busy people.

After a book is laid out, the manuscript is sent back to the author for re-checking. This is a crucial spot for the author to find inconsistencies or mis-interpretation by the tech editor. It’s the part I really try to spend hours on because I want my books to be understandable and easy to knit from. I was at this point with Color by Kristin when Evelyn contacted me.

Evelyn did not give up. Two weeks later she contacted me again. My book crisis was past and I had forgotten about her e-mail – it was buried in my in-box. At this point, I had a minute to look at the pattern for her. As far as I could tell, there was no problem with the pattern. Most times, this is the case but a knitter is not understanding how the directions are written or how a project is made. It is a matter of interpretation. I could tell this was Evelyn’s problem because the little bear isn’t the most straight forward project – although it is darn cute.

I wrote Evelyn back, helped her out and here’s what she wrote to me.

“Dear Kristin,
Thank you so much for personally responding to my email. I am honored. I expected one of your staff persons to answer. I actually feel very badly now for having bothered you with my problem. I feel so dumb for not understanding the instructions (everything is explained in depth in that book), I apologize. I was getting so frustrated and couldn't figure out my mistake. I understand now that I'm to sew the stitches that were bound off which will become the shoulder. I am so excited!!!
Thank you so much for your kindness and time.

I was relieved that her project was going to work out. But I was in hysterics also. Evelyn thinks I have a “staff.” If Evelyn ever knew. I decided to write back:

“Hi Evelyn:
I'm still laughing that you think I have a "staff!" It's just me and my dogs, cats, sheep, chickens and actually, I am the only staff -- I'm their staff! I take care of their food and water and letting them in an out, so I suppose I am their maid and chef! Hope the grandbaby likes the teddy (or at least the mom or dad of the grandbaby!)
Good weekend,

This little back and forth has made me think about how knitters perceive “the designers” they look to for patterns and creativity. There are a lot of us designers out here and there are very few of us who have “staffs.” Knitwear designers who write knitting books are usually trying to juggle a million balls at the same time – designing, writing, promoting, teaching, doing t.v. gigs (when asked), writing blogs, and more. And then there is the normal everyday things that need to be done. Around here, if I think about it, my head spins. This week, we’ve already been to two farmer’s markets to sell lamb, along with doing all the farm chores, entertaining an out of town guest with a good meal, planting our vegetable garden, mulching the flower beds.

Today, I am off to TNNA in Columbus. I’ll be helping to set up the Westminster Fibers Booth on Friday. On Saturday and Sunday, I’ll be selling yarn for them. If you are there, stop by and say “hi.” I’ll have a mock-up of my new book with me (that I had bound at Staples last night) and some lovely postcards for a takeaway gift. Hopefully I will be re-connecting with old friends and meeting some new ones.

To tell you the truth, getting away for this weekend will actually be a bit of a vacation from my everyday chores. No chickens or chicks or guinea hens to feed. No kittens or cats or dogs to feed. No errant sheep to corral back into the pasture. No family to cook and care for. And I don’t even have to cook for myself.

Truth be told, I can’t wait to get back to all my normalness on Monday!


Thistledew Farm said...

Hurray to the staff - you are split so many ways it is easy to be confused into thinking you have a staff! Thanks for the fun story.

Willow said...

Dear Kristen, Please let your staff know that I think they're really cute.

I was in Columbus this week! Flying out of the airport after spending several days with my dd who lives just east of there! Enjoy the weekend...if I'd realized...

Kate G. said...

That was a great post, Kristin. Thanks for keepin' it real although I wish I could send you a few extra hours of sleep or maybe just enough time to enjoy a lemonade with the family in the backyard.

Mereknits said...


Wouldn't be great if we all had a staff? We would all get so much done, but then our staff would need a staff. This could go on forever.

The pictures of the kittens are beautiful, as always Julia is beuatiful, too.

have a nice rest before you return to reality.

Gudrun Johnston said...

Have fun at TNNA....but I can understand wanting to return to such cuteness!

Ellen Gormley said...

Thank you for this fabulous post. I'm going to link my blog to it. It is easy to feel like an "island" as a designer without a "staff" to help us. Customer service is also, not my favorite task.

Jennifer said...

What a fabulous post! I was so afraid when I started reading this post that it was going to be a nasty comment that you had to deal with. (I hate those!). Instead, you shared a little kindness, wisdom and laughter to our day... which, of course, is so your style.

Thanks for ending it, as always, with a cute cuddly critter. You're the best. Good luck at TNNA.

Kathy said...

That's so funny! I do think that us civilians give you designers rock-star status!!

Heather L. said...

Have fun at the TNNA. I wish I was going. But, my sister (Christina Wall of is going and I hope she'll get to meet you there. I can't wait to get a report of the weekend from everyone who went!

Astoria said...

We love your kittens!! Each one is cuter than the next! Are you keeping all of them? Just curious. :) Love them!

sandra said...

I wish I lived near you. Those kittens are beautiful. My old cat just died and I really need a kitten.

Anonymous said...

Love seeing Julia with her lap filled with lovely, soft kittens. She is charming wearing her crocheted shrug and flowery summer dress..
M of VA

Turtle said...

lol, love those photos of your "staff"

fracksmom said...

love your staff, gocrochet just mentioned you in her blog, and as i also knit was excited to get a knitter among my favorites.
i want to draw your kittie picture, do you have a way i can get a release if i want to show it?

Deborah said...

I think you and your "staff" do an awesome job! I am amazed at all you do. I know you are one person. I used to work and have kids, that is tough enough, but then you have the farm, the shows, etc. Some of us do "get it"

I love your kitties and want one!

Joanne said...

I loved your post! I too get those emails and sad to say, my staff dogs Harry and Sally just don't respond quickly enough. :) You wrote about this in such a gracious way. Thank you for being such a designer role model to the rest of us!

Sarah: wife, mother, beekeeper said...

ha! i was sure you had a "staff" too when e-mailing you.
goodness those kittens are cute.

Beth said...

I once struggled with a pattern and emailed the company via their website. Like Evelyn, I was shocked, pleasantly, when the pattern designer herself emailed me back! I was so impressed - and felt so silly once the instructions were explained. I've since recommend that pattern brand to lots of friends.
Enjoy TNNA.

p.s. - Love Julia's armful of kitties!!

Anonymous said... your blog, but I must "staff" person couldn't work this past weekend so I had to forfeit my plane ticket and registration fee for TNNA and stay behind at my yarn shop...helping numerous "Evelyn's". A heartbreak for me, but I hope you found much inspiration and find yourself ready to return to your role of "one wo/man army"! All the best!