Today we have Elizabeth Smith in our Designer Spotlight. Elizabeth designs beautiful garments from kids to adults. I think I added more patterns to my favorites than any other time I’ve written a Designer Spotlight post! She lives in Maine and I know you will enjoy getting to know more about her.
Loopy: Hi Elizabeth! Thanks for being in our Spotlight today. How long have you been a knitter and who taught you to knit?
Elizabeth: Hi Loopy – thank you so much for the opportunity to share a bit of my story with you! I learned to knit in 2003, so about 17 years ago now. My Mom is a knitter but at the time I was living on the opposite coast so she wasn’t able to teach me. And it was before the days of YouTube, so I learned the basics from books. Because of this, learning to knit was actually a very slow process for me (ironically since it’s now my career!). Some of the first books I used didn’t have the best illustrations so it just took a while for things to finally click for me. But once it did I was off and running and haven’t put the needles down since! And I think because of my many false-starts with learning to knit, it inspired me to want to create good photo and video tutorials for a lot of the techniques in my patterns – I know how frustrating it can be to try to learn something new and it just isn’t clicking.
Loopy: I think I must have had some of those very same learn to knit books with hand drawn sketches and bad photos. I’m glad you persevered! What is your favorite type of item to knit?
Elizabeth: I love knitting vests and other layering type pieces. They are super versatile and are a fun way to add a little knitwear to any outfit. I often recommend vests as a first garment to people because it’s a great way to start to learn about fit and ease.
Loopy: That’s a great first knit – and you don’t have to mess with sleeves. What is the most challenging thing that you have knit to date?
Elizabeth: Oh that’s a tricky question! I don’t have much time to knit other patterns so instead I guess I’ll share a recent design challenge, or I should call it a pattern writing challenge! I recently revamped my Lilac Trail Vest. It’s not hard to knit by any means, and at first glance, it seems like a very straight forward design. But it was the technical writing that was a challenge because there is front shaping, armhole shaping, and there’s also a back lace panel (all happening at different intervals for each size). None of these things are hard, but I didn’t want to have any “at the same time” kind of directions, and I also wanted to write-out each line of the lace pattern so that it would still be simple enough for a more beginner knitter who maybe hasn’t done a lot of lace before. And I revamped it to include a total of 11 sizes! So figuring out how to best communicate all of this in a way that was not only accurate for each size but also clear and beginner-friendly was definitely a challenge! But I feel really good about the end product so it was all worth it.
Loopy: That is just kind of mind boggling. So many sizes, each one written individually, and then not having “same time” instructions? You set yourself up for a lot of work! But it’s a beautiful design. When did you start designing, and what spurred that interest?
Elizabeth: I released my first pattern in around 2008 and I’ve been slowly by steadily publishing designs ever since. It evolved from a fascination I had with knitting patterns and how they were created. I’ve also just always had a love of clothing and fashion – my grandmother was a seamstress in the garment district of NY when she came here from Sicily, and she went on to have her own dress company with her brother, and so a love of clothing and appreciation of its creation was always a part of my family and upbringing.
I was always a crafty person from a very young age – my favorite things to do always involved creating something with my hands. Even one of my first jobs as a teen was at a scrapbooking rubber stamp store! But the crafts I loved the most were ones that had instructions. I enjoyed following things step by step and seeing something come to life with each progression. So obviously when knitting came into my life it just felt like a perfect fit. And because of my analytical personality, combined with my professional experience in communication and technical writing, that initial fascination and curiosity with pattern writing slowly and steadily turned into a career that fit my brain, crafty nature, fashion interest and skill set all really well.
Loopy: It does sound like you have moved into a job that celebrates all of the things you love and do best. Not everyone gets to do that in life. Do you have a favorite pattern that you’ve designed?
Elizabeth: Usually a pattern becomes a favorite when I see others enjoying it so much. My whole design process is all about creating an enjoyable knitting experience for the knitter, so when I see that a pattern has really connected with others and they’ve had a great experience knitting it, then it becomes a favorite. My Audrey’s Cardigan, which I released last Fall, has become a favorite for that reason. I did an educational KAL for it where I created videos of every step of making the sweater, and so the pattern became a lot of people’s first sweater project. It was so awesome to see so many people gain confidence in their sweater knitting because of that pattern, so it definitely became an instant favorite.
Loopy: I love the tiny pop of color above the ribbing. Fun details like that really catch my attention. What is your favorite part of your designing? And your not-so-favorite part?
Elizabeth: I really enjoy almost all of the steps in the designing process. From initial concept and swatching to the knitting, figuring out the best verbiage to use and the final layout – each step taps into a different part of both my personality and skill set and I find them all so rewarding in different ways. I guess one of my favorite parts is in the initial concepting phase when I have an idea of the general look I’m going for in the piece, and then I need to figure out how to achieve that look. My goal in every piece I design is for it to have a modern, simple aesthetic that’s super wearable for everyday, but it’s also enjoyable to knit even for a more beginner knitter. And I feel my job as a technical writer is just as important as a designer – so I need to make sure that the concept I have in my head and in my sketchbook can be created using simple knitting techniques and the pattern can be written in a clear and straight-forward manner so that I can create that enjoyable knitting experience for others. It can be a challenge but I really love it.
My not-so-favorite part is that I can be a bit of a perfectionist and so there is always a lot of stress that goes into releasing a new design and putting my work out there. You spend months and months on one design, obsessing over every little detail, and when you put your work out there it can be a very vulnerable feeling. You would think it would get easier with time, but over 10 years later, I still get nervous releasing a new design!
Loopy: I can understand that nervousness. You put so much of yourself into your work, so to have it out there feels vulnerable. I’m glad to know that your patterns are so beginner-friendly. I will have to remember to recommend them in the shop to new knitters! Do you do this business full-time, or on the side? And is that hard?
Elizabeth: I’ve always done my knitting design business along with other work, but through the years I’ve been slowly and gradually able to spend more and more time on it. In my early days of knitting design (so starting in 2008/2009), I worked full-time in the advertising industry and so I could only work on my pattern designs at night and on the weekends. Now, 12 or 13 years later, I’m able to spend a lot more of my week on knitting design and I split my time between designing and also working part-time as a contractor in the tech/start-up industry. I’ve worked with software development firms and start-ups doing project management/operations-related work, along with doing some other web/marketing contracting. I really enjoy having both my knitting design world as well as my other work. It means I’m working all the time, but I’m so grateful to be able to work in both industries and to be able to do work that I enjoy and that fulfills me.
Loopy: It sounds like you have a good balance in your different jobs. Does anyone else in your family knit?
Elizabeth: My Mom is a great knitter, and so was my grandmother. No one else in my family currently knits, although I’ve tried to teach my husband on several occasions. Unfortunately he just hasn’t taken to it, but he does all my knitting tutorial video editing so I think he’s watched enough video footage that he definitely could knit!
Loopy: Ha – or maybe he sees all that goes into it and thinks the video editing part is enough! Are there other hobbies that you enjoy?
Elizabeth: Knitting takes up most of my time, although in the past I have enjoyed some sewing projects. And I hope to try to fit painting into my life one of these days! I used to paint a lot when I was younger and I miss it, so hopefully one day I can get back to it!
Loopy: It’s probably good for your hands and fingers to rotate crafts from time to time, so multiple hobbies is a good idea. What would be your favorite way to spend a day off?
Elizabeth: I love being out on the water, or at least near it! And living in Maine, I’m lucky to live so close to some beautiful areas like Casco Bay (photo attached of me knitting on a boat!)
Loopy: That does look beautiful. And you have the very best fall colors there. Ok, last questions: Morning or Night person? Coffee or Tea? English or Continental? Solids or Multicolors? 🙂
Elizabeth: I’m definitely more of a night person! And a coffee lover. I knit English and usually with solid yarns.
Loopy: Thanks again for being with us today, Elizabeth!
Elizabeth has set up a 20% off discount code for the patterns in her Ravelry shop. Use the code: loopyewesmith Code is valid June 4-11, 2021.
Have a great weekend!