"I just want to be happy and make other people happy": Q&A with Julia Trice

Julia Trice is someone I have long admired on Ravelry – both for her always kind, helpful and useful posts in the Designers group, and for her classic, beautiful, wearable designs. (Look how pretty that Loden cable is, and the perfect neckline on Adiri!) She's on that list of people I'd love to have at a tea party (tea and cake just seem to go better with knitting than dinner, don't you think?), so it was a great pleasure to interview her for the GAL.

Julia's website is at juliatrice.com, and you can find her as mindofwinter on both Pinterest and Instagram

How did you get into design?

I fell in backwards. I published a pattern in Knitty because I thought it would be fun. At that time, I worked in a knitting store one evening a week and on Sundays and I met a lot of very talented people who were working on books. I could knit well, and I did a fair amount of improvisation in the 90s when there were not nearly so many fashionable patterns to choose from, so my friends would let me contribute to their efforts. Then the online world started exploding with things like Ravelry and Twist Collective and I got very inspired. I wanted to be a part of it, so I jumped in.

What motivates you?

Knitting, seeing a design come together, seeing the photography and layout turn into a polished publication.  Definitely NOT grading.  That’s a motivation suck if there ever was one.

Your son is about half a year older than my first-born, and I think you have a day job too. Yet you’ve managed to produce a really solid portfolio of complex, detailed designs. How do you manage your time? (Also known as the “what am I doing wrong” question!)

You are not doing anything wrong. You are doing what you need to do to balance your life, and with a young child there is no reason to change that. They are only little once. I started out with very specific, confined goals, which became greater with the years. One of the big keys is understanding what makes you want to design and how to continue enjoying it while running a business. I suck at using social media (see below), so for the most part, I don’t. I also don’t teach and only go to knitting events when I want to see friends and need a write-off.

Particularly if you are doing this as a moonlighting-type gig, it helps to realize that you do not have to do it all to have a certain measure of success. If my family depended on this income then I’d find a way to be all over social media, but because they don’t I can chuck it. I’ve also become more efficient with practice. Repetition makes everything easier. I’ve settled on discreet, realistic goals and spent as much time as I could actually designing – not dreaming about it or talking about it – just doing it. (The Designers forum is a luxury I have allowed myself, but when I am busy, you won’t see me there.) I think I am pretty good at balancing things now, but I have had many unbalanced years. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that balancing came easily to them. Balancing is what tightrope walkers do – it’s a learned skill, and one I have to re-learn repeatedly.

Since you published your first patterns in 2004, what changes have you noticed online? And what’s changed for your own business? 

In 2004, I didn’t have a business. I was unemployed and had discovered Knitty. I was thrilled and obsessed with blogs. I had knit for years in isolation, so having all these resources and people to talk to was amazing. Between 2004 and about 2008 I designed here and there – usually for a friend who was writing a book – I had three friends who did that. It didn’t come to me easily, and I was still very easily distracted by wanting to knit other people’s designs. Then in 2008, Pam Allen accepted some pieces from me for a few Classic Elite pamphlets, and I turned a corner – probably because I was so thrilled to be speaking with Pam Allen. Twist Collective started that year as well, and was a huge source of inspiration – I published seven designs with them between 2010 and 2012. Ravelry came in in 2007 and made the impossible possible, and I began self-publishing in late 2010. I shifted from third-party publishing to self-publishing between then and 2012, and I self-publish exclusively now. Things have changed a lot in a decade. Recipes on blogs and a handful of patterns on a single website have morphed into thousands of pdf patterns on multiple venues. The market has become much more saturated. I don’t know exactly what will change next, but my guess is that it will be technology-related, and that we will be moving from static pdfs to more interactive patterns.  My next business move will likely involve learning new software.

What did you expect to achieve when you first started designing? Do you think you’ve met those goals, or perhaps surpassed them?

I wanted to produce high-quality pdf patterns that I loved and make some money doing it. I’ve achieved that and learned to run a business. I am certainly not rolling in cash, but it is a good supplemental income and I enjoy myself. My goals at present are pretty modest – keep on keeping on, maybe even scale back a little.

Where do you see your designs in five years’ time?

It’s hard to have a crystal ball – things change so quickly with technology. But in terms of the designs themselves I hope that I continue much as I have started but with more freedom to do whatever I feel like doing, even if it is intarsia. I just want to be happy, and hopefully make some other people happy in the process.

You’re a well-known and loved presence in the Ravelry Designers group for your thoughtful, generous contributions. Do you find social media important for your marketing? What does it mean to you to have a “personal brand”?

I am actually terrible at using social media for marketing – as soon as it feels like marketing I don’t want to do it! I’ve spent a lot of time in the Designers forum over the last few years, but I don’t think that my customer base reads that board – I really do it for my own interest. I am also active in the Shalimar Yarns group. I definitely make many sales through that group, but I go there because I like the people (and the yarn!) so much. I’ve let my own group languish – I’m just not as good at social media promotion as I should be. It’s a weak spot. Interacting with others online is definitely a good way to grow your business and I have greatly benefited from that incidentally, but I when it feels too much like business it ceases to be enjoyable for me. I don’t Tweet or FB. I do use Pinterest, and I have a large following for my “knitspiration & crochet too” board, but that is predominantly filled with other people’s designs. I keep it for my own inspiration. I have been goaded into using Instagram. I love it as an observer, but my phone takes awful photos, so I don’t post very often myself. I view branding as somewhat different than marketing, and that I do rather seriously. For me, branding has been deciding how I want my designs to be perceived – from my own online presence to the format of the patterns – and being consistent. In contrast to social media, branding comes naturally to me. Thank goodness!

This is your third Giftalong (I believe?). What do you most look forward to in the GAL, as a knitter and as a designer?

It is! I really like seeing new designers and watching them interact with new people and get attention. I know how exciting it is when people like what you’ve done, and this is a great venue for getting new people the exposure that leads to recognition and long-term relationships. 

What GAL patterns have caught your eye? Are you making anything?

I think it’s unlikely that I will have time to knit anyone else’s designs due to my own design schedule, but I do plan to pop in and cheer people on. I looked through your patterns and I really like your Kissable set. The mittens in particular are adorable. I can see those being a quick, fun project for the holidays. (Thank you Julia! I'm sad that Kissable really never got much love...)

What haven’t you done yet (in craft, in business or in life) that you really, really want to? 

A handstand. I can do crow and 8-angle pose. I have the physical strength, I just can’t pull the trigger!