"The more I design the easier it is": Q&A with Emily K Williams

One of the great gifts the internet has given knitters – especially designers – is the chance to connect with others who share your passion, sharing ideas, experience and support. I consider myself particularly lucky to have met Emily K Williams. Her son was born just a few weeks before my Elfbaby, and her brutally, wonderfully honest emails were a lifeline for me in that impossible phase. (Elf was Not an Easy Baby, and motherhood did not come particularly naturally to me.) Now, we share a Ravelry group (so much nicer than going it alone!) and chat behind the scenes about our upcoming designs and plans. Naturally she's the next of my designer interviewees.

Emily is an outdoorsy type with a home in the Scottish Highlands and a professional background in engineering – she creates gorgeous, very wearable knits with careful attention to detail. I've made her Hap Cardigan, which is one of the most flattering things I own and was bunches of fun to knit. Find her as @flutterbyknits on Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter.

1.    A few years ago, as I recall, you were feeling unsatisfied in your job and mulling over options to reshape your career around knitting. Taking a straight leap to full-time design is pretty bold, though. How did you know you were ready?
I handed in my notice when Owen started school. It would have been unfeasible to start a new venture when I needed to pay for childcare to get any time on my own; even as a professional, this accounted for a significant chunk of my income. At least half the decision was based on making family life easier (I don’t have to worry about after- and before-school childcare, and the holidays are a great long expanse of time for us to fill with exciting treehouse building and trips to see family, rather than a complex logistical operation involving favours and planning and "activities"). Though I have to admit that I haven’t entirely given up my old job – I still do (sometimes quite a bit) of work through an agency, but can usually fit this into the school day.

2.    Working at home, for yourself, is sooo different to a regular office job. Have you had any challenges with motivation, discipline, time management, isolation? And if so, how have you dealt with that?
I have constant issues with time management – it wasn’t my strength even in an office. But I always wanted to do knitting, and as I get more experience the pattern writing and editing is getting easier (and therefore I procrastinate and put it off less). The hard thing is finding the balance between time spent on designing, time in the office working, time for exercise, time for cooking nice food and all the rest. I do try very hard to make the most of the school hours though, and to leave the housework for the evenings when the others can pitch in. I really need to spend more one-on-one time with my bike though.

3.    What did your life look like when Owen was small (before school)? How did that affect your creative drive in that life phase? How did you manage your time?
Well, I worked 3 days a week and he went to nursery. I designed a few patterns, discovered I could do it and that I enjoyed it and that I wanted to do more of it. But really it was just a few things here and there, done in the evenings while he was in bed.

4.    How would you describe your style? Do you have a concept in mind of who you’re designing for?
So far my designs have been made with me in mind (other than the shawls that I made for my sister and her wife last year). The stuff I’ve designed for magazines has been fun, and a chance to experiment with different styles, but on the whole I’m most attached to my self-published stuff.
And my style, that’s difficult. I like clever, innovative, modern, functional design (in all aspects of life), but at the same time I’m also pretty deeply rooted in my hippie upbringing. I like things that make me pause to figure out how they have made them work so efficiently, but I also love quirky and bright and different. So I work towards that in knitwear – functional, but with a bit of a twist somewhere. I am seriously considering deviating from the standard sizing to suit the more well-endowed lady though; there are so many of us out there and I don’t see why we should always be the ones who have to alter patterns to make them fit. Plus I model the samples.

5.    What do you do with your samples? If you wear them, which one gets the most actual use?
I do wear my samples, though I try not to do it too much! Both Ferness and Roisinis get a fair bit of wear, and Roisinis has shot right up to first choice hat (it’s summer now, but come winter it is going to see some serious action). I wear the shawls less, because I don’t really wear shawls that much now that I’m not sitting in an air-conditioned office.

6.    How do you use social media? Do you feel any tension between self-expression and professional presentation? What’s the most fun for you, and what’s the most work?
I spend altogether too much time on social media, though am trying to make a conscious effort to comment and post rather than just reading. At the moment I’m a sporadic Twitter and Pinterest user – Twitter for the odd conversation that grabs my attention and Pinterest for looking (and collecting) ideas and pretty pictures. I’m really enjoying Instagram though, and of course have made many many brilliant friendships through Ravelry.
For me there isn’t any particular tension between anything, they all have an (only slightly moderated) focus on personal expression. I’m never going to be one for carefully crafted still life photos of beautifully arranged rose petals scattered round a scented candle. While I firmly believe in trying to take a decent photo and will do some basic editing, mostly what you see is what is going on around me! 
Writing blog posts is the most like work. Instagram photos are all taken on my phone, edited either in Instagram itself or using Snapseed and then posted immediately. For blog posts I have to upload them onto the computer, and that seems to add in that crucial extra hurdle which means that things just don’t happen.

7.    Of all the tasks involved in self-publishing a design (sketching, grading, pattern writing and layout, editing, photography…), which are the easiest and the hardest for you? What do you outsource? Have you noticed any particular stumbling blocks that hold you up in getting the pattern out there?
Photos, photos and photos. I’m getting better at plastering photos of myself on the internet, but it does take some practice. And a lot of time. I don’t really outsource stuff though – just tech editing, and input on the blurb writing (which can cause me to sit and stare at a blank screen for far far too long).
I do need to get someone to help me with some tinkering on my website though. I’ve done as much as I can do on my own but it’s not quite how I want it (particularly the patterns page). It just takes me so long that it’s a totally inefficient use of my precious child-free time.

8.    What are you most proud of having achieved in your design career thus far?
I’m most proud that I’ve managed to design (and photograph!) things that people knit. Though it’s hard to get a good comparison, I think my patterns are doing pretty well considering I’ve only been at this seriously for the last year. Though I’ve a long way to go before I consider the money I get from designing as an income, it pleases me greatly that people buy and knit my patterns and then post photos of them for me to wonder at.
In terms of individual patterns, Roisinis is seriously cool, and I’m proud that I persevered to get the crown Just Right.

9.    What are your goals? Where do you see your designs in five years time?
My current strategy is just to design more stuff. I’d like to try to release something in the order of 10-12 patterns a year, and just build up a portfolio that I like and am proud of. I have a tendency to research and read and plan and need to know all about everything before I start, but would be much better served in just getting on and doing things. I think the more I design the easier it is for me to figure out things like what my aesthetic is, and what I should do next. I am thinking about releasing a collection sometime over the winter, so that is probably the next thing on the list.

10.    What haven’t you done yet (in knitting or in life) that you really, really want to?
There are lots and lots of things that I want to do. A sea kayak expedition round the Queen Charlotte Islands for starters, and I’d love to go diving on the Great Barrier Reef, and one day we’ll do our road trip round Europe visiting the highest point in each country.
In terms of knitting, I don’t have a burning ambition that I want to achieve, because if I want to do something I can just go and do it. Exciting expeditions to far-flung places take a lot of planning and saving so stay on that "One Day" list for a lot longer.

Thank you Emily! I found myself nodding along to a lot of your comments. The only thing better than doing this interview would have been doing it as a chat, so I could pipe up with "Yes yes me too!" at regular interviews. Then again, maybe that's not the most interesting thing to read.