"I'm very bad at following instructions": Q&A with Hunter Hammersen
Hunter Hammersen is one of those designers whose work is endlessly inspiring to me – not just the beauty of her designs, but the whole package: her well-conceived and exquisitely polished self-published books, the firm grip she has on her business strategy, thoughtful use of social media, and her gorgeous, gorgeous photography. Plus, I get a huuuge kick out of her pattern names. Tantamount! Circumvolute! Distinct Moral Support! (That one's from the delightful book Fine Things for Plain Occasions, inspired by Victorian etiquette manuals, and who could resist that concept?)
1. You’re one of the few indie designers to make a full-time living from this. How do you manage your time? How do you divide up planned projects between single patterns and full book collections?
I'm a big fan of lists and processes… which I'm sure makes me ever so much fun at dinner parties! I tend to have what I think of as one or two Big Projects (usually the book I'm currently working on and the one I'm starting to daydream about), two or three Small Projects (usually individual patterns or events I'm attending or plans I'm making with yarn shops) on the go at any one time, plus Administrative Stuff (all the nitty gritty of running a business… shipping out books and bookkeeping and talking to the printer and staying on top of email).
I have to spend a little bit of time on the admin stuff every day, but I try and make sure that I keep that as streamlined as possible so I can focus on the projects. Each of the projects has a defined path that they go through, and I know what that path looks like and what the timing on each step of the path looks like. And that helps me keep everything on a steady schedule.
It's totally not glamorous… but it helps me make sure I get everything done!
2. How did you get into design? Did you see it as a proper career option from the start, or did that happen more organically? Have your goals changed?
Oh this was totally an accident. I was in grad school when I started knitting, all set to go off and have a respectable real job. But I'm very bad at following instructions, so shortly after I started knitting, I stopped following patterns and started making up my own projects. I'd post them on Ravelry, and people liked them and asked for the patterns. In addition to being bad at following instructions, I'm also alarmingly bossy, so I figured telling people what to do would come naturally and couldn't be all that hard (little did I know…).
Folks were nice enough to knit the things I dreamed up (and to help me learn how to write patterns). Eventually I realized I had started a business sort of by accident (Ravelry makes that awfully easy to do… it's sort of magical). Not too long after that, I realized I really didn't want the respectable real job, and that this pretend one I'd made up was way more fun!
3. What motivates you?
Is it wrong if I say that I do this so I don't have to go get a proper job? I love setting my own hours and working from home in my pajamas and doing things on my own schedule. I really truly don't like doing what someone else tells me to do, and I can't think of any other job that lets me have as much freedom and control as this one does!
4. What’s your favourite kind of thing to knit? Do you ever knit garments, or ever want to
Socks were my first favourite, but these days knitting fabric as tight as a sock demands tends to make my hands hurt. So socks might be my favourite thing to design… but maybe not to actually knit if that makes sense.
If we're talking actual knitting, hats are awfully fun. You only have to make one, you're probably knitting in the round the whole time, there's a limit to how big they're likely to be, and you can get away with just about anything in a hat!
5. What’s your fave of your own designs? Which is the most unfairly neglected?
Oh man that's hard. I tend to love hat and cuff sets (I'm not much of a fashion plate, but if my accessories match I feel much more presentable), and both Petiole and Pelagic are two of my most worn.
6. You’re active and friendly on Twitter and Instagram (such gorgeous photos!), on your blog and on Ravelry, but I know less about you than most of my online friends or, indeed, other prominent designers. Is it important to you to keep a clear divide between your personal and professional selves?
Oh see that's funny, because I always worry I overshare online! Hmmm… I suspect I just sort of tend to feel like my personal life probably isn't all that interesting to anyone else and so don't bring it up too much. That or I'm leading a double life as the head of an international crime ring and I don't want to blow my cover!
7. What GAL patterns have caught your eye? Are you making anything?
Oh it's yarn-y overload isn't it! I tend to do this thing where I spend way too much time looking at sweaters and daydreaming about how surely my entire life would suddenly be perfect (not to mention much tidier and more photogenic) if I just had a closet full of hand-knit sweaters.
Now of course I've never knit a sweater in my life. I have no plans to knit a sweater. I will almost certainly never knit a sweater. But wow do I spend an unreasonable amount of time staring at them...
8. My patterns always seem to get held up by photography. Do you have any particular stumbling blocks in the design process? What are the best and worst parts?
Oh goodness yes. Will you laugh if I say it's actually getting the things I come up with knit? [RW: No. No, I will not. My head is also so full of plans and my hands can't possibly keep up!] I am not a fast knitter, and I can't knit much in a day without running into pain issues with my wrists and arms. So if I had to make all the things I design myself… let's just say there'd be a lot fewer of them.
I have a group of really amazing sample knitters who help me out. They're fantastic and I couldn't do this without them. But I admit to being the tiniest bit jealous of those folks who can knit at top speed without hurting themselves. I suspect if I were like that, I'd have even more patterns out there!
9. What haven’t you done yet (in craft, in business or in life) that you really, really want to?
You know, when I first read this I sort of thought not really. We just moved to Maine this fall, which has sort of been the big goal we've been working toward for the last several years. So my first thought was that I just did the big thing. But now… reading the rest of what I've written here… I'm starting to suspect that the answer is, "hurry up and knit a sweater already!"