pages18-19
(One of my favourite layouts from Yokes, pages 18-19)

I think that these are really interesting times in knitwear design and publishing. I’m someone whose interest in hand-knit design directly lead to my establishing myself as a (very) small publisher. Having previously written several academic books and articles, as well as various editorial features, bits of film and literary criticism, and other journalistic pieces, I had some idea of what might be involved in making a book. When I decided to produce Colours of Shetland, what really drew me to doing things myself was that I could hopefully make the kind of book that would be a very hard sell to a mainstream publisher, but which I knew I would love to create, and which I also felt that knitters would hopefully want to read. By creating my own books, I could write about archeology and knitting, puffins and jazz and lighthouses . . . and knitting. I could even write about Danish foreign policy and its representation in one of my favourite television series. . . and knitting. Creating your own books as a small publisher means that you retain control of all aspects of the process, from how things look on the page to the paper quality of the page itself.

insidecover
(Colours of Shetland inside front cover)

In my former career, I had many frustrating experiences working with academic publishers where editorial control is largely out of one’s hands. I vividly recall, for example, spending around six months tracking down and, with some considerable effort, securing one-time, non-commercial reproduction rights to a particular eighteenth-century image which I needed to illustrate an article I was writing for a well-regarded academic publisher. At the proof stage, I was appalled to discover that the painting was so poorly reproduced and so small on the page that it was barely visible at all, let alone in the detail that would have been needed for the reader to make any sense of what I was saying in the accompanying text. My objections had no effect. But if you are doing things yourself, you can address such issues, and try to find a good balance between useful illustration, and cost (which is of course a major consideration).

ESKIMO

For example, when I found this poster of Eskimo – George Schnéevoigt’s 1930 film – I knew I wanted to include the image in my Yokes book. As well as illustrating a key part of my discussion (the Greenlandic costumes worn in this film inspired Norweigan designer, Annichen Sibbern to create her famous Eskimo yoke), I felt the image held a general aesthetic consonance with my thinking, and I found it very inspiring to look at on my mood board while I was writing the chapter in which the film appeared. Yoke sweaters are a modern – and in some respects modernist – design phenomenon, both of which were suggested to me by the font and feel of this striking poster. Nic (my book production guru) loved the image too, but there were other matters to consider. The chapter had to work as an 8 page spread, with several other wonderful images of Greenlandic costume, (which the nice people at Greenland.com had permitted me to reproduce)

greenland

In the end, the layout Nic came up with completely thrilled my editorial eye. She had used the photograph of the Greenlandic girls in their nuilarmiut at full page to introduce the chapter, but had then flipped it, so that the figures were facing right, leading the reader into the text. Schnéevoigt’s movie poster, meanwhile, held an important prefatory role – slotting into the chapter’s opening paragraphs, reproduced at centre page at a size at which its details were easy to see, and with its colours picked up in the chapter’s title font and subheadings. This use of colour in the chapter’s subheadings makes the poster’s aesthetic effect echo throughout the chapter. Amazing job, Nic!

page8-9
(Yokes, pages 8 and 9).

As you might imagine, the amount of work involved in creating and publishing one’s own books is pretty vast, and self-publishing by no means implies that you are doing everything yourself. I have been completely blessed in working with a superb team of people like Nic, Jen, and Rachel whose expertise in print and production, as well as technical and copy editing mean I can create books properly professionally, to the high standard and quality that I want. I’ve found it absolutely essential to have a really good team of folk on board, all of whom can take responsibility for various aspects of the process, and who also work well together. As the publisher, the writer, and the designer, you have to be prepared to listen and take advice, to take firm decisions, and to take some risks too. You (or rather, your business) has to invest time, energy, and a large amount of money into each book. Yokes involved an awful lot of research, travel, designing, knitting, writing, and photography before we even got anywhere near the editing and production stage. Personally I really enjoy this all-encompassing absorption in a project – you have to really live the book – but I suspect that this isn’t for everyone, and probably neither is the level of risk involved. The major benefit of working with a larger publisher is that they are shouldering the financial burden and any associated risk involved in a book’s production, but when one is one’s own publisher, that risk is yours and yours alone. When I wrote this post and received so many responses along the lines of “yokes just aren’t for me” I confess I was a wee bit concerned. Was I making a book that was of no interest to anyone but me? Did anyone even want a book about yoked sweaters, their provenance and their recent history?

pages4-5
(Yokes, pages 4 and 5, with wonderful illustrations by Felicity Ford)

Happily some people were interested in such a book.

In the end I would say that the best thing about small publishing is the very basic pleasure that’s derived from making a thing of which one is proud. This pleasure-in-making is integral to every aspect of the process for me, from the initial idea, through the writing and the designing and the knitting, through to the editorial, layout, and production stage, to finally holding the book in my hand. And in some ways, the actual made-thing is only the very start of that productive process. From that point on, one has the additional pleasure of seeing folk engage meaningfully with the thing that you have made. Knitters knit your jumpers. Folk write and say they enjoyed reading a particular chapter, that they liked or disagreed with something that you said; that they loved a certain pattern, or that there was a design element in it they felt might be improved. All of these interactions are important – they are all about people actually engaging meaningfully with your made thing — and this can be very affirming.

foxglove

(Lovely Karen from Oxford Yarn Store has made and adapted several patterns from Yokes. Every sweater she makes makes me happy!)

I said at the start of the post that these are interesting times in design and publishing. I suppose the thing that I find most interesting (and heartening) about them is that I’m not alone. So many designers and writers are now finding that small publishing is a viable route of pursuing their own creative direction, finding their own independent voice, and realising their own visions. We are often told that the world of print is struggling in the digital age, but it seems to me that in knitting, as perhaps in other areas of relatively “niche” interest, that a host of independently-minded folk are using small publishing to make really wonderful, successful books that also often combine print and digital production in innovative ways. My friend Felix crowdsourced funding for her amazing and completely distinctive tome in a way that was both incredibly professional and really, really inspiring. Designers like Gudrun, meanwhile, are publishing their own beautiful pattern collections, which, because they are the product of a single, undiluted creative vision – from the stitch patterns to the photographic locations – have something really striking and specific to say. I think that small, independent publishing has made the knitting world much richer, more varied and certainly much more interesting than it was a decade ago, when the majority of knitting books were put out by mainstream craft publishers or large yarn companies (whose priorities were sometimes rather narrowly trend-led).

I have been prompted to these musings by the sheer number of fascinating, beautiful, and important books produced by my fellow independent designers that have recently caught my eye. In tomorrow’s post I’ll review a few examples.

42 thoughts on “designing & publishing: part 1

  1. Can I order a copy from the US? I was hoping Amazon carried a copy because my MIL often buys me books off of my wish list for my birthday, but when I looked you up, they send me to vampires. Not you, right?

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    1. Hi – yes of course you can order a copy from my shop from the US! I don’t like Amazon to stock my products because of their punitive effect on smaller retailers.

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  2. My very own copy of Yokes came in yesterday’s mail. It’s sitting beside my knitting, waiting for the perfect undisturbed hour to jump in!

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  3. I actually bought Yokes just for the essays and conversations, I am way more interested in background and context rather than solely on designs. But I keep in mind that someday I will probably make one or two of the designs too, they are very beautiful ;)

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  4. What an amazing post! Thank you for sharing the back story on your book, it really is fascinating and I can see why it is so much more rewarding to be in that process and have the creative control to really bring your vision to life. I’m excited to read the book- these images alone do so much for whetting the appetite. And I love the independent designer boom- patterns crafted for the sake of great patterns, rather than as a means of selling yarn from large manufacturers. It’s something that I definitely support.

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  5. Wow, I began to knit 15 years ago, and back then, pretty much every pattern I knit came from one of the big yarn companies. I never consciously realized until the end of your essay, that I knit almost exclusively from independent designers now.

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  6. I’m a graphic designer, mainly designing books, for a printing house. We publish a few, but most people publish their books themselves. It would only be in the last 10 years or so that printing small amounts of books have become cost effective, what with the changes in technology, in binding, in printing. I always work with the writer/author/editor to give them exactly what they want, along with advice about paper, covers, binding etc. It’s a great job – but in all the 500+ books i’ve designed, never has one been about knitting – sigh… That would have been a dream. Well done, Kate, for producing your own book. I have bought a few self-published knitting books online and they’re always special.

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  7. That was very fascinating to read! I am so glad you shared your musings. It is interesting to hear all the benefits you see (especially for niche markets) in small publishers. So often, I hear people belittle small and independent publishers, saying that obviously the author was “not good enough” for a larger, more mainstream, “real” publisher. As you point out, it might actually be for the author’s benefit to go the smaller route. I’m so glad it working out for YOU too! Super cool, and great to read! Thanks!

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  8. You’ve inspired me to keep going with writing my book! Definitely will consider self publishing now given the benefits of full control :-)

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  9. Hello and thank you for letting us into your life, publishing and otherwise! I have to say that no matter WHAT knitting book you wrote and published…….I WOULD BUY IT!! Your patterns/directions/historical perspective are just the thing I want in work I am doing. Thank you SO much for all your work.

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  10. …and that’s exactly how I feel about it (in all humility)…I also want to write a book about knitting that is HARD to sell to a publisher, yet attractive enough to sell to the reader… not any such books in Greek, so far…so, I promise myself I’ll try as hard as I can! Thank you for this inspiring article!!!

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  11. I haven’t seen the film. Was it based on a play? At the bottom of the poster it says ‘Play in 8 acts’. I see that Georg Schneevoigt worked with Carl Th. Dreyer. I now want to see this film.
    Inge

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  12. I have only recently discovered your designs, books, and blog, and am so inspired by them. I am a self-taught knitter (been knitting for most of my life) and have recently discovered top-down, seamless knitting. I have been designing some raglan tunic sweaters for the past year, then I discovered round-yokes, and when I saw a photo of one of your colorful yokes sweaters I got very inspired. I love the idea of seamless garments. I also love the geometry of both the squarish raglans and the round yokes. Such utter simplicity of shape and construction. I am awaiting delivery of both Colors of Shetland and Yokes so that I can explore color and graphic pattern. As a professional graphic designer, I lean toward color blocks and bold color palettes (almost any color with white, but only one color at a time). It will be interesting to see what comes out of this new inspiration.

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  13. dearest Kate! I knew that, even if I never knitted one of the patterns in the book, I would fall in love with your guide into the history, the time and place and inspiration……I adore every word you write! I feel that I am taking a graduate course anytime I read about your knitting adventures, wanderings, research…….even Bruce is amazing to me as he adds his photo-journals of his adventures around your beautiful homestead. Loved your garden essay! Photos of ideas, patterns, teapots, aprons…….please know that we want to know what you are doing, always.

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  14. I’m writing from Vermont USA and just received copies of both of your books and they are, indeed, beautifully designed and produced. I especially love the inclusion of the interviews in Yolks. I am such a fan of the yolk form, which I think is timeless and infinitely re-imaginable, and love to read about it’s history and champions. I love your beautiful designs and your thoughtful pattern notes. I plan on starting with Cockatoo Brae. And thank you for allowing book buyers to digitize their purchase. I knit while traveling and I cannot count the times I’ve lost my paper pattern–now, as long as I don’t lose my phone, I can read the pattern off Dropbox!

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  15. Hey Kate,
    I really enjoyed reading your post. It caught my breath, when you mentioned that the response to the idea of a book about “Yokes” didn’t think it was something they would be interested in. I’m really glade you went ahead with the project! I LOVE that book! I thought my mind was going to explode with questions, ideas and the desire for more knowledge about them all.!
    One of my favorite parts in the book is about the Greenlanders, their history, and their sweaters/yokes. I just wish there were more information available about the subject. I also found great interest in the Icelandic/Lopapeysa section. I have a question that I normally wouldn’t ask, but I have looked everywhere I can think of! It’s gotten to the point where I can’t stop thinking about it, because , to me, it seems so unusual! On page 31 of your “Yokes” Book, there is a sweater that just seemed to catch my eye. It’s one of those that just screams at you to want to know more about that particular piece. I keep wondering what the “numbers” around the yoke might mean. Is there a story to it, if so what was it? All this raced through my mind. Like I aid, I’ve looked everywhere, and can’t find anything and this design seems to be very unique. Would you mind sharing the information if you have and can? I understand that that might not be something you are able to do. I figured I’d never know unless I asked!
    One other thing… Please apologize to Bruce, I called him “Brian” in something I wrote to you and was just ready to kick myself. My best friend has a Great Dane named Brian. Any Dog, as distinguished and loves potatoes , like Bruce does deserves his name to be written properly! Hope he’ll forgive me!

    Looking for next Part of Post… HAPPY KNITTING to YA”ll!

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    1. Brian is a great name for a great dane!
      I believe that yoke is “Hekla” named for the Icelandic volcano of the same name – its by Olina Jonsdottir & is included in Istex’s “Overdur” collection (which I’m not sure is available in English, but you could certainly contact Istex for the pattern)

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      1. Thanks for the information! If I have to, I’ll just learn Icelandic…LOL! You can’t believe hope happy I am to know that much! Thanks again! A hug and bone to Bruce!

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  16. Echoing a lot of what has already been said here. Having worked for a large, large publishing company for eleven years, I know first hand how little attention can be paid to really deserving books that are perceived to have a small audience and how dismissive marketing teams can be of anything that doesn’t have blockbuster written all over it. So many lovely gems of books go under the radar. I’ve always been a champion of the indie press and in the knitting world in particular, definitely self-publishing is the way to go, especially if you already have a solid audience from a blog such as yours Kate. I snapped up both your books when they came out (and Knitsonik) and love all three – they are such beautiful items to read and look at and packed with such original and striking photos and inspiration. I also love indie magazines such as Pom Pom – again, they are doing something really different and fun and taking knitting into all sorts of lovely directions. And the books from Tin Can Knits are also great with their own vibe and inspiration. Can’t wait to see what else you recommend!

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  17. I. too, enjoy your blog as well as your books. In fact, my husband, who doesn’t knit, but happily wears what I knit him, also reads them. We both love the history, the pictures and the lore of special places that we have also visited. I look forward to buying more of your books when they come as well as continuing to follow your blog. Many thanks for all. Jan

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  18. I’m really interested to find out more about this, as I am in the process of figuring out how to do this self-publishing thing. Like you, I have been less than pleased with how some of my work has been photographed and edited in other publications, but moving on to doing my own thing and putting together the right team to make it happen is tricky. Hope to learn more from your next post.

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  19. Is there anything in your book noting that the native population don’t like to be referred to as “Eskimos” and it’s considered derogatory (yes I know the movie was from the 30’s) In Canada we have the Inuit & the Dene

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    1. Yes, I’m well aware of the terms colonial connotations, and negative associations. Here’s my note accompanying the chapter. “Nomenclature: the term “Eskimo” is not used in this essay in reference to any Greenland individual or group. In using this term, I am simply repeating the given names of the 1930 film and Sibbern Bohn and Dale’s designs” (p.14)

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  20. Thank you so much for persevering to make and self-publish both your books. I love the historical notes and stories as well as the lovely patterns. I have also purchased books you have recommended because I value your thoughts about the subject matter.

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  21. Hello, Kate!
    I think that some books (like yours) are the real treasure in the age of digital media. They are not for usual every-day reading, but for delectation. I do love your language, which seems clear and affluent and enthralling even for non-english speakers like me.
    Best regards,
    Vicky from somewhere in the South of Russia.

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  22. Dear Kate,

    Please note that I just LOOOVE your book ‘Yoke’ and all your other creation and that I’m happily telling all I know about you and your work. I am working on 3 of the models from your book and is very much looking forward to wear the sweaters :-D

    Thanks a mill for the inspiration and the knowledge about how you workyou also provide with your blog. I simply love it :-)

    Regards
    Lisbeth

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  23. Ha! I was one of those people who said “yokes aren’t for me” – but having seen your fabulous book, I have totally changed my mind. The only problem is working out which pattern to knit first…

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  24. Hi Kate

    I love your blogs and designs and have “followed” you for ages. I recently heard your interview on the Shiny Bees podcast and was amazed to hear your Lancastrian accent! Funny how we assume things – just because you are Scottish-based and have been associated with Shetland I assumed you would hail from those parts!

    I bought your ‘Yokes’ book from Loop on a rare trip to London. I was captivated by it, the concept and execution of your idea; your scholarly approach; its accessibility, but mainly its sheer beauty, wonderful photography and gorgeous designs. My yarny friends all love it too. I am very grateful and appreciative that you have persevered to produce this book and hope for more in the future.

    Regards

    Chris

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  25. I completely agree about self publishing, your books are so full of insight in history etc., with comment and opinion that is not found in a lot of main stream knitting books, which can be rather bland in their layouts.
    I was one of those people who thought yokes were not for me, but having brought your book, there are so many variations on the yoke, that I want to knit so many of the designs, I’m thinking about applying fro knitting leave from work:) I love the fact that you think about people’s shapes and sizes in your designs and encourage us to adapt to suit our needs.
    Look forward to hearing about the books, more knitting books is always a good idea!!!

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  26. What a great post –
    SO MUCH YES TO ALL OF THIS!!!

    I am also hugely excited by the new breed of knitting books being self-published by knitters! Self publishing makes so much possible, and although you do take all the risk, you also get more control over what is allowed. I took huge inspiration for the KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook from your shining example and I am really glad I decided to crowdfund the book because this enabled me to see whether there really was any desire for my proposed book… and it gave me the freedom to write about whatsoever I chose.

    I share your view that Nic is a genius, and it’s wonderful to read about the role that the Eskimo poster played in your creative process.

    HURRAH FOR SELF PUBLISHING!

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  27. Tomorrow you are going to review a few examples ……. Have you any idea, Kate, how susceptible I am to reviews of books??????? and how little room I have left on my bookshelves?????? My knitting stash is under control (one large bag of bought wool and remnants thereof: one large basket of homespun ditto), but my book stash, well, that would be another story.

    Meanwhile, long may you continue to produce such tempting books I saw your ‘Colours of Shetland’ in Pittenweem, at the wonderful Woolly Brew, resisted it, went to Elie to walk the dog, ceased to resist, drove back to Pittenweem and bought it….. By the time you did ‘Yokes’, I didn’t even attempt resistance. And then you reviewed Felicity Ford’s book. And now…..

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  28. I, too, love this new world of digital and print publishing and especially when I knit. I have the pleasure of handling a beautifully produced volume with plenty of interesting text as well as the convenience of digital patterns to assist the portability of my knitting projects. It is people like yourself Kate, who combine great creativity, a wonderful aesthetic eye, precise attention to all the details, an academic approach to their subject and the courage to make it all happen, that I respond to most enthusiastically. You write it, I’ll buy it, knowing that I have purchased something of enduring pleasure and value. Well done on all counts!

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  29. Thank you for a lovely post. I’m now looking with intense interest at Felix’s colourwork book – I recently tried designing my own Fair Isle gilet and got eight inches up it before acknowledging that I really didn’t like the colours together – they all made each other look awful. It was an expensive mistake and I now realise the importance of swatching your patterns/colours together. It’s one thing that’s hard to do online – you really do need a shop to be able to look at colours together and in the same light.

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  30. I couldn’t agree more.
    Books like yours have such a personal touch to them.
    I bought this book not just for the patterns (or even for the patterns) but for all the extra information that I knew you would include. Blog posts like this enhance the experience – providing some insight to the production process is fascinating. You can’t get this in a regular publication – and the knitting world is all the better for independent publications like this. In fact because I knew you, the designer, was behind the production process I felt MORE confident the book would be useful and that I would get a lot of enjoyment reading it.
    Well done, in all respects!

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  31. I am all for independent publishing. I am so excited to see designers, artists and writers going this route and producing such wonderful books. The idea of ownership appeals to me greatly.

    I am a novice knitter and it will be a while before I can knit a pattern from Yokes, but I just love having it, and the Colours of Shetland, as a source of inspiration.x

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