I asked Laura Chau if she would be willing to answer some questions for me in conjunction with the release of four piece pattern collection, the Laura Chau Collection, and she said yes! Read her answers below for more insight into her thoughts on the big changes in the industry over the years, design process, and publishing preferences – and a chance to win!
Kate: You work a lot independently, but also with publishers, whether they be yarn companies or magazines. Do you find the process to be very different (or one better than the other?) Or do the plusses/minuses of both balance each other out?
Laura: I love self-publishing – the creative control, making whatever I want (whether it works out or not!), my own layouts and photos, the ability to be flexible with deadlines. But self-publishing is a lot of work to do by yourself, and the amount of choices you need to make can be overwhelming. Startup costs can also be very high, in both time and money, and these days it’s harder and harder to be visible as an independent designer.
JERN by Laura Chau from Woolfolk.
Third-party publishing is a great way to see another side of the industry, and to work with other people with awesome skills in photography, layout, and marketing. It can also be financially rewarding as the costs are more spread out. I’ve learned a lot working with different publishers – about the different ways people do things, pushing myself creatively and physically to meet external deadlines, and taking a more objective view of my work.
Sackville Shawl by Laura Chau (self published).
It took awhile (years) for me to be comfortable handing off my work to be scrutinized by someone else! But my confidence has also grown with experience, and I’m thrilled to have a mix of publishing opportunities available.
Kate: The yarn you used both incredibly soft and has a lot of drape. Did you have to make any adjustments to your original design ideas in order to accommodate the qualities of the yarn?
Laura: I’ve worked with it a few times before, and its kitten-softness can’t be beat! You really do need to be aware of its unique qualities when knitting – soaking and blocking your swatches will give you an idea of how much the fabric relaxes after knitting. Lace fabrics in particular can be quite surprising in how open they become after washing.
Slipped stitches on Cathedral Grove help keep the fabric firm at the edges, and both sweaters are worked flat and seamed to help them keep their shape over time. After all, you want to be able to wear them for years! Working flat in pieces and alternating skeins also helps distribute the hand-dyed colours evenly for a tidy overall look.
Kate: I feel as if I have known your name as long as I have been in the industry – your first published design was back in ’06! Besides the obvious ones (social media, Ravelry), what are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen over the past 10 years?
Laura: It’s been awhile! I started designing during my undergraduate degree and just kept going after I graduated. Personal knitting blogs were huge, and self-publishing digital knitting patterns was a new and novel idea. In the beginning I had to email patterns individually to customers! Everything was so exciting then, with lots of new beautiful yarns and shops, digital magazines popping up, and people who had previously been the only knitter they knew finding their online community.
Things are so different nowadays. Ravelry’s given everyone an opportunity to get their work out there at all levels, and allowed customers and designers/companies to interact like never before. There’s a whole sub-industry of business-to-business services like editing, photography, and marketing, so you don’t have to self-publish alone if you don’t want to. As in other industries, customers are way more curious about where their materials come from and who has been involved, which is great.
But because there’s so much volume of designs, publications, and yarns, it can be hard to stand out from the crowd. Competition is fierce and everyone has to hustle. Knitters’ expectations from patterns is much higher, from photography to technical editing, but without much movement in the prices. Social media can make it seem like everyone else is more successful than you are!
The marketplace is crowded, but I do think there’s a growing recognition of the value of the work that independent designers and freelancers do, and that makes me hopeful that very small businesses like mine can survive and thrive in the future.
Kate: Of the four designs in the collection, which one is your favorite, and why?
Laura: I think the cowl, Mackenzie River, is my favourite! I’d had the idea of a diagonal travelling lace pattern in my head for a few years and finally got it out. The lace pattern is quite intuitive, and the plain rounds give you a chance to just relax and enjoy the knitting.
Kate: What is next for Laura Chau?
Laura: I try to keep myself open to new and exciting opportunities as they come along. I love what I do and hope to design for a long time to come!
Thanks so much, Laura!
25 thoughts on “An Interview With: Laura Chau”
Thanks for a great interview (and collection!) with Laura Chau and for the lovely giveaway opportunity! In the last 10 years, I’ve noticed a greater availability of yarns that are responsibly sourced and that support local producers. I think this is a very positive thing–just as the food industry has learned that people want to know where their food is coming from, the yarn industry is seeing that more people want to buy materials that are ethically and sustainably produced.
Ravelry has been a huge game changer. It’s facilitated independent designers and yarn companies in getting their products a huge audience. I remember the days when the only on line forum for knitters was the Knitlist. Hooray for Ravelry and opening up the knitting world to millions!
I learned to knit at the age of 4 by my mother. I started knitting seriously in college, back in 1981. The biggest change in the industry is it’s online presence. When I was a young 20 year old knitting, I didn’t know anyone else who knit. But when knitting went online, it opened up so many new possibilities. There are so many knitters out there and many of them are young! Also, the range of pattern availabilities and options available online are mind-blowing. Furthermore, the amount of gorgeous yarn available is amazing. There were never yarn choices like there are today because of the internet. It has made me so much more exciting about knitting!
I think the best change has been the variety of independent designers- there is truly something for everyone, and it is so inspiring.
I am so impressed with the availability of wonderful yarns from all over the world in incredible fibers and colors at the click of a mouse. Having been a knitter for over sixty years I love the variety.
The new collection is beautiful! I loved learning more about Laura and the design process.
I like how brands are able to differentiate themselves aesthetically and express their values through social media. I love following different brands and knitters on IG, the pictures are inspiring and I appreciate designers and brands who lend their voices to social issues. It helps me feel connected to the larger fiber community and I like knowing that I’m supporting a business whose values are similar to mine.
Thank you so much for the interview! There are several things that have contributed to the resurgence in the hand knitting world. It is difficult to say if the largest contribution is the increase in beautiful yarn choices, online connections through youtube or the many pattern sharing opportunities through ravelry! Been knitting for almost 50 years and am enjoying the renewed energy!
In the last 10 years, I think Ravelry has been the biggest driver of change! No only do we have tons of beautiful patterns, and knitters input on them, but we also have movements of smaller yarns and indie designers…which is just so entirely enriching and inspiring!
I haven’t been part of the knitting world for too long, but for me the biggest change I’ve seen in the past few years a growing presence in social media. Especially for the younger generations, I think it’s great that we can connect with designers, dyers, LYS’s, yarn companies, and fellow knitters around the world. Instagram and Ravelry are indispensable when I’m looking for new project inspiration, or encouragement to finish the projects I’ve already cast on 😉
I think the Internet. As now a wider audience can be received as to patterns, shopping yarn choices , designer exposure and overall market.
Probably my top two changes are Ravelry – I barely even remember what looking for patterns was like before that – and a renewed interest in non-superwash wools and heritage sheep breeds.
I think ravelry is the best because it makes it so easy to find patterns, see other people’s projects and connect with independent pattern designers!
The new collection is gorgous!
I think the largest change in the last 10 years has been the increasing accessibility to patterns, designers, independent yarn companies, and more that have come around through the expansion of the knitting community online (Social Media, Ravelry, Etsy, Independent websites, etc.). It means even though I live in a town with no LYS, I have access to patterns & yarn from around the world delivered to my door or instantaeously digitally. It’s also easier for me to get a design of mine out into the world if I wish. It means I can reach out for help, sometimes directly to the designer which is really interesting & I think makes our craft more open to beginners.
The collection is wonderful. I love Jern…perfect for a fall walk in the woods or cuddling up with a book. My kind of sweater! Anxious to get my hands on the yarn.
The fiber industry has exploded. There are so many wonderful yarns and designers. I enjoy the indi designers with their creativity and freedom to try out new ideas. When I think of my personal knitting history-from a RedHeart cardigan to a beautiful airy shawl waiting to be blocked…wow!
I am fortunate to have two local shops. Both filled with beautiful fiber and skilled support.
Ravelry and fiber education. I gave up crochet in high school because I could only find hideous patterns in my very out of the way corner. And the only yarn I knew about was acrylic, of course. Now that I’ve learned to knit, I’m making truly wearable and useful things because I have so much access to patterns. And they’re actually lasting because they’re made with great materials.
Having Revelry as a resource has changed many aspects of handknitting. As a place to find patterns, learn about new yarns and communicate with other knitters, it can’t be near.
I think Ravelry is the biggest change. Especially for those of us in rural areas, it had opened up the world. We can search and see so many options for patterns, and the beautiful yarns – things we would have never known existed.
Like many commentators I nominate Ravelry as the best change.
Ravelry has at last put the lie of knitting as the sport of grandmothers to rest. Don’t get me wrong. I am a grandmother and I knit, but I knit as part of a worldwide community now. Ravelry has helped widen the scope of pattern making and publishing by functioning as a startup incubator. I love seeing more established fiber and pattern houses alongside home-based business.
PS. Well done, Ms.s Chau and Osborn! Great interview. Plus I have found the mock-turtleneck of my dreams.
The biggest change I see is that knitters are getting younger… knitting is more globally accepted as an art form with room to grow design and skill wise. Knitters are no longer viewed as "a group of seniors sitting around with needles clacking"… as knitters men and women alike, span ages and generations. This is something to celebrate!
I love it when I go to a yarn shop in France and have the owner tell me that she was inspired by the creative energy and generosity of American yarn culture! The greatest thing, among a lot of great things, is the ability to browse, buy or get free patterns from a multiplicity of sources. Also, all the online discussions and educational opportunities that simply weren’t available even 15 years ago. And Ravelry for patterns, even if it’s almost a galaxy in its amazing extent!
Ravelry! It has opened up so many opportunities for knitters to connect and share information. I think social media in general has helped spread the love of knitting from podcasts and how to videos on You Tube to the wonderful knitting community on Instagram!
I think it’s much easier to find tendy, modern well written patterns. Some of those patterns are available in beautiful magazines such as Pom Pom or Makingzine. These sources are so reliable for having beautiful relevant patterns, but also stories, interviews, recipes, and other ways to craft, such as sewing, dyeing, and other handwork. So I think these publications are revitalizing the printed magazine industry and acknowledging the way many of us like to make: by doing a variety of crafts, seasonally, with the adventure of new skills to learn.
I think the online community, regardless of which tools you are using has really made knitting more accessible and customizable for everyone. You don’t have to have a relative who knits teach you, you can find tutorials and advice on YouTube and blogs. You aren’t sanctioned to the patterns available at a yarn store, because you can find ANYTHING you’d like to suit your style and budget. You aren’t limited to the mass-produced yarns that are available at bigger craft stores, thanks to Instagram and Etsy. This community has blossomed to be less homogenous while also accepting and celebrating all of hear changes and diversity. What a wonderful time it is to be a knitter!
Hi! Thanks for this blog post and the giveaway. I’ve only been knitting for a bit longer than two and a half years. I have found Ravelry to be an awesome source for patterns and making it easier to connect with other knitters. I also love Instagram for the same reason–it makes you feel part of a community of makers. Lastly, I really enjoy finding out about all the small businesses connected with making an knitting–indie designers and dyers.
Social Media for sure has really sparked a lot of change in the fiber industry. Without ravelry and YouTube I wouldn’t be as into knitting as I am! I love it so much!
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