An Interview With: Laura Chau

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.

L / JERN by Laura Chau from Woolfolk. R / Sackville Shawl by Laura Chau (self published).

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.

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 Fibre Co. Road to China Light is 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 Road to China Light 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.

L / Rainy Lake. R / Hopewell Rocks.

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.

L /  Thermal from Knitty, Winter 2006. R / Amelia from Knitty, Winter 2008.

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. Road to China Light is perfect for cowls, it’s so soft and warm. It’s also a great pattern for on-the-go knitting once the lace is set up.

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! 

As an extra bonus, for a chance to win a PDF of Mackenzie River PDF and three skeins of The Fibre Co. Road to China Light, leave a comment below answering the question: What do you think is the best change the industry has seen in the last 10 years? 

The contest will be open through Sunday, August 27th, midnight EST. A winner will be randomly chosen and announced on the blog Monday the 28th!