Designer Spotlight: Heidi Gustad of Hands Occupied + Winner

Heidi Gustad of Hands Occupied
wearing the Faux Woven Cowl
This month, we are proud to have sponsored YarnCon, Chicago's Indie Fiber Festival. To celebrate, we're featuring another Chicago-based knitwear designer, Heidi Gustad of Hands Occupied. 

Heidi is a part-time librarian with a passion for all things crafty. On the Hands Occupied blog, you'll find knitting and crochet patterns and tutorials, project ideas for other yarn crafts, and plenty of inspiration, too! Crafters of all skill levels will find lots of useful information, from the Knewbies tutorials to tips and tricks geared towards more advanced knitters and crocheters. 

How long have you been knitting, and how did you get started designing
I first learned to knit at age 8 from my grandma who saw in me an anxious kid who could benefit from a relaxing hobby. Plus, I was a total freak for crafts as a kid - it made perfect sense. While I didn't fully latch on to knitting regularly until I was in high school, I have technically been knitting for almost 20 years, despite being 27.

I started designing my own patterns for myself in college, but it didn't occur to me to start sharing my patterns, let alone start publishing my patterns, until a couple years ago. I ultimately became a designer because of my blog, Hands Occupied. I started the blog when I was 23 as a way to more actively participate in the online crafting and DIY world. What I wanted to do from the beginning was really start a knitting blog, but I was too chicken. I blogged about general craft tutorials and inspiration for the first couple years of my blog. During those years I learned how to code so I could make my own changes to my site as needed, I learned how to take decent pictures, and I learned how to market my content online. What was missing from the equation those first couple years was the level of passion I feel for knitting and crochet design.
The Long John Cowl, a free pattern from Hands Occupied

About 18 months ago, I started blogging knitting patterns since, dammit, that's what I wanted to do. I think I just had to get to a certain age to get the confidence (and skills) I needed to finally take the plunge into design. The blog gave me a chance to put patterns out there for free, which gave my readers the chance to share what they liked or didn't like about a given design and let me know if I made an error in my pattern, which was a really effective way to learn quickly what pitfalls to avoid in designing! It was interesting how much my experience marketing general craft DIYs like Mod Podging fabric on a shelf helped in marketing my patterns. The photography experience and social media network have proven especially useful.

Where do you get inspiration?
I like to make patterns that are practical. Of my free blog patterns, the most popular have both been cowls that I designed during the deepest, coldest days of Chicago's last two winters. One, the Faux Woven Cowl, was designed to be virtually windproof for my husband's daily walks to and from the train he takes to work. And the Long John Cowl was inspired by my need for extra warmth on my own way to work, but it also rolls down to be worn as a neck warmer when my workplace is freezing. 

Outlander Chevron Shawl,
a free pattern from Hands Occupied
Since I like to design with an eye toward practicality, I'm often inspired by the yarn I'm working with. I love getting my hands on a new-to-me yarn, swatching with it, and having a spark of an idea when I understand how the fiber would behave as a garment. Sometimes I'll swatch with a laceweight and notice a fluidity to how the swatch lays/handles, and I'll know just the right type of garment to design with it. (Maybe this makes me sound crazy/artsy fartsy or doesn't make sense, but for me, there's just this gut feeling thing that happens with certain yarns that's super inspiring for me as a designer.)

How do you balance your own design/blogging career with your part-time job as a Librarian? Do you have any helpful hints for ways to maximize crafting time for those who are pressed for time? 
Pardon the pun, but at this point I could write a book about how complicated balancing my job as a Librarian and balancing my creative career is. (For a short version of the anxiety and compromise and whatnot that leading a dual career lifestyle entails, check out this post I wrote on the subject.) Most people assume I do all of my blogging and design work on top of a full time Librarian gig, but it's not the case. I chose a couple years ago to take a part time job that still required my library science Master's degree in order to achieve a better balance between my creative career and being a Librarian. That's the key. I still work way more than 40 hours a week, but based on what I can tell from friends' careers and my husband's most of us work way more than 40 hours a week. I just try to keep my Librarian job to around 20 hours, and design with the rest of it. Luckily audiobooks exist to help me keep up with all of the reading required of my bookish job. :)

The first few years I blogged, I was working full time in libraries and attending grad school. I also got married and moved to Chicago from Michigan in there one year too. That was shenanigans. I thought that it was necessary to be sleep deprived and ultimately a little unhappy in order to pursue any career, especially a creative one. I don't recommend that.
What I do recommend for finding more time to create, even if it's just for yourself, is this:
  • If you get a full hour for lunch, bring something you can eat in 15 minutes. Then plug in some headphones to zone out with your craft for the other 45.
  • If you can take transit or carpool, do! I bring knitting and crochet on the train all the time. I recommend avoiding DPNs since those can drop and roll away from you, but circulars and crochet projects can be your commuter crafting BFF.
  • If you get frustrated by a never-ending project, consider alternating working on those with an easy-to-finish project like a chunky hat or socks or mittens. Switching up your routine can help you feel more productive and avoid frustration, particularly when time isn't on your side.
  • Use a calendar. When I was in grad school, working full time and blogging too, I would schedule myself time to create, even in just half hour chunks. I'd try to create for a little while after work but before I shifted to homework time to help give myself a mental break.
  • If you're in school, particularly if you're taking online classes, knit while you watch your lectures. Crochet while you get reading done via audiobook. It takes some balancing, but you can find little bits of creative time without losing sleep!
Vintage Checked Mittens,
a free pattern from Hands Occupied
What are you most looking forward to in 2015?
I'm going to my first needle arts industry conference in May, and I couldn't be more pumped! I hear I will come away with some excellent design inspiration and lots of new friends.

Do you have any knitting horror stories/mishaps?
The first time I designed a baby blanket, I completely took for granted that what I thought was a piece of cake to make could just as easily be translated into a written pattern. That was a big, facepalm-inducing moment for me that helped me really understand the process behind designing and proofing a pattern. Nothing feels worse than when a dedicated reader and internet knitting friend ends up confused when they trust you and your work as a designer. Luckily, my blog readers are amazing and ended up teaching me a lot the first few months I released patterns on my blog. Nowadays, I've published a few patterns in print, have signed with a book agent and am opening my own indie pattern shop online, and thanks to the feedback from readers, I know what they like about my designs and how to work with a tech editor and test knitters!

April Blog Giveaway Winner
Congratulations to AnnBan, who won a Waves Crochet Set in this month's giveaway. We will get in touch with you to arrange for the delivery of your prize. Be sure to visit the Hands Occupied blog for another chance to win a fabulous prize from Knitter's Pride!

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