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Knitter and math geek Amy Herzog: Creating things is incredibly rewarding

My background is in computer science and mathematics, so it seemed natural to write a program that could generate knitting patterns

Amy Herzog is a household name in knitwear design, but she is in a way different than the others. Apart from actually designing sweaters and things, she devised a "sweater pattern generator" - a thing that gives you instructions to make a sweater that fits you - even if you have extra long arms or big belly or huge bust. Her CustomFit is a lovely little business that helps people make garments that are just perfect for them. I admire her a lot so it was nice to be able to have a little chat.
 
How did you become a knitter?
 
My mother and grandmothers taught me when I was very young, I had a lot of trouble sitting still as a kid and I think they thought this would help! I stopped knitting when I was a teenager, and then picked it back up again in my early 20s as I was looking for a hobby to occupy my hands. I’ve been going strong ever since. 
 
What problems did you encounter while making sweaters and other things?
 
As a child, my expectations for my projects were low, so everything worked out well! But once I started making adult sweaters for myself, I quickly ran into the usual set of problems adjusting patterns – for fit, at first, and later for style as well. I explored that learning curve online, through my blog and Ravelry once it existed, and the conversations around that learning led to my designs and professional knitting life. 
 
Why did you decide to make Customfit, and how did you develop it? Was it complicated technically to devise formulas for things? 
 
My background is in computer science and mathematics, so it seemed natural to write a program that could generate knitting patterns, rather than copy things back and forth between Word and Excel. And then once I had a program that could generate graded patterns for publication, the idea to write an individual custom pattern generator seemed logical, too. It was surprisingly complicated, actually, and took a lot longer than I thought it would to develop! I kept running into assumptions that I’d made about how the finished garment would be shaped, and how all of these different dimensions should relate to one another, that just aren’t true across all of humanity. It was a lot of fun solving those challenges, though. ☺ 
 
What were your challenges business-wise? How did you find the right prices and pricing plans for onetime/returning knitters?
 
Honestly, I think my biggest challenge business-wise is that I’m much more naturally interested in the inventing than in the financial planning! Is that too embarrassing to admit? I’m very glad I had a financially-savvy business partner when I started out! Any development project this large needs some kind of financial investment, and in our case that meant some start-up financing. I never would have gotten off the ground without her help. We used a mix of market research, analysis of how much things cost to produce, and consumer surveys to come up with pricing for initial offerings, and that’s the approach I use now, too. 
 
Do you feel knitters support you? How do you care for your customers?
 
I do think that customers in the knitting industry are incredibly supportive and kind, it’s a wonderful industry from that perspective. I try to honor the fact that for most of my customers, the act of knitting is something special and treasured – this is what knitters choose to do with their super-scarce free time! I’m honored that they’re including me in this part of their lives, and I try to recognize that commitment in my responses and care for them. 
 
Is it possible to make an significant income by this, or is it just a small side-project?
 
I think for me personally, the jury is still out on that question. I’d say I’m in the middle of the two options you’ve given – I’m lucky enough at this point to be able to cover my share of our day-to-day household expenses, but I’m not currently at the point where I could hire someone else, or contribute to our longer-term goals like sending our children to college. Of course it’s my hope to grow! But we’ll see. 
 
What is so great about knitting, or crafting in general?
 
I think the act of making – of physically creating things – is incredibly rewarding in and of itself. I also think it’s becoming more precious the more of our lives are lived in virtual spaces. I know that 20 years in, I’ve personally seen a huge shift over the course of my adult life in terms of how we relate to other people and the world, all moving from this very tangible physical experience to a more screen-based one. For me, the more screens dominate, the more I have a need to make lovely, useful, physical things. 
 
Why do people knit now, what are the reasons they spend time and money to make a sweater or a hat?
 
There are lots of different reasons, of course. But I think this ties to my answer above – I observe a renewed interest in all kinds of making, knitting included, that’s increasing as we dive further into our devices. Of course, there’s also the fact that we can make things that are so much lovelier than what’s available for purchase, as well!  
 
What type of garments do you like making, and what types of yarns are you into? 
 
I think the only honest answer to that is “yes”! I love knitting everything, with just about any material. Right now, I’m more into wool-silk blends and relaxed garments that really take advantage of silk’s drape, but I’m sure that will change soon enough! 
 
Are you in touch with other business people who are in this industry? Do you attend events?
 
Yes, absolutely. In addition to attending the events at which I teach, I try to make it to both of The National Needlearts Association’s shows each year, and I’m hoping to expand that a bit in 2018 by attending a few more events. And, of course, I keep in touch via email and chat as well. I think it’s important to engage with our industry if we hope it will grow and thrive. 
 
What is next for you, what do you plan for 2018?
 
I think 2018 will be a big year! I have some major site renovations and expansions planned for next year, and my fourth book will be released as well. In addition to my regular teaching and design load and a few collections, of course. I’m really excited about it all!
 
www.amyherzogdesigns.com


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