Fringe Interview: Erica Schmitz of MyBodyModel

Fringe Interview: Erica Schmitz of MyBodyModel talks about custom croquis app

In a July 2017 installment of Elsewhere, I wrote “I hope this comes true: Sketch templates in your own measurements.” The link went to a Kickstarter for MyBodyModel, an initiative by Erica Schmitz to create a web-based app for a croquis template generator — meaning knitters and sewers would be able to create sketch templates based on their own measurements.

Croquis (“crow-KEE”) is French for sketch, but in the garment world it means fashion illustrations, which are traditionally based on an unrealistic “model” who is nine heads tall and very thin.

The idea of a faint croquis template for drawing on top of — for those of us who are not skilled illustrators — is best known in the form of the Fashionary products we sell some of at Fringe, which are popular with design students everywhere. I’ve been a proponent of Fashionary for DIY-ers because having a template to draw on has allowed me to make semi-realistic sketches of garments I’m proposing to make, enabling me to see what sleeve shape I like best, where I’d like a sweater to hit (natural waist? mid hip? crotch?), what shapes work together, and so on. It’s been an incredibly useful tool for me in project selection and wardrobe planning. But think how much more powerful it would be if we could have templates based on our actual human dimensions.

So that’s what I hoped would come true, and it has! And I’m thrilled to talk to Erica about it all—

. . . . .

How did you first get the idea to make a customizable croquis app?

When I first started making my own clothes a few years ago, it was like a floodgate of creativity had opened. I was bursting with so many ideas that it was hard to fall asleep at night. I was also a bit overwhelmed by the infinite design decisions that can go into making each garment. I needed a way to get my ideas out of my head and onto paper, and I needed it to be visual — not just a written list. At the same time, I was recovering from several years of illness and chronic pain issues. Making clothes felt like a thank-you gift to my body for all it had been through. Traditional fashion croquis, at a standard nine or ten head-lengths tall, just didn’t make sense. I found a few realistically-proportioned fashion croquis options, but none that looked like me. I searched for custom croquis apps, but found nothing. I finally ended up making my own sketch templates by tracing over a photo of myself. Every once in a while, I would do another online search to see if anyone had created a custom croquis generator yet. Every time, I was surprised to find nothing. Finally, in January 2017, I decided to do it myself.

Fringe Interview: Erica Schmitz of MyBodyModel custom croquis app

And how did you have the know-how to bring that idea to fruition?

I had zero know-how! But I could see and feel so clearly that MyBodyModel was something that needed to exist. My professional background is in nonprofit management and consulting, including a lot of grant writing and collaboration. I’ve always loved the process of starting with the seed of an idea and bringing people together to help it grow into reality. My first steps were finding a local software development company to estimate what it would take, and then connecting with as many makers and designers as possible to see if this was a product that anyone other than me actually wanted. I also took advantage of available free business counseling and trainings, did a lot of research, and got some grant funding to pay for part of the initial development.

Sierra Burrell's MyBodyModel sketches
MyBodyModel digital sketches by Sierra Burrell @sierraburrell;
patterns are Appleton Dress and Blackwood Cardigan

It seems like one of the hardest questions must have been “how much do I charge for this?” given that, to my knowledge, there’s never been anything like it. Can you talk a little bit about the pricing model you’ve settled on and how you arrived at it?

There were no “comps” to help figure out the pricing, so that was a bit tricky! I did know from the beginning that I wanted a free-to-preview, pay-to-download pricing model. In my initial focus groups, I gave the option for participants to pre-order and write down the price they would pay for their body model download packages. I used this information when I put together the different backer tiers for the Kickstarter campaign in August 2017. The success of that campaign not only validated that MyBodyModel was a product that people were excited about, but also that our pricing model was on the right track.

Feedback from our Kickstarter backers also helped shape the current credit-based download model. During the campaign, the main questions people had were, “What if my body changes?” and “What if I make garments for clients or loved ones?” We designed the credit-based system so that folks could purchase packages of two or five credits at a discounted cost per credit. We’ve also started offering discounted education pricing for classroom use.

You’ve taken it slowly — and I mean that as a compliment — crowdsourcing funds, hosting a nice long beta period to develop the tools, and now making it publicly available. Has your idea of what you’re doing, or why you’re doing it, changed during that time?

During the Kickstarter campaign, it was clear that people were excited about the idea of MyBodyModel as a practical and creative tool. What I didn’t realize was what a powerful emotional reaction people would have to actually seeing and using their body model templates. I’ve heard from so many customers who say it’s the first time that they’ve ever looked at their body without judgment. When they look at their body outlines, they don’t see flaws — they see possibilities. I think there’s something about seeing the lines and curves of your body as a 2D outline that turns on the artistic and creative parts of your brain, and turns off the judgey mean parts.

MyBodyModel rubber stamp croquis
Sketches and photos by Micheline Courtemanche @stitchmerchant,
who created rubber stamps to use in her bullet journal

What’s one thing that has surprised you the most from the usage and feedback you’ve seen during the testing phase?

Of all the feedback during the testing phases, both alpha and beta, what most surprised me was how often people blamed their own bodies rather than the app itself for any glitches in the croquis rendering! It really helped me understand just how pervasive and far reaching the social construct is of our bodies having something wrong with them. I realized that almost everyone struggles with body image and body acceptance — regardless of size or shape, and regardless of how “normal” or even “perfect” they may look to an outside eye. At the same time, I’ve been delighted to discover that some of the most positive body images are held by people whose bodies don’t match up with commercially defined ideals around what we should or shouldn’t look like.  These realizations have made me even more passionate and determined to continue developing MyBodyModel as body-positive design tool — and to make it as accessible as possible.

Do people’s notions of what it is, and is for, line up with what you imagined? Or have people used it in ways you never saw coming?

Initially, MyBodyModel was a product that I wanted for myself. I knew exactly how I would use it, but I needed to learn how others might use it, and how it might fit into their creative processes and planning styles. From our initial focus groups and alpha testing, I learned that we needed to offer formats for drawing on paper as well as digitally. I was surprised to learn how many makers love using analog tools such as notebooks, binders, and bulletin boards. I also learned that we needed different page formats that would be useful during the various stages of the creative process — for example, several croquis on one page for initial exploration of silhouettes, versus one larger croquis with space for project-planning notes.

But of course, since the product release, people have come up with all sorts of creative ways to use their body models! A few of my favorites:

MyBodyModel custom croquis examples
TOP: Sketch and photo by Amy Keelan @amy.kate.87; pattern is Effie Fair Isle
Pullover and yarn is Shetland Spindrift | BOTTOM: Colored-pencil sketches by
Whitney Franklin @whitneyknits of her travel wardrobe

I know you must have sunk an incredible amount of time and heart and soul into this. What’s the most rewarding thing so far in seeing it in the world, being used?

It’s hard to put into words how good it feels to have MyBodyModel out in the world. Even more than 6 months after our initial beta release, I still shout out and do a happy dance every time I see someone post a sketch they’ve done using their body model croquis. And I still get teary over many of the DMs and emails that I receive from customers. I think the most rewarding thing is knowing that it’s more than just a fun and useful product — it’s actually transforming the way our customers think about themselves and their bodies. I’ve also loved seeing how many people have been drawing on their templates with children watching and joining in the fun (such as here and here). It makes me so happy to think about the body-positive messages this sends on so many different levels.

And are you focused on the existing product right now and letting the world know about it, or are you already dreaming up what’s next for MyBodyModel?

I’m already working on raising funds and recruiting testers for the next development phase! I have a long wish list and lots of big ideas for the future, but we’re still just getting started. Currently the app is able to render female croquis only; I hope to offer male croquis by this fall, as well as some optional adjustment options. Our R&D budget depends on current sales, and we always prioritize based on customer feedback, so I’m also still very focused on letting the world know about MyBodyModel and our existing product offerings! Thankfully our customers, our testers and our original Kickstarter backers are our biggest champions, so that makes my job a whole lot easier.

#makenine watercolors by Kari Culberson @karimadethis; pattern details here.

. . .

Thanks so much, Erica!

I should note that Erica invited me to try out the app during the testing stage, and I have yet to find time, but I’ll be rectifying that asap!

For more information, see the MyBodyModel website, and follow @mybodymodel on Instagram.

.

PREVIOUSLY in Interviews: Make way for Making Things

All photos via MyBodyModel, used with permission

Free recipes for top-down sweaters

Free recipes for top-down sweaters

At your request, I’m aiming to create a directory of all of the posts I’ve ever written with assorted advice on sweater knitting, but in the meantime I’ve been wanting to pull together a list of all of the top-down sweater recipes I’ve ever posted — essentially free patterns, when used with either your existing understanding of how top-down sweaters work or in conjunction with my Improv top-down sweater tutorial. Whenever I finish an improvised top-down I always (well, nearly always) share all of my math and notes so you can recreate it if you like or use it as a jumping off point, tweaking the math or details to your size and liking. I’ll continue to add to this in the future, but following are the various top-down recipes I’ve shared in the past few years:

TOP ROW LEFT: Basic pullover
3.75 sts/inch, nothing fancy (knitted step-by-step in the Improv tutorial)

TOP ROW RIGHT: Cropped v-neck pullover
3.5 sts/inch, cropped with v-neck, elbow sleeves, compound raglans

MIDDLE ROW LEFT: Striped basic pullover
5.75 sts/inch, striped, folded neckband

MIDDLE ROW RIGHT: Rollneck pullover
5.25 sts/inch, rollneck

BOTTOM ROW LEFT: Cropped v-neck cardigan
4.5 sts/inch, cropped with inset pocket

BOTTOM ROW RIGHT: Big v-neck cardigan
4.25 sts/inch, long with patch pockets

Remember, the tutorial will show you how to adapt any of these (or whatever you have in mind) to whatever gauge and proportions you desire! And Ravelry is full of far more creative variations. But I hope these give you some ideas for the basic kit of parts and where you might start with it, if you haven’t already.

.

PREVIOUSLY in Patterns: Anna Vest pattern, now available

Elsewhere

Elsewhere: Links for makers

Hello, February! In knitalong news, today is the start of Black History Month and a BHM make-along — knitting and sewing, and open to everyone “no matter your race, gender, or where you live in the world,” but the challenge is to make something from an African American designer’s pattern. Use hashtag #bhmpatterndesigners and see @naturaldane for more details and suggestions. And we’ve got two weeks left of the #fringeandfriendssteekalong — review those details here.

— Also this month, QuiltCon! I’ve long wanted to attend, and with it coming to Nashville this month, I get to. Anyone else coming?

— On the Slow Fashion front, if you haven’t seen Roe of @brownkids’ In|vested series from the past month, click that link or go click the circle with that label beneath it in her saved stories, and then continue back through the subsequent weeks (marked Convo 1, Convo 2, etc) (photo above right)

Thinking of them as small quilting projects might get me to love placemats and to attempt quilting

— If you can reupholster a chair seat, you can make a custom ironing board/surface — and vice versa (photo above left)

— I wasn’t there, but this was easily and rightfully the most photographed sweater at VKLive in NY last weekend

— Will someone make a catalog of my stash fabrics (and yarns) like this?

Whoa (via)

Amazing (via)

And a giggle, especially for the nervous steekers out there

Have a great weekend, everyone. I’ve blocked my Sólbein yoke and will be putting it back on the needles and separating the body and sleeves! How about you?

.

PREVIOUSLY: Elsewhere

New Favorites: Stranded purl hats

This is anecdotal, but I feel like there’s been a significant trend lately toward combining stranded knitting (which is almost always stockinette) with texture in various ways — frequently through the introduction of bobbles. I’m particularly taken with these two hat patterns that take on just a little added texture by virtue of simply purling some or all of the colorwork—

TOP: Hat with Purled XO by Arne and Carlos features a classic motif at jumbo scale with purled colorwork boosting its impact

BOTTOM: Hjarn Hat by Amber Platzer Corcoran is also bulky gauge but with more delicate, three-color motifs (click through for the more colorful samples)

.

PREVIOUSLY in New Favorites: Yuko Shimizu sweaters

Queue Check — January 2019

Queue Check — January 2019

After knitting the body of this Carbeth Cardigan last month, I finally got to knit the yoke over just a few evenings at the end of last week, before finally casting on my kid-sized Sólbein for the #fringeandfriendssteekalong yesterday, on a sunny January Sunday.

The Sólbein is kid-sized by virtue of simply knitting the smallest size with worsted-weight yarn (details here) on size US8 needles, and it looks like it may be coming out even smaller than I anticipated. My plan is to finish the yoke chart, block and measure it, and see where the math puts me. I’ve been thinking it will go to whichever niece it winds up fitting, but it might actually be too small for the two smallest of them (they’re 5). I won’t know till I block it, which I expect to be able to do in the next couple of days, so the recipient is still TBD for now! But I’m loving how it’s knitting up.

The Carbeth fabric is so seductive — the black OUR Yarn bulky held together with Shibui Pebble — and every day that’s cool enough for a sweater, I find myself wishing for this one. My plan here is to knit the bands and collar before the sleeves, then see how it looks with a little bit fuller sleeve. And I think I might not do the I-cord buttonholes. For those of you who’ve knitted this and worn it awhile, how are those holding up — have they stretched out or anything? I may do vertical bands for it instead.

Both of these cardigans are relatively quick projects and I wish I could knit them sequentially, but instead it’s a race to see which will get done while there’s still hope of appropriate weather. And actually, it’s a three-legged race.

Meanwhile, no change in the status of the cowl-dickey-question-mark thing I also started last month, but I’m eager to figure it out. And then I’m still mulling what’s on the horizon. I have lots of thoughts and ideas about the sweaters I’m unable to wear and what to do about it, but not ready to put anything in writing just yet …

.

PREVIOUSLY in Queue Check: UFOs of 2018

Inspiring mods of the Steekalong

Inspiring mods of the Steekalong

While there aren’t people taking really major liberties with the Sólbein Cardigan (which 99% of the #fringeandfriendssteekalong participants are knitting), there are numerous smaller modifications happening that illustrate all of the freedoms and flexibilities that excite me so much about knitting, so I wanted to point you to some of them. These are the sorts of design detail tweaks you can consider for just about any sweater you might knit:

BOTTOM: Pullover. @heyjoanne9999 left out the steek stitches in front to convert Sólbein to a pullover, but is planning to steek some side slits at the hips.

MIDDLE LEFT: Short rows. Several knitters have added short rows between the neckband and start of the colorwork, so the back neck will sit higher. @caitmariejohnson shared her notes on how she did it (swipe to the third image in the linked post) as did @knitterbree.

TOP: Vertical button band. For her second Sólbein already completed, @ivyknitsfast (no joke) knitted vertical 1×1 rib button bands and seamed them on. If you’ve ever wondered what a difference that makes, just look.

MIDDLE RIGHT: I-cord edging. @ceciliainstafford opted for I-cord edging all the way around, which has given it a vintage sweater-jacket look.

It’s hard to believe we’re only halfway through the official timeframe, given how many finished sweaters there are. But again, the fact that so many people have completed sweaters in under three weeks tells you there’s still plenty of time to join in! And remember, you don’t have to be finished to be eligible for prizes. The details on all that are in the kick-off post.

I’m casting on this weekend! Happy Friday, everyone—

.

PREVIOUSLY in Fringe and Friends Steekalong: Hot tips and tricks

Making time for more

Fringe Association: Frequency and focus

The number one thing you guys tell me, especially when I get to meet you in person, is that your favorite thing about this blog is that it’s daily. (Every weekday, anyway.) You tell me you look for the email first thing in the morning, or you just call up the ol’ URL, and you read the day’s post with your coffee. And it melts my heart every time. So this is a decision I’ve taken a really long time to make because you’ve told me it matters, but: I am slowing down the pace.

I’ve seen this happen to so many people who have blogs and start businesses, and the businesses get busy, and they stop blogging. I don’t want to do that. Blogging feeds me — it’s the part of the day where I feel most like myself, and most like I’m so lucky to get to do what I’m doing. But the reality remains that I am spread way too thin. I’ve been working 60-70 hour weeks for as long as I can remember, and being stretched so thin has affected my ability to feel good about what I’m doing with the blog. (Not to mention my time to knit and sew.)

I used to have a rule of thumb for how many posts were about what I’m doing versus how many about other people — whether a Maker Crush or an interview or who’s putting out great patterns or developing a new yarn or hosting an interesting event or whatever. And the more stretched I am, the less time I have to look up and look around and dig in, which has resulted in there being less content here about other people, and that’s my favorite kind. 

I’ve tried to decide and declare this before and then I slide back into my 5-day habit, because that’s how habits work. But I’m holding myself to it this time. And I’m also thinking a lot about ways to make all of the amazing people and information buried in the archives more accessible, starting with the people. Starting with literally putting the word People in the top menu up there. Populating that means going back through the entire history of the blog and retagging the posts that are about someone other than me, and so far I’ve only done 2018, but right now you can click that and scroll and find everyone from Teresa who handspins Brusca in her home in Portugal to Daniel Day Lewis and his gansey, and the interview with gansey expert Dib Gillanders that followed. And so much else! 

I’ve also included all the Elsewheres in the People scroll, because those are inherently lists I’ve made about other people doing and making interesting things. (Note that I’ve only included New Favorites in cases where they are hooked on a single designer’s work.) So I’ll keep adding to it, and I hope you’ll explore it. And then there will be more!

It means a lot to me that you take time out of your day to come read what I’ve written, and I want to do right by you. So I’m going to try a 3-days-a-week approach and see how that goes, and I hope you understand this decision! I’m so grateful to you for reading. 

. . .

Pictured above are the most recent 12 people to have been individually highlighted on the blog in some way, so here are the shortcuts to those posts:

New Favorites: Yuko Shimizu sweaters
Meet Steekalong insta-panelist No. 1: Kristine Vejar
New Favorites: Sari’s cable hats
Steekalong q&a: Mary Jane on choosing yarn
New Favorites: Wearable superbulky (Tara-Lynn Morrison)
1-Q interview: Megan Elizabeth of Making Things
Slow Fashion October q&a: Gina Stovall
Maker Crush: Llane Alexis
New Favorites: Brandi’s neck sculptures
Slow Fashion October q&a: Katrina Rodabaugh
Slow Fashion October q&a: Martha McQuade
Maker Crush: Natalie of The Tiny Closet