Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Robot

Earlier this year, I was called to do a commission knit project.
The brief was this: knit a Robot for the cover of a magazine. And what’s more, Martha Stewart herself will be holding my project as a prop!!! What a great opportunity. One that I would do almost anything to see through to fruition. One of the funny things is which Magazine it was for: Wired. Not a knitting magazine at all. But still, there are knitters in homes where Wired Magazine lives. So let's get some exposure going!

They had seen the Jess Hutch Robot, and that is not what they wanted. They sent pictures of amazing primary color vintage metal toys. They were really cool. I was thrilled that I would be working with people that wanted something “cool”. Then, we got down to their specifications, and they were nothing like the pictures. They did not want primary, or even bright colors. They wanted grey, with black details. SUPER SIMPLE. Simple, that is, except for a claw hand.
And one arm was to be left unknit, so that it could look like Martha had been working on it.
We were on a one week deadline, and that was striking fear in my heart. I don’t need to remind of you that knitting to a deadline is stressful. And I do have a full time job. So this would have to be done “on the margins”. My margins would have to get a whole lot bigger. I set to the knitting, and got some sketches done, and some swatches to understand what the overall dimensions were going to be, and I started in on the construction. The next morning we had a little progress report, and they said they wanted to see the color. In person. So they sent a messenger over to pick up the gauge swatch. Later that morning, I got word back that they were not happy.
They felt the gray was too dark for a photo shoot – and could we make it lighter? (?) I tried everything. I washed they yarn. And I tried bleaching the yarn even. I soaked the swatches in bleach. It didn’t loose one drop of it’s color. (Just so you know – Dale of Norway: Freestyle – can be washed and even bleached, and It will not run or fade!)

We retrenched. They were SURE that this was too dark for the photo shoot. So we started over. They thought that we could just open the pantone swatches and pick an exact SHADE of yarn. I tried to explain that there were only a certain number of colors and yarns available in grey. And of those, I picked the lightest.
We resorted to plan “F” which was for them to get a sweater in the exact color they wanted, and I would pull it out, and knit from that. (!!!???!!!) That is the plan they chose. That night they messengered over 3 sweaters, and I set to pulling one apart for the yarn. Have you ever tried this? It is really tough. You have to take out the seams without ripping the sweater itself, otherwise you will get shredded scraps of yarn. Into the wee hours, I was picking and pulling. Finally I had enough yarn amassed to begin, and I gauged, and started over.

I worked late into the night all week, and the robot took shape before me. I got excited about how to ‘deocrate’ it. I had some red vintage buttons for the “nobs” on the sides of his head. And some other gromits and things to make him look electrical, and vintage at the same time. But further conversations stifled all of that. So he was gray, with a black embroidered face, and that was it.

During all of our discussions, I asked if this could really be true. Was Martha Stewart really going to hold this Robot?! I tactfully asked because the maven of home arts – in fact – does not knit. (allegedly) (If she knits it is in secret. And if I were in jail for 18 months, and I was allowed to have yarn and needles… holy cow… it would be an 18 month knitting marathon. Me, zen, knitting. ) When I said “I don’t think Martha knits” the very capable woman was puzzled, and said that her people had talked to their people, and this is what they suggested. It was perfect for them, and for the Magazine, and good for Martha. Fine by me. I’ll be credited with the design, and I will have a picture of Martha holding something I made. So I carried on.

At 7:00 am there was a messenger at my home, ready to pick up my little creation. (I had slept a few hours.) I submitted my little Robot friend, complete with DPN’s dangling from one arm. He was not how I would have designed him, but I was proud. He was sweet, and square, and stood up if you really coaxed him. His claw arm was beautiful – and I even inserted wire, so that he would fully function. I held my breath to hear what the design team thought. And to my gratification, it was “exactly what they wanted” they said they “Loved it, loved it, loved it, loved it.” Whew! What a huge relief. It was repackaged, and sent to New York for the photo shoot.

Several months later, I waited for a call, or confirmation, or a word. And the magazine came out, and there was nothing even remotely related on the cover. The next month, the magazine came out, and Whoa! We were looking at a cake CPU!

I had agreed to do this project for about a nickel an hour – and that was before the “start over” chapter of the story. I agreed because the cache of having Martha, on the cover, holding my project was enough. And getting the store name out there in such an unusual venue more than made up for the discounted labor. Now, as I stood looking at a cake(!) I was reeling at a nickel an hour, for my precious time, and my compromised robot.

Faced with the post mortem discussion, my esteemed advisor – who is also my book keeper, and a great general sounding board for business matters – gently asked “did you have a kill fee?” Oh, do tell me, what is a “kill fee”. (and for those of you who do not know – it is a fee or a payment that is agreed upon if the project does not see itself through to it’s conclusion for what ever reason. )
Ho that is a hard way to learn the definition of a word. When it smacks you upside the head, and you realize that you have just volunteered your time.

I learned SO many lessons.
Lessons about deadlines.
Lessons about knitting on a deadline.
Lessons about creating to someone else’s specs.
I learned about how to value my time. And about stress management.
And clearly, I learned YET AGAIN, how to negotiate a contract.

I would like to design some robots. And put the vintage button nobs on them.

But right now, I need to go work on Christmas knitting, on THAT deadline.


Kniterella said...

Still....what a great story AND you learned a lot! I'd prefer your knit robot to a cake that anyone could make.

Marisol said...

I agree while this was a tough pill to swallow and tough lesson (a very exciting experience and story it is). It is indeed far easier to bake a cake to specs than to create a robot from scratch!

kat said...

you forgot to mention that while you were going through this you were also planning a wedding! let's talk a few things on your plate.

so I was watching Martha the other day & the guest asked her if she knit & Martha said oh yes of course & I also crochet...but she seemed tenative....