A carpet of fallen leaves mean autumns here! I’ve always loved this time of year – the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ as poet Keats described it. I love the misty mornings, the nip in the air, the ever-changing colours of the leaves, the acorns, the hazelnuts and berries on the trees, and the carpet of leaves in the woods nearby.
On every walk, I seemed to come across photogenic piles of leaves…
Everywhere I looked, there seem to be oranges, yellows, reds, rusts, coppers and browns…
In particular, I’ve noticed how many different colours of berries there are on the bushes around my neighbourhood – (I think they’re Pyracantha)… These were in my local park…
These yellow berries were in a garden round the corner…
And then there were swathes of orange berries just up the road…
The colours and the change of temperature inspired me to pick up my crochet hook and knitting needles and start designing cosy cowls again after the heatwave of summer which had put paid to woolly working.
A design takes shape
I picked out a few colours of DK from my Stylecraft stash… I love the way that there are so many shades in that range, which makes it a joy to come up with new ideas. This time, I chose Copper, Mustard and Walnut… I’d bought them from one of my favourite online yarn sites: WoolWarehouse
Using the fallen leaves and berries as my inspiration I started crocheting away… A really enjoyable project with a variety of stitches, yet one which works up quickly.
So here it is – my finished Fallen Leaves Autumn Cowl, inspired by those turning leaves and plump, bright berries.
I’ve used treble clusters to make a sweet row of berries at top and bottom, changing colour and carrying the main colour yarn along the rows. Then a wave stitch worked in the back loop only represents the fallen leaves.
There are so many different colours of berries around at the moment, that I’ve tried some other colourways too!
I hope you like it, and if you’d like to try out the pattern for yourself, the pattern is here for personal use and is free at the moment – but if you do make one for yourself, I’d love to see a picture of your finished cowl – you can email it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or share it on Ravelry (I’m acousticannie on there), or tag me on Instagram @pickingupstitches, leave me a comment here or on the Facebook page @pickingupstitches… Looking forward to seeing what you come up with…
Happy New Year, everyone! Hope you’re all keeping your New Year’s resolutions… One of mine is to write on my blog more frequently, so I’m starting off the year in fabulous fashion with an interview with the wonderful Louisa Harding knitwear designer and owner of the Yarntelier brand. Hope you enjoy the article…
For me, Louisa Harding and her Yarntelier brand is synonymous with gloriously delicate, feminine, intricate-looking designs using her sumptuous cashmere yarn. Floaty, lacy garments of gorgeousness, which I adore. So I was honoured that she found time to talk to me at the Knitting & Stitching Show a few months ago.
I began by asking when Louisa’s fascination with knitting started.
‘I was taught to knit by my grandmother when I was very young,’ she says, ‘but, at that time, I just made basic things like scarves for dolls and teddies in garter stitch. However I then took up sewing and dressmaking and that’s what I initially became more interested in.’
And the interest in dressmaking continued, as Louisa went on to take A-levels in art, textiles and dressmaking. During this time, she learnt how to cut patterns, which would come in useful in her future knitwear design.
College in Camberwell, then Brighton followed, and during this time studying Textiles and Fashion, Louisa finally picked up her knitting needles again, and luckily, found she still had the knack.
‘I think knitting’s like riding a bicycle, really,’ Louisa says. ‘Once you know the basic knit and purl stitches, it quickly comes back to you when someone shows you again. And if you’re technically minded, you soon get quite addicted to discovering how the stitches work together, thinking, “If I do this, the fabric will go in this direction”, or “That will make a hole”, and that spurs you on to pick it up and take it further.’
Knitwear hits the catwalk
During the 80s knitwear saw some innovative moves in the fashion world and this proved a spur for Louisa, persuading her to move towards knitting as a chosen design medium at college.
’It was the influence of the catwalk while I was at college that led me to turn to knitting again,’ she says. ‘The likes of Kenzo and Comme Des Garcons were sending big knits and T-shaped knits down the runway. Although my work has never looked anything like their garments, it was inspiring!
‘Also, from a fashion perspective at that time, there were companies like Artwork, who were showing at London Fashion Week, so knitwear definitely had a better presence.
‘For the first time, it wasn’t viewed as simply something homemade. Instead there were 600- and 700-dollar sweaters going down the catwalk, which showed that knitwear didn’t have to be fuddy-duddy or have that homespun feel. It gave knitwear more of a cache.
‘On my course, those of us who went for knitwear tended to major in machine knitting. But I did my placements in hand knit as my tutor was Sandy Black, who had a hand-knit company. In fact, Sandy had a strong connection with Rowan, which is how I ended up working there eventually.’
After college went Louisa first went to Canada and worked with a designer on a handknit collection, but by 1990 she was back at Rowan, initially to help over Christmas, but going on to stay for 11 years.
Louisa explains, ‘For the first four or five years, I wasn’t employed as a designer. I worked at getting ready-to-wear sample garments knitted. I’d send out yarn to get knitted up, mainly in Hong Kong and China, then reimport the finished garments.
‘All the designing I did then was done in my spare time, finding little bits of space when I could experiment.’
During the late 90s, however, the tide turned as far as attitudes to hand knitting in the UK. With the power-dressing styles in fashion, a ‘granny knit’ mentality resurfaced, and knitwear became very traditional on the whole.
‘With Rowan Yarns, though,’ Louisa adds, ‘I must say that they, as a company, were always all about the designer. They were never just about selling yarn. The company always gave you your own voice as a designer, which is why they stand the test of time. The early books were so innovative and creative, even looking back at them now’.
In fact some of Louisa’s early patterns are now available as part of the Rowan archive, and can be found in the recent Rowan 40 Yearsbook.
Working in America
In the early 2000s Louisa went to US as part of design team with Kim and Kathleen Hargreaves, designing for Patons and Jaeger yarns.
I wondered if Louisa found a difference between working in the UK and the US,?
‘I must say that during some publicity work in America, I walked into a yarn store and found that there was such variety available. In the UK, there wasn’t such a choice of yarn. In the US, there seemed to be an awakening, energy and enthusiasm about knitting. They were embracing knitting and taking it on and making it exciting, and the US was very welcoming from a design perspective.’
Back on home ground
Now, however, Louisa is very much back working on home ground, with her totally independent brand Yarntelier.
So what, I wondered, is the inspiration for her beautiful floaty, delicate feminine designs?
‘I think there’s quite a natural element to my designs,’ she says. ‘I like the stitches to behave and I like to leave them to be very naturalistic. If stitch pattern undulates, I like to use that as part of the design. I tend to use lots of lace stitches and there are a number of reasons for that. Our yarns are 100% cashmere so you want it to go as far as possible, to get as much of a garment as you can out of it, as it were, so by using lacy stitches with big needles, you get more project for your money.
This consideration for the ultimate customer runs throughout all of Louisa’s work, it seems, and in talking to women and knitters, she came to a realisation.
‘I’ve realised that there’s a big group of women who get left behind when it comes to knitting patterns – the petite women, who don’t want to be enveloped and swamped. People come to my stands at exhibitions, try the pieces on and say, “It’s so nice that this really fits”.
‘So I’ve listened to that, and, with this brand, I’ve stuck to my guns, as I think the petite women are undervalued and deserve to have designs tailored to them.
Small is beautiful
‘A couple of years ago, people were asking me for bigger sizes, but designing for larger sizes is a completely different discipline. Scaling up shapes doesn’t necessarily work, as where you need fullness on a larger size is not the same place as on the smaller sizes.
‘So I ran a questionnaire on my Ravelry group. What came out of the survey was an overriding desire for smaller sizes, even though we already went down to an 8 and 10. The smaller women were wearing children’s clothes, as there was nothing specifically for them.
‘Also, as ladies get older, they lose body mass on their hips and shoulders, etc, and normal shapes of garments don’t fit them as well. This has all been highlighted from talking to knitters over the years, and going back to my original sewing skills.’
‘My muse is all the women I hear in my life and I think that’s the way to take the Yarntelier brand forward. I do think it’s lovely when people have spent time making something and it fits and they visit our stand and bring photos of things they’ve made, or they’re wearing the garment I’ve designed and they say, “It fits me perfectly, its the best thing I’ve ever knitted” . They’re so pleased, it makes me so pleased, too, which is lovely.’
Knitting to be proud of
Talking of people showing off their handiwork, I wondered whether Louisa thought there seemed to be more value given to homemade knits again?
‘I think, when engaging in craft, it becomes your time – if you make something, you feel you’ve used your time well. We all want a bit of TV knitting, but we love it when people compliment us on what we’ve made, saying, “You didn’t make that, it’s too intricate!”
‘However, that all comes down to clever pattern writing. Though my designs may look intricate, I don’t do anything particularly complicated – it’s just the way you structure it, so that it looks more involved than it actually is!’
The gorgeous Yarntelier yarn itself is a beautiful medium to work with and gives anything knitted up from it an extra element of luxury.
Happily, all the yarns are produced within driving distance of Louisa’s home.
‘We’re working with mill just miles away,’ Louisa says. ‘What I love about that is that I can take it to twisters and ballers and it’s a 25-mile round trip. As it’s cashmere, we can’t hold a huge amount of stock, so we’re enjoying and developing what we’re doing with the range we have now, which I love.’
A new studio
Louisa still works closely with her husband Steve, who takes the beautiful photography you’ll see on the Yarntelier patterns, books and on the exhibition stands.
She says, ‘I still find it lovely working with my husband, even after all these years. However he’s a bit of a clutterist, whereas I like a tidy mind, so I’ve started working in a new studio. And being in business for 30 years, I think it’s about time I had a studio space of my own! People walk into my studio and say it’s like someone’s living room, which I think is a biggest compliment as I know it means they feel comfortable there.’
The pleasure of knitting
Finally, I wondered, does Louisa still enjoy knitting after a life spent working in knitwear?
‘I’m always designing, but I find the doing of it pleasurable too. My studio is a 45-minute bus journey away. I knit on the bus and find it really pleasurable. It’s my time. I could drive to Huddersfield, but the journey takes me up and down hills, from country to town and the scenery’s beautiful. I do complicated things on the bus, as well. In fact, my daughter asked if people talked to me, and I told her, no, I look too scary! If I don’t get that 45 mins in morning I feel I‘ve really missed out. I really didn’t know I’d feel like that about my own knitting!’
Find out more about Louisa’s Yarntelier brand on the website here Or follow her on Instagram here If you’d like to read more of my features on knitwear designers, click on the name here: Martin Storey Dee Hardwicke
Here’s the second in my series of interviews with knitwear designers I admire…
I met Dee Hardwicke at the Knitting & Stitching Show this autumn, and she kindly agreed to tell me about her work and inspiration. This feature can also be found on the Features tab of this website. Hope you enjoy it…
I first came across Dee Hardwicke and her beautiful designs through her work for Rowan Yarns – her glorious knitted heirloom floral quilt, her deliciously sweet floral cardigans, shawls and pullovers – but I soon realised that Dee is first and foremost an artist, drawing on diverse natural influences to inform her delightful designs across many media.
I caught up with her at the Knitting & Stitching show this autumn. Dee was still full of life and energy, despite having only just returned from an extensive tour of America, and completing a whirlwind of talks and workshops.
Knowing that Dee works across ceramics, textiles and print, I wondered how she first came to knitting. It turned out, a fascination with colour was at the centre of everything.
‘I learnt to knit as a teenager,’ Dee says. ‘My friend’s mother had the most amazing yarn stash and, every time I went to their house, I used to rearrange the stash into colour palettes. One day she said,“You love this yarn so much, we need to get you knitting”!’
Although Dee continued playing with knitting, swatching and exploring texture and colour in her spare time, it was Fine Art, Ceramics and Sculpture that she went on to study at college.
‘Although my background is in Fine Art, I like making practical things that are beautiful – I’m a really practical person – and at the beginning of my career, I made tiles and mosaics, I was an artist for Lambeth Palace, and I’ve created several collections for the National Trust. In fact I’ve done many collaborations in ceramics and textiles.’
How did the venture into knitwear come about, I wondered?
‘I really felt passionate that my designs would work well in hand knit. So I just phoned up my favourite yarn company and the moment was just right!’ Dee smiles.
‘David MacLeod happened to answer the phone.’ [He’s Rowan’s Brand Manager.] ‘We had the most amazing conversation. It was a real meeting of creative minds and that started everything. And now here we are, three books and an American tour later with another book on the way.’
Why is it that Rowan is such a great company to work with?, I asked.
‘Working at Rowan is just like working with a real family and it feels like an extension of my own studio. They’re all artistic and incredibly talented and passionate and it’s the most wonderful environment in which to collaborate.’
‘Although they’re a large and successful company, they have a great vision, and David is really good at putting things together and celebrating what the designer puts forward in a way that best showcases the yarn. He just has a vision and gives you exactly the right project to get the best from you and the yarn.
‘Now, I’m a newly retained Rowan designer and I’m lucky enough to be given briefs that are so wonderful, so watch this space for exciting new things from the Spring onwards.’
So given the fact that Dee works across many media, I wondered whether a particular inspiration tended to suggest a particular medium?
‘I see inspiration across a range of media, though sometimes a certain texture may suggest something specific like wood or ceramics.
‘I’m very much influenced by the changes brought about by the time of year, the nature of the landscape, the colours, the weather. Ever since I was young, I’ve kept a visual diary, recording what I see and interpreting it in my own way.’
And Dee lives in a beautiful part of the UK, with plenty to inspire just outside the window.
‘I live in the Brecon Beacons and it’s utterly breathtakingly beautiful. Genteel and rugged at the same time – the textures, colours, beauty, storms and everything’s heightened. Yes, I definitely have a rich source of inspiration at home.
‘But, then again, even in the city, the colours and the stones can inspire me. I might spot a tiny flower growing between paving slabs, or a little leaf peeping out from a cracked brick on the side of a building, and that new life gets me excited and goes into a design I’m creating. It’s more of a subconscious thing, but it somehow works itself into a brief or a material I’m in love with at the time.’
And a specific yarn itself can be an inspiration too, according to Dee.
‘Rowan will sometimes send me a yarn, and I’ll feel instantly inspired – it’s the colour and texture and it’ll be right down my street. The current ranges are amazing! I love the FeltedTweed, and the lovely pops of colour.”
Dee’s enthusiasm is infectious, and I wondered if that had led her to come up with her wonderful workshops, where she explores design and colour with knitters…
‘I suppose I really want to share the enthusiasm I have for art and design. In the workshops I’m aiming to open up theworld of creativity to everyone as I believe we all have a creative soul inside us.
‘My background, Fine Art, can be very exclusive, so, for example, I’d teach differently in one of my life drawing classes. But when I lead my colour design workshops, I say to people… “Colour theory is a wonderful science, but we don’t get a colour wheel to get dressed in the morning!”. It’s a wonderful subject, but things are subjective and we react to things emotionally. Colours are emotive and we have collective memories and emotive reactions to colour. We have personal memories of colour, too – different colours mean different things to different people and I try and open up creativity and make it accessible to everyone. I have a real passion about doing that.’
‘Although there are differences in teaching between my life drawing classes and knitwear design classes, the essence of whatever I’m teaching is opening up the ability to look. Getting people to know how to look, to see the things that are passing by them. How to stop pause and know how to look at what’s in front of you, to see the colours. ‘
So when it comes to your own knitwear design, how do you go about approaching the design of a garment? I asked.
‘I paint the garment I’m imagining. Then I swatch decorative sections and chart anything decorative, working on it to get it to the exact scale. I work on the colour palette of yarn at the same time, produce schematic drawings, using the measurements from my size.
‘I write notes and details of how I want it knitted – it’s like a blueprint or a recipe for the garment. I have involvement the whole way through working with my own knitters and changing little details as it goes along, so the garment evolves.’
Finally, I asked, what do you knit for pleasure, and is there any advice you’d give to all those knitters out there?
‘I swatch for my own pleasure and play with colour for my own enjoyment.’ Dee says. ‘I knit as if I was painting. The level of enjoyment in my workshops is lovely and I’d always remind people never, ever to underestimate the power of play when exploring colour and design.’