An interview with Dee Hardwicke

Dee Hardwicke – an artist first and foremost

Photo: © Jesse Wild

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.

Early inspiration

‘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.’

Dee Hardwicke in her studioPhoto © Dee Hardwicke
Dee in her studio with some of her beautiful ceramics. The jugs are on sale at https://deehardwicke.myshopify.com 

Knitwear design

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.’

Dee Hardwicke at a signingPhoto © Dee Hardwicke
Dee busy signing copies of her latest book

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.’

Photo © Dee Hardwicke

Inspiration all around

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.’

Photo © Dee Hardwicke
Dee’s studio, brimming with her designs, including rugs for Turtle Mat
 and an apron designed for a collection for the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh

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.’

Dee Hardwicke - knitted swatches

Photo © Dee Hardwicke

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 Felted Tweed, and the lovely pops of colour.”

Inspiring others

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 the  world 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. ‘

Dee Hardwicke - collage of workPhoto © Dee Hardwicke
Teaching students to take in the colourful inspiration all around

Designing a garment

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.

Dee Hardwicke - designing knitwearPhoto © Dee Hardwicke

‘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.’

Photo © Jesse Wild

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.’

Photo © Dee Hardwicke

Check out Dee’s two latest books:

A Story In Yarn, teaches you how to go about creating your own spectacular heritage knitted quilt.

Colourworks Knits has patterns for some brilliant knitted garments featuring floral motifs.

Front cover of Colourwork Knits

Find out more on Dee’s website www.deehardwicke.co.uk and find Dee on Instagram at @deehardwicke

To read an interview with Martin Storey, knitwear designer, click here.