Louisa Harding knitwear designer chats with Annie

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…

Louisa Harding at the Knitting & Stitching Show
Louisa Harding on the Yarntelier stand at The Knitting & Stitching Show

Gorgeous garments

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.

Stunning knitwear

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.’

Yarntelier’s delicate designs

College days

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.’ 

Lacework is a trademark feature of many patterns – here seen on the Olena wrap

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.’

An early design for Rowan – Tillie

Early career

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.’

Fickle jumper by Louisa Harding from the Vintage Rowan collection
Fickle jumper by Louisa, the pattern’s in the Rowan 40 Years book

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.

Front cover of Rowan 40 Years book

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.

Natural inspiration

Design muse

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.’

The Argent cardigan

‘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.’

Osprey wrap – a garment you’d be proud to show off

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!’

Luxurious yarn

So soft and gorgeous to knit with

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.’

The heavier weight Gilli yarn

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.’

Louisa Harding's studio in the Peak District
The studio – a home from home

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

Designer interview – 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…

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.

Christmas preparations already!

Christmas preparations begin!

Christmas preparations have to begin in November – especially if you’re going to make your own Advent Calendar or Christmas wreath… I know, it does still seem some time away, but I definitely want to have my Advent Calendar up for 1st December.

Why don’t you join me? I’ve designed a special crochet Advent Calendar that you can crochet along with. It’s being released in three parts – Part 1 and 2 are up now and you’ll be able to see the finished calendar next week (26th November). Here are all the little motifs that will end up on the finished calendar…

crochet decorations for Advent calendar

I think it’s so sweet! I particularly love my little Santa, who’s set to make his debut on the calendar on Christmas Eve!

crochet Santa motifThe first two parts of the pattern are over on the Patterns tab on this website. Go on, you know you want to make one… (All the assembly instructions and finishing touches will be up there next week).

I used Rico Ricorumi cotton DK yarn – it comes in 25g balls and a whole host of colours, so you can make your calendar as colourful as you like.

You could even just make the invividual motifs, and back them with felt to make tiny deorations for your Christmas tree…

crochet wreath applique

Tiny wreath

crochet bauble

Tiny bauble

Crochet Christmas tree motif

Tiny tree

If you do make one, I’d love it if you’d share some pictures of it over on Instagram (I’m at @pickingupstitches and the hashtag is #AdventChristmasCal) or leave me a comment here…

Xmas wreath

Speaking of Christmas preparations, I’ve also designed a new Christmas wreath.

Crocheted Christmas wreath

I’m teaching how to make it in a class in North London this month, and in a couple more in December. See here for dates.

If you’d like to find out how to make one but you’re not in Crouch End, get in touch to arrange a class near you if you’re in London, Brighton, Broadstairs or Margate. If you’re anywhere within an hour’s rail journey from St Pancras, I can try to arrange a class where you live too… just email me to find out more details. 

Alternatively, if you’d like me to make you one to order, see here (but don’t leave it too late!).

I’m thinking of making the pattern available too for a small charge – would anyone be interested in that?

Christmas market preparations

Finally, this month I’ve been busy making lots of gloves and cowls and all sorts of little stocking fillers ready for the upcoming Blink Yule Market in Crouch End London N8 which will take place at Earl Haig Hall on Saturday 1st December… If you’re nowhere nearby, though, I’m going to put a lot of my items up in my Etsy shop, so get your Christmas shopping done early and snap them up before I take them to market!

I’ll be back very soon with some very special features about four top artists/knitwear designers I had the pleasure of interviewing at the autumn Knitting & Stitching Show, so do keep popping back. 

And finally, don’t forget to sign up to my newsletter mailing list if you’d like to hear about what’s coming up in the following month.