It’s rare for me as a stylist to get the privilege of working directly with a designer on a shoot, I am normally working with the finished product. I absolutely relish every time I get the opportunity to collaborate with one of the UK’s most talented knitwear designers, Erika Knight. Before I show you the finished photography for these new designs, Erika has kindly agreed to an interview.We have previously worked together on two books published by Quadrille, Simple Knitting and Crochet Workshop, both with highly acclaimed photographer Yuki Sugiura. On one of the hottest days of this summer (sorry models!), the team came together again in Yuki’s Peckham studio to produce the photography for Erika’s latest collection of knitting patterns for John Lewis.
Erika grew up in Berkshire in a noisy household where people were always coming and going. “I suppose we were creative as a family. Fashion and music were a big part of my childhood and shaped my understanding of the world but I never dreamt of being a designer and certainly didn’t think I would make a career out of knitting! As a child I always had a project on the go and would make clothes for my dolls or cut up my Mum’s magazines and catalogues to make collages. My Granny knitted a lot and I do remember her teaching me when I was little, but it wasn’t something I took up as a hobby until I was at Art School, when I would knit punky sweaters to sell in the college refectory,” says Erika.
“Design inspiration is not something that one can quantify really and certainly there is no formula for inspiration. Some days there is too much to contain in one’s head and other days one can spend hours searching for that little something to spark an idea. It’s on days like the latter, that I like to get out for a walk by the sea or around an exhibition or a trawl around the many junk shops and flea markets of Brighton to open my eyes to new colours, textures and shapes.
“It’s all too easy to reinforce your own ideas, so for me it is of vital importance to remain curious about new things, and it is this that sparks new ideas. Of course everything I design is informed by past experience and history but I try to be forward-looking; I think that is the role of the creative in society as a whole.”
Erika says she has always loved working across the boundaries of art, design, fashion and craft. “I think my experience of Art School was a very multi-disciplinary one, which really suits my personality, as I do find it hard to stick to just one specialism. I think most creatives are not only interested in practising just one craft; we sew, knit, crochet, needlepoint, patchwork, quilt.
“I have always wanted to write a book which crosses the craft boundaries but unfortunately the publishing world can be quite regimented and booksellers need to fit a title into an easy category to fit a shelf section. Of course now having my own brand means that I can be a little more experimental and try out different things – the benefit of working for yourself is that it can afford you that freedom, which I love.”
Knitting’s proven therapeutic qualities
“Knitting at its most basic, primeval level is creating a textile to nurture and protect and there is something quite comforting about using your hands and just two sticks and a continuous length of fibre to create something practical. Knitting for me is all about taking some time out and slowing down; it’s about enjoying the process and choosing to craft something by hand rather than buying an instant quick-fix. Of course the repetitive action of knitting itself has proven benefits to both physical and mental health and well-being. Betsan Corkhill’s extensive research shows how the process of knitting focuses the mind with the beneficial effects of managing panic, anxiety and pain, as well as problems with sleep and social confidence.”
Winter Olympic designer
Erika was involved in designing the parade wear for the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010 – the challenge she says was of course designing for so many different body shapes of athletes varying from ice hockey players to petite figure skaters! “But I love a challenge and it’s great that committees are turning to home-grown designers and celebrating the skills that our country has to offer in all fields of expertise.”
‘Erika’s challenge’ to Bear Grylls!
“I have come across many men that knit and I usually have one or two in all of my workshops. I started out as a menswear designer and I am in fact better known for my menswear. I have found that once knitting is described as ‘soft engineering’, it appeals to that more traditionally masculine demographic that might have previously considered knitting the remit of genteel women endlessly casting on baby bootees.
Again it comes back to that primeval thing – not only can you create a textile to nurture, you can also create a net to fish, or hunt with or even to craft a shelter. I do believe that knit and crochet are fantastic post-apocalyptic skills! I’d love to teach Bear Grylls how to knit or crochet with vine leaves or other found beach flotsam and jetsam – it would be a great addition to the essential survival techniques.” So if there are any TV researchers out there reading this – move over Stephen Fry and Miranda Hart. The SAS might also wish to consider updating their survival manual with a new chapter …
Erika Knight for John Lewis: The shoot, the models and a selection of the patterns
Erika started the range three years ago with a small collection of accessory, home wear and baby projects and it has grown to include larger garments and slightly more complex stitches and techniques. The garments launched for Autumn/Winter ’16 are all timeless classic shapes such as tunics, ponchos and cardigans. There are also some fab modern accessories and cute simple baby projects. The models were friends who reflected a range of ages to encompass the wide range of women that these pieces appeal to.
Erika Knight for John Lewis patterns and yarns are available exclusively from John Lewis stores and online at John Lewis. Patterns are £2.95.
The new XXL range of Erika Knight wools launches during Wool Week (10th to 16th October) at the Oxford Street branch of John Lewis. Erika will be hosting a talk around the ‘make hub’ in the haberdashery department on Friday 14th October, so make sure to get along to meet her! Modelled here by Bethan Reen interior styling assistant (also an accomplished crafter) is Erika’s new XXL wool range and patterns. Bethan expertly styled her hair to reflect the giant plait of Erika’s new snood design.
“I probably do more workshops now than I ever did, as I now have my own yarns to work with. I like talking to like-minded crafters, so workshops are usually a good experience and I tend to make them very informal and more of a forum to encourage knitters to be confident in their abilities with colour or design and to experiment, after all knitting is as much about the process as the finished garment.
“Due to the fact that day-to-day we mainly work with retailers, I love having the opportunity to meet the knitters – the end users – of our products. The feedback that they provide is invaluable and it really helps me to understand how the brand is viewed from an outside perspective and what knitters and crocheters really want from a yarn or pattern. It is all too easy to get stuck in the studio and contain oneself in a bit of a bubble, where one can risk losing touch with what is really happening, so it is absolutely essential for me to get out to shops and to yarn shows to understand the market better.
“Many more yarn shows and festivals are popping up all over the country and these are the perfect places to host a workshop as there are so many dedicated crafters in one place all gathered together with a shared passion. In fact I am hosting a workshop on adding colour into your knitting in November at the inaugural Stitch Fest South West in Totnes in Devon, organised by Social Fabric.”
Erika is very kindly giving away a copy of her latest book Simple Colour Knitting (RRP £16.99) photographed by Yuki Sugiura and published by Quadrille. The winner will be picked on 25th October 2016. Thanks to Theprizefinder.com.
The competition is now closed. The lucky winner is Elaine from Bicester in Oxfordshire.
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With many thanks,