Jennie Atkinson

photo courtesy Nick Sargeant

Tell us a little about yourself. What other things do you do apart from design?

My main interest after design is fashion and knitting history. I did an MA in the History of Design at the Royal College of Art in 2007 and researched the history of the knitting pattern and have given papers at two In the Loop conferences. This August I gave a paper at the Glasgow conference on knitted beaded bags. I really enjoyed doing the research and I visited the Guild to look at bags in their collection.

What attracts you to knitting/crochet as distinct from any other craft(s)?

I actually did a fashion design degree, which involved pattern-cutting and sewing as well as design in fabrics. That was when I discovered the pleasure of knitting as it meant I could make items at home with the minimum of equipment. I love that fact that you are making your own textile and finished item. If I ever had the time I would love to experiment with other textile crafts such as embroidery or weaving and perhaps combine them with knit.

How do you get started on a design? Where does the inspiration come from?

I’ve always been interested in fashion – hence my degree – and so like to check out the catwalk shows and see what the top designers are doing. When I first started designing knitwear I often referred to knitting books and magazines from the 1950s. Now lots of different things inspire me. I suppose my aim is to produce a piece that is original, but knittable and wearable!

Do you ever start with a yarn and design something with it in mind?

Most of the time, especially as I do quite a bit of freelance designing for yarn companies. In fact the yarn is a crucial part of the design process as I will swatch and see how the yarn can be used, what texture or stitch will best show the qualities of the yarn.

Who knits up the patterns?

That depends. I really like to make the samples myself, as to me it is like creating a piece of artwork that can develop and change as it is being made. This isn’t always practical though, so when I work for Rowan for example, they have their own knitters.

When you look back at the items you’ve designed, how has your work evolved? Which is your favourite of your designs?

I think my designs have changed as I’ve got older and my figure has changed! (although – oddly - I don’t actually wear many of my designs). Also at first I concentrated on the texture – trying to come up with new techniques and stitches – but then I started to focus on a combination of texture and shape. When I had my own shop and met customers in all shapes and sizes I started to think more about the end-user.

If you could only design one type of garment/accessory, what would it be?

In some ways I hate that idea because I always think in terms of ‘collections’, because of my fashion training. In other words different garments with a common theme. However, I do like a challenge, so being restricted to one garment and thinking of different ways to work it is also appealing. I really love a good fitted jacket, so I would probably do that.

Which yarn fibres do you most like to work in?

Again as I’ve got older I prefer to work with fine – i.e.thin – yarns and there are fewer choices in terms of fibres, however, I would say good quality natural fibres like alpaca, soft wools, cashmere. Having said that, I love knitwear from the 1920s that is made using rayon (artificial silk as it was called then). I’ve managed to source a supplier and have used it for accessories. It has such a lovely drape and sheen.

What design plans do you have for the next year?

I must say I’m starting to yearn to make finished items to sell again, rather than only knitting patterns. I would love to do some really beautiful, intricate items – perhaps beaded – that would be high-end, special one-off pieces.

What does KCG mean to you?

When I originally researched knitting history I contacted the Guild (about 10 years ago). However it was in the process of being sorted out (or moving premises?) and I didn’t have a chance to visit until this year when I was doing my beaded bag research. I think it’s a wonderful resource for anyone interested in knitting and crochet and the history of both.

How might KCG use its Collection to gain new members?

I think the trunk shows are an excellent idea – I saw some pieces that were brought to the conference in Glasgow.

As KCG approaches its 40th anniversary in 2018, what would you like to see it achieve in the next 10 years?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Guild had a museum with permanent displays of knitted items though the ages, and an online library and archive!

You can find further information on Jennie's website.