Anna Wilkinson has turned her passion for knitting into an award-winning career.
Here, she reveals how she did it, what advice she’d give to budding professional knitters and a bit about her her brand new book, Learn To Knit, Love To Knit. Read on!
What kind of knitwear do you produce?
I design hand knitted garments for women and I think of my designs as being timeless, colourful, flattering and feminine.
What makes your knitwear different to others?
It’s really hard to say what makes my knitwear different to others. I try to design useful yet stylish garments, timeless pieces that are versatile and that can be integrated into any wardrobe. I design for myself and my friends and make things that I love and want to wear myself. I’m a bit of a perfectionist especially when it comes to the shape and fit of a garment, and I find colour plays an incredibly important part within my work also.
I was six or seven when I was first comfortable knitting. My mother taught me and after a few attempts this was the age that I seemed to grasp the technique and feel a little more confident with the craft. It was a bit of a struggle to begin with, as it is with every beginner, getting used to the way it feels to knit and holds the needles, but after a bit of practise, it just seemed to click suddenly. My mother always seemed to have a knitting project on the go and I think I grew fascinated watching her and wanted to learn myself.
What was the inspiration behind the book? How did it come about?
The idea for the book came about when I first met with Quadrille. We all felt that there weren’t many patterns available for beginners to really inspire them to knit and continue knitting. It’s really important for beginners to feel excited by a simple project enough to want to pick up some knitting needles. The craft is time consuming and requires a lot of attention, especially when you are first learning, so it’s really important to actually want to own the end result so you challenge yourself to make it. I think that what “Learn to Knit, Love to Knit” offers is the ability to learn to knit and progress, learning new techniques, and ending up with some really lovely finished garments and accessories.
Is the book suitable for all knitting abilities?
The book is divided into two sections. The first section, Learn to Knit, is designed for beginners and contains detailed images and descriptions of how to knit. There are also a few simple patterns in this section that are achievable for beginners but are also really nice projects for more experienced knitters, such as a chunky bobble hat, a pompom stripey scarf, and a very simple raglan sweater.
The second section of the book, Love to Knit, contains some more challenging garments (such as a college style cardigan, a cabled tam and snood, and a fair isle pullover) that would be more time consuming and would require a bit more concentration. These projects in the second section of the book are suitable for all knitters, regardless of their experience level. I really feel that all the projects in the book are worth knitting so I hope that even a very experienced knitter could pick up the book and find something that they love in there, and therefore would want to go ahead and knit it.
The reason that knitting is so wonderful is because there is no end to the possibilities. The technique allows you to design and make anything that you dream up, constructing and sculpting garments relatively quickly compared to other crafts. With this craft I can design and make whatever I want, exactly how I want – each stitch can count as a design feature. I don’t have to rely on cheaply produced poor quality high street knitwear.
I think that knitting by hand is still an incredibly significant craft because it’s so important in this day and age for people to get a sense of the value of something. Sitting down and taking the time to make something from start to finish is hugely satisfying, but it’s also of big contrast to the throwaway mindset of the society that we now live in. Hand knitting is so personal because you’re so involved with the craft and the process, each stitch that goes into a garment is passed through your fingers.
Machine knitting really doesn’t compare to hand knitting because it’s just not as accessible. Hand knitting can be done in the evening to relax and wind down and it can be picked up and put down whenever you choose to.
What advice would you give to budding professional knitters?
I think the most important thing is to keep working and designing, updating your portfolio. It can be incredibly hard when you leave university to keep on designing and creating new work, especially if you’ve had to take a job you don’t particularly want to pay the rent and the bills. I think it’s also really important to be somewhere that inspires you and makes you feel creative – for me that place is London. I moved straight there after graduating and I haven’t looked back. It’s impossible not to feel inspired in such a vibrant city with so much going on.
What relevant education/qualifications have you undertaken? Did you do any work experience in the industry?
I left quite an academic school that didn’t really encourage the more creative subjects and got into college with a portfolio purely made up of work that I had done in my own time outside of school. I studied a BTEC in fashion where I learnt a lot about pattern cutting and it was there that I really identified that it was the textiles that I was really interested in.
I went on to study a BA (hons) at Winchester School of Art where I specialised in knitwear for fashion. Winchester School of Art offers a brilliant textiles course, where you broadly study all areas of textiles, such as print, weave etc, in the first year and then, as you enter your second year, you choose which of these areas to specialise in.
What advice do you have for anyone who’s keen to pursue a career in craft?
I think it’s really really important to have an online presence. Socially networking is something I’ve only recently got into, but it seems to be a really good way to build awareness about something and I think it’s becoming essential now. There are lots and lots of lovely blogs and websites out there that people have put together showing their creations whether it’s cooking, art, knitting – it can be anything. Also, etsy and folksy are really good websites for setting up little businesses and showing all your work together within an online shop.
What was it like to win the Gold award in the Knitted Textile Awards?
It was great! It was amazing to have my work exhibited amongst some other wonderful young designers at Alexandra Palace and to meet designers such as Debbie Bliss. To actually win the Gold Award was such an honour. Exhibiting at the Knitting and Stitching show really helped me gain a lot of exposure and a fair amount of work has come my way as a result.
I think my proudest memory is probably seeing my graduate knitwear collection coming down the catwalk at the Truman Brewery. The final year of my degree was probably the hardest that I have ever had to work and it felt pretty amazing to see the result of all that work. I was also incredibly proud when I got my hands on the first copy of my book a couple of months ago.
Do you have a knitting/craft idol?
I’m a huge fan of Patricia Roberts knitwear work. Her designs are stunning and her yarn range is gorgeous. Each stitch in each of her designs is important – they each act as a significant part of each design and her designs are incredibly unique.
Learn To Knit, Love To Knit by Anna Wilkinson, published by Quadrille (£14.99, paperback); all images shown by Laura Edwards.