British designer, Jane Ellison speaks the universal language of knitters. With a background in fashion and textile, her straightforward approach to knitwear design and talent for writing very sensible, concise patterns has garnered her work with leading yarn companies, Noro, Mirasol, Queensland Collection, and Araucania. Today we sit down and chat with Jane as she nears the end of a very hectic work schedule, completing designs for seven brand new collections due out later this season. She also offers us a sneak peek at some of her soon to be released designs.
MM: Thanks Jane, for stopping by to chat today. It must be difficult to catch your breath right now with all your deadlines. Lets sit down, and have a cup of coffee or tea.
JE: I drink coffee. I used to drink tea, many cups of tea. But now I drink many, many cups of coffee! I can’t do without my cup of coffee to wake me up in the morning.
MM: Its evident in all your work, that you have a true love of knitting and design. Is there a special someone who inspired you in your chosen career?
JE: I do love knitting. I was just thinking about this the other day. At the moment I have horrible deadlines, and am knitting 24/7. Even through this I am doing something I love. I don’t know if I was inspired by someone- my Grandmother was always unravelling old jumpers and re-knitting them. It was so exciting to see what they would become. My mother made all our clothes, beautiful smocks, lace cardigans, and my teddy bears and dolls were handmade with love.
MM: It must be many years since your very first sweater design, can you describe it?
JE: My first knitted item, was a striped scarf for Snoopy (I still have it), its a bit blurry on my first hand knitted sweater design. I knitted loads but I can’t remember! My very first machine knit sweater was a plain green crew neck pullover in stocking stitch with ribbing at the edges, which I wore and wore until it got a hole and unravelled. We also did machine knitted garments at college in the first year, my design was a pale blue dress with fine metal wire worked through the yarn so that it could be pulled into interesting shapes. The yarn was a fine viscose that looked like silk, which gave the dress a light and delicate look but the metal gave it strength that made the dress appear like it was floating around the wearer.
MM: Your work with the Mirasol Project has been so well regarded, giving knitters everywhere an opportunity to participate in the building of a community. Its a wonderful story of caring and sharing. What has been your greatest reward from this experience?
JE: I love the Mirasol Project which was set up in 2006. It embodies everything I believe in. I was tremendously excited when I first heard about the project, even more excited when I was asked to become involved. There are many, many people who make the project what it is. I find it difficult to put it all into words, but I really hope this is just the beginning. I’ve only visited the Mallkini Ranch (where the Mirasol Project is based) in Peru once, but I did learn a great deal, even though I cannot speak the language, being there gives me such a feeling of joy and peace. I don’t know what my one greatest reward has been really, as I said its difficult to single one thing out. I love working with the yarn, its so soft and beautiful, but also because I know its been made carefully and thoughtfully, every stage is created with the care of people, the environment and the animals in mind.
MM: I recently read on your blog, that you once worked in a knitting shop and enjoyed helping customers choose yarns and patterns for projects. Do you think one day after many more books and designs, you might like to have a shop of your own?
JE: Yes! I really enjoy chatting with knitters and sharing their experiences. I also like helping people who say they would love to knit but they can’t. Usually they can, and its great to see how proud they are of their first piece of garter stitch. Right now, I can’t even plan a week ahead, all I can plan is how much work I have to do by the end of the day!! Yes, I would love my own shop, I get excited thinking about the array of shades and qualities as well as lots of lovely accessories.
MM: Knitting is really on an upswing here in Canada, what is the knitting scene like in UK at the moment?
JE: For the past few months I have been designing, knitting, and writing patterns so I haven’t been out into the big wide world. But when I do speak to non-knitters about what I do, they all seem to have a knitting story, one person told me it was a surprise to see a group of knitters in the local pub. Even though there are not many knitting shops, it seems cafes, book shops, and pubs are all great venues for knitters who are organizing themselves and getting together. I feel this is so exciting and hope it keeps growing.
MM: When you are at home in Yorkshire, is there a favorite place where you sit and knit?
JE: I don’t have a favorite place as such, generally I sit in front of the TV in my lounge watching dvds.
MM: Knitters quite often say they knit for everyone else first, how many of your own creations would you say are in your closet?
JE: Yes, I knit on sweaters everyday yet they don’t manage to get into my own closet. I do have ‘Chambers’, a design from my first book- Simply Noro, and ‘Tumi’ from Mirasol Book 1, and ‘Ima Suti’ from Mirasol Book 3. I also have a huge list of things I want to knit for myself from my collection of books. My mom usually knits from each of my books either for herself or my Dad and my two year old niece has a sweater from each children’s book I have done.
MM: Can you tell us ‘whats on your needles’ at the moment and any hints of whats to come for Spring?
JE: What is on my needles at the moment……well, I am finishing off almost all the garments for the next books I am doing. For Mirasol, we are changing the format, instead of one big book, there will now be five little books, each one dedicated to one yarn. At the moment, I am just putting together the Hap’i and Nuna books. For the last two days I have been picking up around necklines, armhole edges, sewing on buttons and seaming up eight knitted garments. There are still another twelve more awaiting my attention! For Araucania, I am knitting with a beautiful silk, the texture of the yarn is incredible which means I have fun playing with the stitch techniques. There is also a cashmere I am working with for a simple shawl pattern. Its perfect for a beginner who may be a little afraid of lace knitting, but can see the basic principles with my design and still have a luxurious soft shawl floating around her shoulders. This is all for the new Spring pattern books. I work by myself so there is no one to help with the finishing touches. I have the best knitters in the world, they have been great, so supportive with my tight deadlines. Thats more than I can ask for.
(images courtesy of Jane Ellison)