Erika Knight may need no introduction for lovers of knitting!
A highly respected knit and crochet designer, Erika Knight has inspired generations of crafters with her collections of simple, beautifully designed patterns, from the sweetest baby knits, to tactile homewares, to elegantly fashionable sweaters for special occasions. We were thrilled to have her contribute to the Almanac Series and took the opportunity to chat with her about her work and inspiration.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself: how did you get into knitting and designing knitwear?
I’ve always been into making things. When I was little, I made clothes for my dolls, cut out collages from my Mum’s catalogues, sewed toys for my younger brother. At Art School I bought second-hand knits from charity shops and army surplus to customize, upcycle and sell on in the college refectory. I knitted sweaters for friends and made outfits to go clubbing in.
“In the late 80s I started a ready-to-wear handknit brand and learnt so much from the outworkers that we employed to make garments to be sold from our retail store in Brighton and in stores worldwide.”
The thing that stuck with me the most was how necessary and valuable knitting was to these women (mostly, although we did have some fantastic men who knit for us too). It was usually only a little extra income, but it provided them with so much more than a hobby. Knitting is absolutely (to paraphrase Virginia Woolf) the saving of lives. For most of my career I have worked on the industrial side, designing, and overseeing manufacturing of knitwear for designer and high street brands, however I always kept one hand in the craft scene, which is really a different world altogether, and one that can teach the fashion industry so much about the true value of garments and sustainable, slow practices.
About The Almanac Series
The Almanac Series is based on the original farmer’s Almanac guide to the seasons, this collection acts as a seasonal guide to knitting with The Fibre Co. and celebrates each month of the year with an ascribed Yarn of the Month, paired with a new design launch in that yarn. For this year’s series, we looked to the heavens for inspiration, letting the beauty and grandeur of the night sky guide us. In the first half of this year’s series, we cover the Autumn Winter season, where each month’s yarn has been specifically chosen for its qualities to compliment colder conditions in the northern hemisphere. Erika’s contribution to the collection is the Zodiac Sweater, launched this August.
Tell us about the Zodiac Sweater.
As a fibre lover I have always put Road to China Light on a bit of a pedestal as the ultimate luxury yarn. It really has got the best of everything in it and is such a clever combination of fibres, totally unique and beyond compare. It’s one of those yarns that fellow fibre fanatics across the globe know by name – like Coco Chanel or Beyonce. So really the yarn alone and having the opportunity to work with it, is pure inspiration!
“I wanted this design to be timeless and elegant, something that would be worthy of the investment in this yarn.”
For me a great handknit that you have made yourself is like wearing soft armour, it should make you feel confident and comfortable. The yarn has a beautiful stitch definition so is perfect for the textural ribs and cables and the sumptuous silk and cashmere content gives a softness that can be worn next to the skin. The shape of this design is a variation on a classic sweatshirt, something relaxed, easy to wear and familiar, but with a few details that elevate it just a little without being too showy.
This design is based on a combination of familiar stitches, plains, ribs, and cables, assembled in an easy, sweatshirt style sweater to wear slightly oversized for a relaxed feel. The back is divided into 3×3 rib and a broken rib stitch to keep your interest when knitting and the front features a small cable which travels diagonally up from the asymmetric hem to the neckband with simple ‘make 1’s. I wanted the sweater to feel quite elegant, as this is such a luxurious yarn, so kept the sleeves to a flattering three quarter length with a small vent, and a soft round neckline that can be worn with or without a layer underneath depending on the season. A three-needle cast off on the outside of the shoulder seam helps to create a professional looking finish.
What inspires and influences your designs?
Yarn, texture, colour, Japanese fashion, British punk, American conceptual art, French flea markets, Australian coastlines, big skies, dropped stitches, concrete architecture, old haberdashers, new textiles graduates pushing innovation in materials, the absolute simplicity of creating a fabric from just two sticks and continuous thread, the incredible detail of a hand-embroidered textile created by an anonymous woman who went the extra mile to not only clothe but to embellish, the knitters and makers I have been fortunate to learn from in my life, and if in doubt, it always comes back to the landscape.
Could you share your design process with us?
I wish I could say that it’s a step-by-step process that could be easily translated into an informative guide, and in fact I have attempted to do this for workshops (always with the subtitle “The 30-year pill”). But much like any creative endeavor there is rarely a straight, linear journey from beginning, middle to end.
The reality is more of an ‘around the houses’ diverted route via baskets and boxes of different fibres, jars of tiny scraps of colour, a sharp 2B pencil, a blank sheet of paper (and many more sheets of paper crumpled up in the recycling bin and littering the floor under the desk), copious cups of tea, late nights, half-finished swatches on knitting needles, Instagram scrolls and saves, an early morning walk along the beach, a favourite stitch, hours on the phone, a new technique, starting again, looking up from the desk and out at the horizon, more cups of tea, simplifying, adding a centimetre to a hem, re-knitting a neckband, and then somehow, miraculously, a design appears.
“And it’s at that point that the hard work of translating a sketch and swatch into an easy-to-follow recipe, size grading, checking, sample knitting and checking again begins!”
How does the yarn you use influence your design?
For me hand knitting is all about texture, not only the stitch, look and drape of the finished garment but also how a yarn feels as you knit with it, so the yarn choice is the most important factor in the enjoyment and success of a handknit project.
I always prefer to use natural fibres and to find out about where they come from and the processes they go through before they end up in my hands. Knowing the characteristics of different fibres, such as the dry hand feel of linen, or the soft elasticity of wool plays a big part in which yarn I would choose for a design, but sometimes it’s the yarn that chooses me. I have been known to keep a single skein of a precious treasure, found at a car boot sale or craft market, in my stash for years just waiting for that serendipity moment when it is lifted from the treasure box to discover its perfect partner project.
On the contrary, I also love to use an unexpected yarn to reinterpret an old design or jazz up a standard stitch, such as knitting with whisper fine mohair on oversized needles to create a lace effect from the simplest stocking stitch or cutting up old jersey t-shirts to modernize a trad crochet motif.
“Knowing the characteristics of different fibres, such as the dry hand feel of linen, or the soft elasticity of wool plays a big part in which yarn I would choose for a design.”
What is your favourite knitting technique and why?
Most of my designs are unashamedly simple (although the process to get there is often complex – see above), so I can’t profess to be an expert on many techniques and am continually discovering and learning new ones. But I think my favourite design technique is working an odd number of stitches in rib before an edge to create an integral selvedge. I often use it for open side vents or button bands on cardigans, and in this design, I have used it within the shaped hem where a ‘make 1’ is used to increase before the selvedge to create a neat asymmetric shape.
What is your desert island knitting project—what could you knit again and again and still enjoy?
I think for me those are 2 very different questions – if I was abandoned on a deserted island then I think I would quickly turn to crochet. I could easily fashion a hook from some driftwood and forage some vines to make a net to fish and a simple shelter for shade, then once I had the basics there would be no stopping me and I would be scouring the beach for flotsam and jetsam to embellish my newly crafted surroundings. Crochet (and knitting!) is a post-apocalyptic survival skill and one that everyone should be taught in school.
“I guess it’s the craft of knitting in an of itself, that rhythmic, almost meditative process of in, over, under, off that really keeps me coming back for more.”
A project that I could knit again and again and still enjoy is a different matter really. To be honest I’m not great at going back and making the exact same thing and even when knitting something for the first time I am always pulling a few rows back and trying to improve or alter the design as I make it. There are a few designs that have resurfaced throughout my career, and certainly I have a few baby garments that are my “go to” s for gifting, but I always change them up a little, by adding a pocket, changing a fastening, or embroidering an initial or motif. I guess it’s the craft of knitting in an of itself, that rhythmic, almost meditative process of in, over, under, off that really keeps me coming back for more.
Knitting the Zodiac sweater?
If you are knitting a Zodiac Sweater, please do share it with us! We would love to see it. If you are sharing on social media, please use the hashtags #MadeWithTheFibreCo and tag us @thefibrecompany so we don’t miss it