We've really loved putting together our very first MAKE//FRIENDS. What a fantastic excuse to get to know talented and interesting people, whilst learning more about crafts that inspire us! Today we're featuring Hattie Kerrs, a knitwear maker from Nottingham. She's a big fan of pancakes and Radio 4, so we knew we'd like her.
We first met Hattie at Made Brighton in November of last year, (Emily might have got a little weird around those super stylish cushions - I mean, look at those cushions!).There is a distinctly folksy feel to her products; drawing on a deep seated British knitting tradition. Yet Hattie's craft is a refined one; with a background in Fine Art, her creations exhibit a particular attention to detail that represents the time-intensive nature of her work. Colour and pattern choices are well made and subtle, and there is a satisfying openness regarding her relationships with the farmers and manufacturers who produce and dye her wool.
On top of all that, she makes real nice things. We asked her a few questions.
Your website mentions your background in Fine Art, what first drew you to knitwear?
I initially started making knitwear for myself; I've always loved colour, pattern and textiles, so I started collecting old patterns and knitwear books and taught myself to knit mittens and colour work. I ended up making a lot of pairs of scandinavian style mittens and Fair Isle Berets one year and thought I'd have a go at selling them online. Things have rather escalated since then, but it was almost a serendipitous career path as I'd never have guessed where those first few hand knitted pairs of mittens would take me.
Describe your processes for us. Do you have a preference between the hand knits or the electronic knitting machine?
I absolutely love hand knitting, and it's not something you find much commercially these days, simply for the fact that it's so labour intensive. I don't know that any of my competitors offer hand knits, and if they do it's always outsourced and obviously whoever is knitting them won't see much return for their work. For me, it's a pleasure to still be able to produce lovingly handcrafted artisan knitwear which I make myself. I love the rhythm of hand knitting, and its innate soothing quality, I tend to do a lot of day dreaming when I'm knitting. I have only had my knitting machine for the past year, and whilst I believe it'll always be my second choice after hand knitting, I really rely on it to be able to produce larger scale pieces such as the scarves, hats and cushion covers. It is also necessary to balance out my business as I am now able to offer machine knitted pieces to shops and galleries at a reasonable price.
What do you listen to whilst working?
I am a bit of a classic Radio 4 listener to be honest! Although I have listened to a lot of The Leisure Society, The Magnetic Fields and Guillemots recently. It depends what I'm doing really as if I'm machine knitting the noise it makes tend to drown out Radio 4 a bit!
Your work is reminiscent of a British folk heritage, is this something that inspires you?
Definitely, I'm always conscious that as a nation we have lost a good deal of our craft heritage already and am really proud to be able to build my business as a basic cottage industry. I may have a computer program which helps me to design patterns, but I am a one woman business, making and finishing every piece myself. I am one of the rare knitwear businesses who don't have their pieces produced in a woollen mill. For me, the pleasure of my craft is in the designing and the making; I could have a much larger profit margin if I were to outsource, but I'd lose the integral part of my business which first inspired me.
How do you find the process of selling your produce? Have you found the maker's community supportive?
It's been a lot of hard work building my business from scratch, and I've had to learn everything through trial and error (and there have been a fair few errors). But I do really enjoy exhibiting at the design and craft shows, and have made some great friends and met so many amazing talented people. It's quite incredible really as it's such a supportive and helpful community. I've rarely ever felt any competitiveness from other exhibitors; I've even bought pieces from other Knitwear Designers. It is a tough industry however and it's so seasonal. After Christmas I can catch my breath and start working on new designs, which is what I'm currently working on, and whilst it's freezing cold outside, sales tend to slow down until September, when it's the beginning of a new season for me.
Do you have a favourite piece?
Oh this is quite a tough one, I would have to say that the Mustard Yellow British Wool Geometric Cushion is my current favourite as it is my first cushion design and I'm so pleased with it. I also love the Hand Knitted British Wool Range, the coral colour way is beautiful, and the natural undyed shades are really special. Though I do also wear a Russian Bobble hat in Red/Navy.
We all get stuck in a rut sometimes, what do you do to get inspired when you're up against a creative wall?
For me I need to take a day off knitting, get some fresh air, get out of the house and go for a walk. Then I tend to trawl my favourite blogs, or flick through some old knitting books and magazines. I'm a huge reader also, and read a lot of books about the wilderness, nature and pioneers. I find that this always really grounds me and I can start thinking clearly about new designs and yarns etc.
Describe your ideal Sunday for us.
I love Sundays. For myself and my husband who's a painter, it's our one day off in the week as we both end up in the studio on Saturdays catching up with work, or just because we've got something we're working on we can't wait to finish! My ideal Sunday would be a lie in with cups of tea, our books and Zebedee our Whippet Lurcher, then pancakes for breakfast. Then it'd be time for a country walk and some fresh air; we tend to go to Derbyshire a lot as it's so close to Nottingham. A pint at a Country pub on the way home, and then a cosy evening at home with some delicious food and maybe a film. We're both simple creatures.
You can find Hattie's work over on her website, & keep an eye on our shop for those beautiful cushions.