As we make the designs in Field Guide No. 20: Atlas, we wonder where Erika Knight finds inspiration for these modern, minimalist patterns. Here she is, in correspondence with our creative director for the Field Guide series, Melanie Falick.
—Ann and Kay
Melanie Falick: I listened to an interview in which you spoke of starting to knit while at art school and always intentionally including holes and ladders in your work, as was de rigueur during the punk era. It seems that you have held onto that punk inclination to deconstruct and embellish, as we see in the projects designed for Field Guide No. 20: Atlas. What were you thinking about while designing these pieces?
Erika Knight: Well, I don’t know about “intentionally”—it was more of a case of it didn’t really matter if you ended up with holes and ladders, you could just add a safety pin and wear with a bit of a swagger! And punk was all about embracing the raw edges and taking things back to basics.
But now that I know how to knit pretty well, as well as all the tricks and techniques to finish something to make it look “shop bought,” I definitely like to deliberately make a few holes, let the stitches run down a ladder, and embrace those idiosyncrasies of the hand made.
So that push and pull of constructing a textile and being aware of how it is made leads to a deconstructed aesthetic. I am a big fan of Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons and Martin Margiela and their challenging of the normalised garment shape, and of traditional femininity, radically reassessing this and exaggerating organic forms, revealing the structure, and putting it front and centre. I love external seams, the “wrong side” of stocking stitch, the reverse of fair isle and celebrating the handmade, by showing the colour change “blip” row or leaving an end of yarn as the beginning and end of the journey.
A closer look at the Escalator Scarf—the ladders of unraveled stitches amp up the textural interest of the off-beat cables.
Early in your career, you worked on embellishing fabric for Vivienne Westwood. I once clipped an interview with her in a magazine in which she spoke about the value of knitting as part of a child’s education. You have been advocating for people to learn knitting as well as crochet for many years. Textile-making has been key to your professional journey and education. What role has it played in your personal journey and education?
As a designer I’m not sure that it is entirely possible to distinguish between the professional and personal. At least I have always found the edges to be very blurred (and somewhat frayed!).
I do absolutely believe that everyone should be taught how to use the most low-tech resources around them to craft and create. Knitting is a post-apocalyptic skill, and now more than ever there is an urgency to pass these skills on. None of us know where we might end up and all too quickly the comfort of our lifestyle can be taken from us.
The blanket for me is the ultimate garment, used to wrap, swathe, bundle, swaddle, cloak, enclose and cocoon. Everyone can make a small square from scraps, and these can be sewn together to create a patchwork. Pull it around your shoulders when hibernating on the sofa, throw it over your knees to comfort on a long journey, or tie it around your waist for warmth or belt it around your body for protection from the elements when out and about.
Stepping Stone Throw—a patchwork of colors, textures, and bold graphic stripes
What is it about punk culture that appealed to you as a young adult? What aspects still resonate with you as an adult?
Punk was anti-establishment and anti-fashion—questioning of the status quo. That really appealed to me then and still does now. I don’t like to get too comfortable, I’m always looking for a way out, or up and over, to take things to the next level.
The Knight Hood is next-level head gear—the ultimate soft armor.
Design is really about interrogating—asking is this the best possible solution, can we turn it upside out, inside out, or should we unravel it and stitch it back together differently? Equally it’s important not to get too hung up on the idea of perfection, which can be stifling of creativity. So, it’s that DIY, give it a go, experimental attitude that can lead to the most innovative design. Not being afraid to get things wrong, to reveal the process and make a mark. Even though I ultimately tend to simplify, refine, and rein things in, to achieve my design I like to go over the edges at the start of the process. I always liken it to a dog going round and round in its basket, until it falls in just the right spot.
You have worked as a fashion trend forecaster, which includes forecasting color trends years in advance. Can you give us a sense of how you experience color around you and how you are able to intuit what is to come?
[I]t’s always true that there is a zeitgeist and colour plays a big part in that. It’s impossible to be short of colour inspiration, you just need to stop and look—it might be a bright pink flower bursting through a crack in the pavement, graffiti on a concrete wall that wasn’t there yesterday, a poster advertising a local band peeling away to reveal another advert beneath, a passer-by wearing an old tweed jacket with worn out elbows patched in a bright printed cotton, the dusk light over the horizon, a pebble picked up from the beach and rediscovered in a jacket pocket days later.
I like to keep jars of colour in my studio, containing tiny snips of yarn, paper, paint samples, buttons, ribbon, fabric. These fragments are selected, cut up and repositioned next to others when working on colour palettes for yarns, stripes, and other designs. They are probably my most used tool, other than a sharp 2B pencil.
You live near the sea. Do you spend much time walking on the beach or otherwise outdoors? How does that affect your sense of color? You sense of design?
I do believe that once you have lived by the sea you always crave that salty sea air and wide horizon. I live right on the coast now and can hear the waves crashing on the pebbly beach at night when the other background noise of the town and the road is quietened.
The colour is very different here, it seems somehow muted as if blurred by the sea-mist, bleached by the light reflecting off the water, or salt-washed like the pebbles on the beach, and it’s always changing. I could design a whole colour palette for a new yarn range just based on the sea. It never gets old, and nature never repeats herself. Each time I look out of my window it’s a different view. Whenever I am struggling with a blank piece of paper or a design just doesn’t seem to be working, then I only have to get outside and take in the natural scenery.
A tutor at art school once told me “It always comes back to the landscape,” and you know what, it always does.