A Portrait in Objects: Erika Knight
Today we have the pleasure of welcoming designer Erika Knight to our Portrait in Objects series. Erika’s richly textured, elementally shaped knitwear designs are instantly recognizable as her work, which we’ve admired and collected since our earliest days as knitters. We’re thrilled to share this glimpse of the objects that surround Erika at her home in England.
—Ann and Kay
This might look like a kitsch tourist image, but it’s actually a cultural relic that … wait for it … I pulled out of a skip, about 15 years ago! It used to hang above the front desk at BBC Radio Brighton, and the gentleman who owned it was just throwing it out in the trash, as his partner had said he couldn’t keep it any longer. The original photograph was taken in the 1960s and there certainly is something very nostalgic and warm about the image quality, though rendered timeless in black and white. Since I rescued it from its fate, it has always hung in my hallway, and I don’t think I could part with it now.
I first moved to Brighton for Art School in the 1970s and even though I haven’t lived there for all of the time since leaving college, the city has always felt like home. It’s just one of those places that gets under your skin–full of artists and musicians, very accepting of everyone, colorful, creative and by the sea! When I meet someone on my travels in the US or even India or Australia and mention Brighton, if they have any glimmer of recognition there is usually a glint in their eye, as they recall the fun they had there! The Royal Pavilion is a true Brightonian icon, built as a seaside pleasure palace for King George IV in the early 1800s, totally eccentric and a little bit rebellious, but absolutely fabulous!
I do love having fresh flowers at home, but there is something very sculptural and unfussy about dried ones that I almost prefer. Blooms take on a new personality when their leaves and petals are dried and crisped, and the color leached away by the natural process of time. The shapes become cleaner and more apparent, and I love watching the shadows that they cast on the wall.
Living by the sea I often go out foraging along the beach for foliage and bits of driftwood, seaweed, or stones and shells. The subtlety in color of these natural objects makes the textures all the more important. And each item becomes a talisman reminding me of the place and time that I collected it. Tactile objects are important to me in evoking memories and sparking ideas. There’s nothing better than putting on a coat or jacket for the first time in months and thrusting your hand straight into the pocket to find a long forgotten foraged treasure and then turning it over in your hand to remind yourself of where you were when you picked it up.
Books are very important to me. Most of the rooms in my house have shelves groaning under the pressure of volumes of resource books on fashion, art, design, craft and just about everything else in between. I still prefer feeling the weight of the paper, turning the pages in my hand and spending time looking at a printed image than scrolling on a screen. I collect original orange Penguin paperbacks from charity shops and car boots too and love the brittle texture of the yellowed pages and the solid reassurance of page after page of text in understated Gil Sans font.
But there is one humble little book that is possibly my most treasured. It’s an original edition from the 1930s and literally falling apart at the seams now, so much so that I have to keep it wrapped up in a little plastic bag to help prevent further deterioration on my shelves. The Little Book of Embroidery belonged to my Mum when she was a girl, and I love that she has written her name in pencil on the first page as a mark of ownership should it ever be lent out. I remember flicking through its pages when I was little and learning to make and sew for the first time. The voice that it is written in, the illustrations and the projects themselves are just so perfectly “of their time” that looking through its pages is like stepping back into a bygone era.
I think this is a classroom teaching aid from a little series, perhaps from the 1930s or 40s. It’s ink on cloth so the color is really saturated. It was bought for me by my daughter Arabella as a birthday present a few years ago now. She found it in a junk shop in St Leonards on Sea where I actually moved to last year, just a little further east along the south coast from Brighton. I love that it’s crochet of course, but it’s also just a great graphic image. The stark yellow and red on the black background is bold and quite Pop-Arty. In the past year it has provided the perfect zoom backdrop and it’s always a talking point!
I often talk about knitwear as being “soft armor”—warm, reassuring, and a comforting protection against the outside world. But I feel exposed without my jewelry. A colleague once observed that I am “never knowingly under-accessorized,” and this is probably true. It’s certainly not gold and diamonds that I choose to shield myself with, but rather chunky bangles, necklaces and rings made from resin, stone, or horn.
I do think that textiles in particular of all objects seem to hold on to memories and feelings in a rather unique way— made almost tangible in their material fiber. And especially handmade textiles on which you can literally trace the time, energy and skill exerted in every stitch with your fingers. In our very digitized and recently isolated world where even your nearest and dearest are seen only through a screen, the warm, enveloping embrace of a blanket is kindly and soothing.
There’s always a stack of knitted blankets in my cupboard—some knitted by me, some found in charity shops in which the thought of all those creative hours spent making something by a now anonymous hand were impossible to pass up, and some bought for pure delight and inspiration on work trips and travels abroad. This particular blanket is one that I designed for a book New Knits some years ago, but it remains a firm favorite.
Like most crafters I know, I have a stash of yarns, fabrics, buttons and trims, collected, bought, leftover and salvaged, all just waiting for the right project to come along to be remade into something beautiful. The idea of a patchwork blanket to use up those precious scraps is nothing new of course, but this one takes that a step further by incorporating knitted patches too, which have been recycled in their turn by plying ends together to create new yarns.
I like the very personal effect of combining a multitude of patterns and textures in one project to create something very maximalist, but somehow simplified by a reduced monochromatic black & white color palette. I think that’s the Gemini in me, I love both a pared back, neutral minimalist aesthetic but also riots of color and pattern!
closeup of saltation cardigan from texture by erika knight
saltation cardigan from texture by erika knight
All images © Erika Knight / Portrait by Georgina Piper
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