Designing from the influences of the world around her, Erika Knight creates knitted garments full of texture and surprising details. The silhouettes are timeless, but made her own with a touch of asymmetry, an unexpected stitch or a surprising splash of color. Erika keeps pencil and paper nearby to capture snippets of thought that are ultimately translated into soft, natural fiber wearable art with “two sticks and a continuous length of yarn” while she inhabits each moment of the process.
How did you get started designing with knit and crochet? Always an artist, or was there a “moment”?
I can’t say that there was a specific moment, or even a clear path of “how” I got into designing. It was more of an inevitability through what I naturally enjoyed doing. I believe that if you are creative, it will out in one way or another. As a child I always had some kind of craft project on the go, called “Erika’s stuff” at home. It wasn’t until I got to Art School, studying Fine Art, that I realised I wasn’t alone in being “creative”. This was where my people were, people with a shared passion and understanding of art, design, and everything in between.
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So, I’ve always created things, which isn’t so different from designing. What started as customising, upcycling, and knitting sweaters for friends quickly became something more important. It was a launch pad for a career when I was given the opportunity to work for an Italian brand. Massively ignorant, I was very enthusiastic. And so grateful to be working with real visionaries where design is taken seriously as an industry. I learnt a great deal there and I suppose I never looked back!
Where do you find your inspiration for your designs? How does your environment influence your creativity?
I hear this question often, and I am always intrigued to hear the answer from other creatives.
Inspiration is that elusive spark that catalyses an idea into something material. We are all desperate to figure out the formula for the concept, if only it were that simple. Although I have never really struggled with finding inspiration and translating it into a design or collection of designs, I think it’s important to note that it is work and very much a part of the overall process.
I like to start with a clean desk and a blank sheet of paper. But the spark might come from a conversation with a friend or colleague, a photograph seen in a magazine, a yarn fibre that I’m knitting with or a pebble picked up from the beach. I am always an advocate of going for a walk and looking for beauty in the everyday and often-overlooked.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
It’s very hard to analyse your own signature style.
I can only be who I am and do what I do; it always shows, I think, when someone is being inauthentic. I guess I am known for a simple, pared back style, with an attention to finishing details. Modern classics designed to fit and flatter, and often with an asymmetric twist.
Texture is extremely important to me, and whilst knitters might work my designs in other yarns of their choice, I always choose to design and knit with natural and sustainable fibres. I have always loved designers such as Rei Kawakubo of Commes des Garçons and Vivienne Westwood. They have a fundamental understanding of shape and tailoring, and then subvert it a little.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your books, especially your new title, Texture: 20 Timeless Garments Exploring Knit, Yarn, and Stitch?
Really just to enjoy the process.
Knitting, or crafting anything by hand, is not a race to the finish line. The finished product rewards you with a boost of confidence and a sense of achievement. But there’s really no point if you don’t have fun, or experience some joy, or even just a moment of calm along the way.
This doesn’t mean that it is easy. Indeed, learning a new technique, keeping a stitch repeat in your head or following a chart can be a challenge. But this sense of focus on the task and engagement between mind and hands is ultimately most fulfilling.
Making takes time. Crafting is slow. Choose materials that are tactile and comfortable to work with. Allow yourself the space in your day and in your head to be present in the rhythm. In. Over. Under. Off.
How do you make the leap from the idea in your head to the work you create?
Sketching, then swatching with the yarn and experimenting with needle size and stitches to achieve the fabric feel I like.
There are some basic blocks that I usually return to, as I know that the proportions work. But once I have knitted a prototype, I like to put it on a mannequin and refine it from there.
A garment has to work in real life, to accommodate a body and to be seen from all angles. I always consider details such sleeve length, shaping and how the garment is finished; it’s these details that really make a design successful.
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
What I love about handknitting is how low-tech it is. Just two sticks and a continuous length of yarn and that’s all you need to create something to clothe yourself.
So I try to keep things simple with knitting needles, yarn and always paper, pencils and an eraser. The only way to really improve your work is by doing more of it, designing, refining, adapting, learning from mistakes and having another go. Nothing is wasted; if something doesn’t work out cut it up and turn it into something else. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
I’m British so of course I love listening to BBC Radio 4 and love an afternoon radio play.
But in reality, my most creative hours are the ones after everyone else has gone to bed and I am free to work without distraction. And in the wee small hours, it’s a period drama or repeats of classic detective shows that keep me going. That, and copious cups of tea!
I also enjoy listening to podcasts, though I find these are best in earphones when out for a walk; they require a bit more concentration. I like the informality of this media, and the space that it affords people to be more open. They can have interesting conversations without commercial pressure. This is what spurred me on to start the KnightKraft podcast in lockdown last year with my daughter and collaborator, Arabella. It’s just a bit of fun really. It’s a chance for us to share the conversations that we usually have across the studio table. We are working on releasing some more episodes very soon.
How do you stay organized when working with multiple design ideas and processes?
Well, that would all be down to Arabella. She keeps me organised and adhering to deadlines, which is no mean feat! Although I have always worked on multiple projects simultaneously (which is the default position of anyone who works for themselves!) it doesn’t really get any easier; I find the juggle between managing the admin and the creative stuff the hardest part of my job. Fortunately, Arabella is the yin to my yang. We work really well together and achieve far more as a team than I ever could on my own.
When you have time to create for yourself, what kinds of projects do you make?
I think it’s the curse of the creative to never really switch off. I’m always thinking about the next project, the next idea, the next challenge.
When you work for yourself, and from your own home, the work/life divide is pretty blurred. I would love to have more time to create for myself, but somehow work gets in the way. What I have really enjoyed doing recently is attending digital workshops with some of the most inspiring makers. I would never have the time to attend if I had to take a day off and travel somewhere.
Visible mending and darning are my current projects. I love seeing the story of a textile through the little imperfections. It’s that celebration of the patina of time and the handmade that makes handcrafted items so unique.
What is the biggest challenge to being successful in a creative field?
Usually yourself, as creating is very personal, so marketing the product of that as a commodity for others to judge can feel very exposing. But you don’t need to please everyone, and you probably won’t.
The most successful people I know are authentic and confident in themselves and what they do. If you don’t believe in your product then no one else will.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people? Or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I certainly think that some people are naturally creative, but it sometimes takes a long time for them to find a medium to channel that energy into; standard education doesn’t always accommodate creative thinkers. I really believe that everyone should learn some basic skills of art, craft and design as it’s about problem solving, thinking differently and giving yourself permission to play.
Creativity should be accessible to everyone. With so many of us overwhelmed by the speed of modern life and the reliance on digital media, having the skills to free your mind and make something by hand is more important than ever.
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
The way that I work has evolved, especially in the last year. So my current website is a platform to share my latest projects and some of the beautiful images that I have been fortunate to create along with some truly talented people. For more up to date news, I love the immediacy of Instagram, so you can usually find me there. I love seeing what people have made from the book and am always in awe of how other knitters interpret my designs and make them their own.
@knightkraft (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter)
Interview posted March, 2021
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