At Woolyknit, we love to see your amazing yarn creations on social media, and each month we like to get to know a maker and celebrate their amazing talent. This week we chatted with the incredibly talented Hannah Stote about all things machine knitting and garment designing.
Hannah’s creative process is so inspiring and it was a treat to hear about how she goes from a small piece of inspiration to a final collection of garments. She told us all about her project based on fisherman’s ganseys and how they inspired the textures and shapes of her beautiful collection, A Siren’s Call.
We also talked about Hannah’s top tips for machine knitters, her thoughts on sustainability in fashion, and what she likes to listen to whilst she works.
If you love Hannah’s designs as much as we do, make sure you check out her Instagram to keep up to date with her work – @HannahStoteKnitwear.
This interview is one to sink your teeth into, so grab yourself a cup of tea and scroll down to find the full interview!
Tell us a bit about yourself and how YOU GOT INTO MACHINE KNITTING
I’m originally from Dorset, but have just moved down to Cornwall for my first graduate job. I was always arty at school and knew I wanted to do something to do with fashion, but never really knew exactly what that would be. I went to Arts University Bournemouth for my foundation course, and by pure chance, got to try out a knitting machine when there was a free space on an induction meant for textiles students. The session was only a few hours long but I was instantly in love and ended up knitting a sort-of jumper for my final major project.
Fast forward a few years to my degree at Bath Spa University – and as much as I enjoyed the course, I really missed knitting. There was something so fascinating about physically making the fabric before turning it into a garment, which working with pre-made fabrics just didn’t give me. My course was very small and didn’t offer specialisms in the way larger courses might, so I found an intensive machine knitting course in Brighton to do between my second and third year. It was only a month long but I felt like I was living the dream – I would knit all day, learning as many techniques as I could, then go home and pour over knitwear books, trying to understand all the complex terms and abbreviations.
From there I pretty much threw myself into it, spending hours at the machine to figure out what I could do with it. It was a little daunting to embark on something for my final collection that neither me nor my tutors had much prior knowledge off, but I can be a little stubborn when I have my heart set on something, so I think blind confidence spurred me on. I find it very funny to look back and remember how at the start of my third year I only intended to make two or three knitted garments, but I ended up making ten!
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST KNITTING PROJECT AND WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FAVOURITE PROJECT?
My first ever knitting project was a jumper I made at the end of my intensive course. I really wanted to know how to draft a knitting pattern and knit it fully fashioned, as I knew I’d need that for my final year. I struggled at first with the mathematics and stitch decreases/increases, as maths has never been my strong point, but my pattern drafting knowledge helped to fill in some of the gaps. The jumper isn’t perfect and there’s lots of things I wouldn’t do now if I made it again, but it’s a symbol of the start of my machine knitting journey, so I’ll never unravel it.
It’s really difficult to pick a favourite project, but I think professionally it has to be the cable coat from my graduate collection, because that also symbolises a huge part of my development as a machine knitter. My collection only started to come together once I started toiling it, which was about three to four months into the whole process, and I at first really struggled to take the techniques I had learnt and turn them into a garment. I wanted there to be a ‘couture bride’ element to the final look of my collection so I decided to use every technique I’d used in the collection up to that point. It was a technical and logistical puzzle (I needed an excel sheet to tell me when to cross cables and plaits!), but the result still makes me smile when I look at it. I haven’t made many things for myself, so I don’t really have a favorite to pick there!
DESCRIBE YOUR DESIGNS IN 3 WORDS
Textured, colourful and inventive
WHAT ARE YOUR ESSENTIAL MACHINE KNITTING TOOLS?
I would be lost without my latch tool – the amount of times I’ve saved a garment or swatch by latching up stitches is more than I’d like to admit! Apart from that, it’s probably the transfer tools, as simple as they are, as they just have so many uses.
Having a proper set up is really important to me too – it doesn’t have to be fancy, but a space that’s tidy and quiet with my yarns at close reach is essential so that I can focus. I never liked the idea of proper machine knitting tables – they always seemed so flimsy to me – so I bought a table from IKEA with a storage shelf underneath. (I think was it originally intended as a sideboard in a kitchen) Wherever I’ve set up my machine, it’s always been on this table and it always makes me feel like I’m in a comfortable studio space when I work.
WHAT IS YOUR BEST MACHINE KNITTING TOP TIP?
I’ve been focusing alot lately on making my trims really neat, especially necklines, and I’ve found that dividing the stitches into groups as you re-hang them is the only way to keep them evenly tensioned. I always hang the edge and middle sts first, then starting on one side, hang the middle stitches of that section, then the middle stitches of those sections and so on until all the stitches have been hooked up. I was taught to just start on one end and work across, but that always seems to end up with stretched stitches or too many stitches and not enough needles. It’s simple and logical, but works really well every time.
My top tip in terms of making and developing samples is just to experiment and try out every single idea you have, as you never know what you’ll end up with. Alot of my practice this year hasn’t actually involved making garments, but picking a technique at random and pushing it as far as I can go. By forgetting of the idea that you have to make a perfect sample everytime you cast on, you can stumble upon some really excellent and exciting textures that’ll keep inspiring more and more samples.
WHERE DO YOU FIND YOUR INSPIRATION AND WHAT IS YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS?
I think my inspiration depends on what I’m intending to make – for my graduate collection I knew I needed something that could sustain me and my work for months and continue to inspire me endlessly, so once I discovered fisherman’s ganseys I instantly ran with that idea. Sometimes it can be as simple as wanting a garment in a particular colour or with a particular sleeve detail.
Since learning how to use a ribber attachment in September last year, I’ve been really focused on learning every technique I can on it, which will often lead to tangents that I explore for a few weeks before moving on. I used to feel that every single sample I made had to become a garment or accessory, but I’ve learnt to appreciate samples for what they are and simply enjoy looking at them – if I do really love a particular one it’ll float around in my head for a bit before I’ll finally get round to drafting a pattern for it.
My creative process always begins with sampling – it took me a while to understand that with knitwear you don’t design a sample for a garment, you have to design a garment around a particular sample, a mindset I found difficult having always worked with woven fabrics before my final year. If I’m focusing on colour I’ll spend a while messing about with colours, posing different cones next to each other so I can see how they’ll work together, but most of the time I start with an ecru or off-white yarn, as the thing I love developing most is texture.
Then I’ll make lots of small samples, each time changing the process a little bit to see how that affects the knit – maybe I’ll change the yarn or loosen the tension or double the length of a repeat. Once I feel I’ve exhausted all possibilities, I’ll make a few large samples of my favourite ones and from there possibly develop a garment idea. It’s a detailed process and, dependent on the technique, can take a bit of time but much more fun that just copying straight from a book!
COULD YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR ‘A SIREN’S CALL’ PROJECT?
A Siren’s Call was my graduate collection and was the first time I took something from a sample to finished garment. I’d done a little research on the history of knitwear during my intensive machine knitting course and come across the stories of fisherman’s ganseys, where the folklore was that drowned fishermen could be identified by the patterns on their jumpers, as each village had their own patterns and stitches. There’s alot of debate about whether this was actually true, but I loved the concept of a hard-wearing and functional garment also having such emotional depth too. Using a book I found detailing gansey patterns, I began to explore the different stitches used in each jumper, translating this into samples on my machine. Whilst searching through images of 18th century fishermen, I was also inspired by other elements of their lives – fishing nets inspired lace patterns and lobster pots were mirrored in knitweave textures. Even an image of a tattered, hole-ridden gansey prompted an exploration into the nature of repairing and patching knits.
I’ve always thought sustainably with my work and I knew I wanted my collection to be as environmentally conscious as possible. I believe natural fibres are always better than synthetic ones – both for wearing and creating with – so I sourced only 100% pure wool spun in British mills, with about 70% of those fibres coming from British sheep. With inspiration so integral to the north east of England, it felt vital to me that those values were reflected in my material choice. I also made a great effort to fully fashion and shape all my peices so that they could be zero waste and able to be unravelled, something which would extend the lifecycle of my yarns beyond my creations.
WHAT DO YOU WATCH/LISTEN TO WHILE YOU WORK?
Recently I’ve been listening to alot of instrumental music, like the Emma soundtrack or Vitamin String Quartet’s songs featured on Brigerton – if I’m doing any sort of shaping I’ve learnt I can’t really watch anything, as I’ll often lose my place in the pattern or forget any decreases/increases. There’s something about the lack of lyrics and the flow of the music that really helps me to think freely when I work, especially when I’m experimenting and don’t really have a plan for a sample. I did listen to the whole Harry Potter audiobook series whilst I was knitting my final collection too and found that focused my attention really well when I was crossing endless cables and plaits!
WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO WHEN YOU’RE NOT KNITTING?
I love hiking and take as many opportunities as I can to get out into the fresh air and clear my head. I’ve resolved so many creative blocks by going out for a walk! I find the colours and textures of nature so inspiring too, so my phone is full of random photos that could one day inspire a colour palette or a texture.
I’m a big fan of science fiction, so I’ll probably be reading or watching sci fi when I’m not knitting too. Growing up my favourite TV show was Doctor Who and I’ve always had a secret desire to create a series of designs inspired by all the different aliens and costumes featured on there – I almost started my final collection with this idea but was persuaded against it, turns out I’m the only one interested in a Dalek-themed jumper!