Kate Jones Knitwear – A Passion for Knitting

‘I’ve always wanted to do knitting – which sounds really sad!’ Kate Jones confessed to Craft Editions when she kindly invited us into her Margate studio. The move out of London to the Kent coast has been a big influence on her work and she has begun creating beautiful homewares inspired by the sea and her walks on the beach.

Knitting is central to Kate’s life. From an early age she was surrounded by yarn because her mum loved to make things; knitting, spinning and weaving by hand, as well as making her own vegetable dyes. Kate had learned to knit by the age of 12 and says she was ‘on a mission’ to do knitwear. She even pursued a 4-year degree in knitting at Trent Poly – the only place that offered it at the time. Afterwards she went to work for a French hand-knit company Pingouin in Soho where her official job title was Technical Advisor. Her role was to help ‘irate women (who complained) when the patterns had been translated badly from the French’ she laughs. She stayed there a couple of years but left to set up her own company.

Kate Jones Knitwear has evolved over time. She made her name creating knitted fashion collections and bespoke clothes. Her flattering designs had a vintage element to them and she has often taken inspiration from Art Deco and the Bauhaus. As the business grew in success Kate no longer had time to hand knit all the items herself, so after creating the designs she outsourced the knitting to women in Wales. Whilst the quality was impeccable she found that there was considerable variation in the sizing and the tension. For this reason she switched to using domestic knitting machines in order to get the consistency she wanted.

From the early 90s Kate’s fashion business was based in workshops in Clerkenwell and at Craft Central - where Craft Editions initially spotted her stunning cushions. Since moving to Margate nearly 5 years ago she has been gradually moving her studio there too and with that has been a gentle shift in her work from clothes into accessories and now homewares.

Kate feels that the Kent coast itself has encouraged her to introduce far more natural textures into her work. Like many artists and makers she is inspired by the different colours of the sea, the light, the sky and the various things that get washed up on the beach: ‘seaweed, stones, anything!’ By focusing on making cushions rather than clothing Kate has found it liberating to get away from the form of the body; always needing to give a design neck and arm holes and be flattering. Instead, she is able to get back to the knitting and once again explore creating and placing the pattern within a square. The result? Beautiful cushions with patterns that reflect the landscape surrounding her - such as the wonderful ripple effect left by the tide going out, with its sense of movement and flow.

In a similar vein, whilst her womenswear was predominantly knitted from cashmere, she is now enjoying using yarns from the UK and Ireland, especially lambswool and keeping everything as natural as possible. Kate’s recent discovery of Donegal yarn has led to her developing designs that bring out the character of the yarn itself and finding stitches to complement and show it to its best. Some of the cushions have soft tufted edges whilst others have rough twists of yarn that are painstakingly pulled through the cloth creating an intricately detailed effect. ‘I’m a perfectionist, I like it being fiddly and I’ve always loved small details, it’s my downfall!’

Whilst we were chatting, Kate showed Craft Editions how to thread up a knitting machine. She owns 4 domestic machines that were originally made in the 70s and 80s; they all look basic and unassuming but are so much more flexible to use than bigger industrial machines. The initial threading process requires a lot of focus, ‘you have to have your wits about you; it’s not relaxing like hand knitting. If you forget to do one thing it can all go wrong!’ Once the threading is complete and the knitting has begun, Kate says the machines allow her to manipulate the tension, the designs and the details so she can have ideas and make them real while she’s physically doing it. The creative process happens not just beforehand in the design, but in the making itself, it can be very spontaneous and unexpected.

There is a real buzz around Margate and it is full of artists and makers of all ages and disciplines. The new Turner gallery has brought recognition of Margate’s artistic heritage and there are many interesting, independent shops. It is the perfect environment for Kate who feels she is still refining her product, because it’s a great testing ground for her cushions and home wares. It’s much easier for her to exchange ideas and build relationships with the owners of small, interiors shops whose taste and style reflects their own personality, than with the big stores.

Kate has been knitting since she was 12, yet the way she has reinvented her craft means that over time her knowledge has deepened and her enthusiasm has only grown. ‘The moment I started doing cushions I just got so excited!’ she tells Craft Editions, with a passion that is contagious.

Find out more about Kate Jones here.

All images by Craft Editions.