Introducing Jane Ellison, Hand Knit Designer
(Here are the short answers)
What do you do?
I love designing simple and easy to knit patterns.
Simple and easy to knit patterns create a feeling of joy, a sense of achievement and of calm. And, at the end of all this relaxation, you have something to keep: an accessory to keep your hands warm or a jumper that, as my niece once said, feels like wearing a hug.
I enjoy sharing this sense of joy. People might look at a pattern and say it is too complicated but with my help it doesn’t have to be. There isn’t a quick answer when knitting as there are so many answers to the question: what yarn can I use? But with the right advice and help it’s very rewarding.
What does being a hand knit designer involve?
My design technique is to knit with the yarn first, to get a feel for it, to understand what it can and can’t do. To make a pattern easy means working with the yarn and not forcing it to be something it isn’t. Then I let it tell me what it wants to be and design from here. Sometimes it comes easily, sometimes it takes a few swatches. Sometimes I leave it and think about it for a while and sometimes what I feel might work in my head, doesn’t in real life, and just needs a tweak here or there.
Sometimes I have the idea for a garment design comes first, then I just need to match up the right yarn for this design.
I knit (and now crochet) every day – whether it’s swatches, or garments, or accessories or sewing up garments – as I have so many ideas in my head. I use different yarns but always natural fibres. Natural fibres work with you, help you even out stitches and glide through your fingers.
What do you love about being a designer?
I think it is amazing that two simple stitches – knit and purl – are all you need to know to create an infinite amount of stitch patterns. I love playing around with these stitches to see how different fibres create different effects. I love that creativity.
In the past I haven’t know the answer to the question: ‘Why do you love it so much?’. ‘I just do!’ has always been my answer. I grew up in Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire (a place that made it’s wealth from wool in the 17th century) and always thought it was funny that my grandparents were both born in a place far, far away with the same name – Bradford. By the time I knew them they were living in Cornwall. But since my mother has looked into our family history, I feel the answer is it’s in my blood! My grandfather worked as a wool stapler and buyer for my great grandfather, who worked as an apprentice at Salt Mills and later had his own wool mill making worsted fabric. And this line of my family had a huge history of working in the woollen mills of West Yorkshire right back as far as records go.
(And here is the long answer!)
How Jane weaves her magic
Jane Ellison is a British hand-knit designer, who works from her design studion in Skipton, with a passion and talent for creating beautiful things that she is dying to share. She has produced more than 70 pattern books about knitting which have won her quite a reputation across the world.
Jane first fell under knitting’s magical spell when she was just seven and knitted a scarf for a beloved toy. She learned her creative flair from her grandmother who tinkered with knitting patterns to produce unique garments for Jane. She followed her heart and studied fashion and knitwear at Ravensbourne College of Design in Kent.
After college, Jane worked for a company which mass-produced garments in China. Looking back, she says: “I didn’t agree with it. What I designed was made by people working in poor conditions who were paid a pittance. It had such an effect on me. I now only work with top quality material that I know has been fairly produced – you know what you’re going to produce will be special and makes a difference to so many lives. That should double the pride you take in your creations!”
Before becoming a freelance designer, Jane gained experience in retail at John Lewis Oxford Street, London as a design consultant for Rowan Yarns, as assistant to designer Debbie Bliss and as Sales and Marketing manager for Designer Yarns.
She has created pattern books for over seven brands including Noro, Araucania and Mirasol which uses sources such as llama and silk to help support and educate the families of shepherds in Peru.
She says: “I think what makes good quality yarn even more special is that I’ve seen first-hand how big companies can exploit their workers so knitting your own garments and using yarn that you know is responsibly sourced is so much more satisfying. Not only are you treating yourself to a bit of luxury, but you’re doing your bit to support small, eco-friendly companies. I believe that helps to gives your garments real soul.”
Jane lives in the beautiful county of Yorkshire and is the proud owner of Purl & Jane Knitting Emporium, situated in the bustling market town of Skipton. Her shop is a haven of natural yarns, knitting accessories and designs backed by the philosophy that knitting is about the journey so using a soft, top-quality, beautifully-coloured yarn will make all the difference to the final creation. Her retail experience is influencing her designs as every day she sees first hand what customers are really looking for.
Jane’s emphasis is now on supporting eco-friendly, small-production companies who produce 100 per cent natural fibres and treat their workers well. That way she, and her customers, can make beautiful creations with beautiful origins. But she underlines that the most important thing is to have fun. She said: “The focus of knitting shouldn’t be about the end product but about the journey, starting with the choice of yarn. No one knows your wardrobe like you do so play about with colours and lengths. Be bespoke – make your perfect garment. By using 100% natural fibres you can produce something you can really be proud of, from chunky patterns to delicate fairy-like weaves.”