Wednesday, 28 March 2012

a conversation with Patricia Roberts.........

I first met Patricia Roberts in person a couple of years ago, when I approached her about the possibility of her leading a knitting workshop for Les Soeurs Anglaises, but I have been visiting her wonderful shop in Kinnerton Street, London for many years and known her by reputation for far, far longer.  In fact, I can honestly say that Patricia and her designs were responsible for my taking up needles to attempt something a little more serious and fashionable than the ubiquitous stripy scarves I had been making for long-suffering relatives for years.  Complicated some of of her designs may be, but worth the effort, always.

So I thought it about time to find out a little more about her personal stitching history, and I'm sure you will find it as intriguing as I did.

What is your first memory of knitting?  Do you remember the first item you knitted and do you still have it?

My very first memory of knitting was from when I was about 5 years old and my mother knitted me a red scarf to prove to my father that she could knit. I had to wear it to school and I was so embarrassed, because of all the dropped stitches.

My mother disliked anything homemade, because  as a girl she had always had home made clothes and longed for shop bought ones. I don’t think my mother ever knitted again after the red scarf, and my father’s teasing.  So it was my grandmother, who was a good craftswoman, who taught me to knit, when I was six.  Most of my friends had small rosebud dolls, which their mothers had knitted clothes for from “Women’s Weekly” patterns. My mother bought me the doll, but as I didn’t have the patterns, I made up my own, the first item being a fully fashioned (I was obsessed with increasing and decreasing) little dress in fine yellow wool with blue spots on it.  I don’t know what happened to it, but I was very proud of it at the time. I have continued to be obsessed with shape in conjunction  with stitch craft.

From where do you get your inspiration?

Inspiration can come from anywhere and anything and often an amalgam of different inspirations uniting to become something, which has very little relationship with the original. For instance one of my designs was an amalgam of  Fuzzypeg’s  coat from the “Little Grey Rabbit” books combined with a quilted cup and saucer. 

                                          Fuzzypeg's coat           A Patricia Roberts' pullover

How long is the process from first idea to finished item?

The length of time depends on how complicated the design is. For instance if a design has a particularly large complicated chart, the chart alone will take ages to complete and developing the stitches can be a slow process.

How do you arrive at the final design of an item?

The designs evolve as I work on them, particularly the stitches. I do a sketch of the shape of the garment and a rough idea of the stitches, then work on a stitch block, working the stitches out on graph paper and at the same time knitting, unraveling and reknitting until it is correct. The shape of the garment is particularly important and I work out the best use of the stitches within its dimensions.

Patricia Roberts' designs

Which fashion designers were you most influenced by when you first started?

A french designer called Lil, whose designs “Lil pour l’Autre”   machine knits were so cleverly shaped.  In the late 60’s and early 70’s they also had their own brand of luxury hand knitting yarns.


Lil pour l'Autre designs circa 1970

At what stage did you consider yourself a “professional knitwear designer”?

When I first saw one of my designs in a magazine. It was a yellow cabled sweater in “Honey” magazine.

Which current designer’s work are you most excited by?

I have the greatest regard for John Galliano’s work. It is often so cleverly executed. It is such a pity about his drunken comments.

John Galliano for Vogue

In which direction do you see hand-knitting going?

Currently the style is leaning towards the retro, always good for hand knits.

Original 1950 and 1960 knitting patterns

What one item/piece of equipment/skill (other than needles and yarn)  do you think is essential for the successful knitter?

A tape measure.

What is it you enjoy about teaching knitting?

Last year we had such an enthusiastic group of participants. Each had brought along a garment that they had knitted previously, which made a good talking point. Everyone was set the same brief and it was interesting to see how they all came up with something different.

Patricia's Knitting Workshop, Les Soeurs Anglaises, 2011

What are you looking forward to during your visit to Les Soeurs Anglaises?

Beautiful surroundings, the food, the visit to the secret brocante, the musical evening; it was all such fun.

A bowl of pasta on the last evening

Thank you Patricia and we look forward to seeing you at the end of May.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Women at Work

One of the really rewarding, long-term results for Les Soeurs Anglaises is the new friendships that participants develop during their stay with us and which endure long after their departure. We are always delighted when individuals have enjoyed their break with us so much that they return to repeat a workshop or try a new one, but there is something particularly gratifying when a few movers and shakers put together their own community blog to keep in touch and keep up the inspiration.  


The Pantry Violets  is just such a case;  the blog was set up three years ago by some 10 of these women and it now has a quickly growing group of followers, many of whom have been introduced via the Les Soeurs Anglaises' network, by a friend or colleague who may have been on one of our workshops, or serendipitously arrived at the site through a link and simply decided they would like to join this hugely creative (and entertaining) "community" from all over the world and all walks of life; from housewives in Sidney to judges in Seattle,  food store owners in Washington to illustrators in Stockholm, GP's in Durham to professional ballet dancers in Korea.  

The latest project organized by the Pantry Violets is called the inchies. Those volunteers  involved each decorate (knit, sew, weave etc.) a set of identical 1" linen squares to match the number of participants;  one is then sent out to every other member of the inchies, who then can sew them together to produce a blanket or textile picture or whatever inspires them.   Nobody sees what anyone else is doing until they arrive on their doorstep and the results are always unexpected and  always beautiful.

Being unable to say no to a creative challenge we  joined in the latest fun and now, six months later, anticipate with pleasure what might be delivered in the post every day.  Here are just three of the inches that have already reached us.

And once they have all been collected, the next creative challenge will be how to put them all together.  Who says the life of the needlewoman is easy? 

Speaking of needlewomen, do you have a sublime piece of needlework that an ancestor of yours made?  If so, do email us a photograph of it and your name will be entered into our COMPETITION for a free place on one of our 2012 workshops! (travel not included)

Pictures need to be with us before Easter, 6th April 2012 and the prize place will depend upon availability on the workshops.  We would also like permission to publish the photograph on this blog.