This week I interviewed Vicky from Twisted Angle - an online magazine bringing fashion trends to knitting needles. I'm very excited to be helping Vicky with a little bit of knitting for her next Trends e-book, and I thought it would be a great chance to share a bit more about what she does.
Tell us a bit about your magazine, Twisted Angle - who is it for?
Well we started as a printed magazine in 2009. I really wanted to inject some current knits and some fashion into knitting. My job as a retail fashion designer means I do this all day every day, but I wanted everyone to have access to the information I design with and patterns that have more of a fashion based edge.
In 2010, our yearly members survey suggested we go online. It was a very easy transition and made subscription really affordable for people as we didn’t have the overheads of print. It also meant I could concentrate more on current information as there wasn’t the problem of print deadlines for production. At the same time I really wanted to concentrate on trend information and dissecting trends and catwalks for those who love to design their own knits.
I think a lot of people assume that Twisted is just for young trendy knitters, but we have all types and ages of members. Some knitters look at the trend information for their own design work and others just want the patterns. We do have a lot of students also, as buying accurate industry trend information can cost upwards of £35,000 a year. The really affordable nature of the site makes it amazing value for their courses.
I really don’t want people to think that it’s a fashion brand or website. That ‘f’ word can have a negative effect sometimes and people assume it means the extreme over the top designs. Really it’s just taking an element or detail from a trend and incorporating it. I like to make patterns for any age, that wants a bit of an edge. Something trend based but not so over the top that you could never wear it.
What's your background and how did this enable you to start Twisted Angle?
The company itself was a long time in development and was a passing thought when I was at uni. I was studying fashion with a knitwear specialism at the London College of Fashion. During the course you learn how to machine knit as, of course, in the world of retail knits everything is made on industrial machines. So you need to know their capabilities. But I was 19 or 20 then and I wanted to find patterns that were fashion based. Of course, the internet was not what it is today. We’re talking 13 years ago and there wasn’t much on the web back then, but I really couldn’t find any patterns I wanted to wear. After 10 years, I thought about it again and still couldn’t find what I was looking for, so Twisted was born.
In terms of my skills, I think people assume that fashion designers just draw and make. In the retail world it’s more 80% trend prediction and 20% design and production. I design on computer and have to know what a garment will look like just from a swatch. Retail designers don’t actually knit for our jobs, but we have to be highly technical with the yarn properties and machines.
Luckily for my job, I always had a knack for trend prediction and after working for 11 years full time and 4 years part time, predicting trends for retail, I think that skill is very well tuned. That is the part that makes Twisted Angle work. It’s the point of difference. The part that I can offer, that no one else can or currently does.
Strangely, my retail experience was also detrimental. I remember writing my first pattern and I had some lovely people write to me telling me, very politely, that all my terms and spellings were wrong. It wasn’t until I consulted a friend of mine who was also a retail designer and hobby knitter, that knitting patterns had completely different terminology. That was a steep learning curve, but a fascinating one. But I suppose I’ll never stop learning. It’s the nature of any craft.
A lot of your patterns cater for machine knitting - is this your preferred method?
Well by nature of my uni course I can use domestics and a range of industrial machines but actually the patterns are fairly evenly split between hand and machine. I’m definitely more comfortable on a machine but I think my preferred method is really down to what I’m trying to produce. Naturally the machine is better for some items over hand knitting and visa versa.
I think I’m more confident taking about the technical aspects of the machine but I do love hand knitting too. I just have to look up the ‘official terms’ sometimes for hand stitches. It’s great though, I’m learning new things all the time and it really engages me.
You have a real focus on fashion-forward designs - did you see a gap in the market for the knitting community?
Oh that’s a great question. I didn’t actually start TA to make money or make it a business. It has always been a non-profit with everything going back into the business to make it better. The main idea was a very simple one, in that I just wanted to provide the same ideas and information I used for my ‘day job’ to those who wanted it and had no access to it.
There is definitely a gap in the market so to speak, but it’s a small one. I find that a lot of knitters love different aspects of it. Some knit for friends, others like the technical aspect of it and others just like the process of making something. The most surprising aspect of it for me was that it wasn’t always about the end result for everyone. In my retail job of course, that is all it’s about. People buy items they like aesthetically. The fashion part really only applies to a smaller community, but if that community is happy with what I’m giving them, then I’m happy to provide it.
I suppose as well, I’m not as integrated into the ‘knit community’ as some other pattern designers are. I come from the purely fashion side of the tracks, even though I’m a knitter. It makes a huge difference in just getting your name circulating. But the TA community is growing, slowly but surely and I love seeing what my fashionknitsters are trying with knits and fashion. They really are great people and very passionate which I love.
What do you look for when predicting knitting trends? It must be hard to find a balance between craft, which is a slow movement, and fashion, which is constantly changing.
Well interestingly enough, knit specific trend prediction is a lot slower than general fashion trends. It’s mainly to do with yarn production and the process of creating garments, but with online retail it’s had to radically speed up. I approach my TA patterns like I would if i was designing for Topshop or H&M. I take a trend and look at how to make a knit garment incorporate into it. The focus is always around the trend prediction first. Looking at what they are, the details and fabrics as well as colours and then working through shape and stitches till I produce something that works aesthetically.
I find the most difficult thing in working between the two worlds is yarn colour. Yarn retailers are of course, stocking yarns that are current now, but I’m working between 6-12 months in advance and sometimes the yarn colours and textures are just not available. For example, SS13 this year, I had some great deigns based around tape yarn, but back in October it wasn’t available. Eventually I had to drop the designs because I really could find a good substitute. I do have the option of course of knitting with yarn from my industrial contacts, but when I post a pattern, no one would be able to buy it anywhere, so it can be tricky. It just means I have to be creative in my yarn choice and maybe adapt the design. I do love a challenge.
What's your design process for your patterns?
Well as I’ve said the trends are the most important. I spend a lot of time going through industrial information and attending trend trade shows in Europe. I also really love this part, finding the correct colour combinations, shapes and texture. At this point though it is purely about the theme itself, there’s no preconceived ideas for garments. I find that designs can become a bit stale if I try and do both together. Then next come catwalks. If I can attend any of the shows I do try to get there but it’s mainly about going through as many shows and pictures as possible. Then it’s interpreting the designs which can be a little tricky as the catwalk shows are sometimes styled in such a way that you miss the garments. So I spend a good 2 months going through garments and design based elements. All designers have their own method, but I just pull out designs that really catch my eye immediately for whatever reason, as inspiration.
The last part which I tend to do fairly quickly is the pattern itself. Because of my retail job, I can tell pretty quickly if an idea will work in a particular yarn texture or colour without a lot, if any, sampling. My main focus is the design, shape and texture here though. I have to get the idea of what I want to achieve before I decide how to make it knit. But this is why knit is so fantastic. You can make anything work as long as you have the right yarn, stitch and texture. Nothing is impossible.
What can knitters be looking out for over the next season? Chunky knits? Cables? Something completely different?
It’s funny, but there are always things that repeat every year regardless. Cables tend to appear somewhere every winter so that’s a great place to start for anyone new to trends. Some 40’s inspired knits were in most themes this year too. So a great vintage jumper or cardi in a grey or rich vintage red will be a key essential regardless of the trend. AW13 will be interesting though. There are some really collective trends coming through which basically means that anything goes and it’s more about the combination of garments, stitches and colours, rather than one particular piece. I’ll definitely be focusing on really simple knits with menswear inspired shapes for a very masculine, but vintage theme. There’s also a very gothic theme that was all over the catwalks, so blacks and really deep purples, blues and reds are great colours for this mixed with some lacy effects, shiny textures and areas of translucent panels with opaque. In terms of specifics, big pussy bows on the neckline and volume sleeves are great little details to look out for in tops.
If anyone is new to trends though I would definitely suggest finding things you love because many garments can be accessorised to fit any trend. It’s amazing how the right necklace or shoe can change the look of something instantly.
What are your favourite tools of the trade?
Oooooh well my trade is at a computer for a majority of the day so I really can't do without Adobe Illustrator, my graphics tablet and pen, but in terms of knitting a friend just got me into Designaknit which is a knitwear programme. It’s fab, but I really haven’t had the time to explore all the benefits properly yet. Of course my machine is essential and some great knitting needles but my favourites are a set that was given to me as a a gift, from Knit Pro and I’m doing a lot of colour work at the moment so my yarn bobbins are a really big help.
And favourite fibre to work with?
Well it’s controversial on the hand feel front, but I do love a bit of Mohair. As well, coming from retail I’m not overly precious about the fibre content of yarn, but more about the hand feel. If it feels soft on my skin, then it’s mine!
What do you hope to achieve with Twisted Angle in the next year?
As well as the trend information and patterns there are going to be some exciting things coming up. We do a customer and member survey every October, just to see what improvements can be made and as a result, in July we are making the site free to use. The patterns will be shop based, but I want to get the trend information out to more people so it will become a free site to join. There will also be some great benefits to those who join the site in the ‘Shhhhhh’ program (also free), but that will all be revealed at a later date.
As you know of course we have the second book coming out in our Trends series, which this year will be based around florals. The book though is always secondary to the little community it creates. It’s the opportunity to really get to know more of my followers and volunteers much better, like yourself and of course businesses that they have and the other crafts they practise. So the community is definitely a real highlight. This year we’ve made some improvements to last year’s book and as a little exclusive, I can reveal that we’ve just had our first yarn sponsor, Stylecraft sign up to support it, which is really exciting. The book itself will be out in late August.
I’ll also being doing some trend seminars in July as well as a course on how to spot trends through a company called The Old School Club in Clapham, south London so if anyone is around, I’d love for them to pop in and say hi.
After that I’ll be concentrating on SS14 so it will be a busy year, but a really rewarding one.