A fair-haired icon in the world of knitting, Debbie Bliss continues to impress us with her down-to-earth signature style. Living a busy life in London, with her husband, two children and a bouncy beagle named Monty, Debbie works mainly in her home-based studio designing classic knitwear with a modern edge, patterns which has been published in more than fifty books. Twice a year, she visits Italy to source out new fibres for her own line of exclusive yarns, and regularly travels to North America to teach workshops and seminars. Just last year, she added Editor in Chief to her long list of accomplishments.
Debbie takes time out from writing and designing for the next issue of her magazine to fill us in on her design background and inspiration.
MM: Hi Debbie, thanks for taking a break from your work to chat. Would you like a cup of tea or coffee?
DB: Tea please!
MM: What a phenomenal journey your career has taken you on, did it all begin right after college with a knitted collection of plants and flowers?
DB: Yes, it really did. I was on a fine art based Fashion and Textiles course, which meant I had great fun making cardboard coats and hats from crisp packets, but when I left art school, I was virtually unemployable! At the time there was a trend for making everyday objects such as a cake or a plate of bacon and eggs out of fabric, rather like the funky knitted pieces you see today. I started to make knitted plants which I was able to sell to stores such as Liberty of London.
DB: Thank you! I think the practical element became important after my first child, Billy. Before then, I would definitely have been just interested in style over comfort but he was a very colicky baby who did not like to be dressed or undressed so I soon learnt that wide necks, button shoulder fastenings and cardigans rather than sweaters were easier to get off and on. As my second child Nell grew older, and I mean three years rather than thirteen, she had very definite ideas about what she wanted to wear and my designs didn’t get a look at anymore.
MM: Looking back on that very first published design, what do you remember about it?
DB: As far as I can remember, my first published designs were in a book called Wild Knitting, in which I contributed a knitted garden- a child’s raincoat knitted out of cling film (saran wrap) wrapped around beads, mad ties, and knitted insects.
MM: Wow, that would be quite a feat, knitting with plastic wrap, but a brilliant idea. The launch of a knitting magazine was also a brilliant idea. Not only does it open doors to a brand new generation of knitters, it also presents a fabulous lifestyle. How did this project come about?
DB: I am a magazine junkie so was very thrilled when Soho Publishing (Vogue Knitting) approached me with the idea of collaborating on one.
MM: In the Spring/Summer issue, you describe being a part of the Vogue Knitting Cruise to Mexico and Belize. What did you enjoy most about your time at sea with a group of knitters?
DB: It was a really enjoyable experience, my husband and daughter came along too, and it was wonderful to catch up with Nicky Epstein and Carla Scott, the other teachers and their families. It was a great chance to meet up with all the knitters and share their enthusiasm for the craft.
MM: Are there any design moments that you look back on now with a smile, and say, “what was I thinking?”
DB: There are so many, its difficult to pinpoint just one! I think proportion is so essential to a style, so it might be that when something comes back from a knitter, I wish I had made it longer, narrower, etc. The knitted fabric can sometimes have a life of its own, and the completed garment can look rather different from the one I had in my head.
MM: Your upcoming Fall/Winter Collection looks especially enticing, with the striking contrast in texture between Glen– a merino/alpaca tweed and Andes– a mulberry silk blended with baby alpaca. Where did the inspiration come from in choosing these new yarns?
DB: Andes, the mulberry silk is just so beautiful that as soon as I saw it I knew I wanted it in my collection. I have always loved this particular blend with the softness of the alpaca combining with the sheen of the silk. I do prefer smooth yarns that show off the stitch as a lot of my work includes stitch texture. I have intended to avoid fancy or multi coloured yarns as they are not compatible with my style of designing. Glen, however, is the perfect compromise, a tweedy style that has subtle tonal shadings in each ball to make the garment shade from dark to light and back again. It makes a really unique fabric. Although its a chunky weight yarn, it is soft and surprisingly lightweight, to make even the most generous jackets and coats really wearable.
MM: What is your idea of a ‘blissful’ Sunday?
DB: Aha, this is an easy one! Sunday morning reading the papers, then a huge traditional Sunday roast with my family and friends around the table, the more the merrier, followed by a light snooze on the sofa with the beagle, waking up in time to watch the original version of Pride and Prejudice on TV.
(images courtesy of Debbie Bliss)