My story........Kate Box Knitwear

I’m always fascinated to learn more about the amazing small business owners that I meet - to find out more about their personal stories and how they came to be doing what they do now. So, this week I thought it would be fun to kick-off my weekly seasonal blog with sharing a little bit about myself and my career path.

IMG_0231.JPG

 

I always knew I wanted to go to art college and started with a foundation course at Winchester to try out lots of different art and design disciplines. Textiles just clicked for me. I went on from Winchester to Chelsea college of Art where I did a degree in Textile design and then finally did an MA in Knitwear at the Royal College of Art.

 

My final collection at the Royal College of Art was spotted by the designers from Ghost and I was offered a 3-month placement with them over the summer. It was very creative and I worked on some one-off pieces for their catwalk show which was exciting. After my placement had ended there I took a job as a design assistant at Pringle which was very different, as you would imagine working in a large corporation to be. Designing was all about sales figures and what would be most commercial, I absolutely hated it but with hindsight I can see the benefit of gaining that experience. I was only there for a year when I got the job as design assistant to Orla Kiely which was a dream position. It was a hugely creative company that put emphasis on good design. The design team were well supported and looked after and Orla was/is an incredible designer.

 

After I had my daughter we knew that we wanted to move out of London and with that meant leaving my job at Orla Kiely. Moving to Hampshire was a new start and I accepted that that would mean moving my career in a different direction.

 

It wasn’t really a conscious decision to set up a business designing knitwear. I just sort of fell upon it by making things for friends and then finding a shop in my local town that would stock a few things that I was making. When I look back, the products to begin with were very hit and miss but things slowly evolved and I hope they keep evolving.

9C51159C-9051-4BC0-80E0-D0EA56554634.JPG

 

I like to walk or cycle my children to school- I enjoy getting out for some fresh air before I start working. When I get home, I make a coffee and then normally tackle any emails that need doing as I’m much better at computer/written work first thing in the morning. I’ll start knitting on the machine around 10 and tune into Woman’s Hour. After that I’ve been known to knit and watch any type of gardening programme I can, Monty Don presenting if possible! At 3pm, I down tools and resume my other role as mum, collect children from school and normally offer a taxi service to football or Brownies. Once everyone has been fed, washed and put to bed the work will sometimes resume. I’m not one for working too late though as I really like my sleep!

 

I find colour and design quite intuitive, everything influences it subconsciously- exhibitions, seasons, films, etc. I’m not sure I could pin point one thing that is a big influence. I really enjoyed the Vanessa Bell exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery this year.

 

My favourite part of running my own business is definitely the flexibility around the children coupled with being my own boss. My least favourite is that it’s very difficult to turn off – it’s like having a third child that I’m always thinking about!

 

The best piece of business advice that I’ve been given? It’s better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing flawlessly – Robert Schuller. I have to constantly remind myself of this quote!

 

If you haven’t entered already, at the moment I’m running a competition on Facebook to win a pair of wristwarmers - follow the link to be in with a chance! 

 https://www.facebook.com/KateBoxKnit/posts/1499580833463429:0

New Season launch........

I’m pleased to announce that my new 2017-18 Autumn/Winter range has launched!

A new collection of Kate Box Knit original designs – each piece hand-crafted by me in my home studio. 

FullSizeRender.jpg

The new collection

With a chill in the air and the colours and hues of autumn truly upon us, it’s time to put on an extra layer!  This Season’s collection was designed to draw upon customer favourites from last year, whilst introducing some new products too.

One of my favourites for this season is the Kate Box Knit ‘loop scarf’ which can be worn in several ways (there will be a future ‘how to wear’ blog post on this so stay tuned).  The loop scarf is also a lovely piece to add to an outfit for inside wear as well as out!

Take a look at my new collection here

Mix and match

All new pieces have been carefully designed to mix and match with each other, and to complement items from past seasons.  I’ve enjoyed working with different proportions of stripes and softer colours and tones whilst still including pops of signature bright colours. 

FullSizeRender.jpg

Keep up-to-date

I’m going to be writing a seasonal blog which will be published each Wednesday and will be sharing news, events, inspirations, tips and advice and monthly competitions!

Competition time........

To celebrate our new season launch, this month I am running a competition to win a pair of wrist warmers! Head over to Facebook to enter!  https://www.facebook.com/KateBoxKnit/posts/1499580833463429:0

Hanging out to dry

The last few weeks have been a bit of a blur............ there's a chill in the air and people have started to think about knitwear again - I love this time of year!  I am preparing orders, knitting commissions and trying to think about my stand at the forthcoming Farnham Maltings fair at the end of November.  I've not done a fair before so this is new territory for me and I want to make sure I have products that will appeal to everyone at different price points.  For a long time now I have been thinking of ways I can use up my scraps of knitting - these tend to be pieces that have gone wrong, not felted evenly or fallen off the machine too early; all rather annoying scenarios.  The beauty of these little pieces of lightly felted lambswool is that I have them in abundance, they are delicious in colour and they are all completely original ...............so why not use them?!  Well I have.......read on! 

FullSizeRender.jpg

This project was rather fiddly in nature but once I got going I remembered how much fun there is to be had in cutting and sticking.  

FullSizeRender.jpg
FullSizeRender.jpg

It also meant I could use copious amounts of double sided sellotape a luxury denied in childhood due to the cost!  

FullSizeRender.jpg

It's still all about knitwear.......... 

FullSizeRender.jpg

and knitted bunting.  

9BEF5621-4E18-4567-811F-32BB8D9CC80B.JPG

Cards! Washing lines with freshly laundered knitted outfits. These ones have just been stitched and await tying off. 

19DA65A9-497B-489F-A3F8-AD094C1A02F4.JPG

I got quite carried away in the end and I still have a huge amount of scraps left so no doubt I will make more.  

FullSizeRender.jpg

Here are the finished cards in their cellophane wrappers - it's amazing how a cellophane wrapper can transform a card!  

FullSizeRender.jpg

Fronts and backs!  

So all these cards will be coming with me to the Farnham Maltings Fair on the 30th November and 1st December. Please do come and visit and say hello! 

 

P.s - did you notice I managed to do the whole of that blog post without mentioning the 'C' word?!  

Summer

I'm slightly horrified to discover that it's nearly 2 months since my last post, summer has got in the way. There has been much going on over the last 8 weeks but unfortunately little design work and of that, not much to write about! I took heed of advice given by friends who have older children to relax and enjoy the children whilst they are small, so this summer that is mainly what I did with a few days (and rather more evenings) spent at the knitting machine. 

Here is a slice of our holiday to give you a taste of what we've been up to.

image.jpg

Ventnor beach. We caught the early ferry to the Isle of Wight, we were there by 10am. 

image.jpg

We stayed in a small caravan park (just 6 caravans) in Niton, on the southern most point of the Island. Unadvertised and hidden down a narrow but winding man made track it was a bit of a trek to get there but the views were certainly worth it........

image.jpg
image.jpg
image.jpg

Even a pretty toilet block for those eating at the cafe!  

image.jpg

A trip to Chessell pottery was something we did 8 years ago and we all wanted to revisit and create some more souvenirs. I managed to resist painting anything myself but the children created some lovely pieces to be treasured.

image.jpg

A fossil tour from Brook chine beach lead by the amazing paleontologist Felicity who knew everything there was to know about fossils. One little boy on our tour did actually find some dinosaur bone! It was a great activity which made little difference whether you were an adult or child.

image.jpg

Fuelling up at the Piano Cafe at Freshwater before our walk up Tennyson down, a childhood tradition I am now inflicting upon my own children!

image.jpg

 The climb up Tennyson down.  

image.jpg

Views from the top. 

image.jpg

This little grocers was outside the Piano cafe at Freshwater - it seemed almost unchanged and was thoroughly charming. Unfortunately it was closed so I couldn't venture further in for a nose around. 

image.jpg
image.jpg

Later on in the week we went to collect the fired pottery pieces - Ta dah!  

image.jpg
image.jpg

On our last day, after a failed attempt to visit the beach, we ended up at Mottistone Gardens owned by the National Trust. 

image.jpg

Views in the background to the sea, obscured by cloud.  

image.jpg

The gardens were beautiful and there was a trail which kept the youngest members of the party happy.  

image.jpg

However, the highlight for me was........The Shack! Designed in the 1930s by architects John Seely (2nd Lord Mottistone) and Paul Paget as their country retreat and rural office.

image.jpg
image.jpg

I loved this fireplace.  

image.jpg
image.jpg

It had a little kitchenette, shower room, two cabin beds and desks, much like our caravan. Home from home!

image.jpg

It used revolutionary materials for the time, such as insulation board, hardboard and tubular metal. Every little space was used well and the overall look was not at all dated - in fact I would have moved my knitting machine straight in given a chance.

image.jpg

On our return home we found a jungle had grown in our back garden. Including this bronze sunflower, which definitely reached a record height for us! 

Unfortunately despite the good weather continuing next week the summer break is now well and truly over and I will be found mainly sitting at a knitting machine for the next 4-5 months fondly remembering days on the Isle of Wight. I hope you all enjoyed the summer. 

Knitting on!

Last week life returned to normal and for most of the week my view was very much like this........ 

or like this.  

I'm not complaining as this is life as I love it best - the making. I was working on a private commission for a lady who had specific colours in mind and I enjoyed the challenge of making the colours work together in a way that appealed to me too.  I finished this wrap on Wednesday and tried really hard to photograph the finished piece 'on me' but the selfie style photos in front of the mirror just didn't do it justice so I'll have to make do with these work in progress shots. 

In other news having had little opportunity to make it out into the garden due to the heavy downpours, everything has grown enormously in just the past week! The self sown fox gloves are almost on their way out now but still provide lovely accents of colour and the dark leaves of the Sambucus Nigra showcase the delicate flowers so beautifully.  

No shortage of colour inspiration for the forthcoming weeks! 

From Swinging Monkeys to Dachshunds.........

Having spent almost a month sitting at the kitchen table creating a website, and then a 'half term' week spent thinking up every indoor, wet play game imaginable, meant that on Tuesday, I awarded myself the day off and top of the list was a trip to Pallant House Gallery in Chichester to see the John Piper exhibition.  

Headed straight to the cafe for a cappuccino you can imagine my delight when I found out that the exhibitions currently on show extended to the cafe courtyard too AND they were knitted!

IMG_4719.JPG

I've always felt there is something quite magical about putting pieces that are normally reserved for inside - on the outside.......and vice versa. I love bringing in a real Christmas tree for this very same wonderful reason. This yarn bombing was a real treat, titled The Octopus' Garden by Julia Oak, it was very pleasant to share half an hour with a swinging knitted monkey and copious brightly coloured Pom Poms. It felt like sitting within children's story book and confirmed that life in an art gallery is never dull. 

After coffee I ventured upstairs to the John Piper exhibition. John Piper was one of the leading Modern British artists/designers of the 20th Century, best known for his paintings but also noted for his work as an accomplished designer of theatre sets, stained glass windows and textiles.* It was the textiles work I was so keen to see, especially the tapestries of which I have dabbled and am aware of the complexities and painstaking labour involved!

This group of tapestries were commissioned for the Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford by a group of surgeons in 1986. Aren't the colours so vibrant? Most of the weaving work was executed at West Dean Tapestry Studios near Chichester. All these places are so familiar it seemed wonderful to think of John Piper wandering around West Dean gardens perhaps.  

This piece of fabric, screen printed cotton satin, designed in 1955 for David Whitehead Limited would seem very at home in any house today. I particularly liked this design. 

It was a small exhibition, just 3 rooms but well executed and displayed and such a treat not to have to go to London to see work of this quality. 

Ever since childhood the 'shop' at the end of an exhibition visit has always been something to look forward to and the Pallant House Gallery shop did not disappoint. It is a real treasure trove of amazing books, cards and interesting gifts.  This year my New Years resolution was not to leave all my Christmas shopping until the last minute and so upon seeing these quirky kits to 'make your own pet'  I swiftly purchased two for my own little monkeys. ;) 

So now,  'knitted work' at Kate Box HQ cannot be put off any longer - I have no more excuses and it will be hands to the needles for the foreseeable future! 

*Pallant House Gallery website. 

 

A silver lining....

Last week I mentioned that in this blog post I would talk about my friend and tutor Kay Cosserat, unfortunately there a sad ending to this tale but there is also a 'silver lining' so keep reading to the end...............

 Kay as a student at the Royal College of Art  

Kay as a student at the Royal College of Art  

As a student, Kay Cosserat (nee Macklam) attended Goldsmiths College London where she achieved a 1st class hons degree and then completed her MA at the Royal College of Art. Upon graduating from the RCA she set up her own business Cosserat Design Partnership in 1974 with her husband Christopher Cosserat whom she had met at the Royal College. Specialising in knitwear and well known for her beautiful colour choices, combinations and use of texture, Kay was quickly noticed for her ability to be creative and commercial.  In 1986 this was recognised and she became a Royal Designer for Industry.  She was always passionate about education and this lead her to have many, many roles within academic institutions across the country, St Martins school of art, the Royal College and Chelsea college of art to name just a few in London. 

 Kay as I first met her.  

Kay as I first met her.  

I met Kay at Chelsea College of Art in 1997 where she became my tutor in the 2nd and 3rd years of my degree. As a tutor, Kay could be fairly terrifying and she certainly let you know if she didn't like something but all this aided in creating a healthy competition amongst her students and a real desire for her approval.  Kay's standards were always very high and she had an ability to see a glimmer of something promising in every student's work and draw it out into the most marvellous project.  Kay was a much loved tutor.

At the end of my course at Chelsea and with a lot of encouragement from Kay,  I applied for an MA place at the Royal College of Art. Although I was offered a place, without funds and much forethought about how I was going to finance myself through the 2 year course, I reluctantly had to turn the place down. Kay, always supportive, was quick to offer me a job for a year to raise money for my MA course and give me invaluable experience working within the textiles industry. A year later, with money in my pocket, I applied again to the RCA. I started my MA in 2000. 

This is where the story starts to sadden..............after returning from a holiday in Vietnam,  Kay complained of her back hurting. Further investigation revealed that she had breast cancer. Ever determined,  Kay carried on as much as possible and continued to be as supportive as ever to her students and dedicated to her business. During that year Kay put me forward for the coveted position of design assistant at Orla Kiely, Kay having taught Orla herself. Very sadly I had only been in that post for a week when Kay died in December 2003. 

A silver lining............before Kay died she set up a trust fund to help knitwear and knitted textile students at the Royal College of Art.  There are 5 trustees, of which I am one, and we award an amount to a promising RCA student who would have otherwise found it difficult financially to continue on the course. Every May/June I travel to the Royal College of Art and meet with the other trustees to look at the work of selected candidates and make a final decision about who will be awarded the money.  It is always a fantastic day where we meet dedicated, talented students and we reminisce about Kay in all her creative glory. 

 Julia Pines, Matthew Cosserat and Mary Restieaux discussing student's work.

Julia Pines, Matthew Cosserat and Mary Restieaux discussing student's work.

This year was no exception, the students work was of a very high standard and they all remained passionate and positive despite hearing their heart-breaking financial stories of hardship. One student had five part time jobs and others admitted to having nearly £45,000 of debt! We saw 14 students in all and the decision of who to award to, was as always, so difficult to make. We awarded 2 scholarships this year, one to Matthew Duffy and the other to Rose Danford-Phillips, both very deserving knitwear candidates who showed us real talent, determination and passion in their work; all qualities Kay possessed. Keep your eyes out for these two names, we joked this year that all the Kay Cosserat Scholarship winners go on to be very successful!

Each year, as I walk away from this inspiring day of judging, it always delights me that even in Kay's absence, her dedication to both the textile industry and design education lives on through the students we see.