8. Innovative Scottish Knitwear With Jeni Allison
Words by Slancha/Jeni Allison
Tell us a little bit about who you are, where you are based, when and how you got into the world of knitwear?
Hi, I'm Jeni Allison, I'm a knitwear designer and product developer based by the sea in Newhaven, Edinburgh. I initially studied knitted textiles at The Glasgow School of Art (where I am now a technician) and then completed an MA in Knitwear from Heriot-Watt University.
Where do you go to seek inspiration for your work?
This entirely depends on what I'm working on. I freelance a lot for other people so usually I'm working to a brief.
With my own brand I like to look at artists (I love Paolozzi, Tom Wesselman and David Hockney - actually my dog is called Hockney too and he's great for inspiration). I like to explore different themes fairly often, I get bored quickly, for example I've been exploring crossovers between digital and physical textiles recently with my 'digital drape blankets,' whilst my next collection is taking inspiration from flowers and vintage floral motifs. I like to explore museums and archives when looking for inspiration too - Historic Environment Scotland has a great online archive I love to look through!
Credit: Becky Manson
What does your process look like from initial idea to final product?
I work with manufacturers so I often start from a fairly practical place; what yarns does the manufacture work with, which colours are in stock. For most projects I also consider the price point early on if I'm developing something I want to sell for a specific price I need to consider the cost of materials and cost of manufacturing into the design process. I'll collect source material and usually make (or ask a manufacturer to make) fabric swatches to get an idea of design and colourways. Then I'll sketch garment or product shapes which will incorporate those fabrics. If it's a wearable garment I will usually draft a pattern at this stage and put together a tech pack for manufacturing. I'll then fit the garment on a fit model and make any adjustments necessary.
How has living and working in Scotland influenced your practice?
I'm Scottish and after a few years living away (in Japan and then England) it was lovely to come back. A lot of brands come to Scotland for 'traditional Scottish knitwear' which is great, but my belief is that Scotland was an innovator in the development of knitted garments, and I'd like to continue that tradition of coming up with new processes and methods.
Credit: Reuben Paris
Credit: Becky Manson
Can you tell us a bit about Custom Loop?
Absolutely! Custom Loop is a web-based application I've been developing with funding from Creative Informatics. The app will allow customers to change the appearance of knitted items, and it then produces an (almost) knit-machine ready file which can be knitted with one of my manufacturers. The app therefore makes it easier to personalise products, as well as being a more cost-effective way of producing one-offs of knitwear. The app is going to launch this autumn which is really exciting, and will be licensable to other brands through my sister company Knit One.
What are you working on now and what is next for your studio?
My main focus just now is the Custom Loop launch which will involve two customisable accessories which will launch late October in a very special location. I'm hoping to introduce garments to the Custom Loop library over the next year too.
I'm also working on a new, small collection of bespoke custom knitwear which should launch in 2023. With this collection I'm really trying to slow down and look at ways of embedding personal touches into my knits - it's more craft focused than some of my recent work which is nice, I'm enjoying making with my hands in amongst all my digital endeavors.