Fashion: Designer cashmere knits handcrafted ... by you
Louisa Harding has launched Yarntelier, featuring Yorkshire yarns and patterns to guide the stylish home knitter. She talks to Stephanie Smith.
There is an ethereal quality to Louisa Harding’s knitwear designs. Fluid, drapy and feminine in gossamer-fine cashmere yarns, with every delicate, considered, hand-knitted stitch combining to create a beautiful piece of couture. Although, in this case, a piece of couture that you create yourself.
Launched last in October and based in Holmfirth, Yarntelier is established knitwear designer Louisa’s new venture, teaming the finest yarns from Yorkshire with an anthology of beautifully photographed patterns to hand-knit.
It’s aimed mainly at home-knitters, who typically order pattern and yarn together. “There has been a huge resurgence in home knitting over the last 15 years,” says Louisa. “It started in America and has gradually moved over here. They often say when we go into recession, people go back to craft – The Great British Sewing Bee, Bake-Off... A lot of younger people are taking it up, in their late teens and early 20s.”
Originally from London, Louisa has a Textiles for Fashion degree from Brighton University and spent her third year on placement, in 1989, with Rowan Yarns, at the time based in Holmfirth (now at Armitage Bridge).
“Coming from the South, you have complete misconceptions about coming North, and I just completely fell in love with it,” she says. “With the people, the friendliness, everybody being so generous with their time, explaining things. You learn all the theory at college, but it isn’t until you go into that work environment that you realise how things in your head actually become part of a business.”
Rowan Yarns sponsored Louisa’s final year show and published two of her designs. After graduating, she went back to the company to help out in 1990, then decided to move to Holmfirth permanently, and remained with the company for 11 years.
“I like writing patterns because it’s quite mathematical and challenging,” she says. “Charting, graphing. Initially, I draw it all by hand so I can see where the stitches are moving.”
Louisa’s husband, Stephen Jessup, a photographer, also works in the new business. It’s a collaboration they began after their daughter, Belle, was born in 2000, followed by son Oscar. Together, they created a series of children’s hand-knitting books, which were distributed throughout the world by Rowan Yarns. In 2005, Louisa was approached by an American company to set up Louisa Harding Yarns, distributed first in the US and then the UK, by Keighley company Designer Yarns.
She continued with the brand until last year, when she decided to go it alone with Yarntelier, named to evoke the handmade couture workshops of France.
“The hand-knitting industry has changed dramatically over the last 10 years with the internet,” she says. “It’s not so controlled by the big companies any more. Now you’ve got a lot of smaller businesses who breed alpacas, and there’s been a big resurgence in British wool breeds. People who have farms can now get their fleeces washed and spun.”
Louisa was determined to become part of this trend for smaller niche markets with production based closer to home. “We use bespoke twisters in Brighouse and it’s balled in Bradford,” she says.
Louisa works closely with Z Hinchcliffe & Sons in Denby Dale, which has been producing quality yarns for the past 200 years and now supplies the likes of Gucci, Prada, Chanel and Burberry.
Although fine, the yarns are actually twisted in a way that makes them thicker and so more suitable for hand-knitting. There are two weights – the cashmere lace and the cashmere gilli. “The lace is a fine yarn. From a knitter’s perspective, it’s got lots of meterage, which means you get a lot from a 50g ball,” Louisa adds.
Her inspiration for the designs comes from many directions. “It’s about an organic shape or a leaf, or something on the moors,” she says.
The colours of the yarns are named after local places, such as Crow Edge, although the finished garments may end up very far away from home. “Today we had an order in from Germany, last week from China,” Louisa says. “People all over the world just pop onto your site, and you can have a voice around the world. It’s an amazing place to be.”