Tucked away on Orford Road, Debbie Bliss’ studio is a hive of activity. With her own magazine, over 35 books, 20 booklets and a magazine published under her name, not to mention her own yarn line, Debbie Bliss is an expert when it comes to knitwear. We spent the afternoon with her to discover just how she has become the power house she is today.
Describe to me your journey as a knitwear designer so far
I studied fashion and textiles at the North East London polytechnic. It was a fine art based course which meant instead of focussing on garment production, I started doing knitted sculpture. I made things like knitted plants, which sold in Liberty’s and through that magazines contacted me. From then I started to produce knitwear patterns for magazines and then moved on to writing my own books. I have done a couple of designs for Baby Gap and some ready to wear for Marks & Spencer’s in addition to the garments I produced for my previous shop in Islington, but it has always been about knitters making the garments I design.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I have been asked twice to throw out the first baseball for the Seattle Mariners because they do this thing called ‘Stitch and Pitch‘ where they invite knitters and crafters to the baseball matches and every now and then someone gets nominated to throw the first pitch. It is incredible because I have always loved baseball films so to walk out onto that pitch and see yourself on the jumbotron is an amazing experience. But in terms of how happy I have been in my career, it is definitely since we have had the shop and moved to Orford Road.
Describe the Debbie Bliss woman – is there a certain woman you design for?
I like to think that I am quite fashion lead. I am on Style.com all the time as I like to see what the latest trends are, however I know that I need to be commercial too so that people will buy the patterns. I try not to aim my designs at a certain age group because each woman will knit and wear the design in their own unique way.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow in your footsteps
My career centred around the result of something not working and having to move onto something else. These challenges have brought me to where I am today. I think young designers are really savvy when it comes to new technology which is brilliant because it is such a valuable promotional tool. It is hard though because you have to make yourself have that self confidence, which doesn’t always come naturally, however self promotion is key to getting ahead these days.
What made you decide to set up an interiors store in Walthamstow?
I have always been interested in other areas of design and I see myself as a designer that happens to specialise in knitwear. The idea was, because no one would know the brand unless they were a knitter, initially, we would choose things that were associated with knitting such as a tea towel or mug covered in a knitted print. We are also meeting some lovely local designers like Burgoyne London, whose bags we are now stocking. They are very popular with the first one selling within the half hour of it being on the shelves.
I knew we couldn’t all keep working from home as there are more of us now. I also have more work experience placements due to my relationship with Nottingham Trent University, so it is good to have the shop, office and studio all in one place. It means that I am not as stressed as I used to be as that separation from home is lovely. I can’t explain how brilliant Walthamstow is, we live just around the corner so we already had a good relationship with people and the shop has helped to develop those relationships further. Sometimes I find that customers can’t get in because I am too busy gossiping on the door step but it is lovely to have that interaction with the locals. Things will change with the Mini Holland scheme and the road will become virtually pedestrianised which will be nice.
What do you think the benefits of knitting are?
I think knitting is important for a number of reasons. There is research about the health benefits it has and I think there is something about the rhythm that is really important. I have worked in schools with autistic children hosting workshops which has been really interesting. I think for the next generation it will be good for them to know that they can make things and not just go out and buy something from a shop.
Has Walthamstow influenced your designs?
Yes I think it has. A lot of hand knitting designers don’t live in an urban setting, so their inspiration comes from nature, whereas my inspiration comes from just walking down the street. The sari shops with the clashing colour and the market are so inspiring. I just love the city and I am passionate about Walthamstow. I love the diversity that we have here and I feel like this gives the area a great energy which permeates my designs.
To discover more about Debbie Bliss, visit her website here
Photos: Debbie Bliss Blog
Words: Grace Molan