Nicky Barfoot’s love of knitting came from a childhood passion, shared with her Mum and Nanna. From a City and Guilds in Hand Knit Design, to having her patterns feature in UK knitting mags, to the runner up spot in a Rowan International Design Competition, Nicky’s journey is both interesting and inspiring. We are chuffed to have her make her unravel teaching debut this year, leading a Modular Knit class. We spoke to Nicky to find out more about her passion for all things creative and what the lucky participants can expect from her workshop….
How and when did you start knitting?
I’ve been knitting for as long as I can remember. My Mum and Nanna were both accomplished and prolific knitters and as soon as I could hold the knitting needles safely I wanted to have a go. Mum was very happy to teach me as I was an active child and knitting and drawing were probably the only things that kept me quiet and entertained when it was too wet to ride my bike. I was also lucky to go to an infants school were both boys and girls were taught knitting by one of the teachers. My childhood knitting was focused on clothes for my toys. My next door neighbour would also save me the knitting patterns from her Woman’s Weekly magazines and I particularly loved and have fond memories of knitting the Jean Greenhowe toy designs.
I was a teenager in the 1980s when fashion became flamboyant and knitwear was big, colourful and often fluffy. I would buy copies of Vogue Knitting magazine and try to recreate the patterns, particularly those of my favourite designer of the time, Jean Paul Gaultier. As I wasn’t able to afford the recommended yarn on a paper round budget, I’d use anything in the house that could be cut up and strung together (sheets, string, assortments of left over yarn knotted together etc). This was the 1980s so it kind of worked although my sister and her friends described me as having my own unique fashion style!
Can you tell us some more about your professional career/ journey?
In my twenties I continued to knit and sew (I made bridesmaid dresses for my friend’s wedding) but I didn’t think of turning my creativity into a business until my thirties when I was spending less time on sport and was looking for a new challenge. I came across a City and Guilds in Hand Knit Design and signed up for it. Things sort of spiralled from there. While I was working on the C&G the local college advertised a Foundation Degree in Stitched Textiles, validated by Winchester University and I signed up for that too. The degree reawakened my love of drawing and other art processes and after a friend introduced me to West Dean College I also signed up for a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design. I got a lot of certificates over the space of four years!
I was delighted to be picked by the Embroiderers Guild from my degree show to be part of their New Graduate Showcase at the Knitting and Stitching Show in Alexander Palace in 2012 and from that wonderful exposure I was introduced to a couple of magazine editors and had some of my patterns published in UK knitting magazines. I also came second in the Rowan International Design Competition that year with my first modular knitted garment, a response to their theme of the Great Gatsby.
In 2013 I entered the UK Hand Knitting Association’s Knitted Textile Awards with some knitted “paintings” of life drawings. The idea of depicting the naked human form in a medium that we choose to cover it with appealed to my sense of irony (knitted nudes!) although underlying it all was an exploration of whether knitted fabric could be considered Fine Art. I was delighted that the judges at the Ally Pally Knit and Stitch Show awarded me second prize. I entered again in 2014 with some knitted dog head sculptures, mounted on taxidermy plaques and was even more made up that they won the Gold that year. Your readers may have seen them exhibited at the Ally Pally or Harrogate Knit and Stitch Shows.
Alongside all of this I also started teaching knitting workshops for local colleges. Soon after I graduated, Eastleigh College contacted me, and then the Ashcroft Centre in Fareham where I have been teaching ever since.
What drew you to modular knitting?
The talented textile engineer and knitwear designer, Alison Ellen, introduced me to modular knitting on a workshop I attended a number of years back. I’ve always been a big fan of using stitch properties to shape knitted fabric (I am a collector of 1940s knitting patterns for this reason) so I was very excited to see how knitting on the bias changed the property of the fabric by introducing a directional drape. As well as exploiting these properties from a structural perspective, introducing different colours created a whole new world of visual impact from what appeared to be knitting in different directions. All of this from such a simple technique!
Can you tell us a bit about modular knitting – what is it and how can you use it?
In modular knitting (also called Domino Knitting) the fabric is created by knitting individual modules and then building on these, module by module, to progress the work into a larger piece. The type of modular knitting that I especially enjoy, and the type that I will be teaching at unravel, is where a module forms by regularly decreasing stitches across the centre of a flat piece of knitting. This pulls the work in and creates a shape. Different stitch types create different shapes from scallops, to diamonds to squares. The shape we will be working on in the Unravel workshop is a square in garter stitch. As mentioned above, one of the effects of this type of module is that the square/diamond created has a wonderful drape property as the direction of the stitches either side of the centre line are at right angles to each other. The resulting fabric is fabulously flattering when introduced to the human form and can be used for many garment types from scarves to jackets and sweaters. And of course things like stripes will highlight this change in stitch direction within the module and create a very pleasing visual effect.
What inspires your work and designs?
I live on the South Coast of England and most of my designs, are inspired by time spent outside with my dogs in the local woods, the New Forest and the beach. Mother Natures does colour schemes and texture contrasts so well and I am often found with my bottom in the air and my camera phone in my hand kneeling down in the mud and sand, taking pictures of various bits of nature. My Weimwood modular shawl for example is inspired by the pine trees in my local woods, and my Hill Head mitts by the colours and patterns I see at Hill Head beach.
Knitting is just one of your skills, can you tell us a bit more about what else you do?
My other preferred medium for creative expression is hand embroidery. I am a self-confessed crazy dog lady and I use my animal muses to inspire hand stitched portraits from some of which I create accessible embroidery kits and patterns. I was delighted to design four embroidery kits recently for DMC Creative’s 2017 collection featuring Sebastian the Cat and Doug the Pug.
What are you looking forward to about teaching at unravel?
I visited unravel last year in 2017 and thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere and the historic and quirky building. I am looking forward to giving my knitters some new skills (and a pattern) to let loose on all of the yarny goodness that will be calling their name at the festival. I shall also be doing a spot of shopping myself but don’t tell my husband as he thinks I am just going to work……
Do you have any tips for visitors to help them get the most out of the yarn show experience?
I took the kiddy in a sweet shop approach last year and filled my boots quite randomly. I was delighted with my purchases but I came home thinking I could have been a bit more organised. This time I’m going to plan in advance and be more aware of the designs I have coming up and what yarns I will need rather than working the other way around. I also recommend getting an idea of the floor plan too as the show is on a number of levels and in a number of different rooms and it would be a shame to miss any. Workshops add a nice break from the shopping (and a sit down!) while you acquire a new skill or just get inspired by someone else and their take on a technique. I attended a lovely relaxing workshop last year with Rachel Coopey and came away having reignited my love of sock knitting.
My knitting patterns and embroidery designs are available from my Etsy shop: etsy.com/uk/shop/NickyBarfoot
Modular Knitting with Nicky is on Saturday 17 Feb from 2pm – 5pm. Book your ticket here