Let’s Knit Magazine profile: Kaffe Fassett


Let’s Knit Magazine, March 2008

“I was born in California in a coastal community of artists and pioneering types. My parents built a Frank Lloyd Wright inspired restaurant 800 feet above the Pacific Ocean.

Though it was isolated community, I was encouraged to express my artistic side, so painted, danced and did drama. I got a scholarship to a good old fashioned art school in Boston so lived and studied there for a few years before visiting London for a 3 month vacation. More than 40 years later I find myself still here mainly because I discovered knitting yarns in a mill in Inverness and got a fellow passenger to teach me to knit on the train ride back to London. I put all 20 colours of Shetland yarns I had purchased in the same sweater and took it straight to Vogue Magazine to ask them if they would be interested in featuring it. Reticent English, I wasn’t!!

That was about 1969 and all the colour in a very landscape Stripe attracted the attention of Judy Brittain the Editor of Vogue Knitting Magazine. She commissioned me to knit a waistcoat in Fair Isle for her next issue. Not knowing what Fair Isle was I got my cleaning lady to show me how.

That took roughly 20 minutes. (This particularly makes protests of the complication of what I do in knitting from experienced Knitters a great mystery to me) I only ever use what I learned in those first 20 minutes so that my work in intarsia and Fair Isle is very low tech.

Because my main interest is colour I feel no need for fancy stitches like lace and raised textures. The colour does all the work, particularly in good pattern structures I’m always on the lookout for.

After the 1st article in Vogue Knitting I went onto Knit every idea I could glean from my travels and museums like the V&A. I met Stephen Sheard of Rowan yarns in the early 80s and started knitting kits for him to place in Magazines and papers. Steve Lovi, a brilliant photographer and ideas man, worked with me to produce my 1st book in 1985. We broke all the rules, making our lush publication look like a coffee table book on Ethnic Textiles with double page spreads and very colourful fashion shoots in Kew Gardens and Malta.

Glorious Knitting was a surprising instant hit. 40,000 copies sold in two weeks and it is amazingly still in print, selling all over the world. 14 more books followed and I’ve travelled the world giving lectures, workshops and media appearances.

There has never been a moment I’ve grown weary of it all as I’m always breaking new ground, trying new designs and mediums like mosaic, painting, needlepoint and patchwork. I work with a good team of creative people. The weaver Richard Womersley, my assistant designer Brandon Mably and Katy Kingston who runs the office and helps with patchwork. We all inspire and encourage each other so interest in these crafts and arts has never waned.

The greatest thing people can do to encourage the young is to stop telling them how hard it is to do what I do. Not to be so uptight about good technique and to enjoy playing with colour. I’ve seen 1st time knitters take up one of my big colour filled coats as a beginning project and pull it off because no one said they couldn’t manage it.

Basically I’m turned on by the same things that first attracted me in decorative art books and museums. Good flat pattern that are a vehicle for colour Shadings, carpets, pottery, intricate architectural details and the whole world of embroidery, beaded and painted textiles of the ethnic world etc.

Knitting remains one of the most satisfying activities of my life. The experience of seeing a work grow on your needles, living dangerously making it up as you go is one of the deepest thrills in living on this planet, it stimulates and soothes me at the same time. The process is the most delicious.

When I’m actually done there is a slight regret, like finishing a good book, but then you go on to finding a place to photograph it and put it in a museum show to inspire others and that is another sort of satisfaction.

Designing is a great dream come true job, the only downside is when a magazine turns you down because they don’t have your vision.

Patchwork involves another aspect of my creative self. I can get back to my painting to create the fabric ranges that go into my quilts. But once the fabrics exist, cutting and placing the patchwork is just the same as much of my knitting. Often a pattern motif I’m exploring in patchwork, I will also try out in knitting, and vice versa. There is a lot of cross over in these crafts. Many of my audience do all the crafts I do.

The knit scene is pretty similar in the US and Europe. In Scandinavian countries they are less timid about playing with colour and do very fine Fair Isle and intarsia.

You ask how it feels to be a world renowned knit designer. Am I? I only know where ever I go people come out of the wood work who have my books and enjoy doing colourful knitting and that makes us all instantly sympathetic.

As for the Renaissance in knitting, I say AT LAST! And please get over the simple scarf stage and move up to rich colour exploration. That’s where it really at.

I love walking and travelling always on the prowl for fresh and exotic ideas and watching TV and Films to see all those worlds they depict.

There are I’m sure some adventurous new designers that are waiting in the wings to surprise and delight us. I can’t think of any names at present because we are going through such a drab timid phase in the knit/fashion world. All the rich wondrous possibilities are lying a bit dormant just now.

Actually Brandon Mably with his newest book Knitting Colour is the most adventurous on the scene just now. He is an inspiring teacher and encourages many to splash out and express themselves with colour.

Knitting still is still a pleasure for me and always will be, there is so much yet to explore”.