CHUNKY YARNS ARE POPULAR WITH KNITTERS AT PRESENT, BUT DESIGNER JACQUELINE FINK MAKES BESPOKE KNITTED ITEMS THAT TAKE THIS CONCEPT TO A WHOLE NEW LEVEL. USING GIGANTIC KNITTING NEEDLES AND MASSIVELY THICK UNSPUN YARN SHE CREATES KNITTED PIECES THAT HAVE A BREATHTAKINGLY BEAUTIFUL QUALITY – PIECES THAT YOU JUST WANT TO CURL UP AND SNUGGLE ON.
interview: Judy Newman
How would you describe your knitted pieces?
I make by hand large scale knitted blankets and throws, wall hangings and woollen installations from Australian and New Zealand unspun wool. The use of unspun wool, which I then felt, enables me to achieve an extreme scale as well as a beautiful, soft and luscious texture. My range focuses predominately on the use of natural coloured fibres (ie. no dyes). My pieces are typically finished with a blanket stitch in a contrast colour using a felted woollen yarn from the UK. Every piece is made by me in my home in Sydney using giant knitting needles. Most of my work is by way of custom order where I work closely with clients and interior designers to create a bespoke piece. My lead time is 10 weeks.
How/why did you start doing HUGE-scale knitting?
To cut an extremely long story short, I have a law degree but only practiced as a solicitor for a few years. It was not for me at all. I then spent many years working in my husband’s retail fashion business and, while that was never my passion, it exposed me to the inner workings of business, customer service, visual merchandising and the importance of branding.
Once children came along, I stayed at home to care for them. We had our children close together and, without family here in Sydney to provide support, we felt it was the obvious choice to make. I loved being at stay at home Mum and, frankly, I still consider that to be my primary role. However, being a stay at homer is by no means any easy option and I really struggled to find my way in those early years.
So, I started to search for something for myself. I didn’t know what I was looking for but I knew it needed to be creative and involve the use of my hands. I was also strongly driven by the desire to show my children that with hard work and ingenuity you can create something from nothing.
In November 2009 my Mum had a life saving double lung transplant. In the haze of her recovery, I found myself in a very surreal space. Something had definitely shifted within me and I knew, for so many reasons, that my life would never be the same again.
It was during this time that I had a dream (?) in which this big loud booming voice told me that “YOU WILL KNIT BLANKETS AND THEY NEED TO BE BIG”. I woke up completely startled but, given I’d been searching for an answer for so long, I didn’t question it at all. I decided to trust the message and the next morning I started down the path that led me to Little Dandelion. I know it sounds crazy but it’s true!
What are the physical effects of working with knitting on this scale?
My work is as much a feat of physical endurance and capacity as it is a creative exercise. Knitting on a large scale should probably come with a health warning because it is quite a workout. In the early stages of practising my craft, I felt 40 going on 80 for a good while. I hurt from top to toe.
There is a lot of weight bearing involved in my work due to the choice of my materials and the scale of my creations. As the work becomes longer you need to stand up to turn the work at the end of each row. You also need a very broad grip to hold onto the large needles. I’ve adjusted to the physicality of it now and quite enjoy the challenge but I do see a chiropractor regularly to keep my body in check. I walk as much as I can too and often find myself in bed before the children.
Many creative people strive to make a living from their work – are you doing this successfully or is it a labour of love?
My business pays its way but it is very much a labour of love at this stage. I only launched Little Dandelion in April 2012 so it is still early days and I try to not put too much pressure on myself in terms of the financials. My intention for Little Dandelion was that it would just tick away nicely on the sidelines of family life and be a lovely outlet, respite even, for me.
I was very naive in this sense because it has completely taken over my life and the boundaries between work and family are very blurred. In order to keep up with the momentum of the business, I now work 7 days a week and I have often questioned whether or not it is all worth the effort.
However, I am very determined to ensure that all this effort amounts to something meaningful for my family and so I’m currently tweaking my business model. As crafters know intimately, anything produced by hand is a slow and meticulous process. Given that I make everything myself my business is not scalable and will always be limited by what I can produce at any given time.
I absolutely love what I do and my processes are entirely self-taught. But, the time has come to share knitting on such a large scale with others and, to this end, I’ve been developing an oversized knitting yarn which replicates the scale of what I currently create using unspun wool without requiring the additional process I’ve developed. I am hoping the yarn will enable me to take Little Dandelion to the next level of enterprise while still allowing me the distinct pleasure of creating my original bespoke pieces.
What inspires you?
I am always captivated by the colours and textures found in nature but I tend not look outwards when it comes to inspiration. My creative process is driven by my internal machinations: I daydream a lot and it is in those moments that an idea will come to me.
Having said that, my over-arching inspiration for what I do is the desire to fulfil my potential and to leave this place a little better for having been here.
What keeps you awake in the early hours?
1). feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work I need to get through by a certain time; and
2). paper work. I’m a huge procrastinator when it comes to the administrative side of business. I’m not a fan and so I always leave it to the eleventh hour which is not a great recipe for a good night’s sleep.
What do you do when you have an hour of free time?
Typically, it’s one of three things:
1). a cup of tea and read a book;
2). a cup of tea and watch a movie with my little people;
3). a walk with my lovely neighbour.
What plans do you have for your work in future?
I plan to launch my knitting yarn together with large scale needles very soon so that others can try their hand at extreme knitting. I would like to hold workshops for beginners as well as established knitters to teach them the ins and outs of knitting large. I also have plans to work with other artisans from afar but more about that later.
Finish the sentence: In five years, I’d like to be …
…running a successful handmade business from a beautiful white space where I can pass on my learnings to others and help other women find their own creative path.