The name Debbie Bliss is synonymous with knitting. She is one of the foremost knitwear designers in the world and continues to produce stylish, classic garments for men, women and children.
Yarn creator, pattern designer, book author and mum, Debbie is a busy lady, but she kindly took some time out to chat to us about her own path into knitting, career highlights, what inspires her and knitting for Christmas.
You’ve had a career spanning decades, what keeps you inspired and motivated these days?
I think when you are creative that you are constantly inspired by the world around you. I can find it when walking down the High Street of the very multicultural part of London’s East End where I live, who could not be inspired for example by the brilliant colours in the local sari shops? Motivation is easy; I have a lot of people relying on me to meet deadlines!
What was your path into knitting?
I studied Fashion and Textiles at Art College and soon after I left I started knitting plants and flowers which I sold to shops such as Liberty. The publicity from this led to me being commissioned by editors at magazines such as Woman’s Weekly to design hand knits for them.
Which other knitting designers do you respect the most?
When I first started out in the late 1970’s it was designers such as Patricia Roberts and Marion Foale. I was a great admirer of the work of Melody Griffiths who I worked with for many years. Sadly she passed away four years ago but I still catch myself wondering what she would have created out of an idea I may have.
You have attracted a few celebrity fans over the years… Elton John, Uma Thurman, Iman – how does it feel to have your work gain such high profile recognition?
To be honest I don’t think they would have necessarily known the name of the designer. A friend gave Elton John a giant cheese plant that I knitted, Uma Thurman knitted a hat for her baby out of one of my accessory books and Iman knitted bears from my Teddy Bears book. I am delighted when any knitter knits one of my designs; to know that someone has invested their time and money is a great compliment.
“I am delighted when any knitter knits one of my designs; to know that someone has invested their time and money is a great compliment”
What would you say have been your career highlights so far?
I think one of them has to be throwing the first pitch at a Seattle Mariners baseball match! A few years ago.
There have been times in my life when I have been at a real crossroads and have been undecided as to what I should do next. I have been lucky that at these times something has turned up which has given me confidence to carry on. My first commissioned book Baby Knits came at such a time when I was unsure if I would ever be able to earn a living as a designer, then the fantastic opportunity twelve years ago to launch my own brand of yarns. Now at sixty I am thinking of ways I can expand my brand and feel excited about new opportunities.
Do you have any tips for readers on developing a passion for knitting?
I think the passion comes from falling in love with the craft once you have started to knit. I think that this can then be sustained by joining a knitting group where you can meet other knitters who are equally passionate and where you can share your enthusiasm.
Do you remember the first thing that you knitted? Was it a proud moment?
I am not entirely sure, I think it was a cardigan for my doll Betty and I am sure I would have been very proud!
What inspires and influences the designs that you create?
Anything and everything. When I am designing fashion knitwear I am thinking of contemporary styles that flatter women’s bodies, for babies and children I will be combining practicality with style.
What type of materials do you prefer to use?
My preference is for natural fibres but sometimes to get a particular look, such as in a tweed like my Milano yarn, we have to introduce synthetics. This is not a cheap option as many of these are expensive but it can provide a binder or multi coloured neps.
Of all your designs, do you have a favourite?
Not one as such but my favourite styles tend to have a tailored look with shaping. I like sharp knitted jackets.
What type of things do you personally enjoy knitting the most?
Beanie hats for new babies.
“I think the passion comes from falling in love with the craft once you have started to knit. I think that this can then be sustained by joining a knitting group”
You have your own branded yarn range – What factors are important to you when designing yarn?
I prefer smooth yarns generally because they show up stitch detail and I love texture created by the stitches rather than textured yarns. They have to have a character of their own, whether it is the “bounce” of my extra fine merino yarn Rialto or the crispness of my organic cotton Eco Baby.
With Christmas coming up – Christmas crafts are very popular – are you inspired by this time of year? Have you any patterns to look out for this Christmas?
I love Xmas; my wedding anniversary is two weeks before and my birthday a week before so it is a busy month in the Bliss household!
I love the Xmas decorations that Rosy Tucker has designed in the A/W issue of the Debbie Bliss bi annual magazine and the adorable Father Xmas dog coat that my Jack Russell Smiffy is wearing.
There are also Xmas inspired patterns in my book The Knitters Year (published by Quadrille.) There are also ideal presents in the Cocoon section of Knits for You and Your Home (Quadrille) which recently won the Best Craft Book of the Year at the British Hand Knitting Awards.