Paying attention to the technical details with Hilary Grant

Hilary Grant has been designing and creating collections of knitwear along with Robert Harvey for the past five years. They’ve just launched a new Autumn collection, so I thought it was the perfect time to sit down with her and ask a few questions.

Hey Hilary — thanks for sitting down with me! Have you always been interested in textiles?

I wasn’t always interested in textiles — though I loved art and design in school. I also really enjoyed sciences, maths and physics. I think this came down to my interest in learning and discovering how things work. I loved that in school art was not only about creativity but also mental concentration and dexterity.

I went to DJCAD and took a General Course in Art and Design — the entry program to degree courses. I enjoyed everything, but decided on textiles as I wanted to gain practical, technical skills and use the big industrial knitting machines.

Your Archipelago blanket was recently selected to be a part of the Local Heroes Exhibition — what was that experience like?

It was fantastic for us to be part of such a high profiled design exhibition. There is a growing cross over with designers producing commission work for galleries here in Scotland. For example Gabriella Marcella’s recent exhibition at The Tramway and the India St Project. I think people are starting to appreciate design more as both a viewer and consumer.

We designed a new pattern and product for this project, working in a much finer gauge than we normally work in. This essentially meant we had more stitches to work with. This is like having a higher resolution screen (more pixels per sq inch / more stitches per sq inch).

The triangle is a very simple and universal shape — we didn’t want to use motifs that already carry cultural connotations.

So, we looked at maritime and international flags which informed the colour proportion. There’s a huge fading triangle which has been achieved using only two colours of yarn. We ended up using different pattern densities to create a varied tone.

Why knitwear? What fascinates you about that particular material?

I love the technical aspects of knitwear. There are limitations which means you’re always trying to find ways to design around them. Knitwear is the most fantastic medium in that is can look so different depending on the yarn used, the gauge and stitch. I also love that it can be engineered seamlessly around forms.

What’s the process behind creating a new product?

Before I start designing a new collection we look at the previous collection. After 6 months you have a chance to really spend time with the design. As a designer you’re always trying to improve things and find ways to improve your work — so we look at the things we liked the best ideas and elements we want to continue and develop.

No collection of ours exists in a vacuum. It’s the accumulation of ideas that are developed and refined every time we design a new collection. We don’t jump from one disparate theme to the next, which is often seen in fast fashion.

I look at art, architecture and other forms of textiles, whether it’s weaving or embroidery. A big theme in our patterns which has been developed over the last 3 seasons is creating tonal gradients through varied pattern densities. This is something we hope is unique to use.

We’ve been slowly distilling and carving out this idea and hope to develop it even further.

In many ways, designing pattern for knitwear is like designing for an 8-bit computer game. You only have so many pixels/stitches. So perhaps it was good training that I spent my childhood glued to the computer playing Mario!

You’ve exhibited twice at Paris Fashion Week. What’s the biggest thing you learnt from that experience?

Fashion is a huge huge international industry and there are so many brands all fighting it out to have their product spotted. You see a lot of very similar products that are trend led and sometimes the shows can look quite homogenous in their product offering. It reinforced my belief that we need to continue to develop and carve out our own identity in our knitwear.

Creating textile based products is one skill, but selling them is another. How did you learn how to successfully sell your own products?

You have to be prepared and know all the terminology that a buyer will use. Unless you have experience in sales you also have to be prepared to throw yourself in there and get experience yourself.

In my marketing and photography I have a really clear idea of how I want the brand and products to come across, but I also think about the customer’s perspective a lot. What do they need to see or know in order for them to feel confident in making a purchase? How can I make it easy for them?

What’s your favourite piece from your collection and why?

From our new AW16 collection my favourite piece is our Elska Shawl. It uses three different colours in a row (Jacquard) and really exemplifies the idea of pattern gradient.

Want to browse or purchase Hilary’s collection? Visit her website or follow her on Twitter or Instagram.