As the weather is turning colder, we thought it was time to get our knit on and introduce knitwear designer Natalie Franca, aka More Tea, Vicar? Natalie has been knitting for most of her life, starting out at the young age of six. We recently caught up with Natalie to find out more about her inspirations behind her Folksy range…
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your work?
My name is Natalie Franca, and I’ve lived in Manchester for 24 years. I’ve been knitting for over 35 years and haven’t really spent a day not knitting since I was taught. I have a full-time job so my spare time in the evenings and weekends is taken up by knitting for my Folksy shop. I love to knit accessories for people to wear and also items for the home.
Who taught you to knit?
My Nan and Mum taught me to knit when I was six, and I haven’t really stopped since. I still remember learning on my little red plastic needles and little balls of wool that they had left over. The first things I knitted were lots of squares for a patchwork blanket, which my mum and dad still have at their house. Then as I got older I went on to knitting jumpers and cardigans. However, for years when I was still living at home in Berkshire, I was always asking my mum to cast on and off for me and work all the shaping (sorry Mum!).
Did you always want to become knitwear designer?
I wanted to be a knitwear designer in my 20s, but the time wasn’t right. Then about four years ago I knitted a tea cosy as a housewarming gift for a friend, who was also opening a shop in London. She loved it and asked me to knit some items for her to stock and it went on from there. I then discovered Folksy and haven’t looked back.
How do you design your patterns? Is there anything that influences you?
It depends really, sometimes I can be sitting on the bus or trying to get to sleep and an idea pops into my head. Or sometimes I buy some lovely wool I’ve spotted and then think what I can make with it. I then draw a design, write some pattern notes and start knitting a test version. As I’ve been knitting for so long, I can tend to guess how many stitches and rows I need to knit. My favourite season is autumn and a lot of my knitwear is influenced by muted autumnal colours, though I do love to knit bright and colourful hats for children and babies.
Can you talk us through one of your pieces from start to finish?
I have a new range of chunky cowls in my shop – one of my bus journey ideas! I ordered the wool I wanted to use and then I sketched the design and measurements. I knitted a test version, but it wasn’t as wide as I wanted (so that’s now a gift to myself to wear indoors over winter). Back to the knitting board, I added more stitches and knitted. When I design something new I tend to write the actual pattern as I go along, so I remember exactly what I did. Once I was happy with it, I sewed it up, then sewed one of my labels in it and it was ready for photographing.
Are there any artists, designers or periods that particularly inspire you?
I love Kaffe Fassett, I think he’s every knitter’s hero. His designs, colours and textures are absolutely wonderful. I’m in awe of him! I love the styles of the 1930s and 40s and my ladies’ hats with the detachable flower brooch were inspired by that era – they look great with the hat pulled down and the flower worn to the side. I made little girl’s versions too, but in brighter colours.
How did you find your style?
My knitting style developed naturally really. I like to knit accessories that any age can wear but are also modern. However, I did make a conscious decision to only sell accessories, as that way I can keep most of the items in my shop in stock and not knit to order.
Where do you work?
My studio is my sitting room and sofa! I’m quite lucky that I don’t need a separate room to do my work in, although I would love another extra room to store all my wool. I used to get excited about buying handbags, but these days I get excited about buying wool, and I have lots of it! I keep all my wool in big zip-up storage bags (which have taken over my flat) and all my work is stored away neatly in plastic zip-close bags and kept in big plastic storage boxes in another room. I keep all my knitting note books in a magazine rack next to me and keep all my knitting needles in a gorgeous vase I received for Christmas last year on my coffee table, along with a cup of tea or coffee and I’m all set to work.
What are your three favourite tools?
Knitting needles (obviously!). I recently discovered a beautiful range of single-pointed needles by Knit Pro called Symfonie – they’re made from laminated birch and are a joy to knit with. As I do so much knitting, and especially in my busy periods, I can get very achy, stiff, swollen fingers and since using these my hands have been fine. They are also colourful, which I love. I must have over 50 pairs of needles, some of which are about 40 or 50 years old which have been handed down to me, I love the thought of all the things that have been made with them over the years and that are still made with them now that I have them. I also love notebooks, I can’t do without them and I’m very partial to A5 notebooks with lovely covers. I use them all the time when knitting – I draw my designs in them and also work out and write my patterns in them. I always have a notebook next to me when I knit, so they are definitely a tool. Last but not least, I have to sew my pieces up, so a good set of wool darning needles in a range of sizes are a must. I prefer the blunt-ended point ones as they are less painful if you prick yourself!
What is your favourite wool to use and why?
I absolutely love to knit with Aran wool, be it 100% pure wool or a wool mix. I love the texture of it and how it knits up. It’s also very warm, which is great for my items as they are mostly autumn and winter accessories. It’s also hardwearing and doesn’t tend to bobble.
Is there a piece of work you’re particularly proud of?
I think it’s the piece that started More Tea, Vicar? off four years ago: the Daisy Flower Tea Cosy. They do take me hours and hours to make though as the daisies are very fiddly, but once it’s finished I always feel really pleased with it. They’re not my most favourite piece of work to knit though due to the fiddliness but they have sold all over the world, which makes me very proud. I’ve now got a new range of Aran wool tea cosies in my shop, which I hope will be just as popular.
Finally, do you have any tips for other wannabe knitters on how to get started?
Practice and patience and lots of it. There are some great tutorials on YouTube, however, try to look at the UK ones as some of the terminology used in the US is slightly different. There are also some great learn-to-knit books around which also have easy projects to make. I would start off by getting yourself some 4mm metal needles (about 25cm in length as they’re easier to hold for beginners) and some double knit wool and knit some squares, so you can practice your stitches and tension. Don’t be upset if you make a mistake and have to undo rows or start again (just think of it as having more knitting time). I’m very meticulous with my knitwear and if I spot a stitch out of place or one that doesn’t look right, I undo it (sometimes undoing an evening’s work), but that’s all part of being a knitter and it’s where having patience helps.