Scottish-based knitwear designer Rachel Collins – aka Selvage learned to knit with her granny when she was small. Her love of Fair Isle and traditional Scottish weaves grew from there. Using yarn from Aberdeenshire, Rachel’s work is very much rooted in her heritage. We talked to her more about her love of the Scottish countryside and the inspirations behind the collection…
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your work?
I live in Fife, Scotland where I design and knit handmade gifts and homeware. I’m inspired by Scottish landscapes and traditional patterns. I like to use renewable, recycled or locally produced tools and materials.
You originally studied as an architect, why the change in career?
Prior to becoming self-employed in 2010, I had no experience of keeping accounts or running a business, so I enrolled on a course to help with the gaps in my knowledge. Others on the course were planning to start businesses based around their hobbies and that started a chain reaction. I came to the realisation that during a recession it was important to diversify and that perhaps I could also make money from doing something I really love.
How did you discover knitting, were you taught by anyone in particular?
I learned to knit with my Granny Collins when I was about five or six. She loved to knit Fair Isle style tank tops for my sister and me. The first thing I knitted with her was a very simple stocking stitch teddy bear.
You are based in Scotland and this is evident in your work, could you tell us what influences you?
Beautiful Scottish yarn, traditional patterns, and the colours in the surrounding countryside.
What is your favourite wool to use and why?
It’s important for me to use locally produced materials. The yarn I use is spun in Aberdeenshire, the majority of the fleece comes from Shetland flocks, it is specially blended from the “first clip” of the lamb’s wool. It combines the durability of traditional Shetland yarn with a softer lighter handle and drape. The mill I use has been producing yarn for over 200 years, this heritage, the colour blends, and the special qualities of Shetland yarn embody the essence of Scotland.
Can you talk us through one of your pieces from start to finish?
Sometimes new designs simply come from a personal desire to use a particular colour of yarn, or I feel inspired by seasonal colours, other times inspiration comes from the people around me. The Fair Isle hot water bottles developed because my Granny had brought back a contemporary bottle cover from a trip to Shetland. It had a Velcro fastening and she loved it but struggled to open and close it and even to carry the weight of it when it was full, so I made a mini bottle out of colours I already had in stock. This proved to be lighter and easier for her to use. Motifs similar to the hearts, flowers and anchors I used can all be found in more traditional Fair Isle knits but I start the patterns from scratch on a sheet of graph paper and play with colour swatches until I achieve a mix that I am happy with.
How did you find your style? Did it develop naturally or did you make a conscious decision to work in a particular way?
I started at the beginning of an financial downturn so ideas of social and economic sustainability were at the forefront of my mind. There is real comfort and reassurance to be found in age old traditions that have been passed down the generations. I think a lot of people feel the same way and I hope that continues, it can only be good for the UK economy. I hope my love of tradition and British materials shows through in the work.
Can you share any tips for other knitters on how to get started?
There’s enough acrylic on the high street, but try to use gorgeous good quality British Wool. You will be spending a lot of your precious time working on whatever you’re producing so make it worth your while.
Are there any artists, designers or periods that particularly inspire you?
I’m probably most influenced by indigenous textiles, it’s hard to improve on fabric with a long history. I’m lucky to have family and friends who share this interest they are a very inspiring bunch to be around, and often bring me back gifts of textiles and yarns from their travels.
Where do you work?
I share studio space with a tapestry artist. We have a wall of shelving chocked full of silks, wools, and linens in every imaginable colour and shade, and plenty of natural light. The studio is made of Scottish larch and is well insulated. It is furnished with a little oak table to work at and an old Ercol sofa for tea breaks. We look out on a vegetable plot, some retired chickens, and an occasional pheasant.
What are your three favourite tools?
The first knitting machine I bought from an auction site for around £50, it never lets me down so long as I keep it well oiled and clean. A little pair of stork shaped embroidery scissors my sister gave me (my Granny always had the same style) and my laptop, an invaluable gift from Mum and Dad.
Finally, is there a piece of work you’re particularly proud of?
I was really happy when the grey blanket with the yellow and pink trim took off. I was getting constant requests from bloggers to feature it on their websites which was great motivation.