My earliest memories of knitting are from my family. My mum always knitted me sweaters in different colour yarns. They were really beautiful and really good quality. My Aunty (my mum’s sister) is really good at crochet and she made shoes for the whole family during her spare time. It’s a really amazing pattern. I grew up in China, living mostly with my Granny, so the garments gave me a strong connection to my mum. When I wore the shoes/sweaters they were really comfortable and you felt connected to each other. Wearing the items made me think of my Mum and about my Aunty. It’s not only the materials that make you feel warm, it’s also my heart that makes me feel warm. That’s what first interested me in knitting and playing with yarn. It gave me an emotional connection to knitting.
I like to create my own fabrics, not just use those that are ready made, I describe myself as a textile based fashion designer. I learned how to knit quite late, in University when I studied textile design for my BA degree. It’s a shame that my mum couldn’t pass down her skills to me, but skills don’t have to be taught by a person. You can learn them on-line. Knitting really attracts me as you have multiple ways to control what the final fabric looks like. For example you can choose the dye for the yarn (dip dye or tie dye). You can choose the yarn quality or colour. Also, the way you knit and the way you finish, affects the texture; the different techniques give me 100% control of my fabric. I can totally express my designs and ideas. It creates something unique, you can’t find another piece with the same fabric anywhere else in the world. I want to create something original, that’s really precious. It connects a user of knitwear or knitting products, to the maker of the knitting product.
When I design, my favourite aspect is colour usage, combining colour with pattern. You can play around with the different colours, plating the knitting so you can have a different colour on the back. The second aspect I love is finishing. You can add prints on the top, to finish the fabric and make the sample look like patchwork, but it’s not. This is what I mean by really playing with yarn, it’s like art, it could be a hanging on the wall or a panel for a garment. The fabric and sample development are really playful and experimental.
My inspiration is from architecture or nature. I love to take photos to record beauty and use these ideas and moments in my designs. First you play, as after you cast off, it can look totally different on the machine. That’s what is different to hand knitting, as in that process you can see what it looks like as you make it. On a machine if you play with the tension and the stitches you can end up with something that was flat on the machine but has a texture and shape when you take it off. It might shrink a lot and look like pleats, or it might be like 3D architecture. The machine can bring a surprise to you. That’s the way you learn about knitting and discover how different combinations might end up.
In China you can explore career areas until you finish high school. When I was thinking about what I wanted to do with my life I talked to my parents and explained that I really wanted to do a creative job, to have freedom. My parents have their own retail business, so I had some experience in their company. I found that work repetitive. I explored two areas; the performing arts and also creative arts where you can only showcase your internal ideas by drawing or making.
Creative things are like another language. Sometimes it’s really hard to explain yourself in words. It doesn’t matter whether you try in Chinese or English. In art you can express a feeling through colour, or how you draw it, or the texture of the brush. This is freedom. Finance, business, management and banking are really popular careers in my culture and my parents wanted me to become a lawyer or work in management. But I was really lucky that my parents also respected my opinion so they helped me. They sent me to study how to draw. I looked at architecture, fashion design and art. Alexander McQueen was the person who brought me to fashion. Fashion design is not something that is limited to clothing. He used his own language through clothing to explain a story and to show the darkside of society. That is a really cool thing. He made me think about design and not just clothing. If I’d studied architecture, you can’t be playful as the buildings have to be safe. With garments you can play, you can enjoy what a garment looks like. It’s not just about being wearable, it’s also art. Wearable Art. That is freedom, that is what I want. You can adapt your own clothes to make your own clothes unique. It gives you personality, you don’t want to be the same as other people. The boundaries are limitless.
Now I’m working as an intern in design. I was really lucky to take one small step towards a design related job. I am working with a company on a ready to wear collection and an evening gown couture collection for Spring/Summer 2023. Unfortunately it’s not about knitwear, but I think that all the design departments share the same mindset. All the experience is transferrable so on one hand I’m sad not to be involved in knitwear immediately, but I’m glad that I’m involved in design.
The dream is still a dream. I still remember that the dream is beautiful, but I have to face reality. When I design, creativity is continuous so I work extra hours, but I really enjoy it. I can say something new. I enjoy the process. The creative job is hard as an international person, but I will keep on going. I know what the job I want to do is.
You can see more of Qinglin’s work on her instagram page