Today we’re delighted to bring you this fascinating interview with Berni Raeside of Detta Textiles. Berni owns one of only a handful of studios in the UK and Ireland still producing on a vintage Dubied knitting machine.
Read on to find out about her range of wooly wallpapers, where she finds her inspiration and how her knowledge of wide format digital printing has helped shape her business.
- What’s your story?
I was born in Dublin, Ireland, into a creative family. My mother taught me to knit at a very early age and I always had a craft project on the go growing up. I studied art and design in school and loved it, but life took over and I developed a successful career in marketing in the wide format print industry. Throughout the years though I kept my creative juices flowing by developing crafts such as glass painting, jewellery making and screen printing.
Six years ago I went back to university to study textiles. I had a keen interest in digital print and how technology was driving the market so I wanted to understand textiles from fibre to finish with a view to being able to use this in my professional career. I genuinely didn’t know if I would be any good and if I still had ‘it’ creatively – it was a long time since I sat an exam!
I knew after the first term that this is what I was meant to do. It didn’t feel like work, even though I was working full time hours as well as doing my degree work and looking after my family. I had re-discovered my love of knit, and texture in particular, and I was hooked. The hard work paid off, as I graduated from the University of Derby with first class honours and launched my brand, Detta Textiles, six months later at Showcase Ireland, Dublin, a tradeshow for Irish crafts.
- What is framework knitting and how did you discover your passion for it?
Framework knitting uses static knitting machine beds, mostly double bed, that have needles that work the stitches as you move the cam across the bed left and right. Knitting, as opposed to weaving, generally creates a stretchy fabric, stretching in four ways, because of the actual way the yarn is knitted.
It was important to me though to remain true to my ideals of learning as much as I could and screen print and digital print still held a massive place in my psyche so I did both and combined them for my degree show. I now use both, knitting on a vintage 4gg Dubied and a vintage 7gg domestic knitting machine, in my work at Detta Textiles.
- You work with 100% lambs wool. What is your design aesthetic?
I focus on accessories like scarves and wraps and as such, shapes are really simple. So my main focus is on pattern and colour. My palette is inspired by the colours of the Atlantic coastline, of Ireland and around Britain. A lot of my patterns are geometric but some are based on celtic designs and architecture. I’ll be working on more complicated shaped garments for SS and AW17.
- Where do you find pattern inspiration for new product/pattern designs?
I find it in architecture and modern structures as well as wild and windy coastal spots and also in abstract things, like window structures, high-rise buildings, staircases, cliffs, rock structures and nature.
- Talk us through the creative process from ideas, design and final concept and to the finished article…
My design process usually starts with a road trip where I take photos, sketches and just absorb the atmosphere of the place. From there I start to create sketches using a variety of mixed media and my favourite medium is ink and bleach. Then I start to experiment with stitches and patterns and structures and then I start to look at the yarns. Once I’m happy with this I turn my attention to the colours and start knitting swatches, which I then hone down to a final collection. Generally the whole process takes about four months from start to finish, although I have ideas in my head for much, much longer!
- You are one of only a handful of studios in the UK and Ireland still producing on a vintage Dubied knitting machine. How does your work transfer to printed designs for fabric and cushions?
Lambswool is a beautiful yarn to work with but inherently it needs great care to keep in prime condition and it’s at a high price point. I wanted to create a range of cushions and interiors, based on my knit structures that would be more suitable for the average family budget, but that didn’t compromise on quality. I found a beautiful faux suede fabric to print with that could be washed in a machine, thereby giving the “look” of a knitted cushion, without the hassle of the after care.
- Tell us about your recent “wooly wallpapers” project and how it developed from your experience in the world of wide format digital print…
Both the fabrics for the cushions and the wallpapers are printed digitally using the latest in wide format print technology. The wallpapers are printed using HP Latex printers and the fabric for the cushions are printed using MTEX direct-to-textile printers.
I wanted to create a range that couldn’t possibly be created any way other than digital. I’m a massive fan of traditional screen printing and so I didn’t want my wooly printed designs to take away from this skill sector. The scale was important too. My degree showpiece was 3m wide by 10m long – there’s not a knitting machine in the world that could knit that in one piece; the only way this piece of fabric could be created was by digital print.
- Why is your Aran Ambitions collection a game-changer from a design concept perspective?
The world associates the cable knit with Ireland so I created a traditional knit collection using a modern fresh palette as well as the collection of “knit-look” patterns for digital printing.
The knitwear is unique and hand made, the digital designs are printed using state of the art eco-friendly printers for wallpapers and 100% recyclable fabrics using water-based direct disperse inks and by using only 100% lambs wool in the knits, the whole collection is completely sustainable. A new Irish heritage knit for a new generation.
- How can digital textile print techniques help our planet?
They are environmentally friendly, use no water and very little power in comparison to traditional dying and printing techniques. It’s a stark contrast to how the mass produced textile industry is slowly killing our environment. Digital print technology may be the only route to help combat river pollution especially in India and China, where the majority of the worlds’ cloth is dyed. I have strived to create a unique concept, marrying traditional knit methods with digital technology for print.
- Where can we find your work and have you worked with any big names?
In my swatch work, I have sold to some big names including Ralph Lauren. But of course, as every swatch or print designer knows, once the design is sold, it’s no longer ours. My knitwear is now on sale in 20 independent outlets across the UK, from Brighton right up to the Isle of Benbecula as well as a wonderful gallery near Shannon in Ireland.
My ‘Wooly Wallpaper’ design forms part of the Global Irish Design Challenge exhibition at Dublin Castle over the summer, showcasing the best in Irish design from around the world and curated by the Craft Council of Ireland.
- Who are your favourite knitwear designers?
Irish designer Lainey Keogh. She burst onto the global scene with her collection in 1997 during London fashion week and many famous models walked for her as a favour, including Naomi, Helena and Marianne Faithfull. It was also the debut for Sophie Dahl. John Hurt read Seamus Heaney as these powerful ladies of all ages and sizes walked the catwalk in their ‘Laineys’ and U2 played music. She uses natural fibres and human nature is her inspiration. She’s known now for shunning the fashion industry and is a bit of a recluse, but she is still designing amazingly creative and beautiful knitwear.
- What gets you up in the morning? And keeps you up at night?
Mostly the school run and getting myself, my teenage son and our three dogs fed, watered and ready for the day. Finishing work off or cleaning product photos ready for upload to the website and social media posts is what keeps me up at night. I can get so immersed in website work that I can easily lose an hour or two without even realising.
- What’s the most rewarding thing about what you do? And what is most challenging part?
I really enjoy watching people fall in love with my work whether I’m at a trade show or autumn fair. I find it very rewarding talking through the creation process. I also love it when I’ve knitted a batch order for an outlet, and I see it all neatly labeled, stacked and packed, ready to go to its new home, it’s very satisfying.
Not having enough hours in the day is the most challenging part of being an artisan maker/creator. There’s so much that needs to be done outside of the design and knitting like website maintenance, social media, photography, blogs, accounts, sales, customer service and much more. It can be frustrating but we are aiming to employ at least one person later this year so fingers crossed this will help!
In the meantime I have taken on two Textile students from Derby University on an Internship for the summer, and it’s working well. They’re a great help and I’m teaching them new skills and ways of production they’ve not covered yet.
- What advice do you have to budding knitwear designers?
Don’t give up! I was told at my first craft trade show in Ireland that it would take at least five years before I could pull a real wage – experience is showing me that this is indeed true. It’s only a matter of time and hard work and you will get there. Most independent designers also do other things, like teaching, workshops, freelancing, etc… even part time jobs that have nothing to do with design!
- What is the big dream for Detta?
My dream is to develop into a full production heritage knit studio with two or three knitters working full time and to export our knitwear. Kegworth, where we are based, was known for knitwear right up until the fifties when everything went out to factories. So we are the first knitwear studio in the village since then and the only one in the East Midlands using traditional manual framework knitting machines. It’s really important to me to keep everything handmade so we will never be a massive company, but will remain true to the heritage artisan ethic that we started with.