Today she fronts one of the biggest brands in the UK hand-knit industry, with a business empire encompassing yarn, books, pattern design, and even her own magazine, but Debbie Bliss launched her career selling simple knitted plants and flowers.
While studying fashion and textiles at college she struggled with the dressmaking side of the course and fell in love with knitting instead. “I found it very difficult to grasp pattern cutting and then discovered that the knitted fabric was a lot more forgiving and moulded to the body in a way that I found easier to design with,” Debbie explains. “Originally I experimented with knitted structures and then designed knitted plants and flowers which I sold to shops such as Liberty. With the publicity from this I attracted the attention of
magazines and I began designing fashion knitwear for them.”
With a natural talent for creating a distinctive product even at this early stage in her career, Debbie’s best-selling books, classic designs and signature colour palette attracted the attention of Designer Yarns, a UK distribution company that was interested in working on a collaboration. Naturally, she jumped at the chance to launch her own range of yarns 12 years ago, and continues to be personally
involved in every aspect of choosing the fibres and colours. “It is important to me to keep the integrity of the brand, so I choose yarns that I love and that I feel the knitter who likes my style of designing will appreciate,” she says. “I love smooth yarns that show off stitchpatterns so my yarns appeal to knitters and crocheters who enjoy working with the texture created by the craft of knitting or crochet rather than textured yarns. It may be that my yarns continue to have an appeal because knitters recognise that my products are not
chosen by committee and that there is a connection between myself and the customer.”
As part of the ongoing development of her range, Debbie keeps an eye on current trends by following blogs, reading style magazines and watching the catwalks, but attending trade fairs and meeting manufacturers is also a key part of helping her stay ahead of the curve. “I go to Pitti Filati, the Italian trade show in Florence twice a year to look at the yarns manufacturers have been developing for the following year,” she says. “I may see yarns there I love, or discover ones that need further development. I also meet up with manufacturers at the Handarbeit Fair in Cologne. These trade shows give me the opportunity to keep in touch with upcoming trends and colour forecasting.”
While we may initially be drawn to Debbie’s trademark colour palette in the local craft shop, she says her choice of shades is usually inspired by the quality and texture of the different fibres. “I choose colours depending on my response to the yarn itself,” says Debbie. “A silk blend may make me think of the beautiful sari fabrics I see in the shops in East London where I live, while a soft cotton seems to invite sorbet shades. When I am adding to existing ranges I will look at colour trends but also what shades enhance the current palette.”
Debbie has published 35 books and 20 pamphlets to date, and she’s something of a “Delia Smith” of the knitting world – her patterns have a reputation for being reliable and her designs always turn out beautifully. She attributes her successful formula both to her natural instinct for good design and an in-depth understanding of the way different yarns work up and drape. “I am interested in fashion and trends, but I am also interested in designing knits that flatter women,” she says. “I am privileged to be able to work with my own yarns so I understand how they behave and so the yarns also inform the designs.”
The Debbie Bliss brand is huge in the USA, of course, and she says that over the years the growth in social media and the online craft community has closed the gap between UK and US knitters and crocheters. “In the past I would have said there was a difference between the two markets, but with the influence of the internet and
sites such as Ravelry I don’t think there is much difference in the tastes and styles of the two countries these days,” she says. “If pushed I would say that perhaps knitters in the UK and Europe are more fashion influenced whereas in North America knitters tend to be more craft influenced and enjoy the challenge of working more intricate designs. I do listen to what my distributors have to say about what customers want in their territories and take on board their suggestions if they fit in with the brand, but I have to stay true to my own style or it will become designing by committee.”
In the time she’s been working in this industry, Debbie has noticed a tremendous change in attitude towards yarn crafts, to get to the point where crocheted or knitted garments or accessories can be seen as fashionable. “They have changed profoundly,” she says. “For too long there has been a very patronising attitude to crafts, mostly I think because historically they were done by women so they were not taken seriously. Young people particularly have contributed to a very different perception of crafting and the advent of knitting and crochet
groups, both in the real world and online, has introduced the social element, while the appearance of more crochet and knitting on the catwalks has increased the popularity of these crafts generally.”
Now in her sixties, Debbie shows no sign of slowing down her pace or retiring, and has just launched her first homewares collection, assisted by her daughter Nell, so how does she manage to juggle so many career strands? “I am grateful for the success I have had but never take it for granted and as the business grows it becomes more difficult to keep all the plates spinning,” she says. “Instinct tells me what I like but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the product or collection will be successful. I am my own worst critic but now use that to refine and edit rather than beat myself up!”
Tell us your thoughts below.
Sorry, there have been no comments on this blog post yet - why not be the first to leave your opinion?