Who are you?
My name is Olivia Holland and I am the owner and creative director of luxury Knitted Textiles brand, Olivia J Holland.
A bit of background
I trained as a Textile Designer at Chelsea College of Art & Design where I specialised in knitwear. After graduating, growing up a little, and a couple of years of searching for the kind of position in industry that I desired, I decided to start work on launching my own label. This decision came from feeling dissatisfied with what the industry had to offer for someone who not only wanted to design textiles, but also craved to stay close to the making aspect of textile design, which I had become so close to during my degree.
I felt I had spent 3 years honing my skills on an industrial knitting machine and that I wanted to use them. I loved the constant problem solving and experimentation of making. I loved the freedom of creativity you get as you construct fabric on the machine. When you design knitwear in a digital way, for an electronic process of making and production, you are restrained in so many ways, you have to have a plan, a pattern and get it right.
The beauty of working on a mechanical machine, is your ability to be hands on for the entire process. You can change the slightest thing to reveal something completely new and unexpected. Mistakes happen, but sometimes these mistakes inspire a whole new design idea. This passion led me to save for, and purchase my own industrial knitting machine, thus, Olivia J Holland was born.
How I make
I work on a 12gg Santagostino hand flat industrial knitting machine. My machine is hundreds of years old and totally mechanical. It requires me to stand and move the carriage across the needle bed manually, adjusting everything as I go, transferring and holding needles, changing colours etc, to create the desired fabric. To get an idea visually, each scarf from “The Lisbon Collection’ takes around 8 hours to knit on the machine (not including design time, washing & finishing)!
Santagostino, is the brand of the machine (Italian). The 12gg represents the gauge of the machine, i.e. how many needles there are per inch of the needle bed. Industrial knitting machines come in a huge variety of gauges from very chunky to very fine. Mine being 12gg means I am able to produce a very finely knitted fabric. The gauge of my machine definitely plays a part in dictating the kind of work I produce and the yarns which I use. My favourite yarn to work with is silk, although recently I have also worked with a very fine cashmere yarn which I knit in with the silk.
A lot of the companies which made the hand flat knitting machines (industrial knitting machines which are driven by hand) do not exist any more and so they are not always easy to come buy as you can only buy second hand. There are companies making new industrial knitting machines, such as Stoll of Germany and Shima Seiki but these machines are computerised. Of course, a computerised machine is able to knit fabric a lot more quickly and some also have the ability to knit complete garments, therefore they have taken over the hand flat industrials, which are now only really used in small design studios like mine.
Why I make
I like to use my hands. I have always been a very hands on learner and tactile person (which I think has something to do with my love of fabric!) There is something I love about having machine oil on my hands, having broken nails and cuts on my fingers from arguments with the machine needles. I feel like my hands are used, loved, and pushed to their limits. I also enjoy the challenges that the machine poses me with, and the life long journey of becoming a master of it!
When I am making, I have all the patience in the world. The machine demands total concentration as the smallest error can ruin your work. I find I go into my own world when I am making, so totally focused that it enables me to forget my surroundings and become more creative and productive.
My studio is now based in Deptford, South London, in Cockpit Arts business incubator for craftspeople. Being a part of this collective is amazing as I am surrounded by tremendously skilled designer makers, all of whom are a testament to what our hands can do if we teach them to. Whilst technology and computers are incredible for so many reasons, I am very passionate about the importance for our constantly developing society to not forget how to use our hands.
The future of the handmade
As a designer maker, it is not easy to compete with big brands; high street or high end, who have huge teams of people and factories making their designs come to life all over the world. For designer makers, creating work is a time consuming labour of love.
However, I believe there is a change happening to how and why we shop, and that people’s appreciation for the handmade is increasing. Consumers are starting to care more about what they buy, where is comes from, and how it is made. More people are becoming interested in craft and learning the value of a handmade product. Our desire to stand out from the crowd and own unique items suggests a positive future for designer makers. As more people look to sway away from buying a new item on the high street every week, to saving up for that special one of a kind piece, we hope that we can give them what they are looking for!
By Olivia Holland www.oliviajholland.co.uk