We are thrilled, proud and everything in-between to have the Sunspun family’s Kylie Robson for the first of our new occasional series, Meet the Maker, which celebrates the wisdom of the creative makers in our midst.
Kylie’s new adventure is Whisky Bay Woollens, a tightly curated series of seasonal knitting patterns, and are they a beauty – evocative, very wearable and uses lovely yarns that render the experience of making them a true pleasure. We thank Kylie for giving us a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how Whisky Bay Woollens started, from a germ of an idea to this first collection.
Come away with me …
What a beautifully evocative name Whisky Bay Woollens is. Where does it come from?
Thank you so much! When I was searching for a name to publish under, I knew I wanted to evoke a moody, coastal vibe, so I started playing with different concepts. Whisky Bay is part of Wilson’s Prom, which has been a special place for me all my life, and whisky and wool – well, they just go together, don’t they? As soon as I put them all together, I knew I had my name.
What is your background?
I have a long history relating to knitting, being taught by my paternal grandmother when I was just five years old. Both grandmothers knit prolifically (and beautifully!) and one also spun her own wool and did a lot of natural dyeing.
My mum would also knit wonderful Fair Isle jumpers in Icelandic Lopi and one of my dearest auntie is an artist. Surrounded by these gorgeous, creative women, it was probably no surprise that I was obsessed with woolcraft.
I also went to uni and completed a Fine Arts degree in painting. Unlike the great art vs craft debate, I found both creative fields complemented each other well, with mutual influences.
We love your story about coming back from the Craft Sessions and deciding to take the plunge to back yourself, and commiting to creating your own designs. So many of us dream, but do not follow through. How did you feel when you realised you had a first collection and when the website went up?
Completely overwhelmed! I was so excited to see the dream come alive, and I was extremely fortunate to be working with a web designer who really got where I was coming from with my vision for the site. Claire, from engelDesigns, was a godsend.
I think I held my breath for the first hour when we went live! The initial response has been so positive and amazing; I have truly been blown away by the support and I’m so happy to see it all come together.
How long did each piece in the collection take to come to you? Do they come to you resolved or are they all in the knitting and re-knitting, in the un-venting, as Elizabeth Zimmerman may put it?
Definitely not resolved. There are many, MANY hours of knitting and re-knitting and changes and tears! The Squeaky Beach mitts were a great example – that lace panel had four incarnations before I finally settled on the final version.
During the evolution of the collection, there were some lovely inter-relations too. The texture in Balnarring was initially slated for the mitts, but it really seemed to work better on a larger scale, so I swapped it. I was very lucky to have some good friends put their hands up for test knitting too, and their input and advice was invaluable.
What have the challenges been? And what have you loved about this grand adventure?
I think the biggest challenge was having the confidence to back myself. For a long time I questioned if I had the competence to write original patterns, and would people like them or want to knit them.
Finally I decided that I needed to trust my instincts and my skills and just start. From that point on, it has really been such a wonderful experience and I was excited daily about getting to work on the development of the designs and the website.
How did you choose the yarn for the projects?
I wanted to showcase texture for this collection and that was a big factor of the yarn selections. Isager Tvinni was chosen for its loft and beautiful heathered texture. I just love its woolly nature and knitting it doubled produces a beautiful warm fabric with a very tactile surface.
Cascade 220 worsted is one of my favourite workhorse yarns and it shows off texture in such a fantastic way. Plus their colour palette is so comprehensive, you can’t beat it.
The inclusion of the Shibui Pebble and Cima in Woolamai was deliberate, to use a laceweight and a light fingering weight to create a lightweight, soft fabric with interesting texture. There are a few different luxury fibres within the combination of these two yarns, including alpaca, silk, cashmere and wool, which adds to the tactile pleasure of the knitting process.
The trans-seasonal focus of your pieces is genius. Plus, layering is so much more fun! Can we expect more from you in this space? Because, apart from the occasional few days in the southern states, aran or bulky garments and accessories can be too much for most of Australia’s winter, can’t they?
I think finer knits are more wearable, and I’m all about the layering! I am committed to the trans-seasonal concept and it will definitely be an ongoing part of my design process. Even living in Melbourne, which is always reported as cold, I know I only get about a fortnight each winter to wear all my heavier knits.
What and who inspires you?
Oh my goodness, so many things. I think my years at art school definitely trained me well as far as how to see inspiration every day. I keep a visual journal on me at all times, and it’s full of notes and imagery and other random things.
The natural environment is a constant source of ideas for me. I just love being out in the elements and taking it all in. Leaves and seedpods are a current favourite. I see them everywhere and can’t resist picking them up.
I also have huge admiration for my creative circle of friends, who exist both in real life and online. I think it’s just a marvel of the internet that so many beautiful creatives can now be connected, and I’m often in awe at the calibre of what people are making everyday. So many talented people are out there, it really does blow your mind and I love how supportive this community is of each other.
What can we expect from Whisky Bay Woollens in the future?
The intention is for new collections to be released quarterly, in line with the seasons (but not wholly dictated by them). The next collection should be landing around November 2015, and is already well into production.
I’m excited about these new designs. My focus remains on accessories, with a couple of new categories that will be added to the mix.
Well … doesn’t that make you want to run away and follow your heart’s desire? Thank you, Kylie, for your insight. We look forward to November!