Homegirl London pays homage to Melanie Porter. She’s the mistress of all things knitted, making a fabulous range of original furniture pieces by sourcing antique furniture from auctions and markets and then literally knitting them something to wear. Melanie also has a range of cool and colourful home accessories – light shades, coat hooks and cushions. After 10 years working as a knitwear designer for international fashion brands, Melanie Porter took the plunge in 2008 and set up her own company. She trained at Central Saint Martins but her yearning for the yarn started long before that … I caught up with Melanie to find out more …
Q: What’s the attraction of knitting?
A: I love the fact that you start with one single strand of yarn and then build a fabric from there. It can be 3 dimensional, stiff, full of holes or start going in one direction and then turn 90 degrees and go in another direction. It’s a totally versatile process and that is even before you experiment with materials.
Q: How did you get into knitting?
A: My gran originally taught me to knit. At first I remember knitting squares for a patchwork blanket with her. But really I became interested in the properties of knit while studying fashion at St Martins. I then went on to explore knitting more at Nottingham for a MA. I then worked in London for Burberry before spending 2 years out in Italy working with their supplier. On return I went to Pure Collection and was a freelancer for NPeal.
Q: Why set up your own business?
A: I desperately wanted to start making things again, after spending many years on the design side. I started by making my own cover for a piece of furniture I had reupholstered when I couldn’t find a fabric that I wanted. By 2009 I was selling bespoke pieces, made to order for people who had seen my work through word of mouth.
Q: Tell me about the products you make.
A: I make knit covered furniture and home accessories. Anything from Victorian armchairs, 1960’s swivel chairs to lamps, cushions and clocks. Every piece is totally unique with the cover being hand-knitted to shape and then felted to create a cosy, yet hardwearing finish. The knit cover allows me to position colour and texture in specific positions to create one-off designs.
Selection of Melanie’s knitted wares
Q: What inspires your designs?
A: A large majority of my work comes from bespoke commissions from clients; either they ask me to recreate one of my previous pieces on their own chair, or change the colours. Or I’m invited into their home to discuss a design idea and make suggestions of style, or colours that would fit in with their existing furnishings. A design is often inspired by a pattern on a tile in the fireplace or a cushion. If I’m creating a design to sell ‘off the peg’ it is often because I have been inspired by a chair that I have come across and the chair itself leads the design. I had a strong idea that I wanted to make a black chair when I created Nora (Black nursing chair), but the frame had come from such an eclectic home that it just needed the green leg to make it work.
Q: Who has inspired you most in your career and why?
A: It would have to be my grandmother and my mother. I don’t remember ever seeing my gran without either a piece of tapestry or sewing in her hands. She made her own lampshades and tapestry seat covers, which my grandfather would use to reupholster their furniture. When I was growing up my mother was a spinning and weaving teacher. I have been surrounded by textiles my whole life.
Q: Do you knit by hand or use a machine?
A: Both. Very few of my pieces are 100% one or the other. I often take knitting off the machine, complete a section in hand knitting and then put it back on the machine. There are certain stitches you can only achieve by hand which give a wonderful textural quality.
Q: Do you have a team of knitters?
A: I do nearly all the knitting – it’s the part that I love! I have an upholsterer who restores all the furniture to a point where I can put on the final cover. I’m always asking my mum to do bits and pieces for me.
Q: Where do you work from?
A: I have a studio in Bermondsey where I do most of my work but I nearly always have some hand-knitting to complete in the evenings at home.
Q: What’s coming up in 2013?
A: I have a book – ‘Hand-Knit Your Home’ released on the 14th March which includes patterns for 30 home-ware products. I’m participating in The Campaign for Wool’s ‘Wool House’ at Somerset house in from 13th March. I’m hoping to have another pop-up shop in Covent Garden in Spring 2013 (date to be confirmed).
To find out more about Melanie check out her website www.melanieporter.co.uk. You can buy accessories from Wolf and Badger in Dover Street and lamps are at The Forest Bailiff in Wimbledon. See below for a selection of her knitted goods. Credits: text by Homegirl London, images courtesy of Melanie Porter, special thanks to Melanie Porter.
Dot Hanging Light, £520
Daisy Light Fitting, £290
Hugo Cushions, £155-450
Rory Coat Hook, £850
Ollie and Otis Pair of Kid’s School Chairs, £290
Hardy Cinema Seats, £2600