Cheryl Lampard is a long time friend of Mary Maxim who hosts educational knitting videos on her Facebook Channel Knitter Matters. We are very excited to introduce her clever and stylish take on modern knitwear in this Designer Profile.
I can’t remember being taught to knit. I have a vague recollection at around age 4 or 5, of being given a small basket containing little balls of colored yarn, each no bigger than an egg, and a pair of kiddie-sized plastic knitting needles; I’m pretty sure it was my first knitting kit which is why it’s ingrained in my memory. As to who taught me how to knit – whether it was my mother or grandmother – I can’t recall. What I do remember is that in our household, learning certain things was almost by the process of osmosis – knitting was one of them. Lucky enough to grow up within a family whose parents and grandparents were skilled with their hands, it was as if I only had to be sitting with them watching what they did, and then I was doing it too. I’m sure it wasn’t as simple as that – no doubt there were tears of frustration on my part, and huge amounts of patience on theirs, but that’s how it is in my head
When British fashion designer Mary Quant collaborated with knitting pattern companies in the mid-1960s, I desperately wanted to knit one of her designs, but my mother deemed them to be “too grown-up” for a 10-year-old (mostly, they were), and I had neither the allowance (or pocket money as it’s known in the UK) nor the foresight to buy just the pattern. Visiting the retrospective Mary Quant exhibition in London last year, seeing those same patterns – now in display cases as revered items of historical fashion interest – I was that wistful 10-year old again.
In my teens, I continued to knit, for the most part quite successfully, except for the lilac knitted tie made for my father, which he wore only once. When I questioned him years later, he explained it had been challenging to wear because the narrow end of the tie was so long, several inches of it had to be tucked into the waistband of his pants. Despite that sartorial setback, my love of knitting and yarn never diminished.
In the 80s, handknitted garments were high fashion. Creative patterns from innovative designers and exciting, novel yarns were appearing – even new yarn shops were popping up. I had a thing (still do) about paisley motifs and, not finding a pattern I liked, adapted a basic sweater shape which, using intarsia, was knitted in black mohair with cobalt blue paisley shapes. I cannot tell you how many compliments that sweater received.
At the time, I was working as the Personal Assistant to the CEO of a fast-growing fashion accessory retailer; my career path had stagnated but I found myself being drawn towards retailing. I had noticed that even though yarn shops were getting makeovers, the customer experience hadn’t necessarily taken the same journey – in my eyes, something was still missing. Either they all sold the same yarns, or they were intimidating: one store in London was fitted out with a counter between the customer and the merchandise – you had to ask to see or touch a ball of yarn! My mission to create an upmarket yet friendly yarn store had begun.
It took 18 months, but in February 1987, wearing my black/cobalt blue mohair sweater, I proudly opened the doors to YōMō (the Japanese word for wool). We sold beautiful yarns from across the world, I designed sweaters for knitting kits and commissions, I taught people how to knit, and we had a wonderful customer base. I already had a pretty good sphere of knitting knowledge, but I seized every opportunity to learn as much as I could – from yarn suppliers, visiting knitwear designers, trade fairs, and, most importantly, the knitting habits of my customers. I developed a good eye for color combinations and the ability to visualize what a garment would look like when it was made up. If I couldn’t visualize it, I knew it wouldn’t work as a finished piece.
I lived and breathed the store for several years and then was made an offer I couldn’t refuse and sold it. Soon afterward, I was commissioned by a London cashmere house to design a collection of exclusive intarsia sweaters.
My new career saw me involved as part of a team preparing the dresses of Princess Diana for an important touring exhibition, and then in 2018 as a TV commentator for the royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Four months ago, one evening back in March, as is the case most days after dinner, I’m sitting with my husband, knitting while we watch TV. COVID-19 has been declared a pandemic and we’re all staying home. For the last few days, I’ve been thinking about my knitting and teaching skills, and I announce to my husband that I have an idea. I see a look of alarm flash across his face as he ponders what I’m about to say and how it will impact (a) our bank balance, (b) his sanity, and (c) life as he knows it. Before he can say anything, I state, “I’m going to teach people how to knit via Facebook Live.” All my husband says is, “Okay, you’d better do it then!” At this point, I have no clear idea of how to go about it, other than I want to do it. Two days later, my husband videos me announcing that “Knitting Knowledge & Purls of Wisdom” is coming. Now there’s no turning back!
So here we are, fast approaching 20 episodes in, of what is now called Knitter Matters, with thousands of views and followers around the globe, a dedicated page on my website, the launch of a group on Ravelry and an invitation to write a blog and contribute to all the knitting fans at Mary Maxim! All as a result of an idea that originated from my sofa. Of the many highlights in my career, this has been the most unexpected.
We often hear about the cyclical nature of life. Remember that little knitting kit with the plastic needles I mentioned at the start of this blog? After episode 1 of Knitter Matters, I received a question from a viewer asking if I could demonstrate with different colored needles as she was struggling to identify which needle was which and what each was doing. What a brilliant suggestion! How hard could it be to find different colored needles, I asked myself. Well, as it turned out, pretty hard indeed to find different colored needles in a pair of the same size. I did, however, find one pair. And yes, you’ve guessed it, they’re a pair of kiddie-sized needles – one red, one blue, complete with smiley face end knobs. As if knitting could get any more delightful.
Knitter Matters is dedicated to everyone who loves knitting. Helping people discover everything they need to know about knitting, yarn, and associated products, and connect with others who love the art. I look forward to connecting and sharing with you all.