From foxes and deers to unicorns, toucans and even a blobfish, Louise Walker has been knitting up a storm creating her unique yarn kits…
If you prefer your taxidermy a little more cuddly than usual, Sincerely Louise’s woolly makes should be high on your Christmas lists this year.
The lady behind the needles, Louise Walker, recently moved from a small studio in Brixton to a big airy space in Sheffield, and admits she started her business five years ago out of her own necessity to knit. “When I left university there weren’t many jobs for domestic knitting pattern design, not to mention I had a degree in Commercial Photography, which is totally different!”
But her gamble paid off and her unique knitted creations have grown a dedicated following of yarn obsessives through her inspiring hashtags, quirky kits, books and subscription box. We caught up with her in amongst the boxes in her new studio to find out where she gets her inspiration from, her knitting heroes and why tea plays a very important role in the running of her crafty business…
Hi Louise! How did you become a knitter?
My sister, who actually studied textiles, taught me to knit one Christmas at my grandparents’ house. I remember being bored and desperately jealous that she had something to do, so I joined in as she learnt it for her course.
What’s the first thing you ever made?
The day my sister taught me I made an ugly Christmas green headband in garter stitch. It had holes, got bigger and smaller and was an all round mess. I loved it and wore it all the time.
Your designs are so unique – can you explain the process that goes into creating them?
I like to set myself a project, then find reference images on Pinterest. One of the best pieces of advice I was given at university was never to look for inspiration in your own field. I’ll look at illustrations or images of animals, then I just start knitting. Sometimes I have to pull the work back and start over again until it’s right. Sometimes I make several samples and adapt each pattern until I’m happy with the final result.
Where do you go to find inspiration?
The most inspirational place I like to visit is the Horniman in South London. It’s a beautiful museum full of Victorian taxidermy. Every time I go I take loads of photos. I like the creepiest exhibits the best – I mean, who thought a cabinet of stuffed dog heads was a good idea?
Can you describe your workspace and why it works for you?
One day my workspace will work for me! After moving from a tiny studio in Brixton to a huge new space in an old cutlery factory in Sheffield, I thought I’d have a lovely open plan studio. My landlord’s exact words were: “I can’t believe you’ve made this space look so small!” Once I’ve settled in and unpacked all the boxes it’ll be a lovely space. What really works for me is having lots of drawers and cabinets where things live. Otherwise they just live on the floor!
What does your average working day look like?
I’m not the earliest of birds and I tend to get to the office around 10am and have my morning cup of tea. I make up orders, do some photography while there’s natural light, followed by answering emails. Then it’s lunchtime where we can have a second cup of tea.
In the afternoon I do design work, page layouts or prepare stock for wholesale orders or exhibitions if needed. Then it’s time for the mid-afternoon tea, the best one of the day as there’s usually a caramel wafer bar involved. The post is usually collected around 5pm, which is an exciting time of the day as the studio is on the second floor with no lift. Then I’ll sneakily watch some TV in the office while working. I like to leave around 6:30pm (after Hollyoaks). Then it’s back home for evening knitting or to finish whatever work I didn’t manage to get done during the day.
How big is your yarn stash?
The studio is full of yarn, but my personal stash is probably at 16 or so cubby Ikea units.
Who are your favourite knitters?
Sue Stratford is one my favourite knitters. We’re staying together in an apartment during the Harrogate Knitting and Stitching Show, which I’m really looking forward to. Sue’s designs are so lovely, I’ve made one of her robins for my mum. Erika Knight is also amazing, I’m always starstruck when she comes over and chats to me at exhibitions. I also love Emma from Ann’s Orchard Needlework, I’m always buying her kits. And I have a couple from Hannah Bass, which I need to finish this Christmas.
Can you tell us a bit more about the hashtag challenges you host?
I hosted a Christmas in July challenge last year, which inspired people to cast on over the summer so they wouldn’t be overwhelmed with Christmas kitting in December – like I usually am. It was a fun challenge and I learnt loads about my followers. Some other designers and myself are hoping to get the #chinchillachallenge off the ground next. Watch this space!
You also run The Curious Project – what inspired you to start a subscription box?
The Curious Project is a monthly mystery knitting project where customers see a clue at the beginning of the month and at the end of it receive a knitting kit based on it. It’s all a secret until the kits arrive in the post. The knits are always fun, sometimes a little silly. They always make me smile. I’m not sure what inspired the project though. I remember sitting my with parents saying “mystery tote bags, nobody’s doing that”, and a few months later I launched the Curious Project. It’s really just an excuse for me to knit whatever I want!
What’s been your proudest project?
My proudest single knitting project was the tiger rug in Faux Taxidermy Knits. It was a beautiful life-sized tiger knitted in Wool And The Gang’s Crazy Sexy Wool. My proudest big project was self-publishing The Knitter’s Annual, where I designed, photographed and did the page layouts for 20 new knitting patterns. The book was inspired by 1970s annuals and is a proper hardback book with puzzles, quizzes and games alongside the patterns.
Name three things you can’t live without?
Tea, Coronation Street and knitting.
What’s been your biggest craft fail?
Getting my own brand of yarn produced and not telling anyone about it! I need to write more patterns in it and spread the word.
What’s on your knitting needles right now?
I purchased some horrible copper tinsel yarn from Aldi and asked my followers what they thought it should be knitted into. It’s currently on the needles and I’ll reveal what I’m making soon.
What’s the best bit of creative advice you’ve been given?
Set deadlines and work backwards from them – it’s called a critical path. I have a Google calendar that’s tells me when I should have something finished by. I try my best not to ignore it and work to my own deadlines.
Where are you happiest?
When I’m spending weekends with my partner Peter exploring Sheffield. Or just watching Corrie with him and knitting.
What does making mean to you?
Everything. Making is for me is all consuming. Once I start a project I have to finish it. It’s good for my wellbeing and keeps me creative. When I’m not designing I like to cross stitch or crochet. Peter doesn’t really understand why these are my hobbies, I always have to be making something.