Knitting and craft work in general has been making a big comeback over the last year or two and it is great to see a whole new generation picking up those knitting needles – the styles, ideas and enthusiasm just blows me away. So I’m really excited to welcome onto the blog tonight the uber funky Rachael from wool shop emporium Prick Your Finger…but it’s not just a wool shop…. as Rachael will reveal… prepare to be as awe struck as I was!! Hi, Rachael, welcome…
Hi, I am Rachael Matthews and I run an independent yarn shop and textile school in Bethnal Green. I love fashion and art and making things. I have made clothes and knitted from a very early age. Growing up in the Lake District, there were no fashion stores so I created my own looks from my grandmother’s old sheets, curtains etc. This was my greatest education. I went to art school in London, did a degree in textiles, and a teacher training course, but it was making stuff in my bedroom which taught me the most. These days, I run the shop, show works in galleries, and write about textiles.
I adore your idea of a knitting shop with a difference – selling yarns, having artists in residence, teaching knitting techniques and your website & blog are very informative too – where did you get your inspiration from?
The ideas come from my day to day life, the people I meet, the books I read, things that are happening all around me.
As a child our knitting shop in the village which was very old fashioned with hilarious window displays under that funny 1950’s orange cellophane, which stopped things fading. I would dream up designs for jumpers I wanted to knit, based on what I had seen on telly or in magazines, and my mum would take me to the knitting shop. I would try to explain to the lady what I wanted, but the yarns and patterns were never quite right, and I was scared to ask for help. Prick Your Finger is my teenage fantasy yarn shop. A place where you might meet great knitters, and be able to discuss your ideas, ask for help, and find a way to knit the ideas you have in your head, or copy a designer garment you can’t afford or even be invited to a party to meet other knitters. The shop is a very organic place. The artists help form the character of the place, and the customers bring new energies and ideas.
I love to teach people to knit, because it is actually quite easy once you understand what is happening, and very good for you. I have never failed to teach anyone yet! I have successfully taught men with huge workman’s hands, ladies with long nail extensions, and people who describe themselves as Kak-handed.
What’s the most unusual item you’ve designed or have you had any strange design requests?
In the early days of teaching knitting in pubs, the men I taught would often joke that they were making a willy warmer. This went on and on, until one day I thought I would write a pattern for an anatomically correct willy warmer called ‘Penis in Cable’. I sold it as a kit, and it went down very well with hen nights and groups of older ladies.
To date, what has been your most popular yarn, type or colour or both?
We have a range called Knit by Numbers, which is a Double Knit Merino yarn, in 7 colours, but over 70 shades. It is great for designing in bold blocks of colour, or you can create subtle shades accross your knitting. We also sell a chunky hand dyed ‘Slub’ which is a lumpy, felty, soft and mottled yarn, which is great for the beginner knitter scarf, as the lumpy effect hides the mistakes, and looks very chic.
What’s your most favourite item that you have ever made?
It’s a difficult question because I have made so many different things. When I was 16 I made a multi-coloured stripey jumper, and I have just started wearing it again. It’s special because it was the first piece I made without a pattern, and at the time I was delighted with it. Rainbow is quite in at the moment, so it’s back out of the loft and I am proud to say I made it when I was 16.
Your teaching workshops offer an array of subjects to cover all abilities – from macrame to making socks before Christmas – do you enjoy the buzz of teaching? What came first – the shop or the teaching workshops?
I have been a teacher for much longer than the shop. I started off teaching people with learning difficulties which was a great experience. Teaching in the shop is easier and more intimate. I love the buzz of teaching because I love giving people the opportunity to make things. I keep the classes small so that my students learn deeply and thoroughly.
You have some impressive talented international artists in residence – and your shop, website and workshops offer a chance for everyone to admire their talents – whose work should we not miss an opportunity of seeing?
Our current show by Lisa Anne Auerbach from California, shows us how we can write or draw anything in our knitting. Lisa’s ‘Sweaters’ are publications with protests and riddles and quirky symbols, knitted into them so you can wear your opinion on your sleeve.
Our next show will be with East London Textile Art’s work with the Down Syndrome stitchers. The pieces are beautiful and very abstract, but what is interesting is that what ever kind of person you are, if you spend time putting stitches and colours together repeatedly, in a calm and loving environment, the soul shines through and out comes beautiful work.
Knitting, and craftwork in general, is becoming popular once again – even in my small village we have 2 craft/knitting groups circulating – what do you think will be the knitting trends for the next season?
Great you have a knitting group in your village!
This next season is exciting in that you can mix pattern and colour in quite a wild way. I have seen a trend of people buying an ecclectic selection of yarns, to knit simple garment shapes in a collage effect. We all have a favourite ball of wool in the stash, which is not enough to create a garment, but you can bring it in and choose it a selection of complimentary colours and textures, and then stripe a jumper or knit blocks to stitch together. The idea is to go wild with the fabric and thrown it on. In the same way we also have a double denim selection of yarns which a great to mix.
Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?
I try to do glamourous workwear. I am simultaneously serving in the shop and dying yarns out back. I like to wear something I have made everyday, so usually tights, hotpants and a sweater, topped with Tatty Devine or a bernstock spears hat. OR I wear a plain dress or jumpsuit, with a multicoloured knitted hat.
Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?
Tatty Devine, Bernstock Spiers, Ebay, Style Bubble.
What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?
One of my students, Kay Davis, is painting an old pair of shoes for me, so I am excited to see what she does! They will be quite wild. I am also waiting for a Navy blue hat from Noel Stewart, which I ordered for after fashion week…it will top the double denim slouchy jumper I am knitting. Then jeans is a problem – they are at their best when they have totally fallen apart, but not quite fallen apart, and they are all dangerous close to completely falling apart. This is a big job to find a new old pair!
Boots or Shoes?
Oh and I need a new pair of sandals to wear with knitted socks in winter, which I know is a fashion faux pas, but it’s fun if I can find the right pair…
Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter etc so that readers can find out more about you and your products.
Facebook:Prick Your Finger
Thanks Rachael …. your ideas are fab, I love your shop and I wish you continued success…
All photographs are published with kind permission of Rachael Matthews. Photo Credit also to Harriet Vine and Antranig Basman.