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Amber Hards: Novel Knits

Meet local designer-artist (and florist) Amber Hards, who can usually be found stitching something out of the ordinary for her creative sartorial collections

We first saw her work on the catwalk at Kings Weston House earlier this year and were struck by how creative knitwear could get. Having graduated from UWE and earned an innovation award from the Craft Council, Amber Hards is one to watch. We met her at Bristol Textile Quarter on Barton Road, where she teaches locals to machine knit…

Tell us a little about the latest collection…

I was inspired by the work of minimalist artist Agnes Martin – I loved how peaceful, hopeful and optimistic her work was. The colours seemed to glow through the painting and the repetition of lines and grids is something that works really well with knit. I also loved the work of classicism painter John William Godward – the women wear huge draped pieces made from, essentially, a piece of square fabric and I liked how this shape distorted around the body. I wanted to create clothes that were easy and elegant to wear.

I looked into different yarns, combining lycras with mohairs, lambswools with silks, and created fabrics that look simple from afar, but on closer inspection are quite intricate. There are so many ways to create and manipulate lines in fabrics. I added lycra so that they bunched up, or knitted ribs for texture.

Why did you choose to pursue fashion and textiles in Bristol?

I moved just over 11 years ago to study an art foundation and then a fashion/textile design degree. I also worked at Tobacco Factory Theatres while I studied and became part of a huge network of creative friends that made Bristol my home. I never wanted to live in London – the lifestyle has never appealed to me – but I love visiting for exhibitions and have lots of friends there. I love the quality of life I have here and love that Bristol doesn’t take itself too seriously. I’m surrounded by creatives from all sorts of different fields.

Ensemble from the ‘Saturn Rings’ collection

What’s great about Bristol Textile Quarter?

I love that it is a space specifically for textiles – it is so wonderful to see that industry being supported with access to machinery and other designers. It’s a lovely space to teach in and really reminds me of my uni days – seeing lots of inspiring work all around a room.

What tends to inspire your designs?

Often I’m inspired by nature, art and new, exciting yarns. I love seeing all the texture, pattern and shapes in nature and like to look at recognisable things such as jellyfish or flamingos and then present them in unlikely and surprising ways. I exhaust all the options, contrast yarns and ideas and end up creating hundreds of samples of fabrics. I try to think about making something new or different and that helps drive my design process forward.

What’s the ethos of your brand?

There are two levels to the label I’m working on. With the clothing I want to push forward the concept of knitwear and offer more exciting fabrics, yarns and ideas with a knit fabric. With the accessories that I create, I want to make timeless, beautiful pieces that last through the years. I design and make everything in my home studio so quality is a huge part of what I do.

Why do you think there isn’t much of a high-fashion scene here?

I think logistics is the main reason. A lot of the press, buyers, stylists and photographers from this country and beyond are based in London so naturally that becomes the hub for the industry.

Would you like that to change?

I don’t think anywhere will rival London for high fashion and it is a great place filled with creativity. But I would love to see more high-end fashion around Bristol – seeing people pushing ideas and fashion as an art form is something I’m very interested in. There are a lot more designers around the country now that are making their home the base for their career and with social media it is much easier to do this.From her earlier ‘Surface’ collection

What have been your career highlights so far?

I’ve had lots of little moments, including being chosen for the gala show at Graduate Fashion Week and having my collection shown in Shanghai. It’s always a huge achievement to finish and show a collection and I try to make the most of that. I created a jumper for Queen’s waxwork at Madame Tussauds – that was bizarre and fun.

Why did you choose to specialise in knit?

I love that I can create everything from a cone of yarn. It really means that you are present for every step of the design and creative process. First you experiment with yarns and techniques, then develop these into fabrics, knit them up and then they get made into clothes. Although it is often a lengthy process, it is so satisfying seeing the finished product. I’m also a huge fan of texture and knitwear is wonderful for experimenting with this. It has great scope for pattern, creating interesting silhouettes and, basically, it is limitless. There are also some amazing knitwear designers who have been pushing knitwear forward and making it so exciting. Helen Lawrence, Matty Bovan and Mark Fast are just brilliant.

Any interesting collaborations in the pipeline for you?

I’ll be working with a couple of photographers in the coming months to put together a new shoot with this collection and am being featured in a book about makers in Bristol which is super exciting. I’ll be designing another collection over the next few months and then will be preparing for the 10th Made in Bristol fairs at Christmas.

Tell us about your knit workshops…

I started teaching after I left my full-time floristry job a couple of years ago (during wedding season I still work as a freelance florist). It started with teaching a friend to use these old domestic machines; then I realised that I really loved teaching. They are beginners’ machine knitting workshops; you come for one or two days, learn all the basics, and then are able to go home and start following your own interests. I love showing the huge variety of fabrics you can create with different techniques and how exciting machine knitting can be. It’s often an eye opener, as commonly machine knitting is thought of as the ‘quick fix’, when actually it takes time and patience to master and, depending on the techniques you are using, can be just as slow as hand knit. I love seeing people interpret techniques differently. I teach them from my home studio and there’s plenty of one-on-one time.

Do your textiles and floristry ever cross over or inspire each other?

Not directly but, looking deeper, I’ve found that it has helped me work with colour and texture. I think there will definitely be a collection of florals soon; there is so much inspiration there for texture, form, pattern. Who knows? Maybe I will find a way to knit with flowers!


Featured image: Amber experiments with lycra and knitted ribs for texture (image by Ania Shrimpton)