The London-based designer Anna Maltz creates patterns that bring smiles to knitters’ faces! Thanks to her playful use of colour and motifs, her modern garment shapes and innovative ways with yarn, Anna’s designs have won many fans.
Who inspired you to take up knitting?
I learnt to knit when I was five, mostly from my mother and oma (my grandmother in the Netherlands). I started doing it on a daily basis in my mid-teens, when I decided to knit mohair cardigans for myself and my best friend. That was in the 1990s and mohair was super '80s.
Do you have a favourite artist, writer, poet or musician who inspires you?
Knitting became a focal part of my art practice half way through the seven years I spent in art school. The work of Elaine Reichek, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, the Guerrilla Girls and a whole bunch of other 1970s feminist artists were inspirations. They made me feel like I could make work that included knitting, which engaged in debates wider than whether something was art or craft. It appeared like they'd covered that, but I'm constantly surprised that it's still a relevant question.
To me some knitting is art and some isn't, just like some painting is and some isn't. What I knit now is knitting, but it's influenced by my time making art.
Which knitwear designer has most inspired you, and why?
I have a large collection of vintage knitting patterns which I look at when I need cheering up. These designs are mostly by unnamed designers, working for now long-defunct yarn companies. I love the garments, but also the staging and the models. I enjoy sweater-spotting when I'm out and about, and imagining how those sweaters, made by unknown designers and makers, were made and could be remade.
Tell us about the colours, landscapes or architecture that inspire your design work.
I love walking around cities, people-watching and sweater-spotting. Inspiration is seriously everywhere, but I think, if I was locked in a room I'd do fine, too – my head is pretty full of stuff and ideas at this stage. Now it's more about prioritising which idea gets to come out and be realised. Colour is really important to me. It's such an intensely personal thing and I like playing with it and challenging myself to come up with combinations that are joyous, yet unexpected.
What is your favourite knitting book of all time?
I have a large library of knitting books from the past hundred years, in many different languages, but the one I have actually used most is my oma's copy of the Mon Tricot 1100 Stitches in Dutch from the late 1970s. It's in quite a taped-together state at this point and I now rarely use it for stitches, but still flick through it out of habit, when I'm thinking through options.
Finding a first edition of Barbara Walker's 1972 Knitting from the Top was a key part in me realising that knitting instructions could be conversational and educational, rather than simply following rules presented in a string of coded letters, numbers and symbols. For this I also really love the series of 'Hönsestrik' books by Kristen Hostäter from Denmark in the 1970s. I can't read them, but I can follow the pictures.
What fibres do you love to work with?
I'm drawn to natural fibres: wool, linen, alpaca and nettle, because I enjoy the history of them, can understand how they are made and know they are biodegradable. I enjoy a little silk here and there, strictly as a luxury. I mostly work with 100% wool. I don't need it to be super soft. The sturdier stuff generally makes hardier garments and I like that.
I love fibres that are comparatively minimally processed, to keep the environmental impact down. Cotton is complicated for that reason: so much water is used to grow and process it. And I don't think bamboo or milk really count as natural fibres, though they are based in organic matter: the process and resulting fibre is more similar to how those derived from petrochemicals are made. They're not fibres spun straight from the animal fleece or plant fibres.
Which design from your portfolio are you most proud of, or is most special to you?
I try not to put anything out into the world that I don't think adds something different and pushes the boundaries of what is possible a little further, even if sometimes it's only in a small way. I don't like to play favourites. However, designing the Humboldt Sweater for my first book, Penguin: A Knit Collection, really inspired me to work with the technique I've now called Marlisle.
Are there any techniques, traditions or styles of knitting you'd like to explore further?
I've really been enjoying developing Marlisle. It's a combination of 'Marl' sections of two yarns worked together to create a marl and 'Isle', as in Fair Isle, where there are sections of stranded colourwork using one or both of the two yarns separately. It's really quite simple, but it opens up so many possibilities. I'm excited that my book about it, Marlisle: A New Direction in Knitting has had such a good response and is inspiring other knitters too.
Discover Anna's patterns and books at www.annamaltz.com.