A ‘knitting nanna’ this lady most certainly is not. A clothing designer creating beautiful and bespoke clothing items Jenny Hutchinson, proprietor of Jenson Designs, most certainly is!
I recently had the privilege of meeting Jenny and finding out about her amazing artisan business. I must confess, unfortunately, the term ‘knitwear designer’ did initially create an image in my middle aged bloke’s mind of knitting needles and woolly pullies. However, meeting her and discovering her work was a real eye opener and preconceived idea buster!
Jenny uses knitting machines to create a range of fabrics and has a spontaneously creative approach to design. The result is unique and beautiful clothing. Even a cursory glance at her products tells you her clothing is crafted with passion and to a far higher standard than the mass produced items, often of questionably exploitative origin, to be found on many a bargain clothing rack.
Yet although her products ooze luxury, the price tags remain entirely sensible and fairly priced. My sister in law accompanied me on the visit to Jenny’s studio (to assist with terminology) and was soon reaching for her purse. Jenny showed me tunics, which I would never have guessed are knitted, and I came away with a renewed faith I could think of beautiful future birthday and Christmas presents for Mrs F in the form of bespoke quality clothing which would fit perfectly and last!
“It’s frustrating” Jenny explains,“a ‘knitting nanna’ is what many people think of when you say you are a knitwear designer. Many people don’t realise just how many clothes are in fact knitted and how much work goes into the design process”.
Jenny’s approach to designing is to get hands on and experiment. Crafting as she goes, allowing her instincts, mood and inspirations to guide her until she produces an item that matches her exacting standards. Then, and only then, does she assess whether the garment is commercially viable and decides whether to abandon or continue with the idea.
Jenny tells me,“I get my inspiration from many things. It may be a picture with an interesting colour combination such as a sunset or sea view. I like to recreate textures and patterns I see around me, it could be anything that catches my eye really”.
This means designing can take a long time. It may see an idea scrapped after much work and before ever coming to fruition or necessitate some serious problem solving when the end result may still not be viable.
She continues,”I can spend quite a bit of time just looking and feeling a cone of yarn until an idea comes to me. This means I often have several projects running at any one time and will change my mind half way through but I think thats just the creative in me going into overdrive as happens to most designers”.
Jenny’s take on her designing approach is a reflection of her character. For all the creativity she is humble, down to earth and extremely approachable. Perhaps that’s down to how she came to be a designer. Many years ago, her late mum was trying sell her knitting machine to pay for a particularly large phone bill. Refusing a ’hand out’ from her daughter, Jenny resorted to buying the machine from her mother.
Practising with the machine caught Jenny’s attention, garments made for friends and family were well received and built her confidence. Motherhood saw the need for some extra income so Jenny secured some work online producing for other designers. From there things snowballed. More intricate work for independent designers followed and twenty years later, disenchanted with seeing little credit for her work selling for others all over the world, Jenny went for it and set up on her own.
It has not all been plain sailing. Just over ten years ago a factory fire at Brother, Jenny’s preferred manufacturer of knitting machines, dealt a hammer blow to the industry. The resultant loss of servicing staff and expertise meant Jenny had to learn how to service knitting machines herself. Like many sole traders, this was one of many ‘hats’ Jenny has had to wear just to be able to stay in business.
Perseverance has brought rewards,”It’s not always easy but it is extremely satisfying seeing my own label in my work” says Jenny. Over time she has worked with and for fashion designers from all over the Country sometimes producing some really unusual creations including cartoon character balaclavas!
“Design is very much a two way process” Jenny tells me and a core part of her business offering is to work with all clients (not just designers) in securing the design for their needs or of their dreams. This is particularly resonant for those looking for wedding knitwear or families seeking bespoke baby layettes for the arrival of their new members.
“So far, every challenge that has come through the door has been met” she proudly, and justifiably, reflects. She thrives on the challenge and loves the maths driven brainwork inextricably linked to her craft.
Fancy a go yourself? No problem! Jenny also offers lessons on a one to one basis or for groups up to three people. Marvelling at her achievements and tolerance for my initial cluelessness, I tell her she must have the patience of a Saint.
“Well,” Jenny whispers, “some folk have been known to take hammers to their machines before now but I haven’t”! I can well imagine. Jenny epitomises someone who has found and grown into her niche by working extremely hard. What’s really inspiring is her passion to share it with others.
Jenny runs a stall at the Royal William Yard, Plymouth, on the first Sunday of each month. She is extremely approachable and fascinating to talk to so why not visit, have a chat and see some of her products for yourself?
Jenny can design for men and women and all ages and occasions. She is always up for a challenge so if you have something in mind just ask! Do keep in mind, however, design requests require a minimum 28 day notice period so don’t leave ideas to the last minute!