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Interview with Debbie Bliss

By Allegra Wermuth

Amanda SouleWhen Brandy and I were preparing for our trip to TNNA, we learned that Debbie Bliss would be attending. You can imagine our excitement and thrill at possibly meeting this inspiring woman. Never did we think that she would have the time during the convention to visit with us. Truly one of the most enjoyable conversations I have ever had, and I'm sure Brandy would agree. Debbie maintains a very full life, which you can read about here. You should also check out her magazine, Debbie Bliss Knitting Magazine.

Debbie Bliss

Thank you so much for taking the time to sit and chat with us. We are honored that you are our first “in person” interview! Why don’t you start by telling us how you got into knitting?

I did a fashion and textiles course when I was 18 at art college. It was an art based course so I did things like making hats out of crisp packages. I couldn’t do anything actually practical, so I was unemployable. This was during a time when there was a lot of soft sculpture happening; taking hard things and making them into soft items. I remember one of my first commissioned items was to make a ham sandwich tea cozy! Anyway, I started making knitted flowers. And it was through the knitted flowers and plants that magazines started approaching me to design hand knits for them. I hadn’t knitted anything really since I was 7 years old, so I went to visit my mum and she re-taught me how to knit. That’s basically how I got started.

How did your pattern and yarn line come about?

That came about around 10 years ago. It was really hard to make a living designing hand knits. I opened a shop, still keeping up the designing, and started using other yarn companies yarn, using my own label. It really came about from that. And desperation actually <laughs>. In all honesty, the success of it, the yarn line, has really taken me by surprise. It’s quite shocking actually, in a lovely way.

Working in the shop, before my own yarn line, is when I really realized that good quality yarns, for babies and toys, etc., were necessary. Many young women would come into the shop, knitting items for their own children and they would say, if I am going to invest my time into knitting this, I want it to be with a really beautiful yarn. I don’t change my color palette, really, for the baby yarn. Some people love it, some people don’t. I think of rained-on gardens. I like pastels for babies, but I want them to be dusky pastels. I love working with smooth yarns, because I love stitch. They are great for babies too. When knitting for babies, you should use beautiful yarns, but they also have to be practical.

How was it having two young children at home when your line was starting?

When my daughter, Nell, was very young, she had a very hard time when I would have to go away. That was around the time that I was doing more workshops and things. It’s so much nicer now, because she is now 20 and travels a lot with me, and often does some modeling. It’s really lovely for me now, when she travels with me, because I don’t feel like I juggled it all very well when they were younger. I should have been stronger, and turn more work down. But it was hard. Because of what I do, there is always lots of deadlines, so you know, it would be hard to say, no I cannot do this or that because it’s half term and I want to spend time with the children. If I don’t do my part by deadline, then it doesn’t get to the printers, or publisher on time, and so on. But it is a bit of a regret that I have, that I didn’t take off more time.

That is a little bit of wisdom that we’ll keep in mind! Were you ever able to incorporate the children into your design process?

Not my son so much, but I’ve used Nell quite a bit as a model, so it’s been really nice to see her grow up in that way. In fact, when we travel together, most people will ignore me completely (which I love!) and want to talk to Nell, about how they remember her when she was in this book, at this age, and so on.

I remember when I did some knitted toy books, I would ask them what toys they would like. I particularly remember when I would be doing bears, embroidering their faces. They would run the test of Nell and Bill. You can go very quickly from a sweet, pleasant looking bear, to a sinister looking bear!

When the yarn line was about 6 months old, Nell was going into senior school and I really wanted to be home more. I wanted to be there after school for her, even if she didn’t want to talk to me! It was important to me that the children could come to me whenever they needed. It was important to me that work could be interrupted when they needed me.

What inspires your creativity? I would think that your daughter gives you a lot of inspiration.

I have always been very aware of a woman's body shape: how to disguise certain areas and how to focus on what is flattering. I am very aware that Nell has a wonderful hourglass figure. I’ve spent a lot of time creating A-line shapes and flare, because of hips. When Nell was younger, it was very hard to get her into anything of mine, because they were more classic or vintage. She had a mind of her own by the time she was three, I wasn’t about to get her into 1930’s style double-breasted moss stitch coat with a back belt!

Do you ever get the chance to relax or take a vacation?

I am starting to realize that I need that more, that you can’t always be so full on. I have actually requested a whole two weeks off this summer! It takes me about four days to unwind, so one week just doesn’t do it. I am going to be spending some time in Seattle, where I will be throwing out the first pitch at a Stitch n’ Pitch! I am petrified! <laughs> But after I finish working, Nell and I will be going to Forks, Washington to fulfill one of her dreams since she is obsessed with Twilight. In fact, we will be staying in the house where the vampires live!

What big things can we expect to see from you next?

Well, in all honesty, the Stitch n’ Pitch is very big for me! <laughs> I am a wreck about it and have asked Nell to hold my hand during it!

I have never gotten used to being a “brand”. My biggest concern about the magazine was that it was all about me, and that makes me really uncomfortable. Why would people want to know what my favorite things are? Designers like myself, or someone like Louisa Harding, who are considered “brands” are also individual designers. We are still working at home, sewing buttons on garments at the last minute.The thing I love the most, at the moment, is my magazine. I have always loved magazines, I started in magazines, really. Everything is always evolving, even if there isn’t really anything “new”.

Any advice to give women who want to start their own business?

Have the confidence to make it happen. They will be self-employed, at first, so the ability to maintain the courage to say no, when your needs turn to your family. These days, it seems much more acceptable for women to be able to work around their children. Especially when working with other women, they understand the need to work your way around your situation.

One last question, Debbie. When your children were little, what was your favorite pastime to share with them?

I have been blessed that I married a man who always loved an adventure. When we would pick Bill up from school when he was very young, we would tell him that we were going on an adventure! Let’s go to the seaside! And we would drive for an hour to the sea. We weren’t very sensible. <laughs> When Bill started coming out of school wondering what adventure we were going on today, we realized that he thought that this was ordinary! <laughs>

We want to thank Debbie for sharing her stories with us. It was so wonderful spending time with her.