Meet Brighton knitwear and crochet artist Kate Jenkins

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Playful, poetic, and impossibly intricate, Kate Jenkins’ knitted creations are joyous to behold. Previously a freelance knitwear designer for major fashion houses such as Marc Jacobs, Missoni, and Ralph Lauren, she now spends her time knitting bespoke pieces from her beautiful studio in Brighton.

Learn more about her fascinating artistic practice and the newly-available limited edition knitted paint tubes she’s created in collaboration with us.

Kate Jenkins with a prototype of her new limited edition paint tube and her dachshund puppy, Dilys

Q: Hi Kate! Before you started making incredible pop art, crochet, knit and embroidery creations, you had a successful career designing knitwear for several big fashion houses, can you tell us more about that? 

A: Yeah, I studied fashion textiles at university, and then I worked for 15 years as a freelance knitwear designer, giving ideas to brands like Marc Jacobs, Ralph Lauren, Whistles and Missoni. I came up with complex stitches and colour combinations, or anything they wanted that had a little twist or novelty feature. 

And then, in 2003, I started my own label called Cardigan in Brighton. My designs included things like crocheted flowers, ladybirds, and insects on the end of a scarf or a pair of gloves with a little mouse on the index finger. Those cute little details became my signature look and they were very popular. 

After a few years, I was looking for new ways to publicise my label so I started knitting the nation’s favourite foods – things like a fried English breakfast and classic fish and chips – and people loved it. I sold out completely and it all escalated from there really. I started getting commissions from art galleries to make new food-related designs and it took my career in an exciting new direction. 

Kate’s knitted fish counter exhibit at The Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexander Palace in 2015
Pieces from Kate’s pandemic project, ‘The Art of Shelf Isola-tin and Social Distance-tin’

‘Sometimes, if I’m walking down the street and I see a really beautiful cake, I immediately think: I really want to knit that!’

Kate’s recent knitted baked goods
Knitted patisserie items on display in Kate’s shop in Brighton

Q: You’ve also created some really nostalgic, quintessential British dishes like fish and chips and roast dinners. What sort of food catches your eye and makes you want to turn it into a knitted object?

A: Sometimes, if I’m walking down the street and I see a really beautiful cake in a patisserie on a milk counter, or a big chocolate cake with nuts sprinkled on it, I immediately think: ‘I really want to knit that!’ I’m always on the look out for what hasn’t been done before. 

I love finding the right bead that will look just like a poppy seed, or the right stitch that look like sushi rice. I’m happy when the end result looks really realistic.

Q: There’s also an undeniable element of humour in your work. Is it important for you that your work has a particular reaction?

A: Yeah, I love thinking of ways to add visual puns. Sometimes, it’s something that resonates with somebody, like recently I knitted a plate of sausage and mash for a museum show but the sausage was actually a dark skinned sausage dog. It looks beautiful, but then you go ‘Oh, is this sausage also a dog?’

Brightly coloured metallic yarn in Kate’s Brighton studio
Crocheted champagne bottles in Kate’s Brighton studio

‘Things have caught on fire before! Once I used a griddle pan to get the right barbeque effect on a knitted burger.’

Q: You’ve also made some brilliant knitted apple tarts with fishnet stockings, stilettos and red lipstick which are in your current solo show at Museum Rijswijk, right?

A: Yeah, the exhibition is called ‘Cafe Kate’ and it’s on until March 2023. It’s travelled to other countries before and it’s always thematically linked to the location. So, for this show, I made a list of all the Dutch foods I liked the look of and are quite popular over there. Things like the apple tarts and something called HagelSlag, which is bread with chocolate sprinkles. I was so happy when I found glass beads that looked just like the sprinkles.

When I did the show in Barcelona, I made crema catalana – which are similar to creme brulee – and I managed to get the burnt bit on the top look realistic by using an actual blow torch. I like using different equipment to get interesting visual results. It’s like a lab in my studio sometimes. 

Things have caught on fire before! Once I used a griddle pan to get the right barbecue effect on a knitted burger I made. You’ve got to be careful, of course, otherwise days of work can go up in flames. But I just love finding little techniques and things like that to make my work look realistic. I just want people to remember the things I make and go, ‘Oh, that was really beautiful!’ 

Knitted items in ‘Cafe Kate’, including apple tarts and chips with mayonnaise wrapped in gingham paper
Pole dancing apple tarts on display at ‘Cafe Kate’, her current exhibition at Museum Rijswijk

Q: Your designs vary in size and subject matter, some are more fiddly than others. They must take an incredibly long time to make?

A: If a design has text or hand embroidery on it, it takes a really long time. Each piece is different though. Sometimes my designs can be really spontaneous and instinctive: an idea pops into my head and I just start knitting. I don’t even sketch it out first. There’s a lot of trial and error. 

Q: Have you ever had any really crazy briefs? Designs that are really complicated to bring to life?

A: Well, I do love a challenge. Once a client who is quite a famous shoe designer asked me to crochet her boobs – they even had to have the right nipple colour!

Q: You’ve made three limited edition crochet paint tubes in collaboration with King McGaw. What was the making process like and how did you finalise your designs?

A: After a few discussions with the publishing team at King & McGaw last winter, I came up with the idea of doing a series based on the iconic Winsor and Newton oil paint tubes. I really wanted to play around with the names on the tubes. So the titles I’ve embroidered on have been changed to ‘Woolly and Newton’ – a pun on the material they’re made with.

I made quite a few prototypes beforehand as it took several attempts to get the typeface right. It’s all freehand embroidery on such a small piece of fabric which makes it very fiddly. It’s not completely perfect like with a machine but that adds to the charm of it I think.  

It was fun experimenting with the shape of the tubes being squeezed and the various colours too. The hand-crocheted metallic yarn is really effective too. It comes from Japan. I see these three knitted paint tubes as the beginning, really: in the future, I’d really love to knit a little paint shop with an array of paints, palettes, brushes and easels.  

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