Something Old...Something New

Wearable art by Jan Knibbs

I am a fashion and textile designer specialising in couture embroidery. I have built up many embroidery techniques over the years and love to combine these techniques to create what has become my signature style. Some of my favourite techniques include ribbon embroidery and bead work, but I also love using machine embroidery on vanishing fabric. I have recently learnt more couture techniques including tambour and gold work, which I used in “Floral Geometric”.

I love to up-cycle existing garments and often incorporate vintage elements such as antique lace and pieces of costume jewellery into my designs to create something new and exciting, so I use the name “something old…something new” to describe my designs. This obviously has bridal connotations which I also like as many of my garments are perfect for vintage, bohemian or fantasy weddings. Although for many years I made panels and wall hangings inspired by poetry which I called “Poembroidery”, I have also made both of my own wedding dresses and won the Embroidery category in the British Bridal Awards in 2001.

I don’t really do seasonal collections as each piece is one-off and usually bespoke but my most recent look book features what I’ve called “Competitive Nature - The Couture Collection”. I have always been hugely inspired by nature, especially the changing seasons and many of the garments have won competitions and prizes, in particular the Hand and Lock Prize for Embroidery in which I’ve come 2nd twice as well as winning the Swarovski Prize.

I really enjoy the creative challenge of entering competitions and find that it stretches my imagination to produce garments which I might not have considered. A perfect example of this is my “Marie Antoinette meets Barbarella” outfit, which consists of a top inspired by an 18th century stomacher, an open crinoline, a skirt of digitally printed fabric with images of my embroidery and a waistcoat. Each part can be worn separately or together for full impact.

I am a complete magpie and have been collecting vintage clothes, lace and jewellery since I was a teenager as well as china and often this inspires and informs the design as I love to work with what I have to hand rather than necessarily sourcing everything new. For my seasonal, nature inspired designs, I often make many components such as the flowers, leaves and ferns before putting them together into a design either as a garment or a piece of statement jewellery or both.

The fashion world is notoriously difficult to succeed in and extremely competitive and I know that my work is not that commercial. I’m not particularly good at the whole marketing and promotional process and have always longed for my own “atelier” where I could work and people could see what I can do and commission their own pieces. In the meantime I’ve decided that my work is better described as “wearable art” so am planning a series of exhibitions to display them in a gallery setting.

I also enter a wearable art festival every year, “Art Couture” in Painswick, which is great fun and allows my creativity complete free reign. I was a wardrobe mistress for a while and know that my work is still quite theatrical. I enjoy collaborating with other designers who share the same aesthetic and would also love to design stage garments for creative performers such as Paloma Faith or be involved in making costumes for ballet, opera or film.

I do many collaborative photo shoots and in a way, the image produced is as important as the garment. I would love to explore this medium in more detail and have been hugely inspired by the Wonderland series of photographs by Kirsty Mitchell. I like to think of myself as a true creative so prefer not to be categorised. This means that I can stay true to myself and follow my dream, wherever that may take me. It also means that I can cross the boundaries between fashion, art and craft and enjoy the process of making but also give pleasure to others who seem to enjoy looking at my creative endeavours!

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