You’d be lying if you said you didn’t want to see knitted replicas of your favourite foods: things like Wotsits, croissants, buns, cakes and oysters. Especially if the stitching is so pristine and fine, that the craftwork might make you second guess its origin. This is exactly what Kate Jenkins achieves throughout her portfolio of woollen creations, an artist and textile designer who’s been working in the same Brighton-based studio for the last 16 years, frolicking and making in her library of yarn, sequins and stitching machines acquired over the years.
Originally from Rhymney Valley in South Wales, Kate moved to Brighton in the 90s to study fashion textiles, shortly followed by a move to London to work as a freelance knitwear designer. Many years later, she decided to return back to Brighton and set up her own label and shop, Cardigan, located next door to her studio in Kemptown, as a place to exhibit and sell her works. “In 2007,” she tells It’s Nice That, “I set up my first website and at the time didn’t have a budget for advertising, so I started to crochet plate of food to get people to look at my knitwear in a different way. As the fashion industry is competitive, I wanted to create something that nobody else was doing at the time. All of this led to the idea of creating an exhibition in the shop titled Comfort Food. This was my very first exhibition which comprised of the nations favourite foods, including fish and chips, roast beef dinner, sardines on toast, plus bangers and mash.”
After such great success with the show, Kate was then approached by galleries and publishers from across the globe, which is exactly the moment when her career as a textile artist started to kick off. Although not fully leaving her background in fashion behind, Kate is now utterly drawn towards the 3D versions of food and objects that she can create with wool. So much so that she’ll often head to the supermarket to ignite some inspiration, observing the shelves of food and baked goods to work out which will be her next potential subject. “Before the pandemic,” she adds, “I travelled a lot and this provided me with endless inspiration, whether it was visiting a fish market in Tokyo or a food market in Barcelona. I cannot wait to get on a plane and travel to get inspired by the world and all the endless ideas that are out there, to be reincarnated in knit and crochet.”
An apt blend of three – crochet, knit and embroidery – Kate’s artworks are far-reaching and able to draw from infinite possibilities. She currently has several projects in the works and finds herself spinning multiple plates between creating, designing and managing, mixing in her love of different yarn techniques in the process. “I am constantly searching for new yarns and sequences from around the world, always striving to get the perfect materials for the desired result,” she notes. “I guess I have always been addicted to crochet and find it very therapeutic, even in times of stress when I have a deadline to meet. I tend to go into a ‘work bubble’ and become totally engrossed with whatever I’m creating until I see it completed.” And we can see precisely why; the method of crochet follows a remedially repetitive method, using one hook instead of two (the latter is used in knitting), making loops over and over again, counting each row and stitch until you reach the final product.
The past year has seen Kate work on various commissions, the most recent being a knitted Jaws poster. A quick detour from her usual food-based items, it was a great challenge no less. Having created a smaller version previously, Kate found it more difficult on a larger scale, proceeding to make use of knit, crochet, hand embroidery and hand sequining. “The end result was stunning, and once it was framed I took it down to the beach near where my studio is and did a shoot with me holding it,” she says. A further commission is a lockdown project that first took shape last year, created for the cruise line company Viking Cruises, “where my work can be seen on eight of their ships in their cafes on board.” This includes Viking Venus, which features artworks such as Seafood Cioppino, Lobster Bisque, Scandi Open Sandwiches and Assorted Bagels.
Whatever the brief, rest assured that Kate’s remarkable creations are going to bring you a bit of joy. Her ideas tend to range from the simpler ideas – like a piece of bread or a joke someone had said – to the wider and more thematic ones, like a knitted cafe, supermarket, a dinner party, bakery or fish counter. “It just goes on and on,” she adds. “I love to play on words and tie these in with my art, so it’s visually pleasing to look at and puts a smile on people’s faces. I just want to bring happiness to people’s lives. It would be an incredibly dull place is there was no humour, so if I can share mine with the world and spread the love and joy to all then that’s my message.”
Kate Jenkins: Woolly Wotsits. Knitted lambswool (Copyright © Kate Jenkins, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.