My story, Claire Newberry –
Knitwear Designer

It was during my foundation course that I came across a knitting machine no one seemed to be using in the corner of one of the studios. I had no previous experience of knitting before but I had a go on it to investigate what I could do and how it worked and to see what would happen. Basically, once I’d got on it I never came off! That experience made me decide I wanted to be a knitwear designer, originally within a fashion course at one of the fashion colleges. In the end I didn’t go down that route and eventually did a BA degree in Constructed Textiles which meant I was producing my own weaving designs and knit designs.

As a new graduate I won The Royal Society of Arts’ Young Designer into Industry Award. The prize was a year’s employment with a big knitwear company. The same firm then offered me a full-time job as a knitwear designer and I worked with them for five years before deciding to go freelance. Having my own business was something I’d always wanted to do, so my degree and the knowledge of the knitwear industry stood me in good staid for my freelance days. Those early years working with buyers and technicians were a good training ground for me and I’ve now been freelance for 16 years. I have an agent who sells my designs and I work with a variety of companies including Moschino and River Island. Also, for about five or six years I did some teaching at university, which I enjoyed immensely.

Apart from my freelance contracts I work as a designer-maker. I’ve developed a range of hand-made scarves in luxury fibres. These are produced in small quantities, maybe 10 to 15 of each item, and can’t be made as cheaply as a mass produced item. Fortunately some people are happy to pay extra and are prepared to pay for something more exclusive than what’s available in the high street. Knitwear is a bit seasonal - I show at exhibitions around Christmas time and I supply galleries and small independent shops. It’s getting more difficult now with some places closing down and people wanting smaller orders – it’s a hard life being a designer-maker.

 

Claire Newberry

   
 

Anyone thinking of being freelance designer must be prepared to work hard; it’s not an easy life, it’s a way of life. Working for yourself is not a 9-5 job, you’ll put in a lot of hours and have to meet deadlines so it’s not as glamorous as it might sound. You have to be strong-willed and self-motivated and prepared to take knockbacks and disappointments along the way, but when people like your portfolio and appreciate your creativity, that’s the thing that really spurs you on and keeps you going.

At the end of the day I don’t know what else I would do. Being freelance gives you lots of opportunities. You have to be open minded and it can take you out of your comfort zone at times and it can take over quite a lot, but as I said, it’s more than a job, it’s a way of life!

Visit Claire’s website: www.clairenewberry.com