Mariko Finch: What was the catalyst and the starting point for the project? What made you jump into action?
Lucinda Chambers: It was very instinctive. When lockdown happened, we both thought it just didn't feel right to push product. And then a few seconds later we were like, let’s do 'Calling all Knitters!' We didn’t think about what it would become, we just thought let’s get everybody to knit a square, let’s get knitting. It was as simple as that.
Molly Molloy: We felt that we wanted to do something collaborative to connect people, and Lucinda said, everybody can knit, even if you can’t knit, you can teach yourself to knit. So, we decided to make this virtual blanket. We thought maybe we’re going to be in this lockdown for a few weeks and maybe five people would send in a square… and it grew from there. The next day we asked our designer, Danny, to do some graphics; "Calling all Knitters", posted it the next day, and by the evening, people were messaging, and committed.
LC: I think people responded so positively as they could make up their own patterns so they’re very free in some way, but they’re confined by the square. And remember, whilst many of us have been lucky, lots of people couldn’t work.
MM: We said wait until it’s safe to go and post things. Then when we came back into the office in May and it was incredible. We had boxes and packages from all over the world. This one guy called Luca made nine squares, and he wrote saying: “this has inspired me to knit, I haven’t done it for years." He made this beautiful crochet and wrapped them in tissue paper. It was so moving.
MF: At a time like this people seem to crave the home-made and the tactile as there is a comfort in those things. But this has grown into something much bigger than that, and it’s now been elevated to the status of an artwork. Would you agree?
LC: It has been elevated, metaphorically and physically, it has really taken off into the clouds! And we really thought, it is a "lest we forget" moment, and a portrait of this time. Thinking back a year ago to those early days of real anxiety and worry. It’s impacted people all over the world. In our dreams we saw this framed blanket on the wall behind a desk in the foyer of a big institution, "lest we forget". We want somebody to acquire it and put it in reception so that everybody passing will have a very emotional response to it in a very positive way.
MF: It’s very powerful document of the time. I wondered if you could talk a little bit more about the letters and the messages that you received. Were there any that particularly stood out to you?
MM: There was a group of women in Germany who’d got together and knitted squares. They arrived in a box and they wrote a beautiful note saying, it’s brought us together. Even people just saying thank you for organising this, and thank you for giving us something to do. One woman in the north of England had lost her husband and she said it kept her busy and gave her a purpose. We pinned all their names on the back, which looked really beautiful, people really felt part of it. One day we would love to make a book of this whole project.
MF: The charity that will benefit from the sale of the blankets – CADMI – had a set of very unique challenges in the pandemic. Can you explain the important work they do?
MM: They are a Women’s charity based in Milan doing incredible work. Obviously, it’s been a horrific time for them because they’ve been trying to find refuges for women, and they need more resources. They’re completely inundated. You can really put yourself in that position of these women that are trapped, in an abusive situation. I think it’s every woman’s horror, so I think it really resonated with people and they were very sensitive to the cause. We first discovered the charity when I heard the founder, Manuela, speaking in 2019. She was incredibly inspiring and she opened my eyes to what people can go through. It doesn’t have to be physical, and it can be anybody. She pointed out there will be people in this room that have gone through this and we wouldn't even know.
MF: Let’s talk about the Jackie Nickerson photographs of the swimmers in Ireland. How did that element of the project come about?
LC: Jackie Nickerson is a really fantastic photographer that we’ve worked with quite a bit over the years. Again, this was totally spontaneous. We emailed her and said: "Jackie we’ve got these blankets, can we send them over to you in Ireland, and could you photograph them in any way you want to?" She wrote straight back, saying: “I’m in”. So we sent them over to her, and Jackie came up with these amazing wild women swimmers. She also photographed over the hedgerows in her garden. It just feels so right that the women are wrapped in these blankets.
You don’t ever expect people to say yes. People are busy. Even in lockdown. But people just wanted to help and be involved and drive this forward. An incredible thing that’s come out of the pandemic, is that it has levelled the playing field.
MF: Are you going to try and harness that momentum of support and collaboration?
LC: Absolutely. I think now we really don’t want to let go of it. We’re going to think of other ways of continuing it because it’s been such a joy to be a part of. So, we’ve got our little fertile brains working on that at the moment.
"These blankets are a "lest we forget" moment, and a portrait of this time"
MM: Every single element of the project talks about the generosity of spirit that everybody has. Perhaps ordinarily that can be quite hidden because, as you say, everyone’s busy, we’ve all got our own things going on. But when you have to pause and you have to stop, it’s easy to do something that’s bigger than me, than us. Let’s help, let’s pitch in, let’s collaborate.
LC: You know, these gestures are very tiny and very doable, and yet, it can grow into a magical thing that’s so much bigger. I think that’s what we found really moving.
MF: Collaboration seems to be a very important ethos at Colville. Who worked on the finished blankets?
MM: Yes, it really is. When we had all the squares here in the studio, me and the team decided to colour coordinate them rather than making lots of mixed-up squares, so we put them all into colour blocks. Then we contacted an association in Florence called Manusa. They work with vulnerable people, mainly immigrants, to retrain them with skills in fashion and many of them are great hand-knitters. We sent the squares and asked them to crochet them together and create five blankets and also to put the fringes on. That was a really magical part of it; all these people sitting around the table putting them together.
LC: And we are now going to carry on working with them each season doing hand-knitted projects. The other thing is, you know, what feels very wonderful and always has done about Colville is the collaborative spirit that’s there. We’re not one designer sitting in an ivory tower with all that pressure on very young shoulders, which is what happens to a lot of designers today. At Colville everyone has ideas and pitches in.