Ella Gordon is a textile maker and pattern designer based out of Shetland, Scotland. Born and raised in Shetland, Ella's contemporary designs are informed by the traditional textile heritage that surrounds her and the unique landscapes that encompass the island. With a day job at Jamieson & Smith, Ella lives our real life Shetland dreams! She was kind enough to write the forward on our newly released book, Wool Journey, after meeting us at Jamieson & Smith while we were visiting Shetland.
All photos courtesy Ella Gordon
Tell us about yourself. How did you get where you are and what made you fall in love with textiles?
I did my degree in Textiles at the Shetland College and while there I got a Saturday job at Jamieson & Smith. I was already really getting into my machine knitting at college but being in J&S just makes you want to knit so my handknitting skills just grew from there. I never knew what I wanted to do growing up and always felt a little bit lost but when I began working with textiles and wool I realized this was where I was meant to me.
What inspires you to make and create? How do you keep inspired after so many sweaters, scarves, mittens, and shawls?
I'm extremely inspired by Shetland—my family, my culture, and history all inspire me in different ways but since I began designing knitwear I have focused on traditional-ish techniques but with a modern style. I also like to use my knitting machine so that helps speed up the process!
What does a typical day in your life look like?
Well, I work pretty much full time at J&S so I usually wake up, spend far too long looking at my phone, then rush to get ready for work! I mainly work in the shop especially in the mornings and gather the online orders, in the afternoons I am usually working on blogs or patterns and graphic design stuff for J&S which I really enjoy doing. If I'm on my day off I am usually working on a pattern/photography/blogging or knitting!
Your designs feel so fresh and modern while still rooted in traditional techniques. How do you balance the contemporary with the time-honored?
I'm glad you see that because as mentioned earlier that's what I'm trying to do, I have a big collection of vintage Shetland knitwear and I love to reference it for colour inspiration. Knitters of the past made some wacky colour choices but sometimes if you change just one thing it makes it totally different. Also, the main reason for a lot of traditional Shetland techniques is to make the knitting easier—after all, many women were knitting because they had to—so anything which makes my life easier I'm interested in! Steeks, for example, may be scary but I'd far rather knit than purl so if I can cut up my knitting I'll do it.
Do you remember the very first project you ever knit?
At primary school (age about 6) I made a flat garter stitch dog and I really couldn't have been less interested in it if I tried, haha!
What is the one tip/trick would you give for making beautiful fair isle knitting?
Practice, and don't worry. People always get quite worried about putting colours together but the more you do it the easier it gets. Also, when you first start knitting Fair Isle it is always so tight so just go up a needle size and breathe. :)
What is it like growing up in Shetland surrounded by knitting?
Well, I'm afraid I didn't really pay much attention until I was about 19, Fair Isle was pretty uncool when I was growing up and not to be seen dead in by any of my friends. In fact, I think the first Yoke jumper I wore was when I was a teenager on my dad's boat and I only wore it because I was so cold and no one would see me!! I feel like after that it crept into my wardrobe 'ironically' until I wasn't being ironic anymore and just liked to wear it! I have made up for lost time though and basically spend my life thinking about knitting and spending my wages on yarn and knitwear in charity shops.
What is the knitting scene like in Shetland? Do you go to any knitting groups?
The knitting scene in Shetland is good! I don't go to any knitting groups but there are a number of good ones all over the islands—I get easily confused while knitting so I usually do it alone. I would say I have definitely seen an increase in the local knitting industry over the past couple of years which is down to things like Shetland Wool Week and how accessible Shetland is now through social media, people value our culture a lot so it is much more present in everyday life—which is good for people like me!
Thank you so much for taking the time to share a little bit about yourself with us, Ella. You can follow along with Ella on her blog or instagram and you can purchase her knitting patterns via Ravelry.