Posted on Friday, December 23 2011 at 10am
Alan Dart’s career as a knitting designer has taken him from designing sweaters for Elizabeth Taylor to creating quirky toys. Here he tells us about his affection for the mice and their dressing up box!
We know you studied fashion at Maidenhead Art College. What attracted you to that particular course?
Back in the Dark Ages, when I went to art college, there weren't that many courses to choose from, so I plumped for fashion because, although I really wanted to work in the field of handicrafts, that was the closest available subject. Being taught pattern cutting and making-up techniques, as well as fabric design and jewellery, stood me in good stead for all the work I do now.
How did that lead to commissions from stars such as Tony Curtis and Elizabeth Taylor?
I knew someone who was a friend of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, which is how I came to make a few items for that couple, as well as several other show business folk . And the Menswear Editor of Harpers knew my work, so he asked me to design and make a sweater for Tony Curtis to wear in a photograph they were taking to accompany an interview with him.
How did you make the transition from machine knitting to hand knitting?
I'd always knitted by machine and hand, so didn't really need to adapt. The main reason I moved to hand knitting for magazine work was because far more people do this than machine knitting, so my designs reached a larger audience. I prefer to knit by hand, especially now I solely design toys, because you can easily shape within a row by hand whereas it's much more laborious to do this by machine.
What drew you from designing clothes to specialising in knitted toys?
This wasn't a conscious decision and it just progressed naturally. In the past I designed features for a wide range of handicrafts, but I now find that creating knitted toys suits me best, and I enjoy working out how to achieve complicated shapes by increasing and decreasing, and knitting darts, to avoid all the seams a fabric toy would require to get the same result.
Do you have advice for anyone wanting copies of your old designs of licensed characters?
This is the question I'm asked most of all, and the simple answer is that they're no longer available. Even though I own the copyright to all the licensed character patterns I've designed, because I never sell the copyright for any of my designs, the ownership of the actual characters belongs to the original creators or their agents. This means that a license would need to be bought from them before any of my numerous licensed character patterns could be re-released, and this is something I couldn't afford to do myself. In the past the licenses were bought by the companies that printed and sold the leaflets, but these have now all expired and two of the companies have also ceased trading.
Do you have a favourite toy you’ve designed a pattern for?
I don't have a particular favourite, but I do have a soft spot for those mice that keep popping up, and wonder what they're next going to discover in their dressing-up box!
We’ve noticed many of your toys seem to have been influenced by other countries. Do you draw much inspiration from your travels?
I suppose I'm inspired most by Sweden and America, as I love the folk art and traditions of both countries.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Writing the making-up instructions is quite tricky because I need to be able to convey in words how to assemble these weird-shaped pieces to make the toy. I know these instructions can look dauntingly long, but I want to give enough information so people aren't left floundering, and if they are read slowly, with each step completed in turn, then everything should come together nicely. It would be much easier if I could simply demonstrate how to do it, but I don't think an in-home service would be a very practical solution!
What do you love most about it?
It's so gratifying when people write to me to let me know how happy they are with the toy they've just knitted from my pattern!
Merry Christmas, Alan! Hope you and the mice have a fantastic festive season - we're looking forward to lots of brand new toy designs in 2012!