Meet Melbourne based contemporary knitwear designer Wendy Voon and her range of timeless, elegant, sensuous, soft, sculptural garments, all made from the finest yarns.
How did the Wendy Voon label start? Have you always been a knitter?
I established my label and designed my first collection whilst completing an Advanced Diploma in Clothing and Footwear at RMIT University. As someone who had previously worked for large organisations, starting my own thing was the path I was interested in pursuing, once I’d completed my studies.
I have always been a knitter, I learnt whilst young, I use to knit and crochet outfits for my dolls when I was in primary school. Whilst in high school a family friend taught me how to follow knit patterns; so armed with the Jenny Kee book of knit patterns — I was away.
Unfortunately these days I don’t hand knit — my work is now on hand knit and industrial machines.
Tell us about the ‘art of knitting’. How has it changed over the years and what does today’s contemporary knitting scene look like?
The art of knitting is a tradition that stretches a long way back — the term is derived from the word ‘knot’. Unlike weaving it doesn’t require a loom or other large equipment, making it the perfect technique for nomadic peoples. I’ve just discovered that — and find it particularly interesting that I have gravitated towards this medium — as my Chinese heritage is of the Haka people, who are traditionally nomads, and I am someone who enjoys the nomadic lifestyle.
Industrialisation and technology are the main influences on the changes in knitting. It was previously considered one of those essential skills you needed to clothe yourself, but now it has become more of a hobby for those of us who live in wealthier countries. Industrialisation and globalisation has meant that machines can do it quicker and cheaper, and the majority of knits now tend to be made in countries where labour is cheaper.
These factors have also had an impact on the materials that can be used for knitting. When you think of old school fisherman jumpers, they were made using yarn local to the area, the yarns were much coarser than what we are use to now and usually still had the coating of lanolin — giving them that ‘sheepy’ smell, but also giving the wearer more protection against the elements. Now we have access to amazing blends from all over the world and sheep have been bred so that we can now have incredibly soft yarn.
There is so much going on in today’s contemporary knit scene – from mainstream fast fashion basics, to designers exploring the latest technology and those who are returning to an artisan hand knit practice. I also love how knit is being extended to homewares and furnishings.
I try not to look too much at what other knit designers are doing — (to keep my voice my own), but I really admire the work that Yohji Yahamoto and Sonia Rykiel have done in the past.
Your designs have been described as ‘sculptural’ and ‘architectural’, how does this reflect your own philosophies and sensibilities?
My philosophy and design sensibility is very much intertwined.
My work is quite deliberate, I find that knitting for the body is quite a mathematical process. The repetitive and meditative nature of the work creates space for my subconscious to come up with ideas and innovative solutions based on traditional ideas and methods.
My designs reflect my interest in the interplay between form and function, and how one informs the other. I find beauty in the structure and engineering behind a garment, and my garments are very much sculpted to the body.
How do you manage your range to keep it fresh? Do you develop new items for each season?
In each collection I try to push existing ideas further, to further perfect a design and to explore new possibilities and ideas — I think that is what keeps my work fresh. I always develop new items to add to my collection for each season — it’s important to keep myself and my customers interested and excited!
Tell us the story of your ‘Farm to Fashion’ Merisuri range. How did this get started and are you planning a follow up?
Merisuri is a premium blend of yarn developed by Barbara Linley of Amberside Pastoral Company, utilising her finest Suri Alpacas and superfine Merino Sheep. Barbara is a poster lady for independence and drive, she currently runs her alpaca and merino wool farm on her own. It’s a beautiful farm and an incredibly cute place to be when the baby alpacas are born.
I was introduced to Barbara by one of my interns, and the MeriSuri collaboration was borne of our mutual love for beautiful fibre, and a belief in supporting local industry and design.
The Merisuri yarn has been wholly processed and spun in Victoria, and I had the opportunity to use these yarns to design and produce luxurious hand-crafted garments that are soft, silky and beautiful to wear.
We are currently waiting on the next batch of yarn to be produced locally — I am very excited — as this time round we have approached it with more knowledge and experience of fibre processing. So stay tuned for the next installment!
2015 marks 10 years since you started the Wendy Voon label, how are you marking your anniversary?
That’s a very good question — for me I think I would like to take myself away for a well deserved holiday!
But I would like to offer a prize for all readers of this blog — come visit my stall, let me know you’ve read the blog and put your name on our mailing list — and be eligible to win of our beautifully soft merino silk laddered scarves (valued at $160 RRP).
What are you looking forward to sharing with visitors to the Autumn/Winter 2015 Bowerbird market?
I’m looking forward to showing visitors my new collection, to talk about my work, and to catching up with my existing customers.
More info, www.wendyvoonknits.com/