Jules Hogan is a knitwear designer based in the UK. Her work embodies a quiet grace, expressed in softly draped garments and delicate tones. Colour is at the heart of her practice, with hues often achieved using natural dyes and palettes informed by her daily engagement with the landscape and seasons as she walks her dog Jaxon.
In conversation with Tempy for Sonnets and Dirty Dishes, Jules discusses creative burn-out and the practicalities of running a successful knitwear business. She says ‘I get all these lovely messages from people saying they really enjoy wearing my piece and it makes them feel great. It’s like I’m giving these little moments of joy. And that makes me so happy.’
In this section we ask makers to talk about what started them down the road they are on – how did it begin? On Sonnets and Dirty Dishes, we want to explore what motivates people to take the leap from dreaming, to doing. We ask: Can you tell us what drives you to do what you do?
I’m a knitwear designer but over the last while I see myself as an artist as well. Quite often people think of an artist as being someone who draws or paints but I feel what I’m doing with yarn is a form of art, the yarn is my canvas almost.
It’s something that I have to do, it’s like a compulsion – and it’s not a job in the sense that you go and do it 9-5 and then you switch off in the evening and do something else. It’s something which is part of you, it’s part of your being. So I have my knitting but also I’m creative in other ways, maybe the way I arrange things in our home or working in the garden growing things, that creative aspect comes up in different ways.
It started at an early age. My mum taught me how to knit and how to sew and so I would spend all my spare time knitting, sewing, drawing, painting, just anything that was creative. And then it just kind of progressed through school and then going on after A Levels doing a foundation course and going on to do a degree in textiles. I actually thought that I would be a graphic designer but it was around the time when technology was coming in and so people were using computers more and I thought that really isn’t for me. In the old days you used to have to draw everything. I thought – Oh no I don’t want to be on a computer, I like being very hands-on and being able to touch the materials and things you use to create marks etc. During my foundation course I decided to pursue textiles.
I spent three years at Winchester School of Art. In the first year we experimented with woven textiles and also print so I had that great basis in the first year. Even now I use some of the skills that I learned then in my work. Later on I had to specialise and I was really unsure if I should do print design. There was a big hooha at the college because the print tutors wanted me to do print and the knit tutors wanted me to knit and I was feeling really torn. But in the end I thought – I love print, but my heart is knit. So I specialised in knitwear.
But I consider myself less of a technical knitter in the sense that with knitting I use it to translate my ideas and my love of colour. It’s not just purely about the structure of knit if that makes sense. My work isn’t particularly textured – it’s more about blending colours together and how doing that makes you feel and how it looks on the body. That’s really what my work is about. For the wearer I want them to almost have a physical feeling when they look at it but also when they’re wearing it. I want them to feel good when they’re wearing the pieces. That’s really important.
For many years I worked in industry. Straight after uni I worked for a design consultancy and that was good at the time because it was my first taste of working in the industry. It was quite exciting because I got to work on diverse projects with lots of different people, but it got to a point where I couldn’t progress, I wasn’t learning anything new. I wanted to develop in my work so I resigned and worked freelance for a print design studio producing designs, I did that for about six months. I was then approached by my old knit tutor, Gary, who was looking for someone to work with. We worked together for about twelve years and produced knit designs mainly for the American market and they would convert them into garments and accessories.
While I was working for Gary I realised I wanted to work on some of my own ideas as well – just producing the designs didn’t feel like enough. I wanted to see the whole process from concept through to making it into a tangible product, something that can be worn or used. Then it was a few years ago I decided to do it full time and it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. People have said ‘Why didn’t you do it sooner?’ but I always believe that you do things when the time is right. If I’d taken the plunge before I might not have had the right mind-set to make it work. I’m pleased I can work from home and I’m my own boss which is great.
In this section we ask artists to talk about their workspaces, tools, and resources they need. We ask what their work day looks like.
Originally the space I have at the end of the garden was my husband’s workshop. I went away to Barbados on holiday to see my grandmother and when I came back Tim had converted half of it so his workshop was at the back and I had a little studio space at the front. It was really quite sweet of him to do that. Then it just got to the point where I was doing more and more and I needed the full space, so now he’s got his own shed and I’ve got the full workshop. It’s a brick built building and it’s insulated so it’s warm. I’ve got all my books, magazines, yarn, machines and everything down there. So I can go there and create and at the end of the day I can leave it and come back to the house and I don’t have to worry. I find I encroach into the house as well – especially when I’m particularly busy I’ll do the pressing and packaging up orders in the house.
I’ve got my knitting machines and yarn and tools, I’ve got a sewing machine as well and I’ve got a linker which is like a sewing machine for knitting. But I built it up slowly.
I actually started with very little but I’d say now I’ve got everything I need. I’ve got what I call my archive of yarn so I’ve got quite a lot of different colours, some have been discontinued and so if I work on freelance projects I’ve got plenty of yarns I can use. For commissions people might like a certain colour so I can look on my shelves and see if I’ve got something that will match.
The thing I’m most excited about at the moment is natural dyeing. When I worked in the early days at the design consultancy I was dyeing using chemicals so I decided if I’m doing this then I would like to do it chemical free. I started off making natural dye baths with pine needles and I’ve tried avocado and also I’ve bought some walnut husks, birch bark and also I’m going to try some madder. So I’m doing a mixture of bought dyestuff and I’ll do experiments with things which I’ve got at home like rosemary and onion skins but because I want to make enough things for people to buy, having the bought dyestuff will help me achieve that.
My workday varies every day. Some days I’ll spend on the computer or parceling up. Others will involve a full day in the studio. To be honest I always wish I had more time in the studio. The thing is when you run a business there’s so many things you have to do and actually making is a small part of it.
I normally post and interact on Instagram first thing but during Covid I started doing meditation in the morning, so now I do Intstagram a little later on or in the evening.
A typical day might involve working through some orders. I might have a few already knitted and another to finish up, and then I’ll press them and wash them and leave them to dry overnight. I’ll press them again the next morning and add the care labels and they’ll be ready to send. So that day would then be a parceling up orders day, and going to the post office. And in between I’ll be stirring the dye pots and mordanting yarn and starting things so it’s actually quite nice. I’ll start the morning with dye baths, then I’ll pop down to the studio and do some knitting so my day is nice and varied.
Over the course of my career I have experienced burn out. Getting burnt out, you lose part of yourself. For periods of time I wasn’t able to design anything, I could repeat a pattern but I didn’t have any creativity left which was a really awful time. It just showed me that I needed to change how I worked so that it was sustainable in the long term.
BEING IN THE WORLD
Publication, performance, recording, exhibiting. In this section we ask: how important is it to you that your work exists in a public space? Why do you think this is? And can you tell us about the time and effort you give to getting your work out in the world?
It’s important to me in the sense that I get enjoyment out of seeing people wearing my knitwear; but also I know that it makes them feel good. For example there’s a piece I make, the ponchos and ponchettas, and the design is very simple but it looks great on all different body shapes and for people who might feel more self-conscious – when they put them on they can feel different about themselves. It gives them a bit more confidence. I know I create more than just a garment and that makes me so happy.
When someone sees something I’ve made on Instagram or on my website, they purchase and try it on and I get all these lovely messages from people saying they really enjoy wearing the piece and it makes them feel great. It’s like I’m giving these little moments of joy.
I do put in a lot of effort into getting my work out in the world, especially with Instagram. I think that’s the main place I’ll share my work and ideas. I do the majority of photos myself, I use a self timer and a digital camera. I also have a newsletter which I could do more often, I probably manage maybe three or four newsletters a year but again it’s that thing of balancing everything. My work is very important to me but also I know that I need time for myself. I try to keep things balanced, but it is difficult. I do Instagram, newsletters, real life fairs and online events.
BEING IN OURSELVES:
Many creative people speak of periods of self doubt. It seems that choosing to persist with our creative projects takes great courage at times. In this section we ask: How has self doubt affected you, if at all? What have you done to bring yourself through difficult times and allow yourself to persist? What has helped you?
Depending on my state of mind I can usually manage self-doubt. When I’m feeling this way I’ll be in my own space, having some quiet time, focusing on being present until I start to feel better. I like to be real with my posts so I normally mention that I’m having a difficult month or couple of days.
My friend is a Buddhist and I heard her chanting and there’s something that really resonated with me. So I started morning sessions with a group of women where we all zoom and do our morning meditation. It’s something that’s just for me, those 20 minutes each morning, and it’s just so nice and such a great start to the day. Also positive affirmations in the morning really help and set me up for the day ahead.
I think having that time away from our phones is really good for us. I always find that when I come off social media for a bit I’m more present. I look more at what’s around me. I think it’s important to do that. I love being outside, absorbing and noticing the little things, especially how the seasons change. When I’m walking my dog Jaxon, I’ll sometimes spot something and think – I don’t want to stop and take a photo. I just want to enjoy and feel it.