Kitty Pennybacker: Textiles Artist

Kitty Pennybacker, knitwear and textile artist. Photography by Joanne Crawford.

Name: Kitty Pennybacker.

Job title: Textiles Artist.

Career path: This has been a really long and round about journey to actually running my own business. At home I was making clothes from the time I got obsessed with Vogue magazines and was trying to recreate the looks from the catwalk. I was at a school that had an amazing art department where I was exploring textiles, doing a lot of embroidery and dying fabrics. My mum probably was instrumental in buying me a second hand Bernina sewing machine which did free hand embroidery and I spent most of my time on this until I left school. I absolutely knew I wanted to be a Fashion Designer although my teacher was always saying “Textiles Designer” which I dismissed, not really understanding this was an actual job. 

I knew an Art Foundation course was necessary and spent a lot of my A-Level year going to open days all over the country. After doing my Art Foundation at Leeds College of Art I went on to Fashion Textiles at The University of Brighton. This was especially appealing to me as there was a year in industry, I was able to work for a knitwear company in London and also a block printing company in Jaipur, India. This year was vital to getting some really good industry experience and opened many doors for when I finished university. Colleagues who had not had a placement year had to spend the first year out of university interning for free in London and it is worth noting that if you do this as part of your degree your loan can help you through the year, whereas when you finish most people have to take paid work which means you can easily end up not following your passion.

I would say it was only from interning that I learnt about the various roles within the fashion and textiles industry; university and school really are not very good for this as you are being taught by full-time tutors. I fell into the trap of not trusting my instincts, as well as needing to pay my bills, so I took paid jobs to survive in London. I was creatively very unfulfilled and it took moving to New York and getting a scholarship for a Masters at Parsons School of Design for me to redirect my path to find my creative voice.  

Ideas & Planning: Having developed my practice during my Masters Degree in New York, I have quite a set way of working, developing ideas for weeks before I come to a final conclusion in the form of an art piece. For example, the pieces I am currently working on have involved me doing a lot of colour work, firstly with paint that I have then moved into my textiles, making colour swatches on my knitting machine.  Only when I have the swatches together can I make decisions about the final work. I like to work in a fast-paced way when sampling but find it takes days to re-look at pieces to decide what is working and edit this so I have a clear vision for my final piece.

Finance: As I sell handmade pieces there is really no helpful way of talking about money as it is not in any way like running a business; a business plan is not relevant to me. I have found I have had to constantly re-visit the online tools I use to aid my practice as they can seem essential and then you realise they make the monthly outgoings unfeasible and you can tweak the way you sell your work. 

Networking: While in New York I was regularly going to meet Interior Designers and did a lot of networking. Now in York I have been attending York’s ‘Women Who Mean Business’ which has been really good for building a community. I also think I need to build my network in London. It would be great if someone started more creative networking or dinner events here.

Work environment: My working environment is really important to me as I think it inspires me in all my work. I work between my home studio, a deconsecrated chapel and a shared space in York. My home studio is freezing but with beautiful features such as a stone alter that I have my machine on and and parquet floors. My shared space in York is in an old printing studio with a lot of different artists’ work around the place, it is being around the other artists that I find inspiring. 

All graphics by Hannah McCreath


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