Up Beat Knitting – Weardowney

Up Beat Knitting  – Weardowney
Arts & Culture

Knitting is officially cool - a vast array of knit cafés and holiday breaks are there for the taking. But how about a successful knitwear...

Guy Brighton
  • 22 march 2006

Knitting is officially cool – a vast array of knit cafés and holiday breaks are there for the taking. But how about a successful knitwear designer teaching you how to knit? Hidden in the regal backstreets of London town the Weardowney family are sure to throw you in the deep-end and give you a sense of old-fashioned community. Michelle Morton-Banks meets Gail Downey at the ‘Get Up’ Boutique…

Quaint but ‘Up’ Beat
London’s Baker Street is not without their quaint history, further along, in the middle district of Marylebone, Weardowney’s knitwear boutique ‘Get Up’ adds to the English eccentric charm. As I walk briskly to Ashbrige Road cold air bites at my face, I wish I were covered head to toe in wool. As I reach the boutique, I see a building that resembles an old Victorian tearoom – ageing plants in distressed pots dotted outside the buildings exterior and old dark paintwork peels away from the large slash windows.

At the old front door, ex-model Gail Downey greets me – unfortunately fellow ex-model and partner, Amy Wear is not at the’ Get Up’ store today. Gail’s eyes are piercing, she has a shock of thick dark hair but her face is soft, her smile inviting. Already I feel relaxed. Closing the door behind me I scan the room a see little that reminds me of clothes shop, apart from rails of delicate beautiful knitwear for women – everything seems placed in a haphazard manner – that’s part of the boutiques charm. Gail apologies for the mess and leads me to the duo’s Spring Summer collection. Entering the L-shaped room I turn to face large bowls of wools and three content girls fastidiously knitting. Not a pattern in sight. The Weardowney family I see is not just a fashion label run by ex-models, it’s a place that creates a strong sense of community.

Galliano Turns Models to Designers
Gail, part of the duo, began her love for knitting in a traditional manner – with her Grandmother – and it was her mother who developed her commercial level. Gail’s success in knitwear came much later. While working as a model for John Galliano, she was asked by the alpha designer to create pieces for his collection. After that point there was no stopping her – her recent collection Whistle-Blower is testament to her ability to create a new ideas for knitwear. An amalgamation of thick wool knee- high stocks, medieval balaclava hats and super feminine pieces – like a cream cable knit baby doll dress, perfectly ladylike but earthy – without being bohemian.

Knitting Creates Community
The Whistle- Blower collection is a small part of Gail’s love for knitting, it’s her showpiece, but that’s not her limit, she says, “I’m not precious of my skills” instead Gail is content to spread her knowledge for all to learn, the ‘Get Up’ boutique also offers knitting lessons. Gail explains the importance of this pastime “Knitting allows you to slow down and take control at your own space” and in a society obsessed with the fast-pace of the web-sphere, this is refreshing to hear. Some intellectual thinkers see the growth of community as central to cultural development. And although the web-sphere has created a different sense of community – with the likes of MySpace – which delivers virtual group connections, physical authenticity is an attractive proposition. That’s probably why knitting has become a popular pastime. “Its anti-chav’ says Gail, and “anti fast track technology”. She continues: “Knitting makes you experience self-appreciation without being self-absorbed” this notion, compared to the fashion industry Gail is part of, seem to be worlds apart. But then its a about time someone devised a plan to help everyone be part of something real? In ‘Bowling Alone’ Robert D. Putman discusses the decline of American society and how ‘social capital’ is its only saving grace. Weardowney’s modest little boutique is doing exactly that, creating social capital and nurturing the health of weary information abused society. The practice of knitting grounds the most urban-crazed of individuals – without being contrived.

Pushing Pupils Forward
With a twinkle in her eye, Gail tells me she is fond of throwing her students in at the deep end. One of her success stories – also one of her interns – began knitting three weeks ago and recently finished a cowl-neck top for the Spring/Summer ’06 collection. I look at the garment and find this hard to believe, its perfect. Gale explains her passion for teaching, and says “I love it when people make mistakes and learn from them… people’s personalities come out quite strongly”.

The classes invite a diverse cross-section of aspiring knitters, ranging from a 42-year-old Japanese man wanting to make scarves, to glamorous types that are jumping on the trend-wagon. Gail tells me it’s all about loosing fear – either way, I’m sold – If I can produce clothes that look as good as the ones on the rails I’m happy to pick up knitting needles and try. I leave the ‘Get Up’ boutique with the feeling I’ve attended a yoga class – Calm, content and happy – and I did not even hold a knitting needle.

The US also has many knitting cafés and communities:


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