With an enviable skill for bringing almost any animal to life in knitting form, we meet this fabulous Japanese designer and talk to the face behind the fauna.
Sachiyo Ishii, of knitsbysachi.com, is a very busy lady. In demand for designs for magazines and books, as well as making things to sell on Etsy, we managed to pin down this creative Sussex toymaker to learn about the skills she uses to add a touch of magic to her designs – and how she remains focused with two teenage sons wandering in and out of her design space every day!
What is your earliest memory of being creative?
I took up making mini mascot dolls with felt fabric when I was 12. Sewing was very popular in our classroom then and everyone was involved in making something with felt. We sometimes exchanged our latest creations.
The whole thing was a lot of fun!
When did you learn to knit?
I started knitting in my early 30s, after my second son was born. I learned from a mum whose son belonged to the same toddler group as my boys. Crochet, I managed to teach myself more recently, via YouTube.
What is the first thing you made for yourself?
I knitted a scarf with tinsel chunky yarn – yes, really! It was fun to work with and I got to use very large needles. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I made one for everyone in the family. We never wore them at the same time, though; that may have looked a little weird!
What other crafting do you do?
I do all sorts of craft. Besides knitting and crocheting, I sew, spin and wet and dry felt. My next book is actually going to be sewing dolls and animals. I love to make Waldorf and Japanese traditional dolls. And I find paper craft with Japanese patterned paper extremely meditative.
Why spin your own yarn when you could buy it?
I believe all knitters should at least try it once. You can create your own yarn with fascinating effects and textures, even if you are a beginner. It is completely therapeutic, too, so give it a whirl!
What colours would you say you are particularly drawn to?
I like olive green and duck-egg blue, which often crop up in period English interiors. I also delight in yummy soft pink and brown, and macha green and brown combos, because they remind me of chocolate and biscuits!
When did you realise that all these hobbies would become a career?
I took a punt and submitted a book proposal to a publisher online – surely
I had nothing to lose? When I heard back from them that they were interested,
I was overjoyed – and it’s been upwards and onwards ever since.
Where do you find space to work on new ideas?
I squeeze myself into a corner of my dining room, which has the largest table to work on. It’s more sociable there as I can chat to my sons while they’re pottering around in the kitchen.
It must be tricky working from home – how do you switch off in the evenings?
I like to put my feet up and watch a good movie, especially if it’s got anything to do with craft or cooking. I saw Life Of Pi recently, which was a really beautiful watch. I was so inspired by it that I designed a tiger in a boat shortly afterwards. I also do a lot of swimming and exercise classes – if I’m sitting knitting all day, I need to do a bit of physical activity whenever I can.
Knitting spaces are renowned for being super messy – how do you keep everything from becoming a bit tangled?
I wish I had a better organising system, to be honest. Not only with yarn, but I have lots of other craft materials, too. My son, Yukinori, 16, made a really clever coffee table with shelving units last year for his GCSEs, and that has helped me organise some of my yarn stash.
Do you take projects with you when you go away?
Yes, of course, my work never leaves my side. And it’s perfect because my small projects are really portable, with teensy quantities of yarn and short DPNs.
How do you hone in on your next design project?
I am surrounded by so much inspiration, all day, every day. When I walk through town, when I flip through books and magazines, when I look in shop windows, everywhere! New ideas are always buzzing around in my brain. For example, both felted designs and sugar craft are always great to look at closely, as their simplified structures often translate fabulously to knit designs.
What’s your favourite yarn to work with?
It’s always been Rowan, especially its Felted Tweed range. I’ll often buy balls of it even if I have no particular project in mind. I just like to display them and see them on my shelf.
Who is your favourite hand-knitting designer, would you say?
Debbie Bliss. I fell in love with her book, Toy Knits, some years ago. I had no idea that knitted toys could be stylish, until then. It certainly sparked my imagination and without it I’d not be where I am today.
If you could design absolutely anything, what would it be?
I would love to fill a whole window display at a large department store in London with lots of knitted things! Also, I quite fancy a knitted amusement park – wouldn’t that be fun?
What advice would you give to those wishing to become designers themselves?
Well, I have no formal knitting qualifications – none at all. So, if I can do it, you can do it, too!
Find Sachiyo’s Instagram feed @knitsbysachi, or visit her website, knitsbysachi.com, for lots more.