Sandy Black - Fashion Designer Encyclopedia

British knitwear designer

Born: Leeds, Yorkshire, England, 17 October 1951. Education: Educated in Leeds; B.S. (Honors), Mathematics, University College, London, 1973; M.A., Design Studies, Central St. Martins, London, 1994. Career: Freelance knitwear designer, 1973-79; designer/director, Sandy Black Original Knits Ltd., selling fashion knitwear collections worldwide, 1979-85; designed and published Sandy Black Knitting Patterns and Sandy Black Knitting Kits and Yarns, sold in prestigious stores in London, Japan, United States, Sweden, Germany, Australia, and Canada; introduced knitting kits for Woman magazine (London), 1983; started Sandy Black Studio Knitting Kits mail order business; freelance knitwear designer for, among others, Rowan, Jaeger, and BBC television, beginning in 1985; principal lecturer and course leader, University of Brighton, Sussex, England, from 1990. Exhibitions: Much Ado About Knitting, ICA, London, 1981; One-off Wearables, British Crafts Centre, London, 1982; the Knitwear Review British Crafts Centre, London, 1983; Knitting—A Common Art, Crafts Council Touring Exhibition, 1986; Fashion in the '80s, British Council touring exhibition, 1989; knitwear exhibition, Hove Museum, Sussex, 1990; Contemporary Knitwear, Pier Arts Centre, Orkney, 1994. Address: Flat 3, 15 Davigdor Road, Hove, East Sussex BN3 1QB, England.




The Numeracy Pack, with D. Cohen, London, 1984. Sandy Black Original Knitting, London, 1988.



Sutton, Ann, British Craft Textiles, London, 1985.


Phillips, Pearson, "The Hills are Alive With the Sound of Knitting," in the Telegraph Sunday Magazine, 7 September 1980.

Lynam, Ruth, "Cast on a New Look," in the Telegraph Sunday Magazine, 7 September 1980.

"An Individual Approach to Fashion," in Fashion & Craft, November 1980.

Knitwear profile in Ons Volk (Belgium), 29 December 1981.

Jeffs, Angela, "Exclusively Sandy Black," in Fashioncraft, February,1984.

Polan, Brenda, "Looping the Loop," in The Guardian Women, 19 July 1984.

Sherrill Daily, Martha, "Sew, You Want to Learn to Knit?" in the Washington Post, 6 September 1987.

Rumbold, Judy, "The Wonder of Creation," in The Guardian Style, 20June 1988.

Samuel, Kathryn, "Those Who Can—Teach," in the Daily Telegraph, 20 June 1994.


Although I learned to knit and crochet as a child, it was while at university studying math that my interest in knitting really developed, and I started to design and make unusual and interesting clothes. At first, these were hand-knitted or crocheted, but I soon bought my first knitting machine, and by the time I finished my degree, I had decided to make knitting a full-time career, though I wasn't sure how. Being self-taught, I was not restricted by any boundaries and felt I could translate any idea into knitting by working out a logical way of doing it. This approach clearly owed something to my mathematical background, and for me, there was a natural relationship between the two. I often put many ideas and techniques together to create complex designs. I only became aware of their complexity when I had to train other people to knit them for me.

My work covers a wide range of designs, from casual sweaters to glamorous angora evening coats. Original Knitting shows some of this variety and gives an insight into the thinking behind the designs. One of the most important factors is the blending of color, shape, texture, and pattern to create each individual design, whether it's a bold geometric, a pretty floral, or an intricate stitch pattern.

Fashion buyers talk of designers' "handwriting" by which they identify their work. I have often thought that I must have several different signatures. I have always enjoyed working in a great variety of themes, colors, and yarns, inspired by anything which catches my eye or simply the pleasure of combining wonderful materials and textures. I like my designs to be nonrepetitive, and view the body as a canvas to be adorned with beautiful stitches and patterns, sometimes subtle, sometimes bold, but always with an underlying logic which combines color, texture, and form so completely that the result should appear totally natural.

Knitting continues to be, for me, the perfect blend of creative and technical skills, which my education seemed to want to separate. It used to be the poor relation of the textile crafts but has now grown to be properly recognized, and has a vital part to play in fashion. I know I shall continue to design as long as I can still be excited by a ball of yarn or inspired to develop a new stitch pattern from some unlikely detail I have seen—a mosaic shop front, a stone carving, or a wallpaper pattern, for example. I am equally happy designing for hand-knitting, machine knitting, or industrial production. One of the greatest attractions of knitting is the fact that the fabric is created from nothing but a length of yarn; everything is within the designer's control.

In my workshops and lecturing, I try to convey my own enthusiasm and enjoyment in creating fabrics, garment designs, and structures, and their realization in three dimensions around the body. I am particularly interested in the sculptural potential of knitting; a unique medium with endless possibilities.

—Sandy Black


Sandy Black helped lead the knitwear revolution of the 1970s. Out went the cozy image of old ladies making socks around the fire, in came fashion knitwear, and a craft was turned into an art. For Black, it was a logical development of a childhood love of old needlework shops where she bought 1940s knitting patterns, buttons, and yarns to knit and crochet. Using skills learned from her mother and grandmother, she produced traditional hand knits. Black received her B.S. degree in Mathematics from University College in London. Having studied mathematics, knitting proved an ideal way of combining her creative and logical instincts.

Black was able to chart out pictorial knits and to originate the landscape sweaters that became so popular in the mid-1970s. A natural wit emerged. Leopard skin-look sweaters and a knitted armadillo wrap illustrated an appealing sense of humor. Patterned angora jackets, stunning to the eye and to the touch, showed the luxuriance hand-knitting could achieve. Designer knitwear had arrived, and Black's career as a freelance knitwear designer was launched. In 1979 she created her own company, Sandy Black Original Knits Ltd. Major international fashion retailers, including Browns and Harrods in London, Isetan in Tokyo, and Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale's in New York, bought Sandy Black Original Knits for their upscale stores.

But the quality and details of Black's designs put them beyond the purse of most shoppers, including the designer herself. To make her designs more widely available to the less affluent shopper, Black employed her math training to create her own knitting patterns. By using larger needles and straightforward instructions, she tried to make her patterns as accessible as possible. They were complex but not too difficult for the determined knitter; the results more than justified the effort involved. Black's hand knits were distinctive and unique, and Sandy Black Knitting Patterns were created for the world to enjoy.

Another breakthrough came in 1983, when she designed a knitting kit as an editorial offer for Woman magazine. Its success stimulated the Sandy Black Knitting Kits, which were retailed in Liberty, Harrods, and John Lewis in London, and in Sweden, Germany, and Canada. She controlled the whole process, creating the patterns, supervising the dyeing of the yarns, and designing the packaging. She also produced her own range of yarns. Each step meant she was able to have greater responsibility over the whole process, from the idea to the finished garment.

Black took the process one step further with the publication in 1988 of her first book of patterns, Sandy Black Original Knitting. The tome is an excellent testament to her originality and creativity and provides insight into her inspiration. Whatever the design, a bold geometric, a pretty floral, or something understated, the consistent factor is the blending of color, texture, and pattern to create an individual design. Variety is a mark of her creativity. By seeing "the body as a canvas to be decorated and adorned with beautiful patterns, sometimes subtle, sometimes bold," she extended the existing boundaries of knitwear.

Black had gone back to designing freelance for companies such as Rowan, Jaeger, and BBC Television, among many others in 1985. She also began lecturing and teaching more, serving as principal lecturer and course leader for the University of Brighton at Sussex, from 1990. Black has been able to convey her obvious enthusiasm to others. Television shows, international lecture tours, workshops, and consultancies have all helped to promote her ideas. She has become increasingly involved in instructing, which is an ideal, if exhausting, means of continuing what she started decades ago. In her workshops and as a lecturer to textile and fashion students, she teaches about the dual importance of design and technique. Experimentation is an important way of building ideas and encouraging originality. She gives others the confidence to follow her example, to break down boundaries, and to cast aside preconceptions. Sandy Black has helped to take knitting from the fireside into the artist's studio.


updated by Daryl F.Mallett

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