The Collingwood-Norris Mist Blanket scarf
The Collingwood-Norris Mist Blanket scarf

Woolly thinking led Flora into a career in fashion

Having become hooked on knitting at a young age, Flora Collingwood-Norris has turned her passion into a business.

Based in the textile and knitwear heartland of the Scottish Borders, Flora learned how to hand-knit aged six years old, before beginning crochet soon after.

She followed her interest into higher education, studying Design for Textiles at Heriot Watt University, where she honed the technical knowledge that allowed her to develop her own artistic flair.

Flora graduated in 2009 with First Class Honours, winning the Doctor Oliver medal for ‘Best Overall Student of the Year’. Her graduate collection was sponsored by Todd & Duncan and showcased in the Japanese magazine Hanatsubaki.

Since then, she has worked on several prestigious projects in Galashiels, with work appearing in London Fashion Week showcases for labels including Christopher Kane, Jasper Conran, House of Holland and William Chambers Millinery.

She has also worked for Fairtrade fashion pioneers People Tree, and with Afghani and Tajik knitters, refining their skills to improve earning potential.

Scottish Field asked Flora what is it about knitwear that appeals to so many people?

She said: ‘I think it’s the comfort factor. Although knitwear is so much more than woolly jumpers, I think that’s what comes to mind- cosy jumpers, soft scarves and warm hats… Most people have a favourite jumper they never want to throw out because it makes them feel good, comfortable and relaxed. And of course you can do anything in knitwear- it comes in so many styles and shapes, so you can go hiking, slouch around the house, or dress it up a bit for the evening.

‘My mum got me started hand knitting when I was six. I also learnt at school, and used to spend my free time in my teens trying out new stitches and techniques. When I was doing my foundation art course, I realised that I loved knitting all day every day, and that’s when I decided to specialise in knitwear for my degree and create a career in it.’

Using traditional skills and low-impact manufacturing techniques to create her classic yet contemporary pieces.

The Collingwood-Norris Mist Blanket scarf

Preferring to use natural fibres, sourced in the UK wherever possible, Flora’s approach is to encourage ethical practice and reduce environmental impact at all stages, from design through to production.

She continued: “I love working with wool. All fibres have different ways of behaving when you work with them, and I find that wool knits beautifully, and textures and patterns look great in it.

‘As a natural fibre, wool has so many wonderful properties- it’s temperature regulating, naturally insulating and odour resistant, jumpers won’t become misshapen and stretched over time as it holds its shape, it’s renewable and biodegradable! I use a very fine, soft lambswool for my work, and it feels great, and even though it’s lightweight knitwear, it’s incredibly warm.’

The label, established in 2016, initially comprised a selection of colourful scoop and crew neck jumpers all knitted by Flora in Galashiels, and has expanded over the seasons.

Colour and texture play a vital role in the Collingwood Norris collection with bright colour-blocking and bold patterns as the collection’s key theme, and it’s this that Flora feels is what sets her apart from others.

She said: ‘Colour would be the first thing. It’s a big part of my work and I have some colour combinations that are quite distinctive and a bit different.

‘Generally I think my work is quite minimalist, so it’s easy to wear while still making a statement. As I make all the pieces myself, the quality and personal touch are what makes the product feel so special.’

In her short career to date, Flora already has several highlights.

She added: ‘There are a few, and they’re all quite different! I have met and worked with some wonderful women in Nepal and Tajikistan, and being able to discuss knitting with them was really interesting and rewarding. People wise, that’s definitely my highlight.

‘Seeing my work on catwalks has also been very exciting, particularly a piece I made for Jasper Conran that I’m still very proud of- it took over 100 hours to make in very fine silk crochet.

‘My ultimate highlight now is seeing people wearing my designs, especially when I’m not expecting it – nothing beats that!’

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