Stories

Illustrating Sunspel:
An interview with Kaye Blegvad

Kaye Blegvad is an illustrator whose work has appeared in everything from the New York Times to Buzzfeed. She is also a jewellery maker, creator of ceramics, publisher and maker of beautiful things and is known for her delicate, distinctive style. For Sunspel’s AW19 collection she has created a print that features an intricate line drawing based on knit stiches from our archive.

We have used the print to create a womenswear capsule collection that includes a cami top, boxer shorts, camp collar shirt, trousers and scarf. Kaye’s unique print was inspired by a drawing from a 1953 brochure showing a Sunspel stitch pattern. The print plays with the thread’s repeated swirls and loops to generate a pattern of long, wandering lines in which faces emerge, echoing the women’s faces that often appear in her work.

Kaye was raised in London but currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York City. In her different media she returns again and again to images of women and animals in various predicaments, in ways that are often funny, sometimes dark, but always have a characteristic honesty and simplicity.

We asked her to tell us more about her background, her inspiration, and how she created the print for Sunspel.

Can you share a bit about your story, and how you came to specialise in illustration?

I’m the third generation of illustrator in my family. My paternal grandfather was an illustrator, and so is my dad, and now so am I. I tried to resist it for a while, toying with the idea of going into textile design or fine art, but in the end I couldn’t deny it! I just want to draw all the time, and then turn those drawings into things. I’ve always loved what an image can express, the moods and nuances that you can communicate in a drawing that you can’t with words. I like to make work that has a narrative to it, whether an obvious one or an implied one, and that’s what illustration is all about.

Female figures are a key element in your work. Are you able to tell us a little more about what this symbolises?

I’ve always made the bulk of my work about women. I suppose the answer as to why is pretty obvious – much of my work is drawn from my own experience, and that naturally means it has a woman’s viewpoint. There’s a long history of male artists depicting the female nude for their own benefit. I like it when those tables are turned, when the woman in the picture is there on her own terms. The female figure is such a familiar form, with instant power and interest – I like trying to simplify it down to its root, almost like a hieroglyph, and then to try to find unexpected ways to use that form.

Tell us about the collaboration with Sunspel, and how you came to know about the brand.

I grew up in London and lived there until my early 20s, so I knew the brand just from its presence there. I was so happy when Sunspel contacted me to collaborate on a collection – I loved seeing items from the extensive archive and getting to know the history of the company and its garments. The focus on detail and craftsmanship really appeals to me.

The ‘Kaye Blegvad Thread Print’ is based on a 1950s knit pattern from the Sunspel archive. Could you share an insight into the creative process behind the creation of the print? 

At the beginning of the collaboration, I was lucky enough to get to see a lot of archival designs and documents from Sunspel’s history. One thing that particularly caught my eye were the old knitting patterns for machine-knit mesh fabrics. Viewed at a much larger scale than in the fabric themselves, they looked like wonderful looping ribbons, or calligraphic scrolls.

I love working with fluid, ink-and-brush line drawings, so I immediately knew I wanted to make something based on these patterns. I made a number of sketches and experiments to see how I could tie them together with figures and faces, and we selected the strongest ones to develop into a print for the collection.

Which is your favourite piece from the Sunspel and Kaye Blegvad collection?

I love the pyjama set. There’s something so classic about proper button up pyjamas – I know they’re technically menswear but that’s not going stop me wearing them to lounge around at home on a Sunday. Can’t wait.

The Kaye Blegvad collection launches in store and on sunspel.com on September 5.