Interview with Mati Ventrillon


March 5, 2013 by Ville Raivio

“39 years old, designer-maker of Fair Isle knitwear and an Architect. I came to live in Fair Isle in 2007. I grew up in Venezuela, my father was French and my mother Venezuelan. I live with my husband David and two children, Sebastian 8 years old and Saskia 4 years old. My husband David is an artist and has always been involved with my business; a year ago when I decided to start an online business we sat together for three days designing the website, now every time I need to update the website is a job we do together. Also I am always asking his opinion about colour combinations and pattern balance when I am designing a garment. My children both knit, Sebastian can knit on his own simple garments like scarves and hats, and Saskia is learning the basic stitches; they both like to watch me working and are always telling me about new colour combinations I should try. Sebastian likes to design garments.

My parents are both dead. I have two elder brothers living in Canada. When I moved to Fair Isle my eldest brother was very concerned about my financial future and my career as an Architect. Then when I started knitting he became more supportive and encourage me to start my own business. My brothers were very proud when I was selected for the GREAT campaign during the Queen’s Jubilee Celebrations; they put a photograph on Facebook of the 10 foot Flag at Oxford Street! As a child I used to ‘customize’ my clothes and ‘design’ pieces that a friend will make for me. I remember designing a wardrobe for my trip to Egypt in 1999 using linen, chiffon and cotton. Also dressing like a boy from the 20’s; wearing shorts with braces and knee high socks when I was at high school and one of my jobs while at University was in a men’s clothier selling Ermenegildo Zegna suits, but I never took it seriously. It was when I moved to Fair Isle and after 4 years of learning the skills from the local knitters that I actually considered designing knitwear.

I offer a bespoke service of Fair Isle Knitwear. I design the garments individually according to the customers requirements and make them to fit; I do not work with standard measurements. The pattern designs are based on museum pieces and traditional patterns exclusively used in Fair Isle. When a costumer places an order I will contact him offering to discuss colour and pattern preferences, then I will produce three swatches/samples and e-mail them for the costumer to make a choice. Once the sample is agreed I will invoice the costumer when I am ready to start knitting. Each garment is hand-frame knitted and hand-finished using 100% Shetland wool. Depending on style a garment can take between 14 to 20 hours. The waiting period is normally 2 weeks, but at present I have bookings until March.

My knowledge of knitwear comes from the knitters in Fair Isle; it has been a hands-on learning. I started training as a finisher in 2007 and gradually learned to knit and shape the garments with the hand-frame knitting machine. During this period I researched the traditional patterns and styles in the Shetland museum archives, the library and with the local historian. In 2011 I applied for an Art scheme with Shetland Islands Council and trained with Barbara Ridland, a local textile artist. I don’t think I have a ‘style’. I am practical, I like simple clear lines and always wear black, navy blue or grey with the exception of a pale green winter coat. My company has been running for a year.

There are three other knitters in the island, they prefer to sell locally to the visitors and cruise ships. I like the challenge of designing for the customer, every garment is always a new adventure for me because every body is different, there is not one size 40″. I am very active, I like scuba diving, swimming, climbing and cycling but Fair Isle is quite limited for sports so when my husband and I plan our holidays we always try to combine it with cycling; in 2006 we cycled from London to Greece with my son Sebastian, who was two years old then, it took us five months. I also enjoy baking and cooking.

The best maintanence tip for wool is to wash it as little as possible but when you do have to wash it:
1) Do it by hand with a delicate soap.
2) Let the garment soak without scrubbing.
3) Rinsing water at exactly the same temperature of the washing.
4) While drying gently stretch back into shape.
5) Press by steam ironing at low temperature with a tea towel on top to protect the fibre.”


Pictures: © Mati Ventrillon


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