Patricia Roberts' Retrospective

Posted on February 24 2022

Patricia Roberts' Retrospective
Farnham Pottery
February 10th to March 6th 2022
Photo of Patricia Roberts

My knitwear is identifiable by its sophisticated stitchcraft. I love to push the technical limits of hand knitting into new areas, but always within the context of casual, easy to wear fashion. I am inspired by the creative possibilities of hand knitting and enjoy inventing new stitches and amalgamating them with colours, textures and form.

For each collection I think of a theme and then imagine ways of interpreting it into colour, Aran or lace work, or a combination of these. There is often something completely new about the way they are worked. The inspiration comes from anywhere and anything— holidays, nature, the sea, art exhibitions, bric-a-brac, etc. I work in natural fibres, often luxury ones, like cashmere and angora. We have developed our own range of cottons, specially for hand knitting, in a myriad of colours.

I want people to feel comfortable and enjoy wearing my sweaters at almost any time and anywhere from the city office, to the country, the sea, or the fashionable ski resort.

—Patricia Roberts

I know that many of you share my love for the work of Patricia Roberts and so, the Retrospective organised by her daughter, Amy, was a great opportunity for me to get together with the friends I had made whilst taking a couple of courses at 'Les Soeurs Anglaises' under the tutelage of Patricia.

We all met up for a weekend in Farnham which also happened to be hosting the 'UnRavel' yarn show at the Maltings. On the Sunday, we were invited to join family and friends for the reception party being held by Amy and John Heffernan, Patricia's husband. The show highlighted a small percentage of Patricia's work but I was especially delighted to see some of her original patterns drawn out on graph paper.

graph paper chart of Peek-a-Boo by Patricia Roberts


The graph drawing above (apologies for the photo but the light reflected off the glass) is that of 'Peek-a-Boo'. This happened to be my first introduction to Patricia's work: many years ago I used to commute into London by train from Tring and the lady opposite me was knitting an intricate pattern in the most beautiful silk yarn. We started talking and she showed me the book 'Patricia Roberts Collection'  and I was immediately hooked! 
Peek-a-Boo by Patricia Roberts
'Peek-a-Boo' by Patricia Roberts

Trips to her store in Covent Garden followed and many years later, when I discovered Patricia was taking a knitting class in the Dordogne, I took the opportunity to join fellow knitters in France. Meeting two wonderful ladies from Melbourne, the three of us agreed to join Patricia the following year where we met another group of die-hard Patricia fans. We have been meeting every year since and were due to meet in Venice before Covid put life on hold. Hopefully, our time spent together at Farnham is the start of future reunions.

Patricia Roberts moved to London in 1968 with a BA in fashion and worked as a knitting editor for magazines before becoming a freelance designer. She elevated hand knitting to an art form and her use of contrasting textures and decorative stitches makes for challenging knitting. Whilst some of her designs can be worked whilst watching TV, many require complete concentration.



This piece of intricate knitwear was originally knitted in Patricia's silk yarn.
Even Patricia thought that this was one of her hardest patterns so, 
if you fancy a challenge, then 'Chequered' could be your next project! 

'Valentine' by Patricia Roberts

'Valentine' as displayed at the Retrospective

Valentine (front) by Patricia Roberts
Valentine (back) by Patricia Roberts
Images of 'Valentine'  as shown in pattern books


'Valentine' is one of my favourite designs and I know I just do not have the patience to knit it. Unfortunately, the only garment she had in the shop prior to closure was too big for me. The detailing in the knit is amazing and to have the imagination and design ability to create this fabulous piece is, to my mind, genius.

Many of her designs have stood the test of time such as 'Scrabble' (below).

'Scrabble' by Patricia Roberts
'Scrabble' by Patricia Roberts is still a favourite knit amongst fans


Patricia began to create seasonal collections and her designs were soon sold in leading fashion stores both in London and New York. In 1976, she opened her first store and, besides publishing pattern books, she created her own ranges of luxury yarns. Her books set a new standard for knitting publications, photographing hand knits as high fashion.


A selection of knitwear designs by Patricia Roberts
A selection of knitwear designs by Patricia Roberts
hung on 1970's Italian hangers featured in her early shops.
Shown hanging in the atrium at Farnham Pottery.


Pirelli Calendar 1985 with knitwear by Patricia Roberts
Model Anna Andersen, for the Pirelli Calendar 1985, photographed by 
Norman Parkinson featuring a specially commissioned sweater 


In 1986 Roberts was awarded the Design Council award and subsequently the supreme accolade, the Duke of Edinburgh's Designer's prize of the year, never before awarded to a clothing designer. The Design Council described her achievement as "an outstanding example of British design success," and added, "despite a considerable growth of sales, the best design standards had been maintained throughout the growth of the company." Her work was included in exhibitions at the Victoria & Albert Museum twice in that same year, and her work was added to the museum's permanent collection.

Patricia Roberts Duke of Edinburgh Design Award


The retrospective showed a selection of knitwear designs by Patricia; some magazine editorials from the 1970's to 1980's; fashion photography; some fashion designs from Patricia's personal sketch book and a couple of photos of Patricia from those times.

The above was one of my favourite pieces. It was a 'Stars and Moon' Swimsuit featured as a knitwear pattern for Petticoat magazine. Whilst I'm not sure it is 'fit for purpose' you would certainly make a statement wearing this piece around the pool and it looked absolutely stunning in the shoot and in life.

Patricia wearing her own 'Walking the Dog' sweater.
Unfortunately, Patricia died in December 2020 after a battle with front temporal dementia. This exhibition was a loving tribute to her mother by Amy and, hopefully, some time in the future, we will have the opportunity to see a larger exhibition of the work of this outstanding knitwear designer.
For those of you who are interested the Fashion Encyclopedia 
has a more detailed biography.

There is also a dedicated group on Ravelry to Patricia Roberts and her designs.

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