THAT plastic framed-knitting machine most of us thought had gone to the eternal scrapheap in the 1970s is now enjoying something of a revival, thanks in no small part to an Alston artist with a passion for Japanese textiles.

For in Julia Neubauer’s hands, the fad-gadget of yesteryear is now producing exquisite garments made out of the finest, Italian-spun merino wool.

Already a commercial machine-knitter of 30 years standing, she looked to the Orient for her latest inspiration after forming an artistic collaboration with weaver Marion Woolcott.

Both members of the Wool Clip, a Caldbeck-based co-operative of wool workers, the complementary nature of the textiles they each produced wasn’t lost on them.

“I was in the Wool Clip shop one day, looking at Marion’s scarves, and I thought ‘they would look fab around a kimono-style jacket,” said Julia.

“We both used the same yarns, so I approached her and said ‘what do you think?’”

The result, 18 months later, was their unique take on the kimono, and a range of accessories to boot.

They are currently running an exhibition, entitled Inspired by a Floating World, in Allendale’s Forge Studios, giving a flavour of what they do.

They have been joined for the occasion by designer and illustrator Ray Ogden, who has a nothing if not impressive CV. It includes Conran Associates of Covent Garden, 13 years at the BBC television production centre in London, and a lectureship at the Glasgow School of Art.

His penchant for Japanese design certainly fitted the bill, and his detailing is every bit as delicate and complex as Marion’s.

The latter said: “I’m not a ‘yardage’ weaver – I can’t keep throwing a shuttle. My work is more about the complexity of the pattern and the space dyeing, with its multitude of different shades.

“On this one, see, the colours gradually change over the length of the scarf from grey to blue.”

Upon completion, Marion gives each scarf to Julia, who then designs and makes a knitted, kimono-style jacket to go with it.

“We have a basic kimono shape now,” said Julia. “But we can make it longer or shorter and change the trim, so when the customer buys one, they are getting a unique garment.”

The merino wool is expensive, of course, but the fine texture and the lustre you just don’t see on other wools is worth it, they agree.

They have also produced their own particular take on ponchos, too – again, think ‘drawing room’ and not hippy music festival.

There are also buttons covered in eye-catching, imported Japanese fabrics, and wrist bands made of the same.

And then there’s Marion’s jewellery, made through ply-split braiding, using four-ply chords of yarn. “That (method) comes from Kurdistan,” she said. “They use it to make the camel girths.”

(I Google it and find there is a whole book out there dedicated to the subject of ‘ply-split camel girths’.)

Some of Julia and Marion’s experiments have only come about because they are two and not one. Julia said: “We take risks, working together – we push the boundaries – and it’s a lot more fun than working at home alone.”

Marion said: “After you’re gone, we’ll probably start talking straight away. ‘My loom is empty, what shall we do next’ type of thing.”

Won’t be long before Julia’s framed-knitting machine will be back in action too then... She laughs. “They were very popular in the 1960s and 70s, but that went and people were throwing them away. Now, they are becoming quite a commodity again and people are relearning the skill.”

The exhibition will run at the Forge Studios until March 31.

2 - 31 March, 10am - 4pm