The Black Rabbit was started in 2006 by designer Lindsay Marsden who trained in knitwear at the Royal College of Art.
Knitted lambswool toys and gifts in beautiful stripes are complimented by greetings cards and prints featuring Lindsay’s original illustrations. Our products designed and made to your order in little studio by the sea just outside Margate, Kent in England.
Please contact us if you have any questions about The Black Rabbit products or for wholesale & stockist enquiries. There are over 100 UK stockists as well as some in Europe, Japan and North America so there may be one near you. Please see the blog for details of events and sales, where you can sign up for the mailing list.
For the fastest news on new products please follow The Black Rabbit on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest
If you’d like to know more about Lindsay Marsden and The Black Rabbit then read on! This article by Claudie Rock first appeared in The Whitstable Times in 2014 and tells the story very well.
You can see more about Lindsay’s illustration, textiles design and other projects on her website here
By Claudie Rock – follow me @feefifofum01
This week I’m on a train travelling Eastbound to Westgate-on-Sea, a small seaside town bordered by the town of Margate to the East and Birchington-on-Sea to the West, but best known for its beautiful sandy beaches, its canopied Victorian shopping parade and family run ‘Carlton Cinema’ – it’s old velvet seats and heavy brocaded drapes give it a somewhat nostalgic yesteryear quality! which I simply adore….
Today I’m here to meet the incredibly talented designer, knitter and mother ‘Lindsay Marsden’, owner and face behind the very successful Company ‘The Black Rabbit’. Lindsay’s work is really beautiful, her skilled craftsmanship, carefully chosen colour palette and tactile materials are simply inspiring….is there no end to Lindsay’s talent?
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Surrey. It’s a rather posh commuter town now but it wasn’t back in the eighties when I started school. I think that the teachers at my infant school where a really positive influence – it was a bit macrame and sandals but with a very feminist and modern perspective. I have two brothers and a sister, all younger than me. My sister Helen is an illustrator so there was definately a creative gene in our family.
Who taught you to knit and how old were you?
I think I was about seven. I remember my Nan teaching me and I made squares of lace pattern in rainbow space dyed yarn on bright green plastic knitting needles.
What was the first thing you ever knitted?
I remember making a penguin when I was at middle school, I didn’t have any black wool so it was red and white.
When did you realise you had a passion for design?
I was always a very creative child, I flitted from one craft project to the next from macrame, tie dye, origami, batik, knitting, sewing, papercraft . My favourite book was the ‘St Michaels book of handicrafts’ I still feel even now I am in a process of finding my next ‘passion’ in the creative process. As I went in to secondary school I realised it was something I could actually do as a job and was really focused on that from then on.
How did you get to where you are? Where & what subjects did you study?
I started The Black Rabbit in 2006 as I wanted to run a business selling the things I loved to make. Before that I had studied knitted textiles at Winchester School of Art and an MA in fashion knitwear at the Royal College of Art.
What did you do before becoming a designer?
Before starting The Black Rabbit I had done various freelance knitwear design and styling jobs. I worked on the production side of the luxury Childrenswear brand ‘Caramel Baby & Child’ in London.
Where did name ‘The Black Rabbit’ originate from?
Steve and I got married in the Shetland Islands just before I started the business. He had connections up there from an art residency he had done and we had both been a couple of times since and loved it there. We decided to get married and took two friends with us as our guests. The ceremony was in the registrars front room as they work from home in the islands as it’s so rural. It cost just over £100! I was looking for a name for the company while I was there and noticed that there were lots of rabbits on the islands and just the occasional one is pure black. It seemed just right and a nice reminder of our marriage too.
Where does your inspirations come from?
I can find inspiration in almost any museum or art gallery but my favourite has to be odd old objects to be found in provincial museums, especially old toys and games. I love the V&A’s Musuem of Childhood too. My Dad was a very keen birdwatcher and some of that must have rubbed off as I love to draw birds and animals and use them in my work. I wish I knew as many of their names as Dad does though. My favourite bird has to be the blackbird, it’s in my mind a ‘design classic’ simple black with an orange beak, just right!
How do you start your design process?
For my illustrative work I draw from life and collect images in my sketchbook and then work out how to bring them all together. Quite often my knitted pieces begin life as gifts for friends and family, I use that as a way to experiment. Although my husband has now banned me from giving him anything knitted..
What has been your highlight of your career so far?
Taking my work to show at the New York Gift Fair, that was a great experience and I got a large order from Anthropologie USA as a result.
What do you hope to achieve next?
I am working on expanding my product range, doing more illustrative work and more screen printing. I am also hoping to sell more in Europe using agents and trade fairs.
Which famous artists/designers do you admire or inspire you the most?
Photogrpaher Tim Walker, artists Eric Ravlious, Annette Messager, and childrens illustrators John Burningham and David Mckee, but more for his lesser known characters, I like the way he draws the domestic environment.
Give 3 words that best describes your works?
Colourful, nostalgic, menagerie.
What 5 things couldn’t you live without?
My daughter, my husband, my cat,’it’s a pen/pencil’ – my husband bought me one of these from Muji and my sketchbook.
Describe your typical day?
I take my daughter to shcool then get home and check e-mails before going to the studio. I am generally there making until school pick up time. Then it’s home for a bit of family time, dinner and bedtime. After she’s gone to be I generally use the evenings as time to think and potter on new designs. If it’s the Christmas rush I’ll be back up to the studio for a couple of hours. There is normally time for a little bit of TV before bed.
Do you have any favourite yarns you like to work with?
I really love working with lambswool. All my products are made from it, and I respect it as a natural material that has such great qualities in a tactile sense, workability and how it holds colour.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Although I do have part time employees the bulk of the business is run my me. The challenge is being all things, not just designer, but being on top of everything accounts, customer management, social media and shipping etc. as well as being a mum. I manage to keep a balance most of the time!
Which is your favourite piece ever?
“Loopy Lapin”, my stripey knitted rabbit, like many of my products he started life as a gift I made for a friend’s new baby. He became a product after that and has been a bestseller ever since. I think he appeals because he is not just your usual mass manufactured toy, but a special toy you will always keep. Children love the softness of the lambswool too.
Favourite film & why?
I love films and watch two or three a week. It’s almost impossible to pick a favourite. Most recently I really enjoyed The Grand Budapest Hotel. I love Wes Andersons films and I used this one as the colour inspiration for some of my newest designs.
Who lives in your household?
I am married to Steve McPherson who is an artist www.stevemcpherson.co.uk
We have a daughter who is six and a cat Pitkin who is probably about five. He was a stray we got from the RSPCA, we re-named him as our daughter is rather a fan of Norman Wisdom films (Pitkin is one of the characters he often played).
What is your favourite Season & why?
It’s so lovely in Westgate in the Summer, we swim in the sea a lot and are lucky enough to be able to pop to the beach after school if we want to.
How many Stockists do you have?
I have over 100 stockists in the UK, USA, Japan and Europe.
I sell directly on my website www.theblackrabbit.co.uk
Your favourite colour & why?
I love colour and picking colour combinations has to be one of my favourite parts of being a designer. At the moment it’s delicate pink next to light turquoise. I am afraid I can’t be too committed as my favourite changes on a regular basis.
What star sign are you?
Libra. I don’t believe in astrology, but I still always read horoscopes – perhaps that makes me a typical Libran!
Sitting on the beach with a flask of tea to drink and a book.
Why did you move to Westgate on Sea?
We lived in central Margate for a long time and while we loved the buzz of the town we wanted somewhere a little quieter for our daughter to grow up. Now we have the best of both worlds, Westgate is such a lovely place to live, the fantastic beaches and the cinema being a big part of that and we are just a short cycle ride from all that’s happening in Margate.
What do you see from your studio window?
My studio is what used to be the office of the engraving company that had the building before us. My window looks on to one of the other studios which happens to be that of my husband. So from my window I can see the artworks he has on the go, normally two or three. They are amazing colour coded collages made from found beach plastic that are so intricate they look almost like stained glass from a distance. Steve is colour blind and he used to make me sort all the coloured plastic for him. Now though we both prefer the artworks to keep his colourblind ‘mistakes’ as part of the work.
What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given?
My friend Poppy Treffry told me that you can never really predict how your product range will develop until you start to sell it. She was right, when I started the business I would never have been able to come up with the designs I have now and it’s only in reposnse to how the products have sold to shops and retail customers that I have been able to make a range that is creative but also commercially viable.
Best piece of advice you could ever give?
Just get started, do something and keep going. I think being idle tends to make you stop creating so even if the thing you are doing isn’t quite working it’s still getting you a step towards the outcome that will work.
Prices range from?
£4.50 for a ‘Lavender bod’ keyring to £27.50 for a lambswool knitted rabbit.
What next for Lindsay?
I’ll be doing the Top Drawer trade show in September as always which tends to keep me busy right up until Christmas. I’ll also be at the ‘ Brighton Made’ show in November and hope to have a small open studio in Westgate nearer that time, I’ll be putting news of that on my blog. In my own work I will be doing more illustration and more new products.