Meet The Maker - Betty Laughton

Betty Laughton is known for creating beautifully crafted hand-knitted jerseys and accessories. She works with local fibres and yarns, in rich tones and textures that reflect the landscape of her native Orkney. Combining traditional pattern and styles with a little contemporary twist is the hallmark of a Betty Laughton knit and it's no wonder her knitwear is so popular with both visitors and locals. We visited Betty's studio to find out more about the process of designing and producing knitwear and to have a rummage around her enviable yarn stash!

Betty Laughton Knitwear
Betty Laughton Knitwear

When did you first learn to knit?

I was lucky to attend school when knitting and sewing were taught to all pupils. At a small country school with only 12 pupils we had a lot of opportunity for one to one tuition from our teacher. By the time I left primary school, I was a proficient knitter.

Money was tight when we were growing up so our mother encouraged us to make our own clothes. Hand knitted cardigans and jerseys were no problem.

Betty Laughton Hand Knitting

When did knitting turn into a business for you?

Many years later in the early 1990's, I accidentally found myself on a 20 week machine knitting course run by OIC and I was hooked. This was a time when out-workers were needed for several knitting firms based in Orkney. The course was creative, challenging and exciting and I had found my calling. From then on machine knitting became my business and my passion.

From 2000 onwards, hand knitted hats and scarves joined the machine knitting and the two live very comfortably together.

Betty at her knitting machine.

Talk us through the process when you're creating a new piece. How much planning has to go in beforehand? Do you do tension swatches and and make charts? Or do you have more of an innate sense of how a piece will turn out and figure it out as you go along?

Planning is a very important and time consuming part of any garment. The pattern, colours and tones must be just right. I do loads of colour swatches, some successful, some not. I do all designing, knitting and finishing myself. Machine knitting is always done in Shetland yarn. Some patterns are based on traditional patterns, some are more contemporary.

While I always provide classic and traditional styles ( men like jerseys to be jerseys), I enjoy trying new and updated shapes. Sometimes challenges from customers lead to new ideas.

Planning and notes

Machine Knitting

Are you big on colour? Or do you like to keep colour refined and quite classic?

I love colour. With the machine knitting in Shetland wool, it is more about tones than colour ( men like subtle!) but with the hand knitting I can release my inhibitions and experiment with colours, textures and yarns. The colours of Orkney are very inspirational....the changing colours of nature, the sea, the sky.

Colourful pattern swatches and samples

And finally, where can we find your work in Orkney?

At present you can find my work in Tomb of the Eagles (South Ronaldsay) Ortak Galleries and Odinstone (both Kirkwall).

Betty Laughton's machine knitted jersey.

For comissions or enquires you can contact Betty from her profile page here.