Jean Moss, my wife, who has died aged 73, was an innovative knitwear designer and creative talent behind numerous 1980s and 90s collections for labels including Ralph Lauren, Polo, Calvin Klein and Laura Ashley. Her signature combinations of intricate textures, striking colourways and sophisticated styling were widely influential and her pioneering designs regularly appeared in Vogue Knitting, The Knitter and Rowan Magazine. Twelve books, North American tours, a blog, an agony aunt column and holidays for yarn lovers all built a devoted international following.
Born in Bolton, Lancashire, the daughter of John Haddock, a coal bagger, and Lily (nee Cunningham), a millworker, Jean went to Bolton county grammar school. She could not escape too soon the drab confines of her 1950s northern life. Immersing herself in the 60s folk music revival, she and her first husband, Brian Moss, whom she married in 1968, took to the road with a guitar and little else. While busking European streets and cafes, she hung out with the celebrated banjo player Derroll Adams, entertained Vietnam-bound GIs, and was arrested and deported from Amsterdam.
A spell of the good life in rural Yorkshire followed. Jean’s farmyard teemed with creatures – including goats, donkey, ponies, bees, ducks and geese. To make ends meet, during the 80s handknitting boom Jean and Brian started a cottage industry, selling sweaters in York market. Her career took off when Ralph Lauren’s agent spotted her work at a London trade show. Their chaotic, muddy farm soon had a flourishing business, supplying most of Ralph Lauren’s handknitted UK imports.
Despite her worldwide reputation, Jean did not see herself only as a knitwear designer. In 2003 she reinvented herself as a garden designer. Her company Rolling Stone Gardens combined her passions for horticulture and colour. She relished the challenge of realising clients’ dreams on tight budgets with sometimes self-willed builders.
Her design inspiration was eclectic, ranging from African textiles to op art and Fibonacci. Whether she was working on a garden, sweater, website or book, her sense of colour was intuitive. Jean had the rare gift of synaesthesia, instinctively perceiving letters and numbers in colour.
Following severe illness in 2015-16 she resumed her first love of music and settled into playing the guitar and writing songs. She recorded two studio albums, Lifelines and Full Moon.
Jean knew her own mind. Her commercial success was built without training or qualification. Creatively restless, quirky, willing to take risks, she rarely repeated herself, always curious to move on to something new.
Brian died in 1990. After living together for many years, Jean and I married in 2015. She is survived by her three sons, Tristan, Rowan and Felix, grandchildren Izzi, Ava, Lyra and Louis, and me.