Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I like

I like very much, I've been knitting away on my Green Sweater, the steeks are cut and the neckline is growing. I'm also still thinking of the design work and lectures that were part of last weeks iD Dunedin fashion week .. and as promised I try and articulate an intelligent and meaningful response summarizing my thinking and understanding of design.

The Green Sweater pattern has one knit the sleeves first then the neckline, but I'm knitting the neckline before the sleeves, before the garment grows to large and heavy and difficult to work. I have no idea if this is a good thing, or if I've done the knitters equivalent of painting myself into the corner of the room furthest from the door ... but it made sense at the time. The neckline is worked up from a combination of stitches set aside at the front and back, and stitches picked up along the neckline steek. There are four 'inside' corners, shaped by paired decreases at the front left and right lower neckline and the back neck left and right corners ... and these take my breath away. Seriously, I am a knitting geek and here every row, as I knit along the right side (they are worked flat) I have to stop and admire the way the neckband has grown from and merges with the garment. Just look ..... there is a section where stitches continue, a section where stitches grow out at right angles from the steek, and a 2 stitch wide column of decreases that merges the two sets of stitches together ... pure magic. Yes I am a knit geek, and I'm in heaven, there are four of these corners on the neckband and I have to stop and admire every single corner as I work it .... this makes me smile ... simple things, but elegantly simple and clever ... and perfect.

Last week I was lucky enough to attend the iD fashion awards show, the iD Fashion show with work by guest designer and judge Zandra Rhodes, and to hear her talk on her work and practices. I also went to Andrew Logan's talk, and heard him speak. Both talks were fabulous and seeing their work not only as still images projected on the large screen as they talked, but on the catwalk at the iD show was amazing. Being invited to a private showing and sale Monday was even more amazing (if only I had funds to splurge - but alas I did not, so I 'window-shopped' and dreamed).

At the talk Zandra described her process, she studied as a textile designer and her fashion design is the way it is because of that. She spoke of how she would become interested in artifacts, and used examples of Egyptian or native American objects that inspired her and how she would begin by drawing and sketching. Then as she drew and redrew potential textile designs would emerge, arrangements of the elements she had isolated from her inspiration sources, spirals, Greek keys, diamond boarders, feathers and dots and lines, quills, anything. She silk screen prints all her fabric, by hand (now her minions do that - but she prepares the designs and colour separations by hand!), and so develops designs that are the scale of her screens, people sized not machine sized. Zandra then spoke of how she realized that the center curve of one of her circular prints made a great neckline curve, so she cut then garments with the neckline so the print fitted decoratively around the neck (much like a round yoke sweater). From that point when she designed new prints and revisited old prints she kept in mind the shapes she needed for garments and bodies.

Now in fashion design there is a 'trendy' term, the buzz-word of the now, Zero-waste. Some designers identify their designs as being zero waste, it is a marketing word used to identify a practice by which they minimize the waste that cutting garments makes. Unlike hand knits, most manufactured garments use only 75% of the fabric laid out to cut them from, that is 25% waste! Imaging if you wasted that much yarn when knitting! The waste is part of the manufacture process, the shapes of modern commercial garments are such that the left overs are to small and oddly shaped to be used for further manufacture. Some designers are trying to modify their practices to make better use of their fabrics, but it is a small minority and to be honest a fairly recent development. Zandra described how her own workroom practice of using fine silks and of hand printing with silk screens made each length of fabric precious and how she developed way back in the 1970's methods of cutting garments that not only made best use of the print but made full use of all the printed fabric . It all made sense, why her garments look complete, why they are resolved. This isn't a quirky fashionable marketing fad, for her all this was a very clever, sensible and creative workroom practice. Lets recap, her screens were people sized, they needed to be so her people could lift, and load, and drag a squeegee across them to print. If the screens had been larger she would have had to use machinery, and she wanted to control her printing in house ... so people sized screens she used. Because her screens were people sized, Zandra developed prints that were people scaled, and because her prints were people sized and people scaled ... well they fitted the body well. Because all her fabric was hand printed she valued each and every inch (centimeter) and so she developed garments that made full use of all the fabric. Oh those garments are not basic simple box cuts, she has shaped panels, and curves, and small border sections and flares and all the usual garment cutting tricks in play in her work. And then all those processes have been reworked and developed to very sophisticated levels in her work, with each print she designed, with each garment she must have reused the techniques that she found successful (as you do - repeat the successes), and as well she would have developed creative new shapes and techniques and designs that either worked or didn't. She took risks.

That is what I meant last post when I said hearing Zandra talk about her process, design and production, and meeting her, and then seeing her work on the catwalk inspired me and confirmed that designers really need to be connected to and knowledgeable about their inspiration, materials and techniques to develop quality lasting innovative intelligent and influential design. Zandra knew what inspired her, and focused on that then developed her own designs thru drawing and sketching and doodling and playing with the ideas, shapes, colours she found inspiration in, then she was able to draw on her extensive experience of colour, of printing, of fabric, of cutting garments, of construction, and of fitting to the body, and pull all that together into design that was creative and innovative and beautiful.

I'm still in awe, absolute awe ...
I just hope my students got it .......
and I think that is to some extent the way knitters can and should work ... we know our materials, our techniques, and well ... we should look for inspiration that we can develop into unique and lasting designs. And it dosn't matter if its a slow process ... as long as the design is good.

na Stella

4 comments:

Kate said...

The neckline is very pretty - it looks like the gusset for a sock (but then I think socks look very pretty too!).

Knitting Linguist said...

I can see why her talk was so inspiring; to hear her speak about the process by which she came to truly incorporate each element of the process into a coherent whole, and then to see the results of that process on the runway must have been amazing. What's you're saying (and your joy in EZ's lovely designs) resonates for me particularly right now having just visited the Gamble House (one of the pre-eminent examples of Arts and Crafts architecture around here). It's all about honoring the materials and the building process, and making the needs of the structure part of the design process (if that makes sense). EZ seems to do that; she shows the joins, as it were. Nothing she does is extraneous, but it's all right there in the garment. I appreciate designs like that (I actually appreciate academic theories like that, too), and find them very different to designs (and theories) that are fancy for fanciness' sake...

KathyR said...

I'm not what I would call a "knitting geek" but, like you, I certainly do appreciate the wonder of knitting in all its intricacies. So clever!

Speaking of clever, Zandra Rhodes certainly is that with the ways she works with her designs! Waste is expense, over and apart from any conservation viewpoint. Eliminate waste and you are then on the road to maximising profit. Of course, that is totally ignoring the extremely clever design features which you were talking about. Amazing! Very worthwhile tricks of the trade for those working with handwoven fabric to learn.

Suzanne said...

Amen!