Monday, April 20, 2009

Portrait in Yarn: the machine knitter

We had a great visit with Joe, who is working on his Masters degree in Textiles at Rhode Island School of Design (aka RISD, pronounced "rizdee"). Amanda referred us to Joe, saying "he makes really incredible things and is one of the best knitters in the whole department" also, "he's a knitting machine expert" which we found to be true!

How did you get started knitting?
I did my undergraduate work in painting and art history at U. Mass, Amherst. Through working as an artist, I found myself more and more attracted to pattern and texture and began developing wallpaper patterns for fun. I realized that I wanted to return to school for textile design and as I was researching schools I witnessed my first knitting machine demonstration. After seeing the machine in action I knew it was something I wanted to pursue. I had learned to do simple hand-knitting when I was a child, but once I started creating on the knitting machine, my fascination for it took off. Here at RISD I have access to an assortment of manual machines, as well as a big, industrial knitter and my work today is pretty much all machine-based.

What are you working on now?
I'm working really hard to complete a collection of knitted pieces that will represent my thesis. The deadline is May 10th, and the graduate thesis exhibition opens on Thursday may 14. This cocoon-like coat is one of the pieces, it expands when in motion -- I'm using a technique pioneered by one of my teachers where I'm machine-knitting directly onto the edges of silk chiffon pieces. Unfortunately, I'm in a bind because I'm knitting with a shade of Rowan Kid Silk Haze that has been discontinued, and I'm running out of yarn. I'm been trying to find some more on Ravelry and other online sources, but everyone who has it seems to be hanging onto it. It's a great color. (Toffee 598, if anyone has some!)

Where do you get your yarn from? Does the school supply materials?
RISD gets a lot of donations from yarn manufacturers, knitting and weaving companies. A lot of it is weaving yarn, but we also get quite a bit of beautiful knitting yarn. I'm working with a specific palette right now and have been hand dying and special ordering many of the yarns I'm using in my thesis. I also shop for findings and surface decorations, like beads and crystals. Wolf E. Myrow is a treasure trove for that stuff.
If machines can do all the techniques: cables, short rows, darts; why would a designer choose to have a garment hand-knit?
It's a question of aesthetics. I'd love to have a good hand-knitter do my complicated cable work. Hand-knitting does a better job of getting the tension just right and showing the cables at their best.

How will you present your collection? Will you have models wearing them in a runway-type show?
That's the best way to show them! I think I'll be able to do something like that, but maybe not until the semester is over. There are so many things that go into organizing a fashion show and right now I need to be focusing most on my collection. Ideally I'd design my pieces around a living model so I can get the fit just right, but I've been working so spontaneously that it's difficult.

Will we be seeing you on Project Runway any time soon?
That's funny! I was just looking at the application materials out of curiosity. They seem to be looking for someone who is surrounded by drama. Not quite me.

What are you going to do after you finish your graduate work?
I'll be teaching the jacquard knitted fabrics course at RISD this summer, but beyond that I'm not sure. I don't really have time to think about it with everything that's going on right now. I am very interested in beginning my own label and freelancing in the long run. Immediately after school though, I expect I'm going to spend some of my summer lying on the beach and eating at Crazy Burger.

Joe gave us a demonstration of machine knitting using one of his own manual machines.

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