2017 | 'Knitting the Imagination' | BFash (Design) (Hons)
“Knitting is one area in which heritage and the role of the past in the present is manifest.” (Turney 2009)
“...knitting highlights a sense of the otherworldly, the nostalgic and the traditional.”
Quotations found in Joanne Turney’s book ‘The Culture of Knitting’ acted as building blocks for the philosophical thought surrounding my concept for semester two’s body of work. The chapter entitled ‘Knitting the Past’ connected the idea of knitting as a nod to traditional and pre-industrial forms of making to something that when carried out in a modern day context is ultimately an engagement in a nostalgic practice. The duality of knitting as simultaneously inhabiting both the past and the present highlighted the entanglement of these two constructs. Intrigued by the denial of the past and present as binary forces, I decided to situate my project amongst the discourse they created, in an effort to unravel the complex systems of time and retrospection, inherently linked to a nostalgic sense of yearning. Initially perplexed and miffed by their relevance to each other, I relied on inward reflection to decipher the relationship between past and present, further informing the direction of my project.
“The past appears as lost, a construct that can never be revived. The past of course is a construct built from memories, recollections, stories and artefacts which remains potent in the present...[and acts as an indicator] of the desire to create meaning and narrative in everyday life.” (Turney 2009) In light of the emerging themes of nostalgia and retrospection that sprung from early research, awareness of my own reminiscent behaviours and tendencies began to grow. I noticed that I had been spending a great deal of time dwelling on my past, whether I was conjuring up memories of experiences I wanted to revisit or whether it was certain memories that seemed to pop into my head sporadically. I realised that these thoughts weren’t completely arbitrary, rather they were largely prompted by my surroundings, sensations, objects or even gestures that reminded me of an earlier time. The scope of my nostalgic realm extended to particular words, sounds, places and even items of clothing embedded with a sentimental significance. These devices allowed me to envelop myself in a drowning sense of nostalgic yearning, indulging in a fondness of my past which was intertwined with a self awareness that I was constantly neglecting the present.
Always accompanied by a handheld camcorder and the microphone device on my phone, remnants of moments I knew I would later want to revisit could be trapped in the form of short videos and sound recordings.
“...we face two sorts of loss: the loss of "it" as it de-emerges back into the stream of existence and the loss of ourselves as we do the same.”
‘Empty Spaces’ (2017) was a filmmaking exercise that I conducted as part of the project based on the nostalgic yearning induced by the revisitation of locations that are home to fragments of my past. The cinematography is simplistic and literal as I wanted to focus on the power of the places to transport and unearth buried emotions. While the past is out of reach, these places will always remain and therefore are the closest tangible connection to our pre-lived experiences. The absence within the frames adds weight to the loss and temporality of moments as they dissipate into non-existence.
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The almost ritualistic materialising of experiences through film and sound showed that I had a strong affiliation with the past, one that I was unwilling to let go of readily. I wanted to use my project as a way of derailing these concreted patterns of revisitation.
I translated this motivation into my first exercise by employing a method of design through deconstruction. I interfered with a pre-owned knitted garment using initial incisions which immediately disrupted and redefined its form and silhouette. These incisions aligned metaphorically with destabilising the dwelling on pre-lived experiences, as cutting into the second-hand garment seemed to symbolise a severing from the past. New textures were fashioned by the action of pulling loops of yarn, resulting in inverted amounts of volume; hollows, shadows and protruding or caving bubbles of knit.
The act of deconstructing the garment recontextualised it, as it is fashioned into a new design it transcends from its past life into the present. The result of this exercise dabbles perfectly amongst the duality of past and present formerly mentioned. While the garment has taken on a new form in the process of deconstruction, its original materiality still remains. This demonstrates a coexistent space amongst which the design is born out of. The prototype is both past and present at the same time; there is a fluidity and movement between its past life and its present state.
Yoko Ono’s ‘Cut Piece’ (1965) aptly reflects the workings of deconstruction that I had explored in the first exercise, but demonstrated it through the medium of performance art. Yoko kneeled passively in front of her audience at Carnegie Hall with a pair of scissors at their disposal. Each member proceeded to participate in the deconstruction of her clothing, making alterations, subtractions or incisions into the garments. The outcome revealed a mosaic of contributions from the individuals of the audience, each intervention with Yoko’s clothing could be likened to a brushstroke on a canvas. Whilst, by the end of the performance Yoko’s original outfit is no longer recognisable, the body it adorns still remains.
I continued to progress with my project by utilising this method of deconstruction combined with pre-owned garments to unhinge the notion of nostalgia. I created a sample that formed a new materiality out of an old garment (highlighting the duality at operation behind my concept) and cut up second-hand men’s shirts into strips of fabric. I then linked these strips together using knots to create a continuous unconventional ‘yarn’ that would be knitted into a sample of fabric. The sample provided an insight into the duality of past and present, but also the duality of woven and knit. It was interesting to note that both structures resided within the same piece of fabric. While the yarn is made from a woven shirting fabric, the yarn is fashioned into a fabric using a knit construction.
As I deconstructed the shirts I sectioned each one into strips of the main fabric and retained the functional elements such as the sleeves, plackets and button tabs. These features were then tied into the yarn so that they extended out of the knots in the knitted fabric. Some of the shirts which I left whole, could then be buttoned onto the plackets, tabs or fastenings hanging from the main fabric, visually and physically drawing a connection between the past form of the materiality (a men’s shirt) and its new form (the knitted structure). The emergence and reabsorption of the woven shirt back into the knitted materiality blurs the line between woven and non-woven. The cyclical and ongoing transformation from the shirt’s old form into its new form and vice versa, creating a rhythmic flow between past and present.
This sample evolved into the materiality for my final prototype which involved repeating the same process, but with a variety of printed women’s shirts. The chaos of the compilation of clashing, mismatched floral shirts into a single yarn knitted into large rectangular panels complicated the visual information of the prototype. The inclusion of print and colour added another layer of complexity to the materiality as the pattern on the shirt alternates between being readable in its original, whole form and being distorted once its fed back into the structure of the knitted fabric.
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The final prototype was largely driven by the interrogation into nostalgia with a primary focus on materiality. A substantial number of recycled women’s shirts were sourced, cut into strips and hand knitted into four large rectangular panels which were then used to construct two separate body pieces. The pairs of panels were hand sewn together to achieve two wider pieces of fabric which were then attached to foundation garments with straps and buckle fastenings. The ambiguity of silhouette encouraged an ‘interpretive’ approach to dressing, allowing the wearer to freely determine how the garment is positioned and styled on their body, abandoning archetypal codes of dress. Furthermore, the ability to attach and detach and relocate the shirts on the knitted structures heightened the sense of interactivity.
The final prototypes were accompanied by a handbag that acted as a microcosmic accessory embodying the blanketing theme of nostalgia. Throughout the course of the semester I collected scraps of crochet and machine knitting samples I had made. I collaged these pieces together and incorporated a second-hand cane handle to create a mismatched, chaotic bag design that would complement the aesthetic of the knitted prototypes.
Designer: Phoebe Pendergast-Jones ☆ IG: @phoebes_angels
Digital photography: Irene Armesto ☆ IG: @__reneshelly
Hair and Make-up: Georgia Gaillard ☆ IG: @gg.mua
Sartwell, C 2004, ‘Six Names of Beauty’, Routledge, New York.
Turney, J 2009, ‘The Culture of Knitting’, Berg Publishing, New York.