Textile and
Design Lab

Fashion and Textiles

Textile and Design Lab -

Explorations in digital knitting

In the world of mass-produced textiles, craft and collaborative approaches are unlocking exciting new potentials for seamless knitting.


The seamless 3D knitting technology developed in Japan in the mid nineties held much promise for designers: a new world of possibility in seamless garments with no cuts or seams. A design could be made as a single piece, with a single thread. But despite this conceptual richness and potential for design innovation, new product development has been fairly limited to date.

Dr Amanda Smith, senior lecturer and co-director of the Textile and Design Lab, who was working in Japan when the machines were launched, explores their untapped potential. In a design-led approach, she draws on various modes of textile-making – including craft–digital translations, e-textiles, health applications, and cultural and historic craft knowledge – to experiment with the opportunities offered by seamless knitting technology, and to test its limits.

Her goal is to develop new processes, aesthetics and products, aiming not to make more product, but rather to identify potential niches for New Zealand high-end wool products in the international market. She believes design-led inquiry can add value to the existing wool and design industries, just as we’ve seen happen in our premium wine and tourism industries.

Through research, practice and exhibition, Smith is testing modern manufacturing processes to see where she can push the technology. Ironically, a craft approach is proving a valuable way to ‘unpack’ the digital tools. There are still very real human and technical barriers in using the machines to their full potential, and so cross-disciplinary collaborations are needed. And as she progresses beyond the static design practice of mass-production, a more creative, inventive and three-dimensional approach to garment and object design is emerging.

Summary

Project name

Textile and Design Lab

 

Department

Fashion and Textiles

Researcher

Dr Amanda Smith

Dr Amanda Smith

Senior Lecturer Fashion and Textiles

Mandy Smith is a fashion and knitwear designer, developing collections in London, Tokyo and New Zealand. Her research interrogates the design possibilities of shaping knitwear with seamless knitting technology. This project creates a movement away from static design practice that relies on traditional knitwear methods and moves to a more experimental process with greater opportunities for design innovation.

Dr Amanda Smith, senior lecturer and co-director of the Textile and Design Lab, who was working in Japan when the machines were launched, explores their untapped potential. In a design-led approach, she draws on various modes of textile-making – including craft–digital translations, e-textiles, health applications, and cultural and historic craft knowledge – to experiment with the opportunities offered by seamless knitting technology, and to test its limits.

Her goal is to develop new processes, aesthetics and products, aiming not to make more product, but rather to identify potential niches for New Zealand high-end wool products in the international market. She believes design-led inquiry can add value to the existing wool and design industries, just as we’ve seen happen in our premium wine and tourism industries.

Through research, practice and exhibition, Smith is testing modern manufacturing processes to see where she can push the technology. Ironically, a craft approach is proving a valuable way to ‘unpack’ the digital tools. There are still very real human and technical barriers in using the machines to their full potential, and so cross-disciplinary collaborations are needed. And as she progresses beyond the static design practice of mass-production, a more creative, inventive and three-dimensional approach to garment and object design is emerging.

When knitwear encounters the potential for a paradigm shift in its modes of production, there is also the potential to rethink design itself.

Dr Amanda Smith

Crafting
the digital

Seamless knitting was first introduced to the market by the Japanese manufacturing company Shima Seiki in 1995. It was a move away from flat traditional 2D knit and construction methods to having seamless 3D knit capabilities, where an entire garment can be made at the same time as the fabric is created. Despite this huge innovation, the ‘ready-made’ programmes conformed to a traditional shape resembling a cut-and-sew pattern. In addition, the 2D user interface could not visualise a 3D design, creating a barrier for the designer.


Smith’s PhD research, ‘Crafting the Digital’, explored a 3D approach to garment design, and the structural forces and movements created by the knitted stitch. Through an iterative and incremental design process, she has gained a greater understanding of the translation between the two-dimensional imagery of the machine’s CAD interface and the three-dimensional realities of a garment. The resultant asymmetrical and inflective surfaces, in the draped and folded forms of her garment series, display the very nuance of seamlessness – a new type and aesthetic unique to the technology and Smith’s interpretation of craft. 

 

3D knit
transformations

In 2014, Smith collaborated with knit technician Gordon Fraser and knitted textile designer Jyoti Kalyanji to design a collection of homewares that would trial unique shaping, three-dimensionality, pattern and texture using seamless knitting techniques. A garment Smith had developed was used as the base pattern from which they developed three new shapes: an ‘umbrella’ lamp, a table lamp and a bean bag. Key in their research was integrating different colours, surface texture and pattern, features that have been difficult to manipulate with seamless knitting machines to date. 


By combining skills, the group gained a greater understanding of both the seamless knitting machine’s capabilities and its programming interface, enabling them to attempt more sophisticated design applications. Their research starts to address some of the difficulties faced by the knitted textile industry in understanding and integrating this complex technology. And the collection shows the potential for highly technical and artisanal design outcomes when designers and craftspeople combine knowledge and expertise.