Translating the creative process of knitwear design: from manual to digital practices in a material-driven approach
Authors: Martina Motta
Abstract: In the paradigm shift through the Industry 4.0, knitwear is nowadays one of the industrial sectors that is most experiencing the dualism between craftsmanship and technological innovation.For ages associated with manual work, the complexity of a knitted product has always required to designers not just creativity, but specific technical knowledge and manual skills in the constant analysis of materials and processes for the creation of something new (Motta, 2018). Today electronic knitting machines, constantly evolving under the updating of technologies and softwares, are adding challenges to the design and product development, pushing further the boundaries for designers’ intervention, but also expanding the domains of knowledge they need to control.The two areas of knowledge, manual and technological, have become two fundamental aspects of the contemporary professional figure of a knitwear designer.The research work at ***affiliation*** studies these two areas, deepening the comparison between manual and electronic processes to highlight limits and opportunities and to generate updated methods and perspectives for future designers in the sector.It investigates the relationship between the creative process of knitwear and the tools available in a comparison between manual and technological knowledge, questioning the role that the two play in the important moments of teaching and learning.It is natural to wonder whether today it still makes sense to use manual machines, when they have been completely replaced at the industrial production level by electronic machines. What contribution can a tool that seems obsolete make to the training of designers and their future professional life? How could such different tools and processes coexist and relate?If it’s true that Knitwear is learned by doing (Conti, 2019) and by practical experience, manual machines are still useful for students as they allow the knit manipulation and the immediate change of design parameters, while the programming phase prior to electronic knitting requires a very defined design intention and the mediation of a technician. If the industrial production is entirely electronic in terms of numbers and pace, the value of manual practice is recognized also by companies, that still use manual machines in the early stages of prototyping. It is clear, however, that the future of knitwear is increasingly heading towards automation, and therefore the designer's experience cannot stop at manual machines: moving from "making by hand" to comparing it with electronic machines is the key point in the creation of a real, industrial, knitwear project (Affinito, Conti & Motta, 2017).The article reports a research project as a case study to analyze the different phases of the knitwear design process and the nodes that connect the creative and manual process to the production and technological one, stressing the translation effort that a designer faces when switching from manual to electronic machines. A translation that requires a structured dialogue between designers and technicians, and that consists not just in the simple recreation of the same structure with a different tool but in evolutions and developments that explore the possibilities and limits of the most up-to-date technologies, of traditional and innovative yarns and materials, of the processing techniques.In this regard, knitwear is a particular approach to fashion and clothing production, as the process includes both the creation of the fabric and the creation of the garment at the same time (Eckert, 1999). While the fashion designer works on an existing fabric, knitting starts from a previous step, directly from the yarn: this implies greater freedom in terms of garment development with control of every single aspect (shape, color, texture, material, weight, stitch, structure) and highlights the importance of materials and of any feature that fibers and yarns have (Cassidy, 2017).The article reports the evidence of how, in the translation from manual to electronic processes, the centrality of materials does not get lost, but is enhanced. The design activity keeps its aspect of being material-driven and every design decision stands as regulated by the choice of yarns, the limits they have, their performative features, the tactile and the visual properties, the matching of different compositions, the subsequent interventions on responsive materials, the experimentations made possible just by updated technologies and by the extreme variety of the electronic machine’s outputs.
Keywords: Knitwear Design, Creative Process, Digital Technologies, Manual Practices
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