Since I have recently been studying contemporary work in knitting, I decided to look at how knitted fabrics are constructed.
Few early examples of knitted fabrics survive, so its origins are not certain. It is thought to have arrived in Europe from Asia c. AD 711-12. Stockings have been found dating to c.1200-1500 in Egypt, and knitted cushions from the late 13th century in Spain. By the 17th and 18th centuries knitting had become widespread as a suitable pastime for European ladies. Rev William Lee invented a knitting frame used for manufacturing stockings in 1589, but patterns and different shapes using the frame, were not possible for another hundred years. The knitted garment below was made to imitate woven silk.
Knitted Silk Jacket, probably Italian, early 17th Century
Source:- (Harris, 1995), p173
Knitted fabrics can be made by hand or machine, and include jersey (such as tee-shirt fabric), tubular knit fabrics, hand knitted Arran jumpers, sweatshirting, airtex, ribbing etc. Yarn is looped together either along the weft, forming courses, as seen in hand knitting; or in vertical columns known as wales. Warp knitting is similar in structure to woven fabric with long columns of interlocking fibres, which can then be joined in various ways, meaning that the resulting textile is less likely to ‘run’ than weft knitting.
Knitted fabrics are popular for clothing as they have some stretch in them, can be warm and don’t tend to crease easily. But they can easily be damaged by stretching out of shape; shrinking with excess heat; are prone to insect damage if made of animal fibres; and can show piling.
The thickness of the textile can be varied depending on the type of stitch used, the size of needle, the thickness, or ‘count’ of the yarn. The finish can be altered by softening the fabric; felting; or brushing.
Pattern can be added by using decorative stitches, or alternating colours of yarn using a slip or float stitch (the yarn not appearing in a particular part of the pattern is carried across the reverse of the fabric, for example, Fair Isle knitting). This method makes the resulting textile less stretchy and thicker. Intarsia knitting uses colour changes which do not carry the unused yarns across the back of the fabric. This is a better technique when larger areas of one colour are required, as opposed to an all-over small pattern.
Bubbled, indented or puckered effects can be achieved by knitting some stitches and holding others on the needle. Holes can be controlled in the knit by transferring stitches to another needle, thus producing lacy effects or button holes, for example. In cable knitting groups of stitches are transferred during the knitting process to produce twists and patterns in the textile. Other techniques include weaving or laying a yarn onto the knitted fabric so that it is caught by the stitches into the design. Designs in a contrasting colour can be hand stitched over the knitted fabric.
Hand Knitting – carried out on needles of varying sizes, allows the individual maker to customise their knitted work regarding colour, texture, size, thickness, pattern and design.
Machine Knitting – yarn can be knitted to produce flat textiles or tubular ones. Both domestic and industrial knitting machines are available. Many use pre-programmed cards for selecting needles in the machine to produce particular patterns. Jacquard and knitting machines can produce detailed patterns from images, using computer technology. Machines use beds of horizontal needles, each producing a wale in the fabric. Single-bed machines produce stocking stitch (knit on one side, purl on the other), while double or V-bed machines (with two sets of needles) can produce double-knit or rib fabrics. Ribs are often used to finish necks, cuffs, and lower edges of garments to aid better fitting with their extra stretchy quality, but can be used to make a whole garment.
Warp knits are usually made on flat knitting machines: the best known makes being Tricot for use with fine yarns; and Raschel for textured work with thicker yarns. The latter can also produce open work used in net and lace textiles.
At Linton Falls in Yorkshire, a maker called R A Horner sells socks (tubes without soles) made using an antique sock knitting machine, using mixed recycled yarns. The fabric feels a little scratchy, but they are useful as a second pair in walking boots.
R A Horner, socks knitted from mixed recycled yarns, 2015
Source:- photographed by J K Walton
Designing Knit Fabrics
This image shows a student’s presentation board with inspirational photograph, knit textile samples and resulting garment.
Source:- (Stevenson and Steed, 2012), p70
Sandra Backlund is a Swedish fashion designer, who often works with knitted fabrics to produce dramatic and unique garments.
Sandra Backlund, piece from current collection
Tata-Naka is the company run by Georgian-born twins, now living and working in London. Their new collection features knitted pieces, like this skirt and jumper, together with hand-embellished accessories such as beanie hats.
Tata-Naka, High Neck Ribbed Jumper
Knitwear can be knitted in one three-dimensional piece, or can be cut from lengths of knitted fabric, or constructed from individually knitted, shaped pieces.
High performance wool textiles are now being created, which can be crease resistant, or water resistant, “surface hardened” to survive outdoor wear and tear, stain resistant or light reflecting to maintain a cool temperature in hot conditions. Even without treatment, wool is durable, and has flame-resistance.
Deirdre Hoguet in an article for The Guardian praises wool for its environmentally friendly properties: “… it is rapidly renewable, biodegradable, recyclable, and can be produced organically. There are also new wool traceability standards and animal welfare standards to track its production.”
This research into knitted textiles has encouraged me to practise a bit of hand knitting and I managed to make two samples: stocking stitch on the left and plain knitting or garter stitch on the right.
I’m not sure if I would want to specialise in knitted textiles, but they are certainly an interesting area for experimentation, with great potential for fashion, jewellery, household textiles, art and soft sculpture.
Harris, J. (1995) Five Thousand years of textiles. Edited by Jennifer Harris. 2nd edn. London: British Museum Press in association with the Whitworth Art Gallery and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Stevenson, F. and Steed, J. (2012) Basics textile design: Sourcing ideas: Researching textures, colors, structures, surfaces and patterns. Lausanne: AVA Publishing SA.
Udale, J. (2014) Textiles and fashion: Exploring printed textiles, knitwear, embroidery, menswear and Womenswear. Lausanne: Distributed in the USA & Canada by Watson-Guptill Publications.
http://sandrabacklund.com Accessed 21/11/16
https://voormi.com/ Accessed 21/11/16
http://www.zegnagroup.com/lanificio/tessuti/high_performance Accessed 21/11/16