Image: this image appeared in Vogue UK, August 2000, photographer Tim Walker, knits Giles Deacon, stylist Kate Phelan.
We look back at an archive issue of Selvedge from 2014, Issue 60 Knit. Available as a digital magazine to download, it includes photography of the island of Harris and its tweed by Ian Lawson, a free dish towel pattern from Purl Soho and a history of Fair Isle.
Knitting is a technique for creating cloth by looping a single thread. As each row progresses, a new loop is pulled through an existing loop. The structure is intrinsically weaker than a woven cloth, yet more flexible. It is this flexibility that has accounted for its success. Where weave structures have stayed pretty constant since the industrial revolution, knitting has continued to evolve, as Freddie Robins notes.
Image: Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam (c) Roberto Boccacino, courtesy Enel Contemporanea.
The vast majority of clothing manufactured today is knit. As soon as the sag – the bane of all knitters, created by the imbalance of weight and scale of loop – was eliminated with the invention of spandex and lycra, knits have become ubiquitous. The streetwear/ sportswear of today is a homage to the flexibility of knits. The revolution started slowly in the 1920s when Gabrielle Chanel made outerwear from knitted underwear. The stretch and flexibility of knit structure suited her modern relaxed style. This aesthetic is continued today in the work of another french designer, Catherine André. Her sophisticated knit collections utilise the attribute of knitted structure to create organic pattern and multi-colour effects that are not limited by the warp and weft.
Image: Child's jumper, c.1950s.
The complex patterning made possible by knit structure has become the tour de force in Fair Isle, where the yolk of a traditional sweater can have as many as five colours: although surprisingly there is only ever two in each row. The 700 islands, bathed in clear northern light dotted around the Scottish coast are renowned for their textiles, and none more so than Harris off the west coast, whose tweed is world famous. This cloth is an embodiment of the island and its people. The simple structure is woven by hand in crofts from native fleece traditionally dyed with dye derived from native plants, before being blended to create the complex palette we see in the cloth. The connection between the land and the cloth has been sensitively captured in Ian Lawson’s photographs.