I love knitting, so the opportunity to visit Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh for ‘Knitwear: Westwood to Chanel’ was something not to be missed. (Devon might be home, but having been to university in Edinburgh, it’s still a place close to my heart.)
Originally on display at the Fashion and Textile Museum in 2014-15, it is great to see it tour to Scotland, and the Dovecot felt like the perfect place to see it.
By displaying the pieces, from the collection of Mark and Cleo Butterfield – including Cleo’s first handknit, in a chronological order – not only did we see knitwear technology change, but also a brief history of fashion.
It was brilliant to see and read about patterns that we recognise today that have a foundation in knitting – the chevron stripe of the sweater used by Chanel in the 1920’s being one example.
1920s Jumper: wool
This jumper is knitted in a vibrant chevron pattern, a popular traditional design used by Chanel and Jeanne Paquin in their 1920s knitwear collections
Handknit Pullover, 1940s, Wool.
The scraps of wool used in the horizontal stripes of this pullover are unified into an integrated design with a scarlet grid pattern
Handknit Cardigan, 1940s, Wool.
The knitter of this garment has used over 16 colours in rows of paired colour combinations to create an exciting, visually complex pattern. Plain inserts have been added in the side seams and on the inside of the arms, making it bigger for its growing owner. It is shown with a 1930s floral print dress.
As I was walking through the exhibition I was struck by these two pieces, from the 1940’s. The clever use of the honeycomb pattern in the red sweater to allow scraps of yarn to be used up, and the cardigan that has been unseamed and re-knitted as the wearer grew. It was telling Louise about these ideas that led to the conversations with Emma Vining for our ‘Behind the Shawl Pattern‘ online workshop that is starting in January – knitting a shawl from 4 ply yarn that a lot of people have in their stash.
Rayon Shawl 1910’s
‘Flame Knit Pattern’
The Fair Isle
Men’s blue and white stripe bathing suit Meridian ‘Viking’
1920s Wool jersey
Bathing suit in amber, maroon and aqua intarsia Art Deco pattern
late 1930s Wool
Bathing suit in green and black Art Deco step pattern
The detail of this rayon knitted shawl was the one piece that I wanted to feel the drape of in my hand. It looked so silky and soft – and again that great chevron pattern that we now associate with Missoni designs. The Fair Isle display was the one that was wonderful to see – so much hand knitting and steeking in one place – I do have to venture further north in the future to explore this technique further. I was also that person at the exhibition to explain the OXO pattern to someone who’d never seen it. The swimwear looked perfect on the models – however, I’m always intrigued as to what it would look like wet! Although reading Esther Rutter ‘This Golden Fleece’ gave a good insight into a knitted bikini – I’m just not sure I’m brave enough, even in sunny Devon!
Comme des Garçons (Japan) circa 1983
Like many early Comme des Garçons pieces, this pullover is oversized and non-gender specific. Rei Kawakubo, founder of Comme des Garçons, explores the visual tensions of positive and negative spaces within her knit designs.
This pullover really drew my attention, its description of positive and negative spaces struck home about some weaving that I’ve been drafting and playing with since the summer , but looking at this knitting really made me think about how woven layers could be interlaced and negative spaces created.
Waistcoat circa 1900-1920 Wool
This knitted waistcoat of the Edwardian era combines the warmth of knitted wool with knitting’s decorative features.
This one was one that really made me do a proper ‘loom shed peer’* – and really think about which knit stitch it was – I’m not sure if it’s just me, but I all I can see is Tunisian crochet! Any answers from knitters out there?
It is a great exhibition to visit and there are lots of pieces that I haven’t included here that are definitely worth seeing if you are going to be in Edinburgh before the 11th March. Let us know what you think.
*’the loom shed peer’ is a tendency for both of us to get as close as possible to a textile exhibit to try and work out how it’s made. We have set off security alarms doing so!