The technical designer: a new craft approach for creating seamless knitwear
The separation of the design and technical roles within commercial knitwear design has led to a 'technical skills gap' between designers and industrial knitting technology, which has contributed to the communication problems between designers and technicians. Historically, these issues have been ignored and designers have accepted compromised versions of their original ideas. However, the advent of seamless knitting technology has exacerbated the issue and the skills gap has grown exponentially, as designers struggle to engage with seamless knitting processes. The nature of seamless garment design is that all aspects must be considered simultaneously, and pattern-‐cutting principles for two-‐dimensional garment blanks are no longer relevant. The most crucial aspect of the design process is the programming of the garment, from which designers are generally excluded. The complexity of the programming has led to manufacturers creating wizard-‐based functions that simplify and speed up the process, and produce standardised garment styles. The database of pre‐programmed garment styles has been held responsible for uniformity of garment silhouettes within the commercial fashion industry. This research develops a craft theory, that has broadly developed from David Pye and Peter Dormer’s seminal work up to the 1990s, and locates it in relation to more contemporary work on digital craft. Programming is acknowledged as a form of digital craft and the Shima Seiki APEX CAD system and SWG-‐N knitting machine are the craft tools. The creative experimental practice explores the possibilities of taking control of the programming and knitting of seamless garments, in terms of the creative design development of new seamless sleeve head styles. The practice is carried out within an 'experimental system' away from the constraints of industry. The data from semi-‐structured interviews with commercial knitwear designers and technicians is discussed in relation to the 'communication bottleneck' identified by Claudia Eckert and the 'technology skills gap' identified by Sayer et al. Four scenarios for the design and manufacture of knitwear are identified and analysed in terms of the creative management of the design and sampling of seamless garments. The outcomes reflect on how the roles of designer and technician could be more interchangeable to better exploit seamless knitting technology. Concurrent design practices are considered in the light of a new slow fashion framework that exploits the new possibilities afforded by seamless knitting technology. This study presents the case that the design and technical aspects of knitwear design need to be reunited in order to create innovative seamless garments, and that this could either be as one role, such as technical designer, or within a design team made up of designer and technician. The artifacts created as part of this research illustrate the possibilities of a designer taking control of the whole process, and are products of a design methodology that incorporates digital tools with traditional design skills. However, it is acknowledged that to fully exploit the software one needs to be an expert craftsman, which, due to the complexity of the software, can take many years to achieve. Therefore, the culture of the knitwear industry needs change to actively encourage and facilitate teamwork, and the training of designers and technicians needs to reflect this change, if seamless knitting technology is to be fully exploited.