Leather & woven’s are the most common fabrics used to create footwear uppers. They have proven to create durable, stylish and functional pieces for a range of uses, yet rely heavily on cut & sew practices.
Knitted textiles on both flatbed and circular machinery provide a step away from this - knitting out different areas onto the textile to create a single layer footwear upper that has multiple functional zones for different practical and visual needs. This is then cut into a singular pattern piece and sewn into the upper shape. This is often how we work in our studio and we continually embrace the exciting potential of technology to engineer shaping via knit; fostering a dynamic approach to design that not only reflects our current practices but also propels us towards exploring new opportunities and reimagining the design and making process.
The X-machine, a circular knitting machine by Santoni, presents an opportunity to further explore this. This machine operates on a small diameter and has functions that allow the tube to be shaped and formed into footwear products. Here we work with the technology to create a sock-like upper that is pre-shaped and body-mapped entirely from one piece.
Working closely with the technicians at Footfalls & Heartbeats we explored shape orientation and innovative ways to engineer this. Via programming and working next the machine, we were able to push the shape of the upper to become a hightop x sneaker, with the collar reaching upwards and around the ankle to form a shape that would otherwise need to be created via cut & sew.
The output of the X-machine creates a double sock, with one layer inserted into the other. This gives us 2 layers of textile to work with to provide aesthetic, durability and resistance on the outside, and keeping comfort, cushioning and breathability on the inside. The outside upper has been engineered to showcase a balance of different knit structures, as well as knitting in Grillon into specified areas. Via steam we are able to use the Grillon to form the knit into a variety of shapes, as well as bring rigidity and support to areas that need it whilst keeping the rest of the upper flexible and breathable for the wearer. The body-mapped knit structures help to reinforce the shape of the upper, creating the needed elasticity vs compression that pushes the textile into shape.
By testing the foundations of the X-machine, we were able to design in collaboration with the technology - working from the yarn-up to build materials that are well-considered, smart and functional. This reversed engineering process, allows us to be more open minded about the outputs produced and ideas that spur out of it.
Photography by Edo Brugué, @edodreamstudio.
Stitch by stitch, 3D materials are created and take on a form that at first sight does not appear textile. Use of yarn creates colour combinations that unfold with the fabric, and shapes (from corrugation to mathematical folds) show that knit can behave in ways unexpected. We can use these “abnormalities” to reimagine products such as footwear, accessories, home & interior textiles, apparel, and protection wear. From this angle, textile innovation becomes the leader for product innovation, starting from yarn-up to inspire new ideas and exploration.
Stretch & Reveal
3D knit is often created by smartly combining yarn, stitch and machine technology. One of our favourites is creating loft via locking and holding the material. This compresses the material in specific zones creating raised effects. With this method, the material can be ‘opened’, by stretch, to reveal different layers of colours and patterning. When this material is shaped around an object or stretched by movement, it reveals new details and colours that play with light and space.
Similarly, creating pleating with knitwear creates stable stretch and compression that makes the textile dynamic from different angles. Pleats are not limited in there form and can be created with different lines, directions and size to create a playful piece of textile. This is particularly interesting when creating bags, premium luxury and interior textiles.
Inspired by origami these textiles use special yarns to generate zones of stretch and stiffness. It’s an alternative way to create padded protection, in which the origami folds absorb impact energy and dissipate it through the textile.
Knitting allows us to build a material stitch by stitch, considering every element from yarn & machine to shape & form. It gives us space to re-imagine unexpected combinations out of yarn and machine technology and challenge what is ordinary associated with knit. 3D knit textiles use stitch to create textures and forms that bring about new ways of creating visual innovation and alternative ways to apply functionalities to textiles. In our Studio we have explored many possibilities over the years, exploring padding, pleats, stretch and dynamic patterning that can be used in many ways.
Some of the main uses of 3D knit are protection, comfort and cushioning. These can be knitted into a double jersey fabric using tuck, spacer-like stitches or boosting the volume with an inlay yarn. A padded sample like this, can be created with intricate patterns, that otherwise would be difficult to achieve by conventional methods such as quilting. By using circular knit, we open ourselves up to more possibilities of adding multiple functions, graphics and dynamic placement.
3D knit doesn’t have to be thick and heavy, it can be engineered into lightweight fabrics using hold structures. These samples add graphic texture by use of loft whilst retaining the qualities needed for sportswear and apparel, proving that 3D knit can be breathable, durable and have high stretch.
This padding effect can be created by smartly positioning and playing with yarn and stitch combination. Folds and volume are produced by the contrast of yarn properties, such as stretch vs non stretch, or rigid vs high shrinkage yarns. The air pockets created retain heat and when applied in an organic nature invite touch, creating a tactile experience that brings life to a textile.