Footwear on the X-machine Part 1: Navigating Shape

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.

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