Secrets of making #2

Secrets of the circular knitting machine

On 21 May, the second edition of ‘Secrets of Making’ opened in the TextielMuseum. Like the first edition, the exhibition will once again give visitors a peek into the creative process of artists and designers who have worked with product developers in the TextielLab over the past year. Circular knitting specialist Mathilde Vandenbussche explains how different these processes can be: she assisted Raw Color and Yamuna Forzani, both of whom have projects featured in the exhibition.

In the TextielLab, product developer Mathilde Vandenbussche is the expert behind the circular knitting machine. The machine, which has 1,680 needles placed in a circle, can knit enormous and highly detailed fabrics. The fabrics resemble giant ‘socks’, which when cut open can produce a knit of up to two metres long. “As a textile designer, I’m fascinated by both knitting and drawing,” says Vandenbussche. “The two come together perfectly on the circular knitting machine.”

Global warming
Vandenbussche worked on two knitting projects featured in the second edition of ‘Secrets of Making’, translating two completely different approaches into a programme for the machine. With Daniera ter Haar and Christoph Brach of Raw Color, she developed three new blankets for the Temperature Textiles series: ‘Temperature Blanket’, ‘Emission Blanket’ and ‘Sea Level Blanket’. The blankets are intended to keep the user warm while also drawing attention to the fact that the earth is getting too warm. The intricately knitted tables and graphs that make up the design address the effects of global warming.


The circular knitted Temperature Blanket by Raw Color.

Pixel by pixel
The Temperature Blanket, which can be seen on the stage at the end of the exhibition, shows, for example, how the temperature on earth has risen over the past 2000 years, but also how this differs per country. In the Netherlands, for example, we are already around +2.0 degrees; in Chile it is +0.7 degrees. The figures of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are closely followed, which was a great challenge for the creation process. Vandenbussche: “Daniera and Christoph are graphic designers, knitting was relatively new for them. They had already worked out the images in advance with the idea of translating them pixel by pixel into the knitting. But that is not technically feasible. It was a real challenge to convert all the data correctly from paper to knitting in such a way that the blankets could also be reproduced.”

Double cloth technique
The blankets are made using the double cloth or double jersey technique. This means that two layers are knitted simultaneously, with a filling thread between the layers that expands when steam ironed. Joining the two layers together at selected points creates a bumpy or blistered pattern. “It was the first time I’d worked with designers who had such a clear idea of what they wanted, right down to the weaves. And as their name suggests, Raw Color has a thing about colour. Mixing colours with ink on paper is also completely different from mixing yarns. That required some serious translation effort as well. It was exciting – and occasionally nerve-wracking – to try and get that right, but the energy we all put into the project was worth it: the facts and figures on the blankets are all correct, and the textures and colours turned out really well too.”

Photo Tommy de Lange.

Mathilde Vandenbussche and Yamuna Forzani working in the lab. Photo: Tommy de Lange.

Ballroom scene

Yamuna Forzani’s project used the same double cloth technique but took a completely different approach. Vandenbussche calls the collaboration ‘intuitive experimentation’. “Yamuna works very quickly. She allows things to happen spontaneously and can also easily let go and move on to something else. It’s easy to get caught up in her flow, but sometimes I had to force myself to hit the brakes for the sake of depth.”

Forzani, who effortlessly combines art, fashion, photography and performance art, bases her knits on photographs. Flamboyant, sensual images from the ballroom and vogueing scene are the starting point for brightly coloured, bulky dresses and voluminous coats.

Dropped stitches
For this collaborative project, Forzani and Vandenbussche abandoned all conventions and experimented extensively on the machine with yarn applications and volumes.

“We took the technique, which originally comes from the mattress industry, totally out of its context and did something that seemed technically impossible. For example, we made the weave lines much thicker than they would be in the mattress industry. Yamuna intuitively drew the weaves on my programme with a computer mouse. Normally, you’d want to indicate that precisely, but by letting the artist do it in her own way, the result was very free and open. The fact that holes occasionally appeared in the knit or some of things we tried failed was part of the process. Yamuna didn’t mind; she found a way to incorporate these elements too.”

Secrets of making #2 is on show up and until 4 June 2023.