Digital Knitting
07 Jun 2015

“Knitting is the BOMB” - Cara Delevigne

Winter 2014 saw a big comeback for cosy knits. Not only was there a surge in sales of “tacky Christmas jumpers”, but superstars like singer Lily Allen and supermodel Cara Delevigne admitted to being big knitters themselves. So it’s official: knitting is cool again! And now it’s time to get ready for the new age of knitting: digital knitting. Thanks to few really cool projects, we think digital knitting is gonna be the next big thing in fashion.

Knitting: not as old-fashioned as you’d think?

Let’s have a super quick look at its history: It might seem like an old craft, but knitting actually hasn’t been around for that long. There are no legends about knitting nor any ancient gods or goddesses who knit, (unlike weaving). Linguistically the term “to knit” means “to make loops with two long, straight needles” and can’t be found in any European language before the Renaissance. The oldest knitted items are two socks from Egypt dated around the year 1000 CE, and it spread from there. By the 1500s, most of the nobility in Europe owned at least one pair of knitted socks, made for them by one of the knitting guilds. Soon, common people learned how to knit for themselves and knitted clothing became an everyday staple.

Knitting machines are not new in the industry. For the past century, they have mainly been used in big factories for mass production. But now, people are starting to experiment with them at home.

Open source knitting with Knitic and OpenKnit


Above: Top made with OpenKnit

In 2012 Varvara Guljajeva and Mar Canet hacked an electric knitting machine and developed the Knitic project – an open hardware that controls the machine. Two years later Gerard Rubio started another similar project - OpenKnit. This is a low-cost fabrication tool that you can make yourself. It uses Knitic software and gives the user an opportunity to create their own clothing from digital files.  Both projects are open source which means they are open to anyone. All the documentation, designs and software are shared publicly. This encourages people to take them, modify them and upload them back with changes and upgrades, hence every user is a potential developer.

It’s almost like 3D printing with wool, and the machine is actually “printing” a sweater or a scarf layer by layer. The machine “prints out” tubular shapes, so a sweater, for example, consists of three sections (body + two sleeves), and a scarf is just one. The maker of the OpenKnit talks about the motivation for his project: “The idea since the very beginning has been to have this process 100% automated, so anybody can create their own garments without any knowledge of pattern making, cutting or sewing. The user becomes the producer.”

Automate it with companies like Knyttan

Elizabeth Day

Above: Jumper made by Knyttan

So, you want to design your own 3d printed sweater, but you don’t want to build a knitting machine in your bedroom? You can still have your say in what’s made: just check out Knyttan, the factory of the future. You can choose your model, design, color, cut, see how it looks like on a virtual mannequin, and when you’re happy with your new jumper, they’ll print it out for you. You can wait and watch it being made, or go home and have it delivered the next day, or simply order online.

With more and more services like these, you can get custom-made unique pieces without having to deal with things like needles, counting, dropping stitches, or chasing the cat away from the ball of wool. It’s like having a digital medieval knitting guild at your fingertips!

Power to the People

The digital manufacturing revolution is empowering people to become producers of the products they buy, not just passive consumers. There is a move away from mass-produced, copy/paste clothes to hi-tech, fine-tuned-customization. Where before clothes were made one-size-fits-all, production was about making things in a certain uniformed way, in specified sizes, not for a person, but for people in general. Now the individuality of a piece is what’s valuable and being different & unique is desirable. With revolutions like digital knitting, and more materials becoming 3d printable, we foresee a lot of individuality in the future of fashion.

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