Knitted Rooms

Presented by: Annie Coggan

Knitted Rooms In the spring of 2016, Interior Design Graduate Students were asked to create a knitted room in their Design Options Lab: Soft Construction, a three credit seminar. The only programmatic constraint: the room had to be of a dimension that one person could walk into and stand. With such a simple rule, it was up to the students to define the terms for the meaning of a knitted room. Each room was to be fabricated using panels knit on a Shima Seiki knitting machine, a computer numeric controlled (CNC) flat knitting machine with a 54” bed typically used in fashion and automotive design. This opportunity to use the Shima Seiki generated an amazing series of questions and experimentations resulting in an archive of samples and ultimately spaces that illustrate an ideal of a knitted room. The goals for this collaboration between the students and the fabricators/programmers were a series of challenges presented by the use of the CNC knitting machine. The machine had never produced at an architectural scale and the students had limited experience in full scale work or interaction with textiles beyond concepts. Students had one week for the conceptual design of the knitted room. Using 3D modeling to shape the spaces, students were able to calculate the square footage of the material necessary for each room. The students’ drawings were patterns which made up the technical specifications for the CNC programmers. Responding to to the multiplicity of textures, patterns and transparencies possible with the Shima Seiki, the students worked with the knitwear director to develop a series of texture palettes that would suit the proposal for each space. The initial sketches were planar and architectural in nature; they belied a very minimalist, platonic ideal. Drawn to to the most intricate knit samples of which the machine was capable, the three teams developed rooms that explored ideas of layering pattern, adjusting opacities, and manipulating shadows. This attraction to the quiet patterning of the knitted yardage rather than the potential for formal exuberance was the most surprising aspect of the process. Students responded to the deep materiality of the yarn and construction of the knitted planes and went to great lengths to celebrate this. After the calculations were made for the quantity of material (yarn) needed, a month-long process of sampling and prototyping began. A composition of wool and cotton was required to make a featherweight textile that had enough stiffness and rigidity to create the architectural language to which the students aspired– the wool being soft, and the cotton having a higher tensile strength thus less sag. Each textile composition was calibrated to accommodate the large expanses of knitted yardage The installation of the knitted rooms was first in a classroom on campus, but then the students were invited to participate in an exhibition of student textile work. The first installation showed the rooms as separate ideas; the second venue, more imitate, created a conversation between the three rooms thus created an immersive environment. The learning outcomes of this project are illuminating. Textiles are difficult materials to anticipate. The students initially conceived the projects as rigid planes; their drawings could not foreshadow the complexity of the soft material. It was necessary to grapple with finishing issues that are often not thought through in traditional construction classes or design studios. A skill set of traditional sewing techniques – hemming, whip stitching, machine sewing, knot-craft, as well as cutting, bending, drilling, gluing, and other fabrication techniques were introduced. The students learned about working with fabricators; the machine was booked for other clients well into the spring, so the students had a limited production and had to make decisions quickly when problems arrived. Students learned the gravity of the word “no” and how to work through that as a de