I'm republishing today a special about the Feel the Yarn competition at Pitti Filati that I recently did for Zoot Magazine.
There was a wide range of inspirations – biology, chemistry, geometry, electronic devices, film, folk traditions, Brazilian literature, nature and nano constructions – in the designs presented at the “Feel the Yarn” competition that took place in Florence during Pitti Filati 71.
Currently in its third year, the training event-cum-competition reunites the best students from fashion institutions all over the world. The selected students are invited to visit spinners in Tuscany and discover the world of fibres, yarns and colours, and they are then paired with one of them to create three unique designs.
This year there were students from the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology, Bunka Fashion College, Parsons The New School for Design, Polimoda, the Royal College of Art, the Fashion and Art Design Institute of Donghua University, Hochschule Niederrhein - University of Applied Sciences, Hochschule Luzern - Design & Kunst, Faculdade Santa Marcelina and The Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
The standard was pretty high with students reinterpreting knitwear in innovative ways, coming up with 3D motifs, surface elaborations, and architectural structures that enveloped the body.
In the end Xiao Li from London's Royal College of Art was proclaimed the winner, followed by Hannah Jenkinson from New York's Parsons. In this two part special we will look at both of them, starting with the second best (shouldn't be saying this, but Hannah was my favourite choice...)
Hannah Jenkinson from New York's Parsons The New School for Design was paired with Lanificio Dell'Olivo, a company well known for its special and unusual fibres such as blends of African kid goats and Paruvian Andes baby alpacas.
Moving from the main theme of the competition “From Material to Immaterial”, Jenkinson combined light textiles and natural fibres with synthetic and metallic yarns, trapping glass beads in fine fabrics to create geometric motifs on highly desirable dresses made employing both handmade techniques and specialised processes. Some of her designs - all matched with knittted headdresses - had an Art Deco quality about them, calling to mind Erté's silhouettes in in a subtle and modern way.
Can you tell us more about your background?
Hannah Jenkinson: I studied Fashion Textile Design at Brighton University in England and then I specialised in knitwear. I worked for two and a half years in London for Fiona Colquhoun's swatch studio and that offered me a really good practice of getting on the machine everyday and also going to fairs. I often went to New York or to events such as Pitti Filati, and these opportunities gave me the chance to see what was going on in this part of the fashion industry. I really liked New York so I applied to the new MFA at Parsons and I got a scholarship to go there.
Who were you partnered with for the Feel the Yarn competition?
Hannah Jenkinson: I was partnered with Lanificio Dell'Olivo, they were really helpful and lovely to work with. All the students were brought over to Tuscany in March and we spent a week visiting the spinners and seeing how the factories worked and the different types of spinners they have in this area and then we were partnered with a company and visited them to choose the yarns we were going to work with.
Which was the best thing about this project?
Hannah Jenkinson: Being able to see the techniques of spinning and how they work when you are actually knitting the yarn. I discovered some important missing links for what regarded the world of yarns: sometimes when you're knitting the yarn twists a lot and I have realised that happens because it has been twisted a lot in the factory. These little things finally clicked into place and now I feel I understand some parts of the process a bit better.
Do you feel that what you learnt also influenced the making of your pieces?
Hannah Jenkinson: In a way yes, since it helped me to see which yarns were best on what machines and maybe why a densely spun yarn needs a looser gauge. All Lanificio Dell'Olivo's yarns were amazing to work with and they sent me stuff when I needed more and didn't treat me like a student. They were really great.
Can you tell us more about the creative process behind your three designs?
Hannah Jenkinson: I usually start by developing samples and then work them on the body. For this project I did a huge amount of sample developments. I have six full boxes of all these trials that I did with all the different yarns in different combinations and on different machines. I interpreted the main theme for the event - “From Material to Immaterial” - using embroidery and cross-stitch on the fabric, so basic traditional crafts for the “material” side and then using technical knitting and transferring, devorè yarns and gold yarns to create the contrasts and let the "immaterial" come through while allowing at the same time the very heavy to clash with the very fine. Knitting techniques were used as construction rather than as the main focus. When I started working on the designs, I wasn't specifically thinking about the '20s, but the designs were the results of working with specific techniques. You can come up with more original and unique ideas if you just follow the process and you're really thorough with it.
What plans do you have for the future?
Hannah Jenkinson: I have one year left at Parsons'. We will start working on a collection in the next few months and then we will do a final collection including 8-12 pieces that will be shown at fashion week next September. I'd like to stay for a while in New York and work for knitwear designers or get some experience in the industry over there.
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