Sampler is an ongoing design research project led by Elise Co that explores the uses and functions of knitting machines, as well as their cultural influences and effects, including the relationship between art and craft, mechanical reproduction, labor practices, and machine learning.
For 3 months in the summer of ‘19 I worked on Sampler with Elise and a group of other students. We pursued a variety of research avenues, all of which somehow touched on the topics mentioned above. My specific focus for the summer was an investigation into Nike’s Flyknit technology that they have used in recent years in many of their shoe designs.
The flyknit technology has several advantages for Nike. It is lightweight and relatively durable, plus it looks cool. The photo above shows one of Nike’s Flyknit uppers layed flat without the insole and outsole attached to it. This single piece of fabric can essentially just be printed out of large, expensive, modern knitting machines that are all but entirely inaccessable to all but large companies. These machines, produced by companies like Stoll, can be programmed to knit any shape, with any type of stitch, in single or multiple layers, with multiple colors as well. They can even lay in the Flywires that form the lace loops on the shoe. And the machines can do all of this with little to no waste, because knitting is an extremely material-efficient technology. On top of all this, forming the entire upper section of a shoe in one piece means that the assembly line for Flyknit shoes is very short. Compared to any regular canvas shoe, like Converse, the assembly line can be around ten times shorter for Flyknits.
To further explore these questions of mechanical reproduction and labor practices, my goal was to recreate a Flyknit upper as closely as I could using only knitting machines that were manufactured in the 1970’s and were advertised to individual knitters.