Suzanne Oude Hengel
Creative entrepreneur, Knit researcher, Footwear innovator and Technician @textielmuseum

All posts by Suzanne Oude Hengel

#ckcontributors | How I work – Suzanne Oude Hengel

In this post, I will explain my approach to design and how my process impacts my work, as often I think the process is more important than the end result.

My working style is not linear or even circular as I’m often working on various things at one stage.

 
Image from @writerspost

The starting point for me is both the product concept, the material / yarn choice and the technique (as in the stitches / bindings) as they all impact each other. After researching or finding out the needs of the project and sourcing yarns, I start ‘sketching’ ideas, which is done directly on the machine. 

There are a few design principles that I integrate in every one of my designs:

  • Create an all in ONE UPPER: That it is a one-piece upper (the material comes off the machine with minimal need for processing). 
  • A focus on FUNCTIONALITY : There has to be functionality directly integrated into the fabric such as support, comfort or ventilation.
  • Not using glue when bonding the upper to the sole. 

Having my own set of design principles is often helpful at the beginning of a project, especially if the brief is broad, as it ensures I keep my aesthetic, meet the design criteria, innovate with originality and maintain my integrity.  

I produce endless samples to investigate all options and rarely throw anything away, as very often the best ideas come from mistakes. By working on and closely to the machine I am able to adjust my designs as I go, allowing for an adaptive and flexible working style. 

Having an understanding of how the machines work also helps to inform my design process. I think it is important to know what is and isn’t possible because that allows me to strive for the impossible.

 
Photography by Masha Bakker Photography

I aim to bridge the gap between technician and designer within my practice. 

This is why my week is divided between my studio and working as a technician at the Textielmuseum | Textiellab in Tilburg, where I have access to industrial knitting machines, allowing me to further develop my technical knowledge and programming skills.

 
Photography by Dana Dijkgraaf wearing Helen’s T-shirt

After creating my first set of samples, I analyse what does and doesn’t work, and how these findings affect the initial concept. Sometimes this means the direction of the project changes completely. My method of analysis starts with playing with the samples on a last or directly on the foot. Aesthetics and functionalities are both equally important within my work –  for me there is no point creating something if it looks ugly

I give high value to colour within my work and continuously play with different combinations and gradients as colour can often add extra depth; highlight key areas of interest and/ or functionality. I enjoy being intuitive and spontaneous when approaching colour use and this also takes experimentation to perfect. 

 
Photography by Ella Reynolds

The questions I always ask myself whilst designing are :

  • Can footwear be processed/ produced in a simpler way? / Can I make the process less complex ? 
  • How can I make my design more sustainable ?
  • Is there a smarter way to do this ?
  • Can I push the machine further ?
  • What would the outcome be on a different machine ? 
  • What am I communicating with this ?
  • Can I make the production process more transparent ?
  • Is it answering to all needs of the foot ? 
 
Photography by Dana Dijkgraaf

Once I work out the next steps I continue developing – zooming into the details and fine tuning as far as the budget goes, the time booked on the machine and the deadline, allows me to.

Due to the fast paced nature of the industry, fine tuning an idea until I am truly happy with the results isn’t always realistic. 

In the final stage of designing, I look critically at my own design process. I ask myself if I applied my own design principles in a good way, and what I could do to make the design better next time. 

 
Photography by Dana Dijkgraaf

Everyone has their own creative process that works for them and I think it is important to understand how you work, so you can make the most of it.

Knowing your own process will also allow you to foresee recurring struggles / obstacles that emerge along the way.

Develop your vision, your own way of doing things rather than following what you think is right or best!


Intro: Suzanne Oude Hengel

Hi Conceptkicks lovers ! 

A huge thanks to Daniel Bailey aka Mr. Bailey for inviting me to become a contributor, Conceptkicks is a fantastic platform and a great community of people that want to share, help and exchange. Mr Bailey’s approach and generosity to encourage and share information has set the tone in the way I work and the people I surround myself with. 

Being a contributor is about giving an impulse to connect with creators in divers field, enlarging perspectives, collaborating, sharing work and inspiring each other to make changes happen.

For my first post I will introduce myself and the timeline of how I got to where I am ! It worked out being a little longer than expected but maybe it is better that way so you can understand my approach and where I come from. In my subsequent posts I will share what I have found interesting related to footwear over that month and try to give you further insight into what I am up to !

 
Photography credits to Studio Masha Bakker

I am Suzanne Oude Hengel, Creative entrepreneur, Knit researcher and Footwear innovator based in Arnhem (the Netherlands). I also work as a Knit Technician at the Textielmuseum where I handle, repair and program industrial knitting machines.

I am Dutch but grew up all over. Two weeks after I was born my parents went back to Bhutan, a small country in the middle of the Himalayas. My father is an engineer in tropical farming his work made us travel in my childhood. My first 4 years I lived in Bhutan and then we moved to India for 3 years. My parents bought a dairy farm in France when I was 8 years old, where they still live. I am very grateful for this childhood and this unusual but amazing way of growing up ! I came back to The Netherlands to study BA Product Design and to discover what being Dutch is really about.

I graduated in 2015 as Product Designer from ArtEZ University of Arts in Arnhem with a collection of knitted shoes. My fascination for material experiments, particularly with flexible materials, led me to textiles. During my studies we didn’t have access to textile knowledge and machinery, so I decided to go on exchange to Aalto University in Finland. There I was able to get basic technical information in both knitting and weaving, which made me even more convinced that this was my way to go.

Returning from my exchange I created my graduate collection ‘LOOP, colored feet’. This collection explored my curiosity in developing knitting techniques and taking them out of their traditional context by applying them to footwear.

I was triggered by how I could bring shape to a flat piece of knitted fabric by using shaping techniques, colour and structure placed on aesthetically pleasing lines.

I analysed the properties of these samples and how they could be applied in a functional way. The result was a collection of 14 shoes that each explored a different element from my sampling process. 

 
Photography credits to Studio Masha Bakker

Footwear is the perfect medium for me because it has all kinds of restrictions that create challenges that I find very interesting to overcome. Within this collection, I was searching how to simplify the manufacturing process of conventional footwear by investigating how to minimise the steps and reduce the pattern to a one-piece upper. I created endless samples exploring how to create the right shape and what yarns worked best. Investigative experimentation is something that is still hugely important in my current work.

I get a lot of questions about how I make my soles. Just like the upper I wanted to reduce the steps in the manufacturing process taken. I am against the use of glue because it is very harmful for the environment and also to the people involved during the manufacturing process. I think there are other smart ways to connect two materials together.  

That is why I explored how the inherent properties of rubber could be used. By assembling the upper and then dipping it into the wet rubber, it bonded to the textile, eliminating the need for glue. Additionally I developed a detachable sole that allowed me to think about the possibilities of a washable upper and how the shoe could then be recycled. 

After graduating I was selected to be part of the Santoni Pioneer Program in the headquarters of Santoni Shanghai. I wanted to gain more technical knowledge and this was the perfect opportunity. Santoni is a manufacturer of circular knitting machines, they need designers to show what the machines can do. Right after my graduation minimize this was like a dream come true, being surrounded by knitting machines for two whole months.

 
Photography credits to Studio Masha Bakker

At Santoni my projects started around the idea of how I could tailor a tube into an upper of a shoe and how I could integrate as many functionalities directly within the bindings of the knit. Knitting machines always produce a long tube of knitted material and this is something I wanted to explore to see if I could change. 

I worked on a variety of machines including a hosiery machine, where the challenge was to try and create a heel. Alongside that I also worked on a sock machine in which I investigated the possibilities to create folding lines by zonally applying terry structure which is normally found in sports socks. The idea was to create folding lines that would automatically wrap around a last.

Check out the images from this work in the link below : http://conceptkicks.com/knitted-footwear-development-trip-with-suzanne-oude-hengel/

My interests have always been in pushing a machine to its limits and taking it out of its intended context, which can be difficult as some technicians often just say “no”. I wanted to learn why they say no, and how I could transform the ‘no’ into a maybe, that’s why I decided to become a technician myself  so I could talk the same language. 

During my time in Shanghai I was able to see the whole knitting industry including yarn spinners and mills. This was an insight that is normally impossible to get without the right connections and I am still very grateful for the opportunity ! 

In the same period, my work got posted on ConceptKicks and it opened doors I didn’t realize that were at my reach (here is a ink to the first post). This post gave me a huge boost to my network and I realized I could promote my work by using social media smartly. A few days after my work got posted, Nike reached out, which led to interviews both in Portland and in London. Through this experience, I realized I wanted to develop my own practice and further investigate what I really wanted as a designer. Gathering more knowledge either by schooling, training or working within companies was also something I wanted to explore. Having the ability and room to work independently, choosing the projects I wanted to work and developing personal projects, I realized where all things important to me. However, the appeal of working for a large, world renowned company was extremely appealing!

After the summer of 2018 I started an internship at the TextielLab, where I now work part time. The TextielLab is part of the TextielMuseum in Tilburg, where we are able to show visitors the advancements in textile technology. I work as a technician running the Stoll industrial knitting machines and also I have the access to the machines for personal projects. This has allowed me to gain further technical knowledge and become a hybrid between technician and designer.

 
Photography credits to Studio Masha Bakker

So far this post was about where I come from how I got to where I am now, so in the next post I will tell more about my studio, how I work, some of the projects I have been working and what I do on a daily basis.

Feel free to reach out on IG if you have any questions and I will respond in my stories in the upcoming week or I will take into account in my future posts !