Talking Knit with Drew McKevitt

Hi, long time no post !

Hope everyone has been well during these challenging times. 

You may have previously seen some of the samples Drew McKevitt and I have been working on together, looking at shaping and engineering knit for sneaker uppers. This collaboration between us started around a year ago and has been really exciting for the both of us to work on.

I wanted to chat with Drew and share with you her insights into the world of knitting, hope you enjoy !

 

A collection of Drew’s samples – Photo by Dana Dijkgraaf
 

Tell us about your self !

Originally from Philadelphia, USA, I went to undergrad for English Literature and Creative Writing. I spent several years working as an editor / managing editor of a poetry magazine in Montreal, Canada before returning to Philadelphia to pursue a master’s degree in Textile Design. I currently live in Canada in a small town in Ontario.

Why knitting ? What do you love / hate ?

I love how it’s both extremely logical and extremely creative. It has its own kind of logic and geometry that you have to get into. It can be hard to predict. And that’s exciting— when you discover something ( the way a certain yarn affects shape, a stitch structure etc.) that you didn’t expect. 

From only three knitting actions or moves (knit, miss, tuck), you can create infinite structures and ideas. That’s where the creativity comes in.

How you arrange or organize those stitches and what yarns you choose and what’s possible from those decisions is fascinating. 

What I hate is how frustrating it can be! Fabrics fall off machines, needles misbehave and miss or get broken, yarn gets tangled, human error, etc. Sometimes it can feel like a battle.

 

Photo by Suzanne Oude Hengel
Photo by Suzanne Oude Hengel
Photo by Dana Dijkgraaf
 

What made you want to work with me/us ?

I followed your work on Instagram and had always been amazed by the creativity and bravery in exploring different ways of looking at footwear through knitting.

Once we began working together, I fell in love with your approach and process. It’s very similar to my natural way of working— a hands-on iterative approach that means lots of sampling and experimentation. 

How do you like to work ?

I tend to be very hands-on. I am very driven by discovery and experimentation. Knitting research for me means a lot of sampling and reworking, especially when working by hand with domestic machines.

Sometimes a mistake can lead to a new, exciting direction.

 

Suzanne Playing With Drew’s Samples at her Studio in Arnhem – Photo by Dana Dijkgraaf
 

How does our remote working work ?

I work from home in a basement studio in Canada. Suzanne and Ella send me yarns and I send samples back to Suzanne studio in the Netherlands in large batches. We share files / images virtually and connect over video calls and messaging services to talk and share ideas. It’s important to stay organized for this to work, but it does work!

Challenges of technical knitting / differences with your other work ?

This kind of technical research is really based in concrete questions about how the fabric is going to perform. You’re working to achieve something specific. In the past (in school) and with a lot of my other projects, it’s more about getting an aesthetic message across, so the initial approach is less technical and more about questions of color and texture. I also like to be very organic and freeform with a lot of my other work. I use traditional textile practices like knitting, tatting, crochet, macramé to create intuitive pieces that don’t really rely on patterns or repeats.

 

Exploration Sample – Photo by Drew McKevitt
Exploration Samples – Photo by Drew McKevitt

 

That’s not to say that performance fabrics aren’t about appearance and being beautiful, it’s just that the look of the piece has to come after considerations of function. Suzanne’s aesthetic is fun, whimsical, and bold, which has been a great world to immerse myself in.

What I really love about the direction this research has taken is the freedom. It’s defined in terms of performance, but how that actually plays out into knitting structures is completely open. It means I can try things that may not work or look really strange— it’s about rethinking the ways knitting is used in performance fabrics.

The biggest surprise / un-expected outcome ?

The unexpected outcome is what makes knitting so exciting to me. It’s what I’m always hoping for.

Recently in our collaboration I inlayed thin plastic tubes into a rib fabric. I got the tubes from the dollar store— they’re kids craft materials. But they worked so well as inlay. They added structure and dimension.

 

Inlay with Plastic Tubes – Photo by Drew McKevitt
 

What you wish people knew about knitting ?

How technical and time consuming it is. I think a myth about machine knitting is that because it’s a machine it’s fast and easy. Anytime you add more complex tools to a craft, the craft itself becomes more complex.

I only use domestic (manual) machines in my studio, and unless I’m knitting jersey, it’s never quick (or easy). Every stitch is adjusted manually. 

As a knit designer, you are part technician part designer. You can have amazing ideas of what you want it to look like, but you have to get there technically in terms of structure, tension, yarns etc. For me, I think they go hand in hand. The technical is a really great starting point— and from there, you build towards something.

 

Drew at her Home Studio – Photo by Drew McKevitt
Drew’s Studio – Photo by Drew McKevitt
 

Any advice, can be specific to knitting or just in general ?

Relax— good for knitting and in general, and advice I need to take more myself. When I am relaxed about sampling and developing ideas, my mind is freer. I am able to fully explore an idea without worrying about making a mistake.

Follow Drew on instagram @drewmckevitt !

Suzanne Oude Hengel

Creative entrepreneur, Knit researcher, Footwear innovator and Technician @textielmuseum

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