Like most things in the world of high fashion, knitting has fallen in and out of favour over the course of the 20th Century. Coco Chanel, who incorporated knits into her signature suits, also emphasised knitwear as ideal for recreational activities like sailing or sports. Sweater sets and A-line skirts, designed by the likes of Emilio Pucci and Missoni, characterised the 1950s and ’60s, and designers including Yves Saint Laurent, Sonia Rykiel, Calvin Klein, Liz Claiborne and Diane von Furstenberg have used knits regularly in their collections since, furthering its associations with either affluence and preppiness or ease. For most of the 20th Century, knitwear was used in clothing that was relatively conventional, although towards the end of the century, pioneers like Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen and Julien Macdonald began using knits in unusual ways and to create edgier garments, expanding the applications of the technique.
Designers, artists and hobbyists have taken this to an extreme since the turn of the century. Knit-centric, fashion-forward designers like Yan Yan and Hazar Jawabra gaining traction around the world and actively reversing preconceived attitudes. “Because it still has these stereotypes of the domestic, mundane and tedious attached to it, when those are subverted, the effect is very powerful. The art of extreme knitting has really hit people in the face,” says Sandy Black, professor at the London College of Fashion who also curated a show for the Fashion and Textile Museum called Visionary Knitwear. According to Black, knitting is often still perceived as an amateur and uncomplicated craft, and the difficulty of the skill is chronically underestimated by people both and in and out of the fashion industry.