In 2005, designer Liz Collins brought a group of students, friends and several knitting machines to Governor’s Island in New York, where she began work on knitting an abstraction of the American flag for Knitting Nation. “I wanted to explore different things about labor and humankind’s relationship to machines,” Collins said of the project. “The idea of performing our craft—not in a demonstration way, but as an event.”
Collins learned the craft following her studies at Rhode Island School of Design, but after obsessively knitting by hand, she began using knitting machines in 1997. The traditionalism of her method creates a platform for creating highly individual experimentation—a kind of classicism through a distorted lens, an altered version of tradition through small, intricate details. “Having something based in a centuries-old traditions, but finding my own place in it lets me take the medium to places it has never been,” Collins said. “The knitting machine for me has been like alchemy.”
The last five years have seen Collins stepping out of the runway spotlight, honing her craft, designing for other people such as John Bartlett, researching fabrics and patterns for her designs as well as teaching at her alma mater. The teaching has forced Collins to step up her technical skills and introduced her to technology that has opened up a different approach to form. Through teaching, Collins has learned the art of the digital knitting machine. “Part of the reason my clothes looked as they did was because I didn’t know how to make them right,” she admits with a laugh. “Previously all of my shapes and textures had come from changing yarn. This system has the option to deal with a graphic pattern and then just knit it out.”
Collins has emerged more skillful and ambitious, but still true to herself. Selling the latest collection at trunk sales in Rhode Island allows her to reconnect with buyers, to maintain the high level of individualism and personality in her clothing. It’s the perfect way for a unique designer—equally traditional and experimental—to ease back into a hungry industry.