Neulottua – Stickat : Ulla Berghin suunnittelemat neuleasut

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Koskennurmi-Sivonen , R 2017 , Neulottua – Stickat : Ulla Berghin suunnittelemat neuleasut . Tekstiilikulttuuriseuran julkaisuja , Nro 8 , Tekstiilikulttuuriseura , Helsinki .

Title: Neulottua – Stickat : Ulla Berghin suunnittelemat neuleasut
Alternative title: Knitted fashion : Knitwear designed by Ulla Bergh
Author: Koskennurmi-Sivonen, Ritva
Contributor organization: Kasvatustieteiden osasto
Publisher: Tekstiilikulttuuriseura
Date: 2017-12-17
Language: fin
Number of pages: 88
Belongs to series: Tekstiilikulttuuriseuran julkaisuja
ISBN: 978-951-96080-6-8
ISSN: 1799-3962
Abstract: “Given that the attention of the academy to fashion as a discipline is so relatively recent, knitwear as an element of fashion has received even less attention. Knitwear is universal—everyone wears it in some form—but its domestic and mass-market connotations have until recently consigned it to a minor role in fashion and textile study.” The above was quoted from Sandy Black (2005), the author of Knitwear in Fashion. Black was right in 2005. Fortunately, after that year an academic interest in knitting and knitted fashion has grown. Several studies have approached knitting from the points of view of a hobby, professional making, fashion, and the use of the garment. These different approaches are most profoundly combined in Knitting: Fashion, Industry, Craft by Sandy Black (2012). This case history is not as extensive as her volume, but in the same spirit I study the designing and making of knitted fashion, clients’ experiences of knitted clothes, and the reactions of the press by analyzing and combining interviews, press, and archival data with an object-based study of 41 knitted items. This study contributes to a larger project, Fashion and Craft in Finland, in which I investigate the past and present of Finnish couture. I start from a wide context of knitwear fashion, then proceed to Ulla Bergh’s position in the Finnish fashion scene, and finally end in the analysis of the production and outfits of this particular designer. In 20th century fashion, knitwear has been strongly connected with a modern, liberated woman. In the 1910s, Gabrielle Chanel started her career by introducing comfortable leisure outfits made of knitted fabrics to wealthy holidaymakers in French seaside resorts. She brought her comfortable but smart clothing to city life and to a broader fashion scene in the 1920s. While Chanel’s relaxed style was based on factory-made jerseys, in the late 1920s Elsa Schiaparelli experimented with hand-knitted creations in haute couture. The third famous early knitwear designer was Jean Patou. He opened Le Coin des Sports, specialized in ready-to-wear knitwear, alongside his haute couture production in the mid-1920s. The sweater girl and the lady-like twinset made knitwear popular in post-war America and Europe. But it was Italy, and above all home-based craft production, that brought knitted clothes into high-end fashion and introduced innovative styles in the 1950s and onwards, with Missoni among the best-known companies. As Potočić Matković (2011) has noted, the rise of knitwear fashion has often been discussed with regard to social reasons. However, there were also technical reasons, as knitting machines developed immediately before knitted fabrics came into fashion in the 1920s. Correspondingly, in the Finland of the 1920s, knitted garments, which had been associated with the intimate sphere of life and home wear, slowly appeared alongside clothes made from woven fabrics. One knitting enterprise in Helsinki started in a usual manner as a home-based craft production. In spite of its name, Konststickeri (meaning “Art Knitting Mill” registered in 1928), the company was not especially artistic in the beginning. This changed in the 1930s when the founders’ daughter Ulla Bergh (1914–1997) took over the artistic leadership of the operation. She developed the artistic style and production methods to the couture level. The company became known by the name Taidekutomo, which was an unofficial Finnish translation of its registered Swedish name Konststickeri. In 1964 the name was registered as Neulottua – Stickat Ulla Bergh. Ulla Bergh’s wide frame of reference was European fashion and Paris haute couture in particular. She often traveled to Paris to be updated about the latest yarn fashions. While in Finland, she received Messages, fashion newsletters edited from 1949 to 1969 by Gurli Rosenbröijer, a Finnish journalist living in Paris. The yarn used for the products was mostly French, especially those of Anny Blatt, and Italian. This yarn was bought from a Finnish agent before and after World War II. During the war and post-war rationing, the designer had to contend with domestic yarn, often of poor quality made from recycled fibers. However, Ulla Bergh also used and appreciated the yarn of one Finnish producer called Kotivilla, established in 1936 in Tammisaari. Ulla Bergh arranged yearly fashion shows targeted to existing and potential clientele, and the press. The shows were presented in her fashion salon in the center of Helsinki, or in famous restaurants either alone or together with other high-end fashion houses. In the beginning of the 1950s, her work was recognized by other leading couturiers, and her company was invited to be a member of Salonkijaosto (the Fashion House Association). When analyzing my Finnish data, I found surprisingly many parallels with other stu- dies of knitwear and knitwear designing. It is a well-known fact in the history of fashion that neither Chanel nor Schiaparelli sketched their fashion ideas. Neither did Ulla Bergh. Unlike other Finnish couturiers, who are known to have drawn to communicate their designs to the client and the makers, she described all of her ideas to her clients, knitters and dressmakers. More recently and in more theoretical design literature than couture histories, Bryan Lawson (2006) has discussed conversation as a design method. Sketching is of course part of the mental process of thinking about a design for many designers. However, Lawson emphasizes the role of conversation along with or instead of visible sketching. He says that it is common for narratives to begin with some “scene setting”, describing the situation. Some characteristics must be named and introduced. When one names something, one often also says something about it. Lawson calls this “identifying”, identifying the design task. The task is generally expressed in the form of needs, desires, wishes, and requirements. The solution, on the other hand, is expressed in terms of physical materials, forms, systems, and components. Ulla Bergh used conversation to identify the design problem and describe situations, needs, desires, wishes, and requirements. Instead of drawn sketches, she gave yarn to the knitter to produce samples, which served as knitted sketches and helped with further conversations. Furthermore, she had some basic garments in her atelier to which she could refer when explaining her new design solutions to clients, knitters, and dressmakers. Claudia Eckert and Martin Stacey published their study of knitwear design in 2000. Their data are much more recent and collected from industrial knitwear designers but include many parallels with my study. They reported that knitwear designers think about quite concrete designs. Previous designs comprise combinations of design decisions: design elements and their interrelationships. New designs comprising simple modifications and combinations of pre-existing elements are easier to imagine—and to communicate—than more complex or radical transformations. Eckert and Stacey also noticed that knitwear designers hardly ever sketch during their design discussions. Most communication about the emergent visuospatial form of their design is done by reference to examples. Designing in words is all the more astonishing, because knitwear design—as well as many other design domains—does not have a standard vocabulary for variations of design elements. Although quite a lot of terminology exists, new structures are invented all the time. The same problem applies to colors: a huge number of colors are perceptually distinguishable, but human languages have only a small range of accepted color names. Thus references to existing examples are more concise and precise than alternative descriptions. It seems that Ulla Bergh has believed in the fact—also found by Eckert and Stacey—that only a direct reference to an example can communicate a design element unambiguously. The designer needs to communicate with at least two types of people: makers and clients. With makers it is easier to share a common cultural background and technical knowledge. With clients, samples and references to existing garments help. But when the recipients are unable to reconstruct the new design from a shared context, or understand its implications, the only way to judge it is through the designer’s authority and confidence. My data reveals the same fact. It was not only the designer’s creativity and technical solutions that were important in the designing sessions; above all, it was her taste and the client’s confidence in it that mattered. In this regard, taste is not a private preference and something merely subjective. Rather, it is a person’s faculty for judging aesthetic value. In this meaning, taste is a quality that some people have more than others. In this case, the designer’s taste seems to have been the basis of operations, although the material quality of clothes was highly valued, too. In the atelier, the knitter used a hand-operated V-bed knitting machine—the brand of which is not known—for most pieces of knitwear. The most often used knitting surfaces were plain knit, different variations of English ribbing, and racking patterns, some of which simulated lace. Although the patterns were few, no two of them were identical. This was not only due to different colors and types of yarn, but also and most importantly to the ways in which two shades of the same yarn or two different types of yarn were combined, often alternating on every second row, and how the knitted pieces were treated when they were ready. They were handled using different methods, such as felting or pressing the surface flat, in order to obtain varying effects depending on the design idea and the use of the garment. The pieces of one garment were knitted as straight panels without giving any shape in the machine. The pressed panel was easier to cut, and it draped in a nicer way than non-pressed fabric. However, certain three-dimensional knits were left as such. Hand-knitted pieces, which were made by knitters in their homes, probably were knitted in shape. However, no such garments are included in the object corpus. Potočić Matković (2011) has made the same observation about knitwear design: few designers are educated as knitwear designers. This is why they treat knitted material as woven fabric, for example, by cutting and sewing instead of shaping in the process of knitting. There are other reasons, too. In Ulla Bergh’s case these were costs and the possibility of further changes in fittings, as garments had seam allowances. In addition to seams, pieces were shaped with darts sewn by a machine, just as a garment made from woven fabric. Usually bust darts and vertical darts were left with dart allowances pressed flat, whereas darts on the armholes on the back of the jackets and blouses were treated in a special way. The dart allowance was cut and unraveled, and the yarn ends were finished into the knit with a needle. This was one of the construction methods that Ulla Bergh developed and liked to use in her designs. The other repeated laborious method was making buttonholes by unraveling stitches in one knitted row in two layers of the knit fabric, on places such as cuffs and the front of a jacket, and then stitching the layers together with a needle simulating the knitted stitches. This type of work as well as other time-consuming finishing jobs were often done in dressmakers’ homes. Ulla Bergh’s way of designing resembled that of Chanel and Schiaparelli, but the knitting had more resemblance to the production of Patou’s outfits, which were knitted as panels and cut and sewn together. The construction methods were both those similar to other knitwear designers and those developed by Ulla Bergh and typical only of her designs. The finishing methods gave a different look to the knitted surfaces, keeping them within a certain framework of elegance and avoiding the image of wild experimentation. The results were perfectly fitted outfits, in which the uniqueness typical of Finnish couture was taken to the extreme. Often the outfits consisted of several items, the combinations of which allowed for flexible use on different occasions. The clients kept and used their outfits for long periods of time, even over decades. The high quality of the materials, good proportions, perfect technique, and simplicity contributed to a style that was never boring. The press praised Ulla Bergh’s designs for the same reason. However, in addition to the taste and style of the designer, the journalists also mentioned the suitability of knitwear for the Finnish climate. Ulla Bergh’s creations from the 1930s to the 1970s were slowly made and long used. Thus they represented “slow fashion” in all meanings of those words long before the concept became known in the fashion literature in the first decade of the new millennium.
Subject: 6132 Kuvataide ja muotoilu
Peer reviewed: Yes
Rights: unspecified
Usage restriction: openAccess
Self-archived version: publishedVersion

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