Key insights

Four key insights emerged from the research. Although these insights arose in the immediate research context of amateur fashion making, there is scope for them to be generalised and translated to related areas of academic enquiry and design practice.

The metaphor of fashion as common land

In the process of exploring the theme of openness in relation to fashion, I developed a metaphor of fashion as common land [read more: blog post]. This metaphor is distinctive, firstly because it recognises the way in which styles are constantly revisited and reinvented, and the processes of identification and differentiation. Secondly, the metaphor places the emphasis on wearers, rather than producers. In doing so, it provides a way of thinking about fashion which focuses on identity construction and the fabrication of the self, rather than the more usual interest in market-driven or industrial processes. 

This may be helpful to fashion and sustainability researchers, who need to imagine alternatives beyond the current system and challenge the seemingly inextricable link between fashion and consumption. 

The experience of wearing homemade clothes in contemporary British culture

The whole research project was initiated by a discord between a romantic view of the homemade that I encountered in discussions about design for sustainability, and the experiences of amateur knitters that I heard at the workshops I ran as part of my practice. I felt that the experience of wearing homemade clothes was more complex than was suggested by this romantic view, and my literature review identified a gap in knowledge relating to this topic. 

In the thesis I deconstructed the romantic view of the homemade, providing a more nuanced understanding of the ambivalent experience of wearing homemade clothes in contemporary British culture, based on women’s lived experiences [read more: paper]. Although clothes occupy a special category, because of their proximity to the body and the important role they play in identity construction, this point would translate to other types of possessions where the homemade is marginal in relation to a mass-produced and highly marketed mainstream.

The ability of amateurs to design for themselves and ways in which this can be supported

This research shows that amateur knitters are able to design for themselves, and draw on their tacit knowledge – gained from years of following patterns – when doing so. 

This finding might suggest a lesson to the open design community. The essays in the recently published book Open Design Now provide valuable ways of thinking about how trained designers can support amateur design and making. However, I feel that the most common underlying attitude within the book is that ‘users’ could not be expected to have significant skills of their own and that professional designers are needed to create a limited space for amateurs to play within – a safe, cushioned space, where they cannot do too much aesthetic or functional damage.

However, in areas such as knitting, where there is a valuable resource of tacit making knowledge and a long history of crossover between domestic and industrial activity, this attitude does a great disservice to amateurs. In this context, rather than creating a protected space, it is far more supportive to create a sense of permission, in which amateur makers feel they are ‘allowed’ to experiment and make creative decisions – to ‘do what designers do’. 

This project provides a timely reminder that users do have useful skills; that people designing for themselves are undertaking a task which is fundamentally different to industrial design; and that because people are designing for themselves, they should be recognised as experts.

Understanding the factors that should be considered when trying to develop a culture of reworking

In this project, we were negotiating with items of knitwear already in existence. While the specifics of this negotiation are particular to the unique structure of knitted fabric and the cultural meanings of knitted garments, I feel that much that occurred during this process would be relevant to other areas of design and material culture – from sewn garments to products and even buildings [read more: blog post]. Therefore, my conclusions about the factors which should be considered when trying to develop a culture of reworking [read more: paper] could translate to many other areas. 

The first factor I have identified is the need to be sympathetic to the material structures of the already-made, and to apply the in-depth knowledge we have as makers to the task of remaking. Secondly, I see a need to recognise the social and emotional aspects of remaking; that is, to understand the factors that affect what we perceive to be possible and desirable, and ways in which this perception can be altered. In the re-knitting project, I identified condition as a key influencing factor, and discovered that deconstruction – carried out in a safe, playful environment – is a powerful means of prompting reflection and changing perceptions. Finally, I argue that we must develop a supportive culture around remaking, in order to foster a sense of shared practice and gradually build tacit knowledge in individuals and communities.