In order to keep the momentum of the design process going, Tracey Lewis decided to do the MA Fashion Knitwear at Central Saint Martins straight after her funky BA looks hit the press show runway, worn by an eclectic mix of men — including one of CSM’s very own tutors. Able to focus on her work without any distractions, her MA collection entitled Subverted Tradition was born after two years of grinding the knit machine.

Initially, Tracey’s research process does not seem particularly different to that of any other designer. Drawing inspiration from everyday life, she enjoys cooking, reading, travelling, and taking walks around Petersham Nurseries and Richmond Park. She looks at both contemporary and historical art periods, and frequently visits various exhibitions and galleries in and around London, such as the Photographer’s Gallery and the Royal Academy of Arts. 

Researching for Subverted Tradition, Tracey mostly looked at photography from the 1950s and 1960s — specifically Bill Brandt — and explored the work of Surrealist artists such as Man Ray, who often created pieces that are not immediately understood, and which ask something of the viewer. She also investigated vintage pattern books for knitting, as she likes the oddity and weirdness of these images. With traditional knitting books, Tracey focuses on looking at the actual garments and thinking about ways to interpret it in a more contemporary and modern way.

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Each one of her designs is personalised for a specific wearer. Rather than planning her collection to cater to a vague personality, she chose specific individuals out of the images she worked from. “It’s like a book with different chapters,” Tracey explains. For one of the garments, which she designed for a frumpy character, she focused on the gross and hairy aspect captured in the photograph, and embroidered a plain white shirt to look like a ‘hairy chest’ along with a woollen wife beater vest. “It’s all about interpreting the images,” she continues. An interesting approach Tracey took for this particular collection, is looking at how people used to wear garments in times bygone, and trying to recreate them in the most authentic way possible. “If the bottom of the jumper was bunched up in a certain way, I would intentionally incorporate that aspect into the design of the garment.” She also finds it important for her garments to have a sense of humour, as it helps people to be more relaxed in them.

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Although she faced many challenges during the labour-intensive MA, Tracey smoothly adapted to the situations. For example, sourcing her yarns, which mostly come from Italy or Japan, can become an issue during the stages of creating, as Tracey is responsible for calculating the timing of delivery, and needs to take potential delays into account. She also has to consider the amount of time spent on the machines, especially the Stoll machines, which are only available for use Mondays through Wednesdays. As each piece takes a long time to create, making a mock piece can be time consuming. This means that creating toiles leads directly into the production phase, so if something works or does not work; she has to deal with it accordingly and make adjustments. However, by finding a way around her problems and not being stumped by the situation, whether it is a creative or technical issue, she is able to power her way through the process: “I’ve learned to be calm and remember why I’m here,” she concludes.

Words by Grace Ahn

Featured image by Ryan Skelton

All images courtesy of Tracey Lewis

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