The Masters: Laura Newton
The knitwear graduate takes us through the creative process behind her sleek and sculptural "body socks."
Grateful to have time to spend in her own space again, Laura is relaxed and unabashedly friendly. We meet in her Seven Sisters shared studio on a less than sunny Sunday afternoon. The open space fades from bright to cloudy with the ambiguous British weather but it does nothing to dampen her mood. The walls are full with knit swatches, photos covered with paint and scribbles, and in the corner the collection hangs stretched over custom made body hangers sponsored for her exhibition.
For Laura’s graduate collection, she created eight silhouettes of elongated body-hugging knitwear, each investigating the interaction between fabric and form. The body is caught in a beautiful Chinese finger trap with barely-there arm holes and transparent knits. Inspired by the materiality of clothing — the creases, crumples and stretching of worn fabric — Laura engineered large scale knit compositions aiming to emulate that same feeling on an enhanced scale. Each knit panel eventually turned into a custom body covering that she fitted on friends. Laura described, “I liked this idea of making intentional these accidentally beautiful interactions we see happening when we wear stuff, like a crease at the elbow or a knackered sock. I wanted to explore that shared experience between a person and what they’re wearing.”
Her process began by working into vintage, adding creases, hitches and openings to create knit composition ideas. She then moved onto large full pieces of knit she affectionately calls “giant body socks.” Working with tubes of plain jersey directly on the body, Laura cut away spontaneously, manipulating the fabric until a look started to feel right. She also worked onto hand cut wooden frames, pulling her knits over them to explore the effects of stretching, “I ended up placing the carvings inside the knit themselves; stretching out isolated knit areas to push the boundaries of the fabric and expose key body points such as the hip and shoulder.”
As sleek and modern as they look, the making process was not simple. There are unbelievable time and logistical pressures upon knitwear designers that most other designers wouldn’t have to consider. The slow process relies on the whimsy of the machines you use as Laura described, “It taught me to be so patient because anything can happen, the knit can completely fall off as you’re doing it.” But the challenges she faced encouraged her work ethic, “ I wanted to push myself to make these seamless, fine gauge, transitioning garments that are incredibly difficult to get right and you really have to do them completely solo.”
Constructed using layered birchwood, matte viscose, cotton and lycra, Laura’s work focuses on celebrating craftsmanship. With a background in Fine Art her approach to design is fluid and organic, “Sometimes I think you can spend way too much time premeditating what is going to happen with a piece, I wanted to go back a bit to the approach I took when I used to paint and be more playful.” Her unruly craft guided the process when making the knit, “If it didn’t work, I’d just do it again. I wanted to keep a spontaneous element to it all to keep myself excited and to keep the ideas moving.”
Despite her easy-going attitude, Laura’s craft has induced a perfectionism and minute attention to detail. Seamless, perfect, precision — all words innately linked to her freeform pieces. Transferring singular stitches to get the measurements just so and programming computer calculations to the millimetre allowed her to create her flawless finish, ‘It was this simple and clear image I wanted to achieve so it was incredibly important that the trims were just right, the seams were minimal, the zips invisible and so on. I wanted to keep the ideas fresh and spontaneous but the finish refined and considered.”
An interest in craftsmanship and carpentry has been passed down from Laura’s grandfather and father who, as she explains “wouldn’t consider themselves creative but are practical types that do a ton of DIY and the occasional bit furniture making.” Wood work now plays heavily into her practice. She first started started working with the material during her BA collection, which drew inspiration from her Kiwi heritage. Her genealogy spreads from the rolling hills of Yorkshire and the beautiful landscapes of New Zealand giving Laura a plethora of inspiration to pull from.
On the pursuit to create her own line, Laura is biding her time and gaining as much experience as possible. Named one of BOF’s ‘Top 6’ and previous winner of the Pringle of Scotland Scholarship, the offers are coming in hot, heavy and hush-hush. But Laura is keeping down to earth for the future: “I’m not doing this just to design standard stuff, it’s about personally pushing myself.”
By breaking the mould of traditional forms, Laura is also trying to break the limitations of what knitwear can be. Transforming it from a mere ribbed sweater to complex, celebratory pieces. Laura is looking to explore further until she reaches the very edge of knit’s universe: “I feel like I’ve found a direction now that’s unlimited. It’s just an ongoing process-driven aesthetic and inspiration. The concept is evolving through continual making and I think that’s a good place to be in at this point, so I can just let it happen.”