Friday, 18 May 2012

Nike Craft | Blank Canvas

For some time now Nike have experimented with traditional craft techniques in developing new lines of sneakers. Based on the number of existing models, weaving and knitting have proved to be the two crafts most accommodating of the design requirements set by Nike. The success of the Nike Air Woven, Nike Lunar Chukka Woven, Nike Air Presto Woven, Nike Air Footscape and Nike FlyKnit is that the techniques of weaving and knitting are still congruous with the increasing array of performance based synthetic materials available to Nike’s disposal.

Nike’s adoption of weaving and knitting is not simply performance led. There is also a strong aesthetic incentive. Utilising techniques that integrate different strands of material in a variety of colours and capable of forming innumerable patterns and textures opens up a vast number of aesthetic choices. In truth, Nike has not experimented incongruously with the possibilities on offer. The most enterprising that they have been is with the Nike Air Footscape or Nike Lunar Chukka Woven. The Air Footscape is probably the more adventurous of the two. It’s woven seam running along the outside of the shoe defines it’s strong aesthetic, in ways similar to the Frankenstein monster. The colour combinations, however, serve as merely decorative distraction to the focal point that is the architectural and textural seam. The Lunar Chukka Woven Multicolour, though less adventurous in design, is principally a study of colour. However, due to the simplistic geometric design of the weave, the colours remain eye catching but the composition remains simplistic and very flat. If Nike is not keen to experiment with different techniques of weaving and knitting to bring an aesthetic complexity and interest to some of their models, it may be in their interest to experiment with similar crafts, in particular Needlepoint.

To those less familiar with what needlepoint it is a form of counted thread embroidery in which yarn is stitched through a stiff open weave canvass. The logic as to how this is relevant to sneaker design is simple. By understanding the role and properties that the canvass has in the structuring of the shoe will precipitate the comprehension of both the performance and aesthetic elements of the design.

Traditionally, canvass has been made of cotton, linen or hemp. It is open weave in design. This means that between each of the threads in the weave there is empty space forming a cellular design similar to that of a mesh. It is through this empty space that traditionally a yarn is stitched through to decorate the canvass. As the yarn is stitched through it reinforces the skeletal canvass structure so by increasing its durability and potential to form and hold any shape. Canvasses vary not just in the size of the spaces between each thread but also the number of threads that are woven to form the canvass. The smaller the holes then the stronger the canvass is and the more detailed the decoration can be. The same effects can be achieved by increasing the number of threads in the weave. The downside to these traditionally formed canvasses is that cotton, linen and hemp are all relatively heavy and heavier still once you account for the yarn stitched through for decoration. But this can all be changed.   

The current design trends in athletic footwear dictate that the lighter the shoe the better it is as long as shoe’s level of performance has not been sacrificed. A prime example of this is the Nike Air Roshe. The entirety of its upper, toe box and heel counter is made of a woven synthetic mesh. This mesh is similar in structure to that of a traditional mono canvass. 

Fundamentally, there is no reason as to why it would not be possible to use contemporary synthetic materials to re-invent needlepoint embroidery and make it part of an ever increasing Nike Craft range. Needlepoint should not be defined solely by the traditional materials that formed its earliest of expressions. Rather it should be defined by the actual technique of stitching any fiber through any open weave fabric whether natural or synthetic. As the premise of the craft is to link individual stitches together to from infinite types of shapes, patterns and images, there is no need for the whole shoe to be covered in needlepoint. Needless to say the synthetic mesh is pleasing to the eye in its natural state as the FlyKnit demonstrates.

The real coup de grace of needlepoint is its potential for complexity. Its potential is best compared to that of pixels in digital images. A single stitch equates to the same as a single pixel. The more pixels in a square inch the better the resolution is of the image. The exact same is true for needlepoint. The more holes that there are in a square inch of canvass, the more stitches can be made and the more detailed the image can be. Sadly no one has yet managed to translate this craft onto sneakers. It thus falls down to you to use your imagination to substitute some of the traditional needlepoint designs I have sourced below and re-imagine them on a sneaker. Your task doesn’t just end there. It is also vital that you imagine a variety of different synthetic and natural fibers have been used for the stitches to create the same design but for a different effect.

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