Experimenting with Italy’s Finest Yarns

Experimenting with Italy’s Finest Yarns

Textiles juniors, seniors and graduate students welcomed both the rigorous design challenge and incredible exposure to the industry afforded by a spring semester Knitted Fabrics studio that partnered with Zegna Baruffa, one of the largest high-end apparel yarn companies in Italy. Taught by Assistant Professor Liz Collins BFA 91 TX/MFA 99, a professional artist and designer known for her experimental knitwear, the studio challenged students to design and create one-of-a-kind knit garments that highlight the quality and versatility of the company’s yarns. Approximately 20-25 of the best student works were exhibited in Zegna Baruffa’s expansive exhibition space at Pitti Immagine Filati, an international showcase in Milan for high-end yarns and knitwear design.

In experimenting with these fine yarns, which the company provided at no cost, students were inspired by everything from famous paintings to sea creatures. “The painterly yarns reminded me of Gustav Klimt’s painting Pine Forest,” notes senior Larissa Koeun Lee. So she combined three weights and tones of wool to evoke the contrast and depth of a cluster of pine trees. Fascinated by the barnacles that grow on the backs of whales, Lexie Newman designed a sweater with the texture of barnacles that appear to grow on the surface and envelop the wearer.

Once they had chosen a form and experimented with sample yarns, students presented their initial concept drawings to a team at Zegna Baruffa. They also specified the colors and quantities of each yarn they wanted for their projects, which helped them introduce them to some of the complexities of professional practice. “You can get a wonderful education in textile design and have grounding in aesthetic and conceptual concerns, along with excellent training in technique,” Collins says. “But when you get out there on your own and are suddenly faced with buying these very expensive yarns from foreign suppliers, the entire selection and ordering process can be totally daunting.”

In addition to gaining professional experience, students benefited from participation in one of the most high-traffic trade shows in the industry. “I always look for opportunities to build bridges for our department internationally, especially since many of our students ultimately want to work in the European fashion and textile industry,” Collins says. “Zegna Baruffa understands the importance of investing in students, and were especially happy to partner with RISD for the Pitti exhibition. It was the first time they ever showcased the work of students from an American art and design school, and our students really came through for them.”

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