Harnessing nostalgia: A kansei design methodology for intergenerational knitwear

From September 2017 to August 2018 I pursued a Master’s in Knitwear Design at Heriot Watt University in Galashiels, Scotland. I have wanted to share my Masters’ research for a while now, and I’ve been humming and haaaaaing about how to do it. It is rather long and also long-winded, and throwing up a PDF would be rather dull. So I’ve gone through it and reworked it into a more jolly tone, and kept all the nice pictures, and I hope some of you find it interesting.

My Master’s thesis project explored nostalgia is as an emotional driver within kansei design (a Japanese theory of emotional design, which I’ll get in to later). The project proposed that incorporating personal nostalgia experiences into design can lead to more authentic triggering of nostalgia, leading to more successful outcomes for well-being and connection with garments.

My goal with the project was to elaborate a methodology for incorporating emotional design in knitwear, using principles of kansei design methodology and nostalgic influences from archival and personal material, and create a collection of intergenerational knitwear, in order to test the methodology’s effectiveness.

So why is this interesting outside of an academic context? I have used the methodology I developed, and the ideas it prompted, to inform my own knitting. From pattern choices to yarn selection, using a focused approach has helped me knit more effectively. When I take more care in my selections, I can safely know that my knits will be worn and loved for many years. They will fit into my wardrobe, and I will want to wear them: cocooning myself in memory, nostalgia, and my own identity as a knitter, wrapped up in my heritage and connection with my foremothers.

I know I am not alone in often reaching for the latest hip yarns and casting on the hot patterns without really considering their suitability or meaning to me. When we invest so much time and money into our knits, we want to know that they will last to us. I have knit many things that I have not used, that I have given away to friends or – yes, honestly – donated to clothing drives. Things that I have no connection with, and that just make me feel sad and frustrated to look upon. That is not what I want knitting to mean to me.

My Master’s enabled me to unpack all these feelings – but I didn’t need the degree or program in order to do that. I just needed the motivation and time to properly approach what knitting means to me, what this vast history of women’s labour means to me, what my family means to me.

As an academic research paper, my thesis necessarily featured lots (and lots) of references to articles that are behind paywalls. At the same time, I don’t want to cut all the references out as to do so would clearly be plagiarism. I figured I’ll manage it this way : I’ll keep the references in the literature review and wherever there are quotes, and I’ll publish my Bibliography at the end so you can all see my sources. I’ll provide links where I can to any material accessible online.

Over the next few posts I’ll be releasing sections of my project. I hope that it can help you with your knitting journey too.

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