Manchester Metropolitan University's Research Repository

    Designing for breed: a design-oriented toolkit for understanding purebred British wool for knitwear

    Fletcher, Zoe Grace (2018) Designing for breed: a design-oriented toolkit for understanding purebred British wool for knitwear. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.


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    There are 72 different breeds of sheep reared across Britain but their fleece is combined in centralised depots and sold with loss of breed identity. This thesis looks at an alternative in which designers, informed about the individual characteristics of purebred wool, would be able to design for breed type. As a practice-led investigation, the thesis reframed the situation as a design problem, and found a resolution in a practical and digital toolkit that enables designers to navigate their breed selection process to narrow in on choices suitable for their purpose. Behind the research is the view that demand from designers for purebred wools can lead to systematic change in the promotion of wool in the UK, but the first step is to make designers aware how purebred wools can enhance their work, and how to make the right selection. In the present economic model wool is primarily a by-product of the meat industry. It has insufficient monetary value to encourage change from the current centralised system set up in an era of nationalised industries, in which wool is viewed as a commodity without much distinction of type. There is potential to add value to British wool by exploiting individual breed variations, in terms of both physical characteristics, and their associations with local heritage. This thesis proposes that understanding the differences between wools from individual breeds can aid knitwear designers to heighten garment functionality and aesthetics, and satisfy consumer demand for more authentic, locally traceable garments. This practice-led research uses a design methodology to synthesise knowledge about wool from individual breeds from microscopic to macroscopic properties. Desired characteristics of handle, colour, and fineness, through to the cultural and geographical heritage of sheep breeds are integrated to produce new understandings. Besides the wool itself, the research findings make use of evidence from designer/makers, spinners and industry bodies, alongside scientific data, and knitwear design experience. An innovative aspect of the thesis is the use of new technologies to communicate breed characteristics. A virtual online library of British wool yarns, created using Shima Seiki SDS-ONE APEX3 software, alongside a physical library of yarn samples, breed information books, and data sheets form the core of a toolkit for designers. The toolkit connects industry-level wool knowledge and knitwear design technologies in a format aimed at designer/makers. The contribution to knowledge includes a new understanding of the wool properties of British purebred sheep in terms of their application in knitwear design and production. The synthesis and integration of a broad range of wool information in a clear comparative visual manner, in both tactile and digital formats (the toolkit) is a novel presentation and application of both existing and original evidence. Where it makes use of existing knowledge, the toolkit applies this in an original manner, in the creation of a new design-oriented model. The research also demonstrates the utility of the Shima Seiki software for distant communication of yarn and knit information. The thesis looks toward use of the toolkit as a catalyst for re-generating British wool use through the mediation of design.

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