Kristen Makes

As she recovers from her stint at London Fashion Week as assistant to Di Gilpin, knitwear designer Kristen Orme lets us have a sneaky peak around her Edinburgh studio and talks about experimentation, technology and her future plans

Feature by Alexandra Fiddes | 07 Nov 2011

After gaining a BA in Fashion Design & Technology from Florida State University in 2004, designer Kristen Orme made the move over to Scotland to attend Heriot-Watt University’s prestigious School of Textiles in Galashiels where she graduated with an MA with distinction earlier this year.

"While my BA focused on fashion and how to develop a collection, I directed my MA towards knitted textiles," Kristen tells us, although her love of knitting isn't new, adding "I realised that fashion and making was more than a hobby to me when I taught myself hand-knitting at a young age. I saw that I had a skill and an interest, and I needed to develop that."

Galashiels was an introduction into working with alternative processes and trying out techniques. "To learn something new I utilised the machine-knitting facilities and explored the capabilities of the industrial-level Shima® knitting technologies." Different processes such as devoré, laser-cutting, digital print were all taught as part of the course, in addition to working with computer software and large scale knitting systems.

''Tutors at university helped me to step out of the uncertain over-self-editing mindset and start to think more design-orientated. They encouraged me, as a chronic over-thinker, to dive in." Which proved an invaluable lesson.

Kristen explains that her design process after her time at university is now much more experimental then something which is traditionally planned or mapped out. "I think of perhaps a technique I’d like to develop, sketch out some ideas to incorporate that technique, and swatch until I am happy with every specific detail. Swatching for knitters is similar to making a toile or a sample, only you create a specific section of fabric to test the scale and mechanics of the structure."

This interest in the way the garment itself will work is essential to the way Kristen designs and makes. "I want to demonstrate how the knitted structure is well-suited for slow and sustainable design so I design samples and a garment concept that combine the element of reversibility with multi-functional design to invite the wearer to ‘play’ with their clothes and eliminate the perception of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ side of the fabric." This is especially highlighted in the Many-Ways Dress a final piece handed in as part of the Masters course (seen here) which is subtly beautiful as well as practical – it can be worn in a staggering 10 different configurations.

Life after university seems to be going well and keeping this young designer busy, travelling to Glasgow to work with the brand Showpony (which specialises in printed bags and purses) and also spending time in Fife as the assistant to designer Di Gilpin, a hand knit specialist with over 30 years experience in the industry.

''I went to London Fashion Week in September to assist Di Gilpin, whose collection was debuting there, as part of Design Collective Scotland.'' Was the LFW experience a good one for Kristen, whose work can be said to be an alternative to fast fashion? ''I found myself suprised by how pleasant everyone was. I met so many people excited about fashion and innovation. The whole experience was completely uplifting and encouraging.''

As well as working with Di Gilpin and Showpony, Kristen is busily starting on her next 'solo' collection (for Autumn/Winter 2012), the aim of which is to create garments which will be entirely hand-knitted with material used being sourced locally. It will also be "Organic in the fact that shape and fabric are simultaneously created,'' whereas with some woven and cut-and-sew methods Kristen tells us that they commonly, ''Yield about 30% fabric waste onto the cutting room floor!''

The hope is that her own pieces will make people think about how things are made by reinventing traditional garment shapes by exploiting them in subtly non-traditional applications and will be, as she puts it, "A return to my roots after a machine-knit saturated MA."

Kristen has, "A few stockists interested in offering unique hand-knitted items at a luxury level," in mind for her collection once it's completed. Additionally, she has just launched a website where garments, accessories and even knitting patterns are available to buy online. Sustainable, reversible and visually appealing – yes please!,,