I am very delighted to be able to share with you a personal diary of places, books, films, fashion, art, observations and performance – life inside and outside knitwear design. The things I encounter that inspire me.
My name is Michaela Buerger, I was born in a tiny village in the South of Austria and I’ve been living for several years in my hometown of adoption which I love: Paris.
For this first Journal I’d like to tell you my story and the background of my love for hand-knit, a love that has accompanied (followed) me since the age of 4.
Hand-knitting has been in my family for several generations, I suppose as in many European families … In times before Ready-To-Wear, you could not buy your whole wardrobe, making your own clothes was a simple necessity, especially for a family with lot’s of children, such as my father’s and mother’s family (each 7 kids !). It was somehow an obligation for my mom as a wife and a mother to know this craft.
My father and his sisters often told me, that in their childhood during or right after World War Second, even their panties were knitted, and they hated it, because they were so itchy! What I truly like about these stories is that they create memories, even if they left an itchy feeling. My father knew who made those knit pieces for him, their color, and they kept him very warm throughout a very cold Austrian winter. And this makes it very precious.
I do also have memories of my mother knitting for my brother and me, little cardigans that go with our traditional Austrian outfits, and I will never forget them.
(My father in 1943-44 wearing knitted panties)
But the history of wool fabric goes far more behind, many people around the world may well have knitted, often using only their fingers, as long as 1000BC.
In the medieval Europe hand-knitting and the production of gloves, socks and caps was an important industry. The are lots of paintings from the 14th and 15th century that portray Virgin Mary knitting.
The first knitting machine was invented in 1589 by Reverend William Lee, and by late 19th century the knitwear industry was pretty huge. But for many people buying (or making) wool and knitting their jumpers themselves was still very much cheaper than purchasing them. And besides the economic factor : it did leave some space for creativity !
(my grandmother, accessorizing her outfit with some mohair crochet collar and cuffs)
(My aunts and my uncle in 1937, all pretty girls were dressed with hand-knitted tops)
I have made my first knit scarf when I was about 4 years old. I had to try, as I have seen my mother knitting hours and hours some crazy Austrian cardigans for some crazy tourists wanting them desperately. So my mother took orders. And I was sitting on her side observing her.
(A maid who worked on my father’s family property in the early 40ies, wearing a traditional Austrian cardigan)
I have made my first jumper when I was about 8 years old. I still remember the colors, pale abricot, light blue and mint green, a mix of norvegian jacquard patterns and aran knits, technically quite challenging for that age, and I was so proud: I wore my own design !
My parents kept me quite short with pocket money, so when I was about 12 years old I started to take orders in school from my class mates, wondering if they’d need some Christmas presents for their families, such as socks, gloves, beanies…. And it worked ! Even my teachers ordered. And the days before Christmas I had to stay home in order to finish on time ! It was very exciting and I developed lots of different designs and knit techniques, trying to satisfy my very diverse clientèle.
What I have not mentioned so far is that of course I have been some sort a fashion victim from childhood on. Growing up in the country side, I literally could not get enough about Paris, Yohji Yamamoto, Helmut Lang, Ann Demeulemeester as a teenager ….High fashion magazines weren’t easily to find for me at that time. I clearly remember that I have seen a photo of a jumper of Yohji Yamamoto, and I wanted it so badly, but it was impossible that I could afford or even find it ! I decided to copy and hand-knit it myself, which I did. So I created my own teenager design wardrobe in the nineties by copying the avant-garde of that time. Looking back, I think it was a great training for observing proportions, textures, yarn qualities and style.
(Jumper from Yohji Yamamoto FW92/93 collection, which I copied=knitted for myself)
After graduating from school I headed to Vienna for my studies. First Stage Design at the Academy of Fine Arts and then Fashion Design at the University of Applied Arts Vienna under the guidance of Raf Simons. During all these years I stopped knitting, totally. I was literally absorbed by my new life in the city, in the art and theatre scenery. I have also travelled a lot in these years.
In 2008 I started to knit again, when I moved to Paris, observing and loving fashion and I became aware of my talent for hand-knit and that there is a place for me in fashion. The first years here were very hard, constructing myself an existence, I hardly knew any French person and had no fix job, and first of all I had to learn the language ! That time was anything else than easy, so you can imagine how proud I was to see my first collection of hand-knits at Colette in 2010.
(Michaela Buerger FW1011 at Colette, Paris, July 2010)
After presenting several collections through these last years, always focused on hand-knits and crochets, and achieving international success, I still wonder how many different things you can do with two needles and some yarn. The technical universe seems to be without limits and this is what keeps me knitting on.
(Michaela Buerger SS2011 collection, in the window at Colette in february 2011)