Dutch designer Merel Karhof has developed an interesting twist on process-driven design – she’s harnessed the free and unlimited power of the wind, which she uses as an energy source to run a knitting mill.
After graduating from the Design Academy in Eindhoven, Karhof completed a masters degree at London’s Royal College of Art, and went on to study under Euro design visionaries Jurgen Bey and Martino Gamper at Platform two, a platform with a focus on the public domain.
One of the key characteristics of her design work has been to create an awareness of unnoticed everyday phenomena, such as the changing colours of the water in Venice (where she completed a three-month research project later displayed at the Milan Furniture Fair in 2010) or, in this case, the urban wind.
Of course, the Dutch have always excelled at using wind power; the windmill has, for centuries, been emblematic of Holland. Karhof designed her first ‘Wind Knitting Factory’ in 2010, creating a scaled-down, mobile version of a windmill, with blades roughly a metre in diameter, which powered a knitting machine. On windy days, it would run faster, and with less wind, slower. Occasionally the resultingknitwear would be harvested and made into (among other things) scarves with a label detailing the time and date on which the wind knitted the scarf.
Her recent exhibition, Windworks, took place in the Zaanse Schans region of the Netherlands – an area that is famous for its historic windmills and which anchors the European Route of Industrial Heritage. The structures retain their picturesque traditional names – The Cloverleaf (Het Klaverblad) or The Spotted Hen (De Bonte Hen), for example – but remain functional, each producing a different kind of raw material.
For the project, Karhof’s eponymous studio designed a series of furniture pieces, and then teamed up with the sawmill The Young Sheep (Het Jonge Schaap) and the colour mill The Cat (De Kat) to produce them. Each was then upholstered in fabric generated by her knitting factory.
The Young Sheep mill sawed and assembled the wooden components, and from there they were transported by water to The Cat, which ground the natural dyes, and then used them to colour the yarn. After the dyeing process was complete, the Wind Knitting Factory knitted the fabric that, with each harvest, was used to upholster the furniture with a collection of little pillows – the size of each is different, depending on the amount of time it took for the wind to generate it.
The result is a holistically generated and sustainable range of furniture that couldn’t be more a product of its environment if it tried.