The designer behind Bode curates an exhibition on Shaker knitwear’s influence on American style

Emily Adams Bode Aujla of New York brand Bode curates ‘The Commercialisation of Shaker Knits’, an exhibition for the Shaker Museum which reflects the designer’s provenance-soaked approach

Shaker knit from Bode Shaker exhibition
A garment that is part of ‘The Commercialisation of Shaker Knits’, an exhibition curated by Emily Adams Bode Aujla for the Shaker Museum
(Image credit: Courtesy of Bode)

The provenance-soaked approach of fashion designer Emily Adams Bode Aujla takes new shape with ‘The Commercialisation of Shaker Knits’, an exhibition for the Shaker Museum that traces the development of knitting from the late 19th century to the present day, curated by Bode Aujla and currently on view at the Kinderhook Knitting Mill in Kinderhook, New York. 

The two-time CFDA Menswear designer of the year – recently named as part of the Wallpaper* USA 300 – has long been fascinated by the Shaker community’s approach to knits and the enduring impact it has had on American fashion. 

‘My earliest memory of using or hearing the term “Shaker knit” was from LL Bean sweaters that we had as kids. However, the first time I remember seeing a Shaker Knitting Co label was from a vintage cream sweater, with a varsity sports chenille patch, that I bought and wore throughout high school,’ recalls Bode Aujla.

‘The Commercialisation of Shaker Knits’, curated by Emily Adams Bode Aujla

Bode Shaker Exhibition

Inside the exhibition, which traces a link between Shaker knitting and Ivy League style

(Image credit: Courtesy of Bode)

‘I loved the idea that Shaker knits were synonymous with American traditions, and were made to last a lifetime or be passed down; there was and still is a general sense of timelessness to Shaker knits.’

Together with the Shaker Museum, Bode Aujla highlights how the hand-executed craft tradition was transformed into a commercial enterprise for the Shaker community, namely with an order for 60 dozen pieces in 1886, received by the sisters of the Canterbury Shaker Village. The order prompted the purchase of a single-web knitting machine along with high-quality yarn, which produced a heavy, tightly knit rib pattern that was strong, yet malleable.

The unique knit led to its popular use for the uniforms for northeastern Ivy League athletic programmes. Today, the term ‘Shaker knit’ refers to any knit that embodies the same dense and durable quality and pattern as the original Shaker knits.

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‘This exhibition shows the lasting inspiration and influence of Shaker knits on contemporary design,’ says Bode Aujla. ‘As a designer, I believe it’s my duty to not only help preserve some of these emotional responses that we have to objects and clothing, but also to preserve the narrative and the technique behind them. Visitors will be able to see the connection between these archival pieces and my current work.’

Alongside antique knitting machines, dozens of historic pieces from the Shaker Museum produced by different villages in the community, clothing labels, and other ephemera, the exhibition showcases over 20 Shaker knit sweaters, dating from between 1920 and 1981. Various archival photographs from Bode Aujla’s personal collection, along with two contemporary Bode knit pieces that utilise and interpret the traditional Shaker knit, are also among the exhibits.

‘I love the breadth of the pieces I have, some with dozens of patches stacked on the sleeves and body, some with the fade lines and threads of patches long gone, and some simpler examples that are plain in a school colour or with just the solo chenille or felt patch of the letter or mascot,’ she says. ‘When you see all of my Shaker knits and photography collection together, against the museum archive sweaters and their Shaker ephemera, you are able to paint the picture of how distinct this narrative truly is in regards to the notion of American craft and the rise and fall of the domestic apparel industry.’

‘The Commercialisation of Shaker Knits’, an exhibition for the Shaker Museum, will run at Kinderhook Knitting Mill, Kinderhook, New York until 10 September 2023.

Pei-Ru Keh is a former US Editor at Wallpaper*. Born and raised in Singapore, she has been a New Yorker since 2013. Pei-Ru held various titles at Wallpaper* between 2007 and 2023. She reports on design, tech, art, architecture, fashion, beauty and lifestyle happenings in the United States, both in print and digitally. Pei-Ru took a key role in championing diversity and representation within Wallpaper's content pillars, actively seeking out stories that reflect a wide range of perspectives. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children, and is currently learning how to drive.