I smiled when I heard Led Zeppelin’s “Moby Dick” blast through the speakers while I watched nautically inspired crochet work come down the runway at this year’s School of the Art Institute spring student fashion show, the Walk. The choice of music seemed a little over-the-top for what, at first glance, was a subdued color palette with conservative shapes—until I noticed that the designer’s work included heavier elements weighing down its fine handworked details. On my annual trek to the Walk I’m always looking for work that includes some time-consuming, hand-constructed fabrics. For many students, the show’s one last flourish of uninhibited, self-inspired creativity before they begin making work for others.

When I contacted the designer, Elizabeth Alice Crum, to get a closer look at her creations, she explained that they were inspired by Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick: more specifically, the theme of chance, how the narrative is woven and broken, how tension is created, and where fate takes you. She started translating those ideas at the beginning of the semester with the help of an “idea” book (pictured below) full of nautical images, pictures of Gregory Peck (who played Captain Ahab in John Huston’s 1956 movie based on the novel), and handwritten text; she’s not much of a sketcher or illustrator, she explained to me, but prefers to work out her ideas organically, with material. Her colors, inspired by a photo of nautical ropes, range from mossy sea foam to a rusty white.

For this show, she collaborated with former SAIC student Annie Guitteau, who crocheted lightweight mohair around heavy, thick spiraling ropes and filled spaces with shifting shades of loosely constructed handwork. Crum’s creations, from vests to jackets to handbags, use materials she’s collected from traveling the globe, including aging lace and repurposed carpet fabrics. Industrial rope gives them some heft.