Fashioned From Nature

This exhibition at the V&A showed how fashion has always borrowed from nature – both in terms of the materials used, and in terms of design inspiration. It also looked at the impact of the fashion industry on the environment and some innovative ways of developing this in the future.

I was fascinated by the huge variety of natural materials which had been formed into fabrics, threads and embellishments: pineapple leaves, beetle wings, glass, tree bark and more. It was also interesting to read about the international trades which had enabled these developments, such as the rubber industry.

Lace-bark tree and slippers made from the lace-bark in 19th century Jamaica.

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Study visit: Knitting and Stitching Show

I went on the OCA Study Visit to the Knitting and Stitching Show with Priscilla Edwards. Due to the terrible weather, there were only a handful of students there. I’ve been to the show before but not since becoming an OCA student. I was hoping to get some guidance on how to make the most of visiting an exhibition, which didn’t really happen. It was still, however, worth viewing several of the exhibitions and we had some interesting conversations about textiles, OCA study, and the life of the designer-maker over lunch.

Pin Up: Chantal Vouillemin (City Lit)

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Research point: Rosie Sanders

In this video, Sanders talks about the way that she focusses on colour, shapes and patterns. She describes the flowers she paints as erotic and voluptuous, and explains how she uses backlighting to examine the colours and veins in the petals in a different way. There’s clearly an emotional response to the flowers in Sanders’ work, rather than merely the descriptive representation associated with standard botanical paintings.

In this video Sanders explains some of the technical aspects involved in her painting. The close ups of her work show the subtleties she captures of colour gradients. I love how the large scale she works at (the one in the video is 7 times life size) allows her to really explore these colour shifts.

“I want them to feel the sensuous quality of it… I suppose I want them to feel what I’m feeling, the passion of it – to be excited by it.”

I’d love for people to feel something similar in response to my work. The tulips that I’m working with have the sensuous quality Sanders describes. The colours and the textures of the petals, especially as they dry and twist into incredibly complex forms, are tempting and sexy and demand to be touched and stroked. They are exciting and I want to find ways of conveying that excitement and passion somehow.



Research point: Kirsty Whitlock creating ‘yarns’

Kirsty Whitlock is a mixed media artist. From her website:

Kirsty uses recycled and reclaimed materials as a response to the throwaway culture of consumerism. Her work is concept led and exploits the overlooked qualities of the selected printed materials.

She challenges the preconceptions of embroidery and explores the potential of communicating a social message through the use of discarded household items, including plastic carrier bags and newspapers, using them as a format for embroidery.

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Research point: Tilleke Schwarz’s use of thread

As far as I can see, most textile artists use commercial threads for sewing and embroidery. There is a vast range of threads available and production of the fine threads often used in these processes is not easily achieveable at home. Cotton and linen threads may be dyed by the textile artist, using commercial or natural dyes. Many threads can also be deconstructed into their individual plies, and indeed cotton embroidery silk is specifically designed for this purpose.

Tilleke Schwarz doesn’t only deconstruct plies, she suggests retwisting threads together, to create new colour combinations or textures. I like this idea of bringing some individual creativity into the threads used for stitching of different kinds.

I found this article about her use of different threads and stitches very stimulating. I like how she pushes beyond the normal rules for embroidery, for instance suggesting couching a thin thread with a thicker one, rather than the usual way of couching a thick thread with a thinner one.  The details of her work show a real sense of energy and passion which has to explode in innovative techniques that go beyond traditional embroidery.


Research point: innovation in yarn

Using the links in the previous post as a starting point, I began to search for innovative and unusual yarn designs and concepts.

Woolmark: textile innovations

Woolmark are interested in developing merino yarn in different ways for commercial use.  Recent innovations include:

Cool wool: “Cool Wool garments are manufactured from lightweight Merino wool fabrics with a maximum weight of 190 g/m² and a maximum mean wool fibre diameter of 22.5 micron, highlighting the trans-seasonal properties of the fibre and extending the selling season of wool.”

By specifying the weight of the finished cloth and the maximum diameter of the fibres used, they can determine the characteristics of the fabric required for use in warm climates. Wool is traditionally associated with cool climates, because of its insulating and waterproof qualities, but here they are emphasising its breathability, temperature regulation, odour resistance and softness.

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Research point: spider silk

TED talk by Cheryl Hayashi: The magnificence of spider silk.

Spider silk is a natural ‘yarn’, which has many different functions in the life of the spider. Individual spiders can make several different kinds of silk, depending on their purpose. The silks vary by form  (tubular, spiral) and substance (stickiness, stretchiness). Because of the strength and lightness of spider silk, there is a lot of research into making synthetic imitations of it. In the talk, Hayashi shows a comparison between spider silk, nylon, silkworm silk, wool, carbon fibre and kevlar. Almost all spider silk surpasses all of these other fibres for toughness. Spider silk is also suitable for medical uses because it doesn’t spark immune responses. It is amazing to see just how much better a natural fibre is than the very best synthetic fibres.
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Research point: yarn production (ii)

Woolmark Company

The Woolmark is a familiar feature on garments and other items certifying that they are wholly or partially made from sheeps wool. The Woolmark website aims to educate and promote the benefits of wool in a range of uses including interiors, insulation and fashion textiles. Although it is a global brand, promoting all kinds of wool, there is a clear focus on merino wool and Australian wool.

Since I already know quite a lot about wool processing and sourcing (I live on a sheep farm!), the most exciting feature for me was the Wool Lab, a twice-yearly publication featuring “inspirational themes to inspire and influence trends, connecting designers with manufacturers through technical skills, know-how and passion.” This is available to purchase online.

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Research point: yarn in textiles

Yarn (particularly if the definition is expanded to include thread) is a fundamental aspect of most textile work. With the exception of felt (which is produced from unspun fibres) all traditional textiles are made from yarns, whether woven, knitted, crocheted or joined in some other way. Similarly, textile items are joined and embellished with yarns and threads.

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