Thursday, 29 November 2012

Fashion & Modernity

Charles Pierre Baudelaire is credited with coining the term "modernity" (modernit√©) to describe the fleeting, ephemeral experience of life in an urban setting, and the responsibility art has to capture that experience.  Fashion is therefore an excellent way to track the progress of modernity in our society - Modernity is a code and fashion is its emblem. Looking back at the fashion of a particular modern era, we can see the political and social values of the time.

For example, the 1920s was the age of modern travel. New inventions such as the automobile, motorcycles and the aeroplane influenced the fashion at the time. Elsa Schiaparelli designed flying clothes for women. We also associate the 1920s with the 'flapper' dress, a loose, drop waisted, short dress, named after the young liberated woman who wore the style. The constraints held over women in the Victorian era were disappearing, now they smoked and drank and wore their hair in a very short style, blurring the once strong line between femininity and masculinity.

1920s advertising poster

The question is which fashion designers would we think as 'modern' today? I think it would be designers that are using hi-tech, cutting edge technology. Mary Katrantzou is famous for using digital print in her designs, and Hussein Chayalan is always ahead of the game with his LED and convertible dresses.

Mary Katrantzou  S/S '13

Hussein Chayalan, LED Dress

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Fashion & Textile Processes - module review

Because our year group is so big, we have been split into two groups; ours will be working on the construction element first, to design and make a toile of a womans' shirt; whilst the other group will be working on textile processes.

finished shirt toile

At this point I have finished my shirt and as with the construction support module, I have really enjoyed the process, but I feel it might have been better to design the shirt after doing the textiles processes, because I might have had a bit more time to decide which way I am going with my primary research in Colchester.

Because I finished making my shirt earlier than some, I have had time to start experimenting with pleating, an idea that came from the parallel lines of the Firstsite building in Colchester, but I hope that when I start the textiles workshops next week, I will begin to have a clearer idea of the look and feel of my final collection.

In the last couple of weeks I have been really inspired by Dior's 'new look' which I researched in my construction support module, and the late 1950's fashions featured in the BBC's 'The Hour'. I would like to try and use this as inspiration for my final collection in some way.

1950s Dior Wool Suit

Beth Rowley 'The Hour'

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Fashion construction - module review

I'm halfway into my fashion construction support module and really enjoying it. I am starting to feel a lot more confident with basic pattern cutting, and I am really getting to grips with using the industrial sewing machines and overlockers. I now know how to create my own patterns with the use of basic cardboard blocks and by modelling on the stand (dress-makers mannequin).

modelling on the stand

I have particularly enjoyed researching historical couturiers and have found their designs, especially the tailoring, really inspiring. What I want to be working towards now is to be able to put all these design ideas, that keeping popping into my head, into practise. I will try to do this by drawing a collection of shift dresses, working on my technical drawing, and choosing a final design that I will draft a pattern for and construct.

Madame Gres



My tutor is pleased with my progress so far, saying that I have a "Conscientious file evidencing a good level of skills in cutting and making" and "Excellent attendance". There is a small amount of annotation that I need to add to my technical file, but otherwise I am up to date!

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Warner Textile Archive

If you pay for a visit to The Braintree Museum, you can use your receipt for a free visit to the Warner Textile Archive within 30 days, so I decided to pop in for a quick look round and ended up staying for a couple of hours.

I first visited in about 2006-2007 the archive when I first moved to Braintree and it was relatively new, as Braintree Museum only purchased the archive in 2004. Since then I have attended a 'Behind the Scenes' tour and various exhibitions and textiles fairs. But yesterday I didn't have a whingy child and so I was able to take my time and read and look at everything. There is also a film that a local man took of the last working day of the mill, which is very poignant.

Recently the archive have started to utilise the vast amount of designs that they hold. Their collaboration with Surface View means that anyone can now have a design from the archive printed onto a canvas, blind, tiles or wallpaper. 2012 saw them launch their own wallpaper range and they have just launched their Wendy Bray Collection.



Wendy Bray Collection 

Swing Boat

New York 


The Warner Archive is currently working with The Ashley Family Foundation in order to identify and catalogue garments, documents, samples and fabric designs within their collection, and improve accessibility to these significant historical costumes. So far they have identified over 450 costume items in the Archive's collection which include:
- 16th century Venetian silk brocatelle 
- Two large, rare pieces of Spitalfield silks dating from the mid18th century.
- A silk and gold skirt made for Princess Mary's wedding in 1893. 
- Shoe fabrics woven by Warner & Sons in 1930.

Not only is it a invaluable resource for British textile design, but the archive shop has some lovely handpicked, handmade gifts. On my way out I bought this beautiful lambswool woven scarf  handmade by Wallace & Sewell for my sister's christmas present.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The Avant Garde

The revolutionary avant-garde art movements of the early 20th Century were: Dadaism, Surrealism, Futurism and Constructivism. Although they celebrated different ideas, they all had similar ways of working and had the same political aim - to destroy autonomous art, so it could become part of everyday life again. Artists moved into design in order to bring art to the masses. They turned their hand to fashion & textile design, graphic design and product design. They also collaborated with designers of the period, for example, Salvador Dali worked in collaboration with the fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli on many pieces. Sonia Delaunay, Stepanova and Popova were all female avant-garde artists-turned prolific print & fashion designers of the period.

  Beachwear,  Sonia Delaunay, 1927

      Textile Design, Stepanova, 1924        

Dress, Popova, 1924

'Avant-garde' was originally a french military term meaning 'advanced guard', referring to a troupe of highly skilled and specialised soldiers, sent out to scout and survey a field before the whole army advanced. So the term was used to describe the above art movements, owing to their forward thinking, experimental and extreme ways of exploring art.

Some fashion designers that I might describe as avant-garde today would be: Alexander McQueen, Gareth Pugh, Jean Paul Gaultier, Viktor & Rolf and Thiery Mugler. For me, their iconic 'avante-garde' pieces are something that the average woman of today would generally not wear. Mainly due to their impractical shapes and revealing parts of the body that is normally perceived and inappropriate even in  today's western society. Although the work of the original avant-garde designers look quite wearable by today' standards, during the period that they were designed, they must have been exciting, daring and revolutionary. The loose fitting, drop waisted dresses in bright geometric prints would have been a shocking contrast to the tight waisted corsets and full skirts of the Victorian era, and the new beachwear showed a lot more flesh than Victorian fashion ever permitted. Which begs the question - will we find today's avant-garde fashions wearable in 80 years time?

Gareth Pugh, A/W, '11-'12

  Thiery Mugler, 1995

Thursday, 15 November 2012

The Skill of the Maker

Before the age of the machine, everything had to be made by hand. From the woman at home weaving yarn to clothe her family, to the artisans making furniture to sell for their livelihood. The Victorians changed all this with the rise of the industrial revelation and mass production. In a reaction against the industrialisation, William Morris founded the Arts and Crafts movement, his aim: to return to the pre-industrial crafts. He wanted the public to re-embrace the importance of simple, but well made things; produced by small guilds.

During and after WW2, most things where handmade, as it was more economical for clothes and soft furnishings to be made at home, than bought in the shops. In contrast, today it is more expensive and time consuming to buy fabric and yarn and make our own clothes, than it is to purchase it in shops. So the skills that women and girls learnt in the past, have slowly been lost for todays generation. 

That said, in times of crisis, people turn to nostalgia, and since the credit crunch of 2008 the popularity for buying hand-made and 'making your own' has soared. Like William Morris rebelled against the mass production of the Victorian era, many people today are putting more value on hand-made products, than mass produced goods. Today the term 'Hand-made' or 'Artisan' can be used as a marketing tool, it has connotations of integrity, uniqueness, and quality. Buying hand-made is not a necessity anymore, in fact sometimes it is a luxury; and making your own is not a necessarily a cheaper way to live, it is more a lifestyle choice for people who want to opt out of buying mass produced goods.

Making by hand may seem out of date in today's digital age of CAD CAM and 3D printing - I do understand the importance of embracing new technologies and methods of manufacture - but as someone who feels compelled to make things all the time, I feel that the art of hand-making things is skill that should be passed on through each generation. There may be a time in the not so distance future when we can no longer rely on mass production to feed and clothe us, and so it is important to nurture those skills that help us to remain self-sufficent, should we, our children or our grandchildren need to be.  Not long ago, I read a really inspiring book that explores this subject by, the journalist, John Paul Flintoff called Sew Your Own which is definitely worth a read if this subject is something you are interested in.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Making A Point @ The Braintree Museum

This morning I popped into the Braintree Museum to view the textile exhibition - Making A Point.

The exhibit has been created by EAST, a group recognised for their excellent and innovative use of a wide range of textile techniques and thought provoking concepts explored within their work. Each member has chosen their own topic/concept to explore for the exhibition, which offers a feast of textile expression combining colour, texture, and stitch.

The exhibition was quite small, so I was only there for a a short time. I have to say that most of the work was not really to my taste. Quite a lot of dark grungy colours, a lot of felting and use of an embellisher machine. I love textiles, so why didn't I like it? Is it because it is textile art? I have typed and deleted many things on trying to describe what I like and why I didn't like most of the work in the exhibition, but nothing quite makes much sense. I'm sure that there has been a lot of work put into the exhibits, but nothing made me think 'wow, that's amazing!', 'how can I make that?' or 'I'd love to buy that!'.

I didn't take any pictures because I wasn't sure I was allowed to, but you can see some images of the exhibition via the link above.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Post-war Britain

The last lecture we had explored the links between art, science, natural and machine. It focused on Designers who's aim was to make art and design accessible to the people. Christopher Dresser, William Morris, Bauhaus, Joseph Paxton (Crystal Palace) and Le Courbusier all featured.

We were asked to research the Festival of Britain to further our learning, which reminded me of a   channel 4 programme The House the 50s Built , that I watched while back. Unfortunately the programme is no longer available to watch on 4OD, so I can't watch it again, but luckily there is an outline of each episode on the website to remind me. The series celebrated the science behind the inventions and innovations that transformed the way we lived and catapulted an exhausted post-war country into the modernity of 1950s Britain.

During the WWII, design and technology stood still in Britain's homes, because all the countries efforts were focused on winning the war. It was only after the war ended that we could begin to apply new scientific and technologic advances (some of which were developed for the war effort) to make the lives of the people of 1950s Britain easier, brighter and more fun.

The new developments of the science world had a direct effect on design in everyday peoples homes. Sciencists invented many different forms of plastics from the polymers found in oil including:


image from here

Created by impregnating paper with phenolic resin and building up lots of layers and heat pressing together until set into a laminate. Formica was a colourful and hygienic worksurface for the new fitted kitchens of the '50s

Polyurethene Foam 

 image from here

The unhygienic horsehair and straw used in pre-war sofas was replaced by this clean and cheap synthetic foam. This made the stuffing for upholstery lighter, less bulky and designers could mould it into any number of shapes.

 image from here

Pre-war furniture was carved from separate pieces of carved solid wood and joined together by experts furniture makers. But with the invention of PVA glue and a WWII technique used to develop the Mosquito fighter bomber, it was possible to glue thin sheets of wood together and mould them with press into different shapes to create iconic furniture that is still considered fashionable today.

Vinyl Paint

 image from here

PVA glue was also used to make vinyl paint, replacing the dangerously combustable linseed oil paint and toxic lead paint, that had to be mixed by hand by a professional. The new vinyl paints adhered well to walls and created a smooth wipe clean surface. Home decorating became popular as paint companies marketed this new ready mixed paint at the DIY market.

Wallpaper Paste

 image from here

Pre-war, wallpaper paste was made from flour and water, making wallpapering messy and unpredictable. But in 1953 a new synthetic wallpaper paste, marketed under the name of Polycell, was launched. Its mass production lead the rise of the 'feature wall' as people bought the new abstract wallpaper designs first showcased at the Festival of Britain in 1951.

Nylon and Polyester

image from here

Nylon was developed as a replacement for silk used in parachutes in during WWII. But come 1950, it first hit the UK shelves in the form of nylon stockings. Nylon was cheaper than the pricey and hard to come by silk, and had elastic properties that made underwear and stockings supportive yet comfortable.
In 1952 Polyester was made into a thread and used as a replacement for wool. Suit salesmen would jump into swimming pools, fully clothed, to demonstrate the amazing drip dry properties of this new wonder fibre.

Not only did the science provide materials for designers to use in their work, but they also provide new inspiration for abstract print designers such as Lucienne Day. This iconic woven jacquard from the Warner Textile Archive in Braintree is called Hemsley and was designed by Marianne Straub for the Festival of Britain (1951). The design was inspired from the atomic structure of nylon. The Warner Textile Archive have used this design as part of their new wallpaper range, which was actually used the  channel 4 programme 'The House the 1950s Built'.

image from here

Finally, with these new scientific and technological innovations, William Morris' dream of "art for the people" was now achievable. Many of Lucienne Day's fabric designs were made in long production runs, which kept the price affordable. It pleased her to think that people who could not afford to buy a painting for their living room could at least own a pair of abtract patterned curtains. She, along with many more designers of the 1950s, had made the link between mass production and fine art.