Monday, 10 June 2013

Assignment 3 - Understanding the Textile World - Why Do Craft-produced Textiles Maintain a Place in Our Society?

“History has remembered the kings and warriors, because they destroyed; art has remembered the people, because they created.”
William Morris

“There is nothing in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and he who considers price only is that man's lawful prey.”
“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”
Edgar Degas

“He who works with his hands is a laborer.
He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman.
He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”
St. Francis of Assisi

What is a craft-produced textile?
In answering this question I first asked myself what are the factors that distinguish a craft-produced textile from other textiles. For me, the key elements are:

Time – Hand-crafted items are more time-intensive to produce than a machine manufactured product.

Materials – Hand-crafted items may involve better quality materials, sometimes through necessity but more often because investment of time warrants working with good quality materials. Hand-crafted items may also, however, use locally available materials which, whilst not necessarily expensive, have other qualities to offer such as tradition and cultural significance.

Individuality – Mass production necessarily results in many thousands of identical products being on every shelf in the country or even the world. A product made by hand, however, will always be unique even if the maker produces a number of the same items.

Quality of end product – Making items individually and with more time per item and better materials will often result in a better quality product overall. However, there may also be products which, by virtue of the nature of production, could be manufactured to a technically higher standard yet still be deemed to be of better quality. For example, a cloth handwoven by a village artisan with only access to local materials and simple hand tools may have minor imperfections – slubs or variances in colour for example. Modern factory technology could produce a more “perfect” piece, but this would deny other factors – individuality and originality that make a piece one of quality. To achieve the economies of scale required by mass production often requires a fine balance between price, availability and affordability and this can have a detrimental impact on quality and certainly removes much of the originality and individuality.

What motivates people to buy craft-produced textiles?
If craft-produced items are superior to their mass-produced cousins, given the choice, wouldn’t most people prefer a high quality, hand-crafted item made from quality materials? If we assume that this is the case, why are there so many mass-produced products on the market?

The obvious answer would be to say price, but I think this is too simplistic. Price is certainly a consideration. People want to, for example, decorate their homes with attractive items but they may have a limited budget. Mass production brings decorative items within reach of more people. However, mass production usually relies on selling a huge volume of product at a low margin, so constant sales are essential. For this reason, companies need to devise ways to encourage repeat custom. Marketing departments therefore invest considerable sums in creating new trends with different colour schemes/styles to persuade customers to renew or replace items more frequently. Cheaper prices make this possible and it is easier to justify replacing an item if it wasn’t expensive in the first place!

It is also important to appreciate that it would be almost impossible to produce sufficient clothes, bedding, crockery, glassware, furniture etc. if everything had to be handmade.

What influences people to make and/or purchase hand-crafted products?
Like attracts like
In my experience, designer-makers and craftspeople are more likely to seek out handmade products than to buy mass-produced items. I believe this is because makers understand and value the time, effort and originality that go into the production of a handmade item. Makers are less likely to buy “disposable” products and replace frequently, because, being makers themselves they appreciate the unique qualities of hand-crafted products.

I do not think it would be unreasonable to say that there is a certain kudos that is perceived to attach itself to ownership of hand-crafted items. Unique, bespoke items are a symbol of wealth and status as they indicate a person who can afford to pay for the time, quality and effort that goes into producing a one-of-a-kind item rather than a mass-produced one. These people are prepared to pay for exclusivity and for the privilege of having something that no-one else can have. This is not limited to what we would traditionally consider to be hand-crafted textiles, but extends to more mainstream products such as bespoke suiting and designer clothing and beyond textiles to bespoke furniture, jewellery. Engaging an interior designer to create a bespoke environment including custom-made soft furnishings, carpeting and lighting could also be considered to fall in this category.

Cultural, social and religious significance
Craft-produced textiles often carry cultural significance. Even today, textiles may form part of a dowry or are made, given and worn to mark key stages in the recipient’s life, marriage, coming of age, even death. Textiles may also have religious significance. Vestments for religious officials are still frequently hand-stitched, altar cloths and pew kneelers are hand-crafted by congregation members as a mark of religious observance.

In antiquity, certain colours were only permitted to be worn by persons of a given status (Tyrian purple by Emperors and high-ranking Roman officials, saffron-dyed robes by religious officials). Today, whilst there may no longer be sanctions for wearing designated items, official garments such as ceremonial military wear or royal garments to mark ceremonial occasions, will often be hand-crafted as symbol of respect, status and importance. Companies such as Hand and Lock specialise in this very rarified and exquisite niche product.  

Collectability and heritage
In addition to being valued by the producer and their community, many travellers appreciate buying and collecting hand-crafted items that have social or cultural relevance to the area they have visited. They enjoy being able to appreciate traditional skills and often to see the skills being practised. A number of travel companies specialise in textile-focussed holidays where travellers can visit, observe and buy from artisans in the local area. The fact that these textiles are associated with social traditions, regional and cultural traditions, imbues them with an intangible value as well as holding memories of the trip. Whilst it is true that the need to make a living has inevitably impacted crafts (from Plastic Highland pipers to mass-produced synthetic American Indian tribal rugs for example), good quality products can still be found (genuine Harris tweed and naturally hand-dyed, handwoven tribal hangings or rugs made using local plants and locally-grown wool). A discerning purchaser willing to pay a fair price can secure a genuinely hand-crafted product with a little judicious searching.

Sustainability and environmental considerations
As our demand for cheap, readily available textiles has grown, this has created a number of problems. Cotton, for example, significantly depletes soil of nutrients, requires extensive use of fertilizers and pesticides and quickly desertifies land if not grown and harvested sensitively. Dyes historically produced significant effluent in the form of bleaching agents, chemical dye intermediates – much of this effluent was simply discharged into nearby water courses.

As our awareness of the damage that this mass production can do to our environment increases, a number of companies and organisations are looking at low-impact, so-called “slow textiles”. This relatively new development has seen big business look to the benefits of artisan techniques and skills and ways in which these could be integrated into larger-scale production. There are, for example, a number of large companies currently working with natural dyes (Rowan Yarns, Levi jeans). Organic cotton is increasing in popularity for clothing, bedding and other products. “Old” fibres such as ramie, abaca, bamboo and soy are being developed into exciting new textiles with some fascinating properties such as anti-bacterial and healing qualities. Natural wool is seeing a huge resurgence in popularity because of the appreciation of its many valuable properties – in carpets, mattresses and bedding there is evidence to suggest that wool is better for those with dust allergies , in clothing for its natural wicking and breathability. ( . Interestingly, some silk duvets are approved by Allergy UK ( ).

Pro-forma for mass-production
Hand-crafted products may also be a stimulus and even a pro-forma for mass-produced textiles. Textile artists will design, for example, a print fabric, the design for which is then purchased by a large manufacturer for incorporation into their range (Kath Kidston, Kaffe Fassett, Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen, Jasper Conran). Runway garments are individually designed and hand-crafted but will be adapted and re-worked into a more affordable format to make them accessible to a wider audience (John Rocha, Julien Macdonald, Issey Miyake). Unfortunately, this can, of course, lead to many arguments over copyright, “passing off” and intellectual property theft, but re-working is also used increasingly by bespoke, high-end designers for their own collections. A Vivienne Westwood dress may grace the red carpet at the Oscars and will be well beyond the reach of most consumers. By developing a design collection into an off-the-peg range that makes the image, style and brand available to a wider audience this is both practical and arguably financially necessary for the high-end fashion houses.

Last but certainly not least, we should recognise that craft-produced textiles give great pleasure. A product made by the hands, whether it is top quality haute couture, a simply made traditional piece purchased from a co-operative enterprise, or a hand-crafted commissioned piece from a local artisan, will have the hallmarks of the personality of the maker. Individual care and attention has gone into its production and this knowledge brings many people pleasure and joy at owning such an item.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Assignment 3 and Assignment 5 - Project 7 - Theme Book - The Ocean - Research (Feeds into Assignment 5 - Project 10)

After much deliberation I settled on the theme of the ocean for my final project for this module. There are so many aspects of the ocean to draw imagery, ideas and inspiration from, so I began with a mind-map, working freely to capture some of these for my theme book.

Having spent some time free-associating, I put my map to one side to "ferment". When I came back to it afresh, the aspect of the Ocean I kept coming back to were waves. There are so many emotive and exciting words associated with waves - crashing, undulating, pounding, lapping, rolling, foaming. Focussing on the idea of waves, I studied waves in their many forms, even looking at waveforms in sound, science and technology! However, I settled on ocean waves as offering the greatest scope for development.

As I wanted my piece to be more than a simple pictorial representation of waves, I researched the significance of the ocean, waves and water across different cultures and traditions, how wave imagery is used and it symbolic meanings to different societies.

American Indians
The symbolism of waves for ancient peoples across the globe, including the Zuni, Hopi and other American Indian tribes - wave symbols are used in weaving, art and historically in written communication. Symbols like those below are popular as bands, backgrounds and as patterns in their own right. Interestingly, they share similarities and usage with Greek and Roman wave symbology (below).

(Source: Khiva Trading Company)

This garment in the textiles collection at the Manchester Museum incorporates sea imagery in the form of crabs and bands of waves. Dating to around AD1200-1470, it is believed to be a kilt-like garment, possibly for dancing, from the Chancay area on the coast of Peru.

(Photography: Debbie Tomkies)

That wave imagery remains popular can be seen in this traditional design of bowl, also from Peru, but from the 1980's. (Manchester Museum collection).

(Photography: Debbie Tomkies)

Ancient Greece and Rome
Wave imagery is also found extensively throughout the mediterranean.

This Greek kantharos dating to around AD1000 has broad bands of waves, whilst the greek gem from Tharros shows a warrior brandishing a spear as he emerges from (rides upon?) the waves. Other sea imagery is also present in the form of a conch shell and dolphin (which looks more like a shark but is most likely to be a dolphin).
(Source:<!--[if gte mso 9]>

This pottery fragment in the Manchester Museum collection also shows bands of waves in shades of beautiful blue glazes.
(Photography: Debbie Tomkies)

Dolphins and waves are also very popular as wall and home decoration in Ancient Greece, for example, this Minoan frieze from the palace of Knossos on Crete which dates back to 1800-1400BCE. Note not only the dolphins in the ocean but also the wave band to the lower left of the image.

Japan, China and Asia
Perhaps one of the most iconic pieces of wave imagery is the Great Wave off Kanagawa by Hokusai. This woodcut in the Japanese Ukiyo-e tradition is one of  the Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji series created in the 1820s-1830s. It has been reproduced many times and in many forms, including fabrics, prints, murals and even tattoos (see also below). Interestingly, the Great Wave was preceded by other waves by Hokusai in a similar vein. However, for me these waves do not capture the same dynamic energy, fluidity of motion and passion that can be both seen and felt in the later Great Wave.
Great Wave Off Kanagawa - 1831

Cargo Ship and Wave - 1805

View of Honmoku - 1803

Body Art - Tattoo Symbology
Waves and the ocean aren't just confined to history, nor to traditional artforms. Body art often incorporates waves and sea imagery both for pure decoration but also to symbolise a range of meanings.

Here's an interpretation of Hokusai's Great Wave as body art. One assumes that the accompanying wording marks a significant event in the life of the person who commissioned this beautiful tattoo.
Source: tattoo-and-art

Water tattoos can hold symbolic value to the wearer and they can symbolize a variety of different meanings. Many cultures, ancient and present, believe that water is associated and linked to the soul. They believe that water has the ability to cleanse the body, soul, and mind. Ancient cultures also believed belief that water had the ability to wash away evil and anything negative. In Christianity, the use of holy water to purify and cleanse may be reflected in tattoos to symbolise protection, healing an purity.

Water represents one of the four elements - earth, air, fire and water. In astrology, the water signs pisces, cancer and scorpio are often featured in body art. In Asian mythology, the water dragon is the ruler of weather and water and a symbol of power. Water is regarded as the feminine "yin" in Chinese philosophy.Water and waves are popular components of Samoan and Polynesian body art, doubtless a reflection of the importance the ocean has to these seafaring peoples.

Source: tattoo.about

Source: tattooideasandmeanings

Source: tattooidea

Source: tattoo.about

Monday, 3 June 2013

Assignment 3 - Project 6 - Reflective Journal - What Have You Achieved?

Did you prefer working with fabric in this way to working directly with stitch? If so, can you explain why?
Working with stitch is very satisfying, however, being able to work in fully a 3-dimensional environment, using both stitch and fabric manipulation to make new structures is stretching and gives many new possibilities.

Do you feel pleased with the shapes and movements that you have created in both applique and fabric manipulation? What would you want to change or try again in a different way?
A number of the samples were successful - I really liked the undersea piece (purples and blues with net overlay). The layering captured the feeling I was looking for - looking into the depths of the ocean. Likewise, although the free-machine coral was a small piece, the result was pleasing and I felt captured the key features of the coral. Free-machining is very satisfying!

Using different fabrics in the appliqued "deserted house" was fun. I can see the scope for extending this into lots of different projects.

I particularly liked the woven green/yellow fabric using devore to create the weaving grid. The devore could have been replaced with a sharp knife as it wasn't particularly effective but the seersucker of the fabric combined with the stripes and the interaction of the rough edges and weave made it interesting and tactile.

The work with the silk velvet wasn't particularly successful but I learned a lot about the technique and will be experimenting further to perfect this technique. The interaction of the texture of the velvet, the rich colours of the dye and the relief effects created by the devore are very satisfying and there is lots of scope for further development.

How did the pieces work in relation to your drawings? Did the fabric manipulation technique take over and dictate the final result?
Interpreting drawings into collages was a good exercise. It was suprising how, when viewed from a distance, the correct balance and positioning of colours and captured the essence of the drawings.

Was it helpful to work from the drawings in the applique exercise? Would you have preferred to play directly with cut shapes and materials?
I felt that the quilted piece based on the earring was a logical and structured interpretation of the sketch, even if the finished result bore little resemblance to it! It was very interesting to look back and see the development of the final piece.

I would have been equally happy to work from cut shapes and can see the benefits of both approaches. Sometimes inspiration comes simply from play with no prior assumptions. It can be harder to break away from replicating an image and think freely when you have a given starting point.

How do you feel about working with stitch in general? Is it an area you would like to pursue in more depth? Do you find it limiting in any way?
I enjoy working with stitch but I like to combine it with other techniques such as print and surface texture. Working with textile products such as Fiber-etch and moulding pastes extends the range of  possibilities for really sculptural and imaginative textile art. Stitch can be time-consuming so effects that I would like to create such as using stitch as paint/french knots etc. are sometimes sidelined in favour of a more dramatic, speedier result. This can be particularly important when considerations of commissions and pricing etc. are in point.

Final Piece

 Can you see a continuous thread of development from your original drawings and samples to the final designs?
Based on my selection of photographs, many of which came from visits to science museums so I could see cutaways of the workings of machinery, and the research from Steampunk sites and magazines, I am pleased with the progress of this design. The starting point was the small sketch I produced in Assignment 2. It was taken from an image in a catalogue for an Art Deco exhibition that I attended at the V&A in 2003.

The imagery of cogs, gears, metal and chainwork in this oranate gate was married up with imagery taken from visits to the Museum of Science and Industry, York Railway Museum, Quarry Bank Mill and Armley Mills Industrial Museum amongst others. Visits to Steampunk fairs and research on the internet gave more ideas as to how to pull everything together into my Steampunk-themed book cover.

Do you feel you made the right decisions at each stage of the design process? If not, can you say what changes you would make? 
There are aspects to this design that I would perhaps change. Firstly, the design is too open. Steampunk is a very busy, intense style with masses of interest, dense texture and detail. A Steampunk object should keep you engaged for a long time, seeing different things each time you look at it. This was my first large-scale interpretation of this theme and next time I would be more confident in incorporating lots more detail, in particular textural content, small "objets" and more metallic items (from keys to gaskets to wire etc.).

Were you able to interpret your ideas well within the techniques and materials you chose to work with?
The finished piece looks too modern. In a future piece I would consider using metallic sprays and metallic paints (possibly car paint spray or textured metallic paint such as Hammerite?) and investigating how to distress the components to give an old, reconstructed feel.

How successful is your final design in terms of being inventive within the medium and coherent as a whole?
I feel that the finished piece has a balanced composition and shows a range of materials and techniques. Unusual components (coins, cds etc.) have been used creatively and combined with more familiar materials such as fabrics.

Did you enjoy working the piece? Is it a good intepretation of your idea, and do you like it?
Yes, I very much enjoyed making it. I doubt it would make the grade as far as true Steampunk artists and enthusiasts are concerned but I do like the finished piece. It was challenging and exciting working out how to incorporate diverse, non-traditional materials into a textile-based project. For a first piece, I think it was a good start and something I'd like to do more of. I can see much collecting of rusty nuts, keys and bolts in my future!

Overall, it had some good components (found objets, leather, metal, etc.) but just needed more - more detail, more texture and more grunge!

For lots more images, see my Picasa album here

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Assignment 3 - Project 6 - Stage 4 - Final Piece - Steampunk Book Cover - part two - assembly

Armed with sketches, research and a good selection of materials I began to try out some arrangements. These were a couple of possibilities that didn't make the final cut...

The fabric ribbon was too fussy where it was (although I found a use for this later). I couldn't readily work out a way to attach the bottle caps and rivets securely (bearing mind that this will be a well-used project when it's finished). The wooden curtain rail ring was also rejected as being too bulky and not really in keeping with the steampunk theme.

Once I'd decided on the layout, I started with the base layer of mixed fabrics, machine-stitching them together first. I used rough hessian, an interesting surface-woven velour and a piece of cotton calico which I'd first distressed by soaking over two old iron weights to give a rusted effect. I machine-stitched the finished front to a separate piece of golden sateen to cover the hinge and create a pocket so the cover would slide over the board.
I added cds for the cogs, copper coins for the smaller cogs and a piece of knotted metal cord to wind between the coins as chainlink. (The wooden hoop and bottle caps shown here on the cds were later rejected).
To give the cds the appearance of toothed cogs, I wrapped them with thick strips of the roughly cut viscose ribbon originally rejected. Foil covers for chocolate coins replace the bottle caps in the centre of the cds.
For the copper piping, I covered plastic drinking straws with copper-coloured viscose ribbon.

I used scraps of waste leather to create corner reinforcements and stitched these in place.
 For the large metal piping, I printed out an image from my source images onto thick paper. I laid wadding underneath and stitched through this to attach the "pipe" to the fabric, following the lines created by the riveting to give a more 3-d impression.

For the smaller cogs, I wound a metallic chainlink cord around a series of coins to create the impression of an integrated mechanism. Although this was all glued in place, it didn't feel secure so I used metallic mesh as an overlay and stitched it in place. This created an impression of viewing moving parts from behind a grille. I liked the way this made the coins look less like coins and more like the cogs they were intended to represent by softening the outline of the smaller parts. It also brought the piping into relief, adding depth.

Somewhat frustratingly I didn't take a photograph of the finished cover before I sent it off but here's the most complete version. I'll post a proper one later with the evaluation.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Assignment 3 - Project 6 - Stage 4 - Final Piece - Steampunk Book Cover - part one - prep


I love Steampunk art. All those gears and cogs, rusty metal, chains and things that go clunk are quite magical. I think perhaps it reminds me of Mousetrap for grown-ups (which was my favourite board game)!
So for my personal piece I decided to produce a journal cover, styled in the steampunk tradition.
Steampunk is Victorian-esque, Art Nouveau, mechanical, past and future, science fiction, copper pipe, keys, cogs, clocks and timepieces, valves, gears, leather and, of course, steam-powered! Here are a couple of visual mind-maps I put together when coming up with ideas for my project.

From these I pulled the following images as the basis for my piece.

I found an old wallpaper sample book (a bit larger than A3 size) with really sturdy board covers and a strong cord handle. I think I can re-use the fasteners that held the pages in place, which will be great for storing sketches and journal material (the spine is about 8cm deep!).
I raided my stash for a good range of Steampunk colours, materials, shapes and textures. I included an eclectic range of fabrics, threads and yarns.

I also added lots of interesting "found objects" - coins, straws, mesh, bottle caps, rivets, wire and a couple of old cds.

I sketched out a rough idea of the shapes I wanted to create with some notes on how to replicate them.

Coming soon - part two - assembly.....