Project 8 Review and Refine: Exercise 5.1 Review part 2

This is the start of my final group of samples and as I write this retrospectively having completed them at least until my tutor has given me feedback.

I have found myself working in a totally different manner for this project in terms of sketchbook work – formerly I would do many sketches and paintings before working with the textiles but instead I have taken my photographs, done mind-maps, used Pinterest for images that inspire and intrigue me and also used written critical reviews throughout.  The use of words rather than sketches has enabled me to formulate my thoughts and ideas which I have been able to translate directly to stitch whilst I also work directly from photographs taking the parts that inspire me or I want to create an impression of and this has enabled me to work more intuitively and I feel more effectively without confusing my mind with actual sketches to narrow down details.  At this point I can now see myself combining two approaches which are the  loose and rough sketches that get down colours or textures or specific lines with the ‘sketching’ through the fabric samples – a loose style of sketchbook work is becoming part of my personal voice and enabling me to get down ideas or what appeals very quickly and effectively.

My first point of research was to create a new theme board with a combination of my own photographs and ones taken from the internet plus fabric samples (dyed calico and hessian included) and yarn samples.

The second stage was a mind map which combined with the theme board have proved to be very valuable techniques or tools that this course has taught me – the theme boards really keep my mind focused on my overall theme whilst the mind maps enable me to get down ideas quickly and develop new avenues of investigation.

I also added two further pages of my own photographs with some specific notes on what appealed to me or notes on texture, line or dramatic shapes but in retrospect I do not feel I have made full use of these images in terms of sketches or in terms of stitched work throughout my sampling – this is something to bear in mind for future work because the photographs are there to be used and to inspire.

A further mind map resulted from an email from my tutor in response to me putting my ideas for this project forward – my initial ideas of a diorama style series of samples which would have resulted in a log style recreation of the decay and fungi I love so much was too literal …. being literal is part of my Asperger’s syndrome and I am only just beginning to understand how much and hence am becoming more aware.  My tutor suggested looking at the work of Alexander McQueen as one example and considering fashion and hence this mind map focused on costumes, accessories, bodices, cuffs and sleeves with key words to remember – it may be a simple and brief mind map but it enabled me to concentrate my ideas and was one I returned to on more than one occasion.

I felt very early on it would be good to have a record of fabrics I planned to use and in particular the ones I dyed myself or the calico painted with acrylic paints – there is also an example of the painted calico which I added tucks to recreate the texture of the decaying tree trunks or the lines where the bark has worn off on a living tree.  These fabric samples proved really useful and although I did not use some of them including the painted hessian I felt that it gave me food for thought going forward – the most useful trial was undoubtedly the painted calico and this was used directly as part of three final pieces due to both its colours which were based directly in the photographs and also leather-like texture.

As I considered directions with which to take this project I found myself really thinking about how historical clothing and in particular the Tudor and Elizabethan periods.  The clothing and in particular the sleeves and extravagant collars or ruffs really reminds me of the underside of mushrooms or toadstools with what appears to be highly gathered fabric.  The sleeves on the clothing also remind me of fungi appearing through moss or crevices of bark and I wondered about slashed fabrics such as calico with felted fungi pushing through.  I also looked at the waistcoat areas of the clothing and the highly gathered fabrics used for the hat of Henry VIII in one portrait or the collars of Elizabeth I – again these to me are reminiscent of the underside of mushrooms. Another area to consider was the shoulder pads of Elizabethan dresses – could these be recreated using wrapped fabric? in retrospect although I really wanted to consider this aspect I would want to be able to use much richer fabrics than I have combined with heavily distressed rust dyed fabrics – I am determined to work with what I have due to financial constraints so this is an idea to save for future work when I can do the concept due justice.

I also considered the clothing of the Victorian era with the beautiful crinolines – I have long been interested in this era and the fashion so this was something that felt a natural progression and was sparked by the lacy type toadstools which are reminiscent of the crinoline cages.  A lady called Rachel Wright, who I discovered on Pinterest,  created a dress  that appears inspired by these toadstools or the above mentioned crinolines.

I also note the deep gathered collars and decorative cuffs that are part of the sleeves – both could be recreated in fabrics in various textures and techniques.  However I made note in my sketchbook at this time of the consideration of financial constraints which would limit the depth of gathers or pleats and the fabrics used.

I felt it pertinent to consider the work of modern designers and found this series of images on Pinterest – as I have stated earlier this website has proved an invaluable tool.

I really like the seriously heavily gathered collars and wonderfully felted scarf with the colours so reminiscent of my own theme.

The Elizabethan style collar has deep ruffles and pearl detail giving hints of extravagance and richness.

The 4 images inspire images retrospectively of working with over-sized samples for a costume destined for the theatre or a ballet particularly if worked in the rich but muted colours of a decaying theatre with its narrative of what has gone before – the samples could easily be based directly on moss covered branches in felting and tucked or pleated fabrics or combined with appliqued heavily gathered and padded toadstools ….. ideas to consider as skills and finances improve but still worth considering at this stage although as said I write retrospectively and these are new ideas post completion of my samples so will be worth doing further sketches on to add to my sketchbook in the coming weeks.

My first main sample concentrated on the sleeves of Henry VIII with the underneath fabric poking through the rich upper layer.

I worked with a piece of painted upholstery fabric (similar weight to calico) and also a section of needle felting in the colours of my theme.

This sample worked reasonably well -the felting poked through the fabric and created a contrasting texture whilst also giving the impression of the fungi seen growing on the sides and tops of decaying logs.  I gathered the ends of the fabric to recreate the gathered sleeves seen in the photograph of Henry VIII on page 8 and if this sample was part of a larger piece there is the potential for it to be stuffed and hence really push the felting ‘fungi’ out  further.

I noted somewhat comically that this sample reminded me of sweets wrapped in shiny paper due to its shape and the richness of the felting.

The next sample proved to be what I consider very successful – I used a larger piece of painted upholstery fabric which I stitched and manipulated before adding 2 small sections of felting.

I top stitched the pleats and also the naturally occurring central pleat and my instinct then felt it appropriate to flatten it to create texture rather than form.  This piece immediately inspired thoughts of thick wide belts or the heavy armour of past centuries.  I questioned whether this could become the panel of a sleeve and noted that there was a need to change the top thread colour as it contrasted too much with the painted fabric.

Lightbulb moment – up until this point I was not sure where my theme was going and felt it had no real direction but then realised the obvious idea to consider was to concentrate on sleeves i.e. the part that reminds me of bark covering a tree branch (literal but abstract thoughts I guess!).  This mind map is supplemented in my sketchbook by a series of notes with the following ideas:

  • ‘sleeves reminiscent of tree branches – think of the arm as the branch and the sleeve as the bark, outer layers of the trunk, fungi ….
  • think tucks, slashes, gathering, felting, heaving ruching
  • multiple layers of crocheted, gathered, pleated fungi
  • crochet can incorporate strips of fabrics to create additional texture
  • think collars as sleeves or
  • crinoline skirts or necklines on the sleeves – the cage skirt becomes the puff ball of the upper sleeve
  • add into notes how I would envisage the sleeve being attached to the dress/top with any details of how the design could be continued
  • details can be added with smaller fungi – rosettes or half rosettes
  • can I use lacy fabric (water soluble made) as part of the whole sleeve? could it become inserts?
  • what about fabric made with water soluble fabric?  one made is reminiscent of decay so this could be incorporated as part of inserts/strips?  think of using voile to make further fabric with fibres/materials inlaid
  • potentially use bottom of puff sleeve as the base of a mushroom so consider how this could be stiffened?
  • use rolled and stitched fabric to create tubes and stitch onto base fabric
  • consider and if necessary do additional drawings to indicate design of the top or front of the bodice …
  • make cuffs with variety of fungi inspired edgings
  • felting can represent moss and lichen
  • how would crocheted or felted fungi be attached?’

These notes, although not used eventually, really enabled me to think about my theme in terms of using sleeves as a concept and are ideas to bear in mind – as I have mentioned previously financial constraints here are a major factor but also there is the consideration of practicality at this time in terms of making up the sleeves and how to display effectively.  I feel now that these ideas are something to explore in the future when I can consider them as part of a jacket or dress of some nature – the ideas are now part of a library for future reference.

However before I dismissed this theme, quite unexpectedly, I decided again to look for inspiration in the realms of Pinterest and found these images which demonstrate a variety of techniques and ideas and also colours to consider.  I am still finding myself entranced by the deep ruching and ruffles or gathers found in the Victorian period and so was immediately drawn to the images shown here …. I would love to know how many metres of fabric or exactly what the fabrics were or indeed what the exact process of making each of the pieces involved.  I am also intrigued by the use of felting which can be seen both in the bottom left blue dress and the top right felted shawl or scarf – the dress appears to be machine stitched and possibly dyed whilst the shawl is nuno-felted which used a fine fabric onto which the wool roving is bonded.  Two fun images are that of the mushroom man and also the fabric toadstools with the latter being made by a Mr Finch – the mushroom man I need to investigate further as it is a fun interpretation of a theme and I feel is delightfully bonkers so perhaps there is a lesson to be learnt in that having fun with an idea can create some wonderful results!

This research on Pinterest also lead me to these images of various species of fungi and I have included these images purely as a reminder or for inspiration to consider future work with a wider colour palette or to explore a differing colour palette perhaps with a sample after feedback from my tutor on my current work.

I am also reminded why I feel this theme is one that will be taken further and is going to be part of my work in the future – I am entranced by the variety and infinite nature of fungi in terms of colours, forms and textures.



As I still considered using sleeves as my main idea I decided to do some loose sketches of potential ideas including using Suffolk puffs, felting, the sample using painted upholstery fabric which was stitched and manipulated, gathers or ruffles.

I developed one sketch with wrapped fabric which was machine stitched on to a backing fabric and painted with acrylic paints. The sketch is loose to say the least but the sample proved to be a surprise …. it reminded my fiance of the Medieval bracers which were in effect armour for the lower arms and this proved to be the way forward with the theme.

At this point I decided to do the first critical review of the exercise:

This project so far as developed without cohesion – the initial theme of Beauty from Decay based on decaying trees and the toadstools or fungi that grown from them had distinct potential and the ideas for variations in textile samples are almost infinite but my sketchbook work was starting to seem to indecisive in nature.

My initial plans were to create an almost diorama type series of samples – taking the theme literally and using florist foam or willow or wire armatures and wrapping felted, fabric and crocheted samples around them to create scenes of loose realism.  However my tutor has suggested to not be so literal, which I fully understand is part of my Asperger’s syndrome, and look at the work of designers such as Alexander McQueen or look for other textile works which could have been inspired by fungi or decay and these can be seen on the previous pages of this sketchbook.  However prior to searching Pinterest and Google I had realised that the lacy style toadstools were reminiscent of crinoline skirt cages and also the toadstools growing through the decaying tree trunks or branches reminded me of Tudor or Elizabethan clothing and in particular the sleeves whilst the underside of the fungi could be seen to be the Elizabethan extravagant collars – this immediately produced the ‘lightbulb’ moment of developing my samples as sleeves albeit on a smaller scale.

My interest in art history is apparent as, yes I have a long term interest in those particular periods, but my knowledge has been refreshed by the study of a variety of art works in my previous module – I have long since decided to incorporate that love of art history into my textiles but have not known how until now.

Initial ideas were to purely concentrate on the sleeves whilst only noting or very loosely sketching how the sleeves could be attached to the rest of the clothing but something wasn’t quite gelling with this concept although I was unsure of why I felt unsettled so was happy to go forward and do a series of rough sketches getting a variety of ideas down before working the forthcoming series of samples.

I decided to try one sample in a sleeve format and tried for the first time a rough wrapping technique – sewing cotton wrapped around fabric strips and machine stitched onto a fabric base before being painted with the browns, ochres and greens of the decaying trees.   Now if the sleeves had been a lightbulb moment then this sample became the chandelier … my fiancé is interested in Medieval history and recognised the armour-like appearance of the sample and the fact it was reminiscent of bracers i.e. the arm armour worn by Medieval armies.

A previous sample on page 13 has an almost leather appearance in its finish and is one that will translate well without too much development into a bracer – it feels like this one was the catalyst for the concept although I did not realise it at the time.

I have spent considerable time looking at a variety of different techniques on Pinterest on clothing designs from gathers, pleats, felting and using soluable fabric to create lacy-style fabrics and have collected images that are either directly based on toadstools and mushrooms or decay or remind me of this theme – this has been an important aspect and has reinforced the need for research before moving onto design work.  I have not as yet done any direct sketches on my own photographs before having any idea of how I will use this theme i.e. whether I worked with bodices, sleeves or as it turns out the bracers – this is the first time I have not done a variety of pieces from which to develop design work and this approach enabled me to research how others have used a similar theme and hence it has kept my mind clear and unhindered.  I have however used mind maps to keep a track of the various ideas so rather than sketching I have used my ability with words creatively – the mind maps have enabled me to swiftly get those ideas down on paper and to create new ideas to sift through and take forward.

Going back to the wrapped sample which can be seen on the opposite page I am of mixed opinion on how it has worked and so feel the following points are worth considering:

  • The colours are what I wanted and combined with the textures give a rough decayed appearance.
  • The sample is relatively firm in feel but still flexible enough to go around a lower arm.
  • A second version would be improved by cutting the strips of fabric into shorter lengths and wrapping with a different variety of yarns – there is the prospect of wrapping painted calico or rough hessian which would dispense with the need for painting after stitching.
  • The base fabric needs to be slightly smaller so that the cords overlap the ends – the cords could then be cut into the required shapes.
  • Additional textile pieces could be stitched either onto the main body of the sample or as a cuff at one end to represent the fungi that grows out of the branch or trunk.
  • There is the possibility of this concept being changed into different fabrics, colours and scale to create a more abstract interpretation of the theme.

So moving forward and looking at the other ideas I want to bear in mind my personal target of now only working with what fabrics, yarn and other materials I currently own to both work a series of smaller samples to try out techniques and the final larger samples which can be refined if required.

The ideas I have involve:

  • Pleating – either book style or as actual pleats over the whole bracer style shape.
  • Considering other shapes of bracers as can be seen on page 23 – also consider different scales.
  • Gathers using different fabrics to interpret both the tree or the underside of fungi or as small elements/fungi to be attached to a base fabric.
  • Crochet to add either cuffs, fungi or as the base fabric of the bracer itself.
  • Felting – this can create the base fabric or to add fungi detailing.
  • Suffolk puffs make great stuffed mushrooms or can be interpreted as the underneath of the fungi.
  • Wrapped fabric but instead of stitching them and embellishing consider creating the fungi as I stitch – bunching up the ‘cords’ and wrapping again at the base before continuing to stitch the cord down.
  • Consider using different colours to my theme board – create some samples directly based on the original palette and some using a greater variety of colours so the theme is not taken so literally but still bear in mind the emphasis on textures and form.



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