Years ago I signed up for a two year part time fashion course. Early on, one of the tutors – Mrs Tregelles – set us a task. “Design a T shirt” in 30 minutes. We were given a piece of paper with an outline of T shaped top and told to create a design. The room fell silent. We picked up our pencils and started drawing. She paced the room in her clacky heels, peering at our work.
I was paralysed! I didn’t have any ideas up my sleeve. I could only think of drawing a T shirt I already owned. I think I ended up drawing some diagonal stripes on the T shirt which took me all of five minutes with a ruler. I am not artistic! I didn’t know how to design. Any slight enthusiasm and confidence I had slowly ebbed away. I was also sure the other students would have imagined something amazing and was fearful that I would be found out as being unable to do the design side of the course. I was terrified I would be thrown out as a useless fraud. If you want to know how this feels do try it at home. Try it now. Design a T shirt, I tell you!
At the end of half an hour all was revealed. Some of the designs produced were OK. Ish. Most were as banal as mine.
Mrs Tregelles said “Right! Here is a pile of colour supplements and old magazines. Take ten minutes to find inspiration pictures. Not clothes! Choose environment pictures. Then sit down and design a T shirt.” I looked at a travel supplement. I found a picture of a brown skinned swimmer against azure seas. I used the colour scheme to create a wavy lined drawing that became rather beautiful as I used thick crayons to create a blended look. Later I used this design to create machine embroidered waistcoat.
Mrs Treggelles also made sure we went to exhibitions and art galleries regularly. She would take us herself and set us design challenges, based on what we had seen – exhibitions of Cossack dress, the art of Gwen John and Tiffany lamps to mention just three.
I know we struggled a bit at first with the idea of designing clothes based on display of tea cups, or men’s military uniforms. She even had us designing based on a piece of music or a poem. One of my designs started as a poem, linked to picture of the Challenger disaster.
I learnt to collect pictures (before the internet, Pinterest and Instagram was invented) that attracted me, sparked interest and provided inspiration. Anything at all could provide inspiration, but not clothes. I still adopt the same process. I wander around an exhibition, a museum or a park, or look up pictures on the internet. And rather than copy what I see I try to capture an element of it, a mood, a colour scheme or texture. And then bring it into my clothes making and designing.
- I like to be stimulated visually before I can produce
- I enjoy a brief, challenge, or framework. Often it is not something that appeals originally but as I dwell on it I see how it might work for me. I go to evening classes and when the brief is “a flared dress from a yoke” I groan inwardly. But the project that initially turned me off, led to the creation of my circle dress, which I really love. But I wouldn’t have had that thought myself.
- Too much freedom can stunt creativity (I think this year’s SWAP rules, while universally welcomed, maybe too broad to get the best out of me). I actually prefer to make a meal from what is in the fridge or store cupboard, rather than buying all the ingredients listed in a recipe and following the instructions.
- Having an inspiration picture can encourage the introduction of further elements. For example with the swimmer picture I embroidered with blues, green and browns. And then I noticed the little white spumes in the water and added a rougher light grey thread on top. This just made the embroidery look so much stronger and more integrated.
Is it the same for you, or do you work quite differently?