Assignment 5: Sustainable textiles: Project 3 Development of ideas

The purpose of this project is to design and execute my own project on the theme of ‘responding to sustainable textiles’.

My first and primary thoughts are to continue using a combination of recycled sketchbooks, old samples, recycled scraps from previous projects and sustainable materials such as Tyvek or Lutradur as suggested in Exercise 4.4 – my focus will be on the latter two as I am very keen to continue the work started in Exercise 1.5.

During Project 2 I was required to collate and organise my ideas into mind-maps, lists and ideally sketches – the sketches were neglected purely as the mind-maps enabled me to in effect visualise a potential project into differing exercises and concepts.  I didn’t feel that sketches were going to add anything further with regards to recording my  ideas – the sketches would have been there purely for padding or fulfilling the exercise requirements rather than be of actual productive use.

These mind-maps I have reproduced again both here and in my sketchbook as they provide a focus and in effect a plan for this potential project whereby I am seeking to explore three dimensional textiles with an overriding theme of dilapidation as a metaphor for chronic illness with elements coming in of remembrance too – I am beginning to see that memories or remembrance are potentially an additional but vital part of this theme as they can provide relief from distressing days as you remember something that made you smile or are simply a part of the journey of having a chronic illness.  However what interests me more is the exploration of geometric shapes which may become distorted through decay or dilapidation representing the destructive nature of viruses, biological organisms or diseases such as cancer or perhaps Muscular Dystrophy on the molecular makeup of the human body – our DNA remains untouched but the molecular patterns are distorted or changed either temporarily or irrecoverably.

My intention with this project is to follow a simple exercise plan:

  • Contextual research – first narrowing down a larger list into what my tutor on my previous module termed ‘my dream team’.
  • Sketchbook work exploring both initial concepts and developing ideas – this area has been neglected partly through simply not knowing how to sketch 3D forms so I am allowing some photographic images worked using Photoshop whilst also learning how to do draw my required shapes and pieces.
  • Preliminary sampling exploring three dimensional textiles based on my ideas and thoughts and inspired by the contextual research.
  • More refined sampling which can be taken forward into Project 4.

Firstly I have looked back at my mind-maps and developed the following list of 22 artists,  textile artists and designers, fashion designers and two historical artists whose work was inspired by science – clearly this initial list is too long!

This initial table has been expanded to create a visual chart with brief notes and a thumbnail sized images which can be seen on the following blog which also contains an expanded written version for the purposes of this learning blog.  From here I will be narrowing down this list to find the artists and designers that really resonate with me and capture my attention – I am aiming for no more than 8 and preferably considerably less with those selected having further in-depth research either initially and/or during the design and sampling phases.

Note:  I am following a concept-practical response-critical reflection- refinement/synthesis methodology which has become standard practice for me and was learnt during the Contemporary Context module.

The first stage of contextual research can be found in a separate blog and primarily consists of brief research into the designers/artists/textile practitioners on my list – although there were a wide variety of practitioners on this list which created quite extensive research it did, however, give a wide research area reflective of my underlying narrative with evidence through the fashion designers of sustainability too. From this list I was able to consider which practitioners really resonated with me and which could influence my sketches and samples – Kendall Buster, David Goodsell, Luke Jerram, Neri Oxman, Kim Thittichai (reserve list initially), Sue Hotchkis and at a first glance Iris Van Herpen and Issey Miyake.   I appreciate my concentration was much more on a scientific basis than even I expected as I found myself seeking out images of the bacteria and viruses which cause many chronic illnesses – the scientific art and scientific based textiles have really grabbed my attention both due to their form, innovation and experimentation and also often the textural aspects.

My ideas in assignment 4 was to take forward the geometrical forms of drug molecules and develop these into three dimensional forms using either origami or through connecting the shapes either with stitch or other forms (e.g. brass tacks, binder rings).  I really wanted to use Tyvek combined with recycled paper ideally but worked out very quickly that the only way the Tyvek would work is that if it was heat treated first – if formed into a shape and heat treated it would simply shrink to the equivalent of a burst balloon or ball (simple science that I actually overlooked!).  At this stage I wanted to explore how molecule style shapes could fit together and work together to create a mask like form and how they could be shaped or moulded – I was starting to consider ideas focusing on wearable garments portraying decay but these are very early concepts. A simple search of YouTube also made me realise Origami created forms would also not work primarily again due to the application of heat would distort the folded shape beyond recognition if tyvek or lutradur was used as my primary sustainable material.










I worked two basic samples exploring using a heavy weight Vilene and also Tyvek using a combination of 6 pentagons which were simply sewn together in two differing formats – primarily this was to demonstrate the application of a hut gun on the Vilene which produced both a shrunken and slightly burnt result (and set off my smoke alarm).  The Tyvek shape I used my iron and I really love the effect as it has produced an almost pebble style result but this also proves my concern over how the textiles will react if made into a three dimensional shape – my original concept was to keep a visual and recognisable form because without that you may as well just have the aforementioned ball!

However, I had purchased some heavy and lightweight iron on Vilene inspired by the work of Kim Thittichai and decided to take a ‘what if’ process led approach in the application of colour and also again my heat gun – the Vilene was distressed both on its own and in combination with Tyvek.  The use of the acrylic paint did not change the softness of the Vilene due to being applied lightly over a water wash but when the samples had heat applied they both took on almost cobble like appearances – there are convex and concave ruts and indentations which are wonderfully textural and which could be enhanced with stitch.  The lighter weight Vilene also responded to heat in a similar way to Lutradur which is worthy of note as it is a textile I can acquire locally with ease and is cheaper financially!  The combination of Tyvek and Vilene produced a definitive result when heat is applied through a baking sheet with an iron – the Tyvek melted in places creating the effect of peeling plaster or paint whereas in others there is the bubbling effect that I now associated with the product.

Heavy Vilene coloured with wash and acrylic paint and treated with a heat gun
Lightweight Vilene coloured with water wash and acrylic paint before being distorted with a heat gun
Vilene and Tyvek combined – ironed between 2 sheets of baking parchment to produce fabrics bonding together and being distorted













Continuing the ‘what if’ explorations I wanted to trial using tyvek on top of my sketchbook paper which in itself is quite stiff due to prior applications of colour.  As I expected the free motion machine stitching was too closely worked for personal preference and consequentially did not allow for distortion but rather the burning away of differing areas – the effect is not disliked as it does create a feeling of peeling paint or plaster.  However, my underlying feeling at this point was that these exercises were purely padding or gap filling and that they had no real purpose – I am starting to question the use of recycled sketchbook papers as my sustainable material and felt that going back to recycled or up-cycled fabrics may be preferential.  Ultimately my preference with my samples throughout this course is for the samples from Assignment 2 and taking into consideration the above samples worked with Vilene I am wondering how those early samples could be developed further.

Note I did consider briefly whether I could create desired geometrical forms using watersoluable fabric and thread with the resulting shapes being placed over ‘forms’ i.e. foil or clay moulded into desired shapes before rinsing enough to remove the visible fabric but leaving enough of the glue to set to a solid form.  However, I have rarely been successful in previous explorations with this textile and also question the sustainability of it – there is also a question of eco-friendly due to the water soluble nature and this does not sit easily with me at this point so I made a conscious decision not to pursue this avenue.

By this point I had developed both a working mood board and also generalised mind map to throw around ideas based on the practitioners from my contextual research – I confessed to being somewhat fuddled as I could not work out what exactly was wrong and why my gut instinct said that I was going down the wrong path (an interesting and exploratory one but still wrong).    Considerable time was spent just pondering these two sheets of paper – the left hand mood board I really liked as it had practitioners whose work I seriously love and am inspired by but sometimes you cannot see the wood for the trees despite knowing that the path you are going down is worth an exploration but it will ultimately lead to a dead end.

To break the deadlock of my own mind I posted 3 images with a somewhat convoluted question within the OCA Textiles Facebook group asking if I could completely change course on the first mood-board as the final image of a sample from Assignment 2 was really calling me – the middle image of the geometrical samples from Assignment 4 had become the elephant in the room as no matter how much I wanted to use them the forms were too harsh in terms of linear aesthetics and did not fit in with the scientific art and textiles and the textiles based on dilapidation (Sue Hotchkis and also Kim Thittichai [accepted her work is actually based on nature but I do feel it is also reminiscent of decay]).    The geometrical forms also represented the cure for the chronic diseases I am trying to portray as opposed to the disease itself and I also found myself struggling with using a wider selection of sustainable textiles due to either financial constraints or the constraints of my own stash.  I realised what was also bugging me was the inclusion of Irish van Herpen and Issey Miyake’s designs – again the geometry was at odds with the more curvaceous and more softly linear forms/designs/depictions seen on the majority of the mood board.

In effect one side of the mood board works well with two smaller imagery jarring, clashing and creating confusion.


I decided to go back to the contextual research and write a second separate blog looking again at sustainable textiles – in part to see if any new designers and practitioners could overcome this block or whether further knowledge would simply reinforce the direction I felt I wanted to take.   This second blog also produced a simple flow chart/mind map which produced an overall view as to whether I can use directly any of the practitioners researched or whether they are purely giving me the aforesaid expanded knowledge of the subject.

Radiotherapy mask. Cancer Research

My gut instinct since discovering the work of Neri Oxman and her pigment producing death masks  I have really wanted to consider taking forward the concept of masks particularly due to having worn a radiotherapy mask not dissimilar to the one on the left.  Masks can represent a wide variety of narratives from wanting to be hidden, to portray a different identity, cultural and historical links, symbolistic identity such as belonging to an organisation, practical apparatus for health and safety protection or as in medical masks to enable treatment for particular diseases.  I have previously worked on a theme with regards to Day of the Dead which primarily revolved around the sugar skulls and masks representing La Calavera Catrina but this year I became aware of the Zombie Walk which by its very name is suggestive of decaying masks. This theme of masks I do feel has the potential to be developed in its own right at level 3 with the continuation of the exploration of my narrative or it could be expanded into wearable garments and textile art – I feel there is also the scope for actual wearable masks or purely decorative too.

Neri Oxman

Basing a new mood board around Neri Oxman’s death mask I removed the fashion images and added the work of Klari Reis whose petri dish art ties in almost perfectly and which will inform the painting of any pieces of tyvek or Lutradur alongside the work of David Goodsell.  I find myself also looking at the forms of Kendall Buster and Luke Jerram whose pieces are also based on viruses, bacteria or microbes due to both the lack of colour through the use of fabrics that vary in translucency and opaqueness and through the differing use of scale.  I feel this mood board is more cohesive and will enable me to focus clearly on the sketching and sampling stages of this project whilst also creating a clear and succinct narrative as I explore using my chosen sustainable textiles.

As I move onto the sketching and sampling phase of this project my initial sketch demonstrated an early idea of creating part of a mask using purely tyvek.  I decided to take a process led approach initially and moulded a piece of tyvek to a paper mache mould using my heat gun with the result being more than satisfactory as it created an impression of wrinkles and elements of decay.  Two further samples were made using A4 sized pieces of tyvek – the first was coloured using inks reflecting the work of David Goodsell or Klari Reis before being moulded directly the paper mache mask mould.  The second sample was digitally printed with microscopic imagery of an Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma tumour of the salivary gland which is the exact very rare cancer which I have been fighting for nearly 20 years (and which I find the imagery actually incredibly beautiful which seems almost wrong!) – the tyvek was stitched to some recycled fabric from another project before being again moulded to the mask form using a heat gun.

I am pleased with the effects of moulding the tyvek to the mask form directly but feel if backed with fabric then some manipulation using tucks or darts will improve the overall aesthetics.  I do really like the early samples of the masks but need to now bear in mind that I have a very limited supply of tyvek and both types of Vilene and financial constraints need to be considered and hence smaller partial face samples will need to be made to allow for development in Project 4.

First conceptual sketches and photographs
Mask form with small section of tyvek moulded using a heat gun










Tyvek moulded to mask form using heat gun
Tyvek printed with microscopic imagery of Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma tumour stitched to scrap of upcycled fabric before being moulded to mask mould using a heat gun















Taking a step back  overnight from working these samples I realised one major issue was standing out – when the samples were taking off the paper mache mask form the three dimensional effect is also completely lost and there is no clear evidence of their purpose.
The photograph of the sketchbook page below shoes the masks both on and off the form.

Individual photographs demonstrate that it is only the second from left which has any impression of a mask and that is primarily down to the holes created with the heat gun.  I can see that I need to pay closer attention to distressing the edges so that they are more uneven and also as the photograph second right demonstrates by using tucks I can create form – this sample is facially shaped.  I do feel strongly that all 4 of the samples are too simplistic in their rendition for this stage of my degree course – they feel rushed and although there is colour and elements of texture I do not find any of them aesthetically pleasing or demonstrating a clear narrative when seen off the mask form.

When seen on the mask form the narrative of a mask becomes clearer particularly with the sample second right – I find I like the textural, colour and linear elements the strongest in this piece although the edges still need further distressing as they feel too sharp and defined for a narrative of decay and chronic illness.

I do feel I need to go back and look again at the work of Sue Hotchkis with regards to shape, colour and texture in order to improve the overall appearance and how she develops her heavily textured pieces.

At this point in the project my tutor feedback for Assignment 4 came through and consequentially I felt it prudent to re-look at the English Paper Piecing concept that I had dismissed earlier as having run out of steam.  I was unsure as to how the geometric forms and EPP based samples would be received by my tutor but the later 3D work in Exercise 4.4 had more promise but it was very much apparent that I had not explored ideas of how to distress and decay either individual hexagons or shapes and forms created from them.  The simple fact is I had not pushed the boundaries of the concept far enough. My sketchbook notes explore differing ways of distressing or decaying plus generalised ideas of exploring the EPP technique when combining it with my narrative/metaphor.  I also typed a simple chart and list of of techniques which summarised the feedback for easy reference in this assignment with the list as per my tutors suggestion and created with the help of fellow students as well as the aforesaid feedback.    These 3 sheets proved invaluable for the final set of samples in this project as I was able to refer to them constantly and explore within a small range a variety of approaches.

Based on these ideas I worked a short series of samples exploring distressing the EPP shapes both singularly and with one sample as a multiple hexagon/pentagon construction that involved a variety of techniques.  The first two samples had a sketchbook page background with either/and Tyvek and Lutradur stitched onto the front before being heat treated with a heat gun – the stitching served as a secure boundary which meant at the materials shrunk it distorted the paper albeit due to the weight not as much as perhaps would be effective but enough to give me a clear idea of any potential effects.

The second sample extending the concept of the molecular cells  adding in iron heat treated pieces of Tyvek before tearing small sections of the hexagons.  The sample is simplistic  but it also revealed  that one of the issues I have been battling against is making something neat and logical and then intentionally distressing and destroying it means I am fighting my Asperger’s brain and is creating feelings of a jarring sensation and hence why I have been subconsciously reluctant to try the techniques I need to create or enhance my narrative.

The third sample involved a larger ‘molecule’ based loosely on previous drug molecule imagery.  The hexagons within this shape had been distressed using piercing, paint, crumpling with the added insertion of two previously shrunk pieces of Tyvek before two areas were stitched to create the beginnings of a 3D form.   I confess to finding scrunching and crumpling what felt like a finished and neat sample grated against my Asperger’s- it felt illogical and like nails on a blackboard despite the result being one of decay and dilapidation whilst creating a narrative of the destruction of molecules or cells which was what I had hoped to achieve.

The final two samples in this series are simply two differing shapes crumpled and shrunk using the heat gun – the left hand image is 5 pentagons stitched to form a semi-sphere which was crumpled to give an indication of dilapidation and the right hand piece of Tyvek is simply shrunk over a solid scrunched up ball of foil.  To be honest these samples felt irrelevant and in effect gap fillers of no real use other than exploring two techniques on my created list.

Going back to the concept of masks I decided to explore combining the hexagons with recycled fabric with the inspiration being radiotherapy masks – the hexagons for me represent the cure but by distressing or decaying them through using both recycled sketchbook papers, Tyvek and Lutradur the impression is one of destruction whilst still hiding something as yet unseen behind the mask itself.  I referred myself back to the issues I had with the first set of mask samples in order to work out how to create a more defined mask shape using darts (sewn from the back) on either the side or top of the head where appropriate – using baking paper as a temporary toile enabled me to check this would work sufficiently well  (in Project 4 I am planning on making a paper pattern to use as a basic foundation.  As a point of note the masks are also inspired by the work of Neri Oxman with her series of death masks which incorporate pigment producing dyes and bacteria.
I also decided to use digital imagery printed onto the Tyvek for some of the hexagon shapes of the 3 rare diseases that I have – Pigmented Villonodular Synovitus, Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma and Mesenteric Panniculitis.  In retrospect these images need to be adjusted in Photoshop terms of the palette as the pink hues of the dyes on the slides has taken away from the feeling of decay and dilapidation – I need to remind myself of the connotations we attach to colour.

Note:  to an extent both sample masks were inevitably process led to an extent whilst paying attention to my notes and initial sketches as foundation plans – these sketches enabled me to stay focused whilst also allowing for the materials themselves to be able to speak and adjust the process as the sample developed.

Pigmented Villonodular Synovitis
Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma
Mesenteric Panniculitis

The sample created from these initial sketches was to an extent process as I stitched a series of hexagons cut from recycled sketchbooks and Tyvek onto a section of black denim (a pair of jeans donated to me).  The first larger Tyvek hexagon was firstly heat treated with an iron before being cut and stitched with further hexagons being placed near but not necessarily touching or directly stitched to each other – the smaller hexagons comprised of a the sketchbook pieces layered with either Tyvek or Lutradur and stitched to the background before again being heat treated albeit with the heat gun.  Further pieces of iron treated Tyvek were stitched with additional layers of Lutradur added – this layering, stitching, heating methodology was inspired directly by Sue Hotchkis’s work.
I took further note of the irregularity of the edges within Hotchkis’s art textile pieces but also wanted to retain distinct elements of the drug molecules that formed the basis of the EPP concept.  By using the darts there is a defined sense of form to this sample and I am considerably happier with the overall effect although I do feel that I need to adjust the colours of the digital imagery as the mask has taken on an almost floral effect as opposed to dilapidation and disease – I know the latter is the concept and metaphor but the palette needs distinct adjustment!

Looking again at the sample I can see that the red thread used although indicative of pain could be used more effectively if its use was restricted and a secondary toning colour could enable further linear or textural details – couched yarns could also be added for additional texture if used sparingly and with care.  I strongly feel that this far from a resolved sample and has potential to be developed in Project 4.


The final sample was inspired more directly by the above-mentioned death masks which although not intended by Oxman I do find both fascinating and macabre.  I wanted to consider combining the hexagons and Tyvek again in order to portray what is normally hidden behind the mask – if you like I am turning the mask inside out and showing the effects of the treatment and illness.  I have noted that Lutradur could be used instead of Tyvek in places and as with the first mask above I found myself exploring translucency and opacity as I revealed and concealed differing areas of the facial features.

This mask was created in a similar way to the first but with less layering.  I am not happy with the way the Tyvek hexagons have shrunk on the top layer as they have formed almost an rose like effects but also question whether this adds its own narrative?  i.e. a beauty within the disease that is sometimes found – by this I mean with my own diagnosis I was reminded that the simplest things in life can bring the greatest joy and it was literally telling me to stop, take the time and smell the roses.
The original Tyvek covered hexagons are hidden beneath a layer of heavy Lutradur but dissolved almost completely when heat was added – the Lutradur was too thick to reveal the Tyvek beneath when heat was applied frustratingly (I had wanted the Lutradur to melt revealing the underlying Tyvek) but by both layers melting they instead revealed the black denim creating additional textural effects.  Again I do feel the red thread is not used effectively but rather just purely to hold the layers together – if care is taken and used sparingly the red is indicative of the pain of disease and a secondary thread colour could be used to create added textures and detail.
On the imagery I can see there the sharp lines that cut across the face could be decayed or distressed further but this also provides a narrative of the sharp decisions that often appear to be unquestionable  with regards to treatments.

I do note with both mask samples that the darts needs to be adjusted and as mentioned above this could be sorted out through making a paper pattern and toile.


To finish this project the course material states to organise the work and learn from it so in order to do this I have used Photoshop to arrange my samples into 3 distinct groups which formed naturally due to the developmental logical methodology that I unintentionally worked   throughout.

My first question is how do these relate to sustainable textiles? the simple answer is the materials used i.e. recycled fabrics (primarily denim jeans) and sketchbook pages plus Tyvek and Lutradur which now seems a very narrow and somewhat restrictive selection. If I am being critical I can now see that I could have used a far wider range of recycled fabrics which is suggested by my tutor in my feedback for Assignment 4 – again I feel my Asperger’s mind is wary of creating confusion and lack of cohesion through exploring wider options particularly as I have been criticized on past modules or assignments for going off at tangents  that have not been relevant (I do agree the points raised at the time were 100% valid).

Group 1

I have grouped the samples together in logical patterns a with the first set being early developmental samples … the ‘what ifs’ which considered how I could take forward my concepts from Assignment 4 and to create forms, shapes or new textures.  Frustratingly I can now see that I have neglected to use the Vilene in the later samples and went back to what felt safe and familiar with the Tyvek/Lutradur combination – again I recognise the barriers caused by my Asperger’s but this is compounded when there are personal circumstances meaning subconsciously I am seeking safety and familiarity within my textile studies which is something I need to overcome as I have become fearful of exploration during an unsettling time. I do feel this set of samples could have been extended further using other sustainable or recycled textiles and this is something to bear in mind going forward into Project 4.

However, these early samples do demonstrate the textures that Vilene and Tyvek can create when combined together, stitched to create restrictions to heat or simply painted and heat treated – the Vilene was unexpected with the delicacy of the textures and almost mossy effects which could be enhanced with colour and stitch.

Group 2

Group 2 samples were worked after tutor feedback for assignment 4 as I explored creating distressed or decayed effects within an EPP technique.  Although the set of samples are small I have worked a series of piercings, scrunching, tearing, cutting, painting techniques into them with the additional of Lutradur and Tyvek in differing formats.  This is the set that really fought the Asperger’s brain with the scrunching of the samples and which I found started to produce results which I find more distinctive of my narrative – there is real evidence of decay and destruction evocative of disease whilst still retaining the underlying shapes of the drug molecules.

Group 3

Group 3 samples were partly worked prior to the feedback – 3 out of the top lack refinement, textures, narrative, form and any illusion of the mask concept I was ultimately aiming to achieve except for one which began to take on the aesthetics I desired.  I also strongly  felt that these 4 samples were too simplistic for the stage I am at with my studies and this also applies to the rest of the samples within this project except for the final 2 – I am feeling I want to take them a stage further and bring them in line with what is in my head rather than what I am able to verbalise through text or sketches and this is a weakness that needs addressing.

On reflection I can see my strengths lie in being prepared to go back to a concept previously dismissed and look at again – ok this was with the help of tutor feedback but in previous modules I have not done this and it has proved detrimental.  I am realising that some concepts are worth putting to one side and going down a different avenue before coming back to them for another look – lists and mind maps are proving useful.

The bottom 2 samples in Group 3 I feel are ones I want to take forward into Project 4 for further development along with developing the scrunched up ‘molecules’ – I need to address the barriers my Asperger’s is causing in working in an exploratory manner when I have external personal issues instead of seeking safety and familiarity within my work.  I also need to address finding threads and techniques that create the textures and palettes that will evoke my narrative more succinctly without the needs for additional text – this will include adjusting colours, tones or areas of focus within Photoshop if necessary for any digital prints.  Finally I feel I need to address the use of more sustainable textiles i.e. using a wider range of recycled fabrics rather than sticking to a very narrow selection.



































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