Category Archives: Part 1 – Cultural fusions

Interpreting cultural sources, Stage 4 – Selecting designs for a specified outcome

December 2015

Having collected source material (stage 1), developed lots of design ideas (stage 2) and worked them into samples (stage 3), stage 4 asks for one design idea to be chosen to be developed towards a product, and one which could be developed as a more conceptual or expressive piece.

I had already conducted a review of colour and fashion trends in clothing and homeware. I have discussed this in my blog entry for stage 3, because it influenced development of my samples. I will now choose one sample from each of the categories (product and conceptual) and discuss their merits and ideas for further development.


1. Design idea to be developed towards a product

My strongest design ideas for development towards a product are my fabric samples. I am torn between my two “feather mirror prints” (samples 5a and 5b), which I envisage suitable for covering furnishings or cushions, and my “Blackfoot dress inspired print” (sample 6), which I see as suitable for a dress fabric.


I think that the mirror feather prints (above) fit slightly less well with the trends because although geometric, they are quite “fussy”, (i.e. detailed) prints. Bold triangles or zig-zags would probably have been a slightly better fit. Having said that, quite intricate patterning is also popular, particularly on accent pieces of furniture (such as a single armchair in the corner of a room).


I feel that my “Blackfoot dress inspired print” (above) is a very strong design and an extremely close fit with fashion trend predications for winter 16/17. Although the complementary colours of red and green work well, I could take the development further by exploring additional colour ways – maybe yellow and black, which also seems popular. I also think there is scope for a “family” of related prints and plain fabrics which could be used together in a garment collection.

The fabric sampling website I chose was cheap and quick, but did not give me the range of fabrics that I needed to explore this pattern properly. I always envisaged this design being printed on either pure silk (and made into a flowing blouse), or stretch jersey (to be made into a fitted top or dress). Either of these would work well. The next stage in development would be for me to think about garment designs, and to get some silk and stretch jersey fabric samples made, to properly assess these options.


2. Design idea to be developed towards a conceptual or expressive piece

My four samples developed using the Snoshone lake theme are already showing potential for development into an expressive piece, such as a wall hanging. They are powerful because of their contrast in textures and the use of complementary colours (blue and orange). Even as small samples, they are already bold and striking.

In my design work, I developed lots of collages because I wanted to explore how the image was changed by dividing it into sections, repeating areas, and rearranging parts of the picture. I wanted to see whether it would still make sense and whether these manipulations would enhance or take away from the power of the image.

The manipulation which really works for me is the one which is reminiscent of half-drawn blinds (p. 30 of design development book 2 – see image below)

The image retains maximum power by remaining whole and recognisable as a scene/view. The varying width of vertical stripes are like looking at the scene through half-drawn blinds. They also give a feeling of perspective, because as a viewer, you feel that you are closer to the thicker black strip than the thinner one. It therefore appears that the image recedes from right to left, into the background.

I preferred my woven analogy of the horizon, and my stitched analogy of the grassland (see photos below)


I see no reason why these two approaches should not be combined (maybe by stitching onto a section of weaving) to create the full scene. If the woven/stitched piece was made bigger (say 65cm width x 80cm length) the grasses would appear finer and more detailed, and provide an even better contrast with the “lumpy” texture of the green foliage and horizon. 

Black strips could be hung in front of the weaving/stitching to give the impression of looking through a blind, as demonstrated in the collage image above.



Interpreting cultural sources, Stage 3 – Creating a portfolio

18 November 2015

Stage 3 of Assignment 1 involves creating a portfolio and includes further drawings, development and creating of samples. 
Stage 4 is about selecting designs for a specified outcome, one of which is a design idea to be developed towards a product. I decided to conduct an investigation of colour and trends in fashion and homeware alongside working my samples (it was also convenient for me to visit the University library at this time). I have therefore covered the investigative work for Stage 4 in this post.
At this time I also discovered cultural sensitivity in using certain designs, and in the way in which they are used. This influenced the direction of my development and which designs I chose to take forward.  
Cultural sensitivities:

There are several well documented  cases of native Americans  being offended by fashion houses using their designs and symbology. This extends not just to the whole scale copying of a design (for example the copying of an Inuit shaman’s tunic), but also to the use of simple geometric shapes, such as KTZ’s use of Crow symbology in their 2015 dress design. Offence can also be caused by combining symbology belonging to different tribes and cultures, which is seen as diluting the cultural identity, and being disrespectful. The Navajo Yei bi chai is considered particularly sacred.
Having read these articles, I decided that I did not want to further pursue the following themes:
1. Geometric shapes inspired by Arapaho dress
2. Navajo Yei bi chai
3. Designs inspired by bead patterns
I consider that my other themes are sufficiently abstract to be devoid of symbology and the risk of offence. This doesn’t mean that I would never develop these ideas, simply that I would first seek involvement and acceptance from the native people with which they are associated. 

Trends in fashion:

I looked at both current clothing, and accessory fashion in magazines, and also I looked at a specific trend forecasting magazine. As suggested, I presented this research on a storyboard.
Three main areas I identified were:
1. The use of natural materials (faux or real), particularly suede and fur.
2. The trend for bold primary blocks, concentration on the waist and yokes. Contrast colours and fabrics.
3. Prints: contradicted shapes, intersections, chaotic lines and disjointed graphics.
4. Tassels and shaggy fringes (on everything from coats, dresses, jackets, bags). Particularly incorporating a shaggy dishevelled look.
My storyboard shows how these fashion trends have influenced some of my samples, and also the role played by cultural sensitivity in selection of designs.
The above photo shows the whole A1 storyboard. The two photos below show detail.

Trends in homeware:

I looked at both current homeware magazines, and also at a specific trend forecasting magazine.

The main areas I identified were:
1. A dominant colour palette of neutrals (beige, brown grey, black, white) with only the tiniest amount of accent colours (if any)
2. Plain glass lamp-fittings of LEDs (therefore fabric for lampshades was not considered)
3. Patterned fabrics to cover chairs/cushions working as accent pieces.
4. The use of bold geometric designs, particularly on rugs, throws and cushions. 

My storyboard shows how these homeware trends have influenced my samples, and the role played by cultural sensitivity in selection of designs.

The above photo shows the whole A1 storyboard. The two photos below show detail.

Further development and sampling:

Feather mirror theme

In view of my knowledge of the colour trends in homeware, I took my feather designs and re-worked them in greyscale. I produced two fabric samples which could be used for upholstery.
Feather prints
I then made a pre-sample using a design I had developed from an enlargement of my feather prints. I used hand-dyed scrim and hand-spun textured yarn. 
I simply ran out of time to work this into a full sample, but I think this design has lots of potential.
Sioux breastplate theme

I chose my favourite design from the photo manipulations of the paper breastplate model and sent it off to be made into a fabric sample. In view of the fashion of suede and neutrals, I chose the design with the chamois leather background. 

I developed my fabric manipulation into a second sample. In view of the homeware colour trends I chose beige. I considered how this sample could be used on it’s own for a cushion cover or combined as part of a geometric pattern incorporating black squares.
Finally, I took the Sioux breastplate negative space analogy/block prints, and cut them into disrupted shapes and sewed them onto a new background.
Although the finished samples have plenty of movement and energy, I feel that the finished result is somewhat too busy/noisy (see photos below).

Feather and Sioux breastplate themes combined

I created two related hand-printed samples using foam print blocks and feather-shaped stencils. These are direct fabric analogies of my prints onto paper. I called this design “fallen feathers”. I thought that it would work well as a lampshade fabric, but having reviewed homeware trends, the fashion is very much for simple LED lighting or glass lampshade.


Blackfoot dress theme

I love the simplicity of this image and the many possibilities for digital manipulation. I tried out different colour variations and different ways of tiling the image. The range I explored is shown in my Design development book 1. I settled on a green and red colour way (complementary). The design is consistent with the fashion trend for disjoint and disrupted geometric pattern prints.

Geometric designs inspired by Arapaho dress

Not developed further due to cultural sensitivities.

Navajo Yei bi chai

Not developed further due to cultural sensitivities.
Ribbon appliqué

Not developed further due to deviation of native American theme.

Designs inspired by bead patterns

I did not do any further development due to cultural sensitivities. However I did get a fabric sample made from one of the design that I particularly liked (see bleow).
I was slightly disappointed that the colours on the fabric sample were not as vibrant as the digital image.
Snoshone Lake theme

This is the theme that I envisage being developed towards an artistic piece. I worked two sets of samples.
I first worked the stitched samples. I used by colour card and collaged analogies to inform the proportions of the sections which I chose to work and the threads and fabrics used. 
Below: “horizon” stitched sample
Below: “grassland” stitched sample
I think both of the samples work, although I feel the grassland one is better. 
I then worked two similar woven samples:
Below: “horizon” woven sample (work in progress)
Below: “grassland” woven sample


I really like both these samples. There is a lot more texture and movement in the woven “horizon” sample than it’s stitched counterpart. The woven “grassland” sample is stiffer and more regimented than it’s stitched equivalent due to the constraints of warp and weft being perpendicular.

Tassels and fringes

Not developed further due to lack of time. In hindsight this would have been an excellent theme to develop. Maybe I should have looked at trends earlier in the assignment.

Assignment 1 – Interpreting cultural sources – questions

December 2015

I am using this blog post specifically to answer the end of assignment questions from page 24 of the course notes, so as to make them easy to find and reference.


1. Do your finished samples fulfil your expectations? To what extent do they reflect the initial research that you undertook at the start of the assignment? Can you see a clear line of progression from source material to preliminary ideas and finished samples or did you have to change direction at any point?

Some finished pieces worked better than others (see discussions in stage 3 and stage 4 blog posts). I am pleased that I managed to do a lot of design work and to explore many different design ideas.

Intentionally, most of my samples are not direct analogies of native American designs. I discovered cultural sensitivities, even in the use of standard geometric shapes or specific bead patterns, so chose to avoid them in favour of my own more abstract representations. I actually prefer this way of working – I don’t have any particular affinity towards native American (or indeed any) culture, so I found that drawing from my own responses was much more rewarding. The exception was the Snoshone lake analogies. The photograph was so stunning that I really didn’t want to deviate too much from the shapes, colours and textures it presented.

I worked hard to show a clear progression and development of ideas from my source material and I hope this is apparent in my work. It is one of the areas which I am seeking to improve from the first module of this course (Textiles1 : A Creative Approach).

I did change direction because of cultural sensitivities and also because of fashion and homeware trends (especially with reference to colour and pattern). I have attempted to show this via storyboards.


2. Did you make the right choices and decisions when selecting and developing your ideas? If not what would you change and how might that alter the outcome?

One regret was that I did not choose to do more development work at the outset on “tassels ad fringes”. By the time I realised it was going to be THE major fashion trend for winter 16/17, I had left myself insufficient time to develop the concept properly. The learning point is to have an awareness of trends at the beginning of the design process (although a balance needs to be struck to make sure that pre-conceptions do not interfere with the free generation of visual material at the beginning of the design process).


3. How important was the choice of material in terms of the qualities that you achieved?

For the Snoshone lake samples the choice of materials was essential in order to achieve contrast in colour and textures (samples 8a) and b), 9 a) and b). The Sioux breastplate manipulation (sample 2) was also very important because the fabric qualities (weave and fibre) effect how the pleats and creases hold and whether they appear crisp or soft. I wanted quite a definite shape, so chose a close-weave fabric. However I wanted a round appearance to the pleats rather than crisp flat folds, so chose a cotton/synthetic blend rather and pure cotton or linen.


4. How did your choice of colours contribute to the overall results?

The choice or complementary colours (blue and orange) was key to the success of the Snoshone Lake samples, but was already in the original image. I did not deviate from this colour scheme because it was so powerful, and also key to the success of the samples.

Although I personally prefer bright colours as accent pieces in home decor, I did change to black/white/grey or neutrals to accommodate colour trends in room decor/homeware. My “Feathers and mirrors” fabric samples are examples which worked well.
The red and green (complementary colours) in my “Arapaho dress inspired fabric print” design is powerful. I also tried a red and black colour way which didn’t work as well.

5. Did you try the brainstorming exercise? If so did you find it useful?

I could not specifically see a suggestion to conduct a brainstorming exercise in the course notes and did not conduct one per se.

Interpreting cultural sources, Stage 2 – Developing source material

October- November 2015

The aim of this first assignment is to research a textile or textile design from a particular culture. This will be used as the basis of design work and sampling. The research doesn’t necessarily have to be restricted to textile sources and could be inspired by other related visual material such as tiles or basketwork.

Having decided on the culture of Native North Americans, I assembled a large A3 book of visual material. Most of my images came from referenced textbooks, but I also used the Internet and magazines. I looked at both historical pieces and the way contemporary artists interpreted traditional designs.

Some comments on the visual references assembled:

  1. There is a strong reliance on the use of natural materials. Bone, leather, porcupine quills, feathers, wood, woven cloth for wool and other fibre. Later, after introduction from Europeans, glass beads, silk ribbon.
  2. Colour: natural pigments – hide, red, yellow, white, black, blue and turquoise (beads).
  3. Fringes and tassels feature prominently: the movement and sound of these were believed to scare off evil spirits.
  4. Bold, geometric repeating patterns feature prominently.
  5. It is common for art to be extremely constrained by convention. Images are follow a consistent pattern of stylisation and composition.
Art was seen as “intrinsic”. There is no native American word for “art” because beauty was seem as an essential part of every functional everyday item.
Some themes which I worked on and developed:

Feather theme

I started by sketching some feathers which edged a “harness with mirrors” (Blackfoot 1880s)
I made a tonal drawing, concentrating on texture and movement. From this original, I cropped enlarged a small area on the computer using “Photoshop Elements”. 
I tiled this image and explored changes in colour and exposure using the programme “Procreate”.
Finally, I used added colour effects:
Although this image is more “leaf-like” than feathers, it emphasised the edges and both positive and negative space are represented. There is a colour theme recurring throughout the pattern.
I also looked at the effect of superimposing the feather image onto different backgrounds and changing the contrast. Below is one example.
I looked at how the feather shapes could be simplified to make a stencil and I used the stencils to make screen prints.
I also looked at mono-printing from acetate to create the feather texture. This wasn’t very successful, so and I tried printing directly from feathers which gave surprisingly good results (below)
There are lots more examples in my design development book.
Sioux breastplate theme

The sioux breastplate is a garment made from sections of bone arranged similar to ribs. The starting point for my development work was to make an analogy of this with water soluble graphite. I was interested in particular in the curvature of the bone segments and the negative space created between them.
I made a block print of the negative image from funky foam and experimented with printing the negative image. I got some very interesting marks
I then made an analogy in paper (similar to bead making), by wrapping strips of paper around a wooden dowel. I strung them together with string, then took prints and rubbings.
I liked this photograph so much that I tried cropping it then manipulating it in different ways to make patterns. Here are some examples – there are more in my development book.

Feather and Sioux breastplate themes combined

My feather stencil cut-out happened to be laying on top of the Sioux breastplate block print. The results were interesting!
This gave me the idea of making a print using the stencil and the block-prints as a background. I took a photo of the stencil positive image on the black background. I digitally inverted it to give the opposite.
Blackfoot dress theme

The blackfoot dress was a bold red colour with a sinusoid of brass beads running from the sleeves and across the shoulders. The bead pattern was simple, yet interesting. I made two prints with acrylic paint, one using the opening of a beer bottle (coarse), on with the opening of a glue dispenser (fine).
I then took my preferred image (the coarse print) and digitally manipulated it, “cutting it out” and colouring it, and making repeating patterns. My investigations extended to an experiment where I added layers, shading and cross-hatching to give a 3D effect (below). The result was a wonderfully organic image which would be suitable to develop as a 3D textile art installation, using fabric, paint effects and stitching.
Geometric designs inspired by Arapaho dress

I copied some simple shapes from a Arapaho dress. I only made initial sketches. My thoughts were that they could be developed with paper/collage and fabric piecing.

Navajo Yei bi chai

The Yei bi chai is a type of healing ritual in which participants wear strange masks and dance and chant during nightly recitals. I was interested in the characteristic shapes of the masks, their colours and decorations. I made several analogies. First I reproduced the main shapes and recreated a textural piece of the leathers used in the masks creation.
I then made a pattern using design elements from the mask and other sources.
I learnt that to make a repeating pattern which is not disjoint, it is necessary for the design to not come right up to the edge of the page, so that when cut out and re-arranged, their will be no non-matching pattern edges!
I then made a collage of paper cutouts using the shapes in the masks. I also looked at a simple related zig-zag design. For this, I made analogies in paper/paint and digitally. I wasn’t quite able to recreate the subtlety and delicacy of the paint and stencil brush with software!

Ribbon appliqué

Traditional native American ribbon appliqué designs use thin strips of cut-out and folded silk ribbon to create mirror images in contrasting colours. I made analogies in coloured card, using my own shapes.
I wasn’t too inspired by the plain card, so I tried substituting patterned newsprint (bottom left) which gave a much more pleasing result. The shapes reminded me of the roofline of mosques, and in particular a photo which I had saved. To the right is my analogy of strips of ribbon sewn onto leather, as is also sometimes seen in native American clothing.
I got very excited about the mosque design idea and the possibility of investigating the colour palette in my photo and/or the outlines/profiles of the buildings (below)
However, I decided that I was deviating too far from the initial theme, so I parked my ideas (maybe for use in a later project?)

Designs inspired by bead patterns

There are so many wonderful and tribally distinctive bead designs in native American culture. They were used on bags, moccasins, boots, shirts and dresses and leggings.
I took some of the patterns which I particularly liked and made analogies with paper and paint and a stamp made from a cut out eraser. I took these images and digitally manipulated them to examine different pattern arrangements and proportions.
Above is an example. There are several more in my design development book.
Snoshone Lake theme

I came across a particularly inspiring photograph of Snoshone lake in one of my reference book. I was immediately drawn to the complementary colours (blue and orange) and the variation of textures. There seemed to be a lot of potential for development.
I started by making lots of analogies in different media (soft pastel, water colour, oil pastel, acrylic) which helped my understand the range of shades and textures.
I also made investigations with crocheting and knotting yarns, and I made a colour card.
Finally a looked at sectioning the image, duplicating, rearranging and modifying it’s composition. Below are some examples.
There are more in my design development book.
Tassels and fringes
I never really got into the idea of tassel and fringes (I only made a single drawing). It represents some ermine fur which was hanging from a feather bonnet.
In this initial development work I tried to focus on design work. I concentrated on making my own analogies, using different materials to vary and explore texture. I then developed these analogies by changing scale, colour and proportion.
At this stage I hadn’t given any thought to specified outcomes, nor had I considered colour trends and fashion in clothing or interiors. I thought of this stage as a mark-making and pattern-development exercise and tried not to limit my possibilities too early. 

Interpreting cultural sources, Stage 1 – Initial thoughts

7 Aug 2015

Initially I felt somewhat overwhelmed by the choice of material for this first assignment, which involves research the art of a culture, collecting resource materials, design and development work, and sampling. 

I thought initially about Moorish Spain – the ceramics (tiles and pots), architecture of the Alhambra, Spanish embroidery (blackwork) which was influenced by the Moors, macrame (reaching Spain through Moorish invasion), and lutre pottery, with it’s geometric islamic designs.

I spent a day looking at resource material at Norwich University of the Arts (NUA) library. Apart from books about Alhambra (of which there are many), there was a shortage of specific publications referring to the Moors, and in particular relating to the Moors in Spain. Although the Moors occupied most of Spain between 800-1250, there seemed little to distinguish them from the rest of Islamic culture (particularly that of North Africa).

At this point, I turned my attention to North America. Unlike Asia, Europe and Africa, where intercontinental trade was established very early and cultural and artistic influences spread an intermingled, native American culture was separated for many hundreds of years before conquest, making it distinct and recognisable. This is a factor which appealed to me when making my choice.

The challenge with choosing this cultural group is that unlike (for example Indian or Africa art), there is not a lot of source material in magazines or travel brochures, and although there is still a considerable amount of Indian artistic activity (1), this influence does not seem to have become widely assimilated into consumer items such as fabric or household goods. There is, however, plenty of published historical material concerning artefacts and culture.

Although it is often misconceived that all Indians are alike, they in fact consist of a disparate group of more than 300 different tribes many of which exhibit physically, linguistically and culturally differences (1). Natural materials were abundant and widely used (e.g. wood, feathers, leather, quills) and give an indication of the geographical origin of pieces. For example, wood from the NW coast, buffalo hides from the Plains, clay from the SW. I find natural materials a particular draw because of their textural qualities. I am also attracted to the harmonious qualities of natural dyes and colourants.

Native Americans have no word for ‘art’. In fact they do not see it as a necessary distinction from the utilitarian functionality of everyday objects. For them, art and beauty is intrinsic in everything they make (2). Native American peoples had little or no concept of fashion (1), being firmly confined by the conventional artistic limits imposed by their society. Artistic activity was also very gender specific (e.g. weaving, pottery-making). Many of these conventions persist into mordern interpretation and help to distinguish their art. 


1. Feder, N. (1965) American Indian Art. Abrams. New York. 

2. Walters, A.L. (1989) The spirit of native America: Beauty and mysticism in American Indian Art. Chronicle books. San Francisco.