Last month I spent 2 weeks in China at the Guizhou University of Guizhou, Guiyang and it was an incredible experience. For this post I will focus on the work aspects of it and what we did out there along with reflections on such. I may make another post with details on what we got up to but for now I want to talk about the street fashion project we completed out there.
So the project began on our second day there (we landed during a public holiday – The Dragonboat Festival) and we gathered together in a classroom after briefly introducing ourselves to some of the Masters level students there. Here we sat down and listened to Dave (MAIDE Course Principal Lecturer) as he did his presentation outlining the project and showing how it had been done previously in other Universities across China. We then arranged 5 teams with each of us from Lincoln in a separate team.
Once the teams were sorted we were given an hour and a half to go somewhere in the grounds of the University and make quick sketches of various natural things, mainly flowers and leaves. This was the start of our idea generation, from there we went back into the classroom and began to redraw our initial sketches with refinements using thicker marker pens. This was so that when the drawings were collated, the thick lines would make it easier to visualise how the next part would go.
At this point, I was beginning to see the creative differences between Chinese and English culture. Whilst we from the UK were really looking for less technical drawings because of the way it would transfer later, the Chinese students were really precise and seemed to have a ‘perfectionist’ mentality which was really interesting to see. It became noticeable when we realised we were falling behind in the task due to spending so much time trying to perfect drawings at the idea development stage.
I think my team was quite successful at this stage, we gathered together the drawings and found ways to connect them across a long montage. We then began the next part which was to begin the production process of the skirts we were going to be making. We started off taking measurements and using these to create templates for the fabric on paper.
My team were very creative at this stage and the enthusiasm was fantastic, instantly they were coming up with designs and ways they could do the skirts. This wasn’t a major part of the design task as we still wanted to keep it simple, we wanted to keep it low maintenance so that we could show how little would have to be done to commercially recreate these garments for example.
My group at this stage began to argue a bit over the design and how we would take it forward however I reminded them of the process and how we needed to keep it simple so we could keep moving forward and not fall behind. So the next stage was to transfer our favourite section of the montage we drew out earlier, to some large MDF boards. This is where the DIY fun began and it was a weird process. After drawing out the lines on the MDF, we used routers to go over the lines. This was a crucial part for our printing, here we were creating the actual patterns to be transferred onto skirts. I’ve never used this sort of tool before let alone use it in this process as a drawing utensil, so it was a big learning curve and one that I would only have found out through practice led research. I actually found that it wasn’t too bad, being a bit more physically able helped as the router was always curving to one side whilst using it so it had to be held with a firm grip to make sure it was accurate.
After this we took a second look at our board, we wanted to do more with the drawings rather than let them just be lines so we began looking at how we could create depth and make our designs pop. We changed the bit size on the drill before marking out areas where we could add more, I think this turned out great as you’ll see later in the images of the garments. Just bare in mind, the areas left not drilled would be the areas revealing colour on the clothes.
Above the board in this image is a test print we made which turned out really nice. It did bring up some issues with our design which we set to fixing straight away. Finding the fabrics was a great insight into Chinese business culture, within this industrial building was a market hidden full of pattern sewers, families and fabric shops. The prices of things in there really shocked Steve (who is an avid fashion designer), apparently this is due to the fact that in China there is no business tax, allowing businesses to charge low.
We had an idea of the colours we wanted to get and when we got that sorted we headed back. We were happy with our design choices, it was time to get our fabrics out and start printing across them.
The process was simple, you spread some ink across a flat surface (we used glass) and then roll the printing roller over it until the sound of the roller going over the ink sounded smooth (if that makes sense, you could hear the consistency of it becoming thinner as we rolled over it). You then place the fabric over the patterns we cut out on MDF, holding it very tight as to not get any overlaps or misprints. Then roll the roller over it in various areas to reveal bits over our designs, by making single paper prints before doing it on the fabric we could create ‘blurred’ effects. Below is my groups work, click to enlarge.
As you can see in the first too images, my team were quick to get producing the garments themselves. When our prints were dry, we took them upstairs to the fashion department. This was not a part of the original plan as we first intended for street vendors to put together our garments, thus completing the street feel to them and sense of community that went into creating these pieces.
Me and Dave came together at the end of the project to give it a name, we felt that because the project looks to create a local street fashion collection using limited resources, we would call it ‘Changing Attitudes’. It was a low carbon project and reflects changing attitudes to design and the environment. In addition to this the project brought diverse cultures together to work as collaborative teams and reflect changing attitudes to design. Finally, the project brings mixed disciplines together and moves away from traditional practices of teaching single discipline groups. ‘Changing’ therefore represents our minds and our clothes.
Once we were upstairs they began to teach us how to use the various machines with help from Steve. Some of the groups were successful in creating their garments here however due to the amount of us wanting to make garments and the different stages groups were at, we were forced to take them to the vendors at the end of the day. There they fixed simple velcro bits for fastening them and gave them basic seams. This was the original plan but due to some creative differences we didn’t come to these first.
The following day we had for photography, we searched around the art buildings we were in to find areas that you would just only see in China. we wanted the photos to carry that piece of culture as well rather than a set up photo shoot with backlighting etc. We looked around and found plenty of spots that you will see in the photos I will post below, this concludes the project here really as we left the day before the exhibition, however I will post photos from that as well as we think it was a good success.