This is the story of a project that starts with a doll. This is the long, and picture-heavy story of this doll:
I posted about “Giacometta” earlier, and apparently promised to be back in a couple of weeks with the finished dress.
Can we say I’m making up for it now with extra many pictures? Pictures are good! Right?
This project came at a time when my grandfather had just passed away. I went home to see him, and spent the week at his house looking at old pictures, and thinking of my grandmother, who passed away twenty years ago. Just looking at the pictures, the objects of his home, and the memories from decades of living put me in a pensive and nostalgic mood.
With this design project we were encouraged to represent ourselves as designers – to let our designs come from a personal place. My mind was filled with images of my grandfather at a typewriter at his work in the late 1930’s, looking dapper in highwaisted, wide trousers and a period haircut. It was filled with thoughts of my grandmother, and the socks and mittens and sweaters and embroidered pillowcases she made that we still have.
There is often an emphasis on visual research in a design process. I tried adhering to it – half-heartedly collecting images of iron-wrought gates and intricate Victorian era designs to inspire the decoration of my doll. But rather than inspire me, the images made me feel stuck and un-interested and cold towards it all. It wasn’t leading me anywhere at all, so I put them aside and let my mind wander completely as I stitched silk chiffon pieces and clock-parts and copper-thread on the doll with my thoughts guiding me, rather than imagery I had collected.
It was a very stream-of-consciousness approach, and it felt completely right. All my thoughts on hand-work and gender-roles and the trace of the human hand – even in mechanical operations – came together. Thoughts on being directly involved with the objects and outcomes in your daily life; of working machines but still being the physical driving force behind the actions; of the beauty of these mechanical parts, broken down; of the beauty of handiwork techniques, broken down; of the similarity of the involvement of the female hand and the male hand in their gendered work, juxtaposed by their respective soft and the hard materials.
I wanted my finished garment to represent this juxtaposition of the soft and the hard, and the involvement of the hand – the images of my grandparents in their youth, belonging to a different generation, with different expectations. I explored different techniques of manipulating fabric, and also included corroded metal into my list of materials (already combining nude mesh and silk chiffons with clock-parts). I worked on ways of including the circular shape of the clock- gears. I finally deciding to create a three-dimensional shape with it, making a shoulder-piece with allusions to armour, with its hardness and protectiveness.
The design of the dress itself was a process of draping, tacking on, stepping back, and seeing if it was evolving in what felt like the right direction. I actually found it quite a challenge to be working on a design that was so open-ended – there just wasn’t any exclusivly “right” way of doing things! Slowly, the organic shapes came together, with the angular lines of the pleated bodice balancing against it. The dress doesn’t fully cover the body, but unprotected, bare skin against the angular and hard shoulder-pieces really does express the juxtaposing feelings that were at the core of the design.
It’s become more and more apparent that the issues that guided the making of this dress, are issues I’m bringing into my work, over and over again. In this way, this soft, mechanical dress has been the start of a particularly personal and more focused design aesthetic.