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  • Katie Marie Gilbert

Deconstruct Reconstruct: Steampunk Project

Throughout this project, I have expanded upon my knowledge of different fibres, fabrics and other materials, understanding greater their properties and why they are used in the way that they are. I found out that the origin of the fibres, whether man-made or natural, can contribute to the properties that they possess and that modern technology has enabled man-made fibres to be developed that mimic other fibres, but in a superior way, so that the original fibres’ least desirable properties are not mimicked also.

Furthermore, as I continued my project, I explored the various construction methods of producing fabrics and as a result, I identified that the structure of a fabric, whether woven, knitted, bonded or sheet, will determine some of the properties of the fabric, which can potentially add or subtract properties already belonging to the fibres that create the fabric. For instance, cotton naturally does not have elastic properties, however if it is knitted, the resulting fabric will stretch.

After exploring and comparing fabrics within each construction method, I found that the resulting fabric is produced through a combination of different variables; the construction method, the fibre content, the size and density of the yarns and the intended end use of the fabric.

In order for my end product to be successful, I needed to research and explore potential techniques and designers who use these techniques successfully in their own work, so that I had enough knowledge to produce my design accurately, efficiently and with the best technique that would be suitable to create the look that I wanted, but at the same time, being comfortable for a person to wear. I explored free machine embroidery, used by Meredith Woolnough and Nell Burns, felting, used by Cecile Meraglia, nuno felting and shibori, used by Rae Woolnough, stitch and slash, used by Karina Thompson, and latex, used by Dawn Mostow. The technique that I decided was the most appropriate to use was stitch and slash, which I used as a decorative feature down the centre back of the bodice.

I experimented with different materials as much as I could, in the amount of time that I had. I explored melting and burning synthetic fibres and plastics, exploiting their thermoplastic properties, using metal objects, stitch and slash, using latex and looking at different ways in which I could use leather. All these techniques are linked to the theme that has developed throughout my project, which is ‘Steampunk’. My design brief stated that I must create an upcycled garment constructed from recycled materials. I truly thought that I would be drawn to manipulating different plastics, such as plastic bags, to create my end project. This is because I felt that my project should project a message, telling people that they should recycle, and one common thing that is recycled is plastic bags. In the end, I did not use them at all – I used leather, metal objects and a synthetic fabric, which I melted and burned.

In my opinion, there is a clear development of ideas seen through this project. I started looking at different ways that it is possible to upcycle/recycle different materials and I looked at different designers that use these specific methods. I looked further into the different textile techniques that these designers used, and experimented with them. After looking at Deborah Lindquist’s work, I was inspired to look into a ‘Steampunk’ theme. This, along with all my experiments with different materials, helped me to develop design ideas, which I narrowed down to seven final ideas. I feel that I could have expanded my design ideas, since they looked quite similar. I understand that this is because my research has lead me to the style of these designs, however, I feel that I could have been more experimental with the materials and techniques that I have used.

My final piece consists of two garments. Originally the design was going to be a dress. However, I thought the design through carefully, and realised that it would be better to make the dress in two parts. This is because it would benefit myself, since it makes it easier to construct the design as two pieces, and it would benefit the person wearing the garments, since it would be easier for them to put the garments on, and the design is more comfortable to wear as two pieces. Therefore, my final piece includes;

  • A corset-styled bodice made from leather, with eyelets running down the back as the fastening. The product is fully lined and painted with metallic coppers, silvers and golds. Bias binding finishes the edges and watch gears create a central decorative piece down the centre front. The two back panels of the bodice are constructed using stitch and slash, which adds another feature to the garment.

  • A knee-length drawstring skirt. Its main structure is the lining material, creating the shape of the skirt, which has a curved hem that is higher at the front than the back. Melted voile pieces, painted in the same metallic paints as the bodice, cover the skirt, creating a layered, full-skirt look. An elasticated waistband makes it easier to put the garment on and ensures it will fit well.

If I had a chance to change anything in this project, it would be the development of my design ideas and the experimentation of the different materials and techniques that I have used. I do feel that my project was successful in achieving what the design brief asked me to do, which was to produce a garment made from upcycled/recycled materials.

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