Initially, this literal thinker struggled with the given theme: architecture. My early research failed to spark my imagination, these buildings were too modern (urgh), too obvious (god forbid), and too unlike the human body (how do I make this into a wearable costume??) I have always found colour, texture, and clothing already created as my main sources when designing. It was only when I hit upon my chosen style of architecture, half-timbered houses from the Tudor era, that I realised I could do exactly that. I fell straight away for the stark contrast of the black and white geometric patterns, which were often complemented by more subtle brickwork patterns. And the variations to be found on just the one building!
I decided I would also draw on the fashions of the era, with a modern twist that these patterns once deconstructed so lent themselves to. From my research imagery I drew multiple patterns and placed them on the different components of my costume. For the aptly named gable hood’s cousin the lettice cap, I used simple striped timbers; for the partlet, I used a chevron pattern; for my sleeves I used fishnet tights to represent diamond paned windows; for the stays I used a herringbone brickwork pattern, with vertical timbers for boning channels; and for the culottes I used a circle and grid pattern I had seen in various forms on several different buildings. And thus my design was born.
As a general rule I never design anything that I cannot imagine how to construct. I knew from the beginning, therefore, that I would be using screen printing and appliquéd ribbons as the two techniques for creating my timbers and bricks. I enlarged my little research drawings to a scale sympathetic to the final garments, and made two silk screen artworks. Most of the decoration was applied before assemblage, the prints printed and the ribbons stitched, onto flat patterns pieces. My brickwork was supposed to be the most difficult to print, as it involved a three colour separation using one screen to create a repeat. However, it turned out to be the circle-grid pattern that was tricker to line up and print. Those vertical lines went a-wandering if you didn’t keep a watchful eye on them.
The trickiest sewing stage was, as usual, binding. I’m still getting to grips with binding using grosgrain ribbon rather than bias. This was also my first time attempting to bind solely by machine; many thanks to FR and Redthreaded for their help in this arena! I am also indebted to the Tudor Tailor, whose patterns and instruction I used as a basis for the stays, partlet and lettice cap.
The partlet and lettice cap both proved problematic, because the wool felt I made them from continued to shrink every time the steam iron went anywhere near it. But managed to compensate by reducing my seam allowances and recutting certain pieces.
What was it like to compete this year? What would you say to someone who is on the fence about entering next year?
So far entering this competition has done for me exactly what I wanted. It provided me with a project with a fixed deadline, and both a challenge and a direction in the form of the theme. While it can be so easy to make excuses to put off working on my own designs, this contest made sure I actually saw my idea through to completion. It also forced me out of my design comfort zone, to be more creative and original. As I worked on my entry I found I was just as excited to see my fellow competitors’ work as I was to see my own finished piece. The entries have inspired me every year since I discovered the FR Competition, and I’m pleased that I pushed myself to be counted among them for the first time this year. I recommend to others that they compete in future, I want to see more gorgeous work from everyone!