DIY digital print design

Last weekend I spent an afternoon at a workshop run by Emma Neuberg of the Slow Textiles Group in London.
The goal of the afternoon was to learn textile design skills that would help us create totally bespoke clothing - our own clothes with our own prints.

Digitally printed fabrics have been marching down catwalks far and wide in the last couple of years. High profile designers like Alexander McQueen and newcomers such as Basso & Brooke and Felder Felder have been using digital prints - almost more than tailoring - to give collections a strong signature.

Basso & Brooke's A/W 09 collection looked like it had been designed by a Russian cubofuturist circa 1915. The designs take 20th Century fine art and turn it into 21st Century repeat prints using contemporary computer software. (For a more detailed look at all the textiles featured in that particular collection and a comparison to their possible fine art source material see Trend De La Creme's entertaining deconstruction.)

We started our design process with a Maison Martin Margiela dress pattern.

Our initial task was to use an existing cubofuturist painting to create designs on Photoshop that we could drop into the Margiela dress pattern.

Many of the classic cubofuturist paintings have quite a dated feel with an old-school, old-masters kind of colour palette. However, Google images pulled up some that look brighter and more modern. The colour palette of this one by Olga Rozanova looks like it's been pulled from a 1980s shell suit.

Some cubofuturists even had a sense of humour. Kazimir Malevich's 'Futurist Strongman' and 'The Mighty Savior' by Natalia Goncharova make me laugh.

I chose something with bold shapes and angles that would stand out on a piece of clothing.

I played with the colours in Photoshop and mirrored the image to create a symmetrical design. I created six designs that tied together quite nicely and didn't even look too heavily cubofuturist. Sadly, I have lost the image of my experiements so can't show it here.

With this initial fast experimentation section complete it was time to turn to our slow techniques.

It is easy enough to draw on existing images in design and of course it is great to learn from those that have experimented before us. But we humans are going to be endlessly repeating ourselves unless we create new images from scratch. We turned to paint, brushes and rolls of paper to set down new marks. Emma helped us to pull out common techniques used by cubofuturist painters, such as fading colour gradients and architectural shapes. I had no idea what I was doing, so I let the brush do the talking for an hour or so. I definitely wouldn't put my resulting painting up on a wall.

We photographed our paintings and fed them back into Photoshop. Again, I changed the colours, digitally filled in the blank paper I didn't have time to paint and mirrored the image to create symmetry. The digitally altered painting is much more palatable than the original.

I took sections of the image and placed it behind the Maison Martin Margiela dress outline to create a fresh, painterly collection. I altered colours on each design and chose to stayed away from the dark shades and blacks often used in genuine cubofuturist paintings.
In theory, I could now take my designs to a digital printer and make these dresses in the real 3D world, though I will have to wait until my bank balance is looking happier before I can do this.

For more guidance on designing digital prints for fabric, 'Digital Textile Design' by Melanie Bowles and Ceri Isaac is the ultimate book to turn to.


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