Motive part II

Creative pattern cutting

Chapter 2.5

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In attempting to highlight the activity of pattern cutting as not merely a technical, but also a creative, activity, with a central role in the process of fashion design (cf. Almond, 2009; Rissanen, 2013; Narielwalla, 2013), the term ‘Creative Pattern Cutting’ has been appropriated by several cutters, designers, and researchers.

For example, Rissanen (2013) examines and discusses this relation between fashion design and pattern cutting from the perspective of an industrial fashion system, with emphasis on sustainability, by applying zero-waste cutting principles that call “for fashion design to consider pattern cutting as an integral part of the fashion design process.” Furthermore, in a part-historical, part-artistically-driven thesis, Narielwalla (2013) discusses the patterns’ historical and inspirational meanings. Narielwalla argues that patterns are “undervalued and neglected, and remain a hidden craft” and continues “that patterns are unique abstracted drawings of the human form, carrying with them not only the outline of the garment but also impressions of the body.” However, instead of contributing to the field of pattern cutting by developing ways to reveal this “hidden craft”, he makes artwork collages of abandoned pattern blocks, treating them merely as inspirational objects. The notion of the pattern as a work of art is also put forward by Simeos (2013) as she discusses their body portrayal aspects while clarifying the motive of her further developments of a new type of basic pattern blocks.

Over the past ten years, alternative and more creative ways of working with block patterns have been publicised in various forms. The methodological approach of a number of these contemporary pattern cutters may be described as designing with patterns (cf. Roberts, 2008:14) instead of creating a pattern for an already defined or sketched design. Two categories can be defined within this movement: one emulates draping through block manipulations (cf. Nakamichi, 2005; Sato, 2011), and the other experiments with pattern pieces or other shapes to come up with new, more or less unexpected shapes (cf. Roberts, 2008; Rissanen, 2013; McQuillan, 2011).

The first category – creating shapes and expressions that would normally be associated with draping – includes the Pattern Magic series by Nakamichi (2005) and Transformational Reconstruction by Sato (2011). Both Nakamichi and Sato compare their cutting practice to solving a puzzle, which clarifies their view on cutting as a practice in which the core is the pattern itself: by manipulating the puzzle pieces, one can achieve another kind of image. Nakamichi states that she is often inspired by fashion of the past and as she tries to recreate it, she often ends up creating new designs (2005:61). Such creation is achieved via manipulation of basic blocks. By doing so, both Nakamichi and Sato explain a way of achieving a draped expression through block manipulations. This formulates methods easily accessible to anyone familiar with the principles of block manipulation. It may, however, lead to a methodological discrepancy, the consequence of which is that, instead of creating draped expressions that form to the shape and movement of the body, one instead ends up with unwearable creations made for a static body. A method bearing some similarity to that of Nakamichi and Sato is one presented by Preben Hartman (1985) called ‘Anatomisk tilksæring’ (‘Anatomical cutting’). Just as Sato does, Hartman drapes his patterns in paper and also utilises sticky tape to assemble the prototypes. In contrast to Sato, however, Hartman does not begin with some basic block but instead drapes with the paper on live bodies; hence, his method becomes quite a useful methodological investigation in the border area between draping with fabric and flat construction.

Anatomisk Tilskærning by Preben Hartman

The second category includes Julian Roberts’s (2008) ‘Subtraction Cutting’ method and the contemporary ‘zero-waste cutting’ movement promoted by Timo Rissanen (2013), Holly McQuillan (2011), and others. Roberts’s work can be compared with action painting or gestural abstraction, where the artist is painting spontaneously, smashing the paint towards the canvas instead of applying it carefully. In action painting, the physical work, itself, is often considered an essential aspect of the finished work, just as the pattern is to Roberts. On the other hand, the zero-waste cutters use the limitation of not wasting any fabric as a means of forcing themselves to change the shape of their block patterns (or other shapes) into new, unknown paths.

The name ‘Subtraction Cutting’ is derived from a principle in which pieces are cut away from a tube of fabric, and the holes are then stitched together in various manners, shaping the fabric. Here, the pattern pieces represent what is cut away instead of what is to be stitched together. However, Roberts presents Subtraction Cutting more as a general approach to cutting and design, stating that “Subtraction cutting is DESIGNING WITH PATTERNS, rather than creating patterns for designs” (2008:14). Roberts mentions that the pattern has been his main interest and that his designs have often been dominated by his interest in the pattern itself. While explaining his method, the body is depicted as arrows that illustrate the way it passes through a garment or the pattern. This can be considered contrastive to the directions derived from the wrap clothing, where the lines illustrate the direction of fabric that drapes around the body (Fig. 26-28). Methodologically, it is clear that the cutting activity begins with the pattern.

Illustration by Julian Roberts; arrows showing how the body passes through one of Robert’s garments (Roberts, 2013:68).

Both ancient wrapping techniques and rectangular cutting may also be viewed as zero waste cutting methods, and connections to these paradigms are clear in the work of such zero-waste cutters as for example David Telfer.

Illustration of duffle coat pattern by David Telfer highlighting connections between rectangular cutting and contemporary zero-waste cutting.

The dominant part of the contemporary zero-waste movement, however, seems to use block patterns as the tools for achieving zero-waste, and this combination of traditions outlines a new design method where block patterns are transformed into new shapes in order to fit onto the chosen fabric. Consequently, the garments become shaped in a manner that one otherwise would not have expected. As McQuillan (Gwilt and Rissanen, 2011) describes, “zero-waste design is design practice that embraces uncertainty” because, while moving lines around on the layout plan, the outcome in three-dimensional space may be difficult to predict.

Zero-waste pattern layout by Holly McQuillian utilising transformed block patterns as the tools for achieving zero-waste.

A common denominator between these cutters is that they emphasize the pattern, itself, as a tool for creation. By experimentation and transformation of patterns, either through block patterns or other shapes, they find new shapes and ways of designing for the body. As Roberts (2008) notes, one problem that may arise is that the garments may end up as walking patterns that have little to do with the body wearing it.

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