FOUNDATIONS REVEALED COMPETITION ENTRY
Capturing Light and Shadow
Outline the story …
The dappled rays of sun filter through the tree’s fluttering leaves… Can I capture this sunlight and weave it into a garment? Specifically, my 1890s walking ensemble?! The answer is a resounding yes. I am happy to say that I was able to imprint nature and sunlight into the very fiber of my submission this year.
While walking ensembles from the later 1800s mainly used appliques and embroidery to create this effect, I decided to experiment with a truly old school darkroom photography process—“cyanotype”—to create these patterns. This process was invented in 1842 and was very popular during the 1890s. Just think, people were probably taking cyanotype photographs while wearing a walking suit just like this one.
Here is how it works! The cyanotype printing method uses light-sensitive chemicals to sensitize a material and make it react to light. Normally, people use paper instead of fabric. But I coated each piece of my garment with these chemicals and exposed them to sunlight to create the design of leaves and flowers on my jacket and skirt. It’s almost as if I captured literal sunlight. How cool is that?
And so, the sun forever etched the memory of flowers, leaves, and vines into the fabric of this walking ensemble. This was a process largely left up to nature and was difficult to control—but isn’t that the very essence of the natural world around us?
Outline the construction…
For this project I decided to use my darkroom photography skills to help me capture sunlight into my garment in a physical way. As a former professional photographer and current lighting artist in video games, light is my passion and it felt right! The photography term for my approach is the cyanotype method.
After turning my bathroom into a darkroom, I first coated all of my fabric pieces in chemicals that were sensitive to the sunlight. Then I methodically laid leaves and flowers out following my design and exposed each piece to the sun, one by one. This was quite tricky and time sensitive (plus some of the pieces were pretty large).
To turn the color of the cyanotype prints from a bright blue to a muted aubergine, I then used green tea to tint the fabric. It took many test strips to figure out the strength of the tea and the time period to soak the pieces in the mixture.
After all this came the easy part, sewing the garment… This ensemble was the largest project I have taken on so far, and it required a lot of planning, learning, and time management! I have never made a jacket, fitted sleeves, added soutache, or worked with silk. I created every part of this ensemble (besides the shoes and gloves) including the corset, bustle pad, petticoat, and chemise.
In the end, it all came together and I am happy to share my sunlight-inspired outfit with you all.
COUNTRY: United States.
What It’s like to compete:
This was my first time entering this competition and helped me stretch my limits. I have never attempted anything like this before and dove in head first. It was thrilling to be doing this alongside so many others in the vintage and historic sewing community. Up until now I had only created clothing for myself to wear, but sharing it with the larger world in this way gave me so much joy and ignited a strong passion in me to continue sharing my work. To create not only for myself but to share with others.
I only gave myself two months to complete this project from concept to submission. Originally I had not planned on entering, but changed my mind at almost the last moment! Project management was key in the success of my ensemble and led to much less stress during the creation. The coaching live streams and videos were very helpful, and I was able to better apply my planning skills to this project. Working on a piece this big and in-depth required tons of stamina. I’m so glad I entered and was able to be part of this experience with all these lovely souls.
My advice to anyone thinking of entering in the future would be that they should not be afraid to take risks, as long as they plan and manage their time well.