This project evolved profoundly over the eight months I worked on it. The garment design took its original inspiration from a TV space alien’s robes, then changed to a long, straight-cut jacket, and finally to a swing coat with dramatic curves. The handwoven fabric started with dévoré – autumn colored “leaves” floating on a gold mesh – and evolved through several iterations to finish with a maple leaf pattern with dyed weft and cross-dyed fabric.
Here is the original jacket inspiration, Delenn’s costume on the TV show Babylon 5:
I loved the flowing “feel” of the garment, which is captured in Autumn Splendor, though the lines are profoundly different.
In an early blog post on Autumn Splendor, I wrote,
I want to do more work with the “Autumn Splendor” theme – developing the concept into something more concrete, something I can actually embody. Right now I have a vision of falling maple leaves, glimpses of gold glitter, and brocade over flowing silk. I have to figure out how to transform that into something I can actually make.
One of the ideas I have been playing with is the transient nature of autumn. As a child, I was fascinated by the leaf bookmarks that my parents would bring home from Taiwan – leaves treated with acid to burn away the soft parts, leaving only the spidery, skeletal veins. It reminded me a little of the decorations people put up around Halloween – except this was a skeleton leaf, not a skeleton person. Same thing: beauty in transience, delicacy in death’s remnants.
So I really liked the idea of “ghost leaves”, skeletal remnants of a woven design suggesting a leaf.
Skeletal remnants of a woven design, of course, leads directly to devoré, a technique in which the cellulose components of a fabric are “burned out”, usually with sodium bisulfate, leaving only the protein/synthetic components.
Next I wove some beautiful samples in dévoré, weaving tencel yarn with gold embroidery thread, then burning away the tencel to create a falling-leaf motif, with the tencel “leaves” floating on gold mesh. Here are two photos from that conceptual stage:
I felt that the devore, while beautiful, simply distracted from the sweep of autumn colors – and was really too delicate for the outer surface of a garment.
I wasn’t sure what to do next, and inspiration was not forthcoming, so I set the project aside for a month or two. It resurrected itself when I looked at a coat pattern I was developing:
I realized almost immediately that this was the design I had been looking for. I hastily designed a new fabric, a pattern of maple leaves:
and wove up a sample, which I loved:
The clothing pattern changed dramatically through the course of eleven (!) muslins, getting a more dramatic collar, swooping curves, and finally losing the collar completely. Here is the eleventh and final muslin:
Next I designed and wove the fabric, which is quite complex. The warp is white 60/2 silk, approximately the size of sewing thread (15,000 yards per pound). The weft is 2/60 nm wool, which started out white. I knitted the weft into ten “knitted blanks” (rectangles of plain knitted fabric) using a knitting machine, then dyed the blanks in two colorways, each with seventeen colors shading gradually between gold and purple-brown on one side, and deep red to purple-brown on the other side. After dyeing, I unraveled the weft and wove ten four-foot panels:
I then overdyed the panel with fiber-reactive dyes, which would dye the silk warp but not the wool weft. This gave color to the leaves, while keeping them distinct from the background.
Sewing-wise, this was my first experience with drafting a pattern “from scratch”. I worked with Sharon Bell, my sewing mentor, to create the pattern, drafting it in Adobe Illustrator and printing it out on a large-format printer. Here is one of the patterns I drafted:
After I finally had the design and all ten panels complete, I completed the design by creating embroidered leaves on the front, stitching together three layers of silk and embroidering on the veins, then overcasting the edges. Each leaf took about two hours!
The entire eight-month voyage of discovery on this project can be read here. Enjoy!