Melanie Bowles & The People’s Print

PMW frontWithin the Design Routes project, we in the University of Leeds element of the team have a strong interest in the revitalisation of patterns. Although the project as a whole is looking at many different product types, we have a specialism in fashion and textiles - and traditional patterns, of course, are widely used in this area of design.

We were particularly interested, then, to come across the work of Melanie Bowles and The People’s Print. Melanie is a textile designer and Senior Lecturer at Chelsea College of Art & Design, and Co-director - with Dr Emma Neuberg - of The People’s Print, a creative enterprise based at Makerversity, Somerset House.

I visited Melanie at Makerversity earlier this year to find out more about her work, and get a sneak preview of some of the projects in her fantastic book, Print, Make, Wear, which offers a series of step by step tutorials for DIY digital textile design. Several of these tutorials are based on traditional patterns - and so (although this wasn’t Melanie’s specific intention in creating the book) provide a fascinating insight into the steps required to revitalise a traditional textile pattern.

For example, one tutorial designed by Melanie guides you through the creation of a digital print based on Bargello stitch work, ‘a needlepoint embroidery style which originated in Florence during the sixteenth century’.

Bargello Dress Bargello Dress tutorial

In another, Modern Folk, Emma ‘shows how to create a stunning scarf design inspired by Northern European paper cutout art that traditionally decorated homes in countries such as Poland, Sweden and Denmark’.

Modern Folk Modern Folk tutorial

As Melanie explained when we met, it takes a lot of work to refine what is often quite a ‘messy’ design process into a clear recipe for others to follow: ‘You have to do something, then you have to unpick it, and then put it back together again, so it’s readable. It’s a deconstruction process, and a reconstruction process.’

The first step in the process is research: ‘We go straight onto Pinterest to research the theme. We’d research the history of it, and the craft of it … Then we have to act it out ourselves, work out how we’re going to do it … And extract the shapes. Then we might think of a technique, and work out a way of recreating that using Illustrator or Photoshop.’

I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between revitalising a traditional pattern and taking inspiration from it. I asked Melanie what she thought: ‘If you’re revitalising something, maybe you’ve still got a reference to it, and that’s within the narrative. But if you’re inspired by something, you don’t have to reference that - it could be your secret.’ Makes sense to me - thanks Melanie!

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