Nell Downes, Fashion Futures 2013
BA (Hons) Textiles with Business Studies – Knit, University of Brighton
Tell us about your final collection:
I was originally inspired by British harbours and old fishermen’s gansey sweaters. I then began to develop ideas around our changing coasts and oceans in relation to the current plastic pollution crisis. The project is inspired by traditional fisher people’s work and knitwear and fishing paraphernalia such as ropes, knots and nets. Garment and silhouette inspiration came from a particular set of photographs of Whitby fisher people by Frank Meadow Sutcliffe and also old images of New Haven fisher wives. The old dress of British fisher wives such aprons, lace bonnets, layered fabrics and pinafores were all extremely inspiring to me.
The project is titled ‘Time and Tide’ and explores this idea of old and new, taking inspiration from fishing communities to shed light on the dangers our ocean is facing. The collection is made from majority wool fibres contrasted with plastics. It aims to repurpose waste plastics such as discarded packaging and fishing line into functional aspects of knitwear design.I wanted to highlight the importance and scale of this pressing environmental crisis, also how sustainability and repurposing/recycling can be effective, creative and stylish.
The use of recycled plastics has been developed through melting and trapping materials within the knitwear to be functional and add structure and support. This reflects the experimental yet controlled and intricate nature of the project and myself as a designer.
The making process was very experimental and creative as I was using the heatpress a lot to melt plastics and this involved a lot of trial and error. Furthermore, I calculate every knit panel myself as they are fully fashioned and shaped on the machine – this was very challenging as it tests your maths and problem-solving skills! Especially when using fine gauges as I did (10gg and 12gg).
I would love to have made more as I had so many ideas of how I could develop my ideas in 3D garment form. I feel proud to have made garments as well as a textile collection of knitted fabrics. I feel like I could continue with it as well as there seems to have been little material exploration of knitwear and plastics.
How has your uni experience been?
The experience has been great – I love knitwear and how versatile it is as a specialism. My foundation at Kingston Uni helped me realise I am naturally drawn to manipulating materials and surface design textiles. I chose Brighton as I liked how small the course was and they seemed to be interested in me. In first year if the course I went on rotation and tried knit, print and weave. I did a bit of knit on foundation but this was machine knitting a first for me but I seemed to just naturally take to it. Funny thing is, I was going to pick print but my tutors thought I’d be crazy not to specialise in knit and now here we are! I’ve loved knit and the course and couldn’t imagine doing anything else now. I was able to intern at Marc Jacobs in New York which was incredible and also French Connection and Julien Macdonald in London.
One of the biggest challenges was moving onto industrial machines and learning how to calculate garments. I really struggled as I naturally take more to surface design. However, I did overcome this as now I can calculate more confidently than I used to be able to from practice and skills that I learnt at Julien Macdonald and in my final year.
What’s next for you?
I would love to continue knitting and developing ideas surrounding my final collection, but would also love to work as a knitwear designer for a brand where I can learn and grow.
Did taking part in Fashion Futures help you?
It helped me discover my interested in textiles, materials and processes. I learnt how to print fabrics and bring them to life in 3D form through learning pattern cutting and sewing skills. I also learnt how to really communicate and converse with other designers professionally through their mentoring scheme with George at Asda.
To the current Fashion Futures students, I’d say enjoy yourselves and take every opportunity offered to you! Build interesting concepts and visual research and really try to express these ideas in your textiles and garments.