Category Archives: Research Methodologies

Justification of Environmentally Sustainable Practice and Setting my Limitations




I would first like to talk about this image as it encapsulates the essence of all that influences me. This is what I know as the moors, the Caldicot Levels, a childhood playground. As you can see in the image is of the Second Severn Crossing within a rural setting. To the left there is Sudbrook pulp mill but hidden beneath this view is a great feat of engineering the Severn Tunnel. This image is a contradiction both industrial and agricultural juxtaposed against each other yet in my eye they live happily together.



My greatest source of inspiration are my parents Margaret and David Counsell. This image is taken at their 50th wedding anniversary party in October last year. They both left school at the aged 14, which was the leaving age at that time. My father couldn’t read when he left. They are self-educated, gaining ‘o’ levels via evening class and attending Harlech College in the late 1970s to improve their lives. I remember this time quite vividly as I was about 8 at the time. Unfortunately my Dad failed his course, but despite this and other life issues they never gave up.

Through observing my parents the things I admired most has been their resourcefulness, which has its roots in the penniless rural life and WWII’s make do and mend. They have over the years turned their hands to creating and mending clothes; home improvements and maintenance, keeping my sisters and I warm, clothed and fed.

On family outings we visited museums with agricultural and industrial artefacts giving me an appreciation of mankind’s achievements but holding nature and farming lifecycles in my heart. I enjoy marvelling at what nature produces and ‘man’ creates.



With this as my background I have approached my creative works and last summer I completed a BA in a Fashion hons. degree, which climaxed in a 6 outfit cat-walked collection by professional models. I was thrilled to achieve selection to show at London Graduate Fashion week in 2015 with an environmentally sustainable collection. I received many positive comments from audience members that ensured I had reached my demographic, the target being a working mother wanting to have an environmentally sound choice of clothing.



Ideas for my collection was drawn from personal experience and the urban myth that Albert Einstein had 5 identical suits to allow his brain to relinquish thoughts from the mundane and enable focus on scientific matters. As a working mother with very little time to think about what to wear it is important to have a reliable work wardrobe that can deliver multiple style options. The capsule wardrobe concept delivers this flexibility increasing options through some garments reversible nature.


Initial design inspiration came from two images one of nature and one of architecture. The colour palette came from the nature photograph, which evoked thoughts of Cornish coast smugglers and the corruption that bled though society. While ideas of metal finishes, strength and decorative seams and clean lines were inspired by the interior view of the Dali Museum, which celebrates it’s contemporary construction revealing some of it’s bones and highlighting them. In this collection the two conflicting images merge as clean unfussy line with dirty tweeds and frayed edges whilst metallically embellished using rustic embroidery. Garment shape was achieved through fabric manipulation on the stand using second hand clothing and toiling to correct style lines and fit.



As part of my previous course I researched for a live brief for FAD, looking to the future and its influence on fashion. Through this investigation these facts emerged.

These facts have shocked me and will affect my children not my great, great, great, grand-children. This knowledge has influenced my subconscious and affected my choices on approaching my practice ideals. Leading to an ever-increasing desire for environmental solutions and becoming aware of the potential aesthetic outcome issue.


Jumping to this image of mineral extraction fields, part of a 40,000 acre site near Utah, in a series of aerial photographs called ‘Terminal Earth’ by David Maisel. I have used this image before in my 1minute 1 image speech at the beginning of this module. Although I have moved on from wanting to completely replicate it, it is still of great significance. I have pulled back from the image and examined what it is of and used this to fuel my further research. Analysing how this could be relevant to my direction and chosen field of practice. It connected to textiles in the form of patchwork, reflecting on this Dolly Parton’s song ‘My coat of many colours’ came to mind.


This journey of discovery has led me to consider why people would want items made from upcycled second-hand fabrics and the unprocessed nature of using other’s fabrics and designs? After further reading and a tutorial I relinquished trying to retain the Western cultural connections to read about Saki-Ori, Sashoki and Wabi-Sabi.


The terrain climate and class gap has had a significant influence on Japanese clothing as with many cultures. In Japan this is apparent when looking a rural people such as farmers and fishermen who require warm durable clothing. Originally making use of bast fibres both gathered and cultivated. These fibres was spun and woven in to cloth often selling the best quality to improve their lot.   Although low in cost this cloth lacked thermal qualities and was often layered which render the garment difficult to move around in. The introduction of cotton from China in the 5th and 6th centuries brought a warm flexible fibre for the people. Its use was slowly taken up but as a new technology was also expensive. There was already a recycling system in place for refined cloth rags and the cotton followed being sold by merchants.


This image is taken from the book Riches from Rages loaned to me by Tim Parry-Williams. The work vest is constructed from woven strips pieced together using the technique saki-ori. A method where second-hand textiles are cut into strips, woven as weft through warp threads of bast fibres. Cotton typically forming the weft because of the size of pieces available and lack of durability while the bast fibre for its strength and length remaining the warp. Apart from washing and shredding the second-hand material remains untreated and the bast fibres are un-dyed as this is typically difficult and therefore saves time and energy as well as water and chemicals.

The recycling nature of this technique caught my attention at first, reading on I came to understand that the strips are woven in specific widths and lengths to suit the garment size and shape. This concept intrigues me and I would like to experiment with the idea of designing a garment and only weaving the specific shape and length to create it. This is a new research path that needs further investigation and discussion.


Also in Riches from Rags was another technique imbedded in ‘need’ because of poverty is sashiko a darning, patching and reinforcing stitch. The work coat here is made by layering woven cloth and stitched through with a simple running stitch. This technique is similar to western patching and darning but has evolved into geometric complex patterns that have moved into luxury products.


This Image is to highlight that when available whole pieces of cloth were used and shows a history of fabric within a garment, which does not hide its heritage. It was originally a sail that had then been used as a curtain before being made into a work coat

The lyrics sing of fabric pieces stitched together, upcycling by a mother in poverty to care for her child whist imbuing the fabric with the sentimentality of memories. It connects my past and my future, bringing together, for a different need in reuse and value. Part of this realisation made me consider who would want to have these almost ugly products. This is where I read about wabi-sabi, a comprehensive aesthetic philosophy for design and life.


The words wabi-sabi in this form do not actually exist within the Japanese language but remain steeped in meaning and history. Its heritage is set in the tea ceremony and has become an aesthetic for design, philosophy and lifestyle. An ephemeral feeling or way that has its concept in beauty with a difference.


“Wabi-Sabi a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. It’s a beauty of things modest and humble. It is a beauty of things unconventional.”


A quote from ‘Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers’ written by Leonard Koren


Using wabi-sabi as an aesthetic methodology will give credibility and reason to be unashamedly unrefined and demand its place in the world with no excuses. Sitting almost arrogantly waiting for the viewer to see its beauty, knowing it has been imbued with love of the planet and the techniques used to produce it.


This journey has been about ecological ethic of upcycling and reduced water consumption but the influences of my early years are still prevalent not just in the poverty and rural need but that of resourcefulness. I will have to work with the fabrics that I can gather and be inspired by it as well as transform it.


Moving onto the timetable, through an emergent research methodology and applying environmental ethics and wabi-sabi aesthetics. I will be exploring and experimenting with the techniques spoken of here together with solar dying and screen pigment painting. Choosing two dye techniques allowing me to experiment with colour and have some control of outcome while still applying environmental ethics. Pigment dyes will be used in a painterly fashion and experiment in colour, texture and application. The Solar dye method utilising found and gathered materials and dying in small quantities.

In the modules set for the rest of the year I will be discovering my market and how to promote myself better as a designer and maker. In year 2 I will continue studio practice and promotional efforts to climax in the masters project.



I will leave to view my references and a final word from my upcycling heroes.

Make do & mend, its relevance today?

This garment care and repair ethic was originally born out of necessity of poverty then taken by the government in both world wars to reduce the need for fabric so production could be focused on war efforts.

The book is full of useful tips and methods to extend the life of garments and how to repurpose when past repair. The chapter titles alone would be a great sauce of research paths.


Eco warriors of today use the mantra to encourage society to do its bit for the environment but as the green issue is becoming second nature there seems to be no visible slow down in consumerism.

Further Reading

On continuing the journey in research after looking for personal cultural context I extend the search to Japan and Saki-Ori. A weaving technique that uses strips of cotton as weft and bast fibre threads as warp.  This technique came about out of need at first solely from bast fibre but then using cotton which at that time was a cloth of the rich. Poor rural workers would purchase second hand rags and pieces and then weave strips of fabric in narrow strips which would be joined and fashioned into overgarments for protection of wear in manual labouring. The style and fabrics used varied from village to village.

During this time I then read of an aesthetic philosophy that sat well with the sustainable, earth honouring and “rustic” aesthetic my work takes on. It  is Wabi-Sabi, a feeling almost intangible, also originating in Japan and associated with the tea ceremony.


Finding a way to reconnect people with process and value possessions. This will join both sustainability and social awareness in an understated way. Making a natural reconnection to products that become things owned and loved.  This item will be treasured and have social connections that will tell a story in memories.  I will be able to be mended and handed on growing the story of memory and into history. When it can no longer be mended then it can return the earth where it will be given a place to linger and join into a new start of life.

This reconnection would be all inclusive of gender, age or race.

Treasured possessions and Memories

My earliest memory of a possession was actually a Christmas one. We were waiting to move into a newly built house and was spending Christmas with my mother’s parents, Nanny and Pampy.  I sleeping on a sun-lounger top and tailing with my younger sister.  I can’t actually remember opening the gift from Santa but I can remember the object in good detail.  It was a miniature range come Welsh dresser with a stove, oven, shelves and pans; a creamy white colour with red and blue trim. I clearly remember playing with the miniature pots and pans being fascinated with how small they were.

Over the years there have been several objects that have stayed in my memory. They were special in different ways quite often relating to a memory or good for a specific purpose. When these items were lost or broken, not usually by me, I grieved their loss knowing that the memory would linger but the physicality of a deep desire was gone.

Many objects today are here today gone tomorrow with no hidden meaning or value. Society has built an attitude that under-values almost everything. Instant gratification being the greatest achievement and if not for-filled no value is placed in it.



Labour Behind the Label

Recently I was fortunate enough to be involved with Love the Future which hosted a series of sustainable fashion shows. It took place in the Lantern at the Coltson Hall, Bristol.  My first contact was to have my Graduate Fashion Show collection re-aired in a new venue. This collection was generated over 6 months full time study on a BA hons Fashion course finishing this year in June 2015.

At concept level eco-ethics were engaged to influence design and fabric choice, remembering to include vary-fit and quality sustainable fabrics to reduce undamaged discard. Other considerations were to extend the wearable season and occasion whilst reducing actual amount of garments in the wardrobe.

Inspiration was drawn from the urban myth that Albert Einstein had five identical suits. While the colour palette came from a nature photograph, which evoked thoughts of Cornish smugglers and the corruption that bled through society. Whereas metal finishes, strength, decorative seams and clean lines were stimulated by the interior view of the Dali Museum, which celebrates it’s contemporary construction revealing some of it’s bones.

Garment design was achieved though manipulating second-hand garments on the stand. Transforming sketches into garment shape and toiling to correct style lines and fit using recycled fabric where appropriate. Continued artful study of artefact and interpreting images using machine and hand embroidery enhancing with found objects in embellishment.

The resulting collection is timeless style with unique openings and fit solutions. In a reliable capsule wardrobe that gives great style combinations. It’s versatility increased with the reversible nature of key items such as dress, skirt and trousers. In garments with clean unfussy line with dirty tweeds and frayed edges whilst metallically embellished using rustic embroidery.


I was also asked to design and make two outfits for the Labour Behind the Labour show. The theme was red and blue using recycled fabrics and remenants.


I chose to recycle the fabrics and make a new textile in the form of patchwork.  Leaving frayed edges and visible joins breaking the smooth finish and highlighting its previous uses in old stitch and dart marks.