Blog Summary

Within this unit it was my aim to create an engaging product which would be valued and cherished by its user. I chose to focus my attentions on the personal and cultural association we have to objects, investigating the historical, material and visceral qualities they hold. I hoped to gain a deeper understanding into why we form emotional attachments to objects and what affects this relationship. I was especially interested in textiles and needlework, its historical association with domesticity and the implications that has had on the craft. I aimed to design a craft kit which encourages users of all abilities to explore their creative nature, engage with peers and create a highly personal piece of work.

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I began this journey by looking at my connection to Textile design and why it is meaningful to me. Not only have I studied Textile design throughout my academic career, but I was taught to sew by my Mother, my maternal Grandmother is an avid knitter, my paternal Grandmother was a textiles teacher and my Great Grandfather was a milliner. I was born and raised in Rochdale, a traditional Lancashire Mill town and I grew up surrounded by the remnants of the Lancashire textile industry. I associate needlework with my Mother as to this day it’s a pastime we both enjoy together. Many homemade items I cherish aren’t particularly high quality, but are pieces of sentimental value. My first embroidery is crudely made, not a design I favour, yet I have kept it for over 20 years. In ‘Emotional Design: Why we Love (Or Hate) Everyday Things’ Norman states “Perhaps the objects that are most intimate and direct are those that we construct ourselves, hence the popularity of home-made crafts, furniture and art…Their surface appearance is less important than their ability to evoke the memory of particular people and events.” (Norman, 2004 :48)   He explains that the importance of hand crafted items is not held in the object itself, but in our relationship to the emotions it conjures.

Embroidery is one of man’s oldest skills, techniques such as quilting (for warmth) and pattern (for military identification) were initially born out of necessity. Historically embroidery and textile techniques have been passed down through families by women. This is explained by O’Connor in ‘Gender and Women’s Leadership’ “Fabric and handiworks played a significant role in women’s lives, and the skill would be taught not only by mothers but also in schools. Moreover, society in general placed great emphasis on embroidery as a social necessity; one of the signs of being a good women was being good at embroidery, either as a daughter, a mother, or a wife.” (O’Connor, 2010:894) Fine needlework was taught to the upper classes as a way to prove they were from good standing. Having the time to carry out intricate and time consuming projects demonstrated your husband could provide for you. In contrast more practical skills, such as basic dressmaking, were taught to the working classes. As a result, embroidery hasn’t historically been taken seriously as a high art form. It has been seen as domestic craft and hobby of the upper classes, purely decorative with no practical function.

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Despite this, handstitched and decorative pieces often become family heirlooms due to the time and effort the maker has put into them.  Items such as patchwork quilts and samplers would be made in sewing circles and would often mark an important occasion, contain fabrics of sentimental importance, or portray messages about the designer. These items often hold significant meaning as the time spent creating them is considered a ‘labour of love’. I was really interested in the notion that time and effort put into creating a piece somehow equated to affection.  Nostalgia also plays a large role in the importance of heirlooms and is something explored by Nikki George Ferguson “In The Heirloom, the sentimental object is put on display in a glass jar for people to appreciate. There is a spot for people to then record their thoughts or memories of the object that can then be passed down for others of later generations to hear. It, in turn, becomes a meaningful piece and a symbol of family members that have passed.” (Williamson:2014) This piece literally demonstrates the importance emotional attachment can have on otherwise inanimate object.

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As well as being used in a domestic setting, textiles has also been used during countless resistance movements in the forms of both protest banners and subversive artworks. Basic applique and embroidery techniques feature heavily in the protest banners of the LGBT and Women’s resistance movements as seen at the People’s History Museum in Manchester. In ‘The Subversive Stitch’, Parker explains “The art of embroidery has been the means of educating women into the feminine ideal, and of providing that they have attained it, but it has also provided a weapon of resistance to the constraints of femininity.” (Parker, 2012:11) Bright and decorative signs are used as they can quickly and memorably portray messages to a large group of people. Banners are often made as part of a sewing circle by those who share similar political and social beliefs. In a similar way many contemporary artists use embroidery as a medium due to its strong historical narrative which allows them to create a juxtaposition between its feminine association and important issues. The Craftivist movement has become a global collection of like-minded individual who are united in their belief craft can be used to bring social change. They design political textile pieces which enable artists to spark a debate on important and serious issues in an interesting and noteworthy manner, which isn’t seen as aggressive (Harris, 2013:Online) Again, like heirlooms these pieces have strong messages and are highly personal to the designer.

With these varying paths of research in mind I decided I would like to create my own craft kit which could be used to impart skills and act as a platform for users to connect with friends and families through craft. I want to allow people of all ages to create items which they will treasure, holding sentimental value. These pieces can also be used as a way to display messages, whether emotional, political or personal. The importance lies not in the finished piece but in the user experience. Recent studies have shown craft is proven to have a positive effect on a person’s well-being and mental health, “Engaging in creative behaviour leads to increases in well-being the next day, and this increased well-being is likely to facilitate creative activity on the same day. Overall, these findings support the emerging emphasis on everyday creativity as a means of cultivating positive psychological functioning.” (Ough, 2016: Online). In this way I hope my product could be used to kick start a new hobby as well as having beneficial phycological effects.

I want my kit to be all inclusive so users of any ability can begin crafting as soon as they’ve purchased it. I want to prevent users feeling they need to invest in specialist equipment to begin their project.  Each piece could work as a standalone textile piece, or could be stitched together with the samples of friends and family to create a banner to represent their group. The samples will each measure 30X30cm, large enough to allow bold, simple pattern for beginners. Finished samples can be joined together in a grid formation having the potential to be endlessly added to. The kit would include all basic equipment for embroidery and applique including needles, thread, felt, Bondaweb, fabric pen, embroidery hoop and a small selection of fabrics. I will encourage users to swap and add to their fabric collection, including fabrics of sentimental value, to build a unique assortment of cloth. I decided to also include photo transfer paper in each kit as it’s a very simple and literal way to memorialise occasions or events. A selection of stencils will help users with their creative process. Basic shapes can be layered up in order to build signs and symbols which represent their lives. Finally, an App will be used to bring users together in a communal hub. Features would include online tutorials, tips, advice and a virtual sewing circle.  I hope by including an app and online community this would make my piece appeal to users of all ages, many of whom are active on social media“…young adults were increasingly being inspired to have a go at traditional crafts such as sewing, knitting or crochet by seeing items they wanted on social media sites such as Instagram and Pinterest.” (Bulter, 2016: Online)

The kit will provide as little or as much guidance as users desire and collaborative crafting is encouraged, whether it’s with existing friends or with a new community found online. Peer support would be used in order to keep users continually engaged with the app as people rely on each other for skill sharing. Reports by the University of Glasgow state peer led learning is a wonderful way to encourage interaction between groups of people, it can also improve positive future interactions. It also gives people a sense of inclusion both socially and in a learning environment. Online platforms can be hugely advantageous in creating a comfortable space to ask for help for those who would otherwise feel too intimidated. (Draper, 2015 :Online) Similarly I feel participating in needlework as a social activity will help users associate their piece with a pleasant social experience, in the same way sewing circles of the past have.

For my set of stencils I wanted the iconography to look modern and give the user a great deal of creative freedom. Inspired by protest banners and historical family crests, I want users to display important messages through strong visual imagery. Rather than provide a set of fixed images and a specific final design I will present a set of shapes which can be built up as desired to create a unique visual representation of the maker.  I opted for a scattered design inspired by the random way in which street art and traditional tattoos are laid out, hinting towards other forms of self-expression.  I also looked to the work of Studio Job who have used silhouettes and contemporary iconography to create bold and unusual patterns. “Animals and insects mingle with industrial buildings, warfare weaponry and other such products of capital… the viewer is forced to recognise the dichotomy between the natural or organic, and the manmade or destructive.”(Etherington, 2011: Online) I hope my own stencils have a similar effect as a number of shapes have multiple uses inviting users to be more subversive in their designs. A simple dictionary will go alongside the stencils to demonstrate some of the ways symbols can be created, hopefully inspire provocative ideas.  I also decided to include a lettering stencil with a font which is reminiscent of protest plaques and graffiti. It is laid out in the style of a qwerty keyboard. As most people spend a great deal of time typing on phones and laptops I hope it will encourage users to include short statements in their work in the same way they would update their social media with messages that are important to them.

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The app is an integral part of the user experience and vital in encouraging user engagement. It will include everything users would need from tutorials to a social network. My aim is to create a global network which can be accessed anywhere, at any time. Users can enjoy their craft kits when is most convenient to them, I feel this is important as people often forget to spend time relaxing during their busy lifestyles. Virtual sewing circles will use video calls where users can bond with friends and families. Many people feel they don’t have the time to attend classes, but through technology they can connect globally, accessing live video tutorials and peer support. Again this has the potential to have a positive impact on a person’s wellbeing through positive affirmation. Norman explains, “One of the more powerful ways to induce a positive sense of self is through a personal sense of accomplishment. This is one aspect of a hobby, where people can create things that are uniquely theirs, and, through hobby clubs and groups, share their achievement” (Norman, 2004:55). I spoke with software development company Touchsoft who confirmed it would be possible to offer all these elements on both android and IOS platforms making the app widely available to smart phone users. Location services could allow people to find users anywhere in the world and can connect and share ideas.

Harri Project (9 of 23)

While designing the aesthetics of my packing I decided I wanted it be easily recognisable as a craft kit. I want potential customers to quickly make an association with embroidery in the hopes it conjures recollections of sewing circles and collaborative activities. In addition, there has been a recent surge in popularity in the craft market.  “Market research firm Mintel reports a 12% rise in women doing some sort of needlecraft as a hobby in the last two years. A fifth of women under 45 are interested in taking up knitting and sewing, while 17% of men aged 16 to 24 are keen to try one of these pastimes.” (Kay: 2017) Therefore like many kits available on the current market I chose to use simple branding with a kraft paper box.  However in order to create a noticeable difference to other kits I want users to understand the final piece they create is their design and not dictated by the kit. On the box there will be no images of a final piece. Instead, silhouettes from the stencils will be included to demonstrate that creative freedom is encouraged. I hope this design is reminiscent of tattoos and graffiti so the product is easily associated with self-expression.

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Harri Project (4 of 23)
Overall I am pleased with the design of my kit and feel it could be successfully used to connect people globally. It allows makers of any skill level to design a piece of deep meaning and personal importance.  I do feel there are a number of areas which I would like to further develop. The design of the app is unresolved; however it is a viable idea which I know can be put into production. As the cost of app development is very high the kit would have to be commercially successful, but with the surge in craft sales I think that is possible. In addition, I like the basic ideas for my branding, however I feel a graphic designer would be essential in refining the aesthetics. I would have also liked to further explore the ways in which people could bring their individual samples together in a larger collaborative piece. Although I didn’t do as much practical making as I would usually like to, I feel this unit has enabled me to learn new skills in critically thinking about the ways in which I can engage an audience and the ways products can benefit its users. There were times when I struggled as my initial body of research was very broad and it took me a while to find a specific focus. However once I found my way I feel I was able to fulfil my brief and develop an idea which has numerous social and physiological benefits for its user.

Harri Project (2 of 23)

References

Pictures

  • Figure 1: My first embroidery (Photograph)
  • Figure 2: The Heirloom by Nikki George Ferguson. Design Milk (2012)The Heirloom by Nikki George Ferguson [Online] [Date Accessed 15th March 2017] http://design-milk.com/the-heirloom-by-nikki-george-ferguson/
  • Figure 3: Cross-stitched mask on Antony Gormley statue, Crosby Beach. Flikr (2011) Craftivist Collective[Online] [Date Accessed 21st Feb 2017] https://www.flickr.com/photos/craftivist-collective/6254973319/in/set-72157626780610948/
  • Figure 4: Example of my Symbol Dictionary (CAD design)
  • Figure 5: My App design (Photograph)
  • Figure 6: Kiriki press craft kit packaging. Kirik Press (2017) [Online] [Date Accessed 12th May 2017] https://www.kirikipress.com/
  • Figure 7: My packaging design (Photograph)
  • Figure 8: My final design (Photograph)
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