‘Happiness, in fact, is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated, and defended privately by each person.’ – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, (Flow).
Romanticism. Allegory. Wellbeing.
As stated by Csikszentmihalyi, true happiness is not caused by external factors, it must be nurtured and protected. The use of the word ‘cultivated’ links the practice of self-care to gardening and preparation of land for growth. This correlates to Emily Whittaker’s collection ‘Flouncing Forward’ combining textiles art and fashion to illustrate the journey of recovering from mental illness. Our wellbeing is fragile, like our natural world and therefore it must be nourished and protected, to experience bloom.
After a personal battle of mental illness and experiencing bereavement, Emily wanted to dedicate this collection to raising awareness to this suffering. The designer has always been inspired by the natural world; more specifically flora and saw symbolism in the fragility of flowers. From photographing the life of different florals and creating observational drawings of these gradual changes, Emily was able to see the changes decay has on the structure, colours, and patterns. She emphasises the importance nature has on us physically as well as mentally and wants her work to follow this immersive and sensory experience.
Within Emily’s work, she explores the concept of happiness and the utopian belief surrounding this, taking inspiration from the work of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, who idealised the past as a response to societal change. The outcome is a ‘Fragility’, a veil constructed from layers of tulle and silk organza. It displays the darkness surrounding suffering, including isolation and decline. For this, she found inspiration from the concept of Victorian mourning and the gothic twist of romanticism.
She created observational drawings of flowers in each stage of the life cycle on tracing paper and layered them together, to exaggerate the movement of the flower. This was reflected by her embroidery samples as she layered pressed flower fragments into tulle. Layering also links to Emily’s love of collage and she created several pieces in this technique. Emily ensured this idea of layering was present throughout her project as it refers to how many people suffer the internal battle of mental health alone, by “masking” their true emotions.
Using surface stitching, Emily was able to make illustrative designs, that are fluid and spontaneous. She believes this symbolises the emotions experienced in times of trouble, as they can be overwhelming and intense. This design is exaggerated through the use of a range of threads, including stranded cotton, perle, silk, rayon and raffia. The stitchesproduced are continuous and dense, highlighting the emotions further, but becoming more organic as they are blended out. Other techniques used include goldwork, tambour, silk shading, raised work, beading and fabric manipulation – what do these add. Furthermore, within Emily’s experimentation process she used found objects; from man-made add in some examples to organic matter, embellishing and exaggerating the structures. Within Emily’s initial experimentation process she played with the idea of using found objects, embellishing, and exaggerating the structures. This inspired her to include found objects into ‘Fragility,’including clock cogs, to reference ‘Victoriana,’ chains and vintage jewellery parts.
Emily wants the viewer to see their own journeys within her work and she believes this concept includes many of the issues being experienced in society today, such as job insecurity, COVID, Brexit worries and toxicity.
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