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Yellow and black faces on cloth
Detail of Freda Dub's commemorative cloth

If we look to the news of the day, there’s certainly not a lack of things to become impassioned by. In an effort to channel this fervour positively, the second year Textiles - BA (Hons) students at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) have taken inspiration from things going on around them to be the primary research for a stunning mid-year project.

The initial phase had the students looking at the intricacy and precision of African commemorative cloths, which are printed as political and organisational promotional material. These were part of a collection held at the National Museum of Scotland, mostly originating from Malawi and Mozambique. The students then went away to think of something which particularly resonated with them, however wide-reaching or personal this may be. The range of topics was fascinating; one student may be sketching ideas based on their feelings about Donald Trump’s presidency, whilst beside them another draws inspiration from the impending fate of endangered species.

The variety of topics and enthusiasm which came from having free rein is a fantastic reflection on the talent of the class. They had some requirements to work to, such as the size dimensions and the two tone print specification, but throughout the brief everybody has produced entirely different results.

Freda Dub looked at the refugee crisis as her source of inspiration. She explained how such a prominent news story could be difficult to relate to because of a lack of personal connection, “people find it difficult to think about the humanity behind it”.

Choosing to look to such a current and emotive topic was no easy choice. “It was a challenge to claim someone else's suffering. I began by looking through photos of the crisis and backed this up with my own visuals. I was then able to make drawings which I felt responded to what’s happening.”

Freda explains how it was an amalgamation of things which really impacted on her and increased her understanding of the plight of refugees. “Individual stories of people's lives, combined with shocking statistics really brought it home.”

Whilst the initial stage of the project was very self-led, ultimately the final pieces will become part of a shared, cohesive collection. The class are taking their cloths and producing garments which will showcase their fabrics, using a zero-waste initiative where very little cloth will be wasted.

This type of collaboration, as one unit, is the first time the class has endeavoured to do so. It’s meant that a common colour scheme had to run throughout the cloths, requiring some students to alter the original colour of their cloths. Freda had a fairly muted palette to begin with but has adjusted to brighter yellows in order to stay in keeping with the rest of the class.

Colour is particularly striking in Sophie Fields’ cloth too. She has chosen to look at Shakespeare and his prolific works as inspiration for her cloth. Having always had a passion for English Literature she settled on this and looked to a real eclectic mix of places for inspiration.

2016 saw department store Selfridges create a window display ‘Shakespeare Refashioned’ which recreated the centuries-old tales in a way fit for the modern High Street. Sophie combined looking at this contemporary recreation, with a much older reference point; a 100 year-old book on Shakespeare which she accessed through the library balanced her new research with the old.

“I used whites, blacks and reds, pulling [the palette] from the colours of The Globe Theatre. I luckily managed to keep the colours really similar to my original sketches as it fitted with the class palette”.

Now the gorgeous cloths have been finished, it’s onto the garment creation. It seems a tragedy to cut up what are absolutely stunning pieces of work, but if the material is anything to go by, the finished garments will be joyous to see.

Are you interested in studying Textiles at Edinburgh College of Art?

We offer an undergraduate BA (Hons) degree and a postgraduate MFA degree.

Eva Cameron Coutts will be writing for the ECA web team for the remainder of the academic year. She is currently in her fourth year at Edinburgh Napier University studying Journalism.

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Red and black face on white background
Commemorative cloth detail