Knitwear designer Becky Dodman, who lectures BA (Hons) Fashion at Plymouth College of Art, has publicly unveiled the result of her year-long project Metamorphosis, exploring experimental themes of transformation and cultural relevance through psychedelic, contemporary knitwear.
The project was funded by Arts Council England and involved collaboration with a variety of local creative practitioners, including photographer Dom Moore and Plymouth College of Art BA (Hons) Graphic Design graduate Tatsunori Ishikawa.
Metamorphosis culminated in an exhibition of photographic works showcasing the six-piece knitted kaftan collection, which included surface embellishments and masks 3D printed in FabLab Plymouth. During the course of the year Dodman experimented with digital design and 3D printing technology and led workshops for people that had never knitted before, with photographer Dom Moore documenting the process.
Speaking of Metamorphosis, Becky said: “The original concept came about because I’m interested in the transition from the old to the new. Knitting is a traditional practice that can be very versatile and contemporary if you approach it in new ways, but also very isolating. By working in collaboration with Dom Moore it meant that I had somebody to bounce ideas off and share in the creative process.
“Some of my most formative experiences happened in the 1990s dance and rave scene. There was something pagan and ritualistic about the best of that era and I wanted to create knitwear that could reflect that British neo-paganism in a way that responded to Charles Fréger’s Wilder Mann collection, photographing ritualistic ceremonies across Europe. Raves were our new myths and traditions. I wanted to capture them in a psychedelic, celebratory way.”
When asked about how she decided on the specific themes of the kaftans, Becky said: “I knew how strikingly I could transform the body silhouette through big, quilted pieces. Masks and mask structure contribute to that, allowing you to morph into another being. Masks give the wearer an additional freedom, they’re very liberating.
“Reading Kafka confirmed the theme of insects to me. In his Metamorphosis, it’s left to the reader to interpret whether Gregor Samsa has actually transformed into this creature, or was it more that as society changed he became culturally irrelevant and was left behind? Knitting is a process that is often associated with older generations and we have a responsibility to infuse it with new energy and ensure that it remains relevant, so that knitting isn’t lost to time.
“The Arts Council Funding for the project allowed me to experiment in our FabLab and use 3D printing and laser-cutting to create the surface embellishments for the insectoid masks. I knew from the day that I first watched a demonstration in our FabLab that I wanted to learn these new techniques, which is really what drove me to apply for Arts Council funding. There was no way I’d have been able to do it justice in my spare time.
“In terms of the materials, the kaftans were created using a 1960’s double-bed knit machine that was donated to me. It allowed me to create circular knitting, using partial stuffed sock techniques to make quilted structures. End-of-the-line yarn was sourced from Fairfield Yarns in Manchester and I didn’t buy anything new. Having a sustainable element to my fashion practice is important so whenever I’m not using pure wool I always try to seek out materials that have been previously loved.”
Photographer, Dom Moore, who comes from Plymouth, said: “Working with Becky was a brilliant experience and it was fascinating documenting the whole process, watching her bring the kaftans from concept into reality.
“Watching Becky learn the 3D print processes in FabLab Plymouth was fascinating and that’s something I’d like to revisit in my photography, through fashion, still life or other avenues.
“I love the collaborative aspect of being a photographer, which might involve helping an artist to capture their vision or bringing my creative eye to somebody that’s more practically minded. I’m always looking for new people to work with and I can’t wait to start the next collaboration.”
Becky, who lives in Modbury, Devon, and was born in Plymouth. After working with young people as a careers advisor, she retrained at Plymouth College of Art six years ago, graduating with a First Class BA (Hons) in Fashion and began the transition towards working part time as a Fashion lecturer at the college.
“It’s important for me to balance teaching with my own knitted art for the rest of the week,” Becky continued.
“I wouldn’t be able to offer students the same experience if I didn’t maintain a creative practice outside of the college. Also my daughter is 9-years-old, and while she’s very supportive, I need to make sure that I’m home for her as well. My studio is attached to my house, which makes a big difference.”
Over the summer Becky and Dom plan to take the Kaftans out onto the moors of Dartmoor for a primitive, tribal photoshoot. Continuing with the theme of participatory design, Becky’s next planned project is to examine the real and fabricated identities that family members project through social media, concentrating on face-to-face encounters with a network of family members. The final outcome of the project will be a range of personalised knitted jumpers, using a hacked knitting machine to knit photos onto each garment.
Metamorphosis can be seen at Plymouth College of Art until 1 February 2016.
(from a press release)