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Michelle Stephens

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Michelle Stephens
‘Coded Cloth’: Generative design as a digital process for jacquard weave design, using code to reanimate historical jacquard pattern archives

‘Coded Cloth’ is a collaborative research project with external partners: The Silk Museum and Paradise Mill, Macclesfield. It utilises archival materials to creatively explore and interpret, pattern designs for digital-led jacquard weaving through generative design and programming. A working relationship was established in 2013 with the Mill, to research their extensive silk jacquard archives.

The project positions the researcher as practitioner, exploring the hybrid connections or realms between digital/virtual and hand/real expressions. This practice-led enquiry contributes to the development of programming as a design and production method in woven design. Programming is a system of signals used to represent letters or numbers in transmitting messages or instructions in a computer program (Pearson, 2011). Used in this case as the coding environment that is called Processing, designed to provide a visual environment for generating and modifying images.

Generative design is primarily centered around designers writing their own software that they can use to produce outputs they would normally not be able to create with existing industry design tools. The research will not use computer technologies to mimic pre-existing methods of design, or replace existing skills, but rather, use the programming language to extend design possibilities.

Artists, designers and makers are well aligned and affiliated to digital technologies by using tacit and technological skills they explore the relationship between digital and material practice (Campbell, 2007). According to Dormer (1997) material knowledge empowers the maker to take charge of new technologies. This approach underpins the research where the material knowledge of the designer/maker to material, informs the use of digital technologies rather than the reverse. Malcolm McCullough (1998) proposes that it is vital to have knowledge of specialist making in order to design creatively and effectively with any software.

This study uses the generative in various ways; as a method of code generation, and as material knowledge and production to generate and regenerate design. Working with programming, allows designers to develop their own rules and formulae, usually including random or semi-random elements that trigger an autonomous generative design process for design creation. Incorporating intentionally uncontrollable or stochastic behaviour. This investigation is concerned with unpredictability based on tacit knowledge to formulate new digital designs balanced between order and chaos (Pearson, 2011).

Embedding programming into pattern design offers potential for innovative research in relation to woven jacquard design and production. The research aims to encourage the fusion of traditional processes and digital technologies to reinvigorate (reanimate) woven jacquard design and cloth production. This amalgamation of the digitally generated and the physical positions the research at the forefront of contemporary jacquard weave design with the presentation of archive material as new designs.

Campbell, J. R., (2007) New Craft Future Voices Conference, (10th August 2007) Dundee, Scotland.
Dormer, P. (1997) The culture of craft: status and future. Manchester University Press, Manchester.
McCullough, M. (1998) Abstracting Craft: The Practiced Digital Hand, Cambridge: MIT Press.
Pearson, M. (2011) Generative Art: A Practical Guide Using Processing, New York: Manning Publications.

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