First Year Experience: Peculiar Playthings!

Learn about how this First Year Textile Design student re-imagined the way that we perceive and interact with toys. She took inspiration from a favorite in our collection – our little decorative animal which you can see below! To see more of what our first year students got up to as part of their “Being Human” project, see a short video by Martin Clark here.

The archive object that I looked at was the little ram. When I first looked at it I didn’t look at the tag or anything and then I think we were asked where we thought it was from and we were saying Peru or South Africa or something, because it doesn’t actually look like where it’s from. So it’s actually British and it’s by a 1950s schoolgirl, so I became interested in why that looks like it does, because you would think that 1950s British textile design would be drab and not so interesting.  

The colours and techniques seemed so much more interesting than you would expect of something made by a schoolgirl at that time. And there was also a question of what kind of animal it was as well, so it’s got the horns of a ram but then it doesn’t have the tail or the build of a ram, it’s got the mane of a lion but maybe a bison. We were going through all these things and then I thought that it might be a mythical animal and I just did notes and sketches and I thought about what kind of animal it might be. I also looked into mythology, because classics was quite a trendy school subject in the 50s as well. So I found three mythical creatures that I thought the animal could be and then I looked into the history of the 1950s, just to try and get some context of where the inspiration for this animal could have come from, especially in the mind of a school girl, as she maybe didn’t have the opportunity to travel as some designers might to look for cultural influences. 

I also looked into Fashion and Textiles in that time as well and in the 60s things were starting to become more multicultural with the rise of air travel getting a little less expensive. It was also a big time for British colonies gaining independence, particularly around 1959 for countries like Sudan and Malaysia and Ghana. I thought Ghana in particular – it looked like it had some influences from there, but it was all an investigation because we don’t really know for sure. I was looking at as well, why textiles was so important to teach girls especially.  

So for my subversion, I focused on the fact that this object looked like a toy, but wasn’t soft or cuddly. So I tried to make a more toy like thing that was fluffy and cuddly but still had some details from this objects. For my “Learn, Make, Subvert” project, I learned Macramé and then just did basic learning with this and then trying to make it look more interesting. I liked the idea of simplifying macramé and making it more accessible. One of our talks was about the Renaissance and I was trying to incorporate colour and colour ratios. I found that quite restricting though and wanted to do something more fun and playful. So I moved on to making these large scale, fun pieces influenced by Franz West. So that’s the pieces I ended up making in all these different materials such as tights stuffed with different fabrics that could be interacted with in a similar way to one of Franz West’s sculptures. I found that people did want to interact and play with them and this made me think about context and maybe if I put the archive object in a different context, people might feel differently about how they interacted with it.  

Images courtesy of Stephen Keane – many thanks Stephen!

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