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Take 37 million casualties, tortuous political machinations and an overwhelmingly arduous four years of mud, blood and tears in the deadlocked trenches.

Yes, take World War 1- one of the deadliest conflicts in human history …. and make FASHION!

Diving back into the classroom in my 40s has been a crazy challenge in itself. But now they’ve asked us to create a garment inspired by the death, destruction and utter misery that was World War I.

To be fair, it’s actually a fantastic opportunity. The labyrinthine treasure box that is York’s Castle Museum is opening a spanking new exhibition of the Great War next year – and we have been asked to create an item of clothing to be displayed in this very special gallery. 

More than 7 million tourists visit York, and a good proportion of them must trot across that rotten old car park to this major attraction. Not to mention all the chocolate-scented locals, who make the most of that precious York Card to get free entry.

How often can student designers put their ideas in front of that many people? And we’re talking conceptual too. These garments don’t have to be commercial or wearable – they have to ‘say’ something to non-fashiony tourists who have come to look at a recreated World War 1 trench and are probably wondering why the hell it’s surrounded by 16 mannequins wearing weird frocks.

So, now I’ve dried my tears from re-reading Wilfred Owen, I’m grabbing the opportunity with gusto. 

But I need your help.

This is 21st century education, so it’s all about dialogue and evaluation and process and lots of lovely university art school words like that. 

Two years ago, I was freaked out by the idea of even the student next to me seeing what I was drawing. I wanted to throw my arm around my work like a nine year old in a spelling test.

But now I propose putting my sketchbooks online and inviting the world to comment. And not just at the end – but right throughout the entire messy, personal, embarrassing process.

I need your feedback. If you’re friend or family, please be objective and don’t flatter me just because I sometimes feed you cake. If you’re stranger or an enemy (yikes),  please be balanced and try not to destroy my fledgling creativity by being too cruel, just because you’re protected by a computer screen.

I hope you enjoy a glimpse of the way I work to develop a garment. Bear in mind that this isn’t about what you want to wear – it’s about displaying creativity – a garment that can grab the attention of tourists who think they’re there to look at tin hats and gas masks (deluded fools).

I promise not all the posts will be as long and wordy as this… but I need to get you up to speed.

First off, we got the white gloves on at the Castle Museum and got our hands on genuine WW1 artefacts, including contemporary magazines, ration books, a brass cigarette tin, helmets, a field telephone, a painting of the trenches and a dummy head, intended to draw enemy fire.



Further to this, I discovered some letters from the period. They made me wonder how ordinary men could be trained to be ruthless killing machines. How they could agree to willingly go ‘over the top’. And how these men turned warriors could find a peaceful moment, freezing and scared, ankle deep in mud, blood and rats, and compose a letter home to their sweethearts, their mothers or their children.



The gas mask we saw at the museum led me to find out more about mustard gas. This horrific chemical weapon causes those exposed to it to develop large blisters on the skin and lungs.

Researching the gas, after reading poems and letters from the trenches, made me realise I didn’t want to go softly into this project. I have to make something beautiful from this – but I’m not going to whitewash the horror. My way of honouring the dead and the maimed is to force people to look at the realities of war – lest we forget.


So… now I’ve shown you some primary research pages, the next stage is silhouette development. 


I’m warning you. This bit is wacky. This bit is out there. This is about pushing the boundaries and starting to put abstract shapes on paper.

And this is where I need your feedback! Between us, we need to decide which of the silhouettes are interesting enough to explore further, to push into more realistic garment ideas.

The first eight were created by tracing off the old-fashioned ‘J’ and ‘E’ letters from one of the contemporary envelopes and overlaying them on a figure in different sizes.

sheet 1 (a-d)

sheet 2 (e -h) 

The rest were blister-inspired. Odd as that sounds. I randomly scribbled circles all over the figures and then just roughly began to trace out garment shapes.

Sheet 3 (i-l)

sheet 4 (m-p)
sheet 5 (q-t)

So (nervously), over to you….Where do we go from here???




3 responses »

  1. I like j as it reminds me, in an oddly attractive way, of weepy, postulating blisters. I also like all 4 based on the letters but I’m not sure how they reflect the feelings you say you are trying to convey through your design, those of the horror and terror. Unless you are focussing to much on the horror and your true feelings are more those resulting from the poem.? I hope this allows you to self evaluate your illustrations. Kay. X

  2. Definitely the blister motif… i like the one with ribbons/bandages/ that could work as an idea… it also ticks the box about creating something beautiful out of something quite horrendous. Good luck. Good work so far. Max x

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