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Creating pattern and forms with under-celebrated materials

“We all encounter pattern everyday…we wear them and we walk over them, we eat them and drink them, we even learn, think and speak in patterns, as well as being part of the basic structure of the human body and mind, patterns speak a powerful universal language.”

Patternity: A New Way of Seeing, 2015, p18

Pattern has been a huge anchor for my own practice, and it is often intrinsic to designing and creating textiles even if we don’t realise it. I wanted to share images of contemporary practitioners that explore pattern within their work, but also focus on works that use under-celebrated materials- the things that are perhaps classed as mundane, or simply overlooked. Within my own creative practice, I have become increasingly interested in using materials that are discarded or not classed as being ‘precious’ (such as flooring samples, formica, wood offcuts) not only from a sustainability perspective, but also because I enjoy the challenge of seeing them become transformed when applied in a new way.

Faye Hall, Brooch, 2020. linoleum, ebony, rubber, formica, brass, cotton.

Adam Hillman creates intelligent and often painstakingly detailed patterns from all manner of everyday detritus. Food is used frequently, as is stationary ephemera, to explore colour, repeated pattern and surface. 

Adam Hillman Post-It notes/Coffee/Lego. Dates unknown
Adam Hillman Post-It notes/Coffee/Lego. Dates unknown
Adam Hillman Post-It notes/Coffee/Lego. Dates unknown

Hannah Williams is the designer and founder of MarbleSil- a beautifully patterned and versatile product using the humble, very much under-celebrated material silicon. Through extensive research and investigation, Williams has developed a sustainable product that looks and drapes like fabric, but is durable and has so many possible applications from wall and floor coverings to upholstery. 

Hannah Williams, 2019

Dutch art collective, We Make Carpets are one of my favourite collectives in terms of their innovation and ingenuity. They create patterned ‘carpets’ from everyday items such as pegs, sponges, pencils to encourage the viewer to look at these objects in a new way. They believe that objects such as these need to be ‘re-appreciated’ to have their beauty valued once more. 

We Make Carpets, Sponge Carpet 3. 2018
We Make Carpets, Peg Carpet 2. 2017

Product designer Emma Wessel also uses ‘mundane’ materials/objects within her work. Patterns have been created in the image shown by hand weaving cord around dowel sticks. These pieces are not only striking in their pattern on pattern surface, but have an excellent use of colour and level of malleability.

Emma Wessel, Palletes. Date unknown
Emma Wessel, Palletes. Date unknown

Josh Blackwell uses the very commonplace plastic bag as a base to explore pattern and surface through manipulation and embroidery techniques. He is concerned with the environmental impacts of throwing these bags away and attempts to ‘redress their impoverished status with the addition of colourful embroidery in geometric patterns.’

Josh Blackwell, Plastic Baskets
Josh Blackwell, Plastic Baskets

Plastic bags are also a material used by jewellery designer Mario Albrecht Gestaltung, along with old fruit nets and used foil. Patterns are created through his intricate process of manipulating the layered components, whilst also innovatively using materials otherwise headed to landfill. 

Mario Albrecht Gestaltung, 2019

I hope that this small selection of works helps to show the potential of using materials that you may throw away, or would never have thought to investigate! It can be very surprising to some just how much you can do with the things around them, instead of buying new. I also hope that the idea of finding patterns in our everyday, and using everyday things to generate patterns and ideas is something to take from this too. Whilst you may not be a ‘pattern person’, sometimes just being playful with ‘boring’ objects can trigger new ideas and approaches. 

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Posted by author: Faye Hall
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2 thoughts on “Creating pattern and forms with under-celebrated materials

  • Thank you for this informative post Faye. I am level 2 textiles (Contemporary Practice) and one of my interests is patterns. I particularly like patterns with cultural references, and I am currently considering issues of authenticity and appropriation for my essay/dissertation. Referencing traditional patterns using found/recycled materials throws up interesting questions in this respect. I also like the idea that materials can be deliberately chosen to support a narrative.

  • I was intrigued by your article on pattern. I am interested in exploring links between pattern and poetry, using words in new ways in the same way as patterns in formica, plastic and so on. Visual and mental images arise, woven, moulded, fused. Your little brooch uses at least six different materials, a poem in itself!

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