Today I thought I’d share with you what I did for my Final Major Project and last ever project at University. I had 3 options of different types of projects I could do: spatial design, surface design and styling. One of the main things that attracted me to my course was that we could create our own patterns to be used for surface design, so I decided I would do that for my Final Project..
Students doing surface design were required to create a collection of 20 patterns inspired by trends, colours, themes, etc. of their own choice.
African ethnic was very on trend for this year and as I was born and raised for half my life in South Africa, so I thought why not go with that? I went to exhibitions on african culture and art, read books of African art history and textiles design and what plants grew in Africa as opposed to everywhere else. I wanted to create something that was African, but also that people wouldn’t realise was ethnic or african at first, because it wasn’t something that would scream out to them that way. I wanted my collection to be different, and so I based it on my heritage, as well as the country itself. Although I looked at South Africa as my main source of inspiration for my collection, I did look at other parts of Africa to bring in other cultures and create a contrast in my designs.
Esther Mahlangu’s Ndebele painted BMW at the South Africa art of a nation exhibition at the British Museum, February 2017
(Image: My Own)
South Africa has such a diverse history, culture and landscape. The plants that grow there are so exotic and tropical, and although the buildings and architecture would not be thought of as ethnic, I wanted my collection to be contemporary and to showcase things that may not portray ethnicity, but in fact are in their own way. I looked at art, fabric, tribes and patterns, as well as flowers, trees and animals and this is what I came up with:
I looked at mud huts and villages, and the patterns painted along the sides of mud huts, the colours used, as well as weaving for the above designs.
I wanted to highlight the different exotic plants that grew in Africa as well and celebrate the national flower of South Africa, the protea. When you look at the floral pattern, you first notice it’s a floral design until you look closely and see that it is ethnic and african, because of the african geometric inspired backgrounds. These designs give a feminine feel to my collection and add a nice contrast and change to the usually heavy, dark, masculine vibe that tends to be associated with African designs.
Even though I wanted my designs to be contemporary, I couldn’t stay away from the traditional ethnic look for too long. I created a pottery design inspired by mud huts and african pottery, and made it look more commercial by adding in the native flowers. I created a stripe pattern inspired by African shields, a triangular pattern inspired by african geometrics and zebra stripes, an elephant design inspired by Ndebele and African indigo cloth, and an Ndebele design inspired by the patterns painted on the huts of the Ndebele tribes.
I then wanted to go even further with the idea of what is considered and what wouldn’t be thought of as ethnic, and created a wallpaper design inspired by the township in my home town/city: Cape Town’s Bo-Kaap. Bo-Kaap is a Cape Malaysian township that has influences from Cape Dutch architecture but is colourful and bright and diverse, much like the country’s people and history. I just loved how bright the actual buildings were and how it’s one of the City’s prized places for tourists to visit, that I wanted to celebrate it. I added geometric and dot designs to some of the buildings and brought in acacia and baobab trees to make the pattern look more African. I also created a third geometric design inspired by african patterns and Ndebele that linked a bit more to the colours used in Ndebele but to add a feminine geometric pattern to the collection.
And finally, the last of my collection which looks even more traditional and probably the most African of them all. I did two more animal patterns be used as wallpaper. I did an ostrich ogee design, and then a safari animal pattern, where all the animals have Ndebele inspired geometric shapes on their bodies. I created an African mask inspired wallpaper, where I looked at and created my own mask motifs inspired by traditional african masks. I made a third mud hut design inspired by huts from Northern Africa, and two different zulu beadwork inspired designs, one with all over zulu necklaces and the other where they trail down the design as if they were snakes.
I am very happy with what I created for my final project and loved every minute of designing it and seeing it materialise in to real fabrics and wallpaper.
I was very lucky and fortunate to be chosen to display my collection at New Designers earlier this year! It was such an amazing experience, I made some wonderful contacts with other creative graduates exhibiting there and since graduating have begun freelancing as a textile designer for Colwill & Waud.
I plan on making a few homeware goods with some of these designs to sell! What do you think? Let me know your thoughts the comments below!
Thank you for reading!