The Cocoon

  • The Cocoon is a wearable sculpture that explores the concept of transformations and death. The Cocoon explores the spiritual journey beyond the human experience; what it means to be human, how wonder effects us, and the concept of what happens after death.

    It is made of 20 sheets of bass wood, 3 sheets of plywood, five yards of space tape, two yards of spandex and eight tubes of glue. 

  • Our Fashion Week theme this year is, “Beyond Human”. Thinking of this concept, beyond human, makes me question what does it really mean to BE human? Humans have emotions, we grow, we have passion and choice, but above all, we have spirituality. Conceptually, spirituality is the main aspect that separates humans from other animals: the ability to believe, the ability to wonder. Knowing this, I tried to dig one step further into this concept of beyond human, and figure out the meaning of spirituality.

    Spirituality is not only the ability to believe, but also the ability to hope. Every human on this planet exhibits spirituality in one form or another. Spirituality revolves around death and the unknown. Now I admit that this is a very harsh statement, but even if we look at organized religion, 90% of what drives religion has to do with the concept of death and what happens next. Christians keep track of their sins, hoping that when they die, they will be rewarded for their good deeds and go to Heaven. Hindu’s believe in reincarnation, and are always thinking of how to better themselves for their next life. Muslims believe in an afterlife in Paradise or Hell, similar to the Christians. All of these religions are driven by the concept of death, and what comes next.

    Taking a deeper step into the concept of death, I read a lot of poetry. There were some common themes in the poems that I read, that was strange, but in many of the poems, images of roses, blossoms, swans and wings kept coming up over and over again. However, throughout all the poetry I read, one main theme emerged, death is a new beginning. Now granted none of us really know what happens after death, but to comfort ourselves as humans, we have based our lives around this concept of a new beginning we call death.

    This is what beyond human means to me, and this is what I hope to base my fashion piece around. I know I want my piece to show transformation. This is hard to do without thinking in the literal sense too much. Currently, I feel very inspired by this low-poly fabric that I have seen tote bags made out of. It is fabric covered in wood segments that allows it to move in an interesting way. Inspired by this and thinking broadly, I have come up with a crazy idea.

    I am picturing something almost like an egg, but not an egg at all, something that the model wears that engulfs the body and covers them, all made out of this low-poly fabric, so it moves. I want it to appear almost alive with movement. It will attach to the models shoulders and arms, It will work like a gigantic collar on a jacket, except it will engulf almost the entire model. The model will start with her arms crossed in front of her chest and shoulders hunched over, causing the structure to cover a lot of her body, with just her legs out. Then there will be a transformation as the model moves her arms down, and puts her shoulders back. It will open up the structure, showing the model’s body now in-between and revealing the inside of this structure, which I haven’t decided what it will be yet, but could be some sort of mirror or burst of color.

    I am thinking the structure will be based off of shoulder movements the most, just because I think this is the best way for the structure to change from concave to convex. The arms can help it along as well, but are mainly there so the model can cover her front.

    I want this to be a magical moment when the model opens up the structure to reveal her self inside. I picture it having a breath taking effect.

    With the fashion concept in place, it is time to start testing out materials and shapes. I know I want to create an underlying structure with the low poly fabric draped over it. The structure will need to have dowels sticking out to give it more shape.

    First, I made a prototype of the structure using some canvas and dowels. I then had to upgrade this concept to using felt because the canvas was not strong enough to hold the weight of the fabric. I also made a prototype of the low poly fabric, using triangles and fabric. I tested out both felt and spandex to see which one had better movement and ended up going with the spandex. Now, with a basic understanding of what works, I can start to use some more legit materials.

    I started using belts for the structure, and 3D printed some attachment pieces to hold the dowels. I also used heftier dowels. I ended up riveting the structure together and cutting holes for the attachment pieces. 

    With the structure secure, now I am working on the attachment piece for the arms. The piece works by having the low poly fabric draped over the dowels, but then attaching the fabric to the arms as well so the model can control the fabric and transformation. The arm attachment is made out of a few laser cut pieces that go on the arms like cuffs. There are dowels that go in between them so the fabric has something to latch onto. It was tricky to get the dimensions for the cuff just right, so it would fit on my arm smoothly. 

    With the structure complete, I started working on the fabric. I knew I wanted the fabric to be low poly, but that was all I knew. After testing, I decided that I should vary some of the triangle sizes, having them get larger as they get lower on the body. This will also make the piece move more visually, which is good. 

    I know I want the outside of the structure to be natural, and the inside to be different. There is a problem with the fabric though. After testing it out with just cardboard, the fabric is too heavy, never mind if I were using wood. After testing many different materials, like wire and space tape, I tried balsa wood. The balsa wood worked well. I designed the first test with an array of holes in it, so that it would be lighter, but also easier to see through, which would be visually appealing.

    After discovering that the balsa wood generally worked, I started to experiment on how I could make the triangles different on the inside. I decided that putting space tape on one side of it was the best solution. Space tape is mirrored see-through tape. I put the tape on and then laser cut the triangles, and it looked great. I also started to experiment with laser cutting different patterns other than just circles to make it more see-through. This sent me back to my conceptual brainstorm as I experimented with two different patterns, a rose pattern and a swan pattern.

    I am now secure with a construction method. I am thinking that there is going to be a sheet of spandex with the outline of the triangles cut out. The triangles will then sandwich the spandex on one side, and have a triangle frame on the other.  

    Working with this construction method adds a whole new layer of complexity to the piece. Because the fabric is sandwiched, it means that it adds depth, so I started to make this depth go every other triangle, so its like a “mountains and valleys" pattern gets established. This was originally by mistake, but I think it looks cool and I’m going to go with it. 

    Using this triangle method with the patterns gives this piece a deeper conceptual feel, and brings out the concept of a story. The piece is more like a quilt now, which adds a whole other layer of complexity. It is really coming together, and I am excited to see it develop. 

    I am conceptually thinking about the piece as a patchwork quilt, and I want to make sure each of the triangle patches is meaningful. I have rose patterns to represent blooming, and swans for grace. I also have an array of dots almost like a sieve, passing from one environment to another. This piece has taken on a spiritual component, and is just becoming more and more beautiful by the day, both conceptually and physically.

    I designed the low poly fabric so the triangles will vary in size. I want the triangles to get larger as they get lower on the body. This translates into having three different sized triangles. There will be lots of small ones, a bunch of medium ones, and a few large triangles.

    Thinking of each of these triangles as a piece to a quilt gives me a lot of possibilities. I am thinking that for the medium sized triangles there will be lots of different-styled eyes, as it is said the eye is the window to the soul. I have three larger triangles, and those will be my statement triangles. I am thinking for all three of them, I will have ancient text referring to both spiritual and creation stories, each in a different language. I think the variety of scripts will look beautiful.

    Once I had all the pieces designed, I started the long process of cutting everything out. The spandex is shiny on one side and matte on the other. It was hard to cut out because the size of the structure was bigger than the laser cutter. I ended up having to split the spandex design into three different pieces, cut each one then sew them together. It was hard using the sewing machine because pieces were not in a straight line. The way I split it up, there were a lot of overlapping triangles that needed to be sewn down individually. I started to get the hang of it though, and the second piece came out much better than the first.

    After the spandex was done, I started making the triangles. I ended up making the triangles out of bass wood covered in space tape. I used Super 90 to glue all the space tape to the bass wood, and let me tell you, that stuff has a strong odor. I kept getting a headache as I was gluing. Once the glue was dry, I laser cut the triangles from it. I could get 32 triangles from each piece of bass wood, and I ended up using 20 pieces of bass wood in total. That’s a lot of triangles.

    The bass wood and space tape combination was very finicky to laser cut. It would catch on fire in major ways, and at random times. By the end I figured out that if the laser was dirty it would catch on fire easily. One time I came back after the laser cutter had finished, went to get my cut, and there was nothing but ashes. In total, I ended up loosing two sheets of bass wood to the flames.

    Next, I cut out triangle frames- one triangle frame to fit to the back of each triangle. I used three sheets of plywood for these, with one and a half sheets covered in space tape. I had to get three pieces of special thin plywood at Blick for the bigger triangles to make sure those pieces wouldn’t be too heavy.

    After each triangle was cut, I sanded the wooden side so it looked nice and clean. This was exhausting. I was in a constant state of laser cutting and sanding. It was very hard to sand the pieces because they are so delicate, especially the roses.

    Once I felt I had enough triangles made, I started to think about putting the whole thing together. The spandex I am using is double sided, and shiny on one side. It is made of a vinyl material on its shiny side, and because of this, glue does not stick well to it. I had to figure out how we would glue the triangle pieces to the fabric. I tried all different glues; hot glue, Super glue, Sobo, and none of those worked. I ended up taking a trip to Blick and finding Weldbond glue, which is a very intense craft glue. After testing it out, it worked! I set off to putting the piece together.

    To assemble the cocoon I sandwiched the fabric in between each triangle and its corresponding triangle frame. I varied it every other side for the triangle frame and triangle, so the newly created fabric ended up having hills and valleys. I started off with a circular pattern, but once the medium triangles started coming into play that got a little harder to maintain.

    Putting the Cocoon together was tedious, and took a long time. Each traingle glued would take 10 minutes to set and 2 hours to dry. I found that I could do sections at a time, gluing all of the pieces on one side, then quickly flipping the spandex over to glue the other side. The double-sided nature of this piece made each step take twice as long. I was in a constant state of waiting for glue to dry, running out of triangles, laser cutting new triangles, sanding them- it was exhausting!

    In the end, I would say it took me at least 30 hours of assembly, but was totally worth it. When I had finally put the entire thing together, I tried it on the manikin, and realized the structure would not work. The triangles were made out of such thin wood and were very fragile, and the points of the structure would go right through them. Although we could have redesigned the structure to accommodate this, we found it was a happy accident, and decided to ditch the original structure.

    While making the Cocoon, I had left some triangles empty, with having a triangle frame on both sides as apposed to a triangle and a triangle frame. I did this because it was looking visually very loud with all the patterns. This turned out to be another happy accident because the empty triangles proved to be great hanging hooks. Putting the Cocoon on for the first time, I slipped my fingers through the empty triangles, and wrapped right up.

    It was a little discouraging as I wrapped up in it the first time, because it was falling very flat. All the interesting hills and valleys that I had imagine were not happening. We decided that on the edges we should sew the fabric a little bit to get the hills and valleys and angular motion started. This made a huge difference. All the sudden this triangle mess had a composition and a structure. It turned from a lame poncho to a magical wrap.

    Going to the fashion show was amazing. The model for the Cocoon’s name was Kate, and she was very nice. It was surprisingly easy to get her in and out of the wrap, and she looked beautiful. We decided for the fashion show to put the shiny side out, because the lights would look great reflecting off of it. Instead of having this huge unraveling at the end of the runway, we would just have a little glimpse of the inside. Part of the reason for this was that the end of the runway this year was facing a wall, so if we did this big unveiling, no one would be able to see it.

    It was so satisfying to see it walk down the runway, and see the audience’s reactions. I was behind stage the whole time, and so I could only catch a glimpse of the show, but everyone loved it. As I was walking to the car with it after the show, many people stopped me asking if they could have it and wear it, which was funny and sweet. It was a breath taking evening, and an amazing experience.