Artefact | Costume Design: the Association of Mowen

I think if human beings had genuine courage, they’d wear their costumes every day of the year, not just on Halloween. Wouldn’t life be more interesting that way? And now that I think about it, why the heck don’t they? Who made the rule that everybody has to dress like sheep 364 days of the year? Think of all the people you’d meet if they were in costume every day. People would be so much easier to talk to – like talking to dogs.” 

 Douglas Coupland

Last week, I bought some fabric samples but didn’t know how to make a garment or even how to start.

During a tutorial with Julian, he suggested me that: 1st, draw my body figures on paper, think about which self may be bigger or smaller in which part, which self may be loose or tight; 2nd, use the shape of these body figures directly to make garment, sew them into one piece, just need to leave a hole so I can wear it; 3rd, paint on the garment like painting on a canvas.

He also suggested me to check fall 2016 from Edda Gimnes, and visual dialogue from Issey Miyake and Irving Penn.

The beginning is always the hardest, after hesitating, researching and experimenting for several weeks, finally, I’m going to make a garment.  For a long time, I haven’t felt so nervous and excited to try a new thing. 

Step 1: Material Preparation

According to Julian’s suggestions, I bought 5 meters white Cotton Drill and red extra strong threads from Goldenbrick Fabric shop at Shepherds Bush,  Payne Grey/ Brilliant Red/ Cadmium Red acrylic paints from Winsor & Newton ,1L Scola Fabric Medium from Amazon. I also used the pattern making paper, paper pins, and mannequin from school.


Step 2: Pattern Making

To design the sleeves, 1st, I lie down on the pattern making paper to draw the outline of my arms; 2nd, I draw a big bird and a big fish based on the outlines as my right sleeve and left sleeve; 3rd, I fold the paper to cut 2 birds and s fish, use the tape to stick some parts, then try on my arms how they fit.

The same process with other parts, I used my body to design each piece, also use my oversized coat as an example to know the width and length. To design the lower hem, I huddled myself up as the position when I sleep, representing the scared hedgehog which is one of Mowens, but then I lengthened the outlines so it could long enough be the lower hem of the garment.

When I designed the back, I draw myself squatting lengthening my arms. And for the front, I drew myself standing but lengthening one arm to surround my neck from front to back to front again.

Then I put these pieces one by one on my body to see how to fit them and if I should add more or change some parts.

When I wore them, I found that these 3 pieces are not enough, there were 2 big holes in front and back and some small holes around the body. So I drew the little devil to fit the front hole, and an upside-down body figure to fit the back hole, also lengthened the legs to surround the shoulders. To fit the small holes, I drew small patterns from my childhood memories, like snowman, butterfly, moon,  birds. What’s more, I changed the neck and long art from the front figure a bit to have a V-neck which could lengthen my short neck visually.

Btw, all drawings are with my left hand, which I learned from Edda Gimnes, to achieve a more free and exaggerated shape.

Step 3: Fabric Cutting

After pattern making, I start to cut the cotton drill one by one, which is quite exciting and nervous, cause this is the step to officially making a garment. After cutting, I used paper pins to pin all the pieces on my oversized coat, to achieve the best effect. 

Step 4: Left-hand Drawing

I pin each piece of the fabric on the wall, mixed acyclic(brilliant red & Cadmium red) with fabric medium, then used the brush to draw on the fabric, like the way how I did my previous body drawings. However, this time I used my left had to draw, to achieve more naive and free drawing.

After these pieces got dried, I need to iron them so paints could strongly stay in the fabric forever.

Finally, I had these pieces of painted cotton drill ready.

Step 5: Sewing and Padding

It took me 2 days to hand sew all pieces together into one garment. I appreciate the hand sewing process as a path to immortality: from dissociation to association.

To sew the garment, first, I pined all pieces on a mannequin.

Then Shuyuan suggested me to use PVC make a waistcoat under the costume and padded some parts like the little devil, eyes and hands, to builds up the silhouette.

When I finished it, Julian suggested me to try it on human bodies instead of the mannequin, and try it on both woman and man. At the beginning I felt it’s a strange idea, I designed for myself, why should ask others to wear it, and why should man also try it too?

But when I saw Qingshan to try it, it looks great! Then I asked Friedel if he could try it too, it’s fantastic loooook ! To my surprise, when I asked Friedel if he felt girlish in this garment, he said no “I felt powerful, especially the back and shoulder”.

At that moment, I felt so happy to design this garment, not only for myself, but a feeling of fulfillment to see it looks great on other people. I guess this is the enjoyment of a fashion designer?


Royal College of Art, London

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