The body within the clothes



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Every garment I wore in a 30-day period was represented in an ux curve. Each
curve told the story of our relationship in regard to the aspects specified above
from the moment of acquisition to the day when the curve was filled. In total, 26
pieces were described. After the 30 days of data collection, I digitized all curves
and generated charts. The charts suggested that strong attachment to pieces were
disconnected from the frequency of use and to essentially positive experiences to
clothes. Fluctuating curves were more often associated with special pieces than
constant, straight, lines. This observation led me to choose the most fluctuating
curves in order to create new patterns for clothes. After the selection of the charts,
a total of five, I started working with rearranging the lines in each of them in order
to generate patterns for two blouses and three dresses

Despite being an intrinsic practice in our daily routines, the action of getting
dressed is far from being represented in fashion, both in the academy and
industry. What happens within the private space of the home and around the
wardrobe has been overlooked by academic discussion (Cwerner 2001, Klepp and
Bjerck 2014) as well as by fashion magazines and editorials
[1]. To put it in short,
the practices of clothes changing appear to be far from fashionable. This section
looks into the project Dress(v.), which explores the practice of getting dressed
within the private space of the home.

In literature, the plurality of the word wear has been explored in conceptual and
theoretical levels (Gill and Lopes 2011, Gill 2012) as well as from an
autoethnographic viewpoint (Sampson 2016, Malik 2016). They stress the need to
turn to wearing as a space for investigating fashion and clothing in order to
understand how people and clothes relate over time. This project holds similarity
with Malik’s ‘Wear Project’ (2016) in which data is collected from worn clothes
during the period of a year. In Wear\Wear this period is restricted to a month and
its results serve as the visual information to the practice of designing clothes. In
order to collect information on the relationships between my worn clothes and me,
I made use of a user experience method named UX curve (Kujala et al. 2011). The
method was initially created in the human-computer interaction community to
investigate long-term user experiences to electronic interactive objects, such as
mobile phones. They allow reconstruction of experiences simulating a longitudinal
recollection of them in regard to pre-defined aspects, visualized as curves in a
chart. The horizontal axis in the chart represents time and the vertical axis
represents a scale of quality for each aspect. Adapting the method to suit the
project, the aspects considered were: frequency of use, comfort, versatility,
visuality and overall relationship.

Another layer of surprise was added to the pieces with a rework of the surface
making use of heat and press. With this artifice, the pieces also gained expression
when laying flat, when manipulated by hands, or the body. In order to secure the
pleats for longer and resist washing cycles, all pieces were made using polyester
fabric. In the process of ‘opening’ the piece, the pleats would create different
tridimensional behaviour, adding to the idea of surprise. Added to that, when
folded and pressed, the garment makes marks of itself on its surface (see image
below) pointing out to both the relevance of traces of wear in clothing items and
well as their affecting agencies. The set of images below
(Figures 11-16) present the
final outcomes of Wear\Wear. 


As noted from the quotations, differences in my personal experience of the weather led
the decisions of materials and forms, such as the rainy day suggesting the production of
homewear in comfortable knitted fabric, or the length of the sleeves and dresses. Such
influences could be more perceived in the diary notes of the first project than in the
second. This could be due to the fact that the first project was developed in Helsinki,
Finland, a new environment to me, whilst the second project was developed in Belo
Horizonte, Brazil, my hometown and where I am already very familiar to the weather—
which is not as shifting as in Finland.

Note to the reader: This text is a reworked version of the paper "The Body within the Clothes: A case study on clothing design practice from a practitioner viewpoint" presented at the Art of Research 2017 Conference. 

1.   Designing and Wearing Clothes


In the young field of fashion studies, the practices of making and wearing clothes
have been marginalized as a topic of interest. Since the 1960s efforts within the
field have focused especially on understanding fashion as a system of meaning
construction, strongly influenced by the foundational work of semioticist Roland
Barthes (1968). On the one side, the persistence of this perspective effected on
clothes being seen as mere products that deliver statements, drifting attention
from what they may offer as experiences (Ruggerone 2017, 577). This reduction—
which leaves aside much of the tactility of experiencing clothes—has recently
been suppressed by studies that look at dressing as embodied practices (Entwistle
2000). On the other side, the practices of making clothes have been historically
taken as one of lowly relevance and overshadowed within fashion studies
(Lipovetsky 2002). With the accreditation of fashion design as a programme in
academic institutions, fashion design rises as a topic of scholarly interest (Finn
2014). The last decade saw the emergence of new approaches in fashion studies,
including streams that give greater attention to the different practices that
compose it. The efforts that look into fashion designers’ practices as case studies
and autoethnographies that take wearing as a methodology to academic enquiry
particularly interest this study.

Interested in wearing as a field of investigation, recent works a subjective
perspective on how people and clothes relate, building especially from artistic
research methods. In these investigations, the designer’s body becomes both
object of and tool for research. Some examples concentrate on investigating the
process of constructing a garment (Lee 2012), living and caring for clothes
(Spława-Neyman 2014) and making and wearing shoes (Sampson 2016). Yeseung
Lee (2012) makes a comparison between the processes of constructing, wearing
and researching through the making of a seamless garment. Through this, she
investigates the construction of the self as a fluid process supported by theories in
a wide range of fields such as fashion, philosophy, and anthropology. The
continuous process of becoming is also discussed in the work of Tania Spława-
Neyman (2014), but centred on the idea of care. Borrowing concepts from design
and philosophy, she opens a discussion concerned with sustainability issues and
how an awareness of the situatedness of our practices changes how we engage
with clothes. The work of Ellen Sampson (2016), though not focused on clothes,
dives into the experience of making and wearing shoes and how these experiences
are embodied on both wearer (in her case also the maker) and worn. Later
expanding on the concept of wearing, Sampson (2018) advocates for wearing as
an important methodological approach in fashion studies. It is generally agreed
that clothes may become fashion through wearing (Loschek 2009). In all these
examples, the body of the maker is essential to the ways in which the work
develops and unfolds. Through this works, the concept of wear, thus, becomes
essential to discuss the relationships between people and clothes beyond
wardrobe practices. Wearing deeply impact our lives as wearers, and
consequently, as designers.

Academic enquiry on how fashion designers work and think is a slightly older
field of investigation (e.g. LaBat and Sokolowski 1999, Bye 2010, Ræbild 2015)
with recent additions coming also from designers investigating their own activity
(e.g. Stead 2005, Dunlop 2011, Gwilt 2012). They reveal how clothing pieces are
created, exposing the work of fashion designers to the outside world. The field of
pattern cutting, an essential stage in the creation of clothes, is probably one of the
scopes with the largest amount of contributions in research into fashion practice
(Valle-Noronha and Chun 2018). Within it, most of the attention is given to the
development of pattern cutting methods and the final outcomes, with little focus
on the experience of wearing (e.g. Rissanen 2013). Some works, on the other
hand, take the motility of the human body as a point of departure, but still, the
experience of wearing is little discussed (e.g. Simões 2012, Lindqvist 2015). 

This investigation looks into two projects to understand the situated entailments
of the designer’s body in the practice of making clothes, especially as a source of
information to the creative process. The projects make use of autoethnographic
research methods that serve as visual input to design methods in clothes making,
more specifically to the pattern cutting activity. The production presented here is
done under what fashion researcher Kevin Almond suggests as ‘creative pattern
cutting’ (2013), or in other words, explorative and experimental approaches to the
work of designing flat models for cutting clothes. Already established in the field,
the naming addresses alternative ways of creating flat patterns for clothing
instead of the mainstream western approach that often relies on block patterns.


The projects exposed suggest a method for creating patterns that can be placed
within these alternative approaches. The procedure exposed here eliminates the
primary sketch from the process, leaving room for chance and experimentation.
Fashion researcher Ulla Ræbild (2015) describes similar pattern cutting methods
and defines them as ‘against the body’ and ‘contour draping’. The first is described
as being ‘about consciously changing between making shapes that follow the
human body and making shapes that work against the human body’ for
‘aesthetically surprising effects and results’ (Ræbild 2015, 272). In such a method,
the dimensions of the human body are not followed strictly in the pattern’s final
form. Consequently, the interaction between the shape of the human body and the
shape of the garment is what gives the pieces character. The second method is
described as ‘drawing up a flat, improvised and perhaps abstract shape with a
contour and using it directly on the dummy by draping’ (Ræbild 2015, 269). Or in
other words, the final form of the pattern is taken as given and will be reworked
on the dummy until the designer is personally pleased with the shapes it

4. Dress(v.)

In the last decade, the emerging field of wardrobe studies brings light to such
practices. They develop biographical inquiries on individuals’ wearing routines,
following individuals longitudinally through time in their wearing endeavours.
Through different methodologies, wardrobe studies’ researchers dive into
individuals’ wardrobes for investigating wearing practices (Fletcher and Klepp
2017, Rigby 2017, Skjold 2014, Klepp and Bjerk 2014). They provide the field of
fashion with clear contributions to both research and practice. In my viewpoint,
this contribution is done especially by bringing into discussion the domestic space
as well as the time factor in the development of relationships with clothes (as
longitudinal studies). But despite the fact that these works emerge from within the
field of fashion, these contributions remain as theoretical proposals and have not
yet been executed or investigated from a practitioner’s viewpoint.


In consonance with wardrobe studies, but starting with a different aim—that of
informing fashion design practice—dressing is elected as the source of
autoethnographic attention in Dress(v.). In the project’s name, the term ‘dress’ is
explored in its active form, as a verb (v.) rather than a noun (n.). This alludes to
both the action of dressing and to clothes’ ability to ‘act’. In that sense, clothes are
understood not as passive objects into which we project our ‘cultures’ and ‘selves’.
Instead, they are seen as active, in the sense that they can directly affect the wearer
(Verbeek 2005). The project shows particular interest to the movements made
while performing the practice of dressing. Whilst movement and clothing have
been explored by researchers in the field as a point of departure for design (e.g.
Bugg 2006; Lindqvist 2015), the daily practice of getting dressed is overlooked.

In order to explore this topic of interest, I made use of a visual-ethnography
inspired method. During one month I recorded the daily activity of getting dressed
by placing a photographic camera in my bedroom. In total, about 2000 images
were collected and served as source of information for the visual autoethnography.
A visual autoethnography is a method for producing or collecting data on a specific
phenomenon. In its traditional sense—that of informing research—visual-
ethnography is not exclusively informed by visuals but ignited by it (Pink 2001,
Scarles 2010). Here, visual-ethnography is used with the intention of visually
informing the design practice, and differs from its more traditional applications.


Figure 5 presents an example of the process, covering the different steps in the
process up to the finalized piece. Twelve dressing actions were chosen as the most
frequent—e.g. taking off the base layer t-shirt, dressing a dress or a pair of tights.
These twelve actions were then vectored by following the movement of the hands
while performing the action (see image below). Seeking to form shapes for pattern
cutting, I play with the vectors by sketching on a notebook. Once possible shapes
are found, they are hand-drawn in pattern cutting paper in a scaled up dimension.
The intention of utilizing the shapes as clothing patterns set the scale of the
drawings in approximation to the human body. I used my hands and body parts or
placed the drawing near the mannequin to measure the distances in the drawings.


Final shapes were cut into paper after drawn. I played with the shapes, re-
positioning them in different configurations in order to create a third shape. This
experimental activity was developed with each of the twelve movements selected.
Some of them resulted in various combinations and some were discarded after a
few attempts, based on my personal evaluation of the feasibility of working with
the pieces on the tridimensionality of the human body. I quickly perceived that
more simple movements offered better material to be reworked as flat patterns for
clothes, as they offered wider areas when transferred to fabric. From my previous
personal experiences with pattern cutting, I have learned that fewer seams and
more volume in the final pieces usually offer more material for experimentation
for both the maker and the wearer. Based on this observation, once shapes that
seemed to offer quality material for experimentation were achieved, they were cut
into fabric. But since no initial sketch served as a reference to the final forms,
reworking them in a tridimensional body was necessary. In order to do that, the
cut fabric was laid over a dummy or on my own body and pinned as to create
wearable garments. Testing the pieces on the body allowed an evaluation of the
overall comfort of the pieces and facilitated accessing possible issues and solutions
to them. This stage resembles much the usual process of fitting clothes in a
mainstream mode of production (Bye 2010, p. 45). The final pieces
[2] reflect,
thus, the researcher’s movements and body dimensions and propose offering the
wearers a deeper connection to and dialogue with the maker through experience.
The set of images below (Figures 5-8) present the final outcomes of the project
(click the arrow on the bottom right to navigate the images). 



After completed the patterns, the clothes received interventions from materials
that would manifest in time with maintenance (wash) and environment (sun and
heat). The materials chosen were polyvinylic alcohol (PVA) thread and fabric, and
thermocromic and UVA sensitive dyes. While the PVA materials are permanently
dissolved when in contact with water, thermo- and UVA sensitive dyes temporarily
change colour. PVA materials have, for decades, been broadly used as a tool to
provide support to embroideries in light fabrics and ease finishing in haute couture
processes (Ohmoryi et al. 1993). In Wear\Wear the PVA allowed pieces in the
garments to disassemble or disappear after being washed, resulting in permanent
changes. Also broadly applied in the industry since the 1980s, U.V. reactive inks
and thermocromic dyes have been explored intensively, with applications ranging
from t-shirts to pens and mugs and more recently fashion (Kooroshina et al. 2015).
Here a more subtle approach is intended, using the dyes in simple brushstrokes on
the pieces resulting in temporary changes to the garments. 


6. Findings


The investigation on the diaries aimed at understanding the ways in which the situated
body of the designer is manifest in both the processes and the outcomes of the projects
investigated as case studies. During both projects, data was produced longitudinally as
the design process took place (see Table 1). Following the interpretation method
described in Section 2, the points of relevance in regard to the situatedness of the
designer’s body and how feelings or values were embodied into the pieces emerged as
findings and were categorized as below. The categorization reflects the interest of the
article, centred on the body and experiences of the designer. It is strongly informed by
Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology (1964), which suggests the naming of the categories.
While Merleau-Ponty refers to our experiences as ‘in the world’, here the preposition is
changed to ‘with’ as to suggest a more active and mutual affect between the body and the


The body with the world

In both projects, it was clearly perceived that my experience of the environment played a
relevant part in the overall mood and even shaping of the pieces. Weather, sound and
other events directly influenced the creation of the patterns. The quotes below, all
extracted from the diaries, illustrate this finding:

The body and the clothes

The designer body was made present through different channels. Personal bodily
experiences with clothes had a voice in the creative process decision stages. They relate
mostly to a personal understanding of comfort regarding clothing as well as aesthetic
preferences based on previous experiences. Here, the body becomes very relevant
particularly in the ways it feels on and about clothes in the experience of dimensions,
distribution of fabric weight and allowance of movement.

The designing body

It was very clear that the embodied previous experiences in designing clothes surfaced
while creating new pieces. In the diaries, I frequently refer to previous works or projects,
to previous lessons learned in both commercial and experimental works in clothing
design, and to details that have become embedded in my design practice. The designing
body here is, thus, not only my own but also that of others with whom I have learnt from
while practicing fashion design.

These two streams of investigation (autoethnography and fashion practice) help
understand fashion design from the creative process to the use phase. By
investigating the creative process of making clothes informed by
autoethnographic notations on daily wearing practices, this study can be situated
in the intersection between these three streams of works. It aims at discussing the
entailments of the situated designer’s body (not dissociable to its mind) in the
designing process when visually inspired by these wearing practices. In order to
do that, it asks ‘how can the body of the designer be used to inform the design


By proposing wearing and dressing as sources of inspiration to a design process,
this study seeks to understand the ways in which the materiality of the designer’s
body is involved in the creating and making processes. It is hoped that the
process can enlighten fashion designers and researchers in fashion to expand the
inquiries into alternative creative methods and a further understanding of the
embodied presence of the designer in designed clothes. 


The experiences we go through deeply affect us, changing the ways we exist and
act in the world. Philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1964) defines this as a
‘being in the world’. While being in the world we are constantly affected by what
he calls ‘a world’s instant’—or the complex entanglement of an infinity of factors
that composes the instant we find ourselves in. To exemplify this, my world’s
instant as I am writing this paragraph includes the texture of the wool on my skin,
the snow falling outside the window in contrast with the warmth provided by the
heater inside, the noise coming from the neighbour’s radio in a similar rhythm as
the fridge and the smell from the flowers, sitting in a vase less than a metre away
from me, to name but a few. The long sleeve of the woollen sweater protects my
wrist from the sharp edge of the computer keyboard and lets me write for a longer
period of time. But the snowstorm keeps dragging my attention to the outside, at
times interrupting a sequence of thought. The ways we act are thus situated in
place and time and deeply affected by the things that surround us.

Despite being only one single proposal in the broad field of experimental fashion
and creative pattern cutting, it is believed that the reflections and observations
from this study can potentiate, as Spry (2001) suggests, the authorial voice of the
designer into a collective discussion on the matter of the designing bodies.

Even though block pattern is the main technique in western fashion (especially in
large-scale productions) other approaches exist. Still within a western tradition in
pattern cutting, small scale and made to measure processes often rely on moulage
or draping. In this method, the garment is built directly on the mannequin and
may or may not be based on a previous sketch. Another common approach,
frequently found in the creation of Japanese fashion designers, is to work with
more basic and looser shapes. Designers such as Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo
explore this as a form of enabling ‘the wearer to make creative choices as to how
to drape or wrap a given piece on or around the body’ (Clark 2012). What is
especially valuable in these alternative approaches to the western tradition of
block pattern cutting is the ways they question fashion’s normatization of the
human bodies as well as its dictatorial approach to aesthetics.


Wear\Wear expands the initial interest in Dress(v.)—confined to the privacy of the
home and wardrobe—to the lived experience of wearing, taking time into account.
The project proposes changes in the garments through maintenance and
experience (Valle Noronha 2017), bringing the experience of wearing and the
expressions of time and use to the fore. The backslash (‘\’) is borrowed from
computer programming languages. It signifies that the element preceded by the
glyph must be considered in context and not independently. In this way, the
naming Wear\Wear exposes the duality of the word ‘wear’ which can denote the
actions of carrying something on the body and showing sign of use and age.


These three categories of findings are further explained below with examples collected
from the written diaries, videos and pictures from both projects studied.

In accordance with the notations, my body was mostly used to test shapes, delimitate
dimensions and delineate forms. While being frequently informed by the different
materials at hand (e.g. the cut piece over the body, the pencil traces on paper), decisions
could be made to progress in the making especially informed by previous experiences of

As can be seen from the quotations, sometimes these previous experiences drove me to
positive designs and experiences (diary note, 22.04.2016), to allow myself to experiment
a new design based on something that was previously successful (diary note 27.04.2016),
but also to frustrating repetition of similar shapes (diary note, 21.04.2016). They suggest
two ways in which previous experiences can manifest in future processes. The first is
related to more tactile experiences, such as movements made while working shapes for a
garment on the dummy. The second is less connected to the making, but more to
external perceptions of the works and rationalization of preferred approaches. An
example of the latter can be seen on the diary note from 14.05.2016 in which sales
experiences have shown that longer pieces are more widely accepted. These
manifestations were more easily perceived on the process and when written down would
frequently accompany a clear justification

On the other hand, previous tactile experiences, though at times noted (facilitated by the
reflective account of making through a practice-based research approach) were not
always justified or articulated. They are mostly embodied experiences which cannot
always be expressed through language, or easily articulated to reason, as suggests
Merleau-Ponty (2012). Giving the example of using a typewriting machine, Merleau-
Ponty notes:

In this way, he expresses how our making can result in a bodily understanding of
preferred forms and outcomes, affecting also future works. These previous embodied
experiences, in the cases studied here, referred not only to movements of drawing or
reworking the fabric on the dummy, but also experiential knowledge when the
prototypes were tested on the body. They led to interpretations of the final quality of the
pieces, being classified as successful or unsuccessful. These ‘successful’ or ‘unsuccessful’
test garments, thus, were relevant in shaping my experience through what can be
understood as another process of embodiment – while I, as a designer, give shape to the
fabric, the finished pieces are embodied in my own considerations of the experience.


In general, the findings clarify some of the aspects the designer’s body is made present in
the patterns within these two projects. Despite Verbeek (2005) making it extremely clear
how we interact with the things we make by stating that ‘humans shape things, and
things shape humans’ (p. 163), this study gives the quotation empirical examples. Notes
around design decisions provide these examples, which make clear that the intertwining
of designer and different matters (be it the designed clothes or the cold rain pouring
outside) is precisely what shapes the designed object. In other words, while the patterns
embody my experiences, these experiences (within myself as a designer) also embody
whichever expression captured from the materials with which I interact. In that sense,
we can perceive the embodiment within this pattern cutting activity as a movement of
mutual ‘incorporations’ (Ingold 1993, p. 157) between the designer and the patterns and
(more generally) the world. While I, as a designer, am affected by my experiences
with/in the world, these experiences are embodied with/in the clothes I make.

7. Discussion and Conclusion

This article discusses how the body of the designer can be used in the design practice and
investigates how this is made visible through the design process. It seeks to contribute to
calls for investigations on the role of experience with designed artefacts, from a reviewed
phenomenological viewpoint (Merleau-Ponty 2012, Verbeek 2005). In this study, the
designer’s body is highlighted as a body that also ‘wears’—and thus its situatedness in
wear practices should be seen as embodied in and influencing the designed outcomes.
This call for recognition of the designer’s own body is integrated into the process of
designing or making clothes is explored in Dress(v.) and Wear\Wear.

The recognition of the designer’s body in the process is facilitated with the pattern
cutting methods proposed. On them, the source of information comes precisely from my
own body and experiences with dressing and wearing clothes. From the reading of the
collected data, personal influences were not always so easy to put into words when
manifested in the process, being caught often only by cameras and not always in text. For
instance, even though my body is frequently used in the process to measure distances,
the fact that the forms in Dress(v.) came from my own movements of dressing was not
mentioned in the diaries. These mentions came exclusively from bodily actions. On the
other hand, the autoethnographic approach to the phenomena of creating patterns for
clothes through different data collections (text, video, photos), allows the identification
these specific moments of decision making due, especially, to the diary notations. The
combination of visual and textual autoethnography proved to be a rich source of
information without which the recollection of feelings and perceptions about the
surroundings would not be possible.

It must be noted that these projects comprise an experimental practice in clothing
design, where personal drives and expressions can be taken into account in the final
pieces, unlike most of the mainstream clothing and fashion production. The central
aspects differentiating these two practices are (1) the monetary and commercial intents
and (2) the role cultural and social norms play in the final decisions. This brings me to
the question if a creative process in commercial clothing design would suppress these
expressions along the process. The experimental aspect of the practice must, then, be
seen as a limitation of this study, as it covers only one practice within the vast field of
pattern cutting and fashion design. But despite this limitation, and in consonance with
the limitations that autoethnographic researches may offer, it is believed that others can
use the findings presented here in order to expand fashion research and practice.
Consequently, this exposition invites professionals in the field to further
experimentations on research and design methods and propose projects that support the
interweaving of research and design.

Even though some conclusions could be made regarding how the body is made present
in the garments, it is not possible to conclude if wearers can perceive such embodiments,
seen as a limitation of the study. In order to advance knowledge on this topic, a series of
studies must be made, looking at a post acquisition stage.

This work departs from the observation that a body that designs (clothes) is
invariably a body that
wears clothes (be them made of textiles, feathers or beads).
It explores the situatedness of the designer’s body through the practices of
dressing, wearing and making via revised phenomenological approach (Merleau-
Ponty 2012, Verbeek 2005). Particularly, the study is interested in how the body of
the maker, via the experiences one has with the clothes they wear, can be used to
inform the design process. To explore this enquiry, two projects in creative pattern
cutting are studied, Dress(v.) and Wear\Wear and serve as cases to investigate the
designer’s body within the final outcomes as clothes.

     Autoethnography informed

pattern cutting

In mainstream methods for constructing garments, such as moulage and flat-
patterns, a sketch is usually the starting point, having the human body as a
tridimensional reference, for what the designer wants to achieve (Bye 2010).
Later, he/she develops a flat pattern with instructions aiming at a specific
outcome, which is as similar as possible to the initial sketch. An iterative process
then takes place in four steps (1) cutting the pattern in cloth, (2) sewing it
together, (3) fitting it on a human body to identify issues (4) fixing issues on the
flat pattern. This process is repeated a series of times until the piece is finally
approved for production. Though it is undoubtful that the pattern maker’s body is
present in the final outcomes, it is the designer’s sketch that directs the results,
with little room for detours and creative freedom during the pattern cutting stage.
Though this is the main approach to designing garments, especially for mass-
produced pieces, alternative methods exist. Fashion researcher Ulla Ræbild
(2015) has described a series of alternative approaches in which the sketch may be
seen as optional (see Ræbild 2015, 232-275).

Dress (v.) and Wear\Wear explore the use of research methods applied to the
creative process in fashion design via a longitudinal collection of dressing and
wearing experiences inspired by autoethnographic studies. In ethnography
literature, autoethnography is defined as a research method to describe and
investigate personal experiences aiming at further understanding a culture
(Holman et al. 2016). Commonly supported by ethnography and autobiography
methods (Ellis et al. 2011), the data is systematically collected and analysed in
order to produce knowledge. In this study, the autoethnography extends
throughout the design process and holds two different aims. The first part, which
precedes the pattern cutting stage, differs from autoethnography especially in
regard to its aims. Here, the projects make use of the method to visually inform
the design process. Influenced by an essentially subjective research method (Ellis
et al. 2011; Bochner 2002), as previously discussed, the two projects provide
insights on personal mannerisms, taste, and values which are translated as forms
and visuals to the designed pieces.

The second part, consisting of diary keeping and photos on the design process,
expects to understand how much of the designer’s body is manifest in the final
outcomes. In this way, it stands closer to the original interests of
autoethnographies. Additionally, it provides understanding of how the creative
process unfolds, in a rather common approach in practice-based research (Mäkelä
and Routtarinne 2006, p.76). Through that, this study aims at answering an
overarching question on the implications of the designers’ body (which is
understood here as interwoven with the mind, thus non-dissociable) on the
process and outcomes of designing clothes. The table below introduces the data
produced in both projects and used in this study.

The projects draw attention to the dialogues set between design processes and the
designer’s body as they interact. They highlight the situatedness of design
processes taking into consideration the designer’s bodily experience as
inspirational material and informative source. The videos* below illustrate the
autoethnography on the two projects. The following subsections introduce how the
subjective experiences unfolded as the design process.

The contributions of this study are achieved in two dimensions, those of practice and
theory. In the first place, it helps overcoming the lack of the practitioner viewpoint in
fashion studies, as suggested by Finn (2014) who advocates for the fact that practitioners
hold knowledge essential to a successful interpretation and analysis of fashion design
research data. Furthermore, while making use of autoethnographic research methods,
the projects presented here show how research can inform and catalyse new expressions
in fashion design. In this way, it contributes to the field of creative pattern cutting as an
alternative to traditional western methods. Lastly, they suggest that we, designers, be
open to and aware of the bodies that are found within the clothes. 


It’s raining outside as I start writing this Introduction, and as it often does in
Helsinki. In the morning, before leaving home, the observation of the weather
conditions suggests me what to dress: waterproof shoes and jacket over a
combination of cotton and woollen clothes, a conclusion I have come up with after
four consecutive years living in Finland. Having lived most of my life in a tropical
country, understanding how to get dressed was one of the challenges I faced when
moving North. There is little doubt that the experiences one has with and through
their bodies influences how they act, such as my difficulty in understanding the
practice of layering the right textiles in the right order. Consequently, the
experience of this combined wet and cold weather condition may affect what I
design as a clothes maker, such as the choice of materials or the length of a sleeve.
In a similar manner as with the weather, the experiences with the clothes one
wears can affect the ways she experiences and acts in the world (cf. Kontturi and
Jalonen 2017, Verbeek 2005, Young 2005). Our actions, as designers or wearers,
are always situated within a complexity of factors that our bodies experience.


This exposition is divided into seven sections. Section one starts off with a brief
discussion on how the practices of ‘wearing’ and ‘designing’ clothes as a subject of
enquiry have been shadowed by fashion studies (Ruggerone 2017, Finn 2014). The
second section presents academic efforts to fulfil this gap with the newly emerging
field of autoethnographies through works that take wearing as a method of
enquiry and cases in fashion design practice. Following, aware of the state of
fashion studies that look into wearing, the third section outlines its scope of action
—that of creative pattern cutting informed by the designer’s practices of wearing
and dressing. Here, my practice is situated among the different pattern cutting
approaches and the methods chosen for the study are described. Fourth and fifth
sections introduce the two projects, Dress(v.) and Wear\Wear, respectively. The
results of the investigation, grounded on autoethnographic records of the pattern
cutting practice, are presented in the fifth section followed by a discussion and

     From the authorial body to

communal discussion


When I first tried the pair of trousers that I wear now as I write, I knew not much
more than its visual qualities. As I wore it outside the shop, at home, and in the
world, I experienced the feeling of having my balance shifted, whilst keeping me
embraced, though perhaps not resulting in a very flattering form to the more
normative gazes. The wide folds around the waist, the one narrowing leg and the
overall movement of the fabric were built with unexpected experimentalism. The
warmth of the wool was comforting, and the weight of viscose could be felt on how
the fabric hung in a wavy form. It made me curious about who was that
designer/pattern cutter and what was the process that led him/her to that final
shape. Wearing that one piece made me wonder what life experiences would that
maker have to share, more than coming to the conclusion on how unquestionably
a skilled professional in the field he/she was.

Since Donna Haraway’s call for situatedness (1988), much has been discussed on
the fact that our doings/makings reflect our situated experiences of the world,
especially in the field of arts. This article sheds light in a less explored field; that of
creative processes in pattern cutting for clothes, as to further understand the
question above. Whilst the presence of the designer’s body has been reflected
upon in the testing stage of the design phase – as designers use their own bodies
to ‘feel’ the fit and fall of a piece (Ræbild 2015)—little has been reflected on how it
affects the stages that precede the manufacturing of clothes, i.e. the creative
process from its early beginnings. This little explored field is, thus, the core of
interest of this study.

The method in this work unfolds in two parts, which encompass the phase that
precedes de design (done with the support of autoethnography inspired methods)
and the design stage per se (in which the design activity is investigated via
another auto ethnographic collection of data). The ways in which the study was
carried is further explained below and on Figure 1. 

The design practice is observed from a phenomenological perspective, in which
diaries, photos, and videos were kept to inform longitudinal data about the
experience of creating and making clothes. The nature of the data produced via
autoethnography is understood as descriptive data (Creswell 2007). A
phenomenological approach was used to investigate the material produced using
an interpretative approach (Creswell 2007). In interpreting data, diaries were
initially read through and open coded. At a second stage, they were re-read under
a thematic interpretation, in which the three categories—stemmed from the initial
open coding process—were sought within the data. The photographs and videos
served as visual support to the findings. The results of the inquiry draw examples
of manifestations of the designing body in the process and outcomes of making

The following sections 4 and 5 bring a descriptive account of two projects in regard
to the design process.

“I have finally started the first patterns for the project. It’s a rainy day, which might influence a little bit on the pieces’ lengths, [...] how much space is left between the body and the garment. I start with the simplest of the forms [...]” (diary note, 02.05.2015)


“I start the day with the dress-shirt I drew [...]. It feels good to make this pattern on this sunny day, since it’s sleeveless.” (diary note, 17.05.2015)


“It's saturday and quite cloudy and rainy. I will work on some jersey patterns [...]. Jersey and home wear [...].” (diary note, 06.06.2015)

[stills from the video - using my hands to measure the width of a shirt] (video diaries, 04.06.2015)

“After I try the cut piece on myself [...] I decide to make a fold on the back and also add the alcohol thread there.” (diary note, 27.04.2016)


“[After testing the piece on my own body] I have to make the arms [sleeves] because only leaving openings doesn’t seem to work so well.” (diary note, 06.06.2015)

"[This is] something I have learnt from my previous experiences working as a commercial fashion designer.” (diary note, 14.05.2015)


“I did not want to have them [the ux curves] so literal [in the pattern cutting], but it seems that it would be an interesting way to have the users perceiving it more physically than just in an abstract way. In the previous project they did mention that while taking care of the piece they could see some of the pattern cutting [outline].” (diary note, 22.04.2016)


“[about a dress being cut with only one side seam, part of my designer repertoire] Never did [this kind of dress] in a woven fabric, but I think it is worth trying” (diary note, 27.04.2016)


“Now I will start working with the curves shapes and they reminded me of another project, so I automatically start thinking of similar shapes. [...] I have to explore more the experience curves.” (diary note, 21.04.2016)


“[...] I also make a dart on the shoulder that I always make, so the fabric falls better on the body” (diary note, 21.04.2016)


“[After being frustrated with the outcomes of experimenting with the ux curve lines, I try an approach, familiar to me, of making a list of instructions and sticking to it as a support to the creative process] - use only ONE curve for each piece - keep it simple - make the curves clear on the piece - surprise, surprise. [...] make at least one [surprise] happening on each piece” (diary note, 22.04.2016)

To know how to type is not, then, to know the place of each letter among the keys, nor even to have acquired a conditioned reflex for each one, which is set in motion by the letter as it comes before our eye. If habit is neither a form of knowledge nor an involuntary action, what then is it? It is knowledge in the hands, which is forthcoming only when bodily effort is made, and cannot be formulated in detachment from that effort. The subject knows where the letters are on the typewriter as we know where one of our limbs is, through a knowledge bred of familiarity which does not give us a position in objective space. (2005, p. 166)

“[...] theories of fashion have focused almost exclusively on why people dress the way they do, while very little has been said about how they [...] get dressed in the first place. To put it in other words, the emphasis has been on the communicative aspect of clothes, with a veil of silence thrown over the taken-for-granted spatial practices that underpin the sartorial system.” (Cwerner 2001, 81)

“[...] autoethnographic methods recognize the reflections and refractions of multiple selves in contexts that arguably transform the authorial “I” to an existential “we”.”
 (Spry, 2001 p. 711)

Figure 1 Study methodology overview

Figures 5-8 Dress(v.) project final outcomes . Photo: Estúdio Tertúlia 

Figure 2 Taking off a black jersey t-shirt

* - The videos are best viewed when played together. If they do not auto-start, you can start them at the same time by clicking the 'play' buttons. 

Figure 10 Textile and image references for the project during the design process

Figure 9  Charts generated in Wear\Wear and the clothes they represent.

Figure 5 Taking off the thin jersey base layer

Figure 4 Dressing a wool polka dot sweater

Figure 3 Taking off a black jersey dress