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What Happens When You Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

I am competing in a fashion competition for the first time. Part of the competition is the Peoples' Choice Award. I would really like to win this so I am asking for your vote.

I learned about the MIT’s Descience project through one of the organizers, Claire Jarvis. The contest intrigued me because it was to be collaboration between a scientist and a designer. Inspired by the scientist’s work, the designer would create a garment that transformed the scientists’ ideas into a new and wearable form. The outcome would be a fashion show.

This four-part contest came at a time when I was beginning to feel the need to stretch my ideas and myself in my business, B. Felt. www.bfelt.com. The first part of the application process involved choosing three scientists, you would want to work with.

The second part is public voting through the Internet, at http://www.fashiondescience.com/ which will result in an award— the people’s choice— of $500 for both the designer and scientist.

The third will be the live, runway show which will take place on September 29 at the MIT Media Lab. Sadly the fashion show will not be open to the public. There is talk of it being simulcast and you and find out more at http://www.fashiondescience.com.

Fifteen finalists will be chosen for the final voting, with the top prize being $1500, for both the scientist and the designer. There are fifty scientists with projects ranging from the virtual to the biological and everything in between, such as Team: “Yahuan” with designer Xiaozhu Li and scientist Hui-Min Chen, or Team: Transmutation, with designer Arielle Gogh and scientist Esther Baena of the UK or Team:” Eaten to Death” with the designer Evelyn Jia and the scientist Eric Baehreke,


Having made it through part number one, I am collaborating with Amanda James of California who is documenting the loss of the Southern California Coastal Sage Scrub plant community and the destructive power of the Mediterranean species such as Summer Mustard and Red Brome. We are Team: ”Invasive Species/Unintended Consequences” Her project excited me for a number of reasons.

First, I collaborated with my son, Ian Poole, in 2011 on a similar project, which we titled Invasive Species/Unintended Consequences, which resulted in a large installation at the Bromfield Gallery in Boston, MA.

Second, my mother, an amateur gardener, ended up growing Purple Vetch (an invasive species itself) not just in our yard, but throughout the area, much to the chagrin of our neighbors.

Having been chosen from over 250 entries and partnered with my first choice scientist, the first challenge was working with someone on the ‘left’ coast while I reside on the ‘right’ coast. Undeterred by distance, Amanda and I have collaborated through Skype to design our garment. Right from the start we were of one mind— a garment that transformed from the golden yellow flowers that used to cover the California landscape to the Invasive species now seen across the California landscape. Amanda loved the idea of recycling the title from my show as she felt it truly embraced her beliefs.

I started with drawings of how I envisioned the garment. The model would walk onto and down the runway with a towering headdress of spikey vines and beautiful yellow flowers, her garment’s bodice and skirt would be festooned in the yellow and orange flowers and peaking out from the skirt and trailing behind long spiky vines with a few flowers clinging tenaciously. At the end of the runway she would remove the flowered skirt and with a flourish turn it over and cloak herself in spike vines, only the headdress and the train would retain a precious few of the flowers.

The many components of the garment created an engineering challenge. I created a scaled version of the garment to work out structural problems. I then scaled my pattern up to a size 10 and created the components. I hand dyed the silk for the garment using a modified Shibori technique, known as Arashi. All the flowers and vines were individually created using merino wool. I then bound and dyed the flowers and vines twice, once for the dark and the second time for the lighter shades. To create the hat, I bent a lampshade frame into an oval shape and felted over it. I then made a separate hat covered in spikes and inserted it into the frame. Then I sewed on all the flowers and vines individually by hand and machine.

It soon became apparent that my model, when scaled to size was not going to function as planned. My original plan was for the model to lift her skirt, slide her arms through holes and drawstring it closed, thereby covering the flowered bodice and exposing the vined underskirt. The weight of the finished skirt scuttled that Idea. My assistant, Monika Pilioplyte, (also my model) and I brainstormed and the eureka moment came when we put the skirt over the mannequins head and it was stopped at the shoulders; we turned to each other and said “Cape!”.

With the final photo session behind me, I am ready to return to the making of garments for my company B. Felt, www.bfelt.com. Whatever the outcome, Descience, http://www.fashiondescience.com, has been an experience that has pushed me to expand my lexicon and to seek out unlikely sources for inspiration in my future work.

What I took away from this project was the powerful connection between science and art. In my Skype conversations with Amanda James, the scientist of “invasive Species/Unintended Consequences, I discovered that scientists and artists work from the same place and ask the same questions. The overriding question is “What If?” Scientists and artists at every stage of a project will ask this question over and over.

For both scientist and the artists it is the balance of the control with the random that determines the outcome. “Why and Why Not” are also constant companions of both artists and scientists. It is equally important to know why as it is to know why not. Though, I do not practice a truly scientific method when creating my wearable art, I do always begin from the place of, why, why not and what if. This is what keeps my work alive and fresh and it is the same for scientists.

For those interested in the statistics, the project took 2 people, 3 weeks and six hours per day. We used 15 pounds of merino wool, six yards of silk, 4 spools of thread, 5 machine needles, one lamp shade, 10 yards of wire, 2 days dyeing and 3 days photographing.

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Comment by Barrie Lynn Bryant on September 10, 2014 at 9:29pm

I voted for you after viewing all the entries. Quite stunning and I love that bottom photo of the entry! WOOHOO!

Comment by Janell Mithani on September 10, 2014 at 9:10pm

Wow, absolutely beautiful!  I just voted for you.  Hope you win!

Comment by Jacki Bilsborrow on September 8, 2014 at 10:30pm

That was an amazing project Barbara.  And the dress was beautiful. too.  Good luck with the project.  Keep us posted.  We want to now if you win.

I voted for you, too.

Comment by Kathleen J. Clausen on September 8, 2014 at 2:44pm

Barbara, the whole thing is amazing.  I really enjoyed reading about your process from beginning to end!  Of course, I voted for you.  Best of luck with this.  This even made me start thinking about a different line of jewelry.  I will have to talk to the Green Team at church.  Thank you.

Comment by Sara Blumenstein on September 8, 2014 at 10:57am

Voted for you. Yours was, in my opinion, the most realized. Not because it took the most work, but because it seemed to be the most (no pun intended) cohesive in presenting your "theme".

Comment by Connie Mettler on September 8, 2014 at 8:09am

This is such an exciting project, Barbara. Thanks for sharing it here. It is inspiring. Surely Amanda was pleased with the collaboration too?

I looked at all the entries and it surely seems you will be one of the final fifteen. Heck, you could win Project Runway with this outfit, they'll be coming to you for help. This is more than fiber, it is mixed media. 

Your work is changing so fast, you must be very pleased and exhausted!

Would you do a project like this again?

And, of course, I voted.

Comment by Barbara Poole on September 7, 2014 at 11:12pm
Thank You Roxanne for your support. This has been a wild ride.
Comment by Roxanne Coffelt on September 7, 2014 at 11:06pm

Wow!  That's amazing.  I voted for you.  Your design looks by far the most elaborate of all of them, and probably the most work.  Good luck!

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