Raw properties non wovens collection line up


Raw properties non wovens collection line up

The Starting point of the collection was the moulded felt shoe resin impregnated heel and insole.


Binders and Non-wovens

So the key to getting started was first to source and identify potential non-wovens and binders.  I really was in the dark… My first stop was to go to the peaceful shop Handweavers in the no so peaceful location Seven Sisters Road.  I collected a sampling of fibres both cellulose (plant based) and protein (animal).

Selection of raw natural fibres from Handweavers and Wingham Wool

Selection of raw natural fibres from Handweavers and Wingham Wool

The benefit of protein fibres such as wool, all types animal hair and silks is that the keratins in the fibres allow for better tanglement of the fibres into a structure and absorption of an impregnated binding agent.  Cellulose materials are good in the sense of processing and renewable sources.  Many of the celllulose fibres are extremely strong such as hemp and flax.

So the decision to use particular fibres was based on a combination of material properties such as…




emotional appeal



And the list was reduced to

The leather and crochet may have seemed like the great-grandfather and distant cousin but I felt it important to include these.  See when something is forming and being created we hold onto things, ideas, notions for a reason.  It is the analysis later which places them or re-appropriates the thinking into place.  For me, these are “constants” in the thinking of this collection, the leather is traditional and the ultimate shrouding of animal mimicry to protect our feet and the crochet is the start of taking the fibres into woven structures.  Kind of the entrance and exit doors to the ideas behind the collection.

The Binders were a bit more tricky…

The polyester resin whist it works and is reliable is smelly, toxic etc…Epoxy resin is better but costly, Bioresin from Cannonbury Arts is great to work with in a non-toxic way but bubbles with the slightest bit of moisture even when degassed.  It may be my poor resining skills and there still may be hope but here is a sample on Linen Cannonbury did.

I did source Acrodur which is a non-toxic acrylic based binder used in the production of hemp car body panels as shone above in the Hemp and Acrodur material selection and on Ailssinger’s hemp chair.

Utopian world without the stuff that makes the stuff we use!

The problem is that although I believe the analysis of the situation being basically we have this technology of rapid prototyping which is the “great white hope” of a seamless world where we can avoid the clanking of heavy machinery, glues, plastics and bonding of  components together to form our shoes.  Where we avoid the packing, packaging, storing, transporting, fuelling and then on the other side storing, heating the stores, and the list goes on…What a wonderful utopia of a world without the stuff that makes the stuff we use!

But there is the one problem… this technology is not quite there yet particually in the availability of the natural materials we love under our soles, next to skin and between our toes.  It never ceases to amaze me that one of the most sensitive parts of our body, our feet, is also one of the parts of out body which takes a pounding.

I started this MA wanting to make rapid manufactured shoes.  I am not young and when I was a girl my father who was, in his youth, a tool and die maker, then a fighter pilot and for the bulk of his working life an aeronautical engineer spoke often that in my lifetime we would have consumer products coming out whole, perfect with out finishing. And I believed it!  It was part of my upbringing – I took it for granted, a given.  But when I learned of RP what a disappointment to realise we could not have the soft stuff.

Technology is evolutionary. And for it to work it needs to be driven by human needs.  And we are funny emotional creatures.  If you research the history of the gramophone for example Edison developed a playing device that looked like this.

Edison phonograph cylinder shape

The noise holder or “record” was a cylinder shape, hard to store and no place to highlight the artist in the packaging.

Emile Berliner with phonograph – a flat disc which could be stored and artist was important.

Then Berliner created the gramophone which used a flat disc being easy to store like a book and the artist and artwork was premier. Well we know which won out. See the gramophone took into account human emotional needs.  And that is exactly what I am saying is missing with the technology of rapid prototyping or manufacturing in the application to footwear.

Why do so many designers experimenting with RP use leather next to the foot?  Just google it and you will see. And for those who do not, does the lack of soft stuff next to our feet somehow lessen the value of the shoes even of the cost is still high?

So The problem with what I can do as a designer on a project like this for the MA is I am not an inventor of means and resources. I am a small cog in the big evolution of technological advancement in products particularly with footwear.  So the biggest thing I want to start scratching the surface is to highlight natural material options and to consider how these materials could be applied to footwear in modern ways.

Today we have Eco issues to consider and whilst it would be an insult to try to consider these issue in a project such as this one, I want to consider other disciplines where the exploration of natural materials are being used.  One of these area are in the application of natural fibres in bike frames.

hemp composite used in bike joins

Hemp composte on bike joint

And if it is strong enough for a bike the stresses of a high shoe are achievable.

These designers, inventors and mechanics are questioning the use of low tech verse high technologies. This stuff is easy to find in research.  It has the benefits of local verses global as it is the stuff of “shop” work. There is something intriguing to me about these eco naturalist warriors carving their own future their way by the means they have. Were self sufficient. So as RP potential matures we are seeing an emergence of low tech natural stuff.  How can this mix!

One natural material being tested wit RP is coconut.

R&D Coconut material for Rapid Protoyping

But I ask the question – at what point does the natural material lose it’s material qualities which touch our human emotions.

The wonderful Rob Thompson the product designer and materialologist (if that is a word) discusses these issues in his TED talk.  Please have a look it is so worth it!


I guess in my own way I am still raising the questions in this project.  My skill levels limit how I can address these things but I am sure of three things…

I can design some nice forms

I can research what is happening out there to a respectable, useful level

And I can think about connections, associations and applications – I can analyse!

So let’s get started….on a limited budget and timescale!

Major Project Proposal….

natural materials materialologist

Overview and introduction
The aim of this major project is to rethink how we can use natural materials in innovative ways and to showcase how beautiful these materials can be when applied to a footwear collection. I believe true innovation in footwear will come from biological development of materials and processes. My Unit 1 and 2 structures were feasible because of the properties of natural keratins in the wool. These tangled tubes soaked up the resin and created a bonded structure, which was strong and also elastic thus preventing cracking.

The project is to explore a selection of natural materials and develop low-tech construction methods using higher tech data communications. Mainly, one raw, natural colour material will be used per pair of shoes. The collection will be held together by using a similar design form applied to each pair of shoes in a differing material. By using a similar “design” the focus will be kept on the materials. This unconventional approach to the design of a collection is risky, but will produce an original challenge as it is in contrast to current collection unifying semantic codifiers, colour and materials. Where appropriate the soft/ hard combination structure used in Unit 1 and 2 will be applied.

Potentially new footwear constructions will result in this project because of the different use of natural materials in application to footwear. The collection is intended as research consultation work for the footwear design industry and could be used as advertising and PR.

What inspired the concept?
One of the BBC predicted trends for 2012 was the fast growth of rapid prototyping mainly in the area of laser sintering of consumer products. (www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-16288247) In this utopian vision consumers, after a £1200 investment in a home 3-D printer (the cube image below from site http://www.freedomofcreation.com/home/cubify-platform-and-cube-3d-printer-launched-at-ces), can go online and buy downloadable files to make consumer goods at home. The great thing about this technology is that it enables a move to demand and supply for ready to wear fashion footwear. Rapid prototyping (RP) was pioneered in the early 1980’s, a time when the appeal of synthetic plastic materials was full of hope. RP is an additive process meaning waste material is greatly reduced. The development of the process was based on another additive process using synthetic thermoplastics, injection moulding. Having experience in the product and furniture industries dating back to the late 1980’s has given me time to understand not only the cost factors of why rapid prototyping is not already in our lives, but the human factors which may be delaying the manufacturing of these visionary production processes. It is the right technology for our times but the material is less desirable.

Innovation reflects our relationship with nature. For example, those who remember the horrors of cholera viewed the advent of pesticides as a great invention, a saviour, and along with this synthetic materials such as petroleum based plastics signified man’s triumph over disease, the shinier more synthetic the better. We owned plastic materials with liberation; and the world was lighter, fresher for this. Forward twenty-five, thirty years, to a new generation we see even the material name of “plastic” become slang for being artificial in one’s personality or cheap.

Today scientists are currently investigating the use of macromolecules to redefine potentially new and more robust natural polymers, which were first used in the earlier part of the 20th century, in the materials such as Bakelite and rubber. There are a growing group of scientists and designers rethinking and revisiting pre-oil based materials to see if from this starting point and we might create products more in harmony with the natural world around us. (www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b018grhm/In_Our_Time_Macromolecules/)

The Dutch based company Studio Formafantasma have been exploring the use of pre-oil based polymers in their collection Botanica, “Commissioned by Plart, an Italian Foundation dedicated to the scientific research and technological innovation in the recovery, restoration and conservation of works of art and design produced in plastic. The objects displayed in the Botanica collection are designed as if historians, Studio FormaFantasma investigated the pre-Bakelite period, discovering unexpected textures, feelings and technical possibilities offered by natural polymers extracted from plants or animal derivatives. The designers researched and hunted for information, digging into the 18th and 19th centuries, when scientist began experimenting draining plants and animals in search for plasticity.”

All images from website – above is shellac and sawdust and below the collection including Rosin, dammar, copal, natural rubber, shellac and bois durci a 19th century material composed of wood dust and animal blood

In a similar, maybe less sophisticated method to the work of Studio Formafantasma Israeli designer maker Yoav Avinoam’s Shavings furniture collection is experimenting with water based resins and sawdust and wood dust. Sawdust is combined with resin and placed in molds in order to create shapes that he then uses to make furniture. (Image and info http://www.yoavavinoam.com/Projects.html)

Closer to home at Central St. Martin’s Suzanne Lee has been growing her own material. The “kombocha” like stuff is fermented in bathtubs under a specific temperature. Then after a couple weeks is removed, dried out and used as leather. It can be conventionally stitched together. It dyes in one dip. Information and images (www.fashionfuturist.com) Images below – mixture in the fermenting stage and on this page left – Suzanne’s material constructed in natural material, right – dip dyed once. I was hoping to collaborate with Suzanne on this project but it seems she is in talks with industry that want to develop her work. Proof that the this low tech biological approach has merit and is worth investment.

For footwear it would be ideal characteristics of a natural material without an additive so the support would be structural and the part surrounding the foot would be soft.

Canada is producing some innovative artist and designers. Molo design stumbled upon and developed solid felt rocks. “Felt rocks are formed by chance in the industrial manufacturing of large felt polishing wheels. These curious objects are a perfect medium for sharing the story of how felt is made – each wool fibre, a tiny hollow tube with burred sides, curls and entangles in the felting process, forming a strong bond without glues or binders.” (image, info http://www.molodesign.com/projects/felt-rocks/# )

In Vancouver the artist Deborah Loxam-Kohl has developed a 3-D felting machine. Although currently the material alone is not structural enough for shoes the machine can create molded shapes as in her Sound of Silence instillation. (Image and information http://www.formfeltlab.wordpress.com)

In the work of Werner Aisslinger Hemp chair we see further exploration into a refined modern treatment of natural materials. “The *hemp chair* has been designed for a lightweight manufacturing process stemming from the car industry: the renewable raw materials hemp and kenaf are compressed with a water-based thermoset binder to form an eco-friendly, lightweight and yet strong composite. The sustainable sheet material of the *hemp chair* allows the use of more than 70% natural fibers in combination with BASF’s water-based acrylic resin Acrodur. Unlike with classic reactive resins, this method releases no organic substances such as phenol or formaldehyde during the cross-linking process. The only by-product of the curing procedure is water. Furthermore, the industrial process of compression molding accounts for low-cost mass production of three-dimensional objects with high mechanical resistance and very low specific weight.”
Images left are of the material, the chairs and Werner showing how light the material is. (www.aisslinger.de)

On a personal level I feel the need to play with materials so I can understand the properties and characteristics of a material. Maybe this is only my limitation but I think we might on mass feel the need to understand our world and the materials, which surround us. So this projects aim is not sustainability although that might be a by-product of the project but really the focus is on a more cognitive clarity of the materials we use in unexpected ways. Below is an image of a piece by the furniture designer Tanya Aguiniga and I think it communicates our curiosity on the subject. (Image

Rational for the contextualisation of the project in market terms
The way the current fashion industry is set up is that eastern manufacturers rely on low labour cost. The west cannot compete in this area. Understanding trends in culture and applying these to innovation is where we can lead.

Below is a story recently viral on social media. The cape was created by 1.5 million golden orb female spiders who had to be collected each day in Madagascar, harnessed (as they have cannibalistic tendencies!) and “milked” of their exceeded silk to create the world largest piece of woven silk garment from this type of spider. The colour is the natural colour of the silk excreted. What is so interesting about the artefact is not the amazing man and spider hours used to create it but the world interest in the garment and the way social media can replace advertising. “The spider silk textile was first shown at the Natural History Museum in new York where it broke all records for visitor numbers to a single exhibit.” Does this interest reflect our fascination in understanding the direct line of material creation from nature to a man made object? Can natural materials in low-tech processes be the innovation the Luxury Market needs?

In market terms it is better for conceptual or flagship items to be low investment but can be higher in cost for the good. The project or collection would fit into the market in this way. The collection could then be used for advertising PR for a company choosing to invest in research and development. The collection has a story around it and the potential to go “viral”.

(Images and information’s http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2090608/Reviving-lost-tradition-Cape-silk-million-spiders-unveiled-new-exhibition.html)

Aims for the concept – as a project in itself, academic, who are the stakeholders and markets, what is the personal professional benefit
The Stakeholders are companies who want to promote themselves as research and development in the area of natural materials. This work is aimed to be as a consultation project for designers and to be a beloved object for consumers. In a personal professional level this is where I want to position my work in the industry. Marloes Ten Bhomer works this way and I had the opportunity to interview her last year. Example of her moulded veg tan shoes 2010 are shown below (Image – 2011 http://www.marloestenbhomer.com). Her work is mostly consultation and she gets funding from organisations such as the Jerwood Prize and Nesta. Then she showcases her work as potential processes to be applied to footwear in Museums.

Marloes is a Dutch designer who studied her MA in Product Design at the Royal College of Art. She applies Product and Furniture industry manufacturing methods to footwear.

Evidence of subject knowledge, experimentation, technical competence and skills to be developed Methodology – systems, approaches
My MA proposal work builds on the work produced in Units 1 and 2 where I took the natural material 100% wool felt and formed the work around last and moulds then resin the “insole and heel” to create structure. (Image below photo: Karoliina Barlund). The heel was hollow. At the end of Unit 2 I started to use Rhino with an aim to develop the data for CNC or RP moulds. The moulds will be developed this way. It is feasible to develop these skills in Rhino as I have previous experience in Autocad and Pro Engineer. The manipulation methods of the material will be based on data created in Rhino to make two half moulds. Most of the nominated materials work on a mould based manipulation method as used in Unit 1 and Unit 2 with the felt. The materials are to be keep in as natural a state as possible but finished cleanly. Because a “Line Up” will be based on the material behaviour an early soft mould will need to be created to test various materials out to inform potential shapes.

A diary will be kept to chart progress in both the form of a sketch diary and an edited blog. This is important because systems to manipulate materials will be kept. This will help the rigour, reliability, professionalism and systemization needed to maintain critical reflection to ensue research is conducted in as open and transparent a way as possible in terms of it’s intentions, methodology, analysis and findings. Below is a record of the Unit 1 and 2 methodologies. The major project methodology will use more sophisticated internal and external moulds as Marloes Ten Bhomer’s work previous page.

Suggested selection of natural materials to work with
In Unit 1 and 2 I worked with Resin, 100% wool Felt, Shellac and Fiberglass formed around moulds I made. The MA Major Project is to build on these materials adding natural rubber, veg tan leather, moulded paper, Acrodur, copal resin, and flax to name a few.
Initially I hope to collaborate with designers who have already put in the work to develop various natural materials and then apply and develop these materials in the design and construction of footwear. I am not sure how feasible this will be. However this will not interfere with the progress of the work. After a short consultation and analysis period the selected materials will be chosen.

A suggested line up is below…

sketch study line up

Critical theory and rational – what is the potential originality in the work and how will the work be analysed and assessed

The Critical theory in this project is observing the emerging rise of the biologically based materials work of scientist, artist and designers in juxtaposition to the synthetic materials offered in the innovative manufacturing methods rapid prototyping machines.

The Rational…
In the framework of the MA project I have limited time and resources. Given these constraints the strategy is to explore the behaviour of a selection of natural materials applied to footwear using low tech methods of mouldings but with the polish of high tech communications i.e. Rhino. The rational for 3-D computation is the forms need to be clean and elegant, in short “modern”. Otherwise the work will appear too craft based and not be taken seriously in the industry. The work needs to be taken seriously so it can be showcased, because the rational for this collection in market terms is to promote and bring awareness to the critical theory issues. Further rational to the project in the context of fashion is that as fashion designers we can produce desirable objects. So if the projects are desirable it will strengthen the attention to a showcase of work using the college as a platform of attention to the industry. Then hopefully people and organizations with funding might start to invest in theses issues.

The originality of the work is in using materials tried and tested in other disciplines and applying them in a way to footwear to produce original footwear constructions. The proposal is imaginative in the revival of unexpected natural materials applied to footwear, and how this approach might impart on forms and constructions, which emerge. It is also conceptual in using the general form to hold together a footwear collection. There is a covert rational for this choice because it is a move away from the fast fashion business model of colour, material and choice details to hold together a collection.

How the work is to be analysed and assessed
The project is experimental and a risk, ultimately, we cannot predict if material innovation will come out of the project. So the project should be assessed on…
• A consistent of methodology – This will be evidenced in the diary blog
• If the material properties and characteristics are respected but pushed to produce a well reasoned structure
• If it can be the manufactured low tech but the data to produce the work is computer technology driven enabling a clean professional finish, i.e. where the finish is clean in the moulded areas.
• If it “feels” to use mostly one type material per pair of shoes so the solutions are more elegant and focused
• If the general form holds the collection together as textures and colours vary
• If the shoes are “desirable” objects
• If the concept can be clearly showcased to a professional level

Ultimately the project is successful if it leaves people a bit more open to the possibility of testing in research and development the use of natural materials in the application of the footwear industry.

Bibliography and resource list of both primary and secondary sources list on collaborations contacted
Blaxter, L. et al. (2006) How to Research. Maidenhead: Open Press University

Farmer, J. (1999) Green Shift: Changing Attitudes in Architecture to the Natural World. Oxford: Architectural Press



Collaborations contacted
Suzanne Lee – bio culture (response – no)
Studio Formafantasma – natural resins (awaiting response)
FormFeltLab – 3-D felting machine (yes but unsure how)
Aisslinger – hemp materials (awaiting response)
Basfe – Acrodur supplier (yes)
Diego Vencato – wooden mesh (yes but he no longer has a manufacturer)

Molo design
Freedom of creation
Marloes Ten Bhomer

Further meeting for advice
Marloes Ten Bhomer – meeting 31 January
Jess Lertvilai – CSM materials Librarian – meeting 31 January
Rebecca Shawcross – curator Northampton Museum – to visit archives 6th Feb – research natural materials

Shoots of series 2 felt shoes and Other ideas…

The Series 2 Felt Resin Shoes – photos (proofs) from Panos Damaskinidis…

felt shoes Liz Ciokajlo Cordwainers LCF

Manchu shoes…
felt shoes Liz Ciokajlo Cordwainers LCF

felt shoes Liz Ciokajlo Cordwainers LCF
felt shoes Liz Ciokajlo Cordwainers LCF
felt shoes Liz Ciokajlo Cordwainers LCF

But theses were not the only ideas played with…

A sandle and boot were explored but not prototyped…
I thought the sandal had milage in a good idea as the base becomes the only element or platform.

But the resolutions proved to be problematic to fit into the collections.

Unpicking deeper trends into 3D ideas…

Trends are interesting, trends are like a collective expression of thoughts, words, actions and artefacts. Trends can be engineered and imposed or can emerge. The latter proves to be lasting or significant. I long ago stopped “seeing” things I liked and now see things which are “fresh”. Then I spend time trying to unpick the relevance…

manchu shoes Northampton Shoe Archive -photo Liz Ciokajlo

manchu shoes Northampton Shoe Archive -photo Liz Ciokajlo

Going back to May 2011 I visited the Northampton Shoe Museum Archive whilst researching primitive footwear.  The place is wonderful and Rebecca Shawcross the curator is a lovely woman with a real understanding and knowledge of what shoes mean to people. On that trip I became fascinated by the Chinese Manchu shoes.  When the shoes were worn in China, farmers had to pay a significant amount of taxes to the government on their crops. However the sewing/ embroidery work of the woman was not taxed so in my cynical mind it is no wonder the softer sex’s feet were bound rendering them stationary to keep stitching! But in the Manchu region foot binding was outlawed.  The Manchu woman were independent and even road horses however they still wanted their feet to appear small and delicate so shoes with smaller “pedestal” soled heels poking out under the long clothing evolved.  To me I see connections with modern woman and the Manchu ladies.  And to me when I see something like this it signifies a deeper trend that makes a statment about people and design and is worth exploring….   As woman we all know walking on heels is in direct contrast to comfort but are driven by the image and identity projected. The feeling of elevation for the generally shorter sex is empowering. Wedges are more comfortable but still don’t get us to the same place.  We have worn Uggs, Birkenstocks, DM’s and trainers and know how good a flatter step can be. A flatter step with elevation and elegance just what the felt shoes needed.  The material of the felt shoes signified comfort, it was subversive and unexpected to raise up the shoe and the narrow base would further refine the appearance. Also during this time we were seeing the rise of the flat platform or “flatforms”. So maybe there was something in the Manchu shape which related to my work…

Derek Lam Stacked Wedge Platform Pumps

Derek Lam Stacked Wedge Platform PumSo maybe there was something in this trend that related to what I was doing.

  • The wedge shape complemented my hollow heel structure.
  • The flatter sole was what inspired me to buy the last in Italy.
  • The undercut of the heel further refined the form.
  • The comfort of the felt was always in contrast to the shoe having height and the height was rather subversive, something I always like to play with as it produces the kind of questions worthy of artefacts.
  • And the overall feel was rather 1940’s giving rise to the ideas of peep toes construction.
  • Peep toe on a practical level helped to remove the extra material in this area.
  • In keeping with a seamless future the overlasting could heighten the shadows of the form.

So the cogs turned…

manchu sketch

manchu sketch

Always good that the felt material needs differing “fit” points on the foot than a court shoe.  So this creates a more unique look.

And this turned into this…

Steam… then…

then stitch in insole…

And Resin…

But there were problems with the Bio Resin and the felt as it is highly sensitive to any moisture. It bubbles even when degassed.  And the resin line was still too strong for Arena’s collection.

So in the end I learned the priority was the look for the catwalk and the collection photography. This project was not about developing the construction in industry.  So armed with pointe shoe shellac I coated the outside of the shoe where the heel structure and heel and the toe stiffening would be to create a semi structure and barrier to the inside coating of polyester resin and fiberglass! Well sometimes you have to do what you have to do. Things would be different in production!

Collaborating and applying the concept to a collection…

In August 2011 Arena Page from LCF MA Fashion Technology Womanswear contacted me after the suggestion from talented and intelligent Directors Darren Coban (MA Womanswear) and Dai Rees (MA Fashion Footwear and Artefact) to collaborate on her Major project.  I was working on my Unit 2 project of my Ma Footwear which focuses on industry.  The collaboration was very good in the end but challenged me in ways I had not expected.  I assumed the Unit 2 project would be about expanding with the contacts in the footwear industry. In collaborating with a graduating student for her Collection and Catwalk show I realised the aims of a show is to create a drama, a story.  As long as the shoes could be walked down a catwalk and add to the narration of the collection the work would be deemed a success in industry terms.

There were some quite specific challenges, mainly Arena wanted a clean look to the shoes meaning no change of colour in the resin line.  She also wanted to have low heels or flats.  Luckily I had been thinking the same heel height.  But let’s start from the end and work backwards….

In February 2012 Arena Page was on of twenty-two students from MA Menswear, Womanswear and Digital Fashion to show her collection at the MA LCF show Poemtry at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  The event was lovely and quality and Darren Coban, Dai Rees and staff should be proud as I image supporting and nurturing the talent and making a cohesive show for the event is a tall order.

Well Arena’s collection contained my felt shoes.

shoes backstage at V&A show

shoes backstage at V&A show

Continue reading