Zandra Rhodes: Processes, Practices and the Importance of Sketching

Zandra Rhodes is never far from her sketchbook. Early training at school and art school instilled in her an understanding of the importance of drawing within a creative practice. The designer’s very disciplined approach to her sketchbooks includes drawing every day; she also does not remove pages from her sketchbook. In them, each drawing, whether it is judged successful or not, has an intrinsic value to Rhodes.

These observational drawings form the basis of her print designs. Over the years a visual language has developed in Rhodes’s work; the dialogue between source material and printed textile is always evolving. Elements of the textiles, such as the Rhodes’s wiggle, appear in the drawing – perhaps acting as a part of shading or to define
a landscape or a cloud.

The creation of a garment, in Rhodes’s term a ‘Butterfly’, has followed a remarkably consistent approach. Often, an idea for a new print springs from a page in one of the designer’s ubiquitous sketchbooks; Rhodes has a rule that a drawing should be done every day and her sketchbooks are never far from her hand. Working with her studio, the print is drawn and redrawn on large sheets of paper, often being cut apart and reassembled. The sense of the ‘hand’ in Rhodes’s printed textiles is characteristic of her work.

When the final print is decided, it is transferred to a silk screen via handpainted kodatraces and then a series of colour tests are worked out to achieve the desired combination. Sample lengths are produced and working with the printed textile a dress is developed, from initial sketches and draping on a dress stand.

The interaction of a body under the printed fabric is key to Rhodes’s work, and toiles are produced and tested on models. The final pattern for a dress is then drawn on card that has been silkscreened with the design; as many of Rhodes’s looks are in chiffon, the printed, sheer fabric is laid on top and aligned with the printed pattern card. The dress is then cut, sewn and finished in Rhodes’s studio. The construction of the dress is usually the work of a single seamstress, rather than an assembly line approach. This, with the hand printed feel of the fabrics, makes a Zandra Rhodes dress special, something crafted with care, rather than mass production.

In the below video Zandra tells us more, in her own words, about the processes, practices and sketches that have influenced her collections for over 50 years.

Feeling inspired by our founder? We’ve just added a whole host of goodies to our online shop, including iconic designs created any inspired by Dame Zandra and our new and exclusive Fashion and Textile Museum X Zandra Rhodes Foldaway Shopper Bag!

We do hope you’ve enjoyed exploring the Fashion and Textile Museum online. If so, please consider making a donation, to help us continue our work during this difficult time.

Every donation will support us in showcasing contemporary fashion and textile design during our closure, and will assist us in welcoming you back to the Museum, as soon as we are able.

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