Monday, September 26, 2011

Concrete and Fashion

Airi Isoda likes to pull architectural influences into her fashion designs. Using materials commonly found in the construction industry, such as Tyvek and industrial-grade felt, she designs minimalist clothing. And yes, there is concrete in her work, such as this necklace of beads. Isoda has a degree in architecture and works in both Los Angeles and Tokyo.
cotton silk shirting / silk charmeuse / concrete
(all images used with permission)

But more surprising is her use of fabric dipped in concrete. To give the fabric flexibility, the concrete surface is intentionally broken. I have seen fabric dipped in concrete before, for sculptural purposes –  but not for clothes that could actually be worn.
felted wool / silk charmeuse lining / cotton / concrete

concrete dip shift dress + polka dot romper

Isoda is part of wrk-shp, a multi-disciplinary design collective working in the fields of architecture and fashion.

This work shows off one of concrete's greatest strengths: its ability to remain neutral, to be simply a functional material. It is down-to-earth, and without pretension. And yet it can be used as a metaphor for "material" and encourage the viewer to think about what material means.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Concrete Beads

Often, tools and materials determine a design. I stumbled across this silicone pad in our local hardware store -- a hot plate for pots in the kitchen. It was pale blue and very flexible, divided into open squares of about 5 mm, each hole about 2 mm deep. Silicone is a great mold-making material for concrete, so I bought it not knowing at the time what I would do with it.

5 mm squares after they are released from the silicone mold

First, I was thinking the texture would look great pressed into the surface of a larger concrete sculpture, but then I thought of beads, lots of beads. I sprayed the surface of the pad with a release agent, then mixed up a fairly fine mix of Portland cement and stone dust (1:1), with 10% metakaolin, a bit of black dye and some PVA fibers. This was spread over the surface of the mold, then packed with a small rod into the square spaces, smoothed off, and covered in plastic sheet for a few days. When I pulled the concrete out of the mold, the fibers held most of the squares together, so I used a utility knife to slice them apart. The squares were then immersed in water for about a week.

After the week was up and the concrete was probably 90% cured, I drilled each bead with a .9 mm (.035") metal drill. I drilled from both sides to try and keep the hole centered. The next step was to wet-sand all the surfaces by hand, using a 400 grit sandpaper. This gave a smooth surface to the beads and also got rid of all the surface fibers. To round off the edges (rather than hand sanding such tiny shapes) I tumbled them with steel shot for an hour. When they came out of the tumbler, this is what they looked like among the steel shot:

Tiny square concrete beads in steel shot

The plan is to use these concrete beads in some minimal jewellery designs, such as the partly completed earrings below.

Draft earring design, sterling, titanium, concrete