Do or Dye

TSKC interviews British designer Erin Hughes!

Tell us about your work. How did you get into design?

My work covers many areas, but I'm particularly interested in pattern and colour. I studied Fashion Design at university, but didn't go into a design job after graduating, even though I always wanted to work in design. After a few years, I returned to university to do a Master's degree in Textile Design. I was inspired to return to a creative path after taking a course in natural textile dyeing, and I wanted to research how to print with natural dyes for my Master's project. As well as working with natural dyes, however, I ended up doing all kinds of other things that I didn't expect to do - Such as making an augmented reality app!

You lived in Korea and China for quite some time. Would you say that has some influence on your work?

Living in Korea has definitely had a huge impact on my work. It's a country with a really rich and vibrant culture, both in terms of history and traditions, and in modern day life. There's a feeling of tension between the past and the future, which is really exciting, as well as a fusion of the urban environment and nature.

It seems to me that you celebrate nature, not only in your designs but also in your materials. How did you begin using natural dyes?

The natural world has always been a huge source of inspiration for me, and I'm fascinated by what we can do with natural materials. Natural dyes were something I was drawn to because they brought together many of the things I'm interested in - Colour, textiles, nature, and science. I find it incredible that we can extract so many different pigments from plants and insects. Traditional crafts like natural dyeing are still practised and taught by some experts in Korea, and so I was able to enrol on an awesome natural dyeing course in Seoul. This was a great way to learn about the techniques, materials, chemistry and history of natural dyeing, and gave me all the basic knowledge I needed to continue researching natural dyes after I returned to the UK.

Your colour palette seems very intuitive. Do you have a process for choosing colours when creating a print?

I would agree that I use colour in an intuitive and natural way, rather than methodically selecting a colour palette. I don't have any rules for choosing colours - inspiration can come from anywhere. I'll often just see something and think, "Wow, those colours look amazing!"

What are some of your favourite textiles to use?

I much prefer working with natural fibres, rather than synthetics. For natural dyeing, silk is wonderful because it takes dye more readily and the colours always come out beautifully. I enjoy exploring all kinds of materials, and choosing the right fabric for a project. They all have completely different characteristics, depending on the fibre and the construction.

You’ve got something really fantastic and unique going on with your prints and that is the augmented reality aspect of it. How does it work?

Thank you! For the augmented reality designs I used modelling software to create 3D versions of my 2D print designs, and then used augmented reality software to develop an app. The app is programmed to recognise the printed pattern and display the 3D digital model in front of it. So when you look at my prints through a phone or tablet, you can see them 'popping out' on the screen.

What was the appeal of utilizing augmented reality for you?

I'm really into new technology and future concepts, and I wanted to incorporate something high-tech into my work to juxtapose the more traditional element of the natural dyes. I liked how the augmented reality brought the idea of an artificial world into my work which was previously rooted in the natural world. I love this idea of an interplay between the physical and digital environments, the natural and the artificial. I think this is an interesting topic to think about today. Even as we spend more and more of our time in the digital realm, I believe it's important to not let ourselves become detached from nature.

This issue is about natural instinct. What do you perceive as a natural instinct?

Something that comes from your heart. Something which feels right, even though you might not be able to explain why.

Do you follow your natural instinct when working on a design?

Absolutely, I think that's what creativity is all about.

Where can we see more of your work?

I have a website, and you can also find me on Instagram, @erinhughesdesign.