I was initially inspired by the aesthetic of mosaics. I love the texture and the various applications, as well as the potential to use recycled materials, whether broken glass, pottery, beads, etc. A lot of the mosaic projects I am familiar with are classic cement-based or grouted ones, such as my inspirational examples below.
While I love the function and design of these firm-set pieces, I thought it would be interesting to try and implement a soft-set mosaic, one that is somehow attached as accessory to a fabric item.
A while ago, my cat knocked a china tea cup and saucer off of my counter and broke them, and I held on to the pieces hoping to do something useful out of them. In this way, my design process started out a bit differently than the idealized design loop that my team and I came up with.
In the idealized process, we started with a problem that needed to be solved, where as I began with a material I wanted to use (which, in a way, is a problem in itself but not the kind that we intended to suggest within the idealized model).
Idealized Design Loop:
(From Brendan Lee‘s Design Flow Chart Post)
My Actual Design Process:
Notice that the brainstorming of project ideas and applications remained as the second step, but in the actual design process it was revisited again and again, leading to dead ends, inspiring further material gathering, and then back again to brainstorming ways to incorporate the new material. It was during this time that I was picking through a thrift store and came across a soft, vinyl-coated fabric purse, and decided to apply the mosaic to its front.
After arriving at this viable project idea, I then entered an iterative loop of trying to design the pattern for the mosaic, refining the broken china pieces, tacking them down with glue, and in some cases, hating the way that looked and revising the pattern, re-refining the piece, and re-tacking it down with glue.
The Refining Method:
I started with broken pieces from the original tragic accident, but in some cases I needed to reshape certain shards to fit my pattern. I started by gently chipping them with a chisel and hammer.[Above left: All my tools/materials. Right: Chisel and hammer.]
Once in the correct shape, I put all the pieces through a sanding process to ensure that particularly sharp edges would be ground down, and all of the pieces would have (mostly) uniform, smoothed edges. First the pieces were roughly ground down by an iron file. Next, I finished polishing the edges with a finer grit sanding block.
[Above left: File for rough grind. Right: Sand block for smooth finish.]
When the pieces for my design were refined, I checked their fit within the design, refining more if needed, and began the application process. This consisted of tacking on each piece with hot glue in the appropriate spot, and then stitching across and around the piece to ensure its adherence. I did not want to use hot glue as my only method of attachment, both because the vinyl surface of the purse did not take very well to the glue once it had dried, and because the stitching added another texture visually and physically. I wanted the stitching to represent the grout or cement of a traditional mosaic project. It adheres the pieces to the surface of the purse, but it also separates them visually and adds an extra dimension to the project’s appearance.
[Above: The pieces laid out before attachment.]
[Above: Stitching the pieces on.]
[Above: re-refining some pieces.]
[Above: Adding extra stitches as a design element.]
The actual design process devolved as I went along, and lines between steps were blurred, especially towards the “end” of the project. Constantly I went back to the design stage to reformulate my artistic vision, even in the midst of the “finishing touches” stage. For example, I decided halfway through stitching that extra stitches around and outside the pieces would help to fill the empty space and create more visual interest.
Even the “final product” is in quotations because the design process persists every time I take another look at the project. I might go back and add more stitching, or perhaps continue to add pieces of broken china or glass or the odd button lying around, or maybe I will paint the remaining space. I tend to overthink and over do things. Maybe I will just leave it alone. In general, this is how my actual process diverged from the idealized one, as ideally you would revise but then move on to the next step until the project is as finished as it can be. I seem to get stuck in a cycle of new inspiration and then lack of inspiration, doing too many things to the project and then getting sick of how much I did to the project. I should probably leave it be.
Functional and Artistic Vision:
Once I settled on the idea of creating my mosaic textile on the purse, I turned to the colors of the tea cup and saucer to inspire the design of the pattern. There are rich golds and oranges in the border pieces, nicely contrasting from the soft blue, floral design of the body pieces. That color combination reminded me of Van Gogh’s Irises and Sower with Setting Sun, so I was inspired to design a sun pattern with the gold-orange pieces. I liked the brand marks from the underside of the tea cup and saucer, so I used those as the center and body of iris-like flowers. I used the blue-flowery pieces for the stems/leaves.
For contrast and to further promote this color scheme, I also chose a dark navy thread for the stitching.
[Above: The paintings and the pieces during creation.]
[Above: The “finished” product and the paintings.]
[Above: Detail shot.]
[Above: Closer-up of stitching and irises.]
Functionally, I wanted the stitching to secure the pieces to the purse, which ended up working, though differently than I intended. Initially, the stitches were only going to be around the edges of each piece, however my refining method worked so well the edges were too slippery to hold the thread up. Therefore, I had to modify the design to add stitching over the top of each piece, which did allow me more artistic expression. I tried to use the stitches as details, to unify the elements in each part of the design. The sun has a specific stitch-pattern, as do the iris leaves and petals. The decorative stitching around the pieces was also inspired by the paintings, as I tried to make it more whimsical and flow-y like the lines in the art.
Artistically, I am happy with how what I achieved honors my inspiration and fulfills the mosaic aesthetic I was going for. I was able to upcycle those broken pieces of china in a way that was motivated by the tea cup and saucer’s original artistic presentation. The colors lead me to the paintings, which lead me to the mosaic design, which upheld my initial project idea. However, I am open to further improvement depending on how I am inspired in the future, and how this piece fits into my life and personal aesthetic.
Which brings me to the functional achievement of the piece. The early specification for this project’s function was really just to use these pieces as decoration, and to make sure they were smooth enough that the purse was a safe accessory. However, as I worked on the project, I realized I would never really need or use a purse this small.
I got to thinking, and because a lot of the mosaic aesthetic is particularly a garden mosaic aesthetic (i.e. mosaic garden tables, stepping stones, ceramic/clay pots), I thought it would be interesting to use the purse as a hanging plant holder.
It seemed a useful solution, so with a few minor adjustments (to hold the purse open as it hangs), that’s what happened.
I am very happy with the whole look, especially as the sun comes in the window and reflects off the glazed china pieces. Its purpose may evolve as time goes on, as well as its appearance, but for now I am very pleased with the resulting upcycle of the tea cup, saucer, and purse.
[Above: Hanging plant purse in place.]