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Laser cutting for Textiles at Central Saint Martins

A week of laser-cutting fun!

Regents Canal opposite Granary Square

Regents Canal opposite Granary Square

I joined the Central Saint Martins (CSM) short course on Laser-cutting for Textiles, located in Granary Square alongside the Regent’s canal.  This was a week long course introducing students to the process of creating electronic (Adobe Illustrator) files to be used for laser-cutting, the various effects and techniques that can be achieved with laser cutting, and an array of fabrics, materials and textures to experiment with. The title is, therefore, a little misleading, as it wasn’t just fabrics we worked with, however there was a slight more slant towards fashion.

Our course tutor was Laura Baker, a specialist in fashion and textile print. And our technical tutor was Franklin Mok, both staff at the University of the Arts London (UAL), of which CSM forms a part. We were also joined by Miriam Griffiths, a knitwear designer and alumni of the London College of Fashion (also part of the UAL).

Laura demonstrated pattern-making methods within Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. We were also shown numerous examples of jewellery, fashion, food, and everyday objects and furnishings that have been designed or made using laser cutting. There were many previously cut samples on hand and we soon learnt that what may work on one type of fabric/material may look terrible on another and that accidents can sometimes lead to interesting results. Some materials worked better and others were not strong enough for the laser to engrave for example.

 

We were shown the materials library where a huge wall was adorned with hundreds of samples of plastics, woods, metals, fabrics, stone, etc. There were also many reference books on fashion and textiles and future developments within this area. Experimentation was very much encouraged.

Materials Library within Central Saint Martins

Materials Library within Central Saint Martins

We were taken down to the laser cutting room where we were introduced to a huge Trotec laser machine. As indicated on the front it could not only cut but also engrave and mark/score.

Trotec Laser cutting machine at CSM

Trotec Laser cutting machine at CSM

We were shown that specific cyan colours (magenta, blue, green and black) are interpreted by the computer as being either an internal cut, external cut, engraving or scoring. These lines had to be paths within an EPS or AI file format and be only hairline thin (with the exception of the engraving).

The following image shows engraving, scoring, internal and external cuts:

Sample demo of laser effects on veneer

Sample demo of laser effects on veneer

We were also taken to a few shops in the Aldgate area where we discovered suppliers of rare leather pieces from various animals. See if you can guess what each of these animal skin is? Most leather pieces had been treated with colour and stretched or stitched so may not look natural (pink rabbit skin being a key example).

Miriam Griffiths brought in some of her final year work of knitwear. Within the designs she also added pieces of laser cut wood. These wood pieces helped with the structural design of her garments which were based on garments worn by a remote tribe in China.

More of Miriam’s work can be seen on her website: http://www.miriamgriffiths.co.uk/

The next day we got on with designing our first samples for laser cutting. I’ve recently worked with iznik flower motifs so following in this theme I looked on the V&A Museum’s website some inspiration. I liked the look of the carnations on this velvet fabric dated at 1600-50:

Velvet fabric with carnation pattern c1600-50

Velvet fabric with carnation pattern c1600-50 (Image from V&A website:

http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/t/teachers-resource-exploring-plant-based-design-through-the-jameel-gallery-of-islamic-art/)

I began working on isolating and redrawing the flower shape in Photoshop and then switched to Illustrator for colouring the drawn paths which would be where the laser would engrave and cut the material:

Preparing flower motif file

Preparing flower motif file

I chose to use the metallic leather sample piece I obtained from one of the leather shops we visited earlier in the week for the flower motifs:

Flower motif laser cut into metallic cow leather

Flower motif laser cut into metallic cow leather

I later realised that I should have changed the colour of the middle paths so that those would have been internal cuts. Instead I cut one of the motifs’ inner strokes by hand to see how this would look.

Flower motif laser cut from metallic cow leather

Flower motif laser cut from metallic cow leather

You realise when going through the process of designing, amending and laser-cutting the pieces that it can be very much trial and error until you’ve had a bit of practice with not only the design file, but also the material you work with. The same file worked well on stronger materials like the mirrored acrylic but not so much on the thinner sheepskin leather shown below:

Flower motif laser cut into acrylic and sheepskin leather

Flower motif laser cut into mirrored acrylic and sheepskin leather