ATELIER TALKS : HELENA BAJAJ-LARSEN - Textile designer
Parsons Fashion Design - BFA
Having a painter as my mother and growing up in Paris, I have been surrounded by art and design since my childhood. I tagged along to innumerable art openings and tradeshows as a kid, until I started actually enjoying them and realizing I definitely wanted some part of this world. I was most exposed to fine arts due to my mother’s profession and did not yet have any understanding of the concept of “design fields” - all I knew was that I loved looking at compositions of color, line and pattern be it fashion, art or anything that had to with aesthetics.
Towards the end of elementary school I began enrolling in different sorts of after school courses at the Musee des Arts Décoratifs; accessories, painting, drawing, basic sewing, etc. This is when I started to notice that I had a tendency to gravitate towards textiles because of my love of texture.
How I started textile painting
I did my first textile painting workshop in Pune when I was 8 years old or so. I then returned when I was 15, then 18 and then again this past year to complete my thesis fabrics. I keep returning to this method simply because of the creative liberty it allows. There are no rules - I have dabbled with so many other treatment techniques from silkscreening to machine knitting to felting to laser etching, and interesting as I found them each to be, I also found them slightly constricting. There seemed to be a repetitive quality of the work - pulling it further away from what might consider a purely abstracted outcome.
Another attribute that I find beautiful with this particular printing method, is the infinite possibilities in terms of layering (there is a fabric in the KHADI collection which has 14 layers done over the course of 8 days!). The fact that it is all by hand and doesn’t rely on a very specific tool or machine also adds to the feeling that one can achieve anything in terms of color, weight, sheen.
I attended Parsons as a Fashion Design BFA student for four years with the exception of the Spring of 2016, semester during which I was accepted to Central St Martins for a study abroad term in their Textile Print BA. My last year at Parsons, I took several jewelry design electives as part of my degree and this is how I ended up discovering with the world of metal and why I incorporated it into my senior collection : KHADI.
KHADI constitutes an Indian homespun cotton cloth often referred to as “the fabric of social change” due to its crucial role in the Indian Independence movement led by Mahatma Gandhi. My thesis by this very name is a contemporary take on an old story which is both close to my heart as it reflects my family history but also embodies my passionate relationship to textiles. The journey began with researching this period in Indian history extensively through books namely one titled “Khadi: Gandhi’s Mega Symbol of Subversion” by Peter Gonsalves, as well as a family autobiography, old letters from Gandhi to my grandparents, etc.
When it came to translating the subject matter into aesthetic materializations in the form of design products, my background in textile work meant I naturally focused on texture based experiments. The color and texture story resulted from photographs I had taken around Wardha the town where my Grandparents and Gandhi spent the last decades of their lives and which I visited every summer.
I picked up the rusts, maroons, metallics, dry earth tones from everything from nature, to the old walls of abandoned homes and even the machinery in some factories...The fabrics were sourced from certified Khadi shops around the country and hand painted over winter break using acid and pigment dyes in a variety of different techniques and materials.
The silhouettes are very simple as their role is mainly to act as a frame to the textile work - bringing them to life as they wrap around the body without distracting from the intricate surface prints. The jewelry which accompanies the collection, is entirely hand-textured using a variety of techniques from granulation, form-folding, hammering.
Future Project Ideas
Initially I thought of textiles as a gateway to fashion and always explored materiality with the idea of the final outcome being a garment. This approach changed over my time at Parsons as I began to think of textiles in the context of interiors (furniture/walls/ ceilings/other surfaces), fine arts (installation), media (textural photography, video) and even just as a product in itself. As long as my vision remains intact and consistent I am open to seeing what different realms of design the textile work might apply itself to in the future.