Jodie Ruffle is London based womenswear designer who combines different types of crafts into designs. Her clothes are an engaging contrast of easy going oversized cuts with soft intricate embroideries and embellishments; all made by Jodie herself. A few weeks we met up in Palm Vaults to discuss her inspirations, goals and story of how she got into textiles.
How did you get into textiles?
I completed a degree at Middlesex University and graduated in BA Fashion. Whilst I was at uni, I interned at Jonathan Saunders and after uni worked in the pattern cutting section at Alexander McQueen for a year. While I was there, the embroidery studio always intrigued me. After lots of varied work experience, I got a studio space with a friend and decided to work on my own collections.
After a few projects, I did one with a lot of embroideries and realised that that kind of work was where I was happiest and most inspired; so I redirected my work towards more handcraft. Last year I completed an MA in Fashion (part-time, whilst I was teaching). It was a really open course and allowed me to do what I wanted so I specialised in embroidery and embellishment; wanting to deconstruct Couture techniques and apply them to contemporary sportswear-inspired fashion. My course director at the time, Richard Sorger, is an embellishment designer and really inspired and helped me develop my ideas and techniques with embroidery.
He guided you?
Yeah, he was great. I’ve always been interested in embroidery and I guess I have been working with it since I was a child in a really fun kind of casual way. I took a short course a few years ago in Couture Embellishment at the London College of Fashion that really inspired me before my MA. But working with Richard was the first time I properly researched into and learnt more about the different techniques while perfecting my skills.
As your MA was so open what did your other classmates do?
Yeah it was really open and there were really good facilities so you could work with anything really. Mainly everyone did fashion collections, one did menswear tailoring, and another did something really cool with chemicals, print and the scientific side of designing surfaces.
Did you have to write dissertations and produce samples or collections?
Yeah I did. I produced a collection that initially had to consist of 6 to 8 pieces but I ended up making 14. An opportunity came up to share a showroom space during London Fashion Week around the time of my MA deadline, so I had to push myself a bit harder to get a more substantial collection together. On top of that I had a dissertation to write too.
What did you write about?
I was encouraged to write about my practice so I wrote about the value of handcraft, using traditional embroidery and embellishment techniques and how to make them relevant today. I researched into how Couture houses survive and wrote about the benefits of handcraft and sustainability.
Where did you get your information and research from?
I read a lot! I had a couple of tutors that were interested in crafts and they gave me some great suggestions for readings.
Did you find it interesting?
Yeah I did. At first I was worried about having to write a dissertation on top of making my collection but the more I got into the research the more I became passionate about writing it. Reading about fast fashion and wastage really enlightened me too.
So how else do you apply your textiles?
At the moment it’s mainly through fashion. This summer I did a project with one of my MA classmates, Hector Godoy. He’s from a product design background so we collaborated on a project where we embroidered onto furniture that he designed. We got on really well during our MA, but were producing completely different kinds of work. We came up with an idea inspired by overpopulation and I created embroideries that looked like they were growing out of the furniture, like bacteria almost. We wanted it to look integral so we embroidered directly onto the furniture. Some of the embroidery was incased in resin and some was left raw on the outside. It was a really interesting project because initially it was a challenge to figure out how to embroider on such hard material; eventually we just drilled tiny holes through wood and embroidered through them. It was a fun project and was displayed at the London Design Fair this year. That was the first textiles project I did that wasn’t related to fashion. We’re thinking of teaming up again in the future.
What other ways would you like to apply your textiles?
I haven’t thought about that really. At the moment I’m really focused on fashion textiles because it’s how I started and where my background’s from. I was used to designing and making fashion and now working with embroidery and embellishment feels like a whole new layer of opportunity and inspiration for me.
Where do you buy your materials?
Wherever really. With the collection I recently completed I only had a small budget so I bought a lot of secondhand and vintage things and cut them up to reuse. I’d just moved out of my studio and moved house so I sold a lot of stuff on eBay, which kind of funded the collection but also it meant I had loads of bubble wrap lying around so I started embroidering on top of it. I try to use what I already have around me other than that I shop in haberdasheries around London or online.
Have you been to any other countries to buy materials?
No I haven’t, but my flat mate, Louise, goes back to Hong Kong and often brings back loads of stuff for me. For my first project I gave her £50 to spend and she came back with a suitcase of beads and sequins! She knows me really well and I gave her my colour scheme so she bought so much stuff. It was insane; you’d never be able to buy that amount of embellishments here for the same price. She said Hong Kong has a few streets with loads of shops selling all kinds of materials. I really want to go one day.
Who would you like to collaborate with?
I was talking to friend about this the other day and I’d really like to collaborate with sportswear brands, I’m especially thinking about embroidering onto footwear. I’d love to do a project with Adidas or Converse. There are of course loads of brands I’d like to work with but at the moment my mind’s fixed on sportswear and oversized clothing. I like working on denim too; with my recent collection I thought a lot about how I could incorporate more of my own personal style into my work. Levi’s would good brand to work with actually… honestly I’d embroider anything!
What do you think about how embroidery is perceived now? Do you think it’s really trendy?
I think it’s becoming more so; there’s a lot of embroidery in high street shops that isn’t quite the same and people aren’t educated about the different production processes. I think younger brands like Simone Rocha, Christopher Kane and Mary Katrantzhou have appealed to a younger consumer more than more established brands that use embroidery like Chanel or Dior. Embroidery is everywhere but it can be split into a million different things in a million different ways, it’s totally limitless.
What type of embroidery do you work with?
At the moment my work is hand embroidered with intricate sequins and beadwork. I work in a deconstructed way and deliberately sew on the wrong side of the fabric. I like the back side of embroidery and think the mistakes give it a unique feel.
Like unintentional design?
Yeah. I’m generally a perfectionist and get anxious about my work but once I started enjoying the beauty of mistakes it relaxed me and made things easier, less stressful to do.
It gives you a reassurance that you don’t always need to control everything and just let it be.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’ve just finished a collection and a short video featuring my clothes made by videographer Emma Hamilton. It was inspired by 90s rave music videos; but the clothes are kind of men’s sportswear reworked as oversized womenswear. They have a football kit look to them but with deconstructed embroidery and 3D sequin embellishments. We filmed it using a 360-degree virtual reality camera so the film has a really cool trippy vibe. For my next collection I’m going to continue working with embroidery and embellishment on similar silhouettes but adding in some outerwear.
What are your favourite fabrics to work on?
I used to really like working with organza and it’s really nice to embroider on but I had a nightmare version of it when I was doing my MA that was silky and holographic looking. It’s such a beautiful fabric but it kept getting loads of holes in it. After a while I realised I never really wear it, so why am I using it?! I’ve worked on neoprene, which is really nice to embroider on. I like working on sports fabrics – airtex, sweatshirting and denim too. I kind of made a new fabric in my last collection that is bubble wrap bonded onto airtex.
How did you bond it?
I used bondaweb and vinyl either side when I pressed it so it didn’t melt! I wasn’t sure it would work but it looked really effective with airtex. I like creating new things through bonding and embroidery. I think one of the nicest things about working in a handcrafted way is that the fabrics don’t have to be expensive because you add value to it by working on it.
When I look at embellishments I don’t really look at the fabric to be honest.
Yeah I think it’s more about how the fabric feels when you wear it rather than what it looks like.
What other textiles would you like to explore?
I think I’m going to start working with print. I’ve done some digital print before but I’m not a professional when it comes to screen-printing. I want to learn more though – I think I need to find ways to express embroidery without working for hundreds of hours on one piece. We’ve been thinking of photographing the textiles and printing them then working back into them, like placements. Print’s the next step for me in combination with embroidery.
What are your goals as a designer?
Well they change a bit but I want to keep going with my collections. I want to make a success of growing my own brand. This was the first real collection after my MA and I’m going to try and present that to a few people and see if I can get some sponsorship or funding. Hopefully, try and show at London Fashion Week next season, and build up from there. I need to work in a way that’s sustainable for me because I can’t supply and meet too many stockists’ demands straight away. I’m going to present my current collection to buyers and work on private orders. I just want to keep embroidering!
What do you love most about textiles?
I love it visually and like how I’m turning mistakes into surfaces and designs. There are millions of different textiles and it’s never ending. It doesn’t feel like it’s being repeated and every designer has got their own individual take on it. I love that you can embroider everything and add a layer of richness to it. I had a silk dress that was falling apart because I put it in the washing machine too much but embroidered it back together and it became a whole new thing. It’s a nice way to add uniqueness.