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Design Research (MPhil) (PhD)

Tsai-Chun Huang

After graduating from National Taiwan University, and the Shih-Chien University, Tsai-Chun Huang acquired his Ph.D. from the Royal College of Art, London. He is now a reseach assistant professor in Institute of Textiles & Clothing, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. His research focused on the history of pleats and innovation in pleating technology.

Before coming to London, he designed for theatres and TV shows in Taiwan. He won First Prize in Build a Dream Project (築夢計畫) from The Hakka Affairs Council in 2013 to sponsor his indigo research trip in 3 USA cities and Shanghai, China. During his Ph.D. research, he was invited to several design schools, including Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), PARSONS, New York University (NYU) in New York, Royal College of Art (RCA), Instituto Marangoni, London, to demonstrate innovative pleating method and to facilitate workshops. Recently, he has worked with European art festivals, such as Hull UK City of Culture 2017, and the Prague Quadrennial 2019.


Degree Details

School of Design

Design Research (MPhil) (PhD)

Tsai-Chun’s research concentrates on the relationship between materials and body. Designing costumes for theatres, with the demands for ranges of movement and durability, has sharpened his observations of daily wear. He found that the expansion and contraction of pleats offer the potential for new ways of wearing. He learnt the technique of conventional pleating, becoming a studio technician in the longest standing pleating studio in the UK, Ciment Pleating Ltd.

Cutting-edge technology is also part of Tsai-Chun’s focus. Smart textiles will hugely alter the look and the function of garments. He contributed to the reactive textile research team in Kyoto Design Lab, Kyoto Institute of Technology in 2016, co-developing smart textiles with pleats. At the same time, he would like to return to fundamental principles of body based design in fashion and textile research, without blindly chasing technology. Considering people’s life style and habits, how do smart textiles interact with human body? Why do we need these smart textiles? Have these smart textiles simply become a trend? These critical questions have helped him to reflect on his research.

Inversion Pleating

It has been evidenced that geometric consistency can affect mental wellbeing (Larson, 2007, p.526). Geometric repetition is also highly valued for its aesthetic possibilities in the field of design (Knauer, 2008, p.VIII; Melcher and Cavanagh, 2013, p.388; Soegaard, 2017).

Fortuny Pleats Experiment

In fashion history, full knowledge of the method used to create the well-known Fortuny pleats still remains unknown (Kearney, 1990, p.86; Deschodt and Poli, 2000, p.172). Experts have endeavoured to demystify the secret by referring to diagrams of the pleating machine Fortuny patented in 1909, as well as examining existing original Delphos dresses collected by museums.
What is a pleat?
What is in a pleat?
What do pleats do?

Ciment Pleating Visiting 2015

Sun ray pleating in Taiwan — Sinta
Learning to pleat

During my time as a studio technician in Ciment Pleating, I learnt both hand pleating and machine pleating methods.
The repetitive gestures in the process of pleating are necessary to achieve equality and balance across the pleated fabric. At the same time these gestures establish a kind of ceremonial ritual for pleaters.

Cubic Pleating 1

Cubic Pleating 2

Cubic Pleating 3

Cubic Pleating 4

Making pleats
The evolution of pleating is not just about technological advancement, it is about how the application of knowledge can bring together, alter and create new forms. In this sense pleating is a process of thinking and making.
Workshop Documentation — 2017 Zhengzhou
Workshopping to teach pleats
Collective research through experiments with workshop participants has encouraged me to focus on what is possible without industrial machinery, with limited time, and undeveloped skill sets. It has also allowed me to test out approaches and explore methods. It is this opportunity that has encouraged me to invent my own portable steamer to conduct workshops in different countries.

Pliable Logic

Flexibility in the use of qualitative methodologies is essential to create a best-fit with the research question, and to optimise the desired outcome.
Mills, 2014, p.36

Pleats and pleating have their own conceptual frame of thinking, distinct from other types of textile production methods and textile properties. This research has developed this ‘pliable logic’, a textile research methodology which references a malleable, recursive procedure, to encourage the researcher to search for meaning in between stages.
• Softness
In contrast to engineering’s ‘hard logic’, which people perceive it as rational, logical and sensible, with definite figures and theories (Igoe, 2013, p.39), Pennina Barnett introduces Michel Serres’s ‘box-thought’ which Serres believes can be further elaborated into a theory of fabric.
However pleating practice also emphasises the repetitive action of making, the space between surfaces, and the structure of pleats.

Make-Think-Write sequecne

• Recursive sequence
The second property of pliable logic is the sequence that is generated by a pleating action to create pleated forms. There are two types of sequences, the first is modelled on ‘think-speak-write’, Sarat Maharaj’s interpretation of Janis Jefferies’ creative route, as a model to show how this study connects various aspects of research together; the second is a helical sequence borrowed from an action research methodology and describes the analysis of one project cycle to the progression of the whole research.

Pliable Logic research cycle

• Plica ex plica

The last element of pliable logic is ‘plica ex plica’, from the Latin, literally ‘fold from fold’. This concept, adopted from Gilles Deleuze, can make a new contribution to textile thinking. I propose that ‘plica ex plica’, the model of forming pleats, can be used as a way to interrogate the relationship between theory and practice. The ‘fold from fold’ draws attention to the space in- between folds, the fold in the fold, and this ‘in-betweeness’ becomes a space for conceptual investigation.

Fold the Interfashionality Recursive Structure

This project is in collaboration with Dr Mingjing Lin and material is fully sponsored by Sinterit, Ltd.
When looking for an application for the 3D printed experiments with my research colleague Dr Mingjing Lin, we turned to our shared cultural heritage, and the traditional costumes of Beijing Opera (also known as ‘Peking Opera’ in the West).

Farewell My Concubine is a classic in the Beijing Opera repertoire and tells the story of Concubine Yu’s suicide in order to save her lover, Xiang Yu. In the traditional costumes, pleating is used as part of the undergarment, hidden from public view. For our version of Farewell My Concubine, we transfer the pleats to the outside of the costume, to observe their effect.

In this performance project, I would like to determine how the performers interact with the 3D printed pleated garments, and what, if any, physical restrictions or emotional characterisations, are generated. How do digital pleats affect these choreographed movements, and consequently the emotions that are evoked?

I utilise pliable logic to examine my pleating practice in relation to the creation of a new pleating techniques and this performance for which I made the costumes.

In Collaboration with:

Farewell My Concubine 3rd rehearsal on 26th November 2017

Hand Stitched partition parts

Parted 3D printing parts

Parted 3D printing parts

What is a digital pleat in performance?
Emotion Stimuli

The actress, Tianxia Xu, expressed that “It is a big change to anyone who is familiar with traditional Beijing Opera. When I was young my master told me ‘rather torn than false’ which refers to the fact that we would rather wear shabby clothes than the wrong type of clothes, which do not represent the character.” However, after she saw the garment with 3D printed pleats, she immediately identified the character. She responded in interview that the pleated costume, which combined contemporary technology and traditional craft, gave her a feeling that the character of Concubine Yu could “time travel”, and that the costume helped connect her with the past.

What is in a pleat?
Maker’s Involvement
Through the creative process, I realised that the maker’s involvement not only exists in the practical application of digital technology but also in the mindset we bring when engaging with digital tools.

What do digital pleats do in performance?
Bendability versus Stretchiness
The shell-like 3D printed pleats were twisting when the body moved, rather than expanding and contracting as a conventional pleat would. It became clear that bendability replaced stretchiness. This bendability comes from the properties of the material, while stretchiness derives from the pleating structure. This 3D printed pleat interrogates the definition of pleats by being a non-pleat, without the property of contraction and expansion.

In Collaboration with:

25 July 2020
11:00 (GMT + 0)

Postgraduate Research: Meet The Maker

Tsai-Chun Huang reflects on his PhD journey at RCA.
Read More

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