Research: Sonia Delaunay

I was intrigued to further investigate the way that Sonia Delaunay applied textile design to fashion and found the book by Jacques Damase Sonia Delaunay: Fashion and Fabrics.

In a letter from Sonia Delaunay to Jacques Damase (May, 1968) she explains how her fabrics “were hugely successful, particularly from 1925 onwards.” It is fascinating that she talks about how her works “were made for women, and all were constructed in relation to the body” and compares this to how other couturiers copied paintings such as Mondrian and Op Art pieces and “transposed [them] on to women’s bodies”. I think she is saying that the colour and fabric design were integral to the design of her fashion garments. In his essay Michel Hogg “Sonia Delaunay – The Fabrics” he notes that she “always respects the specific character of the design for clothing fabrics: simple and clear motifs, the way they fit the body, colours which are often vivid, but which harmonise most agreeably.”

Sonia Delaunay took inspiration from a variety of sources including”the colours cast by artificial light” and used gouache in the paintings. “She was also one of the first avant-garde painters to make costumes for the cinema” and I am very intrigued by her ability to crossover and design fabrics for particular clothing. The idea of creating art that is wearable is an exciting prospect, Delaunay made works that could be circulated in ways that paintings could not be by incorporating them into everyday life such as murals, book illustrations, book covers, lampshades, tapestries etc.

Given that Part 3 of A Textile Vocabulary focuses on Colour I also found a book by Jacques Damase that looked at Sonia Delaunay’s approach to colour, Sonia Delaunay: Rhythms and Colours.

It was in 1922 that a silk manufacturer in Lyon commissioned fifty designs for materials from Sonia Delaunay and she took it as a “marvellous opportunity for her to further the study of colour which she had already undertaken in her painting”. Sonia Delaunay introduced geometrical and abstract patterns into printed textiles from 1923 onwards and Robert Delaunay points out that “[t]he world of fabric design was to be profoundly altered by [her] work”. Almost all her designs were based on collage in 1923. In a lecture Sonia Delaunay said “the surface of a piece of material could still offer scope for untold fantasy and imagination”. Her colour selections seem highly influenced by the fauvists.

I think the draw to Sonia Delaunay’s textiles for me is the intention of placement of fabric within her garment design. One of the reasons that I started making my own clothing is that in much of modern “fast fashion” the cut of fabric is purely done on economic terms and many panels of directional fabric end up upside-down in the final garment. When I started making hand painted silk scarves I wanted to ensure that design placement was just as important as the colours etc. With the not-for-profit I set up, I wanted to ensure that the designs encompassed the practicalities of clothing designed for people with disabilities by making them an intrinsic feature of the clothing rather than an afterthought. Prompted by a simple question posed by my tutor regarding my two vs three dimensional choices, I have been thinking a lot about the type of work that I want to make and my thoughts are that I am probably moving in that direction naturally with many of my current choices. I am going to make more of a conscious decision to embrace my natural preferences in the coming exercises to try to push my artwork further as I was a little tentative in Assignment Two as I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to achieve. I do intend to keep experimenting as the first time I tried silk painting I could not stand it!


Damase, J. (1991) Sonia Delaunay: Fashion and Fabrics London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.

Damase, J. (1972) Sonia Delaunay: Rhythms and Colours London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.

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