Being A Fashion Student 101: Research & Sketchbook

Wednesday 24 September 2014

This post may contains affiliate links. Read my disclaimer policy here.

fashion design research sketchbook

I think my favourite part of starting a new project is spending hours reading through books, visiting galleries and looking at images for inspiration, so the next part of my fashion student 101, as the title suggests, is all about research and sketchbook. If you missed the first part of this series, you can read it right here.



When you have been given an open brief, it can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming with the number of different routes and ideas you can take. I love making mind maps to start off an idea, but if you need a little help, here are some of the ways I find inspiration. With the number of visuals available on the internet nowadays, people tend not to visit museums or exhibitions anymore. You can look online through museum galleries, but I find nothing better than seeing it in person, having a real look and taking time to think about the pieces. You can start your project with a quote and develop this idea into further research. What I love about quotes is that the meaning behind them change from person to person based around personal experiences, and the way in which you think, so your project can start in the mind of someone one way, but as they look through your research, they can see it in a completely new way. You might love a certain periodic time, you might be fascinated about something you heard on the news, or found an image you love, these are also great starting points for research. Try not to use a designer as inspiration, you sometimes unintentionally end up designing a collection very similar to theirs.


You might see an image of a beautiful building you want to base your project around. You look at the initial structure, and you can think up basic design ideas, which is great, but why not research a little deeper. Find out about the architect; why was it built this way? Maybe this was a way of expressing himself. Why was it built? Maybe it could have been for someone with wealth and power. Find out the time it was build and where, maybe there was something going on during this period to why it was needed to be built. This can help you create a mood/atmosphere with your designs, fabric choices/colour palette and move your designs to a less literal collection. Imagine this building was for a King, you can research into him and what he wore and use this as detailing or trim ideas. Your idea doesn't have to be strictly based on one thing, pull things together and see what amazing things you can do.

I'm learning how to gather research and how to layout a fashion sketchbook with @helloaycan #fashionstudents


I always used to get my inspiration from visuals as I had to physically see the image to think up ideas, but going through uni, I started to think outside of this so called 'visual box'; using thoughts and feelings to create a mood with my designs. Just say you was lucky enough to go backpacking around Europe, you must have taken thousands of images of architecture and cultural items, but what if you thought about the idea of freedom and exploration and brought this into your research. Having a limited amount of clothing, but you still had to think about the different climates you were going to be experiencing; this could help you design a collection with a lot of layering and mixing fabrics together. Garments with a lot of pockets for storing items, which could lead you to then research into how to uses pockets in a hidden way. You can still use your images you have taken though; an all over print, or ideas for detailing and fabric manipulations, (not going to lie, I'm really excited about designing for this non-backpacking trip I've taken). You can literally take inspiration from anything personal to you, just step back and think about the thoughts behind it.


You might start off with one idea and end your project in a completely different route, but there is nothing wrong with this. Even though your idea has changed, what you have done before was not a waste of time, so don't pull it out your sketchbook, it shows your journey of how you got there!!


I think the most important part is to find a way of putting your research together; two of my favourite things to use are Pinterest and Tumblr. With Pinterest, I organise my themes into boards and look at everything as a whole and pull out images I need. Tumblr is a little more chaotic, (as chaotic as a perfectionist can go). I just put together any visuals I like, but I still try and keep it in a sort of theme. Both websites are a good way to search for images too, but they can be a little 'samey' so don't use them as your only source of inspiration, maybe just a way to gather.


As a creative student, I think this is a given. You don't need to constantly carry around a huge SLR or your A3 sketchbook, a compact camera or even your mobile phone is great for just snapping some inspiration. I like to carry round a mini sketchbook/diary just to note down any ideas or names, and to take a few quick drawings.


I would highly recommend 'Basics Fashion Design 01: Research and Design' by Simon Seivewright. I bought this at the start of 1st year and used it all the way through uni. It covers the areas around research, as well as how to use this research for designing. The book is filled with visuals, sketchbook pages and great tips. These come in a range of books for each part of design, but you can buy 'The Fundamentals of Fashion Design' by Richard Sorger and Jenny Udale, which pulls out the main areas of each book and compiles it into one.



I used to struggle with completing my sketchbooks as I would compare them to other peoples, but everyone had something different as there is no set way to do a sketchbook. A sketchbook should basically be a way of throwing all your unedited ideas down. You might not like the limitations with sketchbooks, so you can do them on loose sheets then bind them together. Sometimes even the theme of your project can help decide how to set your book out; something about the royal family would need to be neat and precise, whereas something about a journey might be put together like a diary, with things clipped in and taped down. I've gathered some sketchbook pages on my Pinterest page if you need some visual help.


Sketchbooks should be filled with images, drawings, designs, development, samples and fabric swatches. If you have an image, there is no need to copy the image exactly, draw some of the details you find inspirational, or put tracing paper over the top and highlight areas you like, I literally can't get enough tracing paper in my sketchbooks! I'll talk about the designing side more in detail in the next part of this series, but attach fabric swatches next to designs so your tutors can feel and visualise what your garment is going to look like.


Even though your sketchbook isn't like your portfolio, it still needs to show your complete journey; you can't be jumping from one idea to the next without stating it, or showing why you have changed your mind. It will also help you when it comes to designing, as you can look back and see your ideas changing.


Annotation is so important to help your tutors understand your thought process, as what might seem obvious to you isn't so clear to others. I hate writing in sketchbooks as I thought my handwriting made the page look messy, so I used to write them on to post-its and write them in when I am having a better handwriting day. You don't need to write too much, keywords and phrases can sometimes be enough to create a connection between your images, designs and thoughts.

If you have just started 1st year or you are in another year, I really hope this post has helped. If there is anything else you want to know and think I can help, comment below, tweet or e-mail me, (links below or above) I would really love to help. Make sure you're following so you won't miss out on the next part of this series.