Garments as canvases and zero waste design: The work of Greta Menzies

Garments as canvases and zero waste design: The work of Greta Menzies

What comes to mind when you think of textile design? Fashion? Furnishing? Cloth? Curatorial intern Sonya Withers looks at the work of Greta Menzies.

Textile designers are hard to pin, as their practice can span multiple mediums, spaces, and creative thinking.

International examples have shown technical experimentation in the defence force around wearable tech that blends in with the wearer’s environment.

Designers such as Iris Van Herpen have used non-related fashion fibres such as plastic and metal to create provocative shapes leaving viewers to question its comfort and versatility.

Pasifika and Māori artist Lonnie Hutchinson, who recently designed the Christchurch courthouse façade, heralds from a textile background that is evident in her hand-cut works for Black Bird.

In many cases, textile design can be a collective element to the bigger picture. Local designer Greta Menzies challenges textile’s traditional labels through her collaborative work and experiments through a variety of mediums.

Te Papa has a range of garments from the late eco-based fashion company Starfish featuring some of Greta Menzies surface pattern design illustrations:

Greta’s ‘Common Thread’ design
Greta’s ‘Common Thread’ design. Photograph by Daniel Crichton-Rouse. Te Papa (GH017805)
‘She’s a Drama Dress’
‘She’s a Drama Dress’, inspired by the idea of sisters sharing clothes – ‘the lovely rivalry of it all’. In this print each sister is represented by a flower. Photograph by Daniel Crichton-Rouse. Te Papa (GH017802)
Moonage Jacket
‘Moonage Jacket’. Laurie Foon describes “David Bowie’s Moonage Daydream metamorphosis from folk singer to space-age gender-bender” as the narrative behind Barry Betham’s illustrations and Greta Menzies’ repeats. Photograph by Daniel Crichton-Rouse. Te Papa (GH017798)

Originally illustration-driven, Greta warmed to textile design for its fluid navigation. Surface pattern design is one of many design approaches in the textile world.

One can illustrate a story, in Greta’s case with fashion designers Laurie Foon for Starfish and Barry Betham: Menzies was able to narrate their stories through illustration, which she then made into croquis and seamlessly repeated to cover a large surface of fabric which could then be constructed into a garment.

But Greta’s design work doesn’t stop here. Menzies has also worked collectively with groups like zero waste make/use, a sustainably-driven team of spatial, fashion, industrial, visual communicators, and textile designers that created user-modifiable zero waste garments.

In Menzies’ case, she oversaw the surface design work used to manipulate a one-piece-fabric garment that could not only look good, but subtly show the maker/wearer where to cut so they could make the garment as well as make modifications for future use as fashion adapts over time.

A selection of make/use images
A selection of make/use images. Photographs courtesy of Greta Menzies

Menzies’ thinking behind textile design as the process before product output can be seen in her undergraduate major project and Masters project – often using herself as an example:

Alter(ed) Ego was an exploration in reimagining bodies and identity through textiles and performance.

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Conversational Skins features a collection of heirloom ‘pelts’ – garments that once were, and have become, undone, as seen in the above series. From flat to form to flat to form; a physical repeat pattern in itself over space and time.

Menzies’ moving image work and garment pieces strongly reflect her narratives behind the illustrations over a variety of material mediums: embroidery, digitally printed fabrics, industrially rug-tufted garments, and the idea of movement – all while endeavouring to stay true to sustainable methods of production.

Her latest, exciting projects you may have seen around town are featured on the inside walls of the iconic San Fran on Cuba Street, and the odd power box outside Lower Hutt’s Queensgate shopping centre. She quotes herself as having fun outside of the traditionally cloth-based outputs.

New mural work going up at @sanfranvenue 👌 & thanks heaps for being my painting minion @oliviaedginton 👽🙏

A post shared by Greta Menzies (@greta_menzies) on

Painting in the girls toilets yo! #selfportrait #noboysallowed #bluelips At San Francisco Bath House in Wellington

A post shared by Greta Menzies (@greta_menzies) on


A post shared by Greta Menzies (@greta_menzies) on

Sonya Withers is a Creative New Zealand Pasifika Intern. Her internship at Te Papa has been facilitated by the Tautai Contemporary Pacific Arts Trust.

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