Weaving textile with colours

NESTLED in the corner of a shoplot's vacant second floor in Petaling Jaya, 24-year-old Carabelle Cheong is in the midst of building a nest dedicated to her career as a textile designer.

"I've begun moving my art things out of the place I've been staying with a friend," she says, before continuing, "I'm moving back in with my mother, but I don't want to turn the house into a mess".

Growing up watching Mickey Mouse on television, Cheong's love affair with torrents of vivid colours began at a very young age, and has persistently grown since.

"I was fascinated by the animation, and how it was able to evoke happiness in those who watch it."
After completing her Bachelor of Arts in Textile Design, Cheong returned to Malaysia from Australia, submerging herself into the world of textile design and the multitude of responsibilities that come with it.

Having participated in Nando's Art Initiative 2017 recently, with "Sarang", an art piece inspired by batik designs and the mythical phoenix, she is concurrently trying her hand as an art director in commercials.

Why choose textile art design?

I'm interested in the process of making fabric. Fashion is about structure, the silhouette of the dress.
What makes the garment interesting is the fabric itself and the materials. I realised that I'm more interested in how to use the materials than how to make a dress.

Textile in a way relates to fashion. Most of my artworks are interactive, and it pops out, so you can touch them. Illustration can be included into the textile, and you can explore your own print. It's a different kind of approach with fashion.

Did you always want to be a fashion designer?

Yes, but now I'm more interested in being a textile artist. Working in fashion can be very fast paced, in terms of fashion and textile, and it follows trends. Nowadays we have highly competitive brands, but most don't pay attention to the quality of the material, so there is not much focus on the textile.

I'm attracted to the process and preservation of traditional arts, and how it relates to current trends. Fashion is just fashion; it's clothing. In textile, there are interiors, upholstery –there's a lot of exploration and experimentation.

What's the difference between working on commissions and art pieces compared to working as an art director?

In art directing, a lot needs to be taken care of; every single detail that people see on the screen. In textile, you need to focus on the materials, fibres and colours.

Art directing has me working with talents, the camera, and how the props look through the camera, and the necessary things like working with the director and screenwriter. My background in textile often influences me as an art director in creating the appropriate aesthetic.

Is it as artistically demanding?

They're both demanding in different ways. In textile design, I spend a lot of time looking for the proper materials and brainstorming ideas as the work in general is done by myself. For art directing, I have to work with others, as part of a cohesive, well-oiled team.

If you could choose one or the other, would you rather be a fashion designer or an art director?

I'd go with being an art director, as that way, I could still work in aspects of textile designing. I would also say it's more fun working with people as an art director compared to working on textile design by myself in a room.

Do you put a lot of thought into each art piece that you make?

Yes, every piece is personal and emotional. I can't create something without doing what I like. For textile design, it's always about what clients want, but I still try to incorporate my identity into the piece.