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Jilli Blackwood - Commonwealth Games 2014

Commonwealth Games 2014

The summer of 2012 was the first time I had a conversation with Commonwealth Games Scotland with regards to the Scottish Team parade uniform. At that time they were looking to select a designer and an article about my work had recently been published in the ‘Scotland on Sunday’ magazine, during which I mentioned how I would relish the challenge of dressing the Scottish Team.

Before my first meeting I had the opportunity to read the brief, which stated that the uniforms had to make a ‘high impact statement’, and time to research what the Scottish Team had worn for previous opening ceremonies. Important too for my understanding of the project was my experience in 2010 when I attended the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. Back then, in the role of Director of Costume for the Flag Handover Ceremony, when I dressed 350 Scots men and women for their 8 minute performance to over 1 billion viewers world-wide, I learned a huge amount regarding the many competing factors which surround such an event.

First one has to try and imagine what the Opening Ceremony will appear like, whether there in person or watching on a television screen. The stadium is huge and the audience in their seats will seem like a sea of people, like many dots in a pixelated photograph. The field of play will fill with colour as the teams enter, proudly bearing their national flags and creating a kaleidoscope of different colours from all round the Commonwealth. The atmosphere will be electric, like a carnival, as everyone in the stadium celebrates the sporting talent parading before them.

After acceptance of my uniform 'concept' many meetings then followed, at various levels within Commonwealth Games Scotland, to decide upon the final design and look. It was an inclusive process with representation from athletes, board members and the media team, all of whom have experience of opening ceremonies of a similar scale.
A cornerstone of the brief was that men must wear a kilt. In the past the female athletes have also worn kilts, with shirts, and so appeared quite similar to the men. This time around there was a desire to make the female athletes more feminine, to give them their own distinctive uniform. However, there still had to be a sense of union in the uniform between the male and the female athletes; this is a team, after all.

I began by thinking about the cloth, the impact, the outline shape of the team when they appear en mass.  At the same time I was also thinking of the colours: what would be contemporary, striking and work for the television cameras.  Then there were some practical details such as the different shapes, size and ages of the athletes. The brief also required that all aspects of the outfits would be made in Scotland – which is the case. And, of course, sitting on the shoulder of all this was the budget.

Creating the cloth, the bespoke tartan for Team Scotland, would be the most time consuming part of the design phase and so I began with weaving some ideas on my Harris loom. I put on a natural wool warp and began colouring the warp by painting in watercolour different colour combinations to create a range of colour ways. There were designs with background colours of: blues, maroons, greens, greys, and burnt gold. The last colour struck me on a trip in early autumn when travelling north to Caithness. The decision was made by committee to work on the burnt gold colour way and so I set my loom up again with another natural warp and began painting different colour proportions, using the burnt gold, navy, turquoise, red and fuchsia. From the second warp of different designs we chose the tartan.

The blue fabric design comes from a pre–existing design within my embroidery collection. There are 2 ideas behind my choice, the colour and texture representing the water that surrounds our coastline and the fluttering of the Scottish Saltire. The blue also links the dress and shirts with the tartan.

The tartan wrap worn by the female athletes is made up from three panels. There are two longer front sections and a shorter back panel, all with frayed edges. It is based upon a style, known as a 'Jimono', from my 'Art to Wear' collection and is versatile, allowing the athletes to wear it in several different ways. The wrap dress has been chosen to accommodate the varying sizes of the athletes.

For the other accessories, the stone coloured leather handbag, which is worn diagonally across the body, is symbolic of St Andrew’s Cross. This is the first time that female athletes have had a bag to contain whatever they wish to carry into the opening ceremony, such as their phones, cameras, accreditations, maybe even their lucky charm, and has been really well received. The sporran is purposefully very simple and clean in its design, mirroring my design of the ladies handbag. Its colour was chosen to flow with the tartan, as were the socks, the idea being to elongate the height and stature of the athletes. 

I am very proud of my contribution to the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. The outfit is a celebration of traditional Scottish embroidery, tartan weaving and textile design. I hope all will come to love the costumes when they are presented in the context of a colourful and spectacular opening ceremony.

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Parade Photo courtesy of Team Scotland

Background Photography by Alistair Devine

Jilli Blackwood - Commonwealth Games 2014
Jilli Blackwood - Commonwealth Games 2014
Jilli Blackwood - Commonwealth Games 2014
Jilli Blackwood - Commonwealth Games 2014
Jilli Blackwood - Commonwealth Games 2014