Barbara Yixuan Wei Barbara Yixuan Wei

Intellectual symbolism

 Juliet Hutton-Squire explores a fascination with the concept of jewellery wear and where the line begins and ends in terms of adornment.

At the recent Central St Martins graduate shows I was struck by the work of two creatives who, despite following different disciplines, both incorporated components of jewellery in unique ways with extraordinary outcomes. Material Futures graduate Ke Li’s ‘Chained Skin’ and BA (Hons) Jewellery Design graduate, Barbara Yixuan Wei ‘Thread’s jewellery’ are sensitive interpretations of adornment inspired by poignant storytelling that engages the creator, the wearer, and the onlooker.

barbara yixuan wei csm jewellery hons - adorn insight
Barbara Yixuan Wei - CSM BA Jewellery (Hons)

Barbara’s collection “shows a journey of emotional expression through touch” says fellow alumnus, commentator and critic, Madeline Martin. Her creative process is a quiet, introspective discovery that explores the relationship between jewellery and clothing while igniting the senses through sight and touch.

barbara yixuan wei csm jewellery hons - adorn insight
Barabara Yixuan Wei

Working on second hand garments, Wei parts the thread in a way that emulates a string of pearls and drape of chain. The reworked, diaphanous fabric with jewel-like ‘imprints’ interacts with the body in an exquisite exchange of shadow play and movement. Wei’s intimate process is a form of poetry. Adding a further layer of sentiment and meaning, Wei only works on second hand garments thus honouring the past whilst engaging with the future through fresh, intimate reimaginings of jewellery.

Ke Li Material Futures MA - CSM Adorn Insight
Ke Li - Material Futures - CSM

Ke Li’s ‘Chained Skin’ uses chains as a symbolic element – a design language that reflects the lamentation of women persecuted in Chinese society. Stereotypical objects used in daily life such as washing gloves, bras and aprons form the evocative backdrop of this silent protest. The different chain patterns can be seen with varying degrees of clarity dependant on how the lighting interacts with the piece. This elusive interplay of light and dark reflects the reality of Chinese women’s bondage to and oppression within society. The purpose of using ‘inconspicuous’ chain patterns was to avoid harsh political censorship whilst subversly immortalising the message.  

Ke Li Material Futures MA - CSM Adorn Insight
Ke Li

Li uses silicone with chain ‘etching’ inspired by a printing technique called Lithophane. Using a 3D modelling process, Li’ rendered a 3D chain pattern and 3D printed pattern plate. She used silicone to ‘flip’ the pattern and test the degree of variation in light. The material used for the printing is FDM, which due to its unique texture (stacked strips), produces a ‘fabric’ similar to silk or mesh. The sensitive interplay between inspiration and finished product is personified through Li’s intelligent application of futuristic craft.


In both these collections, jewellery componentry is reimagined in fresh compelling ways that ignite opportunities to explore form as it interacts with the body as second ‘skin’ – somewhat of a delicate outer carapace that is as much sensual as it is provocative. In Wei’s case the process is reductive – an extraction of thread to create pattern. In Li’s case additive processes are used to create the final result. Both interpretations are delicate, sensitive, and imbued with legacy that nods to cultural heritage and personal stories.

Words: Juliet Hutton-Squire 

Posted in Insight on 21 June, 2022