Sunday, 27 April 2014

Tex 1 Project 2 reflections

Can you begin to see the relationship between stitching and drawing?

There are a number of ways that stitch and drawing come together: depending on the tool for drawing, pencil, watercolour media, crayons and wax resist for example, the choice of threads, fabrics, whether they are block colour or variegated, have harder or softer surface textures, and how they are applied in the stitching, will evoke the drawn media. I used dyed linen for example that had been in a cold water dye bath and silk dyed in an onion bath with an iron modifier which caused the fabric to have modulated tones. That is not too far from a background watercolour or soft ink wash effect, which would be a foundation for further drawing, and that I what I was trying to achieve with the cone sample. However, I tried to do one hand embroidered sample in a hurry towards the end of the study period, and I have learnt that it is just not possible to get a good result using this method working too fast, or not getting sufficient work done to it to get the result I intended.

Were you able to choose stitches which expressed the marks and lines of your drawings?
Yes, I think that that is something I am beginning to understand better, although I think I need to think about how hand embroidery and machine embroidery could work together in a more synthesised way. I had fun creating the snowy backdrop to the earth in the ‘landscape’ sample, and where the blues were a wash on the drawing, I worked the blue threads quire hard on the fabric to try to achieve the quality of a drawn-washed surface. Another short-cut sort of way would have been to choose a transparent blueish chiffon or net and sewn a little over that, which would have given a wider span of blue surface. But I think what I did was interesting and makes the sample it own thing, there is not always a need to make the textile piece look exactly like the drawing.

Did you choose the right source material to work from?
I am interested in textured surfaces, although I think in the end these are really only the first step. There has to be a purpose for using something, what pictures or raw material to draw on. At this early stage, in trying out, working out the mark making and the actual making of drawings and samples, I have not yet explored the ‘meanings’ that will be needed if a bigger idea will need to be represented.

For example – what would a cone design do – I have suggested that my sample could be used as a cushion design; but do I want to design interior furnishings and be part of a certain market, or do I want to think about bigger themes such as evolution, nature, the state of the earth (in a political sense) and use natural themes to explore that? This is something I think about as I choose materials, but for the sake of these exercises I have not pursued that direction. I suppose the ‘philosophy’ of one’s work comes when there is a grounded direction to the work and a solid repertoire for the visual language to express it.
In short though, yes, whether using close-ups of textured surfaces, or using a landscape as a basis for further stylisations, I think these worked mostly all right.

Do you think your sample works well irrespective of the drawing? Or is your sample merely a good interpretation of your drawing?
The cone sample could probably need a bit more work, although overworking something is also a danger. I did like the drawing for that sample and felt quite proud that at least one of all the different drawings I had done in the two month period I had given myself for this assignment was an independent piece in itself. I probably did try to translate the drawing, but removing the sample from the drawing would also let it have its own space.

Looking at the rose petal sample that is less the case. That is weaker, as it is trying in places to look at the drawing in some ways, and maybe I should have tried less hard to do that. But it was good to try out certain techniques, and in using whipstitch for example it became more textiley than drawing-like.
Which did you prefer – working with stitch to create textures or working with yarns to make textures? Which worked best for you and why?
I think I prefer yarns and fabrics as a starting point, although the two cannot be separated too hard. I get very excited about interesting fibre textures, and the feel of the stuff of the textile material. I like looking at colour and feel the textile that has its own life and suggestions. I like to look at the work moving between my fingers when I am making something. That is why I continue to have thoughts about the use of the machine in sewing, or any other elaborate technology I might be considering for the textile work I make. I am working that into some separate writings that I have running alongside this course material.

When I chose the silk for the background for the cone sample I chose this firstly because it was there, secondly because I knew it would take the dye well, and thirdly because the slight texture of the dupion would help soften the surface for the sake of the organic cone-ness of the sample. Had I chosen a very shiny silk or satin that would not have worked at all, and that is also why the tweed wool of the backing worked so well when I looked on the reverse.
Stitching is the route into the use of the material, it is the disciplined way of shaping the material, a kind of tool together with the needle or machine. I think I come to the material first and then let that suggest techniques, although I am not sure you can divide the two very far as the material can only be shaped by the work and the tool applied to it.

Make some comments on individual techniques and sample pieces. Did you experiment enough? Did you feel inhibited in any way? Fix them into your sketchbook if you want to or start a separate book of sample references.
In the end I quite liked the whip stitch. For some reason I had always been concerned I might break the machine or something, but it is a technique I might consider using again. For this work I used it in the rose petal sample.

I also used couching, which is an interesting technique I believe I need to do more of to really stretch its possibilities. I did some quite heavy work on the hand-embroidered sampler, using thick threads and attaching them closely together. This might be the approach to go, as when couched line are made, such as in the weathered lead sample, they just become part of other lines, rather than an independent statement. Using couching would also let me used hand-spun yarns, the texture of which have good potential and so I could combine my spinning and sewing in that way.

Do you prefer to work from a drawing or by playing with materials and yarns to create effects? Which method produced the most interesting work?
I think I have in the past worked quite experimentally, although I often start with a strong visual image that I ponder for a longish period. In the past I have always done very loose sketches or none at all as I have relied on the inner picture I have of the thing I want to make. As designs become more complex or there is a growing sense of ‘idea’ or intentionality behind the work, I think that drawing will need to become a growing force in my work. I am glad to have done some of these sketches here for this assignment because it is giving me more confidence to draw again. I see from OCA student forums that keeping sketchbooks can cause trouble, and I am still trying to find thinking space at home after long tiring working days to get down to drawing.

My ‘heroes’ of fibre art, Sheila Hicks and Magdalena Abakanowich, and other art-fibre makers seem to have started out as artists first and then took up fibre as their raw material for expressing their work. I am interested in the qualities of fibres and what they do, some ancient techniques (such as tapestry weaving and sprang), and often the techniques demand certain fibres are used or, when working experimentally, the materials can be stretched by being used in un-traditional techniques. Sometimes that is a different way of working from trying to reproduce an image, and the drawing might then become more technical-analytical, rather than pointing to symbols or sign in themselves. I am keeping an open mind at the moment – either way as its merits, it depends on the purpose of the work.

Are there other techniques you would like to try? Are there any samples you would like to do in a different way?
Maybe stumpwork, creating a 3D feel to stitching might be interesting to explore. As I mentioned above, I think couching has more potential than I have had time to work through at this stage.
I worked on the sample using hand embroidery to reflect the weathered lead and am not sure that was fully rounded off. It could probably have benefited from some machine stitching as a base for hand stitching. Also, the lines in the drawing were more horizontal at times than my stitching allowed for, and maybe the choice of stitches could have been different.

Other techniques I might try might be something lacy, or at least stretch the lace stitching on the machine further. I also feel uncertain about French knots and need to become more comfortable with them. I do still think a lot in terms of constructed textiles and look forward to knotting and perhaps netting. I also think the stitches will be useful for the 3D work coming up in a later assignment and will explore any new stitches that would be relevant for that as well.

Is there anything you would like to change in your work? If so, make notes for future reference.

The main thing I would like to change in my work is the intention behind it. With time I hope to find the statements I would like to make using my preferred techniques.

I am not sure I have a fully formed notion of my work’s purpose yet. The technical expression of it will come with time and practice, trial and error. I think, looking back at some of the work for this assignment, that it continues to be experimental, which is good enough for now. Maybe with time the intention will become more visible.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Visit to Angers


We went to Angers the weekend before Easter. This was primarily to visit the Musee Jean Lurcat and the Museum of Contemporary Tapestry, as well as getting to see the medieval tapestry of the Apocalypse that hangs in the Angers castle. Here I will show a few of the pictures I took walking around the old city centre.

To get there we flew to Charles de Gaulle airport and the took the train from there to Angers. The airport and the connecting railway station are new, and the station had interesting angles and surfaces to it:


On the first evening we went for a stroll to get a feel for the city. It is a fairly compact city centre, as old towns are. Being in France you occasionally come across some interesting modern design feature, like a door handle like this -


The city is medieval and there are views of the old fortress castle across the river Maine. The fortress itself is very photogenic, with French formal gardens in the moat.

The tapestry of the Apocalypse has a small introductory room that presents the technique of tapestry weaving and samples for visitors to feel. The tapestry itself is an amazing thing - huge and vast, it is a bit of a visual narrative of the Apocalypse according to St John, with beasts and virgins, sinners and angels - all you need for a medieval tale of good versus evil and Devine judgement.

The next couple of pictures are from  our hotel room. There was some interesting wall covering, pretending to be fabric, and shadows, yet being a print, likely digital with a single repeat  moving up and down, first one way up then flipped.

The view from my place on the bed - real shadows.

More pictures from the city

There is a great cathedral in the middle of the city. We visited it at lunchtime and had a fantastic experience as the organist was practicing playing a hugely loud modern sounding piece. The organ took up three-quarters of the end of the church and the volume was all-encompassing. An all-enveloping experience that set your whole body into a thrill with the vibration of the sound, brilliant.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Photos for Textiles

These pictures may be useful as potential sources for textiles courses and other art work. The list will be built up over time as I find new images. The pictures are all taken by me and some are worked up using effects and tools in picture manipulation software. They are taken at different times and places, and are a resource for further work, possibly in as foundations for drawings and design.

Walking around the area I live in I find interesting details that lend themselves to thinking about textiles, such as weathered leading, flaking paint breaking away from rusty surfaces, or other rusty elements.

When leaves fall in the autumn they create good overall cover for different surfaces. Here are some on a wet asphalt road surface after rain. I liked the sun reflecting in the water with the colour from the leaves shining through.

I was working on the textile samples the sun shone onto my work table and the plastic pencil case cast interesting light reflections onto the table

A bit of a snowy ploughed field near my parents' home

I had a go at colouring and manipulating an images of fungus using software effects. These worked quite well, they suggest some sort of surface pattern:

Shadows on surfaces outside can be quite effective. I see that some designers are now using these effects on wall coverings. I have included one here, there are many, many more possibilities - sheets drying, weeds along pavements and so on:

I have a small camera but managed to catch the moon, even if it was dark and I had to take many pictures that were not so good, this one seems OK:

A couple of texture images:

To practice design techniques for the course I had a go at playing with colour and cropping for the next set of images of a pine forest

More rusty bits.....seems a quite photogenic material. In creative embroidery degenerating materials on surfaces seems to have been a favourite motif for a while now. These images also suggest patterns from the metal structure.

I saw these synthetic carrier sacks when out on a walk. Not sure what they contained, building rubble I supposed. Anyway, en masse they look interesting - volume and scale suggests something monumental.

People use paper tacks to put up posters. They take the posters away, but leave the tacks and staples in place. This creates a random pattern of more or less rusty metal bits, in more or less dense areas. 

Lines created by metal window bars at Paddington station

Weathered wooden posts at a beach. They had been under water and had then dried out. I have several variations of these photos of posts, the lines in the wood are strong and suggest stresses yet seem to have left the wood fairly strong for the time being.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Tex1 Project 2 - textile samples


Project 2

Stages 1-6

The final two exercises for the first assignment relate to transforming marks into textile, either as samples for experimenting with marks, or to develop design ideas from drawings
and images.

Preparation for textile samples is not too hard when you have as much stuff as I have in my work room! I have fabrics, threads and tools in boxes, bags and tool cases - or just out on shelves or lying in piles. I also have a pin board, but it hangs behind my work space, so I can't see it during work. I found that by opening my sketchbook and laying it on my arm chair to the left of my work table, I can look at the images and drawings at all times during my work. This is useful, I can look at lines, colours and the sense of the image and look back at my work to check whether it is 'working'. For some reason the materials I needed were all readily at hand for the particular images I had chosen - the colours and textures were just there for the taking and using.

I always think a lot about my work once I start. Usually I put out the work in progress where I can see it easily. This encourages me to think about it some more, but there is also a time for putting it aside. When I do that, put it away for a couple of hours, or sometimes days, and then come back to it, you see things a little differently, which can help to work out what the next step should be. So, both working continuously and pausing seem to be part of the same development activity.

Stage 2

The first exercise I interpreted as refreshing my skills in machine and hand embroidery to understand what certain stitches can do. This meant I just doodled a bit on the machine to remind myself of what would be a good speed to set it at, the way the fabric and thread needed to be handled, using a hoop when doing free machine embroidery, and try out the technique of using a thicker thread in the bobbin, whip stitch, which I had never done before, but which worked well.

Above - the first doodle to get into machine stitching with my machine. I have an old Janome sewing machine, bought second hand, and it is quite good for free stitching. I can set the speed so it won't go too fast and I can gain a bit more control over the work as it progresses. Unfortunately the plate under the needle is raised and catches the hoop at times and so I may loose some control in this way, unless I also stay aware of lifting the hoop as I sew.

These two details are from the second sample I made. This was to practice whip stitch, I used some linen thread I had dyed a pinkish tone and in a second trial area used hand-spun wool-silk in blueish-green tones. Where the bobbin colour contrasted I left these ends showing as it brings out a bit of life to an otherwise slightly work-a-day sample (top detail).
Then I went on to sew on some cotton fabric I had dyed in a blue bath using tie-dye: 

For this I sewed with cotton-polyester mixes for the shell shape, overlapping various grey and blue hues to get density and shape. A section used a lurex style thread, against a whip stitch wool-silk. The reason for the two pictures is to consider how different framing colours can brings out or suppress colours in the piece. With a pale sample the black gives the stronger effect in bringing out the contrast. A white background makes the sample bland and indistinct.

Working stitches densely on the machine can develop thick areas of colour. I had a go at trying to be painterly first, covering an area with stitches, first using various directional straight-lined moves, then covering an area in overlapping stitches using circular moves.

I also tried pebble stitch as this is useful for covering areas with stitch that will not cause the denseness of the fabric. I am not sure my hoop is very good, although it does stretch the fabric (calico in this case), once the sample is moved under the machine the stitches make the fabric bulge and pucker. This can be an effect in itself, but perhaps not when applied in a sample.

Stage 3

Marks in stitch

After the doodling I then had a go at trying to translate one of the mark making exercises into stitch.

The charcoal square with sections rubbed out was chosen, and I used an old thin silk scarf fabric, laid onto Vilene to make it a bit more sturdy as a background, and then used rapid straight stitches in silvery grey rayon and various blacks to suggest the marks. The silk puckered despite being stabilised slightly and held in a hoop, but I am not too concerned as this adds to the effect of the marks. The puffy surface of the silk creates shadows that helps generate the shading into various blacks that suggest the depths of the charcoal marks.

I also left the black thread trail over the surface when I moved the needle from one area to another, but did pull through any loose ends to the back. The silvery grey rayon ends I left hanging on the front to suggest the hints of white paper under the charcoal.

Hand embroidered sample

Another sample in hand embroidery has become a bit of a larger trial piece.

I was brought up in Denmark learning traditional cross stitch embroidery (as well as knitting and croche by my grandmother) on counted thread. Here's a section of a traditional bell-pull my grandmother made, probably in the 1970s:

Such pieces were designed and sold as kits by Haandarbejdets Fremme, and my grandmother made a lot of these as gifts. She was always very accurate and precise about her work - she said the back of the work should be as tidy as the front; and I felt the pressure for precision to be necessary all of the time. Now I would find the counting and perfectness a bit trying, as I work far more experimentally and like to see where the materials take me.
As can be seen on the picture, the base fabric is a fine linen that enables a count of threads to be made to ensure stitches are sewn evenly. For my hand embroidered sample I chose to use something similar, but coarser, as it is a useful stable base; that is, it is stiff enough for embroidering on without a hoop. I do not like embroidery hoops, they feel like barriers somehow, I feel they get in the way of really feeling the stitching progress and getting involved in embedding the thread in the fabric.
Instead of doing counted work in this sample, I have explored free embroidery instead. Each stitch type was allocated a section on a long sampler, and I had a go at shaping the stitched area, widening the stitching, overlapping and weaving colours through it. I did not go for counted stitching, but let the stitching be as free as possible.

The first area I made used a running stitch to suggest another mark making exercise. This area is in the end a bit uneventful and I much prefer the next two stitch areas I made, one of overlapping button hole stitch and one of fairly randomly placed fly stitches. Then I did some loose areas of satin stitch in two colours.

The next sections covered the two ways of using chain stitch. Either as single points where spacing of each stitch determines how strongly or densely covered the base is, and slight changes in the sizes of these points add a bit of variety to it. The other use being extended lengths of chain stitch that can be meandering or straight.

Other sections included the massing of unevenly sized cross stitches and some feather stitches, similarly overlapping and moving in a curve and some heavy couching. I am not fully convinced I have mastered French knots, but then a two or three stranded embroidery yarn probably does not have enough body to create a distinct knot - these knots were clustered in a corner just as a trial.

Here couching is quite heavy and it makes the fabric buckle when you handle it. The bottom section was an experiment to see if I could use my hand-spun yarn to sew with. In short sections it is OK, but as I used singles and the yarn was a bit fluffy, I would have to be careful how that was used.

Stages 4-6

Machine embroidered samples

My drawings for these samples can also be seen in the entry for March 2014 under Project 2, mark making.

Rose petals

Using pictures and drawings developed earlier in the unit, the next stages were to develop samples describing texture. I really liked this, if the drawings are interesting some thought provoking samples can be developed. Some of the better drawings were my source, in particular the images of rose petals, the brown cone, the snowy ploughed field and the weathered lead.

First I made one quick sample to reflect the rose petal image in wool fibre (meant for spinning and felt making), metallic fabric and woollen yarns. This I made by laying the materials between two layers of soluble film and fixing them in place with stitching - which makes a light, translucent, lacy type fabric.

 Another rose petal sample was made of rosy and purple applied silks and metallic fabric applied to dyed linen. I had strengthened the background with Vilene, and once all elements had been sewn on I could remove pins and just get on with the sewing without the use of a hoop. I applied a great deal of stitching, used whip stitch of dyed linen thread for stronger lines, and a bit of wool - staples, hand spun yarn and a bit of silk - in green, locked into place using soluble film and then secured with stitching. A bit of machine sewn cord was couched on for bold lines.

Using cold water dyes can make interesting variations in the yarns and fabrics dyed. However with a lot of applied stitching much of this effect is lost, and in a couple of areas on the larger sample I ended up adding further silk strips to break up the monotony of the areas. There is a fine line between 'air' or white space around elements, and the need for total cover. It seems that there is a tipping point by which more needs to be added once you have reached it. Certainly that seemed to happen in this case, I suddenly needed to go further, once the sewing filled up spaces. Maybe because the drawing was fully covered in colour as well.

The petals are soft and highly reflective of light, so the silk and shiny threads worked well to illustrate that. Lines were curved and rounded, and fluid.

I used any thread at hand: second hand and vintage threads, various branded cottons, polyester mixes, polyneons and other shiny threads. One textile artist, whose course I attended some time ago, had said that one should never use old threads; they would break throughout the sewing, and would be no good in the work. I have never had that problem, and for the sake of sampling it doesn't seem to matter. The threads I do not care for in the top thread holder are lurex and other glitter threads. They snap and break in the needle after a short spurt, and I prefer always to sew in long moments of flow rather than continually stopping and starting. It breaks the continuity of making, and the stops are not helpful in thinking - stops like that are very different from the pauses I mentioned earlier. But, I put the lurex into the bobbin and sewed along previous sewing lines and this worked very well, I was very happy to discover that this worked so much better.

Visually the sample is not too bad on its own merit. The element are balanced across the surface, with colour and scale of each element contributing to the compositional unity. There are repeated, but varied shapes and colours, and there are stronger and weaker lines.

Snowy earth

A landscape of snow on ploughed field brought the image choice up a scale from close-ups of detail to a middle-distance view of a winter scene.

For this sample I used Vilene as a base, as it is a white non-woven fabric, that has a matt surface suggesting snow in shade. For the shiny reflectiveness of snow I then applied some satin, using the wrong side as I didn't want the full brightness of the shine, and sewed shades of blue liberally across it, fast and furious, pulling at the fabric in horizontals and diagonals, making the stitches long. I then used various black and brown wool and silk yarns, crumpled up and then over-sewn with blacks and browns to suggest the rich earth that had been cut through by a plough, poking out through the snow. That worked quite well. I liked the dark rich tonal value of the browns and blacks, with an occasional yellowish tinge to silks, that I had dyed with onion peel. Where the blues were sewn in hard straight lines, I built a contrast through the use of rounder lines in the earthy sections. 

There is something quite interesting about how certain browns and blues work together, which is not discordant at all, they seem to rest well together.

Weathered lead

As part of my inspiration gathering I sometimes go on photographic expeditions in my neighbourhood. I have photographed various patinas on external surfaces, and a couple looked in particular at what is possibly weathered lead. It is a soft grey metal material that has become white over time. It had a layered look and was folded in places. This I used for a hand-stitched sample, that I did in a bit of a rush.

I was aiming for the folded feel of the material, which is dull and matt. There are shadows and lines, so I used various stitches such as stem stitch and couching. Various grey materials were applied, cut strips from an old wool sleeve, ribbon and narrow strips of grey calico and satin,  laid onto a crinkly piece of fabric cut from an old top. I used some distorted plastic netting from a bottle protector, placed over some hand spun Gotland wool.

I probably underestimated how long hand stitching takes. It did give me a good idea of how these things need to be planned. I had been thinking about this sample for quite while, but left it to the end of the assignment period to do.

In the end it has come out fairly satisfactory as a sample.


This was the piece I am most happy with.

Silk takes dye very well from an onion peel dye bath. I have dyed silk and wool with onion peel in the past, and as I quite liked my drawing of the cone, a sample on that theme might work. For that I used a base fabric of darkly toned dupion silk, that had been modified with iron. I left the silk in the iron bath a bit too long, and the fabric got quite dark, however that goes well with the cone design in any case.

For the cone I used machine stitching and some hand embroidery. The cone has deep lines that creates the relief of its coarse surface that suggests tones of blacks and very dark browns. There are also lines, heavy and fine, running though all the separate elements in the cone's surface. This was what I had tried to capture in drawing, and it worked reasonably as a basis for design.

I pondered for a while what to use as a base for the sample. I had thought that perhaps an old green silk shirt could be cut up and used under the dyed silk, but it was the completely wrong colour. The old tweed skirt wool fabric I used in the end was a great base. It gives depth to the stitched areas, and makes the parts bulge in a full sort of way - the sample has a body to it that it would not have had I used a thin, flat cotton or other silk as a base. Maybe a flat background fabric would have made the sample suggestive of decoration for clothing; as it is the sample is better suited for a soft furnishing, like a cushion cover.

I have to say that stitching into thick wool overlaid by silk and thick stitching can wreck your fingers when hand stitching. I applied some line and fly stitches by hand, which produce a good relief effect, with shadowing and tonal variety. But my fingers were in a poor state after an evening of stabbing at it, and I needed a few days to let fingertips heal.

Fortuitously the back of the sample looked good as well: the black bobbin thread had created a pattern in reverse that rendered the surface in a more simple outline.