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.

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