Sunday, 25 January 2015

Tex 1 - Ass. 3 - Project 6 reflections

Here are the reflective comments to the questions raised in the course book relevant to assignment 3 - particularly the manipulated fabric section:
  • How does working with fabric in this way compare with working directly with stitch?
When working with fabric as the primary source of textile design so much depends on the actual structure of the fabric – the fibre it is made of – whether natural (wool, cotton, linen etc) or man-made (polyester, nylon, viscose, rayon etc). There is also the weight of the fabric to consider: how flexible is it; does it fold or crease well, or set under heat; is it matt and rough to handle, open or close weave, is it smooth and slippery? All these factors determine how to think about what to do with the fabric. Stitching is about applying colour and texture to the surface of the fabric, whilst fabric manipulation is about creating design elements from the quality of the fabric itself.

  • Are you pleased with the shapes and movements that you have created in both appliqué and fabric manipulation?
Mostly yes. I liked the heat setting effect and the pulled effects of layered organzas. Sticking together organzas with sandwiched materials between can be very useful and effective and I may use this more in my future project.
  • What would you do differently?
I would like to have had the continuity of time, but had this low energy period. That was disappointing as I think I could have gained some momentum on work and would have maybe experienced a bit more continuity between different sample types. I would have done better to design more, maybe.
  •  How did the pieces work in relation to your drawings?
The applique snow scene worked well – layers of organza, matt and shiny surfaces worked well together. The crumpled tissue paper was useful to evoke crinkled fabrics in the collages, and I think in general my drawings based on selected photographs and collages were useful starting points. Sometimes though, sampling alone based on ideas tested from books were equally useful. In fact, I think that I work better at times if testing techniques through sampling. That is the way you get in touch with the materiality of the fabric – drawing and sampling in a dialogues is probably the best way to proceed. Also, I feel more able to be spontaneous with the material itself as the source material; drawings change this spontaneity somehow.
  • Were the final results very different from the drawings?
Yes, drawings are two dimensional, and even if textiles seem to be two dimensional there is still something substantially different in a sample from a foundation drawing. Probably this also has something to do with the quality of my drawing at the moment.
  • Did the fabric manipulation technique take over and dictate the final result?
Yes, I think that once you are in ‘flow’, playing with the material and working out how it responds, then the making becomes a thing in itself – hence the idea of sampling as part of the creative process. I have never really thought about samples in this way, but when thinking about manipulating fabric it almost becomes necessary. I had also thought of doing some paper folding as a foundation for heat setting silk, and similarly that also would only really work when folding and practicing shapes – drawing would not carry the work very far.
  • Was it helpful to work from the drawings in the appliqué exercise?
Yes, that worked. In drawing shapes, thinking about colour or layers, the drawings point to the shapes and proportions to aim for in a textile piece. I did also consider working directly from photographs in a more intuitive way. Sometimes when I look at textile design books I do wonder whether the ‘mood-board’ photographs haven’t  been pasted in in retrospect and the samples tested first. This is part of that dialogue thing I mentioned above.
  • Would you have preferred to play directly with cut shapes and materials?
There is a difference between cut out shapes as in applique, which I think does need a drawing, and fabric manipulation which is more a matter of testing, practicing and playing with effects and fabric structures. Of course you can play with applique, and in selecting various fabrics I hadn’t originally considered, there was some of that going on, but it depends on the purpose of the applique. Some artists work with representational images in which case drawings are essential. Otherwise the drawing has a different purpose; something about working out the final piece, or understanding relationships; I have seen a drawing by Sheila Hicks that suggested the wrapped threads in her large hanging The Principal Wife (1968), but she would already have tested how wrapping would work in a single elements, she was working out textile compositions in the drawing based on her wrapped element, I think.
  • How do you feel about working with stitch in general? Is it an area you would like to pursue in more depth? Do you find it limiting in any way?
I enjoy working with stitch when it can be used freely and allows for intuitive shaping and designing, such as in my larger, complex samples. My work is more about structure and construction, and it became clear towards the end of the sampling that I was veering close to the constructive work to come in the next assignment. In the end stitch, construction and fabric manipulation can work together and it is difficult to be purist about either. In traditional textiles work it may be more clear but to allow for full and free expression it is better I think, to enable boundaries to be flexible. It is a matter of purpose of the work.

January 2015- Recent exhibitions visited

Since starting back to life with work and so on, this year has started pretty well with regard to visits. I have been to London, and have seen some interesting stuff, such as the exhibition, Germany: memories of a nation at the British Museum, which was worth visiting. It provided a good little introduction to German history and there were some fantastic artefacts on show, such as a four great wooden carvings by Tilman Riemenshneider and work by Kaethe Kollwitz. Just too many people in the show, people tend to crowd around certain exhibits (especially if they are carrying the audio guide) and so you can't see or read the key information, even get near certain artefacts.

From a textile and art perspective I also went for a very quick walk-around the 1st floor of the National Portrait Gallery to find the Grayson Perry things he had worked on during his Ch 4 TV programme, Who am I? which I watched last year. There were a tapestry, a silk print, a bronze and ceramics discussing the identities of individuals alone or in groups following the themes of the three parts of his programmes. I quite like Grayson Perry, I enjoyed his Reith Lectures very much and find his work quirky and fun with some darker undertones, however I also think that he doesn't say anything new much in his work. If you follow the news and watch challenging documentaries, read The Guardian newspaper and are generally interested in ideas about cultural creations of subjectivity then this work really reiterated many of the ambivalences that such 'discourse'  encompasses (an academic term for many ways/media and voices discussing a theme or set of theme - my quick explanation, some may disagree). Not everyone will necessarily have thought about this in these terms and so there is still value in his work. Anyway, the broken and mended (in gold) pot based on the politician was quite harmless I thought. His demeanour had lacked redemption in the interviews Perry had had with him and I felt that his carelessness and non-guilt position were maybe not captured as fully as they could have been - a pattern on phalluses and the reference to the white middle aged and middle class male seemed a bit obvious. On the other hand I liked the strength of the viciousness of the dark angel of forgetfulness  on the pot describing the force of dementia. Putting the work among the great and the good is a useful way to challenge the convention of portraiture.

The other thing I went to visit was the Fleming collection where a tapestry is on show until mid-February, Fleece to Fibre: The Making of the Large Tree Group Tapestry. I had never been to the Fleming Collection before and it is a very nice small place for exhibiting Scottish art. It had combined the textile display on the upper floor with an exhibition of landscapes by Scottish artists on the lower floors. This worked well, and I was pleased to see an emphasis on making in the tapestry exhibit covering the whole room on the first floor. This display was divided up with photographs of the artist's studio, sheep breeds that contributed their wool to the work, cabinets with correspondence about and examples of wool used. The cartoon was opened out on the floor with a few small samples showing how the weavers tested the colour blending in certain areas of the work. There was a video discussing the making further and the inspiration the artist, Victoria Crowe, had gained from an elderly shepherdess who was depicted in the tapestry walking to her sheep in the snow. I was very happy to have found this small gallery, I discovered new artists I had not heard of before and enjoyed the woolly display, so had a very good afternoon that day.

Project 7 - The Theme Book

Project 7 is a first step into the final project in assignment 5, where a self-planned and conceived textile piece is asked for.

I have been looking at the idea and the reality of trees for some time and think that is going to be one of my ongoing and long-lasting threads for thinking about my work. My tutor suggested I do a mindmap on the theme I might work on - or maybe it was on design ideas? - so I started with a mindmap of the TREE:

The mindmap includes what I could think of in a couple of sittings and I have not included all the detail that could be thought about under the different headings. There is a long and wide-ranging cultural history of using the tree in all manner of ways - as symbol (e.g. tree of life), as a material, wood, for making things, as creating particular environments to name a few. Fundamentally trees are about life and fertility, about longevity and sometimes something spiritual and transcendent. In the part of the world where seasons are pronounced we see the changing times of the year in the trees, and here a barren tree can evoke melancholy and loss. Trees are also affected by the changes that are now taking place through changes in the climate, in rising temperatures, droughts; and where man is so follows all manner of devastation - deforestation and erosion - but also possibilities of positive ecology where land is left to recover from cultural interventions. 

A design book

From a design perspective I am now making a work book for some design themes that I may use for this project and assignment 5, project 10. There was a bundle of papers in my local charity shop which I thought could be used as a book - they are fairly large and the paper shiny, but with a good weight to it, so there are probably benefits and some limitations to how the book will work as a sketchbook. It does give me the opportunity to make a book cover which I haven't done before (the cover will not be the final project, just another sample on the way there).

Literary sources of trees

As part of this work I have been downloading pictures of trees doing amazing things like encapsulating other things, being almost suspended by their roots, being enormous as some trees are, and of course various art works by historical and contemporary artists. I have a very useful book, The Magic of Trees, Bruderlin (1999), which is a compilation of artists' rendering of trees, from an otherworldly Theosophist tree by Mondrian, to trees by impressionists and others as well as masks and totem poles from non-Western cultures.

The book Bäume, Hesse (1984), with excerpts of texts and poems by Hermann Hesse has also been inspirational. His short piece on the chestnut tree is very beautiful and there are other words of his and others on the value of trees to nourish and give meaning to life that can be found on the web (sorry to those of you interested in this - I don't think these Hesse texts have been translated into English - oh yes, I have found a site where some of these words have been translated: Hesse on the Tree).

From my own background I am digging out fairytales (H C Andersen's The Tinder Box, about magical things happening through a soldier entering a dead tree, The Fir-tree), songs and anything else I can remember. A very fond and warm memory I have of trees are of some very large trees standing immediately opposite our house. To a small person they were very tall indeed, and in the late summer and autumn winds the rustle of leaves filled the atmosphere. We used to climb the lower trees, or use the branches for bouncing and sew-sawing on.


Bruderlin, Markus, 1999, The Magic of Trees, Hatje Cantz

Hesse, Herman, 1984, Bäume, Insel Verlag

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Exhibition - Love is enough at Modern Art Oxford, December 2014

Visiting Love is Enough at Modern Art Oxford (MAO)

Visiting the exhibition Love is Enough in Oxford between Christmas and New Year was a useful thing to do to re-awaken the impulse to make. I have had a long break from textile work, although I did a one day course on collage using prepared papers in various water colour techniques and mixed media.
This exhibition was promoted by the OCA, and as I live within a reasonable drives’ distance from Oxford I try to get to most interesting exhibitions that are on there. Besides, there is a good Blackwells bookshop with a largish art book collection to peruse through as well, and the Ashmolean always has something wonderful to give, even if there is nothing special on.

Anyway, I started going through this display at the back of the gallery – usually I go up through the large galley from the front, but this time I started at the back, which was interesting an useful in this case. This exhibition seems to be one you might either think works well, or not at all. The gallery I started in looked at the comparison of William Morris’ work and Andy Warhol’s – a selection of wall paper and textile designs by Morris were hung alongside some flower prints by Warhol - and this part of the exhibition worked reasonably well, the comparison was clear and gelled. The references to decoration were obvious and fed each other. The walls were papered with Morris’ acanthus wallpaper and I do think that was a mistake, as there were very few Warhol prints and the garish synthetic pink and yellow inks used in his prints were swallowed up by the choice of Morris' natural tones of browns and dusky greens. There was nearly a century between the two sets of works and the more recent did not stand as strong.

Similarly the comparisons continued thematically: the politics of the two men, the idea of the factory, writings and interests. I am not sure that any of the other similarities the comparisons aimed to draw out worked very well. For me the comparison pointed at so may differences: an art ‘factory’ in the Warhol style did not evoke the political sentiment behind Morris’ searching for a golden age that would replace the factory of industrial society. Decades of Morris' thinking and writing on the topic of socialism by Morris was not paralleled by Warhol's, although it does seem he lived his life in New York more as an experiment and expression of a pop/modern artist, but this was based on individualism, whilst his art seems to point to meanings challenged by mass consumption.

Anyway, you see what I mean perhaps? The comparison works, but mostly by emphasising the contrasts. I liked Warhol’s early work as an illustrator for fashion magazines. The exhibition showed some small vignettes, white line drawings on small rectangular fields, from the 1950s. The type quite common at that time, lines light and expressive of fun. Again, when you look at Morris’ work you feel the gravitas of the ideas behind it. A tapestry woven with design elements by Morris and Burne-Jones of knights and angels, bringing out the medievalism of his vision is weighty with the ethics of what a good society should be. Warhol, as far as I can see, did not necessarily want to improve society, he wanted to have fun, to work with other artists, but for the sake of that art, poking fun at society maybe, desiring glamour (prints and photos of Hollywood actresses seemed to point to that), whilst yes, he did acknowledge the problems of the Cold War and how the decades he lived through (1960s and 70s were mostly on show).
The other thing that I noticed about this exhibition was the promotion by name of its curator, Jeremy Deller, who is a recognized artist in his own right. Maybe the exhibition strove to be a thing in itself, not just about the work of Morris and Warhol, but also a personal statement in Deller’s and MAO’s collaboration. To some extent that might have been the aim – I do think the comparison drawn was contrived at times, I did not think the comparison using the idea of the ‘factory’ worked very well for example.

Overall I did enjoy the show though, I thought there were some interesting things there. I would like to have seen less of Morris’ wallpaper on the walls, it looked fine but could be distracting at times. There were quite a few other visitors there. Last time I went to Modern Art Oxford to see the exhibition of Stuart Brisley’s work there were only a handful of people. Of course it could be because people were on holiday, but both William Morris and Andy Warhol have followings of people, probably at times very different groups of people, depending on which one has their preference. So on the whole an interesting show and worth a visit.


Tex1 Assignment 3 - Project 6 Manipulating fabric continued

Stage 1-2

These stages are preparatory and include matching fabrics, drawing and designing. I started these in September, had a three month break and then did some collages. Please see the earlier entry for Assignment 3.

Alongside this work I also started the samples for various other stages as sampling for the work in Assignment 3is time consuming.

There is also a couple of written tasks which a kind of 'essays', which I will place in a separate post with links. My workbook will contain collages of material which I can't show here due to copyright issues.

Stage 3

Samples for applique and layering

Sandwiched fragments of silk and threads, the sample to the left on a more opaque background, the one to the right more transparent using organza and a vintage nylon scarf (which melted very easily under the iron) - using bondaweb.
Machine embroidered lacy fabric on silk and acetate
Machined snowflakes on soluble fabric then attached
A couple of samples using burning-away as a technique to disrupt the texture of the fabric - to the left black lutradur, to the right tyvek. Lutradur is a non-woven material that comes in various weights and can be burned like this to leave what is left as a lacy effect, tyvek is similarly non-woven but it bubbles up under heat and can burn away. I painted both with acrylic.
white synthetic organza I had heat-set once (part of stash I am using up) on a silver metallic fabric, sandwiched some bits of fabric with 'pearling' on the surface using stitching.

A more elaborate sample attaching three dimensional structures to a stiffened base, a cord made of silk and  various paper and fabric beads (the beads are not my work, I have a wondrous charity shop that has so much good stuff). I wanted to use structured items to add to this sample and sewed everything together using freemachined zigzag stitches and large seed stitches. The idea came from Jean Draper's book, Stitch and Structure,Design and Technique in two and three-dimensional  textiles, Batsford (2013)

Again appliqued fabric, a felt flower and a couple of bows, here attached by hand using buttonhole stitch and running stitch.
Stage 4 Raised and structured surface techniques
One of the samples above may also fit in this category, but actually I think that all these textile manipulation techniques are part of the same sort of idea and so it doesn't matter too much which heading they fit under.
This stage included quilting which I have done before, but it is not my thing in its traditional sense, and neither is smocking. I do admire good smocking like the heavy stitching in traditional regional farmers' smocks like the ones held by Hampshire Museum Service, and the finer work on mainly girls' dresses from the 1950s, but in general I think these techniques are probably not in my comfort zone, although it is useful to try them out.
Here are a couple of samples of pleats and tucks
Knife pleats to the left, box pleats to the right
Tucks of varying sorts, on the left some unevenly sewn ones to create shape in the fabric
A piece of synthetic lining fabric which has been randomely stitched gathered and set by heat with the iron.

Another gathering exercise here in a thick jersey (left) and a herringbone woven wool (right). I thought the wool piece was promising, in a brown tweed this might be used to evoke a tree trunk with more work. An artist who exploits fabric manipulation and has used tightly gathered strong fabrics such as denim and canvas is the Norwegian artist, Hanne Friis. Her work is on a large scale and she uses either large pieces of fabric, or assembles pieces into larger works. She uses hand sewn processes to make dynamic work that appears to move or react to the environment it is in.
A couple of heat-set pleated samples following  Wolff et al's (2003) description. The white one (top) was made by running stitches pulled tightly - as in shibori preparation. The bottom sample was just  piece of fabric crumpled into a ball and set in the oven. This made deep random folds. How much longevity the folds have I don't know, I am hoping that having used synthetic fabrics (I am guessing polyester based, but am not completely sure based on purchases from charity shops). Heat set synthetics are getting increasingly visible in shops used in scarves and skirts for example. Reiko Sudo, the Japanese textile designer, has taken pleating and folding of fabrics to a great level of perfection, and has produced work for the Nuno Corporation which she is a co-founder of. Examples of her work can be found on Pinterest.
Pulled thread of hessian opened up the fabric (right) and I attached it to a linen backing for firmness and to allow the yellow-green to show through.

The detail to the right of the hessian includes layering the linen background with silk paper and a silk fabric on top  and I then slashed the silk and silk paper. The picture doesn't really show up the slashing as the fabrics are tonally similar, but that was intended.

A piece of firm fabric as base with layered bits of fabric covered in organza and then stitched randomely and gathered and pulled together. you need a lot of fabric for this, it pulls the fabric together. Makes for an interesting texture with a relatively deep relief structure.

A few yo-yos in a synthetic, using both front and back of fabric. This means some are shiny, whilst others are matt, quite a useful effect to think about. Thought these might have potential.
Heat set shapes moulded around small paper cups:
Quilting - a sample quilting together silk, wadding and a linen backing. I used straight machine stitch mainly, but added granite stitch (Meech, 2006) down one side. Also appliqued on two triangles to create a bit of interest in an otherwise slightly dull composition.
This sample consists of sections of gathered circles and then around some of them I did a few circles in running stitch. I thought this was quite effective, I like the linens that give the folds good shape - it is a bit like a type of smocking in the overall effect, but that was not intended.
Bubbles filled with polyester stuffing and when the circles were drawn together they caused the fabric to pleat so I sewed it down on a backing fabric with open, loose stitching. The fabric was a synthetic with heat transferred dye.


Smocking is new to me and I did not know where to start, so I looked at Wolff's book on manipulating fabric and see that free-style smocking was more my thing so I had a go on a firm back canvas with various coloured perle yarn.

Here's the back of the sample, I quite liked that, the deep pleats make for interesting textures.

Before doing the more traditional quilting techniques I found that Jean Draper mentions Kantha quilting in her book. I had a go assembling a piece of woollen cloth and a thin cotton with my homespun yarn, put it in the washing machine to felt it a bit and here is the result:
I know, it is probably not quite kantha quilting in its proper form and does take something from nuno felting as well as the wool obviously felts through the cotton. It was a useful exercise and the final thing is quite integrated, I think it is both a bit of constructed and manipulated techniques working with the cloth in combination with stitch and the actual substance of the fibre.

I then went on to do some traditional quilting (left) - see above. To the right is a sample that traps some buttons and a rubber ring. The ring was particularly interesting, it has pulled the fabric in a particular way and I tried to stitch the fabric down using fairly loose and random stitching.
An artist who uses this approach to quilting, trapping found objects, historical textiles and other material evocative of place, sites of memory or historical places is Diane Savona, an American quilter. She uses the surface to attach these things but then create an integrated whole that at times seem to be telling stories through the object locked into the textile - see her Garment Portraits, they include other textiles assembled and attached - the white apron ripped and placed over coloured fabric pieces (First Apron Excavation) I find interesting and also the 'Overgrown Fossil' piece is quite evocative.
This sample is made of circular shapes folded in half and then folded again with a bead and strung on a strong thread. I think this type of thing might also fit into ass. 4, but then it is also manipulated fabric of a sort, so I include it here. What was interesting about the fabric is that it is an African batik stiffened with wax, I like this it promises to have good sculptural properties.
Another sample that crosses over assignment 3 and 4. This time I cut strips of fabric, cut a piece of woven wool (a sample from my local Guild of weavers, spinners and dyers), and bits of silk overlain in places. It is an attempt at creating a very loose 'cord' (Lee(2010), Draper (2013))before this will be sewn together to create a vessel. This means the fabric manipulation side of things is in using cut strips that are folded and covered, and the 'constructed bit is the sewing together to form a new structure altogether.
The final vessel - I think this worked well, it was hard work, hard on the hands and the final vessel is quite small, useful to know if planning a bigger object in the future

The vessel upside down to show a bit more detail

And now to something that really didn't work at all; a photo of a chain I thought might make a basis for a padded chain links:
Oh dear, not a good sample - I used silvery grey organza, padded with polyester filling. Stitching on the outside edges.
The reason I don't think this one worked is how clumsy it is. Dimensions are wrong, the translation from hard iron to soft fabric didn't work and the original image would have worked much better as a source for a flat design, repeat or some other 2D rendering.
Final sample - manipulated fabric
The last piece in this project is to make up a design based on a drawing from an earlier stage. I quite liked the crumpled paper that I used as a backdrop for some collages, and since I also liked the heat set fabrics, I went all the way and assembled some of these.
First the collage, and some detail:

A dried-up plant dropped its leaves and these also suggested surface pleats and folds:

So, here are the building blocks of what I assembled - heated up, ironed and painted/unpainted tyvek, iron heated polyester and oven-heated polyester. The fabric was leftovers from the printing projects in assignment 2.
On this detail I really liked the top right piece, which is a randomly gathered piece heat set with the iron. All of it needed to be sewn onto a firm backing fabric as the polyester is quite slippery.
The course book says we should not sew anything onto this sample. Although the effects work on this sample, the totality needs to be tied better together to unify everything, and in the end a line crossing all will help - so I am sewing on a piece of cotton string painted blue. So here's a 'before' picture with the blue string being attached:
The final piece with the string applied and a few beads
Draper, Jean, 2013, Stitch and Structure: Design and Technique in two and three-dimensional textiles, London: Batsford
Lee, Ruth, 2010, Three-Dimensional Textiles with Coils, Loops, Knots and Nets, London: Batsford
Meech, Sandra, 2006, Contemporary Quilts: Design, Surface and Stitch, London: Batsford,
Wolff, Colette et al, 2003, The Art of Manipulating Fabric, Krause Publications