Archive for October, 2011

Stage 6 done

as much as it ever will be.

It’s not pretty (“breathtakingly awful” and “no redeeming qualities” are in my jotted notes), the process wasn’t pretty, the detritus in my work room isn’t pretty – but “done” sounds very pretty.

The yarn wrapping went smoothly. I’ve done lots of wrappings for weaving and it makes sense – expand in direct proportion to wind the warp. Weft and structure as well as sett, skill etc will have a big impact, but the wrapping gives a good general indication.

For stitching I’m not so sure – there are hugely more variables. Still the process was pleasant, I used a mix of made-en and bought-en yarns, and I was generally pleased with the result (although the mid-to-dark section looks a bit flat and dull).

On the left is the stitched end result – you can click on it for large if you really feel the need, but I’m not recommending it! The original photo is on the right.
What went wrong? I started at the top using some of the homemade yarns posted here and just didn’t like the look – colour, texture or shape.  I forced forward, then got to the foreground and started piling things on the fabric to build it up.

At this point I realised I was panicking and walked away for a while, reminded myself that texture and colour proportions were the point, definitely not reproducing an image and not something in deep 3D. The assignment asked for a sample, not a finished piece of work. What I had was just a pile of stuff plonked roughly in a circle. I pulled out the sketchbook and tried to draw lines and shapes that might balance the stitching a bit, treating it as a textured but flat design. Then I slept on it.

This afternoon I did battle again, and declare it enough.

What have I learnt? I already knew I have a long way to go with design, and with stitching if I make that part of my ongoing work, but I have been confirmed in that. The areas with tulle and silk tissue laid over the base fabric helped calm things down and give a place for the eye to rest. Couching with a strip of tulle over the “sewn snippets yarn” I made worked quite well. I don’t like working with strips of pantyhose and don’t like the effect I got from it. Almost the last things I did were the stem stitch around the border on the left, to unify and contain things a bit, and the couched bundle of threads (3-step machine zigzagged) that goes diagonally up from right to left and a few other places. I think both helped pull things together at least a little, although really it’s still just an ugly bunch of stuff.

Finally, my image editing software (gimp) has a colour value histogram function (which I found after all the palaver on values I went through). On the left is a comparison of the original photo and a photo of the stitching, which I think is a decent match.

Next steps are write a review of project 2, write a short reflective commentary on the whole assignment, and package everything up to post to my tutor. That will be my focus the next few evenings after the day job.

Stage 6 – Using threads & yarns to create texture

This stage has a few parts to it: experiment in making my own yarns; select a drawing looking at texture and colour effects/proportion; select yarns and threads and make a wrapping in the same proportion; work a sample.

I seem to have got a bit stuck so have decided to push on through, drawing various lines and saying “good enough”. So this post is progress to date and by the end of the weekend I will post the end.

Rather than using a drawing, I decided to work from a photo taken during my recent Western Australia trip. I’d been very conscious while travelling of building up a library of colour and texture photos in three categories – rust, botanical (especially bark) and rocks – and really wanted to start using them. So far I’ve created new sketchbook pages for rust and botanical.

Initially I looked for dark and intense colours, but couldn’t find a photo that fit – there was just too much light. Eventually I selected this photo of a salt lake near the town of Lake Grace. There is lots of texture, crunchy and jagged. There is also a range of colours, generally earthy (I cropped out the green fields at the top), and values. I thought it could be interesting to develop lots of textured layers with couching, so I planned to use my experimentation in creating yarns to build up a stash of candidates to be couched in the stitch sample.

The next step was figuring out what colours were in the photo, to direct the yarn creation. My first attempt using inktense pencils was disappointing but useful – there was much less yellow and orange than I first thought. I was much happier with my second attempt, shown in the thumbnail, which used water colour and a heavy structure gel.

Still not satisfied, I tried a computer auto-generated palette and manually picking colours to create a little bubble picture. By this stage I was perhaps losing the plot. I decided to investigate proportions – by putting a grid of 100 rectangles over the photo, selecting a “representative” colour from each, putting a rectangle of that in a new image, printing it out, cutting it up, rearranging the colours roughly by value, glueing them onto another page.

Perhaps time for a bad pun about losing and finding proportion. I eventually decided values were roughly 30% light; 30% light-to-mid; 30% mid-to-dark; 10% dark. I later found some functions in the software (gimp) that assist in this sort of analysis. On one hand I feel I need to trust my eyes to do this; on the other, the exercise was probably good training, and why not use the tools you have available? Draw line. Move on.

The next step was experimenting with creating yarns. Given the plan was to sample couching I didn’t have to worry about the practicalities of pulling my creations through fabric.

From top to bottom:

Row 1 – The plastic outer covering of an electrical cable. There’s an interesting ridged texture, but I don’t like the plastic look. Possibly cut into thinner strips it would be more usable.

Row 2 – one of the wires in the cable with parts of the plastic coating cut away to expose the wire. I like the bumps and flashes of colour achieved, but sharp ends scratching and catching got old quickly.

Row 3 – some tissue paper torn into strips then twisted using a spinning wheel. I was thinking of shifu – woven paper – and the work by Wang Lei , knitted “imperial robes” made with yarn spun from Chinese-English dictionaries, that I saw at White Rabbit Gallery earlier this year. Technique-wise I have work to do. For the current purpose I like the crunchiness and angles but the colours didn’t mix up as much as I hoped.

Row 3 – A number of fancy yarns stitched together on the machine. I have a beading foot, which helped keep things together and used a three step zigzag which makes the yarns separate in rather a nice, lively way. I was hoping lighter colours would calm down the pink more. Possibilities include overstitching some more (but losing texture) or possibly knocking back the colour by overlaying with an organza while stitching.

Photo 2, top to bottom.

Row 1 – A bundle of cotolin threads oversewn with (ordinary) zigzag. I was looking at the top part of the salt lake image which looks almost like a light pink stream, and trying to create a lightly textured, lightly coloured yarn. On its own it looks rather bland, but it could work well in the sample.

Row 2 – This was based on the bottom part of the salt lake image where there is a lot of colour variation in the rocky texture. I gathered a pile of snippets and offcuts in the colour range, then machine stitched them onto a strip of tulle. I was thinking of gorilla yarn, where you card a bunch of “stuff” together then spin a lumpy, colourful yarn. I ran out of time to do that and thought this could be a quick substitute. On its own it’s too bitsy, but I think this could work if integrated a bit better while couching, for example by couching with another strip of tulle, or overlaying with layers of tulle or organza before stitching.

Row 3 – cut up pantyhose. I tried to add some texture and interest with knots. It would be interesting to combine this with the stitched snippets idea of the previous sample.

Row 4 – A braid (12-Z-ridged-spiral) made with cotolin. I wanted to try this even though I thought it would be too formal in appearance for the particular application. My highly variable tension makes it less formal, but still not right for the sample. I got the instructions from Makiko Tada’s Comprehensive Treatise of Braids VI and would like to try mixing it up with the Braid-in-Braid idea, where an earlier braid is carried up the middle, then brought out and wrapped around every once in a while. Perhaps one could use individual yarns rather than a braid inside, and swap in and out colours, or try using textured yarns. I do like the way the colours work in the sample.

There were a couple of other little bits, but somehow they missed the photo shoot. Line. Move.

Next steps are the yarn wrapping and actual sample. It’s Friday evening and the clock is ticking.

Reading and looking

Penny Leaver Green is a new-to-me textile artist, highlighted in a post on the Mr X Stitch blog. She asks that her images and words not be used without permission, so you need to follow this link to learn more about her approach to using stitch and fabrics to explore ideas and create meaning. I find the images draw me in, I get a sense of space and thoughtful consideration. This doesn’t mean the subject matter is easy, for example recent work explores aspects of the Japanese tsunami – a map, growing sunflowers to absorb radiation, another map of radiation levels.  Penny has produced a series of work on button phobia, and seems to use buttons and circles in a lot of her work – in particular an appliqued circle with a cross stitched over, seen in the colour pictures (like tests for colour blindness) and placemarkers on maps. Maps also recur in her work, some made by her, some collected.

Another chance find yesterday (it was raining, so I did my lunchtime walk in a bookshop!) was Textiles: The Whole Story by Beverly Gordon. The author herself admits it could seem grandiose to attempt the full story of textiles, their importance today and in history, in myth and ritual, in all cultures, physical, spiritual, emotional… (of course we already know the Ultimate Answer to Life, The Universe and Everything). I’ve only just started reading, but already know this is a wonderful book that will change and deepen my understanding and love of textiles. I like the personal, warm, intimate style of writing – this is someone who loves her subject and wants to share with us all. I like the broad focus and the perspective given, and already feel as if things half-perceived are being put into focus. I find her storytelling engaging, beautifully and relevantly illustrated. I feel like my little hobby is part of an incredibly bigger whole – coming from a maths/science background there’s almost a sense of validation that this isn’t a soft diversion, that textiles are fundamental to human existence (not that I’ve been wanting or needing validation, still…). Even the paper of the book feels nice, a tactile pleasure.

Two strong, multiple-thumbs-up recommendations.

Stage 5 – small samples of texture

In stage 5 was the suggestion of working a small sample relating some of the stitch texture effects to drawings. I packed a small set of supplies on holiday and found stitching a restful end to the days spent in Perth.

I decided to try variations of chain stitch. The section on the left was based on rust. I’d taken a series of photos while we were travellings (a few are on my new Rust sketchbook page), and based on them attempted a couple of small, woeful sketches (here). Time to move on to stitch – but I was rather pleased to find myself sketching out a rough plan first.

I wanted a layered and crusty effect, so started by scrunching up and overlaying some scraps of orange and brown silk organza. I couched these down with a series of threads of various weights – wool, silk and cotton. There’s chain stitch, detached chain and twisted chain. The stitches are worked over and around each other, trying for an uneven surface and a mix of colour. Some stitches were worked quite loosely, to get a flakey, peeling effect.

I don’t think the result looks like rust, although if I explain it people go “Oh, OK – I can see that”. I like the varying density of stitches, sometimes deeply layered, sometimes quite sparse and allowing the organza to show through. I also think chain stitch was a good choice for the spotty appearance common in rust. However I think there is too much orange and also too much shine from some of the threads. I’m not sure how this would work in an actual piece – there’s no focus or real movement, but it’s probably a bit too busy for a background.

The sample on the righthand side doesn’t have a specific image source. I was thinking of callistemon (photos on this website) and also wanted to try layers of raised chain band based on an illustration on page 137 of Stitch Magic (Jan Beaney and Jean Littlejohn). The base stitches are in cotolin, the rest is mostly perle cotton and silk. I built up layers of stitch going from browns through various greens, working very loosely and both up and down to get a random, wild effect. The flowers have a base of orange 20/2 silk, then doubled perle cotton using a higher tension than the leaves. I’m happy with the result. The different weights and working of the leaf and flower stitches, combined with the contrasting colours, are in my eyes strongly reminiscent of the plants. I also like the shine and liveliness – like seeing the callistemon on a bright sunny day. I think the least successful part is the transition from the heavy stitching to the background fabric. The overall shape isn’t right.

I find the two sections together interesting. I had a very limited set of threads and fabric, kept to one basic stitch, but got quite different effects.

Machine stitching

A few years ago I did a full week class “Optical Colour Mixing” tutored by Ken Smith. It was my very first Orange Textile Fibre Forum, close to my first free machine stitching, and I remember working very hard! Just before my recent holiday I went to look through some old journals – the very first one I picked up opened at my class notes (23 April 2006).

I haven’t done much since then, so have been trying to refresh my mind and hands and reproduce some of the effects Ken taught. So there was lots of play with both top and bobbin tension, and bits of moss and granite stitch, feather stitch, whip stitch and near the bottom just a little cable with a boucle silk in the bobbin.

My sewing machine behaved beautifully – zero broken threads and needles, little if any tangling or malformed stitches. Mostly I used rayon threads and the result is overall flat and uninteresting – I was very jerky in my movements and possibly that means the threads aren’t lying as smoothly as they could. In particular the ribbon effect on the left doesn’t have the gloss of my 2006 sample.

I think the most interesting parts are where I had 2 threads in the needle (red and orange), blue in the bobbin, all the colours showing and stitches overlapping to give some texture. The feather stitch between 11 and 12 o’clock is the clearest example. The cable stitch (6 to 7 o’clock) using the heavy silk is also effective.

The first sample doesn’t fit neatly into the Project Stages, given I was more interested in reviewing my old notes. There’s some general preparation and familiarisation (stage 1), some mark-making and lines (stage 2) and some texture (stage 5). So I started a second sample, following more closely the Stage 2 suggestions. I used a lime green rayon thread, and in the photo the back of the work is showing because when I came back from holiday I accidentally started working on the other side! Oops.

However that’s the work I find most interesting. A parcel was waiting when I got back from holiday – the complete Tubular Spectrum Plus kit from Lunatic Fringe Yarns. This is 20 colours plus white, black and 5 shades of grey in 10/2 mercerized cotton. Lunatic Fringe focus on weavers and I don’t know how to translate that into stitching terms – it looks to me about half the width of #5 perle cotton.

On the top and right of the sample is the machine stitched 10/2 cotton – used through the needle and the thread coming directly from the cone. I took it fairly slowly and used a 130N needle which has a nice big eye. The needle threader couldn’t cope and the fancy stitch pattern about 2 o’clock was challenging, but apart from that the machine continued to work smoothly. At the top I experimented with stitch length, then lines different widths apart, crossing, and some rayon lines for contrast. The solid area at the right is the 7 tubular spectrum colours from yellow to blue-green. Top and bottom tension is pretty much balanced and just tiny flecks of the lime green rayon in the bobbin show through. Tiny flecks of the 10/2 cotton show on the back too, and there is definite potential there. There is some distortion of the cotton fabric – a heavier cotton could help.

Emboldened by this success at the bottom of the sample I tried Bendigo Mills 2 ply wool in the needle, direct from the cone. Threading was tricky, but achieved with some Thread Heaven. There was some looping at the back, but raising the top tension helped – at the price of losing some of the loft of the yarn. Zigzag was tricky tension-wise, but I think has potential for some interesting effects playing with bobbin colour. I went very slowly to let the stitches form, but there were no actual breaks. I think it has definite potential to provide cover and contrast of texture in the right situation.

This second sample also sits somewhere between stages 1, 2 and 5. I would need to practise a lot if I want to use these techniques in actual work. I found using the hoop very annoying. In Ken Smith’s class we layered up fabrics with interfacing so didn’t need that support. Maybe I could explore some alternatives to escape the hoop without introducing stiffness from a permanent interfacing.

I’m now looking at my weaving yarns with changed eyes. They were already fair game for hand stitching and couching or cabling on the machine, but it opens up a lot of possibilities, flexibility and ease of use if they can also be machine stitched through the needle.

Western Australia

Some very brief notes on a great though brief visit to WA with my mother.

The map (based on maps from http://www.whereis.com/) shows the tiny part of the state we reached.

After a 5 hour flight west from Sydney to Perth we immediately drove east 4+ hours to Hyden.

The attraction of this small country town is Wave Rock, which we discovered is only one small part of Hyden Rock. The thumbnail gives an idea of the scale of the rock face. Much of the colour is from lichens on the granite, and the strange structure you may be able to see on the top is a wall built decades ago to redirect water runoff into a dam.

We had a full day to explore, climbing up by the dam, around the base to Hippo’s Yawn, a walk through the surrounding country (complete with the often-cited “carpet of wildflowers”, birds, lizards and many, many flies) and a short drive to Mulka’s Cave to view the Rock Art.

Next day we drove south, past the amazing colours and textures of the salt lakes around Lake Grace. This crusty desolate-looking landscape was only metres from wheatfields on just slightly higher land.
In the township of Lake Grace we visited the Australian Inland Mission Hospital Museum, then on through the Stirling Range to the port of Albany where we arrived in time for a dusk walk around the old parts of the town.
The highlight of the next day was the Valley of the Giants near Walpole. The link has a video which gives an idea of the 40 metre high pathway among the trees – you can see its shadow on the ground below in my photo.
The second part of the walk took us down and around the trees, where mum and I posed for the obligatory photo.
Driving on, we had our picnic lunch at a lookout over the Great Australian Bight towards the Southern Ocean, then reached Bunbury in time for dinner watching sunset over the Indian Ocean.
In the morning we drove on to Perth in time for midday ringing at the Bell Tower. No photos, so follow the link or even better, go visit when you’re in Perth. My mother, who has been ringing since 1940-something, was really excited to be able to watch the bells swinging – normally we just see ropes vanishing through holes in a ceiling, but here you can go up to the level of the bells and see it all happen (with very effective soundproof glass so you can still have a conversation). It was really fun to chat with visitors and explain some of the finer points of our usually invisible but highly audible craft. The rest of the day was a stroll through Perth followed by collapsing in our apartment.
Morning coffee with mum’s god-daughter was followed by a sobering visit to the Katta Djinoong gallery at the Western Australian Museum, learning about the history and culture of Aboriginal peoples of Western Australia. Harsh and all too common stories. The gallery name means “see and understand us” and perhaps I was able to, at least a little.
The afternoon, in total contrast, we spent at the Princely Treasures exhibition at the Art Gallery. The beautiful, opulent pieces from the Victoria and Albert Museum were magnificent, but rather cold and impersonal after the morning’s experience. It was all about flaunting power and prestige – which is not to say I didn’t admire the beauty and craftsmanship displayed, in particular a bed cover and a table top spinning wheel.
The next day we spent in Fremantle where I indulged my fascination with rust, but our primary focus was the Shipwreck Galleries, part of the Western Australian Museum, and in particular the Batavia (wrecked in 1629). The large exhibit was timbers from the ship that have been reconstructed on a steel frame, but for me the most exciting were actual textile fragments – lace (and lace bobbins), twill, and knit. The lace was found in concretion and there was sufficient for Rosemary Shepherd to produce a pattern.
Our final day was spent in Kings Park and Botanic Garden. Great views over Perth and an amazing variety of plants.

One disappointment was the very nice shop, Aspects of Kings Park. I made a point of going in to see Shirley Treasure‘s weaving. Her work didn’t disappoint and there were other talented textile artists represented – but I felt the manner of “display” did them a grave disservice. Work was stored in large drawers, in a general jumble. Bits were trailing out higgledy-piggledy, very difficult to see and appreciate – and I was making a conscious effort! Another issue for me came up when browsing the jewellery, where many of the artists came from interstate. I would have preferred that the gallery did more editing of their artists and concentrate on those of Western Australia and presenting them really well, rather than cramming in so much.

We had a wonderful holiday. We ticked off everything on our “must do” list and were left wanting more time to explore everywhere we went. On the flight home I re-read all my OCA course notes from the beginning – and was left feeling I’ve strayed from the path in the latest exercises. I did do a little sketching and stitching while away, plus take heaps of photos of texture – rust, rocks, bark, flowers… But that’s a topic for another day.

Surfing for stitch

Some stitch-related websites I’ve found interesting lately:

Takashi Iwasaki, Pinapinatamashiihasukozuchi Embroidery floss and fabric (hand embroidered) 45.5cm x 45.5cm 2009

Takashi Iwasaki uses a range of media to create his artwork including hand embroidery. His statement explains “hand embroidering is the most time-consuming and painstaking method of art-making which in turn engages my thinking process differently from the other methods I use, such as collage making, drawing, painting, printmaking, and other graphic/web-design-related creations. Working with various kinds of media is very important for me to keep my thoughts and ideas fluid and flexible.”

I like the playful and colourful work. The main stitch used seems to be satin stitch, and flattened down in a photo is visually very close to his painting in acrylic in particular. It seems to me his interest is in the process of the hand stitching, rather than exploring the range of marks and textures that stitch offers.

Shona Skinner, Towards North Unst, 19 x 17 cm

Shona Skinner lives in Shetland and her work is full of images of the sea and nature that surrounds her. Shona works from her drawings and in her Studio photos you can see a little of how she develops her images. Shona fuses fabrics together, then free machine embroidery. In some of the works I think I see a little hand stitching too. The images are beautiful and peaceful. I like the use of cloth as an integral part of the final piece (for instance in the skies), not just a somewhat anonymous base for stitching.

Alice Kettle, Camille, 52 x 32 cm, 2004

Alice Kettle has an emotional connection with her work and the tactile qualities are important. There is such an incredible amount of feeling expressed. Alice has put very high resolution images on her website, and if you zoom right in you can see every stitch, the different qualities of yarn, the layering – fascinating.

All three of these artists come from a formal training in fine arts and they each use stitch quite differently.

I also read a book review on the Textile Arts Center blog about Hoopla: the art of unexpected embroidery. Then followed some of the links on that page to various artists… you can spend a lot of time surfing!


Calendar of Posts

October 2011
M T W T F S S
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930
31  

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Archives

Categories