Project 6 Stage 3 – part 1

This Stage is all about Applied fabric techniques. The course notes start off with a long list of different techniques and materials for experimentation.

I wanted to try a reasonable variety so decided to go for small samples. With an eye on presentation as part of the Assignment I tried to keep to a simple flower shape and similar colours so everything could be mounted together on a page.

It’s a sheet of A3 cartridge paper, with a watercolour wash to mesh better with the samples. Right near the end of the work I thought about appliquéing all the samples to a base fabric, but that would obscure aspects of the individual pieces. There are seven separate elements.

Element 1.

This started as white synthetic organza. I used disperse dyes to create the base colour – yellow all over, then navy added at the top and a pale blue at the left. Disperse dyes work on synthetics – you paint (or stamp or…) onto paper, then when dry you put the paper face down on cloth and iron to transfer the dye molecules. By cutting the paper you can make shapes of colour.

The organza was bonded to white cotton iron-on interfacing. Then some purple tulle was cut and laid over the yellow section. There was enough “sticky” coming through the organza to hold it lightly. Next some circles of cotton (and a couple of silk) were bonded on – misty fuse ironed onto the cotton, the circles cut, then ironed onto the base.

Stitching was used to supplement the bonding. On the lower edge of the tulle I couched using a variegated stranded cotton. The colour gave some movement and perhaps a suggestion of depth (though thinking about it now I should have put the stronger colour in the foreground. I just liked it this way). I also reduced the number of strands while working from the lower edge to the left. The top edge of the tulle is held by straight stitch – clustered on the right to suggest grasses, a simple running stitch at the left. Again I varied the number of strands used.

French knots help to hold the circles at the front, varying size and colour in stranded cotton. I added extra french knots to suggest clusters of flowers.

All of this is loosely based on ideas from a weekend workshop I did with Liz Maidment a few years ago. Varying size by changing the number of strands used was suggested by Pat, my tutor, in her feedback on Assignment 2. It’s very effective.

The two larger flowers resulted from working with a soldering iron on synthetic fibres.  On the left I used an organza base, covered with snippets of a range of fabrics including lamé, sequins and organza, and a final layer of organza. I used the soldering iron to seal the edges together and cut out the shape. I also tried to make some marks in the flower, but just melted the top layer so the snippets are in danger of falling out (oops!). It was attached to the base using a fancy sewing machine stitch.

The flower on the right used a fabric created from strips of organza joined together using a soldering iron, then repeatedly re-cut and rejoined. The fabric was then laid on synthetic felt and the shape cut out with the soldering iron. I attached it to the base using blanket stitch and 20/2 silk.

The soldering iron work through all the samples was based on information in Beal, M. (2005) Fusing fabric: creative cutting, bonding and mark-making with the soldering iron, B T Batsford.

After the photo was taken I attached a piece of lightweight lutradur that I had painted and heat distressed. You can see it in the top photo. I used it to help the overall composition of the sample page, and because I like the way the holes created by the heat gun reveal parts of the base. Pushing the appliqué experimentation, the lutradur is attached using glue – Helmar “professional acid free glue”, neutral pH, sets clear, flexible bond and will not yellow, according to the label. I think I used too much, and the top right corner of the lutradur is dulled. It will be interesting to see how well it holds.

Element 2.

This element is a sandwich of synthetic organza, holding a filling of organza snippets. The layers were joined and the surface marked using a soldering iron. Shapes were cut out. The circles were used on other elements. The flowers were reversed and their positions shifted to play with the negative shapes. I attached them by stitching with a rayon machine thread. I think in theory I could have used the soldering iron, but I don’t have the skill to manage that.

Element 3.

The base fabric of this element is a cotton I dyed somewhen. It was actually the first element I did in this appliquéing exercise.

At the top is an attempt at a fairly traditional technique. I cut a shape in freezer paper and ironed it onto the front of the purple cotton – the fabric sticks to the paper. I cut the cotton out with a small margin, took off the paper, put it on the back of the shape, then ironed the margin of cloth over the edges of the paper. This makes it easier to keep the shape together while carefully stitching the shape to the base cloth. I tried using two different thread colours, one matching the background and one the applied shape. I don’t think there’s much difference in visibility. Finally I cut a hole in the base cloth under the shape and was able to pull out the paper.

The dark purple shape is cotton that was ironed onto misty fuse and the shape cut out. After ironing it onto the base I used a herringbone stitch and 20/2 silk to support the bonding around the edges.

The purple and orange shape was created using free-machine stitching on a wash-away fabric. When the stitching was done I soaked and rinsed to remove all the wash-away. I hand-sewed it to the base using one of the threads used in the stitching.

Element 4.

The base fabric here is a silk/hemp mix I dyed a few years ago.

The appliquéd shape is a light-weight tyvek that I painted then heat-distressed. This is a reverse appliqué – the tyvek was under the green cloth when I attached them using a machine zig-zag to get a satin stitch. I then cut away the inner layer of green cloth to expose the tyvek layer underneath.

At the bottom is some ribbon applied to the base using a special ribbon sewing foot (it has a guide to keep the ribbon in the right place to go under the needle), and one of the fancy stitches available on my machine that produces the flower shape I’ve been using. My sewing machine is a Janome Memorycraft 6500. It’s about 9 years old now and still going well – mostly! The circle from the organza sandwich was meant to be applied with the same stitch, but the shape is slightly malformed.

Element 5.

Honan pongee tussah was used as the base of this element – another past dyeing experiment.

The top flower shape is a mid-weight lutradur that was painted, heat-distressed using a heat gun then cut out. It was attached to the base using some free machine stitching with a rayon thread.

The centre flower shape is some wool felt I made that has been applied using a simple straight stitch in 20/2 silk.

The bottom flower has petals of silk organza, the edges and centre distorted and frayed using a needle. Some synthetic sheer was bonded to the base fabric to give shape and enhance the colour. The petals were attached with a silver thread using chain stitch up the centre of each petal, to provide decoration and to the opportunity for movement.

The top circle was attached using the same silver thread, this time in a spiral of straight stitch. The lower circle used a fine silk thread, unevenly hand-dyed. The straight stitches vary in length and spike out from the circle.

Element 6.

The base of this element is quite heavy and has a pile. It’s a scrap  I found in my stash and I don’t know the fibre or its history. I chose it because of the colour and because it has enough weight to support the appliqué fabric.

The appliquéd shape is a handwoven fabric – plainweave in cottolin –  left over from making this bag. It was attached to the base using a fine machine zigzag. I wanted to celebrate the handwoven nature, so deliberately left a margin of fabric around the edge which I frayed.

The circle was attached using a straight machine stitch around the edge.

Element 7.

The final element is another piece of lightweight lutradur, again painted and distressed using a heat gun. The applied shape is tyvek (I think – the note-taking wasn’t great that day), painted, distressed with heat gun, cut out and attached using seed stitch and 20/ silk. I used the same silk to create the outline next to it – I felt something more was needed and the rest of my experiments were, bluntly, failures. I think it would have made more sense in the work if it had been seed stitch too, but I wasn’t confident of creating a clear shape on the distorted ground.

I didn’t enjoy working with the tyvek and lutradur. I was wearing a respirator which isn’t comfortable for long periods, and the heat gun kept blowing all my little samples around. I’ve since discussed this with Claire who suggested ways of managing it better. Having said that, I think my favourite samples are the reverse appliqué tyvek on element 4 and the free-machined lutradur on element 5. I also like the handwoven shape on element 6 (I’m pretty sure to be using that technique again) and I’m pleased with the colour use in the free-machined shape in element 3.

Another thing I’m happy with is the general idea of trying out techniques on a small scale then putting them together. I even used some techniques from the first assignment to create the background page, using ironed crumpled wax paper to create texture in the wash. It suits my learning style to break tasks down into more manageable chunks, in this case getting a handle on techniques before adding in design considerations. Having said that, I did spend quite a bit of time arranging and rearranging the elements on the page as well as the placement of the individual shapes.

I’ll just attached the elements lightly, probably a piece of double sided sticky tape on one side. Pat has commented in the past on the backs of work being just as interesting, or more interesting than the front. I don’t want to hide away that source of inspiration. Plus it allows you to feel the change in the fabric with all the different processes – can it still drape and move?

I’d like to explore further with using the soldering iron on synthetic organzas. I’m still on the learning curve with the equipment, but I’m interested in the potential for layering and playing with transparency. These little samples are really just tastes. It could be overkill, but I’m thinking of a few more extended samples before going on to the next step of this Stage.

Where am I up to?

That was the initial title for this post, which I began writing a couple of weeks ago. In a sense all that is below is irrelevant now, but I’ve almost posted something similar a few times – and since this is my blog and my learning tool I’m going to post it for my purposes and memory.

“I’ve lost momentum a bit at the moment, but this isn’t really one of those angst-y posts. It’s more that I recognise this feeling, something isn’t quite jelling, and I need to take a moment or two and consider what I’m doing.

“I know I’ve been here before, because these questions come from a draft post started months ago when wondering about my interpretation of the course notes and work so far:

  • Am I pushing hard enough?
  • Am I adventurous enough?
  • Am I exploring widely enough?
  • Am I reading and looking at other people’s work enough?
  • A big one – am I thinking deeply enough about what I’m doing and reading and seeing?
  • Am I too worried about pleasing others, including tutor and assessors, instead of finding out about myself?
  • It’s not a matter of what I can get away with – after all, I’m in this to learn not to prove anything or get anywhere.

“At least I’m sure these are good questions to ask. From a recent post on the WeAreOCA blog, written by Emma Drye: ‘Students talk about wanting to get a degree – but it’s wanting to do a degree that is important.’ Marks will suffer if ‘… you are just doing what you always do and there is no evidence that you are learning or challenging yourself or that you are engaging with ideas at an appropriate level.’ At later levels we should ‘look at the course projects and take the time to reflect on them and make them relevant to your emerging areas of interest.’

“Not directly related to my current questions, but something I really want to remember and consider, in response to a student question Emma added ‘Relevant contextual study means that you have sought out, or been directed to, relevant artists and that by looking at their work you have learned something useful for your own practice. … It’s more helpful … if you can link your contextual work with your studio practice. If you are trying to work more texturally for example – look at Joan Eardley. Then look at Anselm Kiefer and Jason Martin and write in your log what you think of their work in your own words, followed by a concrete plan of action as to how you are going to use what you have been thinking about in relation to these artists in your assignment piece. If you find an artist you think could be useful for you, think about why you like them and ask your tutor to recommend a couple more in the same vein.’

“And a killer sentence was ‘Without enough time for the course, ideas don’t have enough time to ferment so the work tends to lack depth and there will not be enough time to find your own voice or learn the core skills you need.’

“My tutor Pat has also written in the past that I should take the time to explore a promising path and not just set myself deadlines. Sometimes I have to hear things a few times before they start sinking in.

“I was really bothered by how long I took on Assignment 2. I felt “behind”, and while not trying to catchup I was definitely trying to move briskly. Quite rightly it’s come back to bite me, because the little bits and pieces I’ve been working on are so uninteresting and I’m so disengaged from them that I can’t be bothered working on them.

“Having stepped back for a few days and thought about it all I actually feel quite good about it. I had a problem. I identified it. I can take steps to rectify the situation.

“Step 1 was to go back to the course notes and read again, carefully. What am I being asked to do? What am I trying to achieve and learn?”

Bringing this up to date, I did re-read and re-consider, and I decided to push on with my little bits and pieces. I think this was a good choice – I thought of more things to try, more variations, and even if very unsophisticated the small samples do give an indication of potential further work and exploration. The work has also given me the time and frame of mind to come up with a few ideas that I’m now keen to go on with.

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In Basketry NSW Transformation exhibition Sunday 2 July. More info fibresofbeing.wordpress.com

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