Archive for July, 2012

Project 6 Stage 4 – tucks

I’m continuing my exploration of raised and structured surface textures. Although my sore finger coped well in Effie’s class last week I’ve decided to continue with the constraints from the gathering experiment – using the sewing machine and attempting similar transformations on a set of undyed fabrics. I think this is building up a very useful reference resource and helps me maintain an open and inquisitive mind – fuel to spark and develop ideas.

I have a “pintuck” foot and a “deep groove pintuck foor” for my machine. They are used with a twin needle and high top tension to create lines of tucking in light weight materials. Actually you may be able to get the same effect without the special foot, but with more difficulty keeping an even distance between tucks. I wasn’t interested in maintaining a set, narrow spacing, so with hindsight I could have tried it.

Once again I started with the mid-weight cotton. It tends to be the easiest to sew on, so a good place to try initial ideas and get some experience with the technique. Each following fabric follows the same basic pattern. On the left, lines of deep groove, first straight then curved. On the right, the smaller pintucks. In the lower part the previously parallel lines start crossing and interacting. Horizontal lines of both deep groove and pintucks were added later, to check the interaction of the different sizes of tuck. (Note: they are different, so I guess the special feet are contributing to more than spacing).

On this fabric, without the strong directional lighting, the results are somewhat bland. It could be used to frame and subtly emphasize an area. I found tight curves difficult, but perhaps with more experience this could be used as a drawing /mark-making tool.

I did try the hessian, but wasn’t successful in creating any tucking.  I tried different tensions, stitch lengths, trying to pull threads tighter after sewing… It was just too heavy and coarse to respond.

The cheesecloth was a total contrast. The weave distorts easily into a lace-like quality. With the deep groove foot the fabric quickly started forming a deep pleat, and I had some success with varying the depth/amount of material in the tuck by  the amount of tension in holding the fabric in front of and behind the needle. The major difficulty was trying to keep the material from catching on the foot or other parts of the sewing machine.

The level of distortion really opens up possibilities in manipulating this material. Later in this stage I plan to experiment with moulding using PVA, and I think this could be really interesting in combination with “ribs” of tucks. The differing densities produced also offer possibilities when playing with light and transparency.

The paj silk has such a beautiful shine, it always looks good when some distortion helps it catch the light unevenly. It was very difficult to control, with the tucks easily catching additional material. Its fluid nature means that the fabric remains flat overall even with substantial stitching and puckering. As always I wonder about potential applications given the delicacy of the fabric. It would be interesting to experiment with nuno felting the pintucked material. The wrist support I use as I type is covered in a felt made with merino and paj silk, which has a lovely soft pebbled texture in the silk. The additional rigidity of pintucks could add an extra element of interest and coherence to the felt.

I was expecting wonderful things from the silk organza, but was disappointed. I thought the crisp fabric would produce beautiful, clearly defined tucks. Instead the tucks are poorly defined – perhaps the firmness of the fabric resisted the pull of the stitching. Experimenting with thread tension might help next time. In addition I find the clear show-through of the thread visually distracting.  In another application this could be an advantage, especially if coloured thread is used in the bobbin.

Like the paj, the tissue silk deformed easily under the sewing machine foot and I could somewhat control the amount of fabric in the tuck by the amount of tension with which I held it behind and in front of the needle. The result looks gentle and pretty, but the additional weight gives the fabric a bit more control and less drift in the draping. There is also very nice variation in colour intensity depending on the number of folds and the stitching itself. This technique could add visual interest while also giving form and drape to the fabric.

After the difficulties with the hessian I almost didn’t attempt the panne velvet, thinking it was too heavy. It actually takes the tucking very well, and the result here reminds me of a cable knitting design. However fibre snob that I am, I find the appearance of this trashy, cheap and unattractive. I think this is both emotional and influenced by what I know/expect, rather than objective, which is rather annoying. I have some prejudices to overcome, simply because almost anything could be just what you need in a specific situation.

Future experiments with pintucks could include different spacing, planned to form “ribs” and achieve three dimensional effects.

Effie Mitrofanis – Enrich the Surface

Last weekend I went to an ATASDA class with Effie Mitrofanis, who does beautiful, rich and colourful embroidery. It was a really lovely couple of days.

It was detailed work and I am slow, so nothing came close to finished. Subtract the orange stitching near the top and the beads, and on the left is my entire production for Saturday. The stitched area is about 12 centimetres square (under 5 inches). I’m just setting expectations of what there is to see, not complaining – it was a weekend of learning, companionship, colour and fibre. Pure pleasure.

We started with a base of muslin, then put on strips of fabric – mostly dupion silk. Straight and herringbone stitch secured and decorated the edges. (Effie has some samplers showing incredible variety of texture and appearance using just straight stitch.)

Next were some tips on binding the ends of gold cord, followed by (drumroll) bullion stitch over the cord. The class was absolutely quiet as we worked on this, but I think everyone was very pleased with themselves and their results.

Dual rows of blanket stitch were worked at the top, setting ourselves up for the next day.

Some beautiful random-dyed gimp was wound over the blanket stitch base. There is also some beading over the gold cord and some bugle beads where I plan to do some seed stitch in a variety of threads.

My second sample has raised chain band up the left side. The blue thread is something anonymous that I bought from a member stash-busting stand at a recent ATASDA meeting. Very effective. On the right is wave stitch (more thread from the same stash-buster!). I’ve also added some little flower-shaped beads to highlight the line I wanted to extend from the patterned fabric. I don’t know yet what’s going to happen below.

Effie also showed us how to make a wrapped cord. My sample used six lengths of stranded cotton thread, plus beading thread and some gimp. I wanted to do at least a little of most of the techniques Effie showed, but I didn’t get as far as knotting or multiple wraps side by side. You can build up all these elements to get some really effective results.

I learnt quite a bit over the weekend, over and above the various techniques from Effie.

  • I followed past advice from Claire, choosing a colour scheme and heavily editing the  material and thread I took to class. This saved a lot of time and really helped me to focus on what we were doing.
  • Zinger threads. When finished these small works can be really rich and complex surfaces. I can get lost in the detail. The use of “zing” (like the blue in sample 2’s raised chain band) brings life and focus.
  • It’s a detail, but I like the red thread used as a base for the raised chain band. It felt a bit risky when I chose it, a bit out of the main colour theme, but the small amount visible really adds some subdued complexity. My working theory is to try to be bold in the early stages. If it doesn’t work it can be covered or adjusted somehow. Better than being bland.
  • Not everything has to be planned and have deep meaning or thought or concept. Responding to the thread and work, to what is developing under your hands, is a wonderful, centering, restorative experience. I don’t know how that fits with OCA course work, where you’re trying to fulfill requirements, show development and critical thinking, develop design skills… It’s not necessarily all mutually exclusive. Perhaps it’s a matter of balance, perhaps I just need more skill / experience / development.

Resource: Mitrofanis, E. (2009) Threadwork: silks, stitches, beads & cords. (Binda: Sally Milner Publishing)

Project 6 Stage 4 – gathering

Stage 4 focuses on raised and structured surface techniques, giving a long list and the instruction to “try out … as many as you can”. These tasks are so open!

I did have one constraint – the hand stitching in the final part of Stage 3 (here) had left me with a sore and swollen knuckle on my right hand middle finger. I’m going to be doing lots of hand-stitching at a workshop this weekend and wanted to rest the finger and give it a chance to heal. I looked for ways to progress using the sewing machine as the main tool. In addition I decided to do a similar set of transformations on a variety of materials, to explore their different properties. I also stayed with light, undyed fabrics as I was interested in looking for shadows and at the effect of layering.

The photos of the work include some unusual lighting and angles to highlight the dimensionality of my results. I think the work is going to suffer badly in the post – 4 times for some work, as it goes to the UK and back for tutor review, and again for final assessment – so want to capture what might be lost.

This is a mid-weight cotton, and this overview shot shows my basic approach. On the right is a strip of fabric on-grain. One side is cut and the other torn (on later fabrics I changed this to one side straight cut or torn and the other side a sawtooth cut using pinking shears and/or a shaped rotary cutting blade). On the left is a strip cut on the bias – one side straight, the other sawtooth. I did a row of machine stitching down the centre of each strip, using the longest stitch length available. I used that thread to gather the cloth, then machine stitched it to a base of the same material.  I tried to vary the amount of gathering as I went.

The cotton gave quite crisp and firm results, and some good height especially on the tight curve at the end of the bias cut strip. The fabric is fairly opaque, so no real layering effect – just frilly stuff on top of a flat base. It’s not exciting, but it provided some useful experience for my approach to the rest of the samples.

Next up was hessian. This is fast becoming one of my favourite materials. Unfortunately my stock is running low and the I’m having trouble finding more in this nice unbleached cream.

The gathers are firm and I think will cope reasonably well with travelling. There is some nice lift and movement, especially in the bias-cut strip.

I particularly like the effect of the tight gathering of the bias strip. I think it would work very well to suggest the centre of flowers.

It looks good back-lit too. I really like the crossing lines in the weave and the different densities of light.

This cheesecloth looks very light and delicate. After the effort of gathering up the hessian I was surprised by how easily the cheesecloth compacted, and strips were finished before I attempted a tight turn.

The frayed edges of the straight-cut strip have a kind of delicate wireiness which I find delightful. It wouldn’t cope with heavy use or laundering, but in the right application it could give a lovely sense of fragility or possibly age.

The cloth is quite transparent, and the back-lit view is attractive too.

The gathering doesn’t have a great deal of height. I think it may actually travel quite well. Although it will squash I think it would regain as much height as ever with just a shake-out. We’ll see.

This delicate confection definitely will crush easily and I think will be very difficult to iron or restore to its current form.

This is the very light paj silk which is so nice in felting. It’s almost transparent flat (an aside – Mary Louise got a really interesting effect shown here, stitching on newsprint and tracing paper. I wonder if the paj would work for a textile variant – or perhaps organza would be better…).

It has a beautiful shiny frothiness. Fraying is currently minimal – I don’t know how it will stand up to handling.

The backlit view is rather nice – reminiscent of an xray film I think.

This is the silk organza I was thinking of above – although this is 5.5 mm and maybe something a bit heavier would be more like the tracing paper.
It’s a very crisp froth, as you’d expect from organza. The sheen is perhaps more apparent in the photo than in life. I also see a little bug of some kind decided to join in on the photo shoot, although there’s no sign of it now. Silk organza is very meringues and wedding dresses, especially in this style of gathering, but like pretty much everything could be just what you need in a particular application.

Back-lighting really shows up both the transparency and the crisp character of this fabric. I like the tonal variation as the number of layers change in the gathering.

Another light silk – look at the beautiful flowing line of the edge of the ruffle!

This is tissue silk, 3.5 mm georgette, very light and airy and very easy to gather up to get that dense mass of fabric movement. The effect is very soft and gentle, not at all crisp. I’m very taken with the effect of the fraying, quite long threads that further soften the edges.
The same soft texture is apparent in the back-lit photo. I’m sure this fabric will also suffer in transit.
The three light silks – paj, organza and georgette – make an interesting combination of texture and lustre. I think there’s a lot of potential for playing off one against the others.

This sampling process could go on and on. I had some heavier and more texture silks out, plus wondered about the different effect I might get with synthetic versus silk sheers. In the end I have decided to finish my gathering exploration with just one more fabric.

What a contrast! Lots of showy shine but not perhaps elegance. This is crushed panne velvet, 100% polyester, knit. On this one I have no real concerns about travel survival.

As you can see I used three strips on this sample. The knit fabric has a quite different behaviour length-wise versus width-wise, so I cut strips of both in addition to a bias cut.

Each strip gave quite different results. I find the centre strip interesting, with a rounder kind of scooping effect. This is the lengthwise cut, with very little stretch in the material.

Altogether a satisfying set of results.

Weaving Nancy’s blanket

Weaving content!!

Back here I posted this photo of the blanket on Nancy’s bed at the nursing home and speculated on the weave structure. I thought I’d try it out as part of my development in the final project.

Then I read this post by Noreen Crone-Findlay on her blog Tottie Talks Crafts. She has a super-fast way of putting on a short warp using s-hooks and has some detailed video tutorials, including doing leno (look around at her posts before and after the June one in the link above, as there is a series). Brilliant!

I don’t have that particular kind of loom but the same ideas could be used on almost any, I should think. I decided to try with my Robinson loom, seen here in a photo from February 2010 when I was working on Cacophony. The castle (the high structure that holds the shafts with levers to raise and lower warp ends) can easily be removed, as can the beater, leaving the basic frame with a mechanism for adjusting tension.

Here is the same loom, castle and beater removed, and leno warped and in progress using Noreen’s method.

The closeup shows that as well as my shed stick I used a string and pin setup to keep the second shed. This is another idea from Noreen (here), using a knitting stitch saver instead of a kilt pin. I’ve attempted a slightly different version of continuous string heddles on a stick when playing with backstrap weaving, following instructions by Laverne Waddington (blog, but this slightly different form worked well here.

One of the beauties of Noreen’s warping method is that most of it could be improvised using stuff around the home or at the nearest hardware store – for example I used tent pegs for the metal bar supporting the s-hooks (the apron rod was too thick to use the hooks directly on it). Life is easier with a tensioning system, but Archie Brennan’s diagrams show how to manage that with copper pipe and a threaded rod (see his page and scroll down to the “small copper loom” diagram).

In a very short time this afternoon I had this little sample done. I chose a large, coarse string, thinking of the rough and impersonal treatment Nancy has experienced (not the nursing home particularly – the whole situation and sequence of events). It’s actually a single continuous piece of string, used for both warp and weft. There are various tension problems, but that seems to fit with the theme pretty well!

I think I’ve got the structure right.

I’m really excited about the fast sampling this method offers, especially with a weaving project coming up in the OCA course. I think that’s tapestry and experimentation focused, so this could fit. Imagine unhooking a few areas of warp and doing some braiding, or crossing warp ends over to create diagonal elements. Possibilities!!!


Reading – Glenn Adamson: thinking through craft

Adamson, G. (2007) thinking through craft, Oxford: Berg.

This book looks at craft in all sorts of ways, showing how it isn’t and can’t be art. It takes an analytical, academic, theoretical approach to “craft” the idea and contrasts it to modern avant garde art. It is, I am sure, deliberately provocative. The author has clearly done a lot of research and thinking, and he aims to get others thinking.

Adamson proceeds in a systematic way to examine five perspectives or ways of thinking about craft – Supplemental (not autonomous); Material (versus optical); Skilled (more complex, but perhaps beside the point in art); Pastoral (that is nostalgic and limiting creative freedom); Amateur.  He begins with a survey of theory, then history, then a critical analysis of specific works or texts. In one sense I enjoyed the book very much and felt I was learning a lot. Adamson covers a lot of territory, much of it new or only faintly familiar to me, and he generally explains his terms and concepts clearly and carefully. He certainly gave me a lot to think about, and I expect I’ll be re-reading the book in parts and as a whole many time in the future. I’d definitely recommend it to others.

On the other hand the book made me cranky. Very cranky. Two main reasons – first, I don’t like his conclusions, which wouldn’t be a problem (after all it’s interesting when people hold and discuss different views) except that second, I think he indulges in some sleights of hand and leaps of logic which make his conclusions suspect.

In most of the book Adamson is specifically referring to avant garde art. It has a theory and expressed concept behind it. It is autonomous (self-standing), generally optical, has an underlying principle of freedom, can transcend any limits, not necessarily created with great manual skill, in theory with intrinsic (not just market) value. On the other hand Adamson deliberately doesn’t define craft closely. It is a process and way of doing things, it has core principles, it limits itself.

In my mind the tricky part is that this allows Adamson to select among all that is “craft” some examples that don’t meet the particular art criteria being considered. For instance in chapter 1 “Supplemental” he writes that art, a painting, stands apart and exists in itself. He then takes the extreme example of the frame around the art as representing craft, and shows that the frame supplements the art but isn’t art in itself. Not a hard sell – I suggest only in particular cases is a frame presented or claimed as art. Adamson does go on to give some more convincing examples, but one thing he doesn’t convince me of is that avant garde art is autonomous. It requires an “accepted critical account” (page 32). Some other recent reading suggests I’m not original in pointing this out. For example, in an article on the new hang at the Art Gallery of NSW John McDonald wrote that when considering contemporary art “one can be a fashion victim rather than an art historian and no one will notice the difference” (1). Or much earlier Tom Wolfe: “”Without a theory to go with it, I can’t see a painting … Modern Art has become completely literary: the paintings and other works exist only to illustrate the text.” (2) So much for autonomous.

In chapter 4 “Pastoral” Adamson writes about the “sentimental escapism” of attendees at summer crafts schools. I certainly don’t accept that as an accurate description of the work we did in Liz Williamson’s class last January (post here), not that I’m claiming avant garde status but there was certainly no “air of crabby conservatism” (p. 168). This is one of many places where it’s convenient for Adamson’s position that he limited himself to avant garde art, because otherwise he would have to figure out how to accommodate in his theory all the art classes held at Sturt at the same time. The attendees there are covered in that “there is no such thing as an amateur contemporary artist, only an unsuccessful one” (p. 143). I wonder if artists who choose or need to earn at least part of their income by teaching thereby lose any status as Artists.

One final sleight of hand. Adamson suggests that in its inferiority craft performs a useful function, acting as a “horizon” to art – “a conceptual limit active throughout modern artistic practice” (p. 2). Craft seems to act as some kind of foil to art, helping to intensify its art-ness. “The limits embodied by craft are not only psychologically comforting, but also conceptually useful” (p. 5). For me though as Adamson explores this frontier he seems to accept as art some work that has pushed into territory previously seen as craft. Adamson sidesteps the difficulty that an area or process or material that was part of craft is now to be seen as art –  he has already dismissed as banal any circular argument that something is art because it says it is, but in this situation he doesn’t offer any other explanation for the discontinuity.

So why did I keep reading, when the book made me cranky and had me muttering and scribbling copious notes (possibly a concern to other bus travellers)? Simply because it did give me so much to think about, and helped me further in my understanding of what I want to do and how I want to develop. A very worthwhile read.

1. McDonald, J. In with the new accessed 6 July 2012

2. Wolfe, J The Painted Word, quoted in Ellsworth-Jones, W. Never mind the theory…–20120629-21792.html accessed 6 July 2012

Adamson, G. (2007) thinking through craft, Oxford: Berg.


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