Archive for August 14th, 2012

Project 6 Stage 4 – felting

Previous work in this stage looked at gathering, pintucks, piping, slashing, pleating and moulding and quilting.

When I first started this project (in stage one, 13-May-2012) I considered the possibility of including some weaving or felting. The examples I showed didn’t fit with the study I’ve been doing, but I decided to try felting into my sample set of fabrics.

My basic process was:

*take a piece of study fabric roughly 42 cm square and lay down on a length of bubblewrap.

* lay on merino wool fibre, two thin layers with the fibre first horizontal then vertical, with a couple of areas of cloth left uncovered.

* wet down with warm water and olive oil soap.

* roll up bubblewrap, tie in a bundle then roll back and forward a few hundred times. Periodically untie, check, rotate, repeat. By the end of this the fibretips have wriggled around, some through the fabric, and everything is holding together.

* Unwrap everything and full the pieces, shocking the fibres by plunging into cold then hot water, kneading with more soap and throwing the work down hard on the worktop. The wool fibres twist tightly around the fabric and each other, compacting densely. The original fabric is pulled in by the fibres.

* Rinse, lay as flat as you can, and leave to dry.

There are lots of variations to this process – everyone seems to have their own magic (soap flakes dissolved in water, dishwashing detergent, an electric sander instead of rolling…).

Above is a detail and on the left is the full cheesecloth and wool piece. The final result is around 27 cm square, so the original fabric has shrunk (or actually crinkled) by about 37%.

I did the first four samples at the same time – cheesecloth and the three light silks. I was confident these would all felt well, in fact the cheesecloth was the only one I haven’t used in felt before. The results are superficially very similar, although in detail different in sheen/matt and to the touch. Overall the felts would be a bit heavy for a scarf – you’d want to leave more fabric exposed, but certainly light and drapey enough for a vest or light jacket. However for this particular study the most interesting parts are at the boundary of the main felt and the fabric “windows”. The wool to some extent overwhelms my study fabrics.

I decided to do second, smaller samples of the light fabrics, this time with a super light layer of merino fibres in one direction only. The goal was to see more clearly the individual character of my study fabrics. The cheesecloth version is above, only about 13 x 4.5 cm. The open weave of the cheesecloth allowed it to collapse very easily into the felt, and the result is very soft, light and airy. The photo isn’t brilliant, but there’s quite a variety of density in the piece, providing visual interest.

The tissue silk is the smallest final piece, having reduced to about 26 cm square (around 38% shrinkage). It feels slightly rough but soft to the hand and has a matt finish.
In the second sample it formed soft, rounded folds.

The paj silk has a sheen and glows. It feels soft and smooth to the touch – luscious. In the small sample it doesn’t melt and conform with the wool as in the previous samples. There are almost soft little puffs of fabric gently rising above the surface. Looking at the sample now, the windows of the exposed silk have a shine but are transparent. It would be great in a reveal/conceal application. Checking back with the other samples they have the same effect but I hadn’t focused on it previously – perhaps the paj shine is reminiscent of glass, calling my attention.

Above and to the left are the silk organza samples. The organza seems to reject the wool, springing away from it. No gentle moulding, it has to be captured by the fibres. There is a roughness or crispness to the hand, especially in areas with less wool.

As with all the samples, I wasn’t concerned about making the felt flat or square – that wasn’t the point of the exercise.

All the main samples above look pretty similar, despite my attempts to focus on their different properties. Originally I thought this would be all I had to show of felting. The other three fabrics – cotton, hessian and panne velvet – were poor candidates for nuno felt, being thick and heavy and in one case 100% polyester (even light synthetics being difficult to felt into).

Still, I was determined to give it a go despite my expectations, especially since I’d bailed out on the quilting. I took the precaution of pre-soaking the fabrics overnight in soapy water and did quite a bit of extra rolling. I thought it would be an exercise in frustration. I was wrong.

Above and to the left is the cotton. Actually I did think I had a chance with this – a mid-weight fabric, and cotton voile (and cheesecloth!) pose no problems in felting.

It has shrunk less than the previous examples, around 26%, but you can really see the shrinkage! The windows aren’t interesting as the fabric is basically opaque, but the result overall is much more in keeping with the purposes of this Stage, in being clearly a 3-D result.

As you can see above, this sample also has me holding it up and taking photos in front of the window again. Very nice patterning. There’s a bit of banding, which I expect is related to the way I lay down the fibres and the amount of overlap. If I wanted to go further with this I would card the fibres first (I have a drum carder), rather than just pulling the fibres directly from the purchased top.

The hessian sample is a funny little thing. I’ve run out of white hessian and no more in the stores I’ve tried (including two big chains), so just placed a few pieces near each other, layered on the wool fibre and hoped for the best.

Quite frankly I am amazed at these results – yet another reminder of the dangers of assumptions. The wool is well adhered to the hessian, in fact the sample is surprisingly soft to the touch due to the wool fibres coming through the fabric. The back view on the left above is interesting too, with little mountains of hessian protruding through the mists of the merino.

Of course I had to try the back-lit-at-the-window view. I like it a lot. The front, the back, the back-lit, the hand, the edges of the various pieces of hessian – I like it all and I want to use it in something. I actually think it would be not unpleasant to stitch into by hand. It would provide an interesting base to work with a variety of weights of thread. I’m going to have to watch out for an appropriate opportunity.

Finally we come to the panne velvet. The windows of exposed fabric definitely didn’t work. In the photo on the left the sample looks like some kind of woman’s undergarment with unpleasant sagging elastic. So focus back on the photo above. At least in large scale you can actually see the wool fibres coming through the velvet – I was careful to lay the fabric face down and layer the wool on the back. The wool softens the shine of the velvet. There’s still light and life and movement, but not so aggressive.

The back view is quite pleasant too. Dimpled, and most just the wool apparent. Quite different to the lumpy mess at the bottom of the post on slashing (5-Aug-2012). I wouldn’t want to make it the centrepiece, but it wouldn’t be a negative.

The back-lit view looks good as well. I find myself thinking about the possibilities of colour – the wool fibres and the panne velvet. It’s probably too heavy to throw shadows, but maybe a lamp-shade-like application would work. One would have to think about the impact and dangers of heat, but possibly wool at least has a reasonable rating on that.

This brings the experimentation section of this Stage to an end. With each technique I’ve noted more avenues of exploration, but it’s time to move on. Next is the final sample, so I’m going to pull out lots of sketchbook work, pile up all my samples from this stage, and ponder possibilities.

 

Project 6 Stage 4 – Moulding and quilting

I’ve shown gathering, pintucks, piping, slashing and pleating. Now it’s onward but not upward – in a perfect world I would redo the samples for moulding and quilting. It’s not a perfect world and I’m not a perfect student, so I’ll share my woes with the blogosphere and move on.

“Moulding” is a misnomer in my samples. I’ve used the idea of using dilute PVA to hold fabric shape, but created that shape in the material with my fingers rather than using anything as a mould. I have a tendency to fibre-snobbery, and I am very definitely not a fan of things obviously plastic in my textiles, so the idea of putting a film of plastic over my fabrics was not appealing. However I’ve been proven wrong and pleasantly surprised in the past and decided that I needed to at least give it a try.

Expectations low enough?

Above is the organza. The shape is pretty much as I formed it, so no problem there. But what’s the story with that shine?

Above is the underside of the organza, shown in gruesome closeup. The major shine is the pooled film of pva where the organza touched the worktable (or at least the plastic cover on the worktable) as it dried. That seems to be a constant in almost all this set of samples, but its worse on the organza because you see it through the layers. There are also areas where – I don’t know a word so let’s call it the “pores” of the fabric – are clogged with pva. I diluted the glue with water about 50%, and I brushed it onto the fabric rather than dipping to keep the amount of glue down to a minimum, but it’s still more than the organza could absorb.

The paj silk above has some lovely flowing lines, but that’s not the deep glow of the fabric. The shine is the pva film underneath, and instead of being reflective the silk is translucent. There’s also an unpleasant stickiness to the touch. At first I thought this was because I made a mistake by using the glue I had to hand, labelled “tacky glue”. I assumed it was pva given it’s a white water-based product that dries clear. I’ve since checked the manufacturer’s website and it is pva. Possibly there’s an additive to make it tacky. Another form of pva might improve things, or maybe a more dilute application. The slight stickiness could in fact be a positive, helping to keep a piece of fabric in place while you’re working on it, stitching or whatever. I’m having trouble seeing the point of taking a nice piece of silk and plasticising it.

The tissue silk hides most of the downside of the pva fairly well. In real life there are a few little glints of shine where there shouldn’t be in the matt fabric, but not too much. The texture of the silk is still attractive. It feels soft enough to handstitch into it. I can see (grudgingly) that this could be just what you need in certain applications.

The cheesecloth is amazing. The fibres have somehow absorbed the glue, virtually no shine to be seen on the top or underneath, and it’s holding its shape well. It has more body than the untreated fabric. This is the first sample that has me thinking I’d like to try actually moulding over shapes using this.

Unfortunately something contaminated my cotton sample and it has blotches of purple on it. Possibly there was some old dye on the plastic I used to cover my worktable. I can see this technique being useful to create height and shape on a piece, as long as the shiny back is hidden and you don’t have to touch it.

I actually quite like the panne velvet sample. I was careful to paint the underside of fabric, so the pile generally isn’t too badly affected by pva. If anything the normal shine of the fabric has been reduced a bit, making it look a little less trashy. I don’t feel I can complain too much about the artificial feel on an artificial fabric. I created very deep furrows in the damp fabric and it’s holding well.

The hessian also worked well. It’s even been able to retain a little of that nice hessian smell! There is some nice deep shaping. Hessian is generally very determined to do its own thing, but here it has been tamed. I can see this being used to create sculptural elements, or to add an area of deep texture or relief on a piece.

Quilting

In the interests of maintaining my learning log I’m going to show my abortive attempts with quilting. It’s only a few brief assays, I didn’t go through my study set of fabrics. Basically the particular method I chose didn’t fit well in the overall approach I’ve been taking. I could have (should have?) revised my method. Instead I chose to move on to my final technique.

Attempt 1 was on cotton. I went very traditional – a sandwich of two layers of the fabric with a bamboo quilt batting in between. There’s a simple grid using straight stitch, a couple of free-form variations, and some denser areas of stitching.  Carefully angled lighting and photography means the unexciting results are at least visible.

Thinking the batting didn’t have enough loft to complement the stitching, I tried again with some wool batting that was lurking in the cupboard. The result is a traditional approach badly done.

In attempt 3 I moved to an organza sandwich and tried comparing results with the two kinds of batting. The wool is on the left, the bamboo on the right. At the top I tried capturing some rayon threads under the top layer of organza. This approach does nothing to enhance or take advantage of the properties of the organza. It also doesn’t fit with my exploration of layering and manipulating light. I decided not to continue.

A better approach would have been to skip the traditional batting and experiment with different inclusions – various grists and densities of thread and yarn; cutout shapes in other fabrics; beads or other items trapped by stitch… All of those could be used to alter the passage of light. Sequins or better, little sisha mirrors, could be effective.

 


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