Layers of Texture – Workshop with Helen MacRitchie

I spent today in an ATASDA “Textile Taster” with tutor Helen MacRitchie (blog http://fibrenell.blogspot.com.au/). I did a two day class with Helen last year, making a bag (blog posts 12-June-2012 and 30-June-2012), but being a Taster this wasn’t about a particular finished product, but a speed tour of heaps of different techniques and ideas.

I had camera failure at the workshop (actually multiple operator errors – the camera remained at home and the phone battery was flat!), so the photo on the left of Helen’s work is taken from her blog (with permission) – see her post here for lots of information about the multiple materials and processes she combined to produce an integrated final result. Helen has completed a City & Guilds Certificate in stitched textiles and is currently completing her Diploma (I felt rather daunted just now when I saw her work on woven structures using paper strips here).

The photo on the right is of Helen’s work, a sample for today. The topic was layers of texture – blending texture through paint, fabric and stitch. We looked at lots of different ways to create textural elements which can be layered and combined to create a work with depth (visual and physical) and coherent design. A particular focus was how to visually disguise the borders between all the parts to avoid jarring and create a flowing whole. Shape, material and colour can be repeated in different combinations at different scales in all the individual elements to assist in bringing it together.

Helen started by showing us lots of samples and giving a general overview. Throughout the day she gave demonstrations and led discussions, and we all attempted to try at least a little of everything. As usual I was slow and didn’t get through it all.

First up was a base of pelmet vilene, covered with texture – in this instance cotton and jute scrims, torn and distorted. We used a dilute, matt, clear-drying ??? gel medium I think. Like everything else we did, this just scratched the surface of possibilities such as adding colour with paints and dyes, and/or using one or more of a huge variety of gels, pastes and mediums.

My second background is a hand-dyed cotton base (from a class I did with Djanne Cevaal years ago), with some dyed cotton scrim in the little pack of materials from Helen.

We also used the gels etc to make some elements that could be added later in a layer. This is some cotton plasterers’ scrim strip with a matt heavy structure medium stencilled on (through a paper doiley). This could be painted or distorted later.

In avoiding jarring effects we can’t make boundaries disappear, but we can help the eye move smoothly across by providing links that blur the edges, using colour and to a lesser extent shapes.This is a poor example, but the idea is to stitch in a thread colour closely matching each fabric piece, effectively bleeding the colour into the surrounding area.

One technique I didn’t have time for but really want to remember was the use of whip stitching. If I had just that top green square on the cream background, I would whip stitch on the green using a green thread in the needle and cream thread in the bobbin, producing flecks of cream on the green fabric. Then I would use cream thread in the needle and green in the bobbin on the surround cream fabric, producing flecks of green on the cream. Helen had a green and black sample that was lovely.

As well as whip stitch Helen demonstrated cable stitch and using thick threads in the bobbin. I didn’t get to those either.

Instead I spent my time on a series of samples of this technique – scrim in a hoop, then stitching over mainly in zigzag, distorting the weave and in places cutting into it. I tried using the regular foot and feed dogs up, and another version doing free motion stitching with feed dogs down.

I tried the cotton scrim, the much stiffer plasterers’ scrim strip, and a dyed scrim.

I don’t know how yet, but as soon as I saw this I started thinking about my theme book work on ageing – surely this technique would fit in somewhere.
Later in the day Helen talked about how she puts all the parts together, and very bravely (I think) actually did a fair bit of work on a sample piece. She had a reference / inspiration photo of some leaf and bark litter in the garden. Helen already had a base in suitable textures and colours, plus at least half a dozen separate elements. We discussed how to keep the eye moving around the final work, balance and variety, creating lines but not obvious, continuous ones – the viewer will follow the idea. Helen is very clever in her layering, gradually anchoring things and taking care to overlap in different ways so there’s no clear ordering of the layers. She didn’t have time to get to an end result, but talked about the extra stitching she would do to introduce and extend various colours in areas around the work.

On of the things I’m appreciating and enjoying about the OCA work is actually doing the work. It’s very easy to read books, look at blogs, go to galleries, see and talk about things – but nothing beats getting down and doing it. A single day can never be enough, so I’m going to have to make sure to find or create opportunities to practice all of this, because I’m certain that my work will improve if I can incorporate even part of what Helen shared today.

4 Responses to “Layers of Texture – Workshop with Helen MacRitchie”


  1. 1 Helen September 16, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    Thank you Judy for a lovely account of the day – so glad you enjoyed it.

    • 2 fibresofbeing September 16, 2012 at 2:43 pm

      Thanks Helen. I hope you and ATASDA will be able to run it again – I know it was very popular and lots more would like to benefit from your expertise and sharing.


  1. 1 Project 8 Stage 2 Exercise 3 – Weaving inside a shape « Fibres of Being Trackback on September 22, 2012 at 11:18 pm
  2. 2 Project 10 Stage 1 « Fibres of Being Trackback on December 22, 2012 at 7:48 pm

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