T1-MMT Fantastic Plastic

Fantastic Plastic: product design + consumer culture by Susan Mossman is one of the course textbooks. It gives a broad overview of the manufacture and use of plastics, from natural plastics used for many centuries (for example shellac and rubber), through semi-synthetic plastics (vulcanite – rubber hardened using sulphur), and the ongoing explosion of invention of new plastics and new uses.

computer wire, neoprene, whipper snipper

computer wire, neoprene, whipper snipper

neoprene and fishing line

neoprene and fishing line

Apart from novelty experiments I’ve generally avoided plastics in my textile work (the examples on the right are from A Creative Approach 21-October-2012 and after a basket weaving workshop 15-August-2013). I’ve an underlying prejudice that plastics are cheap, nasty, don’t last (stretch or go brittle), pollute – and just aren’t in the competition with silk and wool and linen…

Mossman’s book addresses the cheap and short-lived labels – it’s a matter of selecting the right plastic for the task. Trickier given the same material can be given multiple names and take multiple forms.

As part of learning and challenging myself, I recently went to a 3D printing workshop with tutor Mat Danic (see 15-March-2015). Last week I went to Makers Place to pick up my 3D object printed following the class.

Makers Place Photo:  Chris Bamborough

Makers Place
Photo: Chris Bamborough

Makers Place in Leichardt (Sydney) is very exciting. It’s not for profit, volunteer run, and focused on creating, collaborating and innovating. It provides a space, lots of equipment, opportunities to learn, teach, experiment, share – and it’s up to members where they take it.

Makers Place Photo: Chris Bamborough

Makers Place
Photo: Chris Bamborough

There are multiple 3D printers, woodwork tools, overlocker, paper-making stuff, robotics discussions, interesting materials that were waste products from local businesses… There are plans for purchasing a CNC router and laser cutter. They have more plans for desktop plastic recycling – see their blog here, and especially watch the video or follow the link to Precious Plastic. I so much want to play with a recycled plastic extrusion machine.

shell_gridThis is a design schematic I sent to Mat, with the explanation “The central diamond (based on a drawing of a shell) would be solid plastic, no holes. It is relatively thin and embossed with the shell image so light shines through – like what lithophane produces, I think.
In the corner triangles the green represents holes. I’m hoping to be able to felt through these. When I finish the embossed centre shell should be like a stained glass window, with the solid felt surrounding it like a wall.” It was meant to be a test for connection of felt to plastic.
My own suggested designs based on past college work were too complex for starter work so Mat found a freely shared file for me. He also printed the grid pieces separately, concerned about size and breakage in transit.
(Apologies for changes in tense below – it’s copied from my “live” Evernotes)
3dplastic_01

Mat made the comment that laser cutting might be more suitable for a design like this in the future. I’m really not taking advantage of the 3D. True. Darn.
The first step is to connect the pieces.- a little daunting, as some areas appear quite fragile.
3dplastic_02
Acetone is meant to “glue” the plastic together, so I started with that, testing on two short lengths of filament. It doesn’t feel entirely solid, and keeping a good connection as it “sets” could be awkward. Mat suggested soaking in acetone (I just wiped each side a few times using a cottonbud), but that sounded messy and smelly. He also suggested super glue, but I had a different thing in mind – “gluing” using my new 3 D pen.
3dplastic_03
On the left above a join using acetone. On the right using the pen.
Messy!
I was going to play with the pen later, but will change order.
3dplastic_04
I’m not sure what it is, but it’s definitely 3D, coming up almost 10 cm from the base.
A look at the pen itself.
3dplastic_05
It’s a Myriwell 3D printing pen, purchased from Mat. The pen is light (plastic of course). It plugs into mains power. A plastic filament feeds through – grey here, but in many other colours (red, black,…). There are buttons to move the filament forward and back, a slide speed control, plus indicator lights for power and heat.
3D doodling:
3dplastic_06
I decided to acetone “glue” my pieces together, and weld / solder using the pen where necessary – but I couldn’t get the acetone to work at all. Perhaps because it wasn’t pure acetone, or wiping not soaking, or more likely I think I wasn’t making a firm connection as it dried. The pieces didn’t fit flatly together. So back to “soldering” with the pen, using a blu tack jig to hold pieces in place.
3dplastic_07
It’s all a bit messy, but holding together solidly enough for the next step (I hope!).
I choose to invoke my artistic license and deem the “mess” the foam of the waves washing on to a shelly beach.
3dplastic_08
Here’s the lovely translucence, which I want to surround with denser felt.
3dplastic_09
I pulled out some greeny-blue colours of wool top that I’d dyed and carded years ago. I added in some bits of silk hanky and silk waste – for texture and shine, and particularly some white to echo that “wave foam”.
3dplastic_10
Concerned about shrinkage and putting stress on the plastic, I decided to make a sheet of thin prefelt.
Wool and silk laid out -around 55 x 6O cm. It’s a long time since I’ve done much felting and I started to feel a bit nervous and tentative – but tried to lighten up. This is just an experiment, after all.
3dplastic_11
For small, light, indoors feltmaking I like to use olive oil soap and not much water. I could keep all the work on my cutting mat and not have to clear the whole table.
The plan
feltplan
Prefelt cut into 8 strips. A little loose wool place on the grid areas of the plastic. Four strips of prefelt (shown in faint acqua on the diagram) laid around the medallion, underneath the grid.
3dplastic_12
Four strips of prefelt (shown in dark blue on the diagram) laid around the medallion, on top of the grid.
3dplastic_13
Then lots and lots of gentle rubbing and trying to persuade the wool to form around the central shape without going on to it, to mesh through the grid, not to shrink in a way that distorted the plastic…
I stopped when the plastic started creaking.
After drying overnight, superficially it looks OK.
3dplastic_16
The important back-lit shot.
3dplastic_17
and since I think the colours work well, a half-way view – still a little extra light coming through.
3dplastic_18
However there are fundamental problems.
3dplastic_15
The felt is not fitting well around the centre, and while some fibres migrated through the grids it wasn’t sufficient to hold.
The plastic is definitely not happy. There is some slight distortion of the thin centre and the rest – I’ve already mentioned the creaking. It’s definitely under stress.
There’s a lot of plastic wasted between the layers of felt. It also causes distortion in the surface.
As already mentioned, it’s not a good exploitation of 3D. I actually started thinking of curved and embossed planes, possible working as a lamp shade, but went flat to keep the experiment simple.
The whole idea of shrinking felt around rigid plastic is flawed. It would be more interesting in a softer plastic that distorted.
Basically, the outcome may have potential but I chose the wrong technique. It would be better to make a finished piece of felt, cut a hole, and play with attachment systems.

Turquoise Bay

Turquoise Bay

On the plus side, I like my colour choices. I was thinking of Turquoise Bay in WA which I visited last year (26-August-2014). It works for me.
I also like the combination of plastic and felt – including the “foam” at the boundary.
I can see ways of taking this forward, and for now I’m going to ignore them. It’s time to get back to college exercises.

Reference
Mossman, S. (2008) Fantastic Plastic: product design + consumer culture London: Black Dog Publishing

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