Thursday, 30 January 2014

Assignment 5 - Project 10, Stage 3: Developing Your Design (Cont'd)

During Stage 2, I took a fresh look at my images of manhole covers, focusing on the shapes and imagining them as pieces of fabric, considering how they might be attached.  When I first met Alice Fox, one of my current favourite artists and rust print maker, she explained that much of her stitching is done by hand, otherwise there's a risk of damaging your sewing machine.  I've taken a chance by putting prints in the washer to neutralise them but there's no way I'm risking my beloved Bernina!
Alice Fox Pavement (detail)
Alice Fox's 'Pavement', 2014. Rust prints and collagraph prints with hand stitching
(Used with permission of the artist)

Previously I'd assumed that I'd also use stitch as a way of attaching fragments of print, but now I've seen how raw edges can be sealed during nuno felting, I was interested to find out whether this had potential as a method of joining patches.  The process distorts shapes, so I needed something very simple to stand a chance of retaining any design.
The image below caught my attention.  I liked the idea of raised textured shapes, which I thought I could achieve by causing the fabric to shrink and pucker.   
I selected shades of merino wool tops from the colour scheme that originated from my manhole cover collage and cut six rough squares.  My previous samples have been made with cotton but I wanted to see how silk compared for this sample.  The fabric was some plain white silk unfinished handkerchief remnants (Turnbull and Asser, no less) that I'd picked up for a few pounds from the bargain bucket at the Macclesfield Silk Museum. The grey fabric was soaked with tea and the orange with white vinegar before they were wrapped around metal objects and buried for six weeks (as described in this post). For the sample I cut from the less interesting areas, saving the others in case I need them for the final piece.


Before I laid down the fibres, I wet the silk.  It's a fairly densely woven silk but I felt a bit concerned when the water didn't seem to want to penetrate the surface as I thought silk is known for absorbing moisture.  Would whatever was preventing it also stop the fibres working through?

I was unsure whether to leave a gap between the edges of the squares or overlap them.  In the end I plumped for butting up the edges.  I decided to alternate the colours to give the squares more definition.  How much wool would be needed to attach the pieces was the next consideration.  I wanted to outline my shapes but in my last sample the fibres were laid too thickly in places and felted to themselves rather than the base fabric.

By now I knew I'd also need fibres over the silk surface to achieve the desired puckering but how much, in which direction should I lay them and should I try to trap anything else? I liked the meandering striation in my previous sample but would this detract from the shapes and would laying them in one direction cause uneven ruckles and a much distorted shape?  Laying them across the squares would give extra strength to the construction so I went ahead, also trapping some of the rusted silk threads that had worked well in the previous sample. 

Although it was only minutes before I could lift the sample by the edges and it stayed as a whole piece, this time I was more patient in the early stages, using only cool water initially and less soap, just a tiny amount of Ecover so there was no froth and I could see what I was doing.  I worked the fibres in for longer to make absolutely certain that they had pushed through the silk surface. Once I was sure, I lightly rubbed Olive soap on the surface and used warm water and after a few hundred more rolls; I could see signs of the wool beginning to shrink and went onto complete the fulling process. 

This time, I did all the fulling by hand so I could control when to stop and I think this sample has been successful.  There's little I'd have changed.  I achieved the raised textured shapes I was aiming for, the shapes have been retained, felting has successfully attached the fragments and the silk has puckered more deeply and interestingly than the cotton, yet the rust marks are still visible.  It drapes very nicely, feels soft, warm and quite luxurious on the skin and I can envisage a similar longer version as the final scarf.

I am undecided about the striation, whether this should lie above or below the grid.  I think it is needed, as in the small area (top right on photo below) where I tried spreading out fibres very thinly, the silk has been obscured and the surface is flat and matt rather than ruffled and lustrous. I was worried that the puckering might occur unevenly by placing fibres in one direction but in fact it hasn't.  I think the grid construction has had a stabilising effect. 

Now that the sample is dry, I can see that the rust dyed fabric has faded during the process and lost some of its brightness. On the wool side the overall colour combination looks slightly murky.  I like the highlights that the silk thread adds but I think more golden tones are needed.  I still want to relate the colours to the original scheme and I think the purple/gold/grey combination suits, but I'd consider replacing the blue with an additional shade of orange. 

One of my reasons for choosing a scarf is that nuno felting produces a reversible surface.  However, as with the previous sample, my preferred surface is what would normally be considered the back.  Therefore when I lay my patches I need to remember to have the most interesting surface lying face down. 
I need to take more care with my edges, especially the corners which have tended to billow out.  Rounding them slightly I think could help, or running the fibres that create the striations closer to the corners to pull them in.  I want just a little more felt around some of the edges and to be gentler at first when working the grid fibres in.  Although the pieces have ended up very securely attached to each other, when I was rolling the surface some small gaps appeared which has left some raw edges of the silk exposed and looking a little vulnerable, like they could develop into holes over time.    

My final considerations are the original sizes of the silk pieces, their number and position.  I like the simple chequerboard effect but I have a limited amount of this fabric and more of one shade than the other.  I do have more dyed large silk cloths but they feel quite different to the good quality silk I've used here and they may well behave differently.  My other silks are a large piece of dupion that feels a similar weight but has a coarser slubby texture, and the other is a lightweight pongee that I suspect could be just too fragile for the job and end up in holes with too much friction. Introducing more shades would also mean making adaptations to my colour scheme.  This sample shrunk by around a third so I need to do some calculations before I can begin constructing my final piece and possibly make additional samples to test the compatibility of the other silks.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Assignment 5 - Project 10, Stage 3: Developing Your Design

Before I went too far developing my nuno-felting intentions, there was one major concern I needed to address: - will the oxidised surface of the rust prints prevent the wool fibres penetrating the base fabric?  My next step was to try a feasibility sample.

It was also an opportunity to try some of the ideas I've had in Stages 1 and 2.  I cut a section off one of my rust dyed cloths - an open weave cotton that is large enough to be the potential base fabric for my final piece.  I looked through my colour schemes from Stage 2 and found one with a similar shade to the rust tones on the cloth, and choose merino wool tops in chocolate and mint, along with some neutral un-dyed Wensleydale from the same scheme.

I wanted to try trapping and cut lengths of my rust dyed silk and wool threads and some gold coloured Anchor 'Wash + Filz-it!' from my yarn stash.  I also had a small piece of rust-dyed tutu net that I imagined being a 'window' allowing glimpses of trapped items. 

I laid the fibres and threads out on the base fabric (approx. 40cm x 12cm), trying to keep the merino fibres in thin continuous lengths.  I was hoping to achieve a rust-like surface combination of bubbling and striation. On one edge, I encased the base fabric in wool fibre, the other was left raw (my intention was to achieve a puckered frill).     

Using the techniques learnt at the workshop, I worked on the fibres, which appeared to be successfully penetrating and adhering to the cotton base.

You can just see the tutu net in the photos below.  In hindsight, I saw that it needed even fewer fibres to secure it, I could have just laid them over the edges if I wanted to achieve a less obscured view of what was trapped under it.  

After a good deal of pummelling and rolling, I was really pleased with the colour blends and the striations.  The darker brown silk threads in particular were giving the impression of cracks that I was after.  However, the gold wool yarn, particularly where I had looped it, was too thick and the Wensleydale fibres were not adhering either.  They were coming away from the base fabric when I gave a gentle tug. I concentrated on these areas but it didn't seem to be making any difference.  The yarn was felting, but to itself rather than the base fabric, which was showing no sign of puckering yet.

Eventually, I concluded I was either going to have to leave it with partially adhered fibres or try adding merino over the top.  I thought I'd leave it and move onto the fulling stage, but as I rinsed the sample, the gold yarn was moving position so I added a fine layer of merino over the loose areas and went back to the wetting and rolling stage again.  This worked in terms of securing the fibres but I'd lost the lightness of drape, the colours no longer glowed and the rust marks were completely obscured.

At the fulling stage, very little seemed to happen - minimal shrinkage and very slight puckering, nowhere near the textures I was after.  Had I laid the fibres too densely, was the rusted surface hampering the process or maybe I'd just run out of elbow grease? 

I wasn't precious about the sample so I put it in the washing machine overnight with my normal wash load at 40.  It was 1/4 original size when I took it out, heavily felted, the front had partially stuck to itself and it was just plain ugly!

However, when I turned it over, the combination of bubbled texture and blended colours were just what I was hoping for.  There were lovely organic edges and I could still see striation but in a much more subtle way, with meandering raised ridges and sunken areas adding surface dimension.

So, I have learnt a lot by here, but I have problems I need to iron out by further sampling.  The back can maybe become the front, but can I achieve a similar texture with more drape and without the extreme shrinkage?  If not perhaps it will lend itself to a smaller more decorative object.  When I curled up the sample, I liked how there was just a glimpse of the contrasting inside texture and colour and I imagined it as a cuff or some sort of vessel, rather than a scarf.
The original print marks are still visible but have lost their definition.  For the large base cloths I have in mind, that are lightly rust stained rather than really encrusted, that's alright though for this project.  My focus is on texture, then colour, rather than shape. 
The rusting doesn't prevent nuno felting but I suspect it makes it more difficult, and more time is needed, especially in the early stages, to make sure the fibres have penetrated. Perhaps I need to look at ways to create more friction.  I've seen videos of electric sanders being used for nuno felting, though I'm afraid of being electrocuted! I'll stick with the merino tops in future. I noticed this new batch of wool tops I've bought says the merino is 23 microns, whereas the Wensleydale is 45, proving that it's coarser and explaining why I had difficulties getting it to adhere. Most of my older stash is unlabelled so I'll have to make choices by instinct and 'feel'.  I do have a bag of possum fibre blend though which I've just been researching.  It's described as 'superfine' at around 16-17 microns so has great softness and insulating properties due to the hollow construction of the fibres.  It's considerably warmer than merino and cashmere so could be a great choice for a scarf. I only have it one shade though and not surprisingly, it's a bit difficult to come by in the UK!    


Monday, 27 January 2014

Assignment 5 - Nuno Felting Workshop

One of my ideas for this final project, mentioned in Stage 1, was to incorporate my fragile rust prints into a nuno felted piece. This, I thought, could add enough strength and softness so the prints could potentially become wearable.  I was also excited to explore another new felting technique.

The Fabbadashery, local to me in Halifax, was running a nuno felting workshop this weekend.  Although I've been reading and watching online tutorials on the technique, for me these are no substitute for face-to-face learning with the opportunity to talk to the experienced tutor Val Hughes about the feasibility of my ideas, and maybe to generate some new ones.

Val had brought a selection of the wearable art she creates and one of her pieces that I found really interesting had items like raffia, pre-felt and thread trapped between layers of silk.  I've seen photos of double sided nuno felting before but these have always been an open weave fabric sandwiched between wool outer layers.  However, this piece was two layers of silk with a wool top layer and this created kind of bubbled viewing areas which I could relate to my ideas about circles, views and holes mentioned in Stage 2 and one particular image of a rusty ladder I photographed in Jersey.

The cropped image shows a similar blistered, bubbled surface texture, with cracks that I can imagine as threads trapped between layers of silk. My printed fabrics are not particularly translucent though.  Perhaps I could use one as a backing then have something less opaque on the top?  The fabrics will probably behave differently though during the shrinking process though so I'd need to try samples to see what might happen.  Maybe snippets of printed fabric are what is trapped and seen in the 'window' and I buy, and maybe dye or paint, one or both of the silks?

Onto making my first sample. We were given a piece of cotton muslin which we rinsed to remove any surface coating and left damp.  (I thought to measure this at 120 x 28cm to work out the ultimate shrinkage.  If I do this with all my samples it should give me a rough idea of the size I'll need to start with if I pursue with this for my final item.)  The colour selection was a bit limited, but I chose as near as I could, some shades from one of the schemes I'd come up with in Stage 2, to test how these might work together on a felted piece. Val suggested for a first attempt, using only the merino fibres that felt softest and experimenting with other wools later.  I did choose a few mulberry silk fibres to incorporate though, thinking they might give 'lift' to the sample. 

We were working in a group on one table so only had space to work on one section of our sample at a time.  I found that nuno felting uses the wool tops very efficiently compared to normal wet felting, as the fibres are laid down so thinly.  It they're too thick, or if warm water is used straight away the fibres will just felt to themselves rather than penetrating and attaching to the base fabric.  We only used very little washing up liquid in a spray bottle and the water was cool to lukewarm, at least at first.  Once the fibres were laid, a piece of synthetic netting was laid over the top, the surface sprayed and a crunchy plastic bag rubbed over the top to create friction.  The edges of the fabric we had were raw so I overlapped these with fibre.  Once these were more or less staying in place, I peeled back the netting and carefully folded and pressed them over the edges which would end up sealed when felted.    

Next we rolled up the bamboo mat with the fabric inside and rolled, and rolled and rolled.  Periodically I lifted the netting back and resprayed to keep everything wet,(but not soaking).  Although natural base fabrics like cotton or silk tend to be best for nuno felting, sometimes fibres can lock to synthetics.  When I'd reached a stage where I could feel and pull odd fibres poking through the back of the cotton muslin and the wool fibres appeared to be adhered and not lifting with a gentle pull, I could move onto the next area.  I had to be really careful to make sure that I didn't stick the sections together when I rolled them! By lifting up the piece with my fingers and thumbs at the edges where the areas joined, and having the first section facing me, I could roll it away from me and the net in the middle of the sandwich stopped it sticking.
Once the entire sample was covered, I could see wrinkled areas where my sample was just beginning to nuno felt after a good couple of hours of manipulation.  There wasn't time to complete the whole process at the workshop so we watched Val demonstrate the final stage - the fulling.  This happens very quickly.  The piece is rinsed in very hot water then folded and repeatedly thrown hard to the floor (or any other object on which you want to vent frustration!). This was the same technique I remembered from making my Roman glass inspired felt vessel during assignment 3.  The force and friction shocks the fibres and creates additional texture.
Back at home, before I started chucking it about, I felt that some areas weren't yet locked well enough to the base. I used a large piece of net and bubble wrap and rolled it around a swimming woggle.  This was a tip I fount on the Internet and which meant I could roll the whole sample at once and in both directions. (I've also read that nuno shouldn't be rolled but kept flat, but there was no explanation with this.  Maybe that's just in the very early stages after the fibres are laid?  Anyway I've read a lot of conflicting advice but this seemed to work for me.)  
After a good flinging, you can see below the wrinkling texture that resulted. 

Here's the other sections laid out with fibres and photos of how those area turned out.


The sample had shrunk to approx 98 x 18cm, so by around a fifth in length and a third in width.  However I felt it wanted it to go a little further and pondered how many more hours this might take and whether to chance it in the washing machine, as I wouldn't have control over when to stop it shrinking.  I concluded I would, as experiments are what samples are for and I'd recorded what had happended so far. However I did chose a gentle hand wash program at 40 degrees.  I also put a tumble ball and a couple of towels in the washer to add friction along with a little Ecover washing liquid.

It came out having shrunk to 90 x 15cm, three quarters of its original length and almost half the width.  However I was happy with the degree of texture now (briefly considered a boil wash but maybe another time!).  Here's how it ended up.

The raw cut edges were nicely and organically encased in the felt.  If some or all sides had been hemmed instead and a gap left around the border, I imagine this could result in interesting frilly edges that might work well for a scarf.   

In this close up below, you can just see the trapped silk fibre.  Only a fibre or two of wool placed over it was needed to secure it in place.  I'd like to try trapping some of the threads I've rust dyed.

Below I was trying circular shapes, imagining how I might highlight and frame a particular area of print. Though I like how the fabric in the centre has bubbled, these are actually my least favourite areas of the sample.  I much prefer the more subtle areas like the one above where there's more coverage but it's a very fine layer. Here the colours are blended and you have to look closely to appreciate the detail.

Next I'd like to try some ideas on a silk sample to see how differently it will behave to the cotton.

If I do go on to create a nuno felted final piece, and I think that there is plenty more potential in this idea, I will use a technique where I can lay out the whole piece at once rather than in sections like this to give the whole design more cohesion.  Now I understand the nuno felting process better, I'm ready to try out some more focused samples.


Monday, 20 January 2014

Assignment 5 - Project 10, Stage 2: Focusing on Your Theme Book

For Stage 2, I spent time working in my rust theme book to see which pages held potential. In Slovenia I had begun to photograph manhole covers and ended up with a lot of images.  I cropped these in Picasa to find some interesting areas of pattern and created the photo collage below.  I squared off a page in my book and made line drawings in random boxes until they were filled. 

Some of the little drawings generated ideas.
The top two I related to the idea mentioned in my last post about using small interesting areas of rust print.  I was thinking about the shapes of these scraps and how they might be attached or applied. I photographed my fabric and cut out and arranged shapes to see how they might look.  This first one below, I'd like to try with further shapes applied on top.  I like the idea of a simple curved shape contrasting with the straight lines, particularly a large ring that would frame a view and dissect the parallelograms. I think a complicated shape will be too distracting.
This second one is not as simple as it appears.  The quadrilaterals have no parallel sides and are arranged in not quite straight lines. I cut and arranged the shapes by eye, leaving a border around each that was roughly even and trying to achieve a pleasing colour and pattern distribution.  Working out the maths behind the shapes (are they bicentric?) might help me understand an easier way to make this pattern work. Both I can imagine as some sort of furnishing fabric and I began to think about the scale if used for something like a cushion or curtain panel. 

The bottom drawing I imagined in stitch and I spent some time working out how best to construct it. I stitched a small sample and tried drawing some variations, playing with the length and direction of the stitch components. I particularly liked the uneven rows and the circular design.  This I could see as a round cushion with rows of concentric stitches, becoming huge by the outer row.  The stitch could possibly be embellishment for one of my other ideas and I also picture it used on a small scale, like in Shisha embroidery as a frame for something. 


I then spent some more time working into a page I'd begun a few weeks ago when I was thinking about washers and rivets.  I'd started by making prints using a button stuck to the end of a cork to make rusty washer-like marks and added further layers of circles and rings of different sizes.  As I stuck down the photographs of angled washers at the bottom of the page, I imagined them on a huge scale as sculpture and was reminded of my visit to the Hepworth Gallery and the interesting views that were framed by the holes in Barbara Hepworth's work. Ideas on circles, holes and views are becoming a recurring theme for me in this project.
I always carry a camera with me now and I've begun to keep my images by theme: glass, moss, beach, Winter etc. These I pulled from my rust folder.  I was interested by the shapes created by the perspective on the pier construction, particularly when I began to lay the images on top of each other.  I experimented with the angles and imagined them simplified as quilt blocks.  I decided though, that what was really inspiring me was the colours, so decided to look at the images and come up with a colour palette for this potential quilt.
I enjoyed this approach so thought I'd look through my theme book and create some further possible colour schemes for my project based on some of the pages
By now, I felt I had enough potential ideas ready for development into a design during Stage 3.