Research Point – Amish Quilts

The Amish traditionally made quilts out of a necessity to keep warm during the cold winters, and any aesthetic quality was a secondary concern. They initially used wool batting, replaced by cotton in the mid-19th century until the 20th century when synthetic batting became fashionable. In recent years however, these new innovations have been rejected in favour of cotton. The patchwork designs are typically kept simple and geometric, and colour combinations can be bold. Darker colours were traditionally favoured as the fabrics could be obtained cheaply, and washed infrequently. It was typical to use scraps of fabric or recycle clothing, in line with the ethos of fugility.

The earliest design is the traditional Amish ‘Bar’ quilt, which is simply large vertical wide stripes of 2 alternating colours with a wide border. The quilting stitches are where the detailed patterns lay, using cross hatching, geometric and simple floral designs. Designs then evolved into slightly more complex arrangements that retained a strong geometric and symmetrical quality. One of my particular favorites is the ‘Sunshine and Shadow’  design which uses the juxtaposition of small squares of contrasting colour and tone to great effect.

By the 1960’s, quilt makers had begun to incorporate more figurative designs into their work, reflecting images from every day life such as baskets, flowers and the schoolhouse. In the early 1960’s the idea of producing quilts commercially to sell to visitors became popular, and there was more widespread use of patterned fabrics as well as more technically complex designs. The ‘Starflower’ design has a central dahlia, whose petals are depicted with gathered fabric. As Amish communities had more contact with outside ideas, they started using other techniques such as applique in their work.  Quilts are traditionally finished with a wide band of bias binding and a plain backing fabric.

Thinking about consumer concerns in our society relating to bedding, there seems to have been a seperation of the aesthetic ‘function’ served by a traditional quilt, and the duvets that we tend to sleep under. Fashion has moved towards seeking technological advances in the duvet itself in order to regulate body temperature. Some claim to draw heat away from the body using microfibre technology, and store that heat to keep you warm enough throughout the night. The past decade or so has seen clothing chains such as Monsoon, Next and Laura Ashley move into the home decor market, and producing duvet covers that incorporate embroidery, applique and lace to give a more opulent, craft-based feel than the printed cotton covers of the late 20th century.

Reference: “A Quilter’s Guide to Amish Quilts” by Jan Jefferson and Maggi McCormick Gordon (Collins & Brown, 1998)


Layering fabrics

Continuing with the applique and layering section of this project, I tried layering a combination of sheer and opaque fabrics and cutting back sections. I found that satin stitch held better than straight stitch, and I thought that straight lines would be easier for a practice piece than curves. I tried to be a bit clever by keeping the mauve sheer layer slightly uneven as I enjoyed the shadows created by the folds in it. The other layers were ironed, and all 5 layers were tacked in a gridlike fashion before sewing. I hoped that this would ensure the folds in the mauve layer were even. It was a partial success but very difficult to cut back avoiding folds in the very fine sheer. it was interesting to see the effect of the border being cut back, negative shapes becoming positive.

In this sample, I bonded a sheer to a black cotton with bondaweb, trapping pieces of sheer fabric and teased out silk rods in between. The bondaweb was painted with a gold interference acrylic ink prior to bonding. The result was a little flat, I think because of my choice of top fabric. The couching wasn’t really a success in lifting it either. I may have been better to use the bondaweb painted side down to the black, trapping the pieces and omitting the top sheer layer.

I moved on to using heat tools for fusing fabrics, as demonstrated in Margaret Beal’s Fusing Fabrics. I tried fusing pieces in a sheer fabric sandwich with small soldering marks, but the result was quite messy like this. More thought needs to be given to the fusing marks used as I didn’t realise they would be so prominent. The piece on the right was fused with small torn pieces of bondaweb, but I felt the glue was too visible.

I liked the idea of bonding the trapped fragments by cutting and fusing in a patchwork style. Rather than starting again, I used the piece with the unsuccessful marks, so ignore those please! Having practised I now have a feel for what speed to move the soldering point along the ruler and have got used to the fact that you don’t really need any pressure on the tip.

I then tried cutting out shapes. Here I used a coin and ruler to create the leaf/petal shape. I bonded shapes to kunin felt and used stitch to applique. I really like the crispness and depth of the resulting edges.

Also as part of this exercise, it was suggested we experiment with Tyvek. I did some quite formalised experiments with a heat gun and pyrography using different weights of Tyvek and Lutrador in order to understand how they behave. Below is the most interesting of the pieces I went on to make, I painted one side with shades of green, and silver on the other. I then machine stitched with green cotton and distressed the pieces with an iron using varying pressure. Pressing rather than hovering results in a lacier piece. I’m not sure that I particularly enjoy the aesthetic of Tyvek, but can see that it could be a useful base for interesting textural pieces.

For my final applique sample, I took colour inspiration from the peeling tree bark, and the design from my flowering tea development work. I decided to use kunin felt rather than calico as a base, as I wanted to use the soldering techniques I had learnt to create a background that reflected the long petal shapes of the tea. This was reflected in both the long thin pieces trapped in between sheers, and the chevron patchwork design. I used two different sheers for the sandwich and inverted half of them to create the pattern. Although the brief suggested fine threads, I chose a heavier toning thread to ensure the shapes stood out enough against the background. I messed up the applique as the fusing seperated slightly at the base of the petal causing puckering at the tip. The smaller petals were cut from a mixture of the sheers sandwich, and the blue organza alone. I am really pleased with the piece, and accept that it is not perfect because I tried to push myself technically.

COLLECT 2012 and Bauhaus at the Barbican

This weekend, we spent a day in London to visit the COLLECT 2012 art collectors fair at the Saatchi Gallery, and the Bauhaus exhibition at the Barbican Centre. I got lots of ideas from the COLLECT show, particularly in weaving. There were beautiful 3-dimensional forms woven from brass, nickel, silver and copper by Yede Takahiro (Yufuku Gallery, Tokyo), and woven wall-hangings by Pamela Wilson (Sebastian Schildt, Stockhom) with large oxidised copper plates used as part of the warp, and toning threads in copper aquamarines and greens as the weft. In Ainsley Hillard’s ‘Flow’, viscose ribbon was heat transfer printed and hand woven to form the the weft with invisible monofilament thread as the warp. The resulting piece had a haunting ethereal quality, accentuated by loosening of the weave at the top and bottom.

Another textile artist who caught my eye was Naoko Serino (Katie Jones Japanese Art Dealer, London) who moulds and fuses jute fibres to create beautiful soft sculptures. The two on display were sheets of jute with conical projections, teased into ringlets at their points. I was also excited to meet Michael Brennand-Wood, and has a chance to talk to him about his recent series of work based on warfare. I had seen a piece from this collection at Lost in Lace, and it was interesting to see how the ideas have moved on to his newer work. The large scale lacework has been developed to create giant medals.

The artist who really caught my imagination wasn’ in textiles at all, but rather glass. Steffen Dam had a series of solid glass pieces moulded into the shape of specimen jars incorporating bubbles and marks resembling marine creatures. He also had large specimen blocks that had a more botanical feel. The marks were so delicate and light, they really were beautiful.

Upstairs was the Craft Council’s Project Space, where I got a closer look at machine embroidery work by Louise Gardiner. I have been rather excited about this opportunity as I love her designs and use of bold colour without becoming overbearing. I feel her designs are balanced beautifully and like the mix of stitching, painting and applique. One thing I hadn’t really appreciated before was the scale of her work. Another artist was Lucy Brown, who was working on an instillation of woven cut vintage ladies clothing. She has blogging about her experience as an artist in residence (see link from her name). As her work is of rather a personal nature to her, she has found the experience of working in the ‘glare’ of the public rather revealing and uncomfortable at times. Other artists for me to remember are Nahoko Kojima and her leopard cut from a single sheet of paper, and Maryrose Watson, who had constructed mathematical 3D woven patterns around deep wooden frames.

Bauhaus at the Barbican was a brilliant exhibition, and I was particularly drawn to the Jacquard loom silk weaving ‘Five Choirs’  by Gunta Stolzl. I enjoyed the mix of pastels and primaries, and symmetry of tones and motifs throughout the piece. The variation in shapes and lines created a lively design. The other thing that struck me about the woven pieces in general was the mixing of fibres, synthetics against natural fibres that worked really well.

I found the exhibition reassuring in terms of my personal study, as I found I had already covered most of the principles covered in the show. Seeing the pieces in life was hugely exciting!

Research Point – Textiles Today

As an introduction to this research point, I have read ‘Textiles Today’ by Chloe Colchester (Thames & Hudson 2007), and it has been fascinating. The main part of the book investigates the interaction of textiles and science, particularly in relation to medicine, the military and architecture, but the thing that has really stayed with me is rather closer to home. I like to think of myself as quite environmentally and ecologically aware, but I am ashamed to say that I hadn’t really given much thought to the origin of my clothes. I make a lot of my own clothes, and having written about my home-sewn dress in a past blogpost, it occurs to me that I have no idea where the fabric was produced. I now assume that it is probably from China. The yarns that I buy tend to be imported from South America, although looking at the Fyberspates website, they buy from the UK, Peru, Italy, Spain and the USA.

I had a look through our bought clothes to look for country of origin, and was quite surprised to find no information about this on some labels, particularly the more expensive brands such as Diesel and Fauve underwear. In terms of underwear, synthetics tended to be from Tunisia, and cottons from Sri Lanka. Leggings and Jeans were from Turkey or China. All knitwear was sourced from China, with the exception of one British jumper of my husbands. Printed items such as skirts all came from China. My T-shirts were as follows, by brand:

  • Monsoon – Romania
  • White Stuff – Portugal, India
  • Peter Storm – China
  • GAP – Jordan, Bulgaria
  • Dorothy Perkins – Mauritius
  • Miss Selfridge – Turkey
  • New Look – Bangladesh, India
  • Peacocks – Bangladesh

Our towels are all from Portugal, and bedding from China. I am assuming that the country of origin refers to the manufacture of the fabric and the final product, but can’t be sure.

I have found this exercise quite illuminating, and given the environmental impact of manufacture and import miles, I feel even more strongly that I would like to focus on developing a wardrobe of items that last well rather than following the fleeting fashion of the season, and looking more at second hand items. This sits well with the current move towards vintage, but I think that the motivation for this in most people’s cases is one of fashion rather than environmental concern or finances. There have been many press articles about seeking out vintage items and saving money as we are in a recession, and to champion recycling, but shops and magazines are full of ‘vintage inspired’ fashion and furnishing. I think that we are experiencing a move towards homely patterns, natural materials and craft based objects as an antedote to the stark minimalism and synthetic-laden 1990’s. I love vintage styling, particularly from the 1930’s to 1960’s and we have furnished most of our home with found items. Part of the appeal of this is to develop an individual ‘look’ made up of objects we love. In the world of Cath Kidston everyone ends up looking the same again.

Applique samples

Continuing on through this project, I have been doing some more design work based on my sketches. For my themed sketchbook I have been sketching flowering teas, and liked this simple design from the central stem in the tea. I did lots of work with the simplified ink drawing by photocopying it 8 times, cutting it out and developing patterns by re-orientating and tessellating them. Rather than sticking down the designs, I photographed each pattern and reused the same pieces.

I also played with taking the individual shapes in different scales to create two more organic, less orderly pieces. The first used the long petals as masks painted over with acrylic ink, then oil pastels drawing the rounder large petals on top. The second is a collage of tissue and photocopies of the original ink drawing.

I then moved onto making fabric collages. Again I began by laying out strips and squares of fabric and photographing them to see what was working. I used the colours from my green/blue and red bark sketches for this.

Although I liked the bright light blues and greens with the dark red and orange in the sketches. I was having trouble uniting all the colours in small samples without it looking cluttered. Saying that, looking back at the photo above it didn’t look too bad!

I tried a few different things here, the blue against orange in strong lines for maximum impact, using coloured nets to conceal and reveal in turn. My favourite piece is top left. The fine sheer burgaundy fabric was pulled and stretched to distort the weave, and although I omitted any blue from the design, the dark red on blue/green does look slightly blue in places. I like the idea of simple manipulation of the light sheer by adding a loose knot. It gives a focal point and varies the opacity through the fabric in one move. In the lower left piece I looked purely at the qualities of different fabric compositions and really liked the torn and stretched satin strip to the left. Centre bottom I wanted to look at how patterned fabric could be successfully used without looking too cluttered. Keeping the cut shapes and design as simple as possible worked best. Top right I was playing with using the left over threads from other pieces with sheers to make a new fabric. Bottom left was looking at slash and reveal – random uneven cuts over a very regularly woven sheer beneath (synthetic net), and more ordered regular cuts over an unevenly woven sheer.

Relating back to the sketches, I think the top left piece was most in tune with the original colour inspiration, but I think I have successfully moved each sample on from the sketches to explore different aspects – colour, textures, the fibrous peeling of the bark.

Now to the applique samples! For the hand applique I wanted to do a sampler of different fabrics and techniques. I took the simple petal shapes from the tea drawing for this. I used printed cotton with a seam allowance and slip stitched edges, satin with bondaweb and blanket stitch, felt with running stitch following the contours of the shape, cordouroy with running stitch along the grooves of the fabric (minor fraying allowed), a matt sheer with bondaweb and blanket stitch, and printed cotton with bondaweb and blanket stitch. The net shapes were sewn on top with black thread in a stitch line outlining the positive shapes of the net and negative shapes around the applique pieces beneath. I found the applique with a seam allowance a bit bulky and difficult to get a sharp point at the top without showing any raw edge. This would be better with shapes with no points, and for padding bases for stumpwork. The bondaweb under the very light matt sheer didn’t really work as you could see the glue. In the design, I like the way the overlapping nets create new shapes that echo the positive shapes.

For my machine sample I used this simple outline sketch of the shapes of things on my bookshelf. Yes – my shelves are rather cluttered!

I used all neutral fabrics of differing weights and weaves to make this piece, and overlayed areas with a semi-opaque tulle. This looked really good up against the window. I used a combination of satin stitch with concealed edges, and straight stitching with fraying. I finished the piece with a few lines of zig zag and straight stitch as suggested in the original sketch.

Themed Sketchbook “Time for Tea”

As part of assignment 3, we are required to make a start on a themed sketchbook that will form the basis for a final piece at the end of the course. I have had lots of ideas with potential, but few said a lot about what I really enjoy and get excited about. I asked my husband to look through my ideas and pick something that he felt said most about my preferences, and we decided tea was the stand out choice.  Once I started thinking about how tea could be explored in this context, it was clear this would be a really interesting path to follow.

My initial thoughts have been:

– researching costume, hats and baskets used by tea pickers

– painting flowering teas

– looking a shapes and designs on teacups/saucers/pots and other paraphernalia such as a decorative strainer

– making fabric from teabags

– dyeing and staining fabric and paper with tea

– encorporating dried tea leaves and flowers as inclusions in stitched fabric

– exploring accidental drips and ‘coffee rings’ left by cups

– using teabag threads and tags to finish the book

– tieing tea with psychological states – ‘Mad-hatters tea party’, ‘tea and sympathy’, sweet tea for a shock, calming chamomile, etc

Here is a sample of my work so far. I have tea-stained the pages before using them




I have been working on how to make a fabric from tea leaves, and for this I pressed the damp leaves in a flower press before sandwiching them between two sheets of bondaweb. The result is a solid wafer like material that is very fragile. I think it will be possible to stabilise with stitch but is has no flexibility at all.


Manipulating Fabric and 3D Forms – Preparation

I got my feedback for assignment two this week, and am absolutely delighted! I have some really positive and encouraging comments that have really boosted my confidence moving onto this project. I have been really looking forward to this project, and even more so now that I can incorporate skills learned over the past few months. In preparation for project 6, I spent a morning organising my fabrics. I already keep my stash in four main boxes – warm colours, cool colours, black and neutrals, and sheer fabrics. I cut a small sample from each and have made A4 reference colour group boards.

I am continuing to develop designs from my sketches as in project 4, and this page came from a photo of Clipper lighters on a market stall. I used a round sponge tip, the circular end of my OCA pen, and two small stamps cut from erasers to create these prints. I experimented with isolating shapes and abstracting them, and am very happy with the results, particularly the lower left of the page.

I took this photo of a fabric stall at the same market, and did an initial sketch in oil pastels, before a larger version in 2 ink colours. I chose it as I enjoyed the repetition of shapes and liked the idea of contrasting one area with another by portraying these similar shapes in differing ways through the piece.

I then made a collage of burgundy tissue paper on black paper with Modpodge, and applied pearlescent gold in a clear acrylic ink medium over the whole thing. A gold oil paintstick was applied to the lower half of the collage, blended under the rolls and left unblended at the bottom. I would like to use this as a basis for a fabric sample using gathering and applique.

I then took this photo of a peeling tree bark, and made a couple of gouache sketches. I selected an interesting area and reworked it in oil pastels on black paper. I was particularly drawn to the blue/greens against the red tones. The gouache sketch gave me the inspiration to seperate out the light blue and green, which I think worked well.

I then cut and wove a copy of one of the gouache sketches, and sketched it in soft pastels. I also played with the colours and marks in ink.

I’m particularl drawn to the oil pastel sketch here as it is full of energy and the colours work really well.