Neocolor II Watersoluble Wax Pastels

This week I have been experimenting with a new medium, and I think I have a new favourite! In my handbag, I carry a travel watercolour set and some oil pastels. I am not overly comfortable with watercolours, but do find the results really pleasing when I do get it right, and the ability to layer can be really useful. It is als easier to work with ink pen over the top which is a technique I enjoy. I like the strong likes acheivable with oil pastels and the intensity of colour, but find they can be quite messy and difficult to blend when away from home. At home they are great used with Zest-it, but I the results can still be quite thick and unwieldy.

I therefore decided to buy a small box of Neocolor II watersoluble crayons. I have discovered that they can be used on wet or dry, used as a watercolour wash and make really good monoprints.

I ook this photo of an aquilegia flower at our allotment, and tried a few sketches based on it. I tried drawing on wet  and dry, and applying brushed water over the top of dry marks.

In this sketch, the yellow flower outline was drawn in oil pastel, then the blue watersoluble crayon drawn on top. Water was washed over the top, and when wet the orange and yellow marks added with watersoluble crayon.

I wanted to explore the crayon used for monoprinting, and by applying a wet page to the dry drawing, a really faithful mirror image can be produced, leaving the original fairly intact. I moved this on by applying the technique to a folded page. In this sketch, the original is on the left, the right was washed with water and folded over. Extra lines were then drawn over the wet paper on both sides.

For this sketch, I used a card stencil which I drew over with the crayon before applying to the page (ie covering the uncut areas). I then applied the stencil to the page and brushed water from the stencil to the open areas. The resulting stencilled image was quite soft, with a strong line marking where the edge of the stencil was. For me it looked similar to an aquatint etching. I then drew into the wet page, rewet, blotted with kitchen paper and redrew in sequence until I was satisfied. I worked this sketch a few times to get the shape right. The final sketch is being gifted to a friend as a greeting card, but I have several similar sketches as a result.The green marks are reflecting the flight path of a swallow.


Nuno Felt

I have been reading ‘Nuno Felt’ by Liz Clay (A&C Black, 2007) and ‘The Art of Felt’ Francoise Tellier-Loumagne (Thames & Hudson, 2008), and thought I’d have a go at some of the techniques I have seen for myself. The picture above is of my initial attempt, felting a lattice pattern of dyed tops wool to a chiffon scarf. The trick is to start with cool water and avoid sudden shocks of temperature to ensure good adhesion to the scarf. As a slightly impatient crafter at times, this was quite a challenge for me. I’m not sure if I didn’t distress it for long enough, but I waas hoping for a little more distortion of the fine fabric. I do like the result though.

Next I felted some thick braids of tops wool, torn strips of sheer fabric and art yarns. I can see that this may be useful in the weaving project or for couching or tassels.

Finally today, I tried making a layered sausage of felt with sheer fabric wraps in between, and with glass millefiore in mind, I cut the wraps into quarter lengths, and wrapped them together in a larger sausage. The resulting felt was then sliced into discs and assembled into a sheet. I was wondering how to felt these together, and attempted it by layering wool tops on the back and between the discs. This was a success in terms of them holding together after felting, but I think I should wrap the sausage in longitudinally arranged tops fibres before slicing and then add tops to the back of the piece, to avoid long fibres running across the front of the work. I could also try dry felting techniques from the reverse.

There is an element of unpredictability in the results of felting, but I think that you can embrace this and be excited by the possible results rather than too frustrated that it doesn’t look exactly as intended.

Final Fabric Manipulation Sample

Rather than using the designs at the beginning of this project, for this sample I decided to use a sketch based on the glass pillars of the staircase in the V&A glasss gallery.

The original sketch was gouache paint applied with a palette knife on A3 paper.

It struck me that the shapes looked like recordings of soundwaves, and the lines at the top looked like music paper. I wanted to develop the idea of sound in my reworking. I have taken more of a conceptial route for development, rather than the approach suggested in our course notes.

I did my next sketch on music paper, and the black marks on top were a hybrid of the pointed marks in the painting and musical notes. As you can see by the notes next to this sketch, I also explored how the various shapes in the original photo and sketch related to sounds, and how they might be portrayed in fabric manipulation.

My initial idea was to mould and stitch a ‘soundscape’, which would be a 3D landscape based on the sketches. I planned to have areas moulded over polystyrene, and smocked areas inbetween. The whole idea became rather complicated, and to work would be better done by working the pieces seperately and patchworking them together. This was not in the spirit of the brief for this project, so I had a complete rethink. I simplified my ideas, and decided that smocking and pleating would be the best way to convey the shapes I was aiming for.

I drew out this very simplified design and used it as a starting point for smocking my calico square. The folds of excess fabric from the smocked areas were then pleated and secured at the edges of the piece. The diamond shapes were lined up in the final sample, as the diamonds would have been distorted otherwise. I worked the smocking in a direct fashion, marking out the spots on the reverse of the fabric in 1cm squares.

From my initial smocking samples on lighter cotton, I enjoyed the mix of smocking techniques working fron the front and reverse of the piece. I like the way that the front facing stitches go some way to define the diamond shapes that are otherwise a little less obvious than I had hoped from the sketch. I am not sure that the final piece is evocative of sound at all, but it was an interesting process to reach the final design. I like it because it is clean and simple, but I worry that it is perhaps too simplistic.


Research Point – Crafts people

In my travels I have spoken to a number of artists and crafts people including a printmaker, a silk weaver, a milliner and a hairdresser. I have found that people who have made a career out of their art or craft generally fall into two broad groups. There are those who set out from an early age with the intention of working in the arts, and those who have previously worked in a professional role (healthcare, teaching, etc) and used art as a way of finding a sustainable work-life balance. At some point there has been a tip in the scales towards moving into their chosen craft full time. One thing they do have in common is a passion for their work, and a feeling of privilege at being able to work in their chosen field. It also seems that even those who set out with the intention of working in a particular field end up doing something different to which they originally intended. Careers have evolved through chance opportunities rather than a predetermined path.

Hairdressing may not be the first thing to come to mind when considering artists or crafts people, but I have recently found the avant garde creative hair competitions an interesting source of inspiration for three-dimensional construction and material (hair) manipulation. My hairdresser is always looking out for new influences and ideas, and in common with other crafts people I have spoken to, an openness to new techniques to try and incorporate into their style. In crafts in general I think there is an interesting dynamic in the relationship between traditional techniques that demonstrate a mark of quality in a specialist field, and a spirit of experimentation to push a craft forward.


I looked at “Modern Shibori” by Silke Bossbach, A&C Black 2011 for inspiration before starting this section. Shibori is traditionally worked in silk, with or without inclusions in the fabric to mould shapes. These can be left in place, or removed once the fabic has taken on it’s shape. This small sample was worked in white with polyester machine embroidery thread. I started by wrapping the thread around fabric over a sheathed seam ripper, which was then removed and the wraps tightened.

I moulded damp calico around wooden spheres, and pinned over polystyrene shapes on a foam board. Once dry, the shapes were removed. I wondered how I could work this if I wanted to dye the calico. I presume I would need to prewash the calico, dye it and use dilute PVA to rewet the fabric before moulding.

I then tied fine cotton around small rhinestones with metallic thread. I thought it was interesting making a feature of the thread, and experimented tieing the rhinestones in the right side of the fabric so that they could shine. I have learned that the shapes and forms between the inclusions can be as important as the knotted areas themselves, and attention needs to be paid to the negative space.

Using a similar technique with small rhinestones in a fine web tulle worked very well.

I had a jumper I had crocheted with malibrigo lace yarn that unfortunately never fitted properly (novice effort!). What I was unable to unravel into reuseable yarn has been kept for felting. Here the crochet was tied over wooden shibori beads and felted in hot soapy water by hand. I like the way the lace pattern formed a contrast with the tight felt around the base.

This creates a temporary diversion in my efforts towards ‘slash and reveal’ techniques. At Ferens Art Gallery Open Exhibition in Hull this year, I saw some work by an artist called Sophie Wray, where she had worked synthetic intarsia patches into a natural fibre knit. The piece was then washed hot so that the natural yarn knit felted and shrunk, and the intarsia areas remained unfelted and the same size. I have also been looking at Nuno felt which I wish to try, and enjoy the interplay of fine fabrics against thick felt. I machine stitched my crochet to a sheer fabric, and felted the piece, before slashing it to reveal the bunched up sheer fabric beneath. It would have been even more effective had the sheer been so bunched up that it could protrude through the slashes. I stitched the piece to a calico backing in order to hold the slashes open.

Back to shibori principles, I thought I would experiment with heat tools and consumables. I had bought some heat mouldable mesh, and held it around wooden balls wrapped in foil before heating with a heat gun. I tried wrapping the resulting shapes with polyester organza held in place with wire before melting into place. This was a limited sucess as I wasn’t keen on the appearance of the mesh through the fabric.

I could either use a more opaque material to cover it, or a material more complimentary to the plastic mesh. For my second attempt, I melted plastic vegetable bags around the mesh and felt it was really effective.

Manipulating fabric with stitch

I started this part of this project by reading “Textures Tucks and Pleats”, a self-published book by Jennie Rayment, 1996 bought by Mum at a workshop with the author. It was a good guide to the basic techniques whilst awaiting the arrival of “The Art of Manipulating Fabric” by Colette Wolff. I have worked with pleats, tucks and gathering in my dressmaking constructions, but hadn’t done anything purely decorative like this before. My initial practise pieces were on calico as below, and it was surprising how effective and impressive even a simple design can look.

I thought it would be interesting to see how pleats would look on this multicoloured woven stripe, and was really taken with the end result. It looked at it best when the pleats were ironed crisply before the final lines were sewn, and left unironed after that point. The samples are unfortunately getting a little squashed and distorted as they mount in number.

I did this ink sketch based on a photograph of an oil field in the Guardian Saturday magazine, and thought it would look good in tucks. I had to overcome the issue of tucks not traversing the whole sample, therefore needing balancing darts on the reverse. The sample was worked on calico, dyed with procion and ironed after rinsing whilst still damp. This allowed the fabric to settle out even flatter. I liked the effect on the colour, making it more uneven in texture. The tucks were brushed over lightly with an oil paintstick, and additional lines stitched over the top after fixing. This idea could be further developed by layering tucks and colour stages in turn.

Next up was quilting. I have never done any quilting, so used this piece to practise. Having read about Amish quilts, I decided to hand quilt a simple design with a bias binding edge. I like the American crazy quilts, particularly the uneven lines and busy colour themes. I thought that rather than using lots of small amounts of different colours, a small sample could be made to look busier by using very heavily patterned fabric in a restricted colour palette.

I have made some shirred samples, and found that parellel stitch lines, whether they are straight or wavy look similar once gathered, apart from the shape of the fabric at the bottom. The most interested results were obtained from opposing large zigzags as below.

Various fabrics torn into strips and gathered were appliqued in place to produce this sample. I found that the gathering thread should be of similar weight to the fabric or else it can snap at the gathering stage. Different effects could be acheived by twisting gathered strips before stitching the ends in place.

I tried trapping multiple strands of acrylic yarn between pieces of calico by stitching a line, pushing the yarn up to the stitch line, and sewing another line close to it. For the sample on the right I followed the same process, and then stitched a third piece of calico to the reverse, trapping yarn between the stitch lines in another direction.

I am lucky enough to have access to a gathering machine I could borrow, which meant that I could practice traditional English smocking techniques with relative ease. The trick is to feed the fabric evenly into the machine without bunching, and using a lightweight fabric. One problem I found was that the needles left quite large holes in the fabric once the gathering threads were removed.

Firstly I tried smocking by hand with a contrasting thread and free wandering stitch lines and knots. I also tried machining over the gathered fabric, which has a lot of potential for textural pieces and would look good dyed. I found that shadows could be created by feeding the working thread in the ‘tubes’ formed on the reverse by the folds. On the right is a sample of North American style direct smocking. I marked the spots on the reverse using a quilting pen (marks removed with heat or friction) before working the designs. I liked the effect of combining English stitches with the thread on the right side with the American style of stitching from the reverse.  I used the book “Smocking Design” by Jean Hodges, Batsford 1987 for inspiration as well as the Colette Wolff book for patterns.

Whilst using the gathering machine, I had the idea of feeding polyester organza scraps in a random and overlapping way to create a patchwork effect. Once on the gathering cotton thread, I then used a heat gun to distress the fabric, hold the pleats and bond the overlapping sections together. Once cool, the gathering threads were removed. I was really pleased and think that I would like to use this technique in the future as a basis for stitching.

Research Point – Straw in Fashion

I have spent time looking at current fashions as part of this project, and I have noticed that straw and weaving are very big this spring/summer, especially for Burberry who have developed their whole range around it. Other fashion houses have incorporated straw and weaving into their hats and handbags, or as accessories in advertising other products. Of course we are used to seeing straw hats and the coarse texture of espadrilles, but we are seeing woven straw uppers on heels too.

With this in mind, and having attended a handbag teaching day earlier this year, I thought it would be interesting to see what straw hats are actually made from, and in line with a previous blogpost, country of origin.

Looking at our own summer hats, they were labelled generically as ‘straw’ or ‘paper’, and where country of origin was in the label, it was unsurprisingly from China. I found the website which has a very useful summary of materials used in manufacture.

Traditionally, straw hats are constructed in one of two ways. Firstly, by coiling up woven plaits of straw, sewing them in place and then steaming the hat into shape. This is how a traditional British boater would be made. The second way is to weave the straw like a basket into a hood shape, starting at the crown, and again steam the hat into shape. Whilst more expensive hats can be made from a hard wearing natural fibre called sisal, jute, wheat or rush; hats from China are more likely to be Xian. This is a popular type of seagrass that can be bleached and stiffened. Other popular beach hat materials are paper panama from Japanese toyo paper which can be dyed, or Madagascan raffia. Panama hats were traditionally made with straw from Ecuador, but are now commonly made with Chinese bleached palm fibre, which can be bleached white or dyed in pastel shades.