Category Archives: PART 1 Building a visual vocabulary – Drawing, mark-making & stitches

Assignment One – Reflective Commentary

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Project 1 of the course was initially daunting as I had not explored mark making this way for many years.  I am still struggling with the concept that I should be sketching every day, but I am finding new ways to make my marks all the time and the task that I first found arduous and thought almost insurmountable is becoming easier.  I am slowly building up a stock of materials to use for sketching and I am surprised to note that I have had to transfer these to a bigger box now!  I think my family still regard my drying the tea bags on the Aga and then emptying them into the compost bin as a little bonkers …

Project 2 of this part of the course tapped into areas that were more familiar.  I have been sewing since primary school and when it came to trying different stitches to get different textures I began to relax into the exercises a bit more and was able to work in a less formal way.  Although, at the same time, I do find it difficult not to produce regular, neat lines of stitching because it was drummed into me from such an early age!  I also enjoyed experimenting with using different materials to stitch with, such as fabric strips, food packets and sweet wrappers.  I would like to do some more work with plastic and was inspired particularly by the techniques shown in Gwen Hedley’s book Surfaces for Stitch and Beaney and Littlejohn’s Stitch Magic.

Machine embroidery captured my attention early on but I felt I needed to cover a wide range of techniques to show my experimentation so I did not dwell too long.  I can see myself coming back to that very soon.  I also wanted to see how I could use the machine with other materials, like plastic and heat-transforming fabrics, but that will have to wait.  I find reviewing my work very useful.  I look back and see more ideas for further development of images and techniques each time, which can only be to the good.

I am hoping to visit some more exhibitions this year, where I want to study other people’s work and get a better idea of what new techniques and materials people are using.  I get the feeling I have missed out over the years since I last studied textiles and there have been many innovations in equipment and fabrics, such as the embellishing machines for needle felting and new textiles like Tyvek and others that have originally developed for use in industry and been adapted by textile artists to enhance their work.

When I studied originally my preference was for the history of costume and textiles and I still go back to that having recently become a member of the West of England Costume Society and attended several of their study days  I particularly enjoyed one last year on knit and one more recently on shopping where the archivist of Liberty of London gave a very insightful presentation of the history of the Liberty “style”.  My aim back then was to pursue costume for drama but now I am much more aware of how artefacts and behaviours of the past can influence the innovations of the future.  I am looking forward to using my knowledge of the history of textiles to inform my study of contemporary practices and hopefully shape my own creation of new pieces.

Project 2 – Review

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I definitely enjoyed this project and felt I was able to put more of my previous creative experience into the exercises than before.

I feel I could have done more experimentation with the free machine embroidery but somehow I began to enjoy the spontaneity of picking up different threads to work with and got really absorbed with the physical acts of working with a needle and thread on fabric by hand.  I will definitely be making time for machine embroidery again, especially trying out different tensions and threads.  I feel I ought to go steady with the machine I have at the moment since I can’t afford a new one, and I wouldn’t want it to break down just when I needed it!

I think I have used a wide range of materials for my samples.  I am fortunate to have collected much over the years and can put my hand to most things now I have a dedicated room to work in.  The “colour bags” proved very useful, not only for keeping everything in one place for easy reference, but also, in a way, it restricted my choice of materials to work with and helped me focus.  I tried dying some fabric but it was with machine dye and I did not achieve the density of colour I wanted.  I need to experiment with smaller batches of a different type of dyestuff.

Many years ago I made a large tapestry sampler on canvas in shades of pink and cream for A Level Fashion and Textiles.  I researched and sampled many different stitches for that project and going back to my reference books and working the stitches after all that time was very evocative.  When you start to work some of the different embroidery stitches you realise that many of them are just different versions of one basic stitch and then it is easier to work in a less formal way and experiment a bit more.  I did find it a little difficult not to get stuck in a rut, working in a geometrical and rigid pattern – even more difficult when you have a background fabric which has obvious lines to follow.  I think that is where machine embroidery scores because you can use most types of fabric and are forced to move the work to make the stitches, instead of working with the thread into the work.  It seems to encourage a more free technique.

I am becoming more visually aware of texture in my environment.  I find at work that a lot of my surroundings are quite bland and lack much in the way of surface texture – an office has never been the most inspiring place to find oneself.  But I do see quite a bit of pattern here and there and I am sure I will be able to incorporate some of these observations into later projects.

I find it exciting to develop a sketch using image manipulation software on my computer.  I use very basic freeware but even the simple task of enlarging and cropping and enlarging again produces further interesting images.  Then printing them out gives even more different qualities to the image, sometimes adding a new focus to the balance of the picture or adding colour not observed in the original perspective.

I enjoyed producing the last sample of the project as it felt like I was finishing something.  There is always a great satisfaction in that and it is good to get to the end of this part of the course and see the physical result.

Project 2 Developing Your Marks – Stage 6 Using thread and yarns to create textures

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I had a bit of a doodle plying bits and bobs to make my own yarns:  I used a variety of knitting yarns, raffia, strips of gingham and jacquard woven fabric, ribbons, lurex lace, wool pencil rovings, ric-rac braid and stockings.  I’m not sure that many of the samples look particularly sophisticated but I do like the pink hairy knitting yarn and lurex lace (bottom right).

I decided on using this image for developing my final sample:

I produced this on the inside of a brown envelope using wax crayons and ironing on some plastic net which had held garlic.  I like the effect the scraps of regular geometric net give to the otherwise organic design.

I cropped and enlarged small areas using the computer and came up with this image to work with:  I love the violet and iron red of this image.  The smooth pink “dogstooth” shapes on the left are the layer of melted plastic which was white originally.  When I printed it out the printer made even more of the reds and yellows than this image shows and so my choices of yarn are much bolder.   I really like the way that there is a slight shadow beneath the edges where the plastic meets the paper.  It gives it a kind of outline.  I also like the layered effect of the application of different colours of wax crayon over the paper.

Here is a photograph of my collection of yarns and other bits, along with my wrapped card showing the balance of colour proportions:  I also made up some plarn (plastic yarn).  I love going to the Polish grocers locally.  In some countries in Europe Walkers crisps are known as “Lays” and there are a whole bunch of different flavours that we don’t get on the normal supermarket shelves.  One of the Polish flavours is paprika and the “sharing” size packet is called “TV PAKA”.  I have this image in my head of the family sitting around their television watching the football and crunching away …  It just so happens that the paprika packet had just the right amounts of orangey reds and yellows so I added it to the mix by stripping it, folding and sewing down the centre with a straight machine stitch.  I had seen this technique used in pieces at the Brunel Broderers exhibition in Frome and couldn’t wait to try it.

For my final sample I chose the linen-mix fabric as a background which meant I could easily use some of the thicker yarns and threads without too much trouble.  I secured it in a 10 inch embroidery hoop which is why it retains the circular outline.  I used a great variety of yarns and threads: tapestry yarn, embroidery silks and cottons, woollen and synthetic knitting yarns, strips of lurex fabric and stockings.  I also appliquéd on some vintage fabric which has a gold thread weft and some of the plastic yarn.  I used blanket and fly stitch, chain stitch, running and seed stitches, herringbone stitch and some french and bullion knots. I also found some upholstery braid in a similar shade and added that because of the texture – perhaps I should have ripped it and used the threads to embroider with!

I am very pleased with the resulting sample, although, again I feel I got distracted from trying to reproduce the textures accurately.  The colours sing and the overall effect is of a very rich and dense piece.

Project 2 Developing Your Marks – Stage 5 Stitches to create texture

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I selected 6 images from my previous exercises.  This brief is asking for stitches to create texture and not really concerned with the use of colour, but I still feet I needed to try to find fabrics and threads that would give an idea of the original sketches.

This first image I felt lent itself rather well to machine embroidery.  The streaks of colour look a bit like rockets on bonfire night agains the sky.  When you look closer you can see some of the lines are made up of a combination of several lines of colour which I felt I could develop using different thicknesses of thread or yarn.  Overall I would use the words calm, bright, regular and soft to describe this picture.

I produced a couple of samples using the machine:

This was my first sample where I tried out some free machine embroidery in different colours of thread, varying the stitch length, using straight stitch and a 3-stitch zig-zag.

In this sample I had a background of plain black poly-cotton fabric and overlaid a piece of vintage netting (rayon, I think).  Then I couched over some space-dyed, slubbed knitting yarn and stiched on some ribbons and lines in between.

I love these colours so much and I found some fabulous fabric, a pale turquoise velvet with a silver woven dot.  I imagined the original image as the night sky and the colours on it gave the impression of fireworks.  I then mentally reversed the image into the negative and used the light coloured fabric as a background “sky”.  I hand stitched this sample with lines of darker coloured texture to reproduce the “fireworks”.  I love the way this has turned out and I am only sorry that the sample is so small.  I think it would make a wonderful cushion cover.

A variety of stitches were used, chain stitch, satin stitch, running and back stitches and couching over other yarns.  I also applied more ribbons, some vintage lace and some shot silk dupion.

This next image is one produced from the patchwork of wax resist paintings. Again I would use the word soft to describe this image but also pointed comes to mind.  This image also inspired machine embroidery samples.

I tried a few different ways of filling the basic “eye” shape, outlining and filling in a circular motion, then horizontally and vertically.  They all produce a different texture.  I think I prefer the shapes with no outline.  I also rather like the back.  I wanted to press on and didn’t change the bobbin thread to match the top, so you get an interesting effect.

These samples were produced on a rayon satin fabric using standard machine sewing thread, the lighter making a satin stitch effect and the black more like a drawn line.  On the right I used a buttonhole thread for the black line and the “eyes” were a bit looser, with a slightly darker middle.  I left in the joining stitches and I like the effect that gives.

This image is also one I produced from the patchwork of wax crayon resists.  It gives the impression of lots of layers of stitches in different colours.  I can alsmost see a sunset landscape here so it is a calm picture with smooth lines and soft focus, almost brushed.  I layered up some fabric to stitch on to produce some of the background colours.  Because I chose some densely woven fabrics for their colours it made this sample very heavy-going to stitch with the thick tapestry wools.

I also used embroidery silks, crochet cotton and a fine boucle machine knitting yarn and just let the needle dictate where the stitches went.  I am not quite sure I have captured the layers.  I felt I did not want to overwork the piece as it would have become messy.

This was one of the paintings I produced using sponged acrylics and printing with bubble wrap. Fluffy, soft and bubbly come to mind as words to describe this image.   I love the regularity of the “bubbles”.  I produced the sample below on a linen-type fabric, using basic straight stitching, seed stitch and satin stitch with embroidery threads and made some french knots with a wool-mix knitting yarn.

Again, the original image looks layered with the green shapes showing through the transparent white “clouds”.  I enjoyed experimenting with grading the seed stitch until it covered the backing fabric almost completely and I also like the effect produced by grading the running stitch in different directions.  Looking at this sample, I think I should have kept with the more formal circles filled with satin stitch and experimented more with a fluffy yarn to see if I could capture the white “clouds” and the green shapes in less regimented way.  This is a good example of where pinning up samples and sketches helps you to see things that you may not when you are concentrating working on a small area.

I had fun producing this collage version of an earlier sketch made with wax crayons rubbing over buttons.  There are some lovely textures here provided by the magazine cuttings.  The colours impart a calmness but there is also a brightness and liveliness that come forward when I look at the greenery.  I like that there are ribs and knobbles, swishy grasses and crispy leaves all adding to the vibrancy.

This sample was made using a linen-type fabric base and a variety of stitches in embroidery silks, tapestry wools, ribbon, crochet cotton and cotton perle, knitting yarn and synthetic raffia string.  I enjoyed trying some new stitches – fishbone, basket, fly, and Cretan stitch all feature here, along with backstitch, satin stitch, bullion knots and darning.  I think my favourite is the circle on the left where I have used a space-dyed embroidery silk and fly stitch to capture the sprout leaves with their ribs and wrinkly layers.

This is still one of my favourite images.  It is bold and bright and cheerful with the red and gold colours and familiar flower shapes.  I like the look of the regular positioned but slightly uneven ribs in the background and feel they contrast well with the smooth petal shapes.

I felt the bold design needed to be reproduced on a larger scale and used upholstery hessian as a base fabric and my rag rug hook to hook through knitting yarns, sweet wrappers, fruit nets and instant noodle packets cut into strips.  I also hooked a version of chain stitch with my rug hook and this technique reminds me of the beautiful Indian crewel work upholstery fabrics.

A detail from a Wool Crewel Embroidered Cotton Shoulder Bag, $24.50 at http://www.ethnicfrills.com

In this sample I used a chain stitch and a running stitch in a finer thread to get the ribbed background, then made the rose shapes stitching with a space-dyed wool-mix knitting yarn.  I think the chain stitch is better at giving the idea of the printed lines on the original image.  I could add some gold threads to give an accent to the roses.

I think my focusing on colour a bit too much took me away from the original brief and I could have done some more work on making more of the textural use of the stitches and threads.

Project 2 Developing Your Marks – Stage 3 A sample

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For this sample I went back to my previous mark making samples and found this image (or group of images) that I produced using wax resist:

I had fun copying, cutting and sticking and came up with a patchwork effect that I think I will be developing again and again:

I focused in on certain areas and found one that seemed to have a variety of lines.  I produced one simple sample using hand embroidery and another using the machine.

In this hand stitched sample I have used couching for the orange lines.  I wanted to show a thicker line and the fabric was too densely woven to stitch with the tapestry wool.  The larger shapes were outlined in embroidery cotton and the centre is filled with applied silver fabric.  A good contrast of colours and textures.

It is interesting here that although I have restricted myself to using the one type of thread, a standard machine thickness, I was still able to show different thicknesses of line and shading with the use of colour and density of stitching.  Also the technique of filling an outlined box shape gave definition to an area, making it appear to be a thicker line.

Project 2 Developing Your Marks – Stage 2 Exploring lines and marks through stitch techniques

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This area of study is one of those where the more you explore, the more you find to do.

I experimented by stitching both by hand and using the machine.  I began in the middle for some reason.  I consistently find I am only able to absorb the instructions given in each stage by reading over and over again.   I must try to overcome this somehow, but it means that I start working and then find I have not achieved what was asked for and have to go back and concentrate harder to extract the required information.  I get there in the end (hopefully) but it is not a time efficient way to work.

Hand stitching lines, curves and variations:

I enjoyed experimenting with stitching in a variety of threads on different weights of fabric but got a bit bogged down here and there.  I didn’t always have the right needle or I felt here and there that I was being a bit too regimented with my stitches.  It is too easy to follow the lines already in the fabric!  I must learn to relax more and let my needle flow …

Machine stitching lines:

I had a lot of fun with machine embroidery and I found I went off at a bit of a tangent and produced more samples which will appear in later posts.

Project 2 Developing Your Marks – Stage 1 Preparation

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I assembled a goodly amount of bits in plastic bags for this stage and was eager to get started with some sewing.

It is fortunate (in some ways) that I have been hoarding bits of fabric, threads, yarns and all sorts of haberdashery (and unfinished projects) for more years than I care to remember.  This was not a good thing when we had to move house last time.  20 years ago I married a wonderful man who has many useful and creative talents but who, unfortunately has the collecting bug in common with me and we are both still trying to de-clutter 18 months after moving to a bigger house.

So far I have done a little machine embroidery but would like to do more and experiment with different threads.  The majority of my samples are using hand embroidery.  I have been able to use a variety of threads and fabrics for trying out different stitches and techniques.