Category Archives: Project 6 – Manipulating fabric

Project 6 – Stage 4 Raised and structured surface textures – part 2



For the next two samples I used the same core materials: a piece of blue silk for the top, plain white handkerchief cotton for the backing and some cotton bump curtain interlining for the wadding.

Here I laid the plain blue silk over some self patterned mauve silk and then quilted with free machine embroidery in a contrasting colour thread.I then cut out portions of the top layer of fabric to reveal the mauve underneath.

I have slashed the top layer in one place and frayed the edges.  This is not particularly effective with this silk and I have not allowed enough fabric between the slash and the stitching for the frayed effect to show.

Where I have formed circles in the machine stitching, the fabric has made some nice rounded bubbles which are raised because of the wadding layer being pulled in slightly with the stitches.

With this sample I have overlaid a ruby sheer organza over the same blue silk base and trapped some fabric pieces, sparkly lurex off cuts and some space dyed banana yarn between the layers.  I then quilted by hand using running stitches, similar to Kantha work in one area.  Enclosing the yarn between the layers and then fastening it in place with running stitches all the way around is very similar to traditional trapunto quilting where wool or fibre was stuffed in between the stitches as the piece was quilted, but I believe this method involved stuffing the design from behind.

Raised shapes

The previous sample incorporated some yarn enclosed between the layers of fabric.  This time I have used plain calico and trapped some cotton cord inside a fold with hand stitching, as you might when making a piped edge for a cushion.  The top cord was straight until I stitched the next wavy line and this drew the fabric in and made the first one look curved.  The bottom line is some fine wire trapped and stitched into a fold in the fabric.  This is easily manipulated to form shapes, shown a little better in the photograph below.

Here I have sewn some curtain rings, buttons and wooden beads inside the calico to form raised shapes.  The items I have used are hard but you could use anything to form shapes and enclose them inside the fabric from soft, maleable stuffings and yarns to hard wire, bottles and plastic items.


I experimented with a strong pva solution and cotton sheeting over some cookie cutters and jar and bottle tops.  This sample is very stiff so I can see that this would be a very good method to use if you wanted to make the fabric support itself, but you would probably need some kind of internal frame if it were a large piece because of the weight of the fabric.

I also dampened some upholstery hessian and left it to dry around the balloon whisk for the Kenwood mixer.  There was enough size in the fabric from manufacture to preserve the folds which remain in the fabric, but this is a much less durable sample and the folds might well get squashed if stored with any weight on top of the sample, in contrast to the previous sample.

Final sample

I chose this image to work from to make a final sample:This was a sketch I made earlier from a photograph of the wood shed wall.  There are some interesting contrasts of texture here with the vertical lines between the curvy ragged edges that cross horizontally.  It is helpful that this sketch is monochrome because I am not distracted by colours that often stop me from visualising texture in images.  Straight away I can see tucks and folds in the design.

I have used plain white cotton sheeting which I have salvaged as I did not have any pieces of calico large enough.  I guessed that making lots of tucks would mean I would need to start with a piece of fabric at least twice as wide (if not more) than the required finished sample size of 30 x 30 cms.

I began with the horizontal tucks and secured them with a line of machine stitching.  Then I used the sewing machine to make the vertical pin tucks of various widths.  I finished by threading a strip of wadding through the horizontal tucks to pad them out.

Responses to this project

  • How does working with fabric in this way compare with working directly with stitch?

I have found manipulating the fabric to make shapes using the fabric itself much more effective than using purely stitch to imply a design or imitate an image.

  • Are you pleased with the shapes and movements that you have created in both appliqué and fabric manipulation?  What would you do differently?

I was very happy with the outcome of my appliqué sample.  I like the way you can use layers to give depth and that different materials can make a big difference in giving texture and movement to a piece of work.  I was especially intrigued by the results of heat treating plastic.  With the fabric manipulation you immediately see the possibilities of working in three dimensions rather than on a flat piece that you might use as a cushion cover or frame and hang on the wall.  Movement in my final fabric manipulation sample was created by filling some areas with wadding.  This gave the piece much more depth and a contrast appeared between the straight lines of the tucks and the wavy padded lines across them.  I would like to explore manipulating fabric on a much larger scale to see how size and weight of the materials might dictate the outcomes

  • How did the pieces work in relation to your drawings?  Were the final results very different from the drawings?  Did the fabric manipulation technique take over and dictate the final result?

With the appliqué sample I combined several images to produce the finished piece.  This meant that the result was bound to be different from the drawings but it is still evident where the inspiration comes from.  I think that any technique is going to influence the final result and sometimes it is easier to let the project flow and go the way it seems to want to go rather than try to hold back too much.  That way you are more likely to get an exciting, unexpected result.  This happened when I started ironing plastic sweet wrappers!  Sometimes a technique will limit an outcome and you have to look at the job in a different way, either accept the limitations and work with them or try to find a different technique that will work better.

  • Was it helpful to work from the drawings in the applied exercise?  Would you have preferred to play directly with cut shapes and materials?

For me it was more useful to have my drawings to work from because I have already done a bit of appliqué before and spent time ‘doodling’ this way.  I am enjoying this course because I can push myself to try things I haven’t before, move outside my comfort zone.  Because of this I am definitely getting more out of the course than I might have done had I chosen to continue to stick with something I already know.

  • How do you feel about working with stitch in general?  Is it an area you would like to pursue in more depth?  Do you find it limiting in any way?

I am comfortable working with stitch, either machine or hand.  I would like to explore more free machine embroidery techniques like using vanishing muslin or trying different threads but I will need a new machine before I can try anything more.  I have found during the course of this module of study that I am less excited by hand embroidery than I used to be.  This last project has made me want to try more fabric manipulation and construction techniques, rather than, as I have perceived them, embellishment or decorative techniques.


Project 6 – Stage 4 – Fun with with fabric manipulation


On Saturday I attended a workshop at Midsomer Quilting in Chilcompton.  The session was run by Bini Mistri and the object of the day was to produce samples using different fabric manipulation techniques.

Bini started by explaining her background in textiles.  She had been teaching textiles at a local senior school and then decided to quit and take some time to travel around India where her parents had come from and explore her roots.  She also brought along some books to inspire us – Contemporary Indian Fashion by Frederica Rocca was especially gorgeous, full of colourful photographs of creations by new Indian fashion designers.  Also Modern Fashion in Detail by Mendes and Wilcox, again with lovely colour photography showing techniques used to embellish contemporary garments.

I had not know quite what we would be doing at the workshop and was really pleased to discover how well the techniques fitted in with what I have been producing for this part of the course.

Here are some of the samples I made on the day:


We started with some simple gathering stitches.

This sample shows how two rows of gathering stitches, stitched on fabric with a grid pattern for regularity, can produce neat folds in the fabric, and on this particular fabric, an interesting effect at the selvedge edge.

The fan shape reminds me of the cockade embellishment used on traditional Indian turbans:

Sachin Tendulkar and Mahendra Singh Dhoni wear turbans at the inauguration of a cricket academy, Pune. (

Here I have produced several lines of random stitching of different stitch lengths and with the rows at varying distances:

Pull up the stitches to gather the fabric and you get a much more textured effect than with the previous sample:

Traditional smocking uses this technique but using a regular grid for the gathering.


I could explore my sample further by embellishing it with less formal smocking stitches.

Many years ago I decorated my wedding jacket by smocking silk fabric I had appliqued with some vintage gold lace using the lattice smocking technique:

These two samples use gathering stitches which are in a particular pattern, a bit like the roof of a house, that is tricky to explain but hopefully the photograph is helpful:

The result is a pretty ‘petal’ edge which came out better in the slightly stiffer fabric in the lower sample.  You can achieve something similar by making running stitches in a regular zig zag and gathering up.

Folding and pleating

Here we cut out circles of fabric, folded them in half, then into quarters and stitched the points together to make a flower.

Using the same folding technique in butter muslin and stitching the folded circles on to a base fabric, I replicated an effect I had seen on a garment in the Mulberry factory shop next to where I work.

Here we made pleats in the fabric with the iron and then stitched them down with the machine.  Placing a contrasting fabric strip behind the apperture left by two opposing pleats gives it an interesting twist.

I am not sure if this next one is gathering or pleating or folding but we cut more circles of fabric, then cut out a smaller circle in the middle leaving a doughnut shape.  We then cut into it, opened it out, pulled the inner edge straight and stitched it to a backing fabric.

I have a purple cotton skirt decorated all over in mini flounces like this!

Raised shapes

I made running stitches in circles in this piece of silk and then gathered it up, trapping some stuffing inside the shape.

We learned that it is easier to start from the middle with this technique.  They look like little blue mushrooms!

We also learned about ‘Suffolk puffs’ or ‘yo-yos’ which are traditionally made into a type of quilt. The technique is simple.  Cut a circle of fabric and make running stitches into the outer folded over edge.  Gather up and pull tight until you have a flat disk with the gathering in the middle, and fasten off the stitches.  It looks like a mini shower cap.


The puff also looks interesting with a contrasting piece of fabric placed inside so that it just shows through the gap.

I was really pleased with my work and now have lots of useful samples as inspiration for future projects.  So many thanks to Bini for helping me along with my course work and, of course, for the scrumptious samosas!

Project 6 – Stage 4 Raised and structured surface textures – part 1


I have been experimenting with some of the techniques described in this section.

Gathering, tucking, folding and pleating, tearing, fraying and slashing are incorporated into samples of a variety of fabrics.

Click on an image to see my comments.

I happened across this slashed bias strip fabric tutorial at Sew Country Chick just now – a practical application of a simple fabric manipulation technique which gives a fun result.

Project 6 – Stage 3 Applied Fabric Techniques


I had been pleased with the results of quite a few of the images from the last stage.  I felt some had better colour dynamics and others more movement so I decided to combine these for the appliqué sample.

I have done some appliqué before, hand and machine.  I have also successfully used Bondaweb in appliqué projects, especially machine appliqué where I feel it gives a better finished look to the work.  I am limited in time and with money so I decided not to explore Tyvek as an appliqué medium, although I have enjoyed looking at artists’s work with modern materials as part of my background reading.

I experimented with layering, cutting away and trapping bits and pieces between the layers in these two samples that also incorporated quilting:

Stitch Dissolve Distort by Valerie Campbell-Harding and Maggie Grey (from the course reading list) is an excellent source for techniques using all sorts of stabilising, soluble and embellishing fabrics such as vanishing muslin and fusible webbing, along with foils, glues and powders.

I reserved a copy of Kim Tittichai’s Experimental Textiles a few weeks ago but it hasn’t arrived yet.  Instead I watched a YouTube video where she showed some interesting techniques using painted Tyvek heated with both a domestic flat iron and a heat gun which produced some lovely textured bubbles and lace.  My recycling-self was intrigued to hear that Tyvek is the fabric used to make disposable overalls, like the type employed by scenes of crime officers.  I now just need to make friends with a pathologist …

For the last sample in this page I drew inspiration from these images of the organic flower shape:

DSC_0007 DSC_0008-b

and played around with the stripes and colours a bit.

I had saved some chocolate, crisp and biscuit wrappers, a mixture of the type that are just plastic and some with a foil layer.  I had a bit of fun using a hot iron on this type of plastic instead (in between sheets of baking parchment to preserve my iron).  Some of the plastic wrappers melt very easily and some take longer, but it did not seem to depend on whether there was a foil layer, they all produced some very exciting bubbly texture eventually.  I laid the textured plastic on a plain fabric backing, then over the top I laid some ruby coloured shot organza.  I gingerly tacked the layers together around the edge as I did not want to leave holes in the plastic that might show up in the finished sample.

Next I set up the darning foot, dropped the feed dog and set the sewing machine off on a ramble across the layers of fabric.  I used a large needle and was a little worried that all the stitching would begin to rip the plastic, as it was stiffer and more brittle since ironing but it seemed to remain quite resiliant.  I cut out the organic flower shapes from woven stripey cottons, salvaged from a shirt and skirt from my 1980s wardrobe.  These I applied to the background with free machine stitching without bonding first with Bondaweb.  I was a little worried that more heat might change the plastic layer and I was also in a bit of a hurry (never a good thing).

I am not particularly impressed with my free machine stitching around the flowers, it is very wiggly but it was quite hard to manipulate the sample as the background fabric is so stiff and it kept bumping up against the sides of the machine and slowing me down.  I need some more practice to make this kind of stitching a bit more even.  I have tried some Poppy Treffry-style machine appliqué before, adding text to small projects and this has usually come out quite well but it was always on a small pliable piece of fabic.

Lastly, I further embellished the smaller flowers with some more free machine sqiggles in gold coloured thread and the larger applied shapes with some hand embroidered running stitches in red and French knots in a gold embroidery thread.

I like the finished piece a lot.  There is depth with the background bubbling, swirly texture, movement with the stripes against the curves, although I tried to line up the stripes in the flowers to make the piece more cohesive, and some pleasing colours with the red against the silver and grey and a pop of gold here and there.

Project 6 – Stage 2 Developing Ideas – part 2


I have been looking at my development work and putting together fabrics to match to the images.

The first collage was made using one of the wood pile sketches for inspiration.

There is texture in the pencil colouring where I have shaded one way and then the other with different coloured pencils.  I found a woven checked silk dupion and a striped cotton fabric that seem to capture this quite well.  The pale yellow sheer organdie softens the brighter colours and the yellow muslin makes an interesting pattern when placed over the striped cotton where the open weave is more visible.  These colours are all sunny and uplifting – a positive and calm energy.

I like the way this collage captures some of the layers in the original image, although the colours don’t quite match but the balance is good.  I have used some shot organza, two pieces layed across the base fabrics oriented so that you can see the effect given by the differently coloured warp and weft in the same fabric when they are oriented each way.  This is a warm composition and echoes quite well the firey clouds of the original image.  Although I think the collage does not reflect the movement and anger in the computer generated image, the frayed red satin gives some contrast.  Perhaps I should have cut the fabric into thinner strips but I still would not have been able to capture the curves with this simple arrangement.

Here I have used some old, slightly decayed silk chiffon which makes a good background for the slightly creased silk dupion strips I have laid over the top.  You can see shaded stripes in the background fabric that are a good match for the brown wash in the original image.  I like this composition – it is calm and soft.  It would be easy to give it a little lift with some embellishment with stitches or applied sequins or beads.

Here I have used the original sketch from the wood shed where the colours were reversed.  I have always liked this bold royal blue shade and have tried to replicate that with the collage fabrics.  The fabric on the left is some I have had for a long time – a cotton with a substantial amount of lycra giving it stretch and, since it was washed, a little wrinkle giving texture.  The frayed edge is fun too.  On the right I crushed a scrap of rayon dress lining fabric in my hand and then quickly pressed it with a steam iron to capture the creases.  Below that is a piece of lightweight polyester cotton striped fabric where I have pulled a few threads against the stripe to see if this would make for a more interesting effect.  It worked quite well but the threads are so small I nearly needed tweezers and they kept breaking.  Better to do this with a more substantial fabric.  Over the top I have laid some more muslin in a bold blue, again with the threads pulled out to give a checked effect.  This collage is a little too monochromatic for me – cold in colour and chilly in mood too.

This fabric collage uses the organic flower paper collage for a starting point.  I think the colour matching in this collage is good but the proportions could be better.    Perhaps I should have cut smaller strips of fabric to echo the stripes on the wallpaper.  Also, I was not able to work out a simple way to distress the fabric to give the impression of the texture on the flower shapes.  Layering the white organza over the various strips gives the impression of a more muted colour which works well.  This collage is quite lively, with the reds and patterns.  I don’t find it agressive, more warm perhaps.  There is a lot of contrast with the plain coloured regular stripes and the textured curvy flowers on the original paper collage.  The contrast comes across a little less in the collage but there is still texture in the prints and weaves of the fabrics.

This image with magenta and turquoise flowers was developed from the lamp array sketch.  There is a lot of white in the background and I felt this should be evident in the collage.  I have kept the geometrical coloured shapes well apart from each other to gain this effect.  The slightly frayed and pinked edges soften the simple triangle shapes a little but also echo the spiky edged effect of the flower petals.  The original image is very lively and full of movement.  The collage does not quite show the busy-ness of the source image but the colour matching is good and the proportion is not bad.  I think the collage is slightly calmer than the source image but still feels lively, colourful and quite positive in mood.

Project 6 – Stage 2 Developing Ideas – part 1


Source Image 1

I have been choosing images to develop and have had a doodle with some photographs I took of the wood pile in the yard next to the office where I work.

I began with this sketch of the cut ends of wood and used image manipulation software to play further.

This image got transformed in lots of different ways using distortion, colour changes and other filters.  The trouble with using this software is that I get a bit carried away and forget to make notes of which effect I have used for each manipulated image.

On this page I have the original image on the top left.  The same image top right has the colours inverted which makes for an interesting electric blue on black silhouette effect.  Middle left I have used the Distort – dents option and middle right is a variation on this selecting a higher refraction.  Bottom left is the same original image using the Distort – crystallise option and bottom right is that distorted image using the same effect selecting a larger cell size.  It is interesting how this effect already gives the impression of a patchwork design – another possible development pathway.

Next I altered the hue of the original image top left and used the Distort – dents effect, again selecting a high refraction and high scale.  Middle left is Distort – crystallise with a larger cell size again and middle right is a close up on the image immediately above.  Bottom left is another close up section of the top right image with the Artistic – ink sketch effect selected.  Bottom right is another close up of the top right image with the colours inverted.

Using the idea from the “ink sketch” version I played around with a section of the image and changed the hue a few times.  I like the contour line effect this gives.  You could layer fabrics of different colours like this.

Next I tiled another close up section of the Distort – crystallise image and I love the way this looks like a retro tile design.

I cropped an area of the tiled image and played with the contrast – this is with the contrast high.  There are some sinister looking devilish eyes staring out from the top of the image!

Again, this could be developed further using layers of fabrics of similar tones, each cut away to show the one beneath.

I took the cropped image and used the emboss tool on this one.  A wonderful anayglypta wallpaper-type design, I think.

Using another close up section of the tiled image I played around with the Render – clouds effect:

I love the way this gives the idea of a base fabric with a monochrome design which you see through the red patterned top layer.

This one is using the Colour burn blend mode.  Again, layers of colour over monochrome, this time introducing more colours and shapes.

This one uses the Render – clouds blur invert option.

And this one uses the Render – clouds negation mode.

Lastly, this one uses the Render – clouds reflect mode:

Lots of inspiration here, but I had better do some work with some of my other images!

Source Image 2

Another image I used to develop was this photograph of the side of the woodshed:

I started with a quick sketch using the lines produced by the slices of wood layered horizontally over each other and noticed the vertical scoring from the wood saw:

I did some work with this using coloured oil pastels in a variety of colours.

My favourite is the blue and green version.  The left two remind me of a library bookshelf packed full of books.  The bottom right makes me think of radio waves reflecting in water.  I think perhaps these designs might be more suited to embroidery stitching.

Source Image 3

This page from my sketch book started with the small sketch in the top left of the rear lamp array on a New York Yellow Cab.  I spotted this shape whilst watching a chick flick online.  I was able to pause the film and quickly sketch the shape that I found interesting.

This shape developed into a couple of flower shapes, a row of odd bods of a variety of shapes and sizes and a pile of strange paddle shapes.  I scanned the flower design on the left into and added colour to the petals.  I then re-sized the motif, rotated them and placed the flowers randomly on a page to get this design:

I wanted to try and change this design and give it a different background but I haven’t yet worked out how to do this using the software I have.

Source Image 4

This was a collage I made early on in the course during Project 1, developing a crayon rubbing of a Bentwood chair.  I had made a background wash of acrylic colour and applied some patterned wallpaper in a sort of rough fleur de lys design.

I like the boldness of the design against the background and initially just copied the outline of the design to see if I could play with the shapes.  But I felt I was just going to reproduce the collage in a different colour and maybe that was not going to be worth my time.

Instead I used the software again to manipulate the image.  I re-sized it and repeated it in bands.

This is very effective.  I like the way the brush strokes in the background give a slight texture and make the bands between the flower shapes more defined.

Source Image 5

I love this image for its boldness and it uses some of my preferred theme colours – purple, pink and red.  Again it is floral in nature.  This seems to be another theme running through some of these exercises.

I used the organic flower idea and drew some more shapes in different sizes.

Keeping to the bold pink theme in mind, I copied the pencilled shapes to some magenta paper then I used another copy of these shapes to cut around some wallpaper and stuck that to the background.  The photo doesn’t show it too well but I like the way the pencilled shapes add depth to the design.

In this version I coloured some paper using oil pastel rubbed over a net fruit bag for some gritty looking texture and cut out the flower shapes again.  These were then stuck on to a background of striped wallpaper in three colourways next to each other.

This works well and I can definitely see this as an applique design.

Source Image 6

This was one of my favourite images from the beginning of the course.  I printed my interpretation of the brick path running down our vegetable garden using two sponges with holes cut into the surface, one with more small holes and one with fewer large holes.  The way the paint has varied in intensity on the prints echoes the differences in the colours of the clay of the bricks and the positioning is also very like the way the path is a bit uneven.

I doodled a bit with the shapes and again, I can see how the simple geometric shapes would be an effective applique starting point but I find this original image difficult to work with.  I think it is because I like the prints so much as they are.  This makes it hard to develop as I feel it is already finished.  There are also images here that remind me of dice and dominos and Trivial Pursuit cheeses …

Project 6 – Manipulating fabric – Stage 1 Preparation


The course notes for this part advise laying out my fabric samples and organising them into colour groups.  The notes also say to cut a sample from each and pin them to my pinboard.  I have too much fabric to do this.  I have spent some time sorting out what I have and this amounts to a wall full of shelves stacked with old curtains, clothing, sheets and upholstery sample books; drawers full of smaller bundles of fabric and boxes containing smaller (but I think useful) scraps and trimmings:

The sheer quantity means I couldn’t possibly start cutting out samples and pinning them to a board.  I have therefore decided to move on to the next stage and go straight to looking at my sketchbook for some images to develop.