the last lap: the table runner

While I was looking at napkin rings and cuffs on Flickr, I saw this beautiful forest poetry cuff by Cathy Cullis, and it gave me the clue I needed for the final element in my hospitality piece. I loved the combination of fabric and text, and the frayed ‘wabi sabi’ quality, which echoes with my ‘imperfect’ theme. A cuff, writ large, could be a table runner. With that thought my objects suddenly turned into an installation.

I had the fabrics (and had already used most of them in the woven napkin rings).

indigo collection

I had the words, collected in my theme book. And I had – just – the time.

Piece, piece, piece and stitch, stitch, stitch.

work in progress

A day later – much later – and I had a table runner. The fabrics are all my own hand dyed indigo shibori pieces from various workshops long past. (Now I need to dye some more!). The text includes words from the Bible and quotations from Christine D Pohl’s Making Room and Jennifer Kavanagh’s The O of Home. I had puzzled about how to attribute these if I’d stitched them on a napkin; in this format it was easy, with a label on the back of the work.

So this is it, the culmination of all the work and experimenting and agonising and learning. The photos were taken in a bit of a hurry and a bad light before it all went into the package to catch the post (you have to get to the sorting office by mid-morning here, as the mail goes on the plane to Glasgow at lunchtime). When it comes back from my tutor I’ll take some better pictures and put them on Flickr.

table runner

table runner detail

There isn’t really anything I would change about it, a few small technical things maybe. I don’t think I’m really cut out for distance learning but I’m glad I stuck with the course and managed to finish with something I like. I couldn’t have got through this last week without the large amounts of encouragement and coffee provided by Alan, he was wonderful. I’m off for a walk by the sea now, and the next big thing is Woolfest – I can’t wait. I’ll be there both days and would love to say hello to any blogging friends who are going.

gathered felt

I only had time for a short felting session this weekend; and, in the first of the samples for my ‘textile piece’ assignment, I started with this digital image:

digital image

This has elements of marbling, ripples distorting the original stripes, creating movement and asymmetry, forming new relationships between the lines.

Influenced by the way shibori captures the stitches into the surface of the fabric visually, even though the thread has been removed and even when the fabric is flat, I thought, what if the effect of stitching into fleece before felting could be captured in a final flat surface?

I laid out 3 gossamer layers of merino – white, then stripes of colour, then a soft pale pinky brown. I intended the top colour just to tone down the layer beneath it but it actually enhanced the surface in a way I didn’t anticipate.

I needled the layers of fleece lightly, just enough to keep them together while I put in the gathering stitches. I have a wonderful little multi-needle tool made by Dianne Stott called the Fabulous Felt-O-Matic which was invaluable for that job; otherwise I’d have wet prefelted the layers as minimally as possible before stitching. This piece started off about 60 x 50cm; shrank to 11 ~ 22cm x 40cm. On a larger scale, it would have to be needled more tightly or wet prefelted before stitching because of the difficulties of handling a very lightly needled fleece in large pieces.

Here’s the stitched and gathered fleece:

gathered fleece

To stitch, I used crewel wool in blending shades, and left it in; I could also try a synthetic yarn that would pull out after prefelting, or else a more dramatic yarn that draws attention to itself. I then went though the normal wetting out, felting and fulling process, and this was what happened.

gathered felt

Held up to the light, you can see the way the gathers form thicker and thinner areas of felt – it would be interesting to try with undyed fleece, to maximise this effect. The whole piece is thin but strong; even where there is more fleece it isn’t bulky, because the layers were so thin to start with. If you run your fingers over it you can just feel slight indentations where the gathers were, but against the light the ghosts of the folds appear.

gathered felt against light

I was very pleased with how the stripes distorted; and interested in the way the top layer moved with the gathers, forming a netted pattern over the surface. I have new ‘what ifs’ now. What if I use wider stripes? What if the top layer contrasts more strongly with the one below. What if I pull up the gathers more tightly, make them closer together, or further apart? What if I start with a grid? What if a larger piece was made up of several smaller pieces, and what if the gathers ran in different directions from one piece to the next? if I want to explore any of my other design ideas before settling on one for the textile piece, I’ll need to keep most of these questions till after the course is finished!

keeping the blogging habit

I always seem to find it much easier to get out of a habit of doing something than to get into one, and even harder to get back into one after the habitualness has slipped away.¬† I don’t really know why it should be nearly two months since I last posted, only that as each silent week goes by there’s more inertia to overcome; and more has happened – so what to write about becomes a bigger decision (decisive is not my middle name).

I’ve been doing a little of this and that, focusing on fabric manipulation as I get back into OCA Textiles 1, some stitched resists, some felt. One exercise was to develop a manipulated sample from a previous design, and I went back to these block prints that were inspired by a tulip and then scanned to try out designs on the computer.

sketchbook work from tulip image

I simplified the shapes and stitched a repeating pattern based on circles and the spaces between. I was thinking about bands of colour and bands of resist. It’s a 30cm square.

stitched circles

Pulling the stitches up was a bit fiddly, and then I’m always tempted to leave them gathered, loving the structures they¬† make.

stitched circles gathered

I dyed this with some other pieces (of which more in another post) and this was the end result.

stitched circles dyed

I would have liked a bit more contrast – for some reason this calico didn’t take the dye as well as some of the other cottons in the same dyebath, but apart from that I was quite pleased with the overall effect.

I’d like to try other variations with colour, width of the stitching, etc. And I noticed that last time I dyed some stitched resist (when I soaked the bundles in the soda solution beforehand) the whites were very white, whereas here the ‘white’ is actually a very pale purple. These were soaked in water, then added to a dye bucket and the soda added after 30 minutes, and I used some urea, so either or both of those could have had an effect on the resist. The stitching itself was pulled up just as tightly as the earlier samples, more tightly if anything – I’ve been watching Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada‘s Arimatsu Narumi Shibori DVD, and learning how to use the needle to knot the pulled up thread without letting the stitches loosen. Not that I have mastered it – the Japanese artists make it look so easy – but I’m practising!

still here – just

September and October have flown silently by and it’s only just over a week till our move to Tiree. If I had time to think about it I’d be full of trepidation, but as I still have masses of packing to do, and there are a few other little chores like the quarterly VAT return to get out of the way meanwhile, I don’t suppose I will have any time to think at all.

Not content with my inability to keep up with one blog, I’ve started a second one as well, Tiree journal, (and I’ve been neglecting that one too). I don’t plan to separate life and art or anything like that, but I do want to keep the focus here mainly on textiles, and I know I’ll also want to keep a record of this adventure we’re setting out on, or I’ll forget.

Not much to report on the art front, but here is a little piece of silk, an experiment in ‘painting’ with stitch resist, made before I packed up the equipment. I am so looking forward to getting everything out of boxes at the other end and getting back to making.

stitched resist sample

Thank you to everyone who’s left a comment in the last month or two – if I didn’t reply, I apologise. It will be lovely to be able to catch up with you all soon. Just a few ferry journeys between now and then…