thinking about cloth and limitation

The first task for starting work on manipulating fabrics was to sort the fabrics into colour groups, and the course suggests two hours to do that and cut samples from each type of fabric for a pinboard. I have too many fabrics, I think! I will take a little longer over it because it’s a good motivation to get them organised so I know just what I have to work with. I always find sorting anything a bit of a challenge because I see too much as borderline (it’s the same with my filing cabinet). I knew that aspect of it would be hard, so I designated a pile for patterns and mixtures as well as the clearer colours and just threw anything too complex on that pile instead of spending time trying to make small decisions.

I sorted about half the fabric yesterday, and today I made some sample sheets, using only my own dyed fabrics. I’ve done them loose-leaf so I can keep them in a folder and add to them, and I’ll just pin up the whole sheets for reference. These are all cottons and silks, so tomorrow I’ll make some more sheets with other types of fabrics from the sorted colour boxes.

The idea is to make it easier to pick out the ‘right’ fabrics for collages to interpret some of my design work – it will certainly be more systematic than my usual method of just diving into an amorphous mass of colour and texture and pulling something out. I got out my copy of Jean Littlejohn’s Fabrics for Embroidery, as I thought it would be good background reading for this section of the course, and this kind of recording of fabric is the first thing she suggests – every time you get a new one, stick a little piece in your notebook… I should obviously have taken more notice when I first read it many moons ago!

fabric samples

On the subject of having too much fabric, Littlejohn points out that before the expansion of the fabric trade, people were limited to the materials in their local environment,

These limitations encouraged people to be endlessly inventive with the materials at their disposal.

I know I have a tendency to collect more, rather than using up what I have, not just new fabrics but new ‘must have’ products and new techniques as well. There’s a place for these, of course, but I think it’s also an important challenge for me to learn how to practise the traditional skills that my grandmother would have recognised, and to be inventive with the stuff I already have (some of which once belonged to her, in fact).

I was thinking about limitations and about the way people would use and reuse fabric in the past, and I did a mindstorm on the words wear/worn as the first step towards constructing a garment (or part of one) which comes a bit later in the course. That piece has to relate to and grow visually from the design work I’ve done so far, as well as what I’m about to do, but I think I also need to anchor it in some way, otherwise I’ll flounder. The work I did in January for Sharon’s Take it Further Challenge gave me a new sense of the power of limiting and channelling ideas, and it also showed me how much strength I personally can gain by playing with words and thoughts as part of the design process.


assignment 2 is done!

I knew it had been a while since I last blogged but I was a bit surprised to see just how long. I have a good reason, though – I’ve been immersed in finishing my second assignment for OCA Textiles 1, finally put in the post (just) on time on Monday. It takes ages to get everything labelled and organised for sending to my tutor – I must try to do more of that as I go along. These are the two larger printing/painting samples I finished at the weekend. The top one is a repeating pattern that could go off the edges of the fabric – scrunch dyed cotton fabric, block printed with fabric paints, then stencilled with masking tape stencils in two layers, the first layer applied with a natural sponge, and the second layer applied with a sponge roller. When I’d done that, I thought the purple stripes were too strong against the background fabric, which was quite pale in places, so I painted the whole thing with thin turquoise paint and then rinsed it before setting.

The bottom one is a single unit inspired by log cabin patchwork. It’s all block printed, the ‘log cabin’ with funky foam blocks with holes punched into them, and the round shapes with carved erasers. The fabric is silk, and I used fabric paints as I wanted that brushy texture in the colour.

printed fabric

printed fabric

The next section of the OCA course is fabric manipulation and making an actual object like a bag or a waistcoat, which sounds great, but I must also finish the appliqué piece and get on with the final assessment for City & Guilds. I think if I really pull out the stops I might be able to finish it before my registration runs out in mid-December.


The project I’m working on now in my OCA Textiles 1 course is all about printing and fabric painting techniques. I’ve been carving print blocks from erasers and corks, cutting them from compressed sponge, and impressing them into thermoplastic foam. The paint is acrylic mixed with textile medium.

block prints

I’ve also been experimenting with stencils/masks and silk painting. Just playing and learning. I wish I could spend a bit longer on this but I’ve already extended my deadline once! By next weekend I need to have spent 10 hours designing and printing a short length of fabric for an assignment. It’s a little paradoxical – I’m doing the course to motivate myself, and I know if I weren’t doing it I probably wouldn’t have spent any time this weekend working with fabric and paint. Yet I’m getting frustrated because the time pressure is stopping me from really exploring the techniques.

This was Markal paintsticks brushed over the edges of a heart shaped mask.

masked shapes with Markal

For this sample I sponged colour over hole reinforcement stickers stuck to the fabric, left it to dry, then peeled them off – I’m not sure if I like this effect but I do like the resulting coloured stickers!

sponging over stickers

seeing shapes

OCA Textiles 1 is (obviously) a textile course, but a significant proportion of the exercises involve design work on paper – I’m still not sure what I think about this or whether I’ll continue to work that way – it’s a big change for me since my previous method was basically to get out the materials and see what happened. It feels good, though, to be challenged so fundamentally. I did enjoy this exercise very much – to isolate interesting parts of an image using a frame and represent them, focusing on the shapes.

framed shapes

framed shapes