developing designs

I’ve been in a hiatus for months as far as my OCA Textiles course is concerned – stuck at the beginning of a module I really want to spend time on and enjoy – applied and manipulated fabrics. The exercise starts by asking you to select half a dozen previous drawings and develop them before interpreting them in fabric, and that’s the part I baulk at. I don’t know why I find it so daunting. Anyway, over the last couple of days, I’ve done it – six sets of design developments to inspire the fabric manipulation. I used the computer, and that helped, as did some suggestions my tutor had made about design methods in her feedback on the last assignment. I took ‘drawings’ to include photos and fabric printing as well as paint and pen.

sketchbook mosaic

1 2 3 4 5 6

The numbers link to the images on Flickr.

felt under fabric

When I was working on this quilted hanging, one of my aims was to use felt as the wadding in a way that made its colour a central element of the design. I’m still thinking about that, so today I’ve been stitching some studies for my sketchbook pages for the April TIF challenge (changing a piece of fleece in as many ways as I can). I collected a pile of sheer fabrics of varying opacity and made a small sample of each, layered with some of the pink felt I’d already made.

transparent samples

The best silk I’ve found for this is silk organza (top right) – it’s what I used on the front of my hanging; though I think you can get silk net and I’d love to try that. The manmade fabrics at the bottom – nets, voile and organza – are the sheerest of the samples but I really prefer natural fibres (although I confess I went and bought the finer net and the organza specially for this at Reticule today!). It’s partly because I like the feel of natural fibres so much more, but also because so many manmade fibres are petrochemical based. I think if I were to use them extensively I’d look for them in secondhand clothes and recycle.

In the middle are the cottons – an organdie on the right, and on the left my favourite – cotton scrim. I just love the combination of the open weave and the distortion from the stitching and the way the felt shows through and is furrowed by the pull of the stitches.

felt and scrim

I’m going to try a kind of nuno version on a partially felted base, and also with dyed scrim and different colours of felt.

And I just wanted to share these, because they’re so lovely…

tulip tulips

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.


TIF Challenge January 3

I spent some time this weekend sampling and exploring my ideas – I was planning to stop with the visual journal and not make a textile piece but one is emerging anyway. Here I’ve tried out some ways of representing the darkness. (The idea I’m starting from is admiration of people who’ve “confronted their particular darkness by allowing something bright and fierce and tender and courageous to grow in their lives”.)

samples of darkness

samples of darkness

I found that hemp yarn, though difficult to knit with, leaves behind lovely curls and tendrils when you unravel the knitting.


I decided to weave a base fabric of colour and brightness, and I think I’ll use an overlay of painted scrim or plastic netting for the element of darkness. Painted with acrylic or ink it keeps a shape and can be shades of black and grey – I want it to net itself over the coloured fabric like some dark, strangling thing – it should have an ugliness yet the overall effect be one of beauty. I’d like to use the plastic netting because it has intrinsic destructive qualities in the environment, the way it literally overwhelms living creatures. But I think the scale of it is too big. I have smaller nets but they’re more stiff and difficult to distort and I want the darkness to gather in some parts and be stretched thin in others. I should play around with that a bit more, but time is short….

This is the beginnings of my fabric. The warp is wire, and I plan to use the ends to form tendrils of colour growing out from the centre, through the netted darkness, an affirmation.

beginning to weave