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.

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.


Take it Further challenge

I have been mulling over Sharon B’s Take it Further challenge for January – this is from her blog:

The key concept for January is a feeling we have all had, the feeling of admiration for another. Ask yourself who do you look up to and admire? Why? What is it you admire about them?… Take the idea, develop it into a resolved design during that month and apply it to fiber or paper.

There’s also a colour challenge but I’m going to focus on the concept each month as it’s in this area of visualising the abstract that I know I really need to be challenged.

I struggled for a while with this concept, finding that there seemed to be no-one I could admire without reservation – I was relieved to read a very clear articulation of something of the same feeling from Liz at Dreaming Spirals; and stunned by the imaginative way she’s resolving it. I think a combination of stifling perfectionism and a deep-seated desire not to be misunderstood were combining to paralyse me and I wondered about pulling out of the challenge…

But reflecting on what is common to the people I admire – often people whose names I don’t know or couldn’t share (sometimes quite hidden, usually quite humble), I realised that it’s often precisely because they are such a mixture of opposing qualities that I admire them. I’m drawn to the way they’ve confronted their particular darkness by allowing something bright and fierce and tender and courageous to grow in their lives. I began to think about radiance and colour breaking through strong bonds or tangled chains. I’m remembering an image from LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, a ‘clot of black shadow, quick and hideous’. And seeing tendrils, tiny shoots, frail in themselves, but becoming tenacious and powerful as they grow.

This is all a bit scary – I discover I don’t really like to expose my thought processes before I know where they are going or if I can make anything of them. It feels too vulnerable.

As to technique, I’m using the challenge to make myself work more consistently in a sketchbook so at this point I think my entries will be pages from a visual journal. It will allow me to explore the ideas in more than one medium and it fits in well with my other commitments.

web discoveries

Two exciting finds on the web yesterday. One is a new group – a social networking site for textile artists – Fiber Arts/Mixed Media, which I found via the Flickr group Contemporary Textile Art. Having so far resisted Facebook, etc, I just couldn’t resist this one! It was started by Susan Sorrell of Creative Chick Studios and is already growing by leaps and bounds.

The other is Dear Ada, discovered thanks to Kim Carney of Something to Say. Dear Ada is a blog full of delight. The author, birdie, posts links to artists/makers in many different disciplines, each with a photo or two of their work – and the site is a visual feast. But what makes it stand out for me is the way she writes about the work, whether simply expressing her pleasure in it, or analysing more deeply the impact it has on her. Inspirational food for thought – I’m really enjoying this.