Scaling up snail shells

My first major project of 2016 is to produce a pillow for an upcoming exhibition (more details on this in a later post).

After all the ecoprinting I did before Christmas I was looking forward to getting back to felting. I decided that my pillowcase would take the form of a snail, based on some experiments I did last year making felt shells. This led to three major challenges.

shell maquette

First up was shrinkage. The maximum size of the pillow had to be 60cm across. So I did what I very rarely do and made a sample piece to test shrinkage. :-) I wanted to use batts of Finnish wool, which is fairly hard wearing, so I laid out two layers of white and two layers of grey in a 32cm square. On top of the grey I added some strands of bamboo fibre in different colours.

After felting, the piece measured 24cm square, so the shrinkage rate was 25% (which is less than the 30% I normally get with merino).  I also decided that I preferred the white side with the grey migrating through, so when I laid out the pillow case the grey would be on the inside rather than the outside.

Grey side of felt sample with bamboo decoration
Grey side of felt sample with bamboo decoration
White side of felt sample, which I decided would be the outside of the finished pillow
White side of felt sample, which I decided would be the outside of the finished pillow

The next challenge was to scale up the resist to allow for shrinkage of the final pillow. I won’t bore you with all the mathematics, but I calculated that the length of the resist needed to be 1.2 metres. Here’s a picture showing the relative sizes of the resists.


And here’s the work in progress – the largest piece I’ve wet felted in a while!

work in progress

The final challenge was working out how to stuff the pillow. I wanted to leave the hole at the end of the spiral, so the stuffing needed to be contained or it would just fall out.

In the end I cut two circles of cotton and tacked them together to form a case, leaving a slit for the stuffing. I turned it inside out, pushed it inside the felt, and stuffed it with wadding. It took a bit of trial and error to get the right size of the inner case – I had to remove the wadding and pull out the cotton case to restitch it twice before it fitted OK.  Then I stitched up the gap through the hole in the felt, and moved the pillow round so the stitching didn’t show.

Here’s the finished pillow next to some of the maquettes I made, so you can see the relative sizes.

relative sizes

Because the pillow is for an exhibition, I asked a photographer friend, Owen Llewellyn of Cygnus Imaging, to take some decent shots for the catalogue (much better than my point-and-shoot efforts). In return I will be building him a website!

snail1 72dpi
Image by Owen Llewellyn, Cygnus Imaging
snail2 72dpi
Image by Owen Llewellyn, Cygnus Imaging



snail3 72dpi
Image by Owen Llewellyn, Cygnus Imaging

I’m off now for a few weeks, visiting Vietnam and spending Chinese New Year with my family in Malaysia. So wishing you all an early gong xi fa cai! :-)


Review of 2015

Those good folk at WordPress, where this blog is hosted, thoughtfully send an annual summary with details of how many views I’ve had, where visitors come from, top posts and so on.

I’m happy to say that the number of views and visitors continues to increase every year, with the largest proportion coming from the US.

However, this year, for the first time, my top five posts were all from previous years:

Does this mean I’ve peaked? Looks like my greatest hits are all in the past – or, as WordPress kindly puts it, “Your writing has staying power!”

So it looks as if I’m going to have to do my own 2015 review. ;-)

The year started on a high with a mud resist printing and indigo dyeing workshop in Jaipur, India. It was fascinating to see a full scale indigo vat and experience natural dyeing with pomegranate and myrobolam for the first time.

first dip2

Natural dyeing and indigo also featured in the ecoprinting workshop with Irit Dulman in May, after months of fairly unsuccessful experimenting by myself!

The dye station
The dye station

Other workshops were fascinating and varied, from couture felt with Liz Clay and basketry with Mary Crabb to shoe decoupagefish rubbing and book binding!

I also took part in my first exhibitions as a member of South London Women Artists. In January, for What is Urban?, I submitted a set of paving stones printed with leaves.

Kim Winter 4-1000px

Then in April I made a large (for me) felted fungi piece for the exhibition Death and Transition – this was considerably lighter than the paving stones!

Felted fungi
Felted fungi

My other felt work experimented with combining hard and soft, incorporating stones and shells.

hard soft 4

And with my ecoprinting I took the same upcycling approach I use for my indigo shibori, buying scarves and garments from charity shops and auctions and overprinting / dyeing.

ecoprinted garments

Sometimes I even managed to combine felting and ecoprinting!

My favourite exhibitions of the year were Barbara Hepworth at Tate Britain, Alexander Calder at Tate Modern, bark cloth at the British Museum, and of course The Fabric of India at the V&A, which is on until 10 January, so you can still catch it.

Which brings us back to India, where we started.

I wish you all a happy and creative 2016!

Alexander Calder at Tate Modern

calder poster

Alexander Calder is probably best known for his mobiles, so there’s no obvious connection with textiles. But a couple of years ago, when I made a mobile of felt windmills for an exhibition at Brixton Windmill, I studied quite a few of his mobiles. So I was inevitably drawn to Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture at Tate Modern.

Calder was an innovator from the off. Although his mother was a painter and his father was a sculptor, he initially trained as an engineer before attending evening classes in drawing. The exhibition opens with displays of his wonderful wire sculptures, which use a linear substance to describe volume. In his circus figures a gentle arc evokes a pectoral muscle, while squiggles, spirals and coils become genitals, pubic hair and breasts.

The Brass Family Copyright The Calder Foundation, New York/ DACS, London
The Brass Family
Copyright The Calder Foundation, New York/ DACS, London

The rangy tension of a leopard becomes a series of tight coils, while an elephant sits more solidly on four hollow wire legs.

Even at this stage, Calder was fascinated by the idea of movement in sculpture – Goldfish Bowl, the first piece in the exhibition, included a small wire crank that, when turned, caused the fish to wriggle from side to side.

calder goldfish bowl

Unfortunately, for conservation reasons, none of the motorised sculptures in the exhibition move, so it’s worth investing in the audio guide, which contains footage of some of the pieces in action.

Calder also captured portraits in wire of several artists friends, including Léger and Miró. But it was a visit to the studio of abstract artist Piet Mondrian in 1930 that he described as “the shock that converted me…like the baby being slapped to make its lungs start working”.

After Mondrian disagreed with his suggestion to make the geometric elements move about, Calder started experimenting with his own abstract sculpture, suspending spheres and other shapes on wires to allow free movement.

Other artists of this period, including the Cubists and Futurists, were attempting to convey the feeling of movement in their work. Calder drew on his engineering background to make it a reality, installing small motors to “control the thing like the choreography in a ballet”, as in Black Frame, below.

He even went on to make real stage sets for Martha Graham and Erik Satie, but felt frustrated about the lack of total control and that his efforts were relegated to the status of props.

In 1938 he took part in the New York World’s Fair, creating three maquettes for “ballet objects”, consisting of revolving elements creating a choreographed movement.

In the 1950s, Calder made a connection between his work and how the universe worked: “The idea of detached bodies floating in space, of different sizes and densities…some at rest, while others move in peculiar manners, seems to me the ideal source of form.” Ironically, much of his work in this room consists of elements held in fixed positions by steel wires.

One of the exceptions is A Universe, in which red and white balls originally moved along wires – apparently Albert Einstein stood watching it for 40 minutes when it was first exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

calder a universe

By contrast, room 9 brings together a stunning collection of Calder’s mobiles. After he moved to an old farm in Roxbury, Connecticut, the forms became more organic and less geometric in form. Calder saw the shadows cast by the mobiles as part of the work, and the way they have been hung and lit in this room is particularly striking.

Vertical Foliage, 1941
Vertical Foliage, 1941
Gamma, 1947
Gamma, 1947
Snow Flurry, 1948
Snow Flurry, 1948

The following room features mobiles incorporating small gongs, which rely on the random movement to produce sounds. As visitors are not permitted to touch or blow on the mobiles, you have to hope that the air conditioning will move them in the right way to make music. :-)

The exhibition finishes with spectacular 3.5m Black Widow sculpture, loaned abroad for the first time by the Institute of Architects of Brazil in São Paulo.

calder black widow

Alexander Calder: Performing Sculpture runs at Tate Modern until 3 April 2016.


Crafty Fox Night Market at the Geffrye Museum

It’s been a busy Christmas selling period so far. My two weeks with Women of the Cloth at Sprout Arts went really well, with my new line of upcycled ecoprinted clothes and accessories proving very popular!

ecoprinted garments ecoprinted garments

They were so popular that I had to make some more halfway through – and as I write this post the steamer is bubbling away once more as I try to restock for the Crafty Fox Night Market at the Geffrye Museum this Thursday.

Crafty Fox is well known for running very popular, well-organised craft markets, so I’m looking forward to my first time as a stallholder, along with 70 other designer-makers. I also love the Geffrye Museum, which explores how the home and fashions in interior decoration have developed over the years. There’s a candlelit concert on the same evening as the market, so the atmosphere should be suitably festive!

As well as my ecoprinted items I’ll also have lots of indigo shibori scarves, but not much felt, due to limited space.

This will be my last market before Christmas, but some of my indigo scarves will be available at Diverse Gifts until 4 January, and there’s always my Etsy shop (this will be closed on Thursday while I’m at Crafty Fox).

The Crafty Fox Night Market is at the Geffrye Museum, 136 Kingsland Road, London E2 8EA on Thursday 17 December, 4-9pm.