I said last week that I would post more information about the coiling project I’m working on for my City Lit basketry course. The original deadline to finish was today, but because the course is currently on hold, the deadline has been extended indefinitely. Just as well, because I haven’t finished yet! 🙂
I’ve been working on the project in fits and starts over the past eight weeks. There’s been a lot of sampling to get the effect I want, but I think I’ve finally nailed down the materials and techniques to use.
The theme of the project is animal markings. From the start, perhaps leading on from the pattern on the cane platter I made, I was attracted to the radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata) and Indian star tortoise (Geochelone elegans). Both are endangered species.
It’s not just the pattern – it’s the domed form of the individual parts of the shell (called scutes) that appeals. My plan was to make several individual units and then join them together to create the shell.
Looking at the shapes of the individual scutes, I could see that the central ones were hexagonal, while those at the edge had five or four sides.
I made the first samples with raffia, both with a wrapped core and an exposed core. I decided I really don’t like wrapping with raffia – it always seems to fray, and it feels quite plasticky. Shame, because raffia comes from Madagascar, like the radiated tortoise!
I liked the idea of an exposed core evoking the concentric ridges of a tortoise shell, but it was tricky getting a defined pattern this way.
I also toyed with the idea of creating a more openwork shell, to represent the fragility of such an endangered species. But this came out more domed than conical – more like a jellyfish – so although I loved the effect I decided to put that in the box labelled “Ideas to pursue later”.
Then I moved onto working with a solid core, using sash cord wrapped with knitting yarn. The pattern here was very distinct, and though this started as a sample I couldn’t help myself and carried on to make a complete bowl (as reported in Lockdown week 3).
The scale of this was too large for my tortoise (unless I swapped to a giant tortoise!), so I replaced the core with thinner string plus copper wire (to help shape the pieces) and started experimenting with different wrapping materials – soft string, fine hemp, linen thread.
In the end, I concluded that the finest pattern was obtained using linen thread (shown in the sample at the back in the photo above). The wire in the core enabled me to shape it into a hexagon.
Next was the problem of how to join the individual units. The first samples I made had no border, so the edges were a mixture of black and neutral stripes.
I tried joining them together with figure of eight stitch in neutral thread, but this looked messy against the black. Overstitching was less messy but somehow too intrusive.
So I made more samples with the outermost round entirely in neutral-coloured thread, and joined these with figure of eight stitch, which was much neater.
I then joined all the samples I had made together to test out how an overall border, enclosing them all, would work.
The joining on these samples isn’t very neat, for the reasons explained above. But I learned two things from joining them all together.
- The overall border will undulate because the angles where the individual scutes meet is not sharp. I don’t mind that – in fact, I think it adds more movement and fluidity.
- With three central hexagonal scutes (as in the page from my sketchbook above), the overall shape would be disproportionately long and thin. So the final piece will have only two central hexagons. This will mean making 10 individual units rather than 13.
Phew! Just have to make it now. And as I envisage this being the lid of a box, there’s still all the planning to make that work. More to come!