Plaited basketry at City Lit

Last week we finished the first module of the two-year basketry course at City Lit. The subject was plaiting, and the tutor was Polly Pollock. I missed the first week because I was on holiday in Uzbekistan, so as soon as I got back it was straight into a marathon strip-cutting session!

We started off with watercolour paper, as it is strong but flexible. However, we were encouraged to experiment with other materials and also to add overlays (extra elements threaded through after weaving the main basked) to add colour and texture.

The three main techniques we covered were bias plaiting, straight plaiting and skewed forms. We combined these with different borders – zigzag, flat and sandwich and sew.

Here are some of my practice samples made with bias plaiting using khadi paper, an old map, newspaper cordage and vinyl wallpaper.

bias plaited bowl bias plaited bowl bias plaited bowl bias plaited bowl

Here’s a straight plaited vessel made with watercolour paper.

straight plait vessel

And here’s a skewed vessel, also made with watercolour paper.

skewed vessel

For our final module assignment we had to make a series of three related pieces using some or all of these techniques, inspired by the modern architecture of Rotterdam.

I have to admit that this was a bit of a challenge for me, as my inspiration usually comes from natural rather than human-made forms. But even I got drawn in by the weird and wacky architecture of this Dutch city.

Here are the results, all made with watercolour paper, damp proof membrane and flattened corrugated cardboard.

plaited basket plaited basket plaited basket

I have to admit that the third piece, of a vessel within a vessel, was actually inspired by another building in London, and its spiky “haircut” was just a piece of whimsy on my part (though I could argue it’s supposed to be a roof garden 😉 ). It’s also not really tall enough, but I ran out of paper and time as it had to be finished for evaluation last week.

I really enjoyed this first module. It was quite intense – and hard work cutting all the strips! – and moved me out of my comfort zone.

This week we move on to willow, which I suspect will also be challenging!


Subtle at Japan House

I’ve been meaning to visit Japan House since it opened earlier this year but have only just got round to it, just in time to catch the Takeo paper show Subtle. And it was definitely worth it.

The installation on the ground floor by the exhibition curator Hara Kenya sets the tone. Shishiodoshi (so wonderfully omnomatopoeic!) was inspired by the traditional Japanese bird scarer, where water transfers from one bamboo tube to another, causing the empty tube to hit a rock, making a noise. Here, a glass tube hits a metal plate, releasing water that breaks into droplets as it hits a series of paper protrusions – rather like a pachinko game.

Downstairs, several creations by Japanese artists embody the painstaking national and individual commitment to craftsmanship.

Misawa Haruka’s paper flowers look like pencil shavings – and indeed are made in the same way. Printing paper with a colour gradation, gluing it and wrapping it to form a pencil-like form, and then sharpening it like a pencil, produces these exquisite flowers made of multi-layered paper.

Paper flower by Misawa Haruka Paper flower by Misawa Haruka

“Spring” by Ishigami Junya is an extraordinary piece made by cutting out the shapes of leaf shoots on 10,000 strips of paper and then gluing them together to create what looks like a sheet of tiny paper cress.

Spring by Ishigami Junya

“Control” by Nakamura Ryuji explores what happens if the looseness and flexibility of paper is tightly controlled – does it appear to be another material? Gluing together a series of paper rings at certain points produces something that feels more like delicate chain mail rather than a floppy newspaper.

Control by Nakamura Ryuji

The materiality of paper is also explored in several small collections. Creating a fold in a piece of paper is irreversible, changing the paper forever, but it also creates an interior, “wrapping the object and offering it as a gift”.

Translucent paper allows you to see through to the other side, engendering a feeling of doubt, encircling objects like a layer of fog.

There are also some fantastic commercial paper lace doilies (as we used to call them), and some laser-cut designs by Hara Kenya inspired by microscopic plankton.

There are also some wonderful paper samples in the shop, as well as lots of other gorgeous items, so leave time for that!

Subtle runs at Japan House, London, until 24 December 2018.


Marbling on paper and silk

About four years ago I did an evening workshop on marbling paper. It was fun but the results were not fantastic. So I thought I’d give it another go on a three-day workshop at City Lit with Royston Haward.

marbled paper

We started by learning about the history of marbling and saw examples of different patterns.

Then we started to get our hands dirty with suminagashi, a marbling technique used in Japan. This uses sumi calligraphy ink or other permanent inks, just floating on water, no size. These are some of the small samples I did.

suminagashi samples

We also tried it on rice paper.

suminagashi on rice paper

And I’d read that it works on silk too, so I took some unmordanted fine habotai silk in to try – it worked beautifully.

suminagashi on silk suminagashi on silk suminagashi on silk

Then we moved on to Western marbling. Unlike suminagashi, this mixes carrageen moss (a kind of seaweed) with the water to thicken it and support the colour. Patterns are created with toothpicks, combs or spatulas – sometimes a combination.

We tried with acrylics and gouache – most people seemed to get better results with gouache. The colour of the paper also affected the final result. Below are some combed patterns.

Below left is another combed pattern; on the right is a freeform pattern.

Below left is an antique straight pattern; right is a freeform pattern.

Below left is Spanish Moire pattern, made by rocking the paper as you place it on the size – close up it looks like folds of fabric. On the right is Italian pattern (nearly! – I should have added more wetting agent).

Below left is ghost marbling – one pattern marbled on top of another. On the right is a combed pattern.

I did have a go at marbling silk with gouache, but this came out very faint. It may have been better if I’d mordanted the silk first. (Paper for marbling requires mordanting with alum, unlike suminagashi.)

We also learnt how to make our own brushes and combs, as well as about polishing the paper afterwards, so it was a busy three days!

I have since washed the suminagashi silk and the pattern remains very clear. Could be another new product line? 😉

More on random weaving basketry

Sadly, the short course on random weaving basketry with Polly Pollock that I started four weeks ago at City Lit has come to an end. I loved every minute and think I’ve found a new obsession.

After the first basket made with cane, we moved on to working with paper yarn. Here are some samples made by Polly to inspire us.

First we dyed some of the yarn using Rit liquid dyes, which were new to me but are pretty simple to use – just add to water and vinegar, put in the yarn and leave until you’re happy with the colour, rinse and dry.

As before, we made a mould with rice, clingfilm and sticky tape, and created a base layer with some thicker paper yarn. Then we used the thinner dyed yarn to weave into the base layer, using soumak stitch – essentially looping it round a base strand – going in random directions.

You can build this up in the same or different colours. Here’s my piece in progress.

And here’s the finished piece. I didn’t leave the yarn in the Rit dye long enough to get a really dark blue, so I dyed some in indigo. 🙂

indigo paper vessel

I also started on a more ambitious piece but didn’t manage to finish it. Here’s a sneak preview of the beginning – watch this space for a progress report!

At the end of the class we had a display of all the work created over the four weeks – there were some really lovely pieces in paper, cane and wire, as well as some wrapped glass.


Making cards

At the beginning of January I launched a range of new scrap bags to try to clear out some of my stash of indigo shibori and ecoprinted fabrics. I’m pleased to report that they have been very popular – I’ve already had to restock the indigo bags.

However, some scraps were too small to include in the bags (I wanted the minimum size to be 15 x 15cm (6 x 6 inches)). So I thought I would use them to make some cards. I ordered some card blanks with windows and stuck in some of the smaller pieces of fabric.

fabric cards

The card below was made from a cotton/silk upcycled top that I dyed with indigo but didn’t like the result. Most of the garment I tore up to put in the scrap bags but I thought this stitched detail from the neck area worked well in a card.

fabric card stitched detail

However, there was a problem with the iron on some of the ecoprinted fabrics leaching out through the wet glue. You can see this in the top left-hand corner of this card:

ecoprint card

And also below the bottom left-hand corner of the panel on this card:

ecoprint card

The glue I used was slightly diluted PVA, and I pressed the cards between baking parchment while they were drying to avoid them crinkling up.

Does anyone have any thoughts on how to avoid this problem, eg by using a different glue?

Otherwise I might have to stick to just making indigo cards.

indigo card


Shreds of life

Between Christmas and new year I had a bit of a clear out, which involved emptying various files and shredding lots of documents. I had assumed that the shredded paper could go in the recycling bin, but then I discovered that our local council doesn’t accept shredded paper for recycling.

I certainly didn’t want to throw this all away in the normal rubbish, so I started researching what else to do with it. Apparently it can be used as a mulch (though I’m not really sure I want my garden covered in bits of shredded paper) or composted (better!).

Another suggestion was to soak it and then squash it into balls or bricks that could be burnt after drying out. I did try this, but they took a long time to dry and it seemed like a lot of effort for not much return.

So in the end I thought I would use the shreds like papier-mâché to make some bowls. I inflated a balloon, brushed it with PVA glue, and started sticking the paper shreds on. You can’t see the balloon in the photo below, but this is the work in progress.

After four layers I popped the balloon – and voilà: a papier-mâché vessel!

This one was made out of old T-mobile bills (the pink is a giveaway!). I’m not sure whether to trim the rim – I quite like the random organic edge.

I then made a couple of others: the one in the photo below with red and green shreds is made from nPower gas bills, while the one with green shreds is Egg credit card bills.

I think I could create a whole installation of these and call it “Shreds of Life”. What do you think? 🙂

Shoe decoupage workshop

To be honest, I’ve always viewed decoupage as slightly old fashioned, conjuring up images of carefully cut out pretty-pretty flower images stuck onto boxes and trays. But like so many craft areas (including felting!) decoupage has moved on, and a workshop on shoe decoupage I did with Gabriela Szulman a couple of days ago really opened my eyes to the possibilities.

shoe decoupage workshop

For a start, there was the subject matter. Decoupage shoes? What a fabulous idea!

[Warning: shoe digression! If you do not have a footwear fetish you may want to skip this bit. 🙂

When I had a “proper job” in an office I was a bit of a shoe fanatic, and the bottom of my wardrobe is stuffed with dozens of shoe boxes, each with a photo of its contents so I could find them easily. 🙂 Now I work from home I rarely wear any of them, so looking for a pair to decoupage revealed footwear I’d long forgotten about!

Despite the quantity, however, my choice was fairly limited, as leather or plastic are best for decoupage, and most of my shoes are suede or fabric. So in the end I took a pair of slip-on trainers.]

shoe decoupage before

The other surprise was that we didn’t have to cut round specific shapes and carefully place them – in fact, Gabriela rather discouraged this. Instead we tore bits of tissue paper or paper napkins and glued them down so they overlapped to produce an interesting all-over pattern. This is the paper napkin I used.

paper napkin for shoe decoupage

The four of us on the workshop all brought different types of shoes, so it was really interesting to see the different results.

Kate of Made by Mrs M fame transformed a pair of ballet flats.

shoe decoupage

Carol of Carol’s Creative Workshops coated a pair of boots with exotic flora and fauna.

boot decoupage

Damilola beautifully converted some Converse trainers.

shoe decoupage

And this is how my old trainers turned out.

shoe decoupage

The result was four very happy upcycled shoe owners hoping for dry weather so they can wear their new creations! 🙂

Gabriela’s next shoe decoupage workshop is on 22 August, with further dates in September and October – see her website for details of how to book.



Marbling paper workshop

A lovely new gift shop, Turpentine, has just opened up in Brixton, and also runs workshops. They advertised one for yesterday on marbled paper, and as I am an enormous fan of the gorgeous Falkiner papers, I couldn’t resist the chance to have a go myself.

marbling workshop

The space is quite small, but they managed to get 12 people, plus a demo table and drying racks in there. I thought they were very brave to have people doing quite a messy activity just a couple of feet from the shelves holding their wares! Hence no photos of the process, as there was very little room to put anything down, let alone take photos. 🙂 But this was their first workshop, and they said afterwards that they realised they had been a bit ambitious with the numbers!

We each had a large plastic tray filled with the size, made with carrageen, or Irish moss. Because it is quite thick, it helps prevent the paint sinking to the bottom.

On top of the size we dropped blobs of acrylic paint mixed with water and washing up liquid, and then “combed” the surface with an implement improvised from cardboard and toothpicks, or swirled it with a paintbrush.

The paper had been treated with alum on one side to help the paint stick to the paper (like a mordant on fabric, I guess). We placed this side on top of the paint, pulled it off, washed off excess size, then hung it to dry. After making a huge mess, we left owners Jude, Amber and Alice to clear up and iron our dried paper before picking it up today! 🙂

Although the colours looked quite dark on the size, quite a lot got lost when we washed the paper, and it’s even lighter when it’s dry. Between each piece we tried to scrape remaining paint off the size with a piece of cardboard before applying more paint. But inevitably some gets left, and after three or four pieces it’s tricky to judge exactly how much paint is on the surface. It’s a bit of an art to get the right ratio of paint to water, too.

But the results were endlessly fascinating – and addictive, as we each tried to squeeze in just one more piece before the end of the workshop!

marbled paper 1 marbled paper 2 marbled paper 3 marbled paper 4

I was wondering whether this would work on fabric, given that it’s floppier, but discovered there are lots of sites giving advice on marbling fabric – there are some links here.

Something else to be added to my ever-expanding list of things to try! 🙂