Christmas rush

Not much time for blogging recently, with markets every weekend, Christmas parties and events, and trying to prepare for the event itself. Needless to say, I’ve failed miserably on the last count!

Markets have been going well, with sales increasing every week. I’ve sold some scarves and pots, but unsurprisingly it’s the smaller, cheaper items that sell most. The spectacle cases, Oystercard holders and smartphone cases made from old pilots’ charts are particularly popular, and the ones made from recycled plastic bags, bubble wrap and embroidery also have their fans.

I nearly sold out of them last weekend, so have been frantically making new batches for the pop-up stalls at Brixton Village this weekend.

Finally started making Christmas cards last night with ESP. The idea was to do a monoprint in two colours, but it took longer than expected, so we’ve only managed the first colour so far. (The pattern may look familiar! ) Still a bit of time before the last posting date for Christmas…

Advertisements

Chelsea College MA Textile Design show

There seemed to be two dominant themes to the postgraduate textiles show at Chelsea this year: upcycling and working with textile workers in developing countries such as India and Thailand.

Here are a few of my favourites from the show. As usual, no photography was allowed, so images are from the students’ own websites or blogs or from the Chelsea College website.

Sahiba Rajar produced beautiful digital prints decorated with embroidery and applique, inspired by the Makli Tombs in Pakistan.

Kristel Erga recycles textile scraps into magnetic jigsaw pieces used as wall coverings – designs include felt fringes, and delicate butterflies and flowers.

Lisa Hawthorne takes remnants, vintage fabrics and locally sourced materials and transforms them using nuno felt, beading and other embellishments. Her work made me want to try experimenting with nuno felt on velvet.

Chia Shan Lee knits gorgeous garments with yarn made from newspaper, sometimes mixed with wool. I wonder what happens if you wear them in the rain?

Keely Butler’s wispy weed prints look like cyanotypes, but in fact she stains the fabric with blackberry, red cabbage, blueberry and cherry. Yum!

Finally, there is nothing new under the sun. Hanging on the outside of Chelsea College was a collection of coloured discs. As I got closer, it became apparent that they were crocheted out of plastic bags. Yes – they were (much) larger versions of the coasters  I crocheted earlier this year from plarn and then ironed. They were the work of Ji Na Sung, who had also extended the concept into making large boxes and plant holders.

Maybe I should sign up for an MA next year!

Plarn coiled bowl

I’ve written before about knitting and crocheting with plarn (plastic yarn). But you can also use plastic like any other yarn or fibre to make coiled baskets or bowls.  Cindy’s method of making plarn is best for this, as the joins are relatively smooth and you don’t get big knots sticking out (unless that’s the look you want).

The main problem with using plarn for coiling is that it’s quite fragile. It depends on how thick the plastic is, of course – the bags I used for the bowl in the photo above were very thin. If I pulled the plarn hard, it stretched; if I pulled even harder, it broke. But the wrapping needs to be quite firm, especially the wraps that join two coils together. So it takes a bit of practice.

I also found it easier if the strands of plarn are not too long. I joined two loops of plarn, started wrapping, and when I had nearly reached the end joined on another two loops. If it’s longer than this the plarn tends to get caught or tangled, and there was more risk of it being stretched or broken as I tried to untangle it.

The bowl I made is a bit ‘fluid’ in places (‘expressively organic’, I’d say!). But it was very satisfying to make, and I’m going to try some more.

Scaling up is hard to do

I’ve written previously about fusing plastic bags, bubble wrap, and Vilene to produce material that is flexible but robust enough to embroider. I’ve used it to make small items such as Oyster cardholders, spectacle cases (below), and smartphone covers.

Eyeglass case for spectacles
Spectacle case made from recycled plastic bags

Now that I’ve started making felt, which is quite a wet process, I thought I’d see if I could make an apron from this fused plastic. After all, it should be waterproof!

However, the size of the plastic fabric I can make is limited by the size of my domestic ironing board – 120cm x 40cm, or 80cm x 40cm if you exclude the bit that tapers. Now, I’m not huge, but for a butcher’s apron that gives reasonable protection I reckon I need a minimum size of 80cm x 50cm.

The other problem is that, when they fuse, the plastic bags and bubble wrap shrink. This happens very quickly when they are ironed. With small pieces the iron passes over the whole area almost simultaneously. On larger pieces, however, the part that is being ironed starts shrinking while the rest does not – which leads to unwanted creases and bulges.

Fused plastic fabric
Uneven shrinkage of the plastic and bubble wrap resulted in a bulging, curved surface

This is the result. I ended up with a bulging, curved material that’s not really suitable for a one-piece butcher’s apron.

I’m not quite sure what to do with it. Maybe I can cut it up into smaller pieces and use it as some kind of patchwork (or for making smaller items). I’ll leave it for now – perhaps inspiration will strike later!

Crocheted coasters

My experiments with ironing knitted swatches of plastic yarn (plarn) showed that they lost their elasticity. So I thought I could use this to advantage by ironing some crocheted coasters.

The photo below shows a crocheted circle before ironing. It’s a bit difficult to see, but the different types of plastic make the texture quite uneven, and the coaster doesn’t sit quite flat.

Crocheted coaster before ironing
Crocheted coaster before ironing

The photo below shows the coaster after ironing – interestingly, it doesn’t shrink very much.

Crocheted coaster after ironing
Crocheted coaster after ironing

And below is a collection of coasters in different colours. Again, the various plastics all behave slightly differently, leading to varying sizes and irregularities in texture, but I think this is part of their charm.

Four crocheted coasters
Different plastics result in variations in size and texture

Plastic and heat

When talking to my tutor at Morley College about my experiments with knitted plarn, she suggested putting the finished sample in the heat press. Unfortunately, the heat press at the college wasn’t working at the time. So I tried ironing another knitted piece between sheets of baking parchment at home (picture below).

Knitted plastic sample after ironing
Knitted plastic sample after ironing

I didn’t really know what to expect – I suppose I thought that the plastic would melt so that all the colours would run into each other in a kind of marbling effect. What actually happened (though the photo doesn’t show this very well) is that the sample simply became flatter, highlighting the texture of the stitches more, and also became stiffer, losing its elasticity and stretchiness – which for me was part of its appeal. Possible function: Coaster or place mat, as long as the plates aren’t too hot!

On our course, we’d moved on to learning about embroidery, both hand and machine. As a scuba diver, I was inspired by the colours and patterns of many tropical fish I’d seen, and I wondered how to create background with the texture of fish scales for embroidery stitches. The solution? Back to plastic – bubble wrap!

Again between sheets of baking parchment, I ironed layers of plastic bags and bubble wrap. The results were interesting. The bubble wrap collapsed and fused to the plastic bags, creating a honeycomb effect. Thinner, cheaper plastic often blistered, leaving clear holes and adding to the texture, while thicker, classier bags created a smoother, glossier effect. Putting the iron on the hottest setting and moving it more slowly could also cause thinner plastic to shrink, leading to a crinkled 3D effect.

Pink and blue plastic experiment
Thin plastic shrinks and crinkles under high heat

However, I soon encountered  problems when trying to embroider on top of this material. Because the bubble wrap was so thin and brittle, piercing it with a needle often left large holes. When it was fused with thicker plastic, it was robust enough, but with thinner plastic it was too delicate.

The answer was to add a layer of Vilene to the other side of the bubble wrap. This three-layer fused sandwich of Vilene, bubble wrap and plastic is sturdy but flexible enough to cut and embroider on. And by lining it with felt, I’ve produced several small items like spectacle cases, purses and iPhone/iPod covers. You can see some examples below – there are more on Flickr.

Spectacle cases
Spectacle (eyeglass) cases
Wallets
Wallets
phone and card cases
Smartphone and card cases

Plastic flowers

At the moment I’m going through a plastics phase.

My interest in plastic was piqued when my tutor at Morley College asked us to bring in old newspapers (for working with paste grain papers) and plastic bags (for turning into yarn to knit with). I’d just discovered knitting with paper string to make a page for my sample album (see previous post), so I thought I’d experiment with knitting plastic myself.

So I cut up a couple of Wallis bags into strips and knitted them up in garter stitch and stocking stitch (4.5mm needles and 20 stitches in a row). The result, below, was a stretchy rectangle in black, white and grey, with lots of knots on one side where I had joined the strips of plastic together.

Knitted plastic sample
Knitted sample from Wallis plastic bags - the knots are all on the other side!

I rather liked the texture and stretchiness of the sample, but wasn’t sure what I could do with it. There are lots of online articles about knitting plastic shopping bags, but I think the stretchiness of the material could be a disadvantage here –  the finished bag could distort and stretch out of shape very quickly if you carry anything heavy. Plus all the knots are a bit unsightly.

I solved the knotty problem by discovering a new way of making plarn, by cutting the bag in loops instead. I also experimented with knitting – and crocheting – with different types of plastic, turning them into flowers. For the record, Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s bags are quite difficult to work with – they don’t slide across steel or plastic needles very well (I’ve read that bamboo needles are better for this). The easiest bags for knitting are the cheap, thin ones – pedal bin liners and the cheap bags from market stalls.

Knitted flower
Flower (unfinished) knitted from Marks & Spencer bags (centre) and cheap market bags (petals)
Crocheted flower
Chrysanthemum crocheted from Sainsbury's bags

Then I thought of a way to use the stretchiness of knitted plastic to advantage – as an iPhone cover. When it’s empty, the cover is smaller than the phone, but it stretches to ensure a snug fit. In the cover in the photo below, I combined plarn made from lilac pedal bin liners with novelty ‘eyelash’ yarn (10 stitches per row, 100 rows in stocking stitch).

Handknitted iPhone cover
The plarn iPhone cover stretches to ensure a snug fit