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…

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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