Several types of smocking

I’ve experimented with Canadian, or North American, smocking before, here and here. But last week I attended a couple of workshops with Eileen Wedderburn in the fashion department at Morley College.

All the other students were fairly experienced dressmakers and wanted to apply the smocking technique to clothes. By contrast, I was more interested in using smocking to create sculptural effects.

We started with traditional English smocking, where the fabric is marked with dots before gathering it into pleats using the dots as guides. The pleats are then held in place by embroidering on top before removing the gathering threads.

Some stitches allow more elasticity to the pleats than others. Here’s a sample showing several different stitches.

sample of traditional smocking

From top to bottom, the stitches are:

  • outline stitch
  • cable stitch
  • wave stitch
  • honeycomb stitch
  • vandyke stitch
  • surface honeycomb stitch (with some beading).

Some of these stitches look quite similar but are subtly different.

The two rows of honeycomb stitch didn’t work too well on the sample because the pleats were quite tight, and I think it’s seen to best effect when there are more rows.

So I tried an experiment with radial smocking, where I started with a piece of fabric shaped like a ring doughnut, with the smocking dots in concentric circles.

circular smocking

Because the distance between the pleats is greater closer to the edge, the honeycomb effect is more obvious. The elasticity of the stitch also allows the structure to be manipulated – I actually like the tubular structure on the reverse side!

circular smocking circular smocking

I also made a piece where the distance between the smocking circles was greater at the edge. This led to a flatter structure that was not so conical.

circular smocking

On the second workshop we did some North American smocking, where, rather than gathering, the stitch pattern (not necessarily in rows) is used to manipulate the fabric when it is pulled up.

The stitching is worked on a grid, so to save time by not having to mark out lots of grids, we used gingham fabric. 🙂

First we tried a lattice pattern.

Canadian lattice smocking

Again, I was very taken with the reverse side, which was like puffy diamonds and curled up nicely into a ball:

Canadian lattice smocking (reverse)

Then we stitched a flower pattern. This was interesting because, depending on where you started stitching, you ended up with black and white flowers (like me) or grey flowers, owing to the gingham pattern.

flower smock pattern

And the reverse pattern:

flower smock pattern (reverse)

I think this could be very effective stitched on thin prefelt and then felted.

Finally, I had a go at grid or Italian smocking. This differs in that, rather than creating a small stitch at every dot (or grid intersection), the stitches connect the dots (like running stitch).

The sample below was again stitched on a grid patterned fabric. I stitched two repeats vertically but only one horizontally, so the pattern is not very easy to see – it’s supposed to be chevrons. I should have started with a wider piece of fabric and stitched more horizontal repeats!

Italian smocking

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Basketry at Morley with Stella Harding

For the past few weeks I’ve been back at Morley College on Tuesday evenings, attending a creative basketry course with Stella Harding. The focus of this course, though I didn’t know it when I signed up, was random weaving, so I’ve been able to build on the classes I did with Polly Pollock earlier this year.

Stella brought along lots of inspiring samples.

We started by making open and closed forms in cane without using moulds, which was new to me. We also had a go at dyeing cane.

Now we’ve been let loose on experimenting for ourselves, with different materials and forms – here are some of the pieces I’ve made.

This is a more complex form in cane. Apparently this style is known as a hen basket – I can just imagine a chicken sitting in there. 🙂

This was a random weave piece I made using dead fronds from some kind of palm in my back garden. I have no idea where it came from and have always thought it rather unattractive – but it’s great for basketry material!

And this is a piece that combines felt and paper yarn, inspired by a physalis (cape gooseberry).

Some of these samples are helping me work up ideas for a couple of exhibitions coming up next year – watch this space!

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.

 

Spiral and Twistie with Pam de Groot

I realised at the weekend that I hadn’t written up the rest of the Pam de Groot online workshop on texture and dimensions.

For obvious reasons I’m not going to give details of how the Spiral and the Twistie were made. But I will say that I found both methods extremely innovative, and Pam is to be applauded for her ambition in trying to teach them through an online workshop.

Unlike face to face workshops, the tutor can’t advise during the making process that, for example, you need to lay out the fibre more finely. She can only judge from the finished piece, and Pam was very good at doing that.

Here’s my first Spiral, made using one colour. The curvaceous bottom led to it being named a Beyoncé spiral!

Then I had a go at a double ended version, with a colour change.

The final piece was the Twistie, and I had few problems with the structural support for this. I also probably laid out the fibre too thickly. Like the Spiral, it relies on a lot of shrinkage, so I might have another go at this on a smaller scale.

 

Texture and dimensions with Pam de Groot

Like buses, workshops seem to come along in groups. No sooner had I signed up to the course with Caroline Bartlett at Morley College than I heard that Australian felt artist Pam de Groot was running her first online workshop on textures and dimension.

I’ve long admired Pam’s sculptural felt, so I signed up immediately – and lucky I did, because it sold out within 24 hours.

The course runs over six weeks, with a new module every week containing written instructions, videos and downloadable PDFs. There’s also a discussion board where you can post photos of work in progress as well as finished pieces, ask questions and get feedback, and learn from other students too!

The first two modules featured the Splash,  representing the movement of water when something is dropped into it.

Image: Pam de Groot
Image: Pam de Groot

This was a great exercise in creating form through varying the thickness of the fibre, the direction of layout and the direction of rolling, and it was great to see the variety of colours and shapes that everyone produced. Here’s mine.

splash-final

As I finished this early in the second week, I decided to experiment with making a multi-layered Splash to resemble a flower.

I only had three felt balls left from the first one and didn’t want to make any more (I hate making felt balls!) so I used them to create three “stamens” in the centre of the flower.

multilayer-splash-1

Without the stamens it reminds me a bit of a protea flower. I’m already wondering if I can produce an artichoke, pine cone, chrysanthemum or thistle by varying the length and shape of the “petals” – very exciting!

multilayer-splash-2

Next up – the Spiral. 🙂

Pam’s next online workshop is in April – more information on her website.

Faux chenille and more tulle (or net!)

I’m sad that the five-week course on fabric manipulation with Caroline Bartlett at Morley College that I wrote about last time is over.

I  like the way Caroline teaches. She brings lots of inspiring examples, shows you the basic technique, then encourages you to play and experiment and find things out for yourself. She also discusses the work of other artists to show how the techniques have been adapted and expanded. Debby Brown, my first tutor at Morley, has a similar approach, which is one of the reasons I got started on this whole textiles lark. 😉

Faux chenille

In the fourth week we were introduced to faux chenille, where we stitched through several  layers of fabric, cut through some of the layers and then roughed it up a bit to encourage fraying. (There are lots of tutorials online if you google faux chenille.)

faux-chenille-1 faux-chenille-2

Caroline brought along some great samples to get us going. Sadly, my attempts were not half as successful, even after putting them through the washing machine.

faux-chenille-3

I probably need to explore this further using different fabrics and colour combinations. 🙂

Working with net

In the last week we were encouraged to work with a technique we’d particularly enjoyed, scaling it up or developing it further.

I’d originally planned to experiment more with modular origami balls, with the idea of making a “puzzle ball”, with different sized balls nested inside each other. However, when I’d tried this at home, the tulle* wasn’t really stiff enough.

puzzle-ball

*Tulle digression: What I’ve been referring to as tulle isn’t actually tulle. I was sniffily informed when I went to MacCulloch & Wallis that tulle is the soft netting used for bridal veils; the stiffer stuff is dress net. While I was there someone else was told the same thing, so it’s clearly a common misunderstanding. Now you know. 🙂

And thanks to Juliet, one of the other students on Caroline’s course, I found out that there are also different weights of dress net. Juliet brought in samples from Heathcoat Fabrics, which sells dress net in weights of 18, 27 and 50gsm. And 50gsm only comes in black, white and cream. This would have saved me trawling round the shops of Goldhawk Road looking for stiff net in different colours! /digression ends

While I was in MacCulloch & Wallis I bought some even stiffer netting with a larger mesh that is used in millinery. This might work for the outer balls with holes in them, but the solid inner ball loses the delicate translucency of the net.

puzzle-ball-3

So in the class I experimented instead with pieces of arashi shibori dress net, curving them over themselves and joining bits together to create shell and jellyfish-like forms.

jellyfish

As usual, it was fascinating to see the great variety of work from the other students. It included this wonderful faux chenille by Frances Kiernan.

faux-chenille-4

And this superb circular pleated piece from rust and indigo dyed fabrics by Ross Belton.

ross-collar

If all this has inspired you, Caroline is doing another course at Morley College next term focusing on shibori, print and heat setting, so do book if you are interested, as it’s filling up fast. Unfortunately I won’t be able to make this one.

Discount on basketry course at Morley

I won’t be able to make this one either, sadly, but Morley College is offering 20% discount on the Creative Basketry course with Stella Harding. It runs on Tuesday evenings, 6-9pm, starting on 28 February for six weeks.  See here for more info on Stella.

The full price is £155, reduced to £124 with the discount.

To take advantage of this offer, email Ruth.abban@morleycollege.ac.uk and copy in gemma.bergomi@morleycollege.ac.uk. They will notify Enrolment Services of your name and discount. You can then enrol by phone on 020 7450 1889 or in person but NOT online.

 

 

 

Safflower dyeing with Kazuki Yamakazi

Safflower is an interesting dye because it contains both red and yellow dyes so, depending on the fabric and pH, it produces different colours. Apparently it takes 400 square metres of safflower plants to produce 1kg of petals.

There’s a section on safflower dyeing in Jenny Dean’s book Wild Color, which explains the methodology. ESP and I tried this out last year, using a pack of dried safflower we bought in Malaysia, but it wasn’t very successful.

So ESP was dispatched to this workshop at 10iss to find out how it should be done!

Dr Yamazaki of Kusaki-Kobo Dye Studio is descended from three generations of natural dyers and researchers in Japan. He started teaching and creating artwork with natural dyes in 1985 and has since been active in research and education of natural dyes in Japan and abroad.

Here’s a sample of the master dyers’ range of colours, including safflower, on very fine Japanese silk – how gorgeous are they?

safflower-10

First the safflower petals are soaked overnight, squeezed, strained and removed. This dye turns alum-mordanted fabric yellow (better on silk than on cotton).

safflower-2safflower-3

The petals are washed to remove the yellow and soaked in an alkaline solution for two hours to extract the red dye. After straining and before adding the fabric, citric acid is added to neutralise the dye bath. Distinctive small bubbles form at this stage.

safflower-4 safflower-5

If too much acid is added the red dye will start to precipitate out – sometimes this is done deliberately to extract the dye to use in cosmetics.

Silk added to this dye turns orange, while cotton turns red or dark pink.

safflower-6

The difference in colour is because the red dye also contains a second yellow dye, which is absorbed by silk but not cotton. You can see in the photo below that the silk (top row) is more orange than the red cotton below.

safflower-7

To get pink silk, you need to use cotton as a “dye bank” to absorb just the red dye and then extract it. At around pH4 the dye is locked into the cotton. If you then put the cotton into a bath of pH6-7 the dye is released from the cotton. Squeeze out the cotton and remove it from the dye bath before adding more citric acid. Then add the silk – you get bright pink!

safflower-8 safflower-9

Japanese dyers might repeat the entire process six times to get intense colours into the dye bank.

The process doesn’t work well with wool, despite the fact that it is a protein fibre like silk. This is because wool needs to be heated to more than 30C to open the scales, but the pigment begins to break down at 30C, so you just get a pale pink.