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.


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.


*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.


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.


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.


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


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?


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


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.


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.


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.

Shibori workshop with Ana Lisa Hedstrom

One of the pre-symposium workshops I did last November at 10iss was a folding workshop with Ana Lisa Hedstrom. I signed up mainly because she was covering katano shibori, but I came away with many more ideas and inspiration.

Ana Lisa hedstrom

Katano shibori, named after Motohiko Katano, is a process of stitching through several layers of fabric and not pulling the thread up afterwards. Instead, the lines of stitching channel the dye, producing softer marks that look as if they are airbrushed. There is a more detailed explanation of the technique in Shibori: The Inventive Art of Japanese Shaped Resist Dyeing by Yoshiko Wada, along with some stunning examples. The World Shibori Network sells some sets of Katano postcards. Ana Lisa brought some lovely samples with her.

katano shibori katano shibori

I had a go at katano shibori a few months ago but it didn’t go very well and I wasn’t very happy with the result. Partly this was because I tried to pull all the threads up. I also found it very difficult to stitch through so many layers of fabric.

Here’s the piece I tried by myself, on cotton dyed with indigo:

katano shibori

And here’s the piece I did in the workshop, on silk noil dyed with cochineal and then overdyed with indigo:

katano shibori

All the dyes used in the workshop were natural – we ground our own cochineal, and the indigo vat was made using limestone and local fruit, so smelled lovely!

dyeing with cochineal

One of the other techniques we explored was machine stitch shibori. This was a bit challenging because we had only one sewing machine among 16 participants, but with patience and a rota we all managed a go. As with katano shibori, you stitch through several layers of fabric at the same time.

Ana Lisa had brought plenty of samples that inspired us, especially where more than one colour was used.

machine stitch shibori machine stitch shibori machine stitch shibori machine stitch shibori

This was my first attempt, dyed with cochineal. The stitch lines are not very obvious in real life, and are barely visible in the photo.

machine stitch shibori

This was a better attempt on a wool and silk scarf, dyed with cochineal and then indigo. Red cabbage anyone? 🙂

machine stitch shibori

We also used the sewing machine to stitch pleats in different directions before dyeing – this is the result of mine after dyeing in indigo and unpicking.

machine stitch shibori

Just as an experiment I tried stitching through similar folds by hand. The result on some fine habotai silk was very subtle – with more folds or a thicker fabric the marks might have been more obvious.

stitch shibori

And this was one of the main points of the workshop – know your fabric! Ana Lisa was very keen to emphasise the importance of learning how different fabrics behave and knowing which one to use for which technique.

We also did some traditional itajime, or clamping, shibori, but this was limited compared with the specialist itajime shibori workshop with Elsa Chartin going on next door. ESP, who also attended the symposium (having never done any shibori or dyeing before!) gamely attended this and produced some very impressive samples using vat dyes. He even dyed a T-shirt (which he hasn’t worn yet!). 😉

sekka shibori

Ana Lisa Hedstrom is a great teacher. If you can’t get to any of her workshops, she also sells DVDs on itajime, stitch and arashi shibori.

Felting workshop with Violette Amendola

I came across Swiss felter Violette Amendola’s work in the book FeltPassion. I just sat staring at her Metamorphosis piece (the one on the left) for about 10 minutes, trying to work out how it was done.


So when I saw that she was running a Vrou Wolle workshop in Belgium I enrolled immediately!

Turned out I was not alone – there were 13 other enthusiastic felters in the studio when I turned up the first day. Violette had brought her friend Dorothea with her as an assistant, who was just as charming and helpful, so nobody lacked attention.

Violette (left) and Dorothea (right)

The studio is a lovely space, with lots of wonderful felt pieces on display along with bags of every type of fleece you can think of, silk, fabric and other materials.

Delicious lunches, largely vegetarian, were cooked by Hilde, and there were plenty of drinks, biscuits and fruit to keep us going when energies flagged.

Violette explained that all the pieces we were going to make were inspired by pauwlonia seed pods she found in Paris. Because creating complete pieces is very time consuming and requires a lot of patience, the workshop was more about learning the technique rather than having a finished work to take home.

We started with a husk. Violette had made samples in different types of wool, but we used Valais Blacknose wool.

Image: Marleen Prion
Image: Marleen Piron
Image: Marleen Prion
Image: Marleen Piron


After we mastered the basic technique Violette showed us to use it in a slightly different way, to make “icicles”, necklaces and garlands.

Image: Marleen Piron
Image: Marleen Piron
Images: Marleen Prion
Images: Marleen Piron

Then we moved on to the technique she used to make the Metamorphosis piece. We started with the less complex version used to make these gorgeous bracelets and the elaborate neckpiece that Violette is wearing.

Image: Marleen Piron


Finally we learnt how the Metamorphosis piece itself was constructed, though given the time constraints there was no way we were going to make one of these in the remaining day!


But here’s a pic of the small practice sample that I made.


I loved this workshop. Yes, the techniques are time consuming, but so is a lot of what I do. The facilities were great, and the challenges of running a workshop in Dutch, French, German and English presented surprisingly few problems!

And although many of the participants seemed impressed that I had travelled all the way from London, the connections by train were very easy.

I also had the opportunity to use a new wool for me – Valais Blacknose. Look out for a future post about this!

Japanese bookbinding workshop

I’ve always loved the simple elegance of Japanese bookbinding, so when I saw a workshop advertised by Lois offering the chance to make a simple Japanese bound notebook with a printed fabric cover I jumped at it.

We started by printing the fabric with Jonna Saarinen, a Finnish textile designer whose zingy colour palette was perfect for the hot summer evening. Jonna had brought along a collection of printing blocks, but encouraged us to make our own using thin foam glued to blocks of MDF.

bookbinding blocks

First we experimented and practised on paper and scrap fabric.

bookbinding practice1

There were some very imaginative designs, including watermelons, Warhol-esque tomatoes and a landscape of mountains and stars! I decided to stick to a simple spiral block, printed in two colours.

bookbinding tomatoes

bookbinding practice2bookbinding fabric

Lois owner Helen Ward had probably the worst job of the evening – drying the printed fabric with a hairdryer on such a hot evening. That’s what you call a trouper! 🙂

Printing complete, we moved on to making up the books with Magda of Check Out My Print! After cutting the fabric to size, we glued it to one side of some card, and patterned paper on the other.

bookbinding cover

Then we punched holes in a pile of paper, lined them up with the covers, and stitched them together. Thankfully, this was less complicated than it looked. 🙂

Result: six beautiful notebooks and six very happy novice bookbinders!

bookbinding book outside bookbinding book inside bookbinding books

Many thanks to Helen, Jonna and Magda for a very productive and enjoyable evening!

2014 review

It’s been a productive year for me on the textile front. I feel I’ve learned a lot, about felting in particular, partly from attending workshops and partly from my own experimentation – especially with barnacles! 😉

Here are my highlights:

  • Felting workshops with Andrea Graham and Maria Friese – both fantastic felters and generous tutors. Last year I made the difficult decision to give up my one day a week at Morley College and use the money to attend workshops with specialists in felting and dyeing instead. I do miss the facilities and support at Morley, but I feel that my felting has come on in leaps and bounds, so I made the right decision. I’ve incorporated and adapted the techniques I learnt into the work I’ve done since, resulting in much stronger, firmer felt. This includes felting with batts and short-fibre merino, rather than roving.
  • Experiments with rust dyeing – these shibori scarves were made by binding rusty screws. The one on the left was soaked in vinegar and left for 24 hours; the one on the right was dyed with onion skins.
  • Experiments with eco-printing – while extensive, these were not terribly successful, though I did learn a lot. To get a leg up, I’ve signed up for a workshop with Irit Dulman in 2015, at Dorie van Dijk’s fabulous Atelier Fiberfusing in the Netherlands.


  • Sculptural/cellular felt – after some quite focused work on this at the beginning of the year, this got put on the back burner, though it resurfaced in a slightly different form in the neckpieces I made just before Christmas. Time for a revival, I think.
  • Shibori and smocked felt – this could theoretically be classed under sculptural felt, but I prefer to keep it separate as the techniques are so specific. It’s another area where I feel I’ve only scratched the surface (if you see what I mean) – hope to do more work on this in 2015.
  • Exhibitions and sales – I had my first “proper” exhibition with photographer Owen Llewellyn at Brixton Windmill. The space is very small and intimate, and it made me think about other ways to display my work, such as making a windmill mobile. I did more sales with Women of the Cloth, as well as taking part in Camberwell Open Studios for the first time with a group of five other artists. I was hugely encouraged by selling some of my more expensive felt pieces, such as the shibori pebble wall hanging and the neckpieces.

So what beckons in 2015? First off, I’m heading back to India next month for some sunshine, colour and more textiles. I’m hoping to meet up with Keya Vaswani, one of the film makers who made the Indian craft films I’ve posted about in the past, and maybe meet some of the artisans she filmed. I’ve also booked onto a workshop on mud resist block printing and indigo dyeing, which I’m really looking forward to.

There’s also a nuno felting workshop with Liz Clay in the pipeline, along with exhibitions at Brixton Windmill and with South London Women Artists. And that’s just up to the end of March – looks like another busy year! 🙂

And for the new year – a new blog theme. This one is fully responsive, so you should be able to read it equally easily on a desktop, tablet or smartphone.

Happy 2015 to you all!

Geometry in Iranian art

iranian geometry3

In my travels, I’ve often been awestruck by the dazzling geometry of Islamic art, seen in Mughal architecture in India, Turkish mosques, and the Alhambra Palace in Granada, to mention just a few examples.

So as a break from the production cycle of felt and indigo scarves for the upcoming slew of Christmas markets, on Saturday I attended a workshop on geometry in Iranian art at Kensington and Chelsea College.

The tutor was Amber Khokhar, whose beautiful ceramics I saw and admired a couple of years ago at her studio at Cockpit Arts in Deptford. Amber gave a short presentation showing some examples of geometry in nature that have inspired geometers throughout history.

But most of the time was spent working on our own geometric tessellated patterns, using ruler, compasses, set square and pencils.

The type of pencil is crucial – we used H or F pencils for marking the initial grids, and B pencils for drawing the final lines. Pencils must be sharp – Amber uses a nail file as well as traditional sharpeners to hone the point. And because accuracy is super important, she told us to keep the pencil upright rather than at an angle when drawing so that the line was as thin as possible.

Perhaps surprisingly, the only time we used the ruler for measuring was to set the radius for the compass – in this case 7cm. Otherwise, all the points of intersection were created using the compasses, and the ruler was used only as a straight edge to join up the points.

All designs start in a similar way. We drew a vertical line (connecting heaven and earth) and then drew a circle on the centre of the line. Then, by adding a series of arcs, we ended up with a square containing four “petals”. From this, by adding more diagonals and/or more squares, we developed several different patterns.

Two of these we developed to full tessellations, covering a sheet of A3 cartridge paper, by tracing the original pattern and using it as a kind of stencil.

The first design is known as “the breath of the compassionate”, a combination of four-point and eight-point stars.

iranian geometry1vandatiles

I’m not sure whether the other pattern had a name, but the main repeat pattern was based on an eight-point star (some of the lines are a bit faint as I haven’t yet gone over them with a B pencil). I haven’t been able to find an example of this pattern in real life, though I’m sure one exists.

iranian geometry2

It would have been interesting to colour in some of these patterns to help them come to life, but unfortunately the college had not left out the requested materials. (This was not the only poor piece of organisation – there was confusion over the starting time, resulting in half the class arriving at 10am and the others at 11am. It made things quite difficult for Amber, who essentially had to run two different classes for part of the time.)

Tracing out these repetitive patterns was strangely soothing, I found. However, this was only on an A3 sheet of paper – the patience and accuracy required to reproduce such patterns, say, in ceramic tiles over a much larger space is admirable, to say the least!

If you’re interested in reading more, this site gives some useful background as well as explaining the geometry behind common patterns.

Felting in France

Apologies for the long silence – I had a sudden rush of website work before I headed off to Acheres, just outside Paris, for a five-day felting workshop with Maria Friese and Ariane Mariane. Both these felters are German, living in France, and the students were mostly French, but also included one Swiss, one Belgian, one American (who had lived in Acheres for 20 years) and two Brits – Abigail Thomas of Felt meets Cloth and me.

The five days was split up into two sessions of two days and three days, and students could mix and match, working with one tutor for all the days or spending two days with one and three days with the other. I elected to stay with Maria for all five days, as her work has a really organic feel that appealed to me. As we got talking we discovered other mutual interests in origami and pitcher plants, so I think I made the right choice!

We spent the first two days making a sampler to practise techniques – attaching spikes, and using resists and prefelts to create surface designs.

Maria's sample
Maria’s sample

Maria suggested making a rectangular sample, but I opted for a circle, which was a bit challenging when it came to squeezing in as many elements as possible!

No - it's not a blue pizza, it's my sample!
No – it’s not a blue pizza, it’s my sample!

As usual, it was fascinating to see the different interpretations of the same techniques.

paris25 paris26 paris27 paris28 paris29 paris30

The other group working with Ariane Mariane made sample pieces of jewellery in the first two days, and then we all got together to admire each other’s work and compare results.

Image copyright Ariane Mariane
Image copyright Ariane Mariane
Image copyright Ariane Mariane
Image copyright Ariane Mariane

For the next three days we worked on a project incorporating those techniques. Those of us with Maria made a vessel; those who worked with Ariane could choose to make a hat or a bag. Maria and Ariane had brought in lots of samples to inspire us!

Vessel by Maria
Vessel by Maria
Vessel by Maria
Vessel by Maria
Vessel by Maria
Vessel by Maria
Hat by Ariane, modelled by Monique (image copyright Ariane Mariane)
Hat by Ariane, modelled by Monique (image copyright Ariane Mariane)

Again, we started by making samples to calculate shrinkage, before moving on to the main piece. I got a bit obsessed by the flaps, so decided to try making a Chinese-style vessel adorned with these.

Sample to calculate shrinkage
Sample to calculate shrinkage
Work in progress
Work in progress
Finished vessel (with Maria in the background)
Finished vessel (with Maria in the background)

I also had a little time at the end to make another sample using one of the other resist techniques.


Ours was a relatively sedate class – next door, we could hear the sound of bags and hats being thrown on the floor to help the shrinking process!

Finally, on the Friday evening, we held a small exhibition for friends, family and other visitors to come and see the fruits of our labours.

Student work
Student work
Student work
Student work
Student work
Student work
Student work
Student work
Maria's work - what we are aiming for!
Maria’s work – what we are aiming for!


All in all, it was a fabulous five days of learning a lot from thoughtful tutors and making new friends. Highly recommended.

ESP amused himself by going into Paris every day and visiting as many museums as possible(19 plus Versailles in total!). He did so much walking that I think he must have strained a ligament in his ankle – he’s currently walking with a limp. 😦

We then headed down to the Dordogne to visit Joan, one of my sister Women of the Cloth, and her husband Anthony, who have a house there. We talked about the possibility of us running some workshops there next year – very exciting!

As the weather finally cleared up, we went back north for a couple of days in the Loire valley. We stayed in the extraordinary Chateau de Chemery, with a loom and spinning wheels in our room, and visited the stunning gardens of Villandry and  Chaumont.

chaumont2 chaumont1

A felt planter at Chaumont!
A felt planter at Chaumont!




Sadly, we were one day late getting home due to a faulty brake caliper, a long wait for the AA and a stupendous thunderstorm. But that doesn’t spoil a trip full of inspiration and excitement – can’t wait to get felting again!