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? 🙂


Zoroastrian trouser panels

Yes, yes, I know. First Japanese baskets, now…what? Zoroastrian trouser panels?

I visited the London Antique Rug and Textile Art Fair (LARTA) on Tuesday evening, and two stalls had some very striking cloth panels composed of embroidered strips sewn together.

zoroastrian trouser panel

When I asked about them I was told that they are Zoroastrian trouser panels. The Zoroastrians lived in Persia (modern Iran), and these trousers were worn by women, as these photos from the Victoria and Albert Museum show.

zoroastrian trousers
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
zoroastrian trousers
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Fine cotton fabric that can be gathered is used for the top of the trousers and for the “cuff” at the bottom of each leg, while a stronger, coarser cotton is used as a backing for the embroidered strips.

The strips may be silk or fine cotton and are embroidered with motifs from Zoroastrian myths, such as a three-legged donkey, a kar fish or cypress trees.

zoroastrian trouser panel

The seams between the strips are disguised by couching – placing a thread on top of the seam and stitching to hold it in place.

According to the V&A, strips of block-printed cotton were used on the inside of each leg, “partly because printing was cheaper than embroidery and that part of the trousers would not been seen. Also, the inner leg is subjected to much wear and tear and printed fabric would have been cheaper to replace.” Having darned my jeans recently, I can vouch for that!

So there you are. Zoroastrian trouser panels – they’re a thing. You heard it here first.

Next time back to something more mundane, like felting or dyeing. 😉

Grass poets: Japanese baskets 1845-1953

I’ve written previously about a bamboo Japanese ikebana basket given to us by ESP’s parents. So last week we went to a talk organised by the Japan Society entitled “Grass poets: Japanese baskets 1845-1953” by Joe Earle.

Bamboo is very important in Japan, as an element of simplicity. Before the 16th century, most bamboo baskets were imported from China and used for ikebana in the chanoyu tea ceremony during the summer months. When the Japanese started making their own baskets they were largely copies of Chinese styles and, unlike other crafts of the time, were unsigned. So we know little about the earliest Japanese basket makers.

Hayakawa Shokusai (1815-1897) was the first Japanese basket maker to sign his work, perhaps because he started to combine twining with more open weave techniques to create a more distinctive Japanese style rather than simply copying the Chinese. One of his most unusual works was a Western-style rattan bowler hat!

Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Basket making seems to run in families. Shokusai’s son also went on to become a basket maker. Tanabe Chikuunsai (1877-1937), who created an art-deco inspired Japanese style, had a son and grandson who also went on to become great basket makers.

Tanabe Chikuunsai I
Chikuunsai II
Chikuunsai II
Chikuunsai III

According to Joe Earle, probably the greatest basket maker of all was IIzuka Rokansa (1890-1958). Inspired by rustic found objects, he often used smoked bamboo from the ceiling of workers’ houses. He also named all his pieces.

“Fish” by Rokansai
“Prosperity and longevity” by Rokansai
“Spring rain” by Rokansai

Perhaps not surprisingly, Rokansai also had a son, Iizuka Shokansai (1919-2004), to carry on the tradition. Shokansai was recognised as a Living National Treasure of Japan in 1982.

Bamboo basket by Shokansai
“Mount Fuji” by Shokansai
Woven box by Shokansai

New scrap bags on sale

I am so slow on the uptake sometimes. About 18 months ago at a textile fair, one visitor mentioned that she would be interested in buying any offcuts or fabric samples I didn’t want, as she could use them in her work.

However, it wasn’t until I got another similar request just before Christmas that I thought there may be a new product line in this. Then when I was having a bit of a clear out between Christmas and new year I came across a load of old experiments, samples and pieces that hadn’t worked out quite as I hoped – enough to fill a whole box.

box of indigo and ecoprinted samples

I thought I should do a bit more market research, so I took a small bag of pieces along to our felting group to get some feedback on how big the pieces should be, how many in a bag and how much to charge.

What I wasn’t expecting was the enthusiasm with which they pounced on the fabric – within 10 minutes most of the indigo samples had been snapped up! This made me think that there was indeed a market for these pieces. 😉

So I ordered some bags and stickers and spent a couple of evenings ironing, trimming, sorting and folding.

indigo scraps ecoprint scraps

And now I have two sorts of scrap bags for sale on Etsy: indigo shibori and ecoprinted/natural dyes. The fabrics are a mixture of type and weight. Some pieces are upcycled, with bits of lace trim or other embellishments.

scrap bags indigo scrapbags ecoprint

They are perfect for small craft projects, patchwork, scrapbooks, creative collages and much more (some of the lighter fabrics may need stiffening support or interfacing).

The minimum size of each piece is 15x15cm (6×6 inches), but most are a bit larger than this. Because they are hand dyed, each piece is unique – when it’s gone, it’s gone!


Upcoming textile workshops

I’m very excited to be running a one-day felting workshop for beginners at Know How You Sewing School in Beckenham, Kent, on Sunday 18 February.

Know How You is located in the Georgian Beckenham Place Mansion, surrounded by the gorgeous Beckenham Place Park.

In my Introduction to felting workshop you will start by making a flat piece of felt to learn the basic technique. You can decorate it with yarn, silk and other embellishments.

felt vessels

In the afternoon you will make a 3D object by felting around a resist. This could be a small bowl or a phone case. Again, you can decorate this in various ways.

All materials will be provided, but please bring an old towel and a waterproof bag to take your work home in (it will still be damp).

The workshop is on Sunday 18 February, 10am-4pm and costs £55. You can bring your own lunch or there is a cafe in the building. You can book here.

Other tutors

If you already know how to felt, or you’re interested in other textile techniques, here are some other workshops coming up, in the UK, elsewhere, and online. They are all run by tutors I know and would recommend (I don’t get any commission or other perks from this!).

  • Mary Spyrou: Feltmaking, Embellishment and Stitch at Morley College in London
  • Liz Clay: Couture-inspired nuno felt at West Dean College in Sussex (you can read here about a previous workshop I did with Liz at West Dean)
  • Caroline Bartlett: Caroline is running various workshops at both Morley College and West Dean (and the Netherlands!) – full details on her website. You can read here about a previous workshop I did with Caroline at Morley College.
  • Maria Friese: Maria sculpts wonderful organic forms and textures from felt and is running various workshops in Europe (Netherlands, Austria, France and Germany) – full details on her website. You can read here about a previous workshop I did with Maria in France.
  • Dagmar Binder: Runs workshops in Berlin – full details on her website. Click here to read about a workshop I did with Dagmar in London.
  • Lisa Klakulak: Lisa takes a very scientific approach to felt for maximum control and is running workshops around the US and South America – details on her website. Here’s an account of a workshop I did with Lisa in the Netherlands.
  • If you can’t travel, the Felting and Fiber Studio offers various online classes, from wet felting for beginners to hats, bags and combining felt with mixed media.
  • Pam de Groot: Based in Australia, Pam offers both face-to-face and online workshops – details on her website. You can read here about an online workshop I did with Pam last year.