I started thinking about other ways I could use the coiling and joining technique I used for my tortoise, and it occurred to me that the tortoise shell was essentially half an irregular stellated polyhedron.
A polyhedron is a 3D shape with flat faces, eg a pyramid. In a stellated polyhedron, the faces, rather than being flat, are extended to form new polyhedra – like a pointy star.
So I thought I would try to make a dodecahedron (12 faces – each face is a regular pentagon). The individual elements making up the tortoise shell were a mixture of hexagons and pentagons, so I already knew how to do this shape.
But instead of making a stellated dodecahedron, where the faces point outwards, I thought I would try a concave or excavated dodecahdron, where the faces dip inwards.
Whether it’s stellated or excavated, the individual units are made in exactly the same way – it’s just that the inside is the “right” side for an excavated dodecahedron, while the outside is the right side for a stellated dodecahedron.
I used the same yarn and pattern as for the tortoise shell, as I had quite a lot of yarn! But I had a brief moment of panic when I discovered that the retailer who supplied the copper wire I used for the core was no longer stocking it! However, I round an online supplier, so all was well.
The first sample units I made were quite deep, with steeply sloping sides. But when I joined two together, I concluded that they were probably too deep. To create a dodecahedron, the units have to fold back against each other , and if they are too deep they may not be able to do this.
So I made the units shallower.
Then I joined five units together around a central unit.
Then I joined the sides to create half a dodecahedron.
Now I just need to make the other half and join them together!
Do you remember making a Möbius strip at school? You take a strip of paper, half twist it once, and then glue the ends together.
The resulting loop has only one side and one edge – if you trace a route around the surface or the edge, you will end up back at your starting point.
I started thinking about how to create a Möbius strip by coiling. And I’m afraid I didn’t take any process shots, as I got carried away by the making!
I started by creating a coiled loop, using string and wire as the core and linen yarn for weaving. After joining the loop, I started coiling the next round above the first loop. But I then moved the coiling down across the loop so that I was coiling the next round below the first loop. This produced the equivalent of the half twist.
After that, I just continued coiling as normal. By turning the loop over or upside down, I could continue to coil in the normal orientation. The original single loop became the central loop, and each complete round of coiling produced a loop on either side of the central loop.
I then got more ambitious and decided to try a larger loop with three twists. I used the same core but used knitting yarn for the coiling.
This started out as a bangle, but as I added more rounds the hole became smaller. So to make a bangle I need to start with a larger initial loop or coil fewer rounds. Lesson learned!
After a break to recover from making the tortoise shell, I started thinking about the base (or “tortoise bottom” as ESP referred to it – oh how we laughed 🙄).
The first issue was how high should it be? My original idea was to have the sides of the base quite low, to represent the idea of the tortoise being close to the ground.
But when I made some cardboard moulds of different heights to see how it looked, I felt that the lid rather swamped the lower bases, so I decided to make a higher base of around 5cm.
I also wanted to make a tortoise design on the bottom of the base, which would be revealed only when the lid was removed. I found a fair few coiled turtle designs in African and Native American baskets, though most of these were round and mine had to be oval.
In the end I created a striped pattern to match the lid.
I kept testing the base with the lid as it grew, to check how the proportions were working.
I wanted the sides to be plain black so as not to distract from the lid, but there seemed to be an awful lot of black as the base grew higher. So in the end I added a small border of yellow triangles to match the border on the lid.
And here is the finished piece.
I will always think of this as my Covid piece, as it occupied most of my time during lockdown! And it struck me that it was rather appropriate in so many ways, evoking a tortoise’s ability to withdraw into itself, seeking shelter and protection.
I wondered if I should call this post Semi-lockdown week 9, as the traffic in my part of London seems to have reverted to normal levels, and the fine weather has brought many more people out on the streets. But my situation remains the same, so I shall stick to lockdown for now.
After all the sampling for my coiled tortoise piece I’ve done in previous weeks, this week I’ve focused on actually making it. Having established that linen thread was my material of choice, I ordered some in colours closer to the radiated tortoise and set to, making 10 individual scutes.
Then I joined them all together.
That’s as far as I’ve got this week. Next I have to make the overall border and then start thinking about the base.
I realise that I forgot last week to post the link to the online Prism exhibition In Search of (Im)Possibilities. The exhibition has been divided into three themes – environment, materials, and place – and each day a post is published featuring four or five artists relevant to the theme. Here is a link to all the posts so far. My work is featured in Chapter 2, Day 1 – Materials. Click on an image to see the artist’s statement.
I said last week that I would post more information about the coiling project I’m working on for my City Lit basketry course. The original deadline to finish was today, but because the course is currently on hold, the deadline has been extended indefinitely. Just as well, because I haven’t finished yet! 🙂
I’ve been working on the project in fits and starts over the past eight weeks. There’s been a lot of sampling to get the effect I want, but I think I’ve finally nailed down the materials and techniques to use.
The theme of the project is animal markings. From the start, perhaps leading on from the pattern on the cane platter I made, I was attracted to the radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata) and Indian star tortoise (Geochelone elegans). Both are endangered species.
It’s not just the pattern – it’s the domed form of the individual parts of the shell (called scutes) that appeals. My plan was to make several individual units and then join them together to create the shell.
Looking at the shapes of the individual scutes, I could see that the central ones were hexagonal, while those at the edge had five or four sides.
I made the first samples with raffia, both with a wrapped core and an exposed core. I decided I really don’t like wrapping with raffia – it always seems to fray, and it feels quite plasticky. Shame, because raffia comes from Madagascar, like the radiated tortoise!
I liked the idea of an exposed core evoking the concentric ridges of a tortoise shell, but it was tricky getting a defined pattern this way.
I also toyed with the idea of creating a more openwork shell, to represent the fragility of such an endangered species. But this came out more domed than conical – more like a jellyfish – so although I loved the effect I decided to put that in the box labelled “Ideas to pursue later”.
Then I moved onto working with a solid core, using sash cord wrapped with knitting yarn. The pattern here was very distinct, and though this started as a sample I couldn’t help myself and carried on to make a complete bowl (as reported in Lockdown week 3).
The scale of this was too large for my tortoise (unless I swapped to a giant tortoise!), so I replaced the core with thinner string plus copper wire (to help shape the pieces) and started experimenting with different wrapping materials – soft string, fine hemp, linen thread.
In the end, I concluded that the finest pattern was obtained using linen thread (shown in the sample at the back in the photo above). The wire in the core enabled me to shape it into a hexagon.
Next was the problem of how to join the individual units. The first samples I made had no border, so the edges were a mixture of black and neutral stripes.
I tried joining them together with figure of eight stitch in neutral thread, but this looked messy against the black. Overstitching was less messy but somehow too intrusive.
So I made more samples with the outermost round entirely in neutral-coloured thread, and joined these with figure of eight stitch, which was much neater.
I then joined all the samples I had made together to test out how an overall border, enclosing them all, would work.
The joining on these samples isn’t very neat, for the reasons explained above. But I learned two things from joining them all together.
The overall border will undulate because the angles where the individual scutes meet is not sharp. I don’t mind that – in fact, I think it adds more movement and fluidity.
With three central hexagonal scutes (as in the page from my sketchbook above), the overall shape would be disproportionately long and thin. So the final piece will have only two central hexagons. This will mean making 10 individual units rather than 13.
Phew! Just have to make it now. And as I envisage this being the lid of a box, there’s still all the planning to make that work. More to come!
I’ve been spending more time in the garden this week, where the sunny weather is definitely encouraging more growth, which in turn requires more weeding (as well as pulling out dead daffodil leaves to dry for cordage!).
Perhaps fortuitously, then, an email arrived from basketmaker Hanna van Aelst with a link to her video on how to make a Catalan tray from foraged materials.
It’s not that easy to get out and forage at the moment, but I did have a pile of prunings, mostly forsythia but also some bay, hebe, fuschia and an unknown plant invading from next door. So I used these instead.
Inevitably, it wasn’t as easy as Hanna makes it look! Forsythia branches, I have discovered, are mostly hollow, so they break quite easily. And my hoop wasn’t very level. The fuschia leaves have now died, so I will cut them off. But it was fun.
I also combined some of the dandelion cordage I made last week with the rhubarb cordage I made the week before into a tiny bowl – I love the colour combination here. And a week on, with everything dry, the colours remain vibrant.
The rest of my creative time has been spent making yet more samples for my City Lit coiling project, which is going on indefinitely as we have still heard nothing about when or if the course will resume.
I will write a more detailed post, probably next week, about the process I’ve been going through, just in case anyone is interested! But for now I will tell you that the theme is animal markings. Here are a couple of the samples – I wonder if you can guess the animal that inspired them? Answer next week!
This week’s garment from the V&A kimono exhibition is an early example of recycling. In the second half of the 19th century, as Japan opened up to the West, Japanese items became very fashionable, including kimono. For some, it represented luxury and non-conformity, free of restrictive corsets.
However, this is an example of a conventional dress cut and retailored from a kimono imported from Japan. It was made around 1876 by the London dressmakers Misses Turner. The satin silk features hand painting in ink, stencil imitation shibori, and embroidery in silk and gold-wrapped threads.
As the V&A puts it, “the dress thus had a familiar structure but an excitingly foreign appearance”.
Week 6 of lockdown and my creative mojo has gone walkabout. When I look back on the past five weeks I can see I’ve tried a lot of new ideas and materials. By comparison, this week has mostly been about collecting materials and honing familiar techniques.
The weather hasn’t helped. April in the UK has been the sunniest month on record, and the lockdown finally goaded me into getting my bike fixed (bike shops remain open). So I’ve been getting more of my daily exercise on two wheels, discovering the delight of relatively quiet roads in the city.
I’ve also been out gathering materials. The one new thing I did try this week was making cordage from dandelion stalks. Much to ESP’s horror, I failed to remove all the dandelion heads before hanging the stalks up to dry in the garden. So I may not have to go too far to gather dandelions next year! 🙂
Once the stalks were dry, I sprayed them with water to rehydrate before twisting into cordage.
I’m fascinated by the dried dandelion heads left over – they remind me of miniature jellyfish.
I’ve also been gathering dying daffodil leaves for more cordage and coiling. It made me reflect on how things have changed. Four years ago I was obsessed with collecting the dead flowers to dye with; now I’m more interested in the foliage!
I still do some dyeing, mostly with indigo, so I’ve been shibori stitching some recycled items ready to go into the next vat.
I’m currently working on a fiddly coiling project for my City Lit course, which involves lots of sampling. I’m not ready to talk about that yet, but for relaxation I made another coiled bowl from sash cord and wool. Unlike the coiling for City Lit, it’s something I’m able to do while watching TV (another activity I’m doing rather a lot of!).
Talking of shibori, this week’s kimono from the V&A exhibition is a modern garment made in 2019 by Yamaguchi Genbei, decorated with a dramatic depiction of Mount Fuji.
Made from machine-spun hemp, this summer kimono was part of the Majotae project, which aimed to produce hemp on a commercially viable scale for clothing, as it is particularly suited to the Japanese climate.