Home-cooked shibori

Next term at Morley College we’re going to be looking at shibori dyeing, a technique that uses tying, pleating, stitching and wrapping cloth before dipping it in indigo it to produce pattern and texture – I’m really looking forward to this.

But this term I’ve been using a similar technique, without the dye, on nuno-felted net scarves to produce pleats (it also softens the net). After tying the scarf around a piece of plastic drainpipe, I put it in a tea urn for about an hour to steam. You can see the result left.

However, the term is now finished and I want to make some scarves to sell at Spitalfields. So I had to find a way of doing ‘cooked shibori’ at home without a tea urn.

Improvised shibori steamer

My first thought was to use a large stockpot, but the tallest one I could find was only about a foot high. Because the idea is to steam the scarf, not immerse it in the boiling water, you have to leave the part of the drainpipe that stands in the water uncovered by fabric, so this would have severely limited the width of the fabric you could use to about 9 inches (maybe slightly more once it’s bunched up).

Then I spotted an empty 20-litre tin of cooking oil that had been thrown out by a restaurant. This was much taller – around 15 inches – and seemed perfect. So I got Ever Supportive Partner (ESP) to carry it home and remove the top with some tinner snips. I then tested it by adding hot water to a depth of about three inches, draped a towel over it and added the lid from my largest frying pan and voilà – a home-made shibori steamer!

Scarves wrapped around drainpipes ready to steam

I bagged a leftover piece of drainpipe from another friend, wrapped and tied a scarf around it and put in the steamer to ‘cook’ for an hour. Interestingly, when it came out, the pleats were less defined than the scarf I steamed at college.

I speculated that there could be a couple of reasons for this. One was that at college I used paper string, which is quite thin and flat. At home I used a thicker, rounder string, so the creases would probably be less sharp. The other reason could be that the drainpipe at college had about twice the diameter of the one I used at home. This means that there were more layers of scarf for the string to resist on the home-cooked scarf, so the creases in the bottom layers may not be as sharp.

I couldn’t lay my hands on any wider drainpipe, so I re-steamed the scarf using the thinner paper string – and indeed the creases came out a bit sharper. You can see the different results below (sorry for the poor quality of the pictures).

Scarf pleated with thicker, rounder string
Scarf pleated with thinner, flat paper string


The exciting – and rather scary – news is that I and Tess, a fellow student on the creative and experimental textiles course at Morley College are going to try selling of our stuff at a stall at Spitalfields Market. We’re going for a Friday, as it’s cheaper than a Sunday, so we won’t waste too much money if nobody buys anything.

This has thrown me into a panic about having enough stuff to sell. Tess makes beautiful felt hats and bags and has been planning to do a stall for a while, so she’s built up a bit of stock. We agree that our styles are different, so it doesn’t matter if we both make the same kinds of items, as long as our prices are comparable. But I thought I’d try to make some scarves, to add a bit of variety.

The problem with making felt scarves at home rather than at college is that they require a lot of space, especially as you have to make them longer to allow for shrinkage. Working on my dining room table (the largest area available) means lots of folding over bubble wrap, pulling corners here, rolling edges there – all while trying to avoid pools of soapy water dripping onto the floor.

The other issue is seasonality – with the weather getting warmer, people won’t want to buy thick heavy scarves. So I made a couple of lighter ones in network felt (below), the blue one with silk threads running across some of the holes. I’m not sure it was that successful – it probably needs more silk to avoid simply looking messy.

I also really liked the pleated nuno net scarf I made using the ‘cooked shibori’ technique of tying it up and steaming it. So I made a couple of larger shawls at home and tied them up and steamed them in the tea urn at college.

The next challenge is whether I can do this ‘cooked shibori’ technique at home, as term has now finished. I don’t have access to a tea urn, so will have to improvise somehow.

Alternatively, we can just sell bags and hats.

Bags with and without shoulder straps

Thanks to the kind advice from the wonderful Nicola of Clasheen, I have managed to make a bag with a felted in shoulder strap. It’s not perfect – the strap joins the bag slightly lower on one side than on the other – but I have proved I can do it! Many thanks to Nicola for her help.

As you can see from the photo, I’ve also been experimenting with felting in some wool slubs I ordered from World of Wool. The slubs vary in size, but the longer/larger ones seem to felt more easily – the smaller round ones I added to the bag above just refused to stick, no matter how much I rubbed.

I’ve also made a couple of bags without shoulder straps.  On the purple/red one below, I had more luck with the slubs, using them in combination with silk waste fibres.

I also cut up one of the bargain silk scarves I found at Spitalfields market and used scraps to decorate another bag (below). I put some wisps of merino across just in case they didn’t stick, but they felted in really well, except for the bits of hem at the ends, so I just trimmed those off afterwards.

The fabric strips were in straight lines when I laid them on the wool, but I noticed as I was rubbing in a circular motion that they started moving to the left or right (depending on whether I was rubbing clockwise or anti-clockwise). I quite liked the effect, so I left it – it looks like seaweed swaying underwater.

A trio of starfish

One of my latest themes is starfish – I’ve been experimenting with the shape in various forms, as you can see from the picture above. They could be used as pincushions, or just as decorative objects in their own right. More details on each below.

I made this felt one by wrapping merino wool around a bubble wrap resist. When it was felted and started to shrink, I cut a small hole in the back to remove the resist and put my finger in each of the legs in turn to rub and full completely. In the centre are a few grey silk threads, though they don’t show up very well against the orange.

When it was dry, I hand embroidered the pattern, stuffed it and patched up the hole with a small piece of felt.


This was made in the same way as the other one, except that I added some leftover scraps of embroidery thread along the legs at the felting stage. After removing the resist and fulling, I created the little spikes in the centre by threading a large-eye needle with a wisp of merino, pushing it in from the outside and bringing it back out about a quarter of an inch away. Then I trimmed both ends to about half an inch and rolled them together between wet and soapy thumb and finger until they felted.

I really like the concept of felt spikes/protrusions – I think I shall be experimenting a bit more with these.


This came out of an experiment from using the heat press in class. I cut out a starfish shape from white polyester fleece and dyed it yellow in the heat press, using dye transfer paper. Then I put some grains of pearl barley on top and dyed it again with red transfer paper. The fleece seemed to melt slightly against the bits of barley, making them stick, but when I was sewing it together a few of them came loose, so I had to add a couple of stitches on top of each grain to make sure they didn’t fall off.

Contemporary Textiles Fair in Teddington

On Saturday I went to the Contemporary Textiles Fair in Teddington. It was held in the Landmark Centre, a converted church, which is  a lovely airy space for showing wares at their best.

With nearly 80 exhibitors, there was lots to inspire. Here are some of my favourites.

Cécile Jeffrey
Cécile makes beautiful fluid knitwear. I have one of her short wool cardigans, which I wear a lot, and I splashed out on a lighter long jacket for summer. Cécile is more than happy to tailor-make a piece to your specific measurements – she’s making me a version with shorter arms, shorter waist and shorter length (did I say I was short?). It will be ready in a couple of weeks.

Ray Reynolds
Ray (short for Rachel) makes lovely landscapes from felt, machine and hand embroidery and machine embellishment. The colours and textures are gorgeous, inspired by the Hampshire coast. (And she admired my felt bag – which I didn’t make! )

Mandy Nash
More felt – I particularly liked her 3D pots with slits exposing different coloured layers. She combines natural shades of Norwegian and Shetland wool with vibrant merino. Mandy actually trained as a jeweller but she likes making felt items that complement her jewellery.

Taran Taraan
Bonita Ahuja studied woven textiles at Chelsea College of Art and makes beautiful pieces with different materials embedded. Some of her work reminded me of Japanese boro (fabric that’s been patched and sewn together) – and she did say she gets a lot of inspiration from Japan. A friend I went with bought one of her scarves – I’m sure she’ll get a lot of wear from it!