Plastic and heat

When talking to my tutor at Morley College about my experiments with knitted plarn, she suggested putting the finished sample in the heat press. Unfortunately, the heat press at the college wasn’t working at the time. So I tried ironing another knitted piece between sheets of baking parchment at home (picture below).

Knitted plastic sample after ironing
Knitted plastic sample after ironing

I didn’t really know what to expect – I suppose I thought that the plastic would melt so that all the colours would run into each other in a kind of marbling effect. What actually happened (though the photo doesn’t show this very well) is that the sample simply became flatter, highlighting the texture of the stitches more, and also became stiffer, losing its elasticity and stretchiness – which for me was part of its appeal. Possible function: Coaster or place mat, as long as the plates aren’t too hot!

On our course, we’d moved on to learning about embroidery, both hand and machine. As a scuba diver, I was inspired by the colours and patterns of many tropical fish I’d seen, and I wondered how to create background with the texture of fish scales for embroidery stitches. The solution? Back to plastic – bubble wrap!

Again between sheets of baking parchment, I ironed layers of plastic bags and bubble wrap. The results were interesting. The bubble wrap collapsed and fused to the plastic bags, creating a honeycomb effect. Thinner, cheaper plastic often blistered, leaving clear holes and adding to the texture, while thicker, classier bags created a smoother, glossier effect. Putting the iron on the hottest setting and moving it more slowly could also cause thinner plastic to shrink, leading to a crinkled 3D effect.

Pink and blue plastic experiment
Thin plastic shrinks and crinkles under high heat

However, I soon encountered  problems when trying to embroider on top of this material. Because the bubble wrap was so thin and brittle, piercing it with a needle often left large holes. When it was fused with thicker plastic, it was robust enough, but with thinner plastic it was too delicate.

The answer was to add a layer of Vilene to the other side of the bubble wrap. This three-layer fused sandwich of Vilene, bubble wrap and plastic is sturdy but flexible enough to cut and embroider on. And by lining it with felt, I’ve produced several small items like spectacle cases, purses and iPhone/iPod covers. You can see some examples below – there are more on Flickr.

Spectacle cases
Spectacle (eyeglass) cases
Wallets
Wallets
phone and card cases
Smartphone and card cases

Plastic flowers

At the moment I’m going through a plastics phase.

My interest in plastic was piqued when my tutor at Morley College asked us to bring in old newspapers (for working with paste grain papers) and plastic bags (for turning into yarn to knit with). I’d just discovered knitting with paper string to make a page for my sample album (see previous post), so I thought I’d experiment with knitting plastic myself.

So I cut up a couple of Wallis bags into strips and knitted them up in garter stitch and stocking stitch (4.5mm needles and 20 stitches in a row). The result, below, was a stretchy rectangle in black, white and grey, with lots of knots on one side where I had joined the strips of plastic together.

Knitted plastic sample
Knitted sample from Wallis plastic bags - the knots are all on the other side!

I rather liked the texture and stretchiness of the sample, but wasn’t sure what I could do with it. There are lots of online articles about knitting plastic shopping bags, but I think the stretchiness of the material could be a disadvantage here –  the finished bag could distort and stretch out of shape very quickly if you carry anything heavy. Plus all the knots are a bit unsightly.

I solved the knotty problem by discovering a new way of making plarn, by cutting the bag in loops instead. I also experimented with knitting – and crocheting – with different types of plastic, turning them into flowers. For the record, Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s bags are quite difficult to work with – they don’t slide across steel or plastic needles very well (I’ve read that bamboo needles are better for this). The easiest bags for knitting are the cheap, thin ones – pedal bin liners and the cheap bags from market stalls.

Knitted flower
Flower (unfinished) knitted from Marks & Spencer bags (centre) and cheap market bags (petals)
Crocheted flower
Chrysanthemum crocheted from Sainsbury's bags

Then I thought of a way to use the stretchiness of knitted plastic to advantage – as an iPhone cover. When it’s empty, the cover is smaller than the phone, but it stretches to ensure a snug fit. In the cover in the photo below, I combined plarn made from lilac pedal bin liners with novelty ‘eyelash’ yarn (10 stitches per row, 100 rows in stocking stitch).

Handknitted iPhone cover
The plarn iPhone cover stretches to ensure a snug fit

Textile tyro

There are some splendid blogs about textiles already out there, from which I’ve already derived inspiration. So does anyone need another one?

Well, this is as much for me as for anyone else, to track my trials and tribulations through the world of textiles. I’m a relative novice: although I learnt to knit when I was young, and did quite a lot of knitting in my teens and early 20s, I haven’t picked up a ball of wool and needles for around 15 years. I even did a course in spinning and dyeing about 25 years ago, and had cupboards stuffed with fleece, hand carders and drop spindles – again, this all got thrown out as I moved about in a rather peripatetic existence.

But last September I signed up for an evening course in creative and experimental textiles at Morley College, and became inspired again by colour and texture. And once more the house is starting to fill up with bags of bits and pieces ‘that might come in useful’, from paper and card for making sample albums to plastic bags for turning into plarn (plastic yarn to knit/crochet with).

Last term we experimented with making paste grain paper, which we turned into the covers of sample albums. The ‘pages’ inside mine are made of old envelopes, brown paper, fabric, and even knitted paper string. It was a good introduction to thinking about  unusual materials and texture in presenting your work.

Outside cover of sample album
Cover of my sample album - paste grain paper with appliqué paste grain roses
Sample album cover
Front cover of sample album
Inside pages of sample album
Used window envelopes give tantalising glimpses of other samples
Machine embroidery sample
Machine embroidery can be effective against a printed background
Inside pages of sample album
Album pages include paper from a Chinese character exercise book