May 2021 roundup

Apologies for the lateness of this post – as life starts reopening I suddenly seem to be very busy!

The big news this month is that I’ve managed to get to a real exhibition – the first one for months.

When I first started learning about the shibori technique, I read about a Japanese textile company called Nuno, which created innovative fabrics that often had shibori characteristics. So when Japan House in London announced the exhibition Making Nuno: Japanese Textile Innovation from Sudo Reiko, I booked up straight away.

japan house nuno 1

The exhibition is small but perfectly formed. A loom installation has the reels of thread set up to mimic one of the Nuno designs, and is beautifully lit to create striking shadows. Peering between the threads at the loom makes you feel as if you’ve just hit warp speed (ho ho).

japan house nuno 2

The exhibition focuses on three of Nuno’s innovative fabrics. Polyvinyl alcohol is a synthetic resin that shrinks at 60°C. It is screenprinted onto polyester taffeta in a grid pattern and then heated to produce the wriggly “Jellyfish” fabric.

japan house nuno 5japan house nuno 3

“Chemical lace” is made by stitching ribbon onto a water-soluble base, which is then dissolved to leave just the ribbon design.

japan house nuno 4

The third fabric laminates washi paper onto velvet, producing a rich contrast in textures. Sorry there’s no image of this – it was white on white and was difficult to get a good photo.

A series of films shows the production process of many other fabrics in different mills around Japan and is worth watching. Upstairs, a patchwork “curtain” showcases samples of even more fabrics.

japan house nuno 6

Making Nuno: Japanese Textile Innovation from Sudo Reiko runs at Japan House until 11 July.

Twining and coiling

On the making front, I managed to finish my twined dodecahedron!

twined dodecahedron

I wasn’t sure whether to trim the ends further or leave them wild and woolly – Instagram opinion was fairly unanimous about leaving them wild. 🙂

In class at City Lit we made some twined ladles with paper string.

twined ladles

The string I used for the first one (on the left) was a bit bulky, so I made another one (on the right) that was much better.

I also had a go at starting twining with an overlapping base, which was a bit fiddly but worked OK in the end.

twined overlapping base 2twined overlapping base

I also experimented with coiling, trying out a technique described in Annals of the South African Museum, a book owned by my tutor Polly Pollock. This technique, which incorporates ribs in the coiling, was used on bee skep in South Africa.

First of all I tried making a flat sample with rigid ribs (cane) and a bundle of dried unknown vegetation as the core, wrapped with very fine chair cane.

bee skep coiling

Then I tried it in the round using softer materials (polished flax for the ribs and core, and hemp for wrapping). This was much easier.

bee skep coiling soft

Finally, the first issue of the Basketmakers’ Association Newsletter that I edited was published this month. It was hard work for me and the volunteer designer Anita, but we’ve had extremely positive feedback, so it’s good to know that our efforts are appreciated!

ba newsletter may 2021

February 2021 roundup

I’ve spent most of February working on a commission for a tortoise vessel. Someone saw my black and yellow one on Instagram and asked if I could make one in a different colourway.

As before, I started by making the individual scutes.

coiled turquoise tortoise scutes

Then I joined them together and added the border.

coiled turquoise tortoise lid

Then I made the base with the hidden tortoise design.

coiled turquoise tortoise vessel

The client was very pleased, and so am I.

Dorset buttons and looping

Although our basketry group has still heard nothing about when our course will resume, we are still meeting every fortnight on Zoom, and choosing a theme to work on for each session.

The first one was Dorset buttons. To be honest, I found this a bit fiddly. I normally like fiddly, but maybe I needed a break after the fiddly work on the tortoise. But I did manage to produce a button!

dorset button

Then we had a go at looping. I found this more relaxing and tried two methods. The first one was looping around a stone, starting at the opening on top and closing it together on the bottom.

looped stone top
looped stone bottom

As you can see, the looping pattern looks quite regular on the top and sides, but becomes more irregular and organic on the bottom where I pulled the loops together to close up.

I also made a looped basket with homemade cordage, this time starting at the bottom and working up to finish at the opening. The advantage of this is that I made the cordage as I went along, so didn’t have to worry about how to hide the joins.

Tetrapak dog update

I’ve made a bit of progress on the dog. The back half is complete, along with the head and the front legs.

Back legs and tail
tetrapak dog  head
Head

I only need to drink another five cartons of orange juice to get enough material to finish it!

Packaging material and ice

One of the highlights of my month was receiving a delivery (replacement butter dish, not very interesting) wrapped in some fantastic packaging material – some kind of pierced brown paper.

What was interesting is the way the paper had opened up and retained the form of what it was wrapped around, a bit like memory foam.

Apparently, according to comments on my Instagram post, it’s called Geami WrapPak. I’ve saved it until I can work out what to do with it!

We also had a very cold spell, where temperatures didn’t rise above 0ºC for several days. A basin of water I’d left in the garden froze solid – a chance to try making an ice sculpture by moving the frozen block into a different position every day.

However, the temperature rose again before I could get the full propeller effect!

As I write this, it’s warmed up enough for the first frogspawn to appear in the pond.

The other news is that I am to be the new editor of the Basketmakers’ Association newsletter. Although it’s called a newsletter, it’s a 68-page journal that is published four times a year, so it will be quite a lot of work! But there is a very supportive team (we are all volunteers), and I’m looking forward to making lots of interesting contacts with some fantastic basketmakers. So wish me luck!

January 2021 roundup

So where did January go? Perhaps there’s a wormhole associated with Covi-19 that makes a month where every day seems to be the same suddenly pass in a flash. It’s too late to wish you all a happy new year, but Chinese new year is coming up on 12 February, so happy Year of the Ox to everyone!

Second shell vessel

Between Christmas and new year, I had an idea to try making another shell vessel to go with the tortoiseshell vessel. This one was inspired by a scallop shell.

I started by making some sample pieces of the shell segments.

scallop sample coiling

Once I’d worked out the process and shape, I made seven segments of varying sizes.

scallop shell segments

Then I stitched them together and added a border.

scallop vessel lid

The base was a bit trickier. Even with wire in the core I found it difficult to get the correct scallop shape. In the end I created a fan shape by leaving small gaps. So the vessel is not ideal for holding tiny items, but I think the effect is quite shell like. Some commenters on Instagram have also said it reminds them of an art deco shell clutch bag.

scallop coiled vessel

Here are the two vessels together.

scallop and tortoise vessels

I’m now thinking about a third vessel to complete the series, but it may take a while! 🙂

Bindweed vessels

I also carried on experimenting with bindweed, this time making some random weave vessels.

bindweed random weave vessels

Someone on Instagram suggested that a large group would look good as an installation – so I made some more.

bindweed random weave vessels

I’ve now run out of bindweed. I discovered that bindweed harvested after a heavy frost is rather brittle, so I guess I’ll have to wait until it regrows later this year!

Forces in Translation

My City Lit basketry course, which was due to resume this month after being halted last March, has again been postponed due to lockdown. 😦

However, an interdisciplinary group of basketmakers, anthropologists and mathematicians, called Forces in Translation, organised a couple of one-day public online sessions. These explored, among other things, cycloid weaving, looping in the Pacific, windmill knots, sand drawings and the topology of knots, through demonstrations, talks and practical activities.

cycloid weaving half hitches windmill knots windmill knots

Some of the maths was a bit challenging (Gauss topological notation for knots anyone?) and I wondered how I could apply it to basketmaking. But it was intellectually stimulating, especially once I grasped the principle, so maybe that’s the point. 🙂

Now I’m saving up my orange juice cartons to make a Tetrapak dog from windmill loops. This is an updated version of a cigarette packet dog, which apparently was popular in the 1950s.

So far I’ve got enough for three legs, so this could take a while!

tetrapak dog legs

Excavated dodecahedron – complete

Finally managed to finish the excavated dodecahedron!

First I made another six pentagonal units.

excavated dodecahedron work in progress

Then I stitched them together to form the second half.

excavated dodecahedron work in progress

Then I joined the two halves to form the complete dodecahedron.

complete excavated dodecahedron excavated dodecahedron

It is a little wonky – it was tricky to get all the pentagonal units exactly the same size. And some of the joining could have been neater, though it was tricky making the final joins, as I had no access to the needle on the back side.

But I’m pretty pleased with it as a proof of concept. 🙂

Excavated dodecahedron – work in progress

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.

dodecahedron sample

So I made the units shallower.

excavated dodecahedron 6 units

Then I joined five units together around a central unit.

excavated dodecahedron 6 units joined

Then I joined the sides to create half a dodecahedron.

half an excavated dodecahedron

Now I just need to make the other half and join them together!

 

Coiled Möbius strips

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.

paper mobius strip

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.

coiled mobius loop coiled mobius 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!

mobius loop with three twists mobius loop with three twists mobius loop with three twists

Tortoise bottom

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.

Base in progress

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.

Stay well!