End of term

Not just the end of term, but the end of year at Morley College. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed three terms of making paste grain papers, felt and baskets, doing hand and machine embroidery, embellishing and shibori dyeing with indigo, knitting with paper string, plastic bags and enamelled wire, with a few forays into heat transfer printing and constructing bowls from pelmet Vilene. I don’t know what I’m going to do with my Wednesday evenings from now on!

Our tutor on the creative and experimental textiles course, Debby Brown, was great. She would demonstrate basic techniques, then left us to experiment for ourselves, though she was always on hand to answer queries. She says that this “loose” approach doesn’t work for everyone, but given the number of students who signed up for all three terms, it was clearly popular with our group. Although she would tell us outright if something wouldn’t work or could be dangerous (what not to put in the heat press!), many times she would simply say, “Try it and see”. After all, it is supposed to be an experimental textiles course!

So what next? Well, I’m hoping to enrol on the textiles intermediate workshop at Morley, which starts in September and runs for a whole day every Tuesday. Quite a luxury to be able to spend a whole day working on textiles. But now I have the bug I can’t stop!

And over the summer I will continue working on projects I’ve started in shibori and felt. I’m also doing a lot of work for Makerhood, which is due to launch its website imminently, so you may soon be able to buy some of my products online!

Textiles foundation course exhibition

Last night was the opening of the exhibition of work by students on Morley College’s textiles foundation course, at Morley Gallery. Our tutor, Debby Brown, also teaches the foundation students, so we went and had a look at the exhibition.

It was interesting to see all the techniques that we’ve covered ourselves throughout the year incorporated into the students’ work (albeit at a rather more advanced level – being able to spend two days rather than three hours a week on creating textiles is an obvious advantage!).  There was handmade felt, knitted wire and paper string, heat-set textured synthetics and machine embroidery as well as creative printing.

Perhaps because we haven’t covered printing fabrics, I found the 3D work most interesting. I also enjoyed leafing through the sketchbooks, seeing records of their experiments and sources of inspiration.

Linda Le Pard’s theme of “Empty nester” consisted of several suspended weaver bird nests made of net, paper string or knitted tubes. I particularly liked one made from delicate cobweb felt, above.

Henny Best produced some gorgeous knitted nets and fish traps from wire, paper string and bobbly heat-set fabric, adorned with delicate clusters of machine embroidery, felt and knitted sea anemones.

Miranda Tongeman’s delicate columns of knitted wire combined with wool, felted hessian and jute in autumnal colours,  were inspired by lichens and fungi.

The exhibition runs until 14 July at Morley Gallery, Morley Gallery, 61 Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7HT.

Basket case

No – not me, though I’m frantically rushing around before I go on holiday, so I do feel a bit frazzled!

Term started this evening at Morley College, and we began with some basketry weaving. To get the hang of it, we cut 12 long strips of card, and wove the centres together to form a square, six in each direction.  (We kept them in position by taping the six vertical strips on the table with masking tape.) Then, to form the corners, we wove the two central strips together on each side, adding the others as we moved upwards, holding the strips in position with clothes pegs, as in the picture above.

Those who wanted a flat, square bottom added creases using a spatula (I preferred a round bottom!). Then we pulled all the strips up as tightly as possible to get rid of large holes, and used either staples or hot glue to hold them in place around the top. Some students cut a strip to stitch or glue around the top to finish off; it’s also possible, if the strips are long enough, to weave them back in.

Next week they will be using craft (pelmet) vilene for weaving, colouring it in the heat press first, and also experimenting with coiling. I’m off on holiday for a couple of weeks, so I’ll be interested to see what they’ve produced when I get back!


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.

Student textiles display at Morley College

I spent all of yesterday afternoon frantically trying to finish my nuno scarf so that it could be included in the display of work by students on the creative and experimental textiles course at Morley College.

You may remember that the velvet circles didn’t felt very successfully onto the scarf, so I had to find some way of attaching them. I originally planned to use the embellisher to dry-felt them, but looking at the scarf, I felt that some sort of texture was needed. So during the week I hand-embroidered some with French knots in graded colours from orange to yellow. The result was a lovely tactile contrast to the burgundy velvet.

I went into college intending to use the embellisher on the rest of the circles, but after experimenting on some scrap velvet I decided I didn’t like the effect – it was a bit flat, and the embellisher caused some of the edges to fray quite badly. So instead I attached the rest with machine embroidery, again using colours ranging from orange to yellow.

The good news is that I just finished the scarf in time to be included in the display. The bad news is that I didn’t have time to take a photo of it before it went in the display case. So the photos below aren’t great, as they were taken through the glass case, with all the reflections from the lights and camera flash.

Still, if you’re in the Waterloo area in the next week and have a few minutes to spare, pop in and see the display for yourself. Our tutor Debby Brown has put in a lot of work – I hope we did her proud.

Student display at Morley
Nuno scarf and felt pot
Student textiles display at Morley College
Sample album and embroidery sampler
Student textiles exhibition at Morley College
Eyeglass and smartphone cases made from recycled plastic bags

Morley College, 61 Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7HT

My first felt

Last night was the first creative and experimental textiles class of the new term at Morley College, and it was good to see familiar faces from last term, along with a clutch of new students. This term we’re covering felt and cooked cloth, and hopefully will be able to build on some of the work we did last term, combining felt and embroidery.

We started by experimenting with wool tops, which is wool that has been washed, combed and dyed ready for spinning. They come in long, smooth bundles of fibres, which you pull apart into thinner and/or shorter wisps.

Silk, angora, merino mix and fine wool tops (photo by Sarah Dewfall)

To make the felt, we put a layer of bubble wrap (bubble side down) on top of a wet towel, wet the strands of wool tops and arranged them on top of the bubble wrap. When we were happy with the arrangement, we wet the whole thing with soapy water, then put another layer of bubble wrap on top and rolled it up horizontally into a sausage. We rolled it back and forth (like using a rolling pin) for a few minutes, then unrolled it and rerolled it up vertically, and rolled again. We repeated this twice more, rolling it up on both diagonals. When it was ready, we rinsed it in clean water to remove the soap, and dried it off.

When wool felts, it shrinks. So we made our first pieces as grids, leaving spaces, to see how the wool shrank and how the gaps became smaller. We used merino, which is beautifully fine and soft to work with, and came in a stunning range of colours.

Felt web
This felt 'spider web' was originally about a third larger, with bigger gaps
Felt sample
Some parts of this composition are very loosely connected after the wool shrank during fulling
Blue and green felt
Again, shrinkage during felting results in interesting holes!

The piece in the third photo above was felted for slightly less time than the other two. More pressure, rubbing and moisture leads to fulling, which results in a more stable fabric with a harder texture and more shrinkage.

Then we moved on to working with wool tops that were slightly coarser, making felt balls and sausages. Balls are built up layer by layer, adding different coloured strands wetted with water and soap, and rolling them between the palms of your hands. You don’t need bubble wrap or much space, and you can embroider them and string them together to make a pretty necklace. Or you can cut them in half or slices to show the layers of different colours and make a brooch.

Felt sausages work on the same principle, except that you construct all the layers in one go. Each layer must be at right angles to the layer beneath. So if the first layer of red fibres is vertical, the next layer of, say, white fibres is horizontal. Then the next layer is vertical again. Once you have enough layers, wet them all with water and soap, and roll them up like a sausage in a J-cloth as tightly as you can. Then roll. And roll. And roll.

This is quite hard work, as it takes a lot of rolling – several of us got itchy palms from the constant friction! But it is important to ensure that the sausage is as firm as possible – if it isn’t felted properly, the layers will come apart when you slice into them.

Felt sausage
This 'green bean' is my felt sausage, drying out!

One tip to give the layers more stability  is to dip felt beads or sausages into a solution of 50% PVA glue and 50% water. Squeeze out the excess, and leave to dry before slicing.

We will be slicing our balls and sausages in next week’s class – come back then to see the results! 🙂

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
phone and card cases
Smartphone and card cases

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