Inspired by the V&A

Every year the Victoria & Albert Museum holds an art competition, called “Inspired by”  for people on part-time courses. Entrants have to create a piece inspired by work in the collections of the V&A or the Museum of Childhood. Selected works are displayed in the relevant museum in October.

I’m planning to enter some of the indigo felted vessels I’ve made. The pieces that have inspired me are a stoneware sake set by Yamada Hikaru made around 1979, and a 17th-century blue and white porcelain sake bottle, maker unknown.

I love the organic simplicity of the forms of the vessels in the sake set, and I thought I would use indigo dye and shibori, both traditional Japanese techniques, to add the blue and white element.

You’ve already seen some of these, but here’s a photo of the final set. The two larger felt vessels are ombre dyed with indigo, while the five smaller ones are nuno felted with a different yarn or fabric, also dyed with indigo.

Larger felt vessel, ombre dyed with indigo
Smaller felt vessel, also ombre dyed with indigo
Nuno felt pot with silk velvet
Nuno felt pot with cotton muslin
Nuno felt pot with silk chiffon
Nuno felt pot with ombre-dyed crocheted lambswool
Nuno felt pot with cotton gauze

Just have to fill in the entry form now – probably the hardest part!  😉

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When things don’t work out

I was reading a post by Karen over on The Felting and Fiber Studio about a felt album cover she’s been making, where she keeps changing the design and unpicking the embroidery because she doesn’t like it. I know how she feels.

Before Christmas I made several manly scarves in various colour combinations, and they were very popular.

So I thought it was time to try some variations on the theme – but they haven’t worked out.

The first variation was using a preprinted silk scarf, using undyed merino. I didn’t like the result at all – the shapes and the colours just didn’t work together:

Then I tried using muslin with a more open weave. This was a bit tricky to work with, especially when it was wet, as it kept clinging to itself and  was difficult to keep flat in one layer. Also, I had a problem with the wool, as the colour started leaching out when I wet it. You can see a bluish tinge where the muslin has taken up the colour on the left-hand side of  the photo below:

(When I contacted the supplier about this, they said it was possible that an over dye had been used on it and that a small amount of excess was washing out. Has anyone else experienced this? It’s never happened to me before.)

The much more open weave of this muslin meant that with a bit of careful effort I could squeeze the plastic resists out through the muslin without cutting it (though it did leave a bit of a hole in some cases).  I rather like the more subtle spot effect; up close it looks quite cellular.

However, because the muslin is so loose I think it would catch on things quite easily and become very irritating.

So I decided that maybe it was time to move on and try something else. Instead of changing materials, I changed the shape of the resist. Although I originally intended it to look like tiger stripes, I didn’t allow enough for the muslin to shrink, and the nuno areas are smaller than I planned, relative to the stripes. But in these colours it reminds me of the opening credits of The Simpsons – so welcome to my Clouds range!

When things don’t work out, it can be a chance to review your technique or rethink your design. But sometimes it may just give you a gentle nudge in a completely different direction. Some of my most interesting work has resulted from pieces that didn’t work out as planned – and in textiles that seems to happen more often than not!

I went to a talk by Grayson Perry at the British Museum just before Christmas, where he said it can be heartbreaking to spend a week on a piece that just doesn’t work. So it happens to everyone!

Nuno felt

Last night in class we used carders to combine different colours of merino into rolags (rolls of multicoloured wool). Carding adds greater subtlety as well as giving access to a wider range of colours.

Then we used the rolags to make  nuno felt. Rather than just using wool on its own, nuno felts wool into fabric. As the wool shrinks but the fabric doesn’t during felting, you get some interesting textures as the fabric crinkles.

We made two samples each, using cotton muslin. For the first one we added small amounts of wool in regular patterns, leaving most of the muslin uncovered. This shows the crinkling effect very clearly. The method we used was the same as last week, except that we laid the damp fabric on the bubble wrap first before arranging the wool on top. After folding the other layer of bubble wrap on top, we also massaged the wool gently through the bubble wrap so that it wasn’t displaced too much when we started rolling.

Once the wool was reasonably firmly fixed (the muslin started to crinkle and fibres had started to work through to the underside of the fabric), we used an old-fashioned washboard to help speed up the final fulling. To do this, we put the washboard in a bowl at an angle away from us, and rubbed the fabric vertically down. The extra friction from the board makes felting much quicker. You can also shape the fabric in this way, by rubbing certain areas to make them shrink more.

Purple nuno felt
First nuno effort

For the second go, we covered much more of the muslin with wool. We also had the option of adding other extras, like yarn, glittery sprinkles, or scraps of other fabric like hessian or silk.

Yellow nuno felt
Nuno on yellow muslin with merino, yarn and hessian

I discovered that, although my experiments with felting yarn on its own had been quite successful, it’s trickier to get it to felt to muslin on its own. It’s better to lay it on top of or beneath a thin layer of merino to help it bond.

Next week we’re going to make a scarf or other complete item, using cotton muslin or another fabric of our choice that we provide. So this morning I thought I’d experiment with a piece of black lace to see how easily it felts.

Nuno lace
Black lace and merino nuno

The answer is: it depends. The triangular areas of merino in the corners of the fabric above have felted reasonably well, but the circles still lift quite easily. Maybe I need to felt it for longer – but it is quite hard work! I don’t have a washboard at home, but I have found that wrapping the bubble-wrap bundle around a rolling pin makes rolling a bit easier.

Finally, I went back to using yarn, this time mostly attached with a layer of merino. This worked better, so I think I’ll use this as the basis for my scarf next week.

Nuno felt with merino and yarn
Most of the yarn in this piece is held on with a layer of merino