Tulle origami

What goes around comes around. If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll know I’ve experimented with felt kaleidocycles, felt smocking, and origami moulds for fabric.

Now I’m back at Morley College on a course about fabric manipulation with Caroline Bartlett, whose work I greatly admired at Cloth and Memory {2} at Saltaire. Participants come from varying backgrounds, including handmade paper, print, fashion and textiles, so it’s an interesting mix.

We started by using paper to explore how folding, slicing and cutting can be used to create repeat patterns and then how to translate these into fabric by using darts, pleats and cuts.

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Depending on the fabric properties (transparent / opaque, fraying, thickness), you can create quite different effects.

We’ve also used pleating machines to create heavily pleated pieces, which can later be dyed or discharged as in the sample below.

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Last time I made origami moulds I used fabric stiffened with PVA or floppy synthetics. This time I used stiff tulle, and was delighted with the result. Here are a couple of pieces that I’ve stitched on.

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This inspired me to use tulle for origami in other ways.

First I tried making a hyperbolic parabaloid in tulle, but it was too floppy to work properly.

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Then I moved on to a ball-like construction. I had tried this with other fabric previously – the picture below shows the paper version at the front and two fabric versions behind.

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The African wax print fabric was stiffened with interfacing, so it had the same body as paper. The white version on the right was calico which I had tried to stiffen with machine stitching. The stitched surfaces were a bit firmer, but the overall structure lacks the body of the paper version, being curvy rather than angular.

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The tulle version, however, was stiff enough to hold its shape – and because it’s transparent there are intriguing views of the other side of the structure (which make it a bit tricky to photograph!).

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Another origami technique that was new to me is crumpling, a technique pioneered by Paul Jackson.

The qualities of tissue paper that make it ideal for crumpling are difficult to reproduce with fabric. I tried it with a slightly less stiff tulle, but it’s much too floppy (tulle on left, tissue paper on right). I’m not sure tulle will work for this – I may need to rethink the fabric.

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I’ve also just started experimenting with tulle shaped using arashi shibori techniques – could be interesting!

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As I mentioned at the beginning, the class contains students from many different backgrounds. One of them, Frances Kiernan, brought in an amazing flag book that she had made from some of her prints.

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I’d never heard of a flag book before this but I think it would be a wonderful way to display samples!

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Electrical cable duct arashi


Last year, when Brixton Windmill was being restored, I salvaged a ridged plastic pipe that was left over from electrical cable ducting. I thought it might be interesting to use it to create some arashi shibori.

So this week I washed it down, pressed some cotton poplin into irregular triangular pleats, and wrapped it around the pipe.  The ridges made it very easy to keep the string in place, though of course I couldn’t vary the distance between the wraps.

And although the height of the fabric was considerably shortened by the ridges, the vat still wasn’t quite deep enough, so I had to tilt it slightly and roll the pipe from side to side while dipping to ensure all the fabric was dyed.

Here’s the result.


The frog is still watching with interest.

Summer school report

The full summer school ran for five days, but I could only attend three, as I had to get back to London to pack up my Morley exhibition on Friday morning. So it was pretty intensive, and I ended up stitching frantically at my godmother’s house in the evenings as well!

The first day we made up the vat in the greenhouse and then returned to the studio, where we were introduced to the infamous Cally knot, which is very quick to do and a great way to avoid your thread slipping through the fabric when you pull up! We worked on binding, using mung beans and bits of tubing, and stitching. Cally’s stencils came in very handy here. As I’ve previously stitched circles, I had a go at the chain pattern.

We didn’t actually start dipping until the second day. Cally leaves pieces to oxidise much longer between dips than I have been used to – ideally until they dry out completely, or at least for several hours, turning them regularly. However, in a workshop this is clearly not possible, so we usually left them for 15-30 minutes, or overnight. Then after several dips, she leaves the work to dry completely before washing out. Then it dries again before you untie or unbind. Of course, it can be frustrating when you just want to see the final results, but she says that this process makes the indigo more fast and gives a better depth and evenness of colour.

On the second day we moved onto itajime and I also wrapped a stitched piece I’d done on an arashi pole. So it wasn’t until the third day that we started actually seeing the results of our labours. It was a real shame I had to leave early, as I felt I was just getting into my stride – but I certainly left buzzing with ideas for combining different techniques and fabrics!

It also meant that my godmother never got to see any of the finished pieces, as I returned to London directly after the course on Thursday! So Maria – this post is specially for you. 🙂

This is my attempt at a stitched chain pattern – not a patch on the beautiful version that Cally had on display (see last post).

I also made a piece by stitching straight lines, pulling up, then wrapping it around an arashi pole:


On the third day I experimented with pleating the fabric before wrapping it on the arashi pole. The results from this were probably my favourites, and this is something I want to explore further at home, possibly in combination with stitching. However, I will need a deeper vat!

As the day went on, the washing line gradually filled with more and more interesting pieces – here are some lovely stitched pieces by Isabelle (centre) and Marilyn (right), and a clamped piece by Jennifer (left) that she described as “a kitchen floor”!

And a great piece by Marilyn (below) combining itajime and stitch on silk muslin:

Marilyn makes wedding dresses for her day job and brought with her a whole box of silk offcuts. Some of these were in different colours, and it was very interesting to see how the indigo dyed these. By using different resists, such as plastic, and dipping into the different strength vats, she achieved some interesting effects. You can see a piece of fuschia silk that she dyed using binding and stitch in the photo below:

I also have to mention the food, which was plentiful and tasty, especially the afternoon cakes. And of course, it was served on a shibori tablecloth – even the plates fit the colour scheme!

Finally – my godmother’s front garden. It’s not blue and white, but it does contain some beautiful forms and colour combinations!

Paper and pleats

After a somewhat uncreative week, it was a delight to spend Sunday back at Morley on a short course with Bridget Bailey called Introduction to pleating.

Bridget’s work featured on the cover of the first book I ever took out of Morley Library, a volume called The New Textiles (left). I was enthralled by the movement and colour she created in fabric, so the chance to do a course with her was too good to miss.

We started by dyeing a couple of pieces of cotton of different weights, because Bridget hates working with white. It was the first time I’d used Procion dyes on fabric, and it made me realise how quick and easy indigo dyeing is by comparison – no waiting around for an hour for the mordant and fixer to work. Obviously, however, you are not limited to blue with Procion!

After dyeing it, we coated the cloth with diluted PVA and left it to dry.

Then the fun part – making the paper moulds. To save time, Bridget provided a template, which we had to transfer to two pieces of cartridge paper by pushing a pin through both sheets, rather like artists used to do when making a cartoon. We didn’t sprinkle with soot, however – we joined the pinpricks by scoring with a scalpel on both sides, depending on whether the folds were mountain (folding away from us) or valley (folding towards us).

This is a bit tricky to explain if you’re not very familiar with origami, but the photo below shows one of the final bits of scored cartridge paper lying flat. Behind it is the other piece folded along the score marks.

We then put a piece of fabric between the two bits of cartridge paper, folded them up, secured with an elastic band, and steamed for about 5 minutes. After drying, we undid the moulds to reveal a crisply pleated piece of cotton that had taken on the exact shape of the moulds. Magic!

Below is another, simpler mould of diagonal parallel pleats, so they run on the bias. We folded the fabric in half before putting it in the mould, which results in a chevron pattern when it’s unfolded.

Bridget had also brought various pieces for us to see that combined screen printing and discharge dyeing with this technique. Great potential – very exciting!