Eco printing samples part 2

In my previous post on eco printing I wondered whether the faintness of the prints, especially on felt, was due to the fact that the steam couldn’t penetrate the felt very easily when it was rolled up.

simmer sample group

So I performed a similar experiment but this time I immersed the bundles in hot water and onion skins and simmered them for an hour. Then I left them to cool overnight and opened them up the next day.

The results were definitely better, particularly on felt.

simmer sample felt eucalyptus

Interestingly, the eucalyptus on felt (above) printed orange, no matter what the mordant, while the rose leaf and petal dipped in iron mordant (below) came out best.
simmer sample rose felt

The iron mordant also worked best for sycamore leaves on felt (below).
simmer sample sycamore felt

Oak leaves on cotton mordanted with aluminium acetate (below) gave a  lovely clear print, regardless of which mordant was used on the leaves (or even when none was used at all).

simmer sample oak cotton

Sycamore and rose leaves also printed quite well on cotton, but those dipped in the iron mordant were clearest.

simmer sample rose cotton simmer sample sycamore cotton

On silk, iron-mordanted sycamore and oak leaves did best, while eucalyptus and rose leaves were pretty similar for all mordants.

simmer sample sycamore silksimmer sample oak silksimmer sample eucalyptus silk simmer sample rose silk

Conclusion? It looks as if full immersion rather than steaming is the best way to go, unless I can get a large pressure cooker or find some other way of forcing steam through the fabric more efficiently.


Pattern to Print

I had a splendid outing yesterday with my sister Women of the Cloth to Hall Place in Bexley, a Tudor house and gardens just off the A2. There’s a splendid great hall and decorative plasterwork, but the main purpose of our visit was to see Pattern to Print, an exhibition about silk-printing company David Evans.

evans wotc

It’s a small exhibition but definitely worth the trip. David Evans was a silk merchant who set up a silk printing factory in Crayford in 1843, in a former printworks. The factory specialised in block printing at first; this was replaced by screen printing in the 1970s.

The exhibition begins with s 55-minute film, dating from the 1980s if the hairstyles are anything to go by! Fascinating viewing, it covers all the stages of silk production, including growing mulberry plants and spinning the yarn at a silk farm at Lullingstone Castle in Kent (which produced the silk for the Queen’s coronation robes and Princess Diana’s wedding dress, but closed down in 2011).

But what really comes across is the labour-intensiveness of producing the blocks for printing. Every stage done was done by hand, from burning and carving the wooden moulds to cast the pewter blocks, to inking and printing the fabric itself. To carve the blocks, the block makers had to produce their own chisels and files to match the requirements of the design: as the commentary notes, the actual carving of the block was of secondary importance!

Wood marked out for carving the mould to cast the block
Wood marked out for carving the mould to cast the block

From the master block, other blocks were produced for different colours – all had to line up exactly. By the time David Evans closed down in 2001, it had a library of around 70,000 blocks and 11,000 designs. The blocks were sold at Christies, and many of them went to the Cantrol Collection of Textile Printing Blocks, about which I can find very little information.

Blocks used to produce two-colour fabric
Blocks used to produce two-colour fabric

The blocks on show are items of beauty, amazing for their intricacy and precision. Some have been used by designers for Top Shop as inspiration for modern garments – I particularly loved a tortoise design (sorry about the funny reflections on some of the photos, but most exhibits were under glass).

evans block tortoise

There are also covetous pattern and swatch books.

evans swatch book

After block printing, some of the silk was overdyed with madder, a natural red dye, to make the colours more subtle. A rail of Liberty prints shows samples of silk before and after overdyeing.

The three samples on the left show the block-printed silk before dyeing with madder. The fourth, fifth and sixth samples show the same fabric after overdyeing with madder. The unprinted silk on the right has been dyed with madder.
The three samples on the left show the block-printed silk before dyeing with madder. The fourth, fifth and sixth samples show the same fabric after overdyeing with madder. The unprinted silk on the right has been dyed with madder.

The madder was mixed with lime and cow dung to a secret recipe that only David Evans himself knew. The factory even had its own herd of cows to produce the dung!

Fittingly, all the information “panels” are printed on silk.

evans banner

Movingly, the final piece of printed silk is also on display, dated 4 July 2001 at 10.47am.

evans final

Pattern to Print runs until 26 March.

3D textured felt

So, what form to use as a textured sample? I decided to do a basic ribbed vessel, using the partial felt technique I learnt at Lisa Klakulak’s workshop last year.

First I had to revise the technique, as it’s been a while since I used it. The result was interesting for a couple of reasons.

ribbed vessel

I’d envisaged the vessel as being fairly spherical. However, when it was fulled, the partial felt ribs prevented full longitudinal shrinkage, so the final vessel is taller than it is wide – more of a pod shape. For the same reason, the felt is more flexible and less sturdy than previous samples I’ve made of the same size – so it can be gently compressed to produce a rounder vessel if wanted, though this is not as stable.

ribbed vessel flatter

I’d made the ribs slightly curved to try to get more of a spiral effect, but in the final tall vessel this is barely apparent. It’s more obvious in the slightly flattened version.

ribbed vessel spiral

So then I made another vessel, to test out different textures. It’s not very pretty, but it’s intended to be a reference sample.

ribbed vessel textures

Clockwise from the top, these are: silk chiffon, silk habotai, polyster organza, pencil roving, silk chiffon with wool nepps, silk habotai with wool nepps, polyester with wool nepps, silk chiffon with felt offcuts.

Polyester organza with wool nepps gave the “wartiest” texture (managed to get a bit of red fibre caught in there as well).

ribbed vessel nepps

I also liked the effect of the pencil roving (without chiffon) and the felt offcuts covered with chiffon.

ribbed vessel rovingribbed vessel felt offcutsThe extra layers of silk and nepps haven’t increased the robustness of the felt very much – if anything, it feels less rather than more robust. So for future vessels I need to make the felt wall thicker or the ribs smaller (or dispense with them altogether).

Adding texture

Happy new year!

My felting up till now has largely focused on form, whether vessels or origami structures. I’m not intending to abandon this, but ESP brought home a few gourds from the market (“the sort of thing you like”), which got me thinking about how to combine form and texture.


beyond-nuno-70-perc-fits-a6I was inspired by a couple of books I acquired recently. One was my Christmas present to myself, an electronic download called Beyond Nuno: A Guide to Using Fabrics in Wet Felting by Felt by Zed. As well as having her own blog, Felt by Zed, or Zedster, also contributes to the wonderful Felting and Fiber Studio.

The book eschews the usual project-based format, instead going for a systematic investigation of how different types of fabric react when felted, including silk, synthetics and cotton. Even better, there are great photos (including supermacro close-ups) of felt samples clearly showing the differences, and discussions about how the different properties might be used to create different effects in your felt.

Perhaps it’s my scientific background, but I like this approach – it’s like having a pre-prepared sketchbook of samples. 🙂 But it also made me want to go and experiment with different fabrics myself.

felt fabric designsThe other book is Felt Fabric Designs by Sheila Smith. It’s slightly more conventional, covering the basics of making felt before moving on to nuno and lamination, openwork and shaping edges.

There are a few projects, including scarves and waistcoats, but most of the emphasis (and photographs) is on sample swatches. I found the chapters on “Sumptuous surfaces” and “Hardwearing functional felt” particularly inspiring.

And there are some useful tips, such as how to make a nuno scarf when your working space is limited (ie less than 3 metres long!). I once made a vow never to felt a scarf again at home until I got a longer table – but I might be tempted to try again now.

Anyway, inspired by Zed, I did my own layered sample of different fibres and fabrics sandwiched between merino and silk chiffon.

The thing about nuno felting with chiffon, unlike other kinds of silk, is that it doesn’t produce much texture on its own, instead sinking into the felt. However, it’s useful for trapping other items on the surface of the felt.

So here is a quick set of layered samples trapped beneath a layer of chiffon (apologies for poor quality of the image – it’s astonishingly difficult to photograph).

texture samples

Top to bottom: wool nepps, synthetic slubbed yarn, pencil roving, stitched hem from silk scarf, rolled cotton muslin, felt offcut from iPad case. And in the bottom left-hand corner is a piece of jute scrim.

Of course, some of these items, such as the nepps, pencil roving and jute scrim, might be expected to felt in anyway, without being held in position by the chiffon (though I have had problems with nepps in the past). But the silk adds a little bit of extra texture, especially as this is a crinkle chiffon (which you can’t tell from the picture).

Now to try this in 3D format – to be continued…

Latest batch of upcycled scarves

Increasingly I’m sourcing more of my scarves from charity shops, vintage markets and car boot sales.

I love the thrill of the hunt, and there’s a real sense of achievement in taking a slightly tired cast-off, cleaning it, and transforming it back into a desirable item by stitching, clamping or wrapping it in the indigo vat. And it feels more sustainable than ordering cheap silk scarves from China.

So here’s a sneak preview of my latest transformations. First, a couple of raw silk scarves.

upcycled scarf2 upcycled scarf6

This was a multicoloured silk scarf that was a little gaudy for my taste, so I thought I would try to tone it down with some arashi shibori. I think the jury is still out on whether I succeeded. 😉

upcycled scarf5

And with winter fast approaching, I’m starting to work on thicker scarves. This one is a mix of wool and silk.

upcycled scarf1

And this is a knitted cashmere scarf with ori-nui shibori.

upcycled scarf3 upcycled scarf4

Ironically, we seem to be having another hot spell, but I’m sure that will soon change!

Silk scarves and Bright Colours

Exciting news for the weekend – some of my silk scarves are now being sold on the Bright Colours website!

Bright Colours

Debbie Allen, who runs the online retailer, contacted me a few weeks ago via Makerhood and said she was interested in seeing some samples. Then she came round and bought a few.

I think they go very well with her brightly coloured bags, even if I say so myself.  😉

Roll on spring!

Threads of Silk and Gold

This exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford features ornamental textiles from Meiji Japan (1868-1912), including some extraordinary embroidery.

embroidered peacock screen

I know a bit about shibori, but I’m no expert on other Japanese techniques and textiles, so for me the exhibition was a revelation in all sorts of ways.

The first room contains items of technically dazzling virtuosity, including small embroidered panels of ducks, eagles, lions and tigers where the stitching is so fine that they look just like paintings.

There is also a large screen with several scenes made by yuzen dyeing (using rice paste) – which also look like Japanese paintings. When you know how labour-intensive this technique is, you can appreciate the time it must have taken to produce such an item, but for novices like me I must admit I wondered why they would take so much trouble when the end result looks just like a painting (which would have been quicker and simpler).

The yuzen looked amazingly like a Japanese painting

The exhibition explains that, unlike the West, the Japanese made no distinction between fine art (mostly painting) and applied or decorative art. But when Japan opened up and started exhibiting at World Fairs in the second half of the 19th century, they quickly discovered “the concept that the fine arts were superior to the applied arts, and that, among the fine arts, painting was more elevated than arts such as sculpture or architecture”.

As a result, the designs of many ornamental textiles produced in Japan changed to resemble paintings so that they would be more appreciated. Or, as the exhibition says: “The makers of Meiji textiles, seeking to modernize traditional modes of visual representation, aspired to create ‘painting in silk thread’. Sometimes they replicated specific western pictures. More often, they collaborated with contemporary Japanese painters to create dazzling new images that more than ever before realised the aesthetic potential of silk thread as an artistic medium.”

Virtuoso naturalistic embroidery

While I could not fail to appreciate the technical skill required, I must admit the works in the first room left me emotionally uninvolved. Despite the fineness of the silks and the stitching and the painterly and naturalistic results, I found it all a bit flat.

One technique that I’d not heard of, called oshi-e, is a kind of padded applique, where paper or silk wadding is covered with dyed and painted silk to created padded relief designs. There was a screen showing  the four classes of Edo Japan that again was startlingly naturalistic, from the folds in the robes to the muscles on the arms.

Scene from oshi-e screen

For me, the highlight of the show was the second room containing large-scale embroideries. The technical brilliance was still there in the gradation and shading of colours and fineness of the stitching, but there was more of a feeling of texture and movement, from the curl of a chrysanthemum petal to the specks of foam or ripple of water. There was also a variation of textures, with the use of metallic thread, cotton wadding and spirals of metallic couched thread.

Peacock with cherry blossom

There were lots of peacocks, depicted with peonies or cherry blossom (above). The pièce de résistance, however, was a superlative peacock screen, where the iridescent downy feathers on the bird’s breast contrasted with the scaly legs and feet, both against the glorious overlapping gold tracery of the tail feathers. I would have paid the entrance fee for this exhibit alone.

Threads of Silk and Gold runs at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, until 27 January 2013. After that it moves to its permanent home at the Kiyomizu-Sannenzaka Museum in Kyoto, Japan.

Shibori scarf giveaway

Woohoo – I’ve racked up 200 posts, so time for a giveaway, just in time for Christmas!

So here is one of my new elegant silk scarves, made of 5mm pongee silk, which is beautifully light – you can hardly feel it when you are wearing it.

shibori sill scarf

The scarf is hand-dyed using indigo, which produces a fabulous range of blues on silk. The pattern is produced using the shibori itajime technique – shibori is a sophisticated kind of tie-dye.

I dip the scarf several times in the indigo vat to build up the colour, leaving it to oxidise between dips. Indigo requires oxygen to turn blue – when I remove the scarf from the vat the colour is actually green, and as it is exposed to the air it turns blue before my eyes! Letting the scarf oxidise between dips also makes the indigo fast and less likely to run when washed.

Because all my scarves are dyed by hand, each one is unique – I couldn’t produce exact copies even if I wanted to! The variation results from slight differences in folding, clamping and binding, and in different temperatures, indigo concentrations and drying times.

I recommend that you wash the scarf separately in warm water with a little bit of shampoo added. Rinse in cool water, roll in a towel to remove excess water, and dry flat. Press with a warm iron.

The scarf measures approx 125cm x 35 cm.

If you’d like to win this scarf, all you need to do is leave a comment on this post before midnight GMT next Wednesday 21 November. I’ll announce the winner on Thursday 22 November.