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.

gourds

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!