While I was away on holiday last week I got rather a lot of work done. Maybe that was partly a result of having no internet access! I’ve been working with samples and leftover bits and pieces from my natural dyeing experiments over the last few months along with a new batch I dyed just before going away. I took the newly dyed batch with me to dry out slowly on the wooden porch.

I then opened them up, once some time and fresh air had done its stuff, to reveal these lovely little concertinas and marked units.

I’m using paper of different weights that has been folded, clamped and dyed with onion skins and some with red cabbage (giving a lovely blue).

I have rough grids and squares and little units, which I’ve brought together to make little assemblages. Some pieces have squares of wool felt that have been clamped and dyed in the same way as the paper. The dye on some is so dark (aided by the metal in the clamps) that they look charred. There are also rust marks from the clamps that merge with the onion skin colour.

Copper wire stitches bring everything together and each piece is mounted on board ready to pop into a frame.

>Quilt fest


I’ve just finished setting up my work at the Festival of Quilts at the NEC in Birmingham. There are 6 of us on the Graduate Showcase stand who turned up early this morning to put our work up ready for the show opening tomorrow. Here are a few images of my stand today. The lights weren’t up when I took these photos but you get an idea of the space.

Much of the work is as I had it at New Designers but I have brought a few different things. I now have two of my embossed paper pieces framed and I’ve brought a couple of pieces that were development samples and so didn’t make it into the final show at Bradford.

I’ve made some new miniature pieces to sell. These are little assemblages of naturally dyed paper and felt with copper wire stitches. They’re mounted ready to go into frames.

The show opens on Thursday morning and goes on through to Sunday. Do come and say hello if you are coming along.

>inspired to bundle

>As soon as I’d finished writing my review of Second Skin last week I was itching to do some dyeing. I had a couple of bags of eucalyptus leaves that I’d had sitting waiting for quite a while. One was from a tree in my parents’ garden, that I’d brought back from a visit ages ago and hadn’t got round to doing anything with. The other were a little bundle from South Africa.

When I visited there 18 months ago I’d painted these leaves and had a little stash waiting for something. When I painted them they were fairly freshly fallen and the colours were more varied and vivid. Now they’re older and brittle and much more dull but still with variation in their pinks and browns.

I took a piece of wool felt, some silk habotai, silk gauze chiffon and a piece of silk/viscose velvet I found left over from various college projects. I made up a series of bundles, bound with wool and made a last little wrapping of more of the wool round a few leaves.

These all got the steaming and sitting treatment and as they sat the colours really developed. I undid them yesterday as I noticed there were patches of mold forming on the surface of the damp parcels. I unwrapped them, rinsed and hung them to dry in the sunshine.

The African leaves have made beautiful impressions on the felt and the silk pieces have taken on a generally uniform orange with patches of more intense colour.

It felt so good to be doing this again.

>embossing felt

I’ve moved the contents of my studio space at college to my home studio. I know it will all have to go back again but for a while I’ll need to work at home and the end of term seemed as good a time as any to shift it all.

Last week I did some experiments with a devore process into my thick felt. The usual devore technique uses an alkaline paste that eats into cellulose fibres, cutting them away. This wouldn’t work on wool and the equivalent process that does work on wool uses an acid paste to do the same job. The technician said no one had ever done this before at college. He didn’t say I couldn’t though… I later found out that it hasn’t been allowed before due to health and safety reasons! The process uses caustic soda, which is pretty nasty stuff. Needless to say I was very careful. And it worked, really well in fact.

The trouble is though, it doesn’t sit very well with the sustainability issues that I’m exploring in this project. I don’t feel at all comfortable with it as a process. I won’t be taking it any further.

So, now to find a way of creating that embossed effect in my thick felt that doesn’t involve harmful chemicals… I tried burning into the felt with a soldering iron. It worked but not brilliantly. I tried using a drill to ‘draw’ into the felt. This didn’t really work at all: the drill got all caught up in the fibres. Then I tried threading wire through holes drilled into a piece of wood and clamping this onto the felt before steaming.

This is still drying off after steaming, as are the next few samples which were wrapped round thick cardboard tubes and steamed or dyed with onion skins. I’ll leave them all for a few days before undoing the various bundles to see how they worked.

This last one looked like a roast joint cooking away!

Current listening: PJ Harvey, Let England Shake

>cutting and printing

This week I took the plunge and cut up my large piece of thick felt. I had been procrastinating about what scale to work on for my final pieces and at one point was convinced that I should keep this big slab of wall-like felt as one section that could really become part of the wall. But I was worried about the difficulties of working on such a large scale, both in terms of committing to one design and the practicalities of working with this big slab of wool. I wondered whether the possibilities of developing ideas over a number of smaller pieces that would make up a larger whole might actually be the better way to go. After a very useful tutorial, which confirmed that I should go for the smaller units, I decided to cut up the felt.

I’ve returned to the idea of repeated units that featured in this project earlier on this year and that I’d moved away from for a while. So many buildings, particularly contemporary ones, use repeated units as their basis.

My units will be the same dimensions but their surfaces with change, grow, develop.

Current listening: Inter-generational cello duets drifting up from a lower floor of the house.

>impressions of stitch

With the bright sunshine we had yesterday I finally managed to get some decent photos of some of my embossing experiments using stitch. What I love about them is the fact that the impression isn’t just of the stitch that was on the printing surface of the collagraph (in this case fabric with stitch and, shown below, cardboard that had been stitched into) but also of the thread that was on the back, so there is this multi-layered impression of a continuous thread.

I’ve been stitching into and printing onto my felt

I’ve tried out a variety of stitches, partly to explore what stitches might best interpret my mark making experiments from earlier in the project but also to get to know the felt. It is an absolute joy to stitch into! I love its solidity but also the subtle ridges you can get with this kind of repetitive stitching so that when you run your fingers over it there is a change in contour. A combination of the pushed in, embossed element and the raised up is what I’m trying to play with here: things going in and things coming out.

It’s always worth a look at the back as sometimes it’s more interesting than the front!

>writing and stitching

I’ve done quite a bit of planning and writing this week. The second draft of my dissertation is due in soon so I gave some necessary time early in the week to completing the sections still not written. I wrote my introduction and most of chapter 3. It feels like the end is in sight now!

We had a really interesting and useful talk from Clare Lane on Wednesday. It means so much more hearing directly from someone else’s experience than being told the theory of the steps you might take after you finish a BA. Clare is currently artist in residence at Bradford College through the AA2A scheme and it is fascinating to see her working in the print room and experimenting with the digital printer, pushing the boundaries of how it can be used.

I spent most of Thursday stitching and planning various different stitch-based samples. It was good to have a hands-on day after a few days of computers and writing.

Yesterday I collected an order of felt from an industrial felt manufacturer in Dewsbury. After my felt deliberations (see previous posts) I decided to go for their product as it really is right for what I’m trying to achieve. The wool is from New Zealand (not British wool as I’d originally hoped to use) and the felt has a really smooth surface and solid structure.

Current listening: The Decemberists (in my head having heard them live last night)

>wooly dilemma

>A couple of weeks ago I visited the British Wool Marketing Board, the home of the Campaign for Wool, who are conveniently based just on the other side of Bradford from me. I wanted some advice on wool felt made from British wool and I was hoping to come away with some contacts for suppliers. The European Business Manager, Richard Poole was really helpful and we had a useful couple of hours discussing various aspects of sourcing products sustainably. I also came away with a lovely bunch of literature about British wool.

However, I found that my intention to use industrial felt made from British wool is just not realistic. I want to use a natural product, ideally one sourced as locally as possible. Industrial felt has the solidity I’m looking for in both my 3 dimensional experiments and for the basis of the wall based pieces that I’m intending to make as part of my final collection. It became clear within the first few minutes of talking to Richard that what I was after just doesn’t exist.

British wool is coarser than wool produced in warmer and sparser climates, even if it is from the same species of sheep. We produce wool with fibres that are generally over 26 microns and often over 30 microns. Industrial felt, which is dense and gives a fairly smooth surface, is made from wool that is finer than this, usually merino, and this comes from Australia or New Zealand.

British wool, being generally fairly coarse, is ideal for carpets and for some fashion fabrics. It can be felted by hand and there are plenty of artists in the UK using British wool in this way. I don’t have the time or the inclination to start felting my own wool for this project. I want a ready made product that is solid and firm and thus relates to the solidity of the buildings I’m using as part of my inspiration. British wool is used in various insulation products, some of which I was able to see at the BWMB, but these are very coarse structures which often have recycled plastics included and certainly don’t have the structure, look or feel that I’m after.

So I came away faced with a dilemma:

Do I stick to my principles and acept that I can’t use the type of product I had in mind?
source another fibre from the UK?
think again?
change the whole look and feel of what I want to produce in terms of finished pieces in order to use British wool?
compromise my vision?

Or do I accept that I can’t use British wool for what I want to do and compromise on the sourcing locally idea – a 100% wool material is still a relatively sustainable product even if it has travelled round the globe?