Thursday, 30 January 2014

Assignment 5 - Project 10, Stage 3: Developing Your Design (Cont'd)

During Stage 2, I took a fresh look at my images of manhole covers, focusing on the shapes and imagining them as pieces of fabric, considering how they might be attached.  When I first met Alice Fox, one of my current favourite artists and rust print maker, she explained that much of her stitching is done by hand, otherwise there's a risk of damaging your sewing machine.  I've taken a chance by putting prints in the washer to neutralise them but there's no way I'm risking my beloved Bernina!
Alice Fox Pavement (detail)
Alice Fox's 'Pavement', 2014. Rust prints and collagraph prints with hand stitching
(Used with permission of the artist)

Previously I'd assumed that I'd also use stitch as a way of attaching fragments of print, but now I've seen how raw edges can be sealed during nuno felting, I was interested to find out whether this had potential as a method of joining patches.  The process distorts shapes, so I needed something very simple to stand a chance of retaining any design.
The image below caught my attention.  I liked the idea of raised textured shapes, which I thought I could achieve by causing the fabric to shrink and pucker.   
I selected shades of merino wool tops from the colour scheme that originated from my manhole cover collage and cut six rough squares.  My previous samples have been made with cotton but I wanted to see how silk compared for this sample.  The fabric was some plain white silk unfinished handkerchief remnants (Turnbull and Asser, no less) that I'd picked up for a few pounds from the bargain bucket at the Macclesfield Silk Museum. The grey fabric was soaked with tea and the orange with white vinegar before they were wrapped around metal objects and buried for six weeks (as described in this post). For the sample I cut from the less interesting areas, saving the others in case I need them for the final piece.


Before I laid down the fibres, I wet the silk.  It's a fairly densely woven silk but I felt a bit concerned when the water didn't seem to want to penetrate the surface as I thought silk is known for absorbing moisture.  Would whatever was preventing it also stop the fibres working through?

I was unsure whether to leave a gap between the edges of the squares or overlap them.  In the end I plumped for butting up the edges.  I decided to alternate the colours to give the squares more definition.  How much wool would be needed to attach the pieces was the next consideration.  I wanted to outline my shapes but in my last sample the fibres were laid too thickly in places and felted to themselves rather than the base fabric.

By now I knew I'd also need fibres over the silk surface to achieve the desired puckering but how much, in which direction should I lay them and should I try to trap anything else? I liked the meandering striation in my previous sample but would this detract from the shapes and would laying them in one direction cause uneven ruckles and a much distorted shape?  Laying them across the squares would give extra strength to the construction so I went ahead, also trapping some of the rusted silk threads that had worked well in the previous sample. 

Although it was only minutes before I could lift the sample by the edges and it stayed as a whole piece, this time I was more patient in the early stages, using only cool water initially and less soap, just a tiny amount of Ecover so there was no froth and I could see what I was doing.  I worked the fibres in for longer to make absolutely certain that they had pushed through the silk surface. Once I was sure, I lightly rubbed Olive soap on the surface and used warm water and after a few hundred more rolls; I could see signs of the wool beginning to shrink and went onto complete the fulling process. 

This time, I did all the fulling by hand so I could control when to stop and I think this sample has been successful.  There's little I'd have changed.  I achieved the raised textured shapes I was aiming for, the shapes have been retained, felting has successfully attached the fragments and the silk has puckered more deeply and interestingly than the cotton, yet the rust marks are still visible.  It drapes very nicely, feels soft, warm and quite luxurious on the skin and I can envisage a similar longer version as the final scarf.

I am undecided about the striation, whether this should lie above or below the grid.  I think it is needed, as in the small area (top right on photo below) where I tried spreading out fibres very thinly, the silk has been obscured and the surface is flat and matt rather than ruffled and lustrous. I was worried that the puckering might occur unevenly by placing fibres in one direction but in fact it hasn't.  I think the grid construction has had a stabilising effect. 

Now that the sample is dry, I can see that the rust dyed fabric has faded during the process and lost some of its brightness. On the wool side the overall colour combination looks slightly murky.  I like the highlights that the silk thread adds but I think more golden tones are needed.  I still want to relate the colours to the original scheme and I think the purple/gold/grey combination suits, but I'd consider replacing the blue with an additional shade of orange. 

One of my reasons for choosing a scarf is that nuno felting produces a reversible surface.  However, as with the previous sample, my preferred surface is what would normally be considered the back.  Therefore when I lay my patches I need to remember to have the most interesting surface lying face down. 
I need to take more care with my edges, especially the corners which have tended to billow out.  Rounding them slightly I think could help, or running the fibres that create the striations closer to the corners to pull them in.  I want just a little more felt around some of the edges and to be gentler at first when working the grid fibres in.  Although the pieces have ended up very securely attached to each other, when I was rolling the surface some small gaps appeared which has left some raw edges of the silk exposed and looking a little vulnerable, like they could develop into holes over time.    

My final considerations are the original sizes of the silk pieces, their number and position.  I like the simple chequerboard effect but I have a limited amount of this fabric and more of one shade than the other.  I do have more dyed large silk cloths but they feel quite different to the good quality silk I've used here and they may well behave differently.  My other silks are a large piece of dupion that feels a similar weight but has a coarser slubby texture, and the other is a lightweight pongee that I suspect could be just too fragile for the job and end up in holes with too much friction. Introducing more shades would also mean making adaptations to my colour scheme.  This sample shrunk by around a third so I need to do some calculations before I can begin constructing my final piece and possibly make additional samples to test the compatibility of the other silks.

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