Monday, 3 February 2014

Assignment 5: Final Reflections On A Creative Approach

Stupidly, when I sent my tutor the note with my reasons for starting this course and what I wanted to achieve, I didn't keep a copy for myself.  That was typical of my organisation when I began, well over two years ago, and comparing my early rambling blog entries, I'm relieved that my focus has improved.

I've spent a lot of time trying to establish a good working practise and a format for my work which suits me and can be easily cross referenced for my tutor to follow.  I've ended up with all shapes and sizes of partly filled abandoned sketchbooks and I can't give up my notebook, incomprehensible to all but me.  There were no OCA guidelines when I first set up my blog either.  This was alright when I had a small number of posts, but as the number grew, I couldn't find what I was looking for if I needed to refer back to something, never mind my tutor.  Just when I thought I'd updated my blog so that it was all labelled and orderly, my feedback was that I was becoming too reliant on my blog.  It had become invaluable for me to organise my thoughts and the scribbles from my notebook but I hadn't appreciated that this was to the detriment of my visual ideas.  Hopefully, I've got the balance better for this final assignment.

It's taken me some time to get used to working chronologically in a book.  I like to work experimentally on different surfaces and I was ending up with a good deal of loose sheets and samples.  My earlier work is stuck into a large book and ordered the best I could manage, so there's no flow of ideas to see and it does resembles a scrap book more than the working sketchbook/journal I now know is needed.  Therefore, keeping a theme book has been the start of good habit for me.  

Visiting degree shows was also extremely useful, to observe the standard of work and presentation. Though I've generated plenty of ideas, I haven't always made the best choices to develop. As I finish this course, I do feel I have a much better understanding of interpreting a brief and of making good selections. 

Though I'm nowhere near finding my personal voice, largely down to study visits and the wide variety of exhibitions I've reflected on, I'm able to understand and explain what I do or don't like about a piece of work now. I can increasingly link my emerging ideas to pieces of work I've seen, or techniques I've tried on workshops.  When I think about what my future work will be, I do feel that it will be colourful.  Selecting colour combinations feels natural to me and is something I appreciate all the more after researching Kaffe Fassett.

Regarding techniques, printing is what I've thoroughly enjoyed, from letterpress to cyanotypes, screen printing to rust marks.  I strongly suspect that my optional Level 1 module will be printmaking.  I've also enjoyed working with paper, whether stitching onto it, working in mixed media or making books. 

Assignment 4 in particular, improved my understanding of the properties of fibres and I feel more able to predict how a yarn might behave by the look and feel of it. This has been useful since I own a large stash of donated, unlabelled yarns and threads. I also discovered how handling different materials can affect my mood and enthusiasm for the project.     

Certainly the most unexpected consequence of this course is how engrossed I became learning about textile history, ethics, sustainability and technological advances in textiles. I'd never studied history before, but the OCA study visit to Cotton: Global Threads really sparked my interest.  When I came to appreciate the effects that the textile industry had on my own ancestors, albeit indirect, the subject was brought to life for me. 

Another highlight was Assignment 3 Research Point, when I visited the Centre for Textile Excellence in Huddersfield.  I was fascinated to realise how unrecognisable the textile industry will be in the very near future.  I learnt about fabrics being impregnated with unique DNA for anti-counterfeiting, saw structures created on a 3-D weaving machine that the aerospace and motor industries are very excited about and I learnt about multiple laser surface enhancement.  TMLSE uses laser and plasma technology to alter the properties of fabrics, making them technically superior using significantly less resources so will have massive environmental benefits in future textile production.           

There have been times where I've been confused about what's expected, frustrated by limited time and workspace, and temporarily deflated by useful honest feedback.  However, far more often, I've felt enthusiastic and motivated.  I feel that I've taken responsibility for my learning and found opportunities through workshops, groups and exhibitions to complement the course.  Though it's taken twice as long as I anticipated, I've learned and experienced far more than I expected and I'm proud of myself for making it to the end.

Assignment 5 - Stage 4: Making Your Textile Piece

We are now asked to choose part of our design to work on as a textile piece and decide how much of it to make in the time available.  My final piece is to be a culmination of the ideas I've been exploring over the last few months: 
  • my increasing interest in felting
  • observing rust colours and textures
  • looking at shapes in manholes covers
  • making prints from rust
  • incorporating fragile prints into something useful or wearable, rather than purely decorative.
I felt this design of my previous sample was strong and I could make it work as a scarf. It was light and warm and the encrusted areas of rust had become softened and strengthened by the merino wool.  However, I still had decisions to make on the dimensions, which areas of print to use, colours to tweak and what the ends should look like.

Testing some brighter shades - the previous sample needed more golden tones

I spent some time looking at scarves and how they are worn and making some sketches in my theme book.  I abandoned any previous ideas about fringing or leaving a raw long edge that would pucker and frill.  I've been guilty of over-embellishing in previous assignments and now realised that complicating my simple grid design was unnecessary.  The rich texture is enough on its own. However, visualising how the scarf would hang, I wasn't happy about leaving blunt ends either.

One of the assets of nuno-felting that I've discovered, is its double sided nature.  I realised that by making an infinity loop scarf, I'd remove the issue of the square ends and this would allow the scarf to be styled in various ways and present both surfaces at once.  My samples so far had all been made flat though, so how would I go about construction?  I was fairly sure that by lightly felting the short ends, I'd be able to add a twist, overlap them and felt them together just before the fulling stage.

Next I needed to make decisions regarding which fabrics to use as the base cloth. I decided to stick with the rusted, buried silk I'd tried for the sample. I liked how this had deeply puckered compared to the cottons in the previous experiments, their luxurious feel with slight sheen and how the colours worked together.  On a practical level, I had two fairly large cloths of the same fabric.  Had I introduced some of my other silk pieces, shrinkage would probably have occurred at a different rate and by adding other base colours, there'd be less sense of the grid design. The two pieces were also relatively lightly marked, so the oxidised surface should not prevent the nuno-felting process, but interesting hints of the rust would still be visible.  The silk was not so fragile that the agitation would damage it.

Working with limited resources meant some careful calculations were needed to get the most out of my fabric without compromising the design.  It took weeks to create the rust prints so I had to get this right.  From my sample, I knew the approximate rate of shrinkage so I could work out the original dimensions that would result in a length that would fit over the head and hang right. This meant that the pieces were slightly oblong rather than square.  I laid the longer edges lengthwise as it was likely that the fabric would shrink slightly more in that direction due to the striations and the direction I'd mostly be rolling.  I worked out that I just had enough fabric to construct the whole scarf if I used a chequerboard design.  Alternating the colours in the grid would emphasise the square shape and if there was a slight difference in the rate of shrinkage between the two, then this would be evened out along the length. 


I made sure all the joins were well covered with fibre, covered the surface with a net curtain and sprayed on only very cool water and a small amount of soap.  Then there was a great deal of rubbing with a plastic bag to make sure the wool fibres were being forced through the silk before without just felting to themselves.


Though the silk threads and striations were securely attached, I was finding that when I lifted the fabric to turn it, or when I peeled back the netting, some gaps were appearing.  The scarf was heavier than the sample, particularly when wet and the patches wanted to separate. I added more fibres over the gaps and sealed them from the back as well.  However, as soon as I'd covered one hole, it seemed that another would appear!    

When I could no longer find any gaps, I began the rolling, with the fabric sandwiched between netting and bubble wrap and curled around my rolling pin. Eventually, after hundreds or rolls (and barely able to straighten up!), I could see the fabric beginning to pucker.  I put a twist in the length, overlapped the ends, added a little more felt over the top of the join and successfully felted the ends together to create the twisted chain link type loop.  

Placing a layer of netting as a resist through the loop so the sides didn't stick to themselves, I continued rolling for a little longer.  Next I rinsed out the soap, squeezed out the excess water and (hoping not to wake the family - all in bed hours earlier) threw the fabric forcefully and repetitively into the sink, which I'd lined with a bamboo place mat for extra friction.  This time, I didn't use very hot water as I didn't want the colours to fade like they had on my last sample and I wanted to control the shrinkage and the length.  

Next morning, the scarf had dried and looking at it afresh, I was pleased. The colours were glowing, just as I hoped, and a big improvement on this in the sample. Infuriatingly, some new little gaps had appeared, but nothing that a discreet stitch won't sort.  Feeling relieved that I hadn't chosen rows of three,  I considered my decision to reject design rules and have rows of two squares. Had I made a flat scarf, then I probably would have made rows of three.  However, I think two works here.  By making a loop with a twist, sometimes one surface is visible on a row, sometimes two and sometimes three.

Perhaps I could have joined single squares and made a scarf that would wrap around twice,  but I don't think the fabric would have puckered as nicely on bigger squares without having a lot of wool fibre, and that would have obscured too much of the silk. However, I wish I'd added a little more fibre as I really like the contrast of the tight and loose folds.  The squares with only a little merino look a little too 'baggy'.


I posted a photo of the finished scarf onto the OCA Textiles page on Facebook asking other students what their initial reaction to it was - it's difficult to be objective about something you're constantly thinking about. 'Frescoed walls from Italy' (the colours), 'Rust, definitely rust', and a 'rusting chain link' were the first comments back.  I was pleased about that as it seems that I've interpreted my ideas to some extent.

I tried styling the scarf different ways.  Doubling the length would have given more options, but nuno felting manually takes a lot of physical effort, time and space. I've been surprised though by how much I've enjoyed the problem solving element of working with restricted materials, space and time. Also, I've found that what attracts me to nuno felting is similar to making rust or burial prints:-  there's a long, tedious process of waiting, then the anticipation quickly builds as that brief moment arrives when the fabric suddenly puckers or the print is unearthed.  The excitement and unpredictability of that stage makes the tedium of the process all worthwhile.