There are several segments to this exercise which I found to be a challenge to keep straight in terms of which things are to happen when and with regard to themes and techniques but I think (hope) I’ve got it sorted now.
For my first exploration of what a material will and won’t do, I chose to explore with plastic sheeting (a shower curtain). In ways it was great to work with as it wouldn’t fray or come apart but on the flip side, there were challenges such as the sewing machine being unable to grab ahold of the “fabric” for the feed dogs to pull the sample pieces through while stitching. Also, it was clear so there were definitely challenges with just trying to see where it was.
Another challenge with using the plastic sheeting was that while I was having trouble advancing the “fabric” through the feed dogs, the needle would puncture the surface to close together, creating a jagged hole instead of an evenly spaced, perforated line. Luckily, there were no major disasters but it was something I had to pay close attention to. Also, with the plastic being clear, it was tricky to cut pieces straight. The scissors glided through each cut with great ease and not always such great accuracy.
Below is a look at most of my explorations with the plastic sheeting. From here, I’ll be working with a heavy fabric as close to denim as I an find (my remote location makes it tricky to always find the best materials).
Plastic shower curtain material ranges
After researching techniques, this was the first one I was interested in exploring. I knew the plastic would be easy to cut and it was. I wasn’t expecting there to be so many wrinkles and fold marks somewhat stuck in the plastic from being crammed into packaging. Of course, I was unable to iron this “fabric”.
Using an exact-o blade and mat, I cut slits at regular intervals into the fabric and proceeded to hand stitch the edges of alternating sections using a mid-weight grey thread. I made these stitches by hand. The texture and visual appearance of this sample turned out almost exactly as I anticipated. I particularly like the contrast of the dark grey stitching with the plastic on the white background. It helps make the modifications to the original surface very visible.
I set out to layer two sheets of plastic together and secure them with columns of machine stitching. Once the stitching was in place, I cut between every other row. I then flared the slashed edges open and closed in alternating rows to create a very textural, energetic sample. If this were scaled up, I think the technique would be more dramatic.
The coil/twist/scrunch technique was underwhelming with this material. Yes, it was able to be twisted. Plied, even. But due to the clear fabric, the texture wasn’t identifiable. It appeared messy and I didn’t like how it looked. I chose not to pursue working with this plied plastic strand.
With this sample, I wanted to use strips of plastic to create texture but with soft edges. With minimal manipulation, I was able to produce this sample. Grey thread, again continues to give visual definition to the stitching and communicates to the eye exactly where the layers are attached, allowing for thoughtful exploration of the shapes and movement in each sample.
This was easily the most difficult sample to produce. Due to the clear nature and somewhat sticky surface made this a real task to complete. Two layers of plastic were woven together each layer acting as either warp of weft. Strips were cut into each layer but not all the way across the fabric. There was one edge where all the strips were attached. Once each strip was fully woven into the layer below it (starting from the bottom), I was able to use the sewing machine to secure the loose ends to keep them from coming undone. As with previous samples, the clear nature of the fabric posed challenges – namely being able to see what I’m doing. All in all, this was a great sample to make. A slow sample, but a great one.
I expected this to be more difficult than it ended up being. The punch was fine to make holes up to the maximum depth of the jaws on the punch. I even tried making two rows of parallel perforations (below) by folding the plastic. While the thicker fabric required a bit more pressure on the punch, it made holes with relative ease. I wasn’t sure what else to do with this particular sample so I left it as just perforated/punched fabric.
I’ve indicated previously with the twisting/plying that while I was able to produce a sample, I didn’t like it. The clear plastic makes it very hard to see what’s happening in the sample so that causes me to be less fond of these samples. Having said that, I did find that braiding the plastic was easy and satisfying. Threading it through hole punched paths from the previous sample was a success.
My intention with this sample was to be more graphic and architectural than it ended up being. Plastic sheeting is challenging to sew. Perhaps with greater accuracy of marking the stitch points, the results might be more successful. That said, the structure was intended to be viewed in an expanded position but insisted on collapsing. I will consider how to mount this to a presentation card and perhaps in that, the sample will present as intended.
Recalling the theme I had researched – Bulbous and Inflated, I thought it was important to attempt a shape that fit that theme. Stitching by hand into the vinyl shower curtain was quite easy – the needle penetrated the surface without issue. The gathered shapes could have been around a larger circumference to allow the plastic to gather more easily but as they were, they mostly did what I set out to have them do. In this case, I find the grey thread distracting but haven’t rejected this concept for further exploration. I just have to think about it more.
Having explored numerous configurations of layering, cutting, stitching, gathering, and so on with the vinyl sheeting and making observations that have me with more questions than answers, I am going to look at these same explorations with a different fabric. I intend to repeat these samples using denim.
Woven Upholstery Fabric Sample Ranges
As I suspected, finding the exact fabric I was looking for didn’t pan out as I hoped. I intended to use denim for this exploration but ended up with a woven upholstery fabric instead. While I anticipated having problems with such a loosely woven fabric, it turned out to be an opportunity to work with the fabric’s inclination to come undone.
It did fray easily so as long as I kept that in mind when cutting and handling, it wasn’t a problem. I treated it as just part of the texture of the fabric which allowed me to emphasize some of those characteristics in the finished samples.
It was easy to sew, albeit a bit slippery and due to its loosely woven hand, it was somewhat stretchy. Not as a knit would be but the fibres had some elasticity and the synthetic nature of the fabric had a slipperiness that was at times a challenge and at other times, a benefit.
In this sample, I cut three strips of the upholstery fabric. It wasn’t easy to keep the braided surface tidy and organized so instead, I just let the fabric do what it wanted to. Upon completion of the braid, I found that the irregularity of the braid paired with the unravelling threads worked together.
With the completed braid, I decided to use it as part of a larger final sample. I stitched four buttonholes in the fabric square through which the braid would be threaded. The buttonholes were straightforward to sew and the braid threaded through with ease. I like the results of the interaction between the bulk and irregularity of the braid with the smoother, more organized appearance of the visible warp and weft of the flat(ish) upholstery fabric.
This sample demonstrates a simple application of layering fabrics on top of one another with a stuffing in between the layers. In this case, I used scrap fabric to fill up the pocked being created by sewing the layers together. I call this sample “the ravioli”.
It is not my favourite interpretation of this kind of technique as I think it could have been better demonstrated with much more stuffing but this sample allowed me to test the idea in a way that definitely makes me want to explore it further.
This fabric wasn’t overly bulky so it lent well to manipulations involving folding and layering. To create these box pleats, I made three lines of stitching which marked the center of each pleat. They were then pressed open from the centre using my fingertips so as to flatten the fabric where I wanted it flattened but without introducing creases where I didn’t want them. Box pleats are one of my favourite ways to increase volume in a tidy and symmetrical way so this sample was very satisfying to make.
This sample is one that I also created in the plastic sheeting so I was very interested in seeing how the different fabric; upholstery fabric impacted the results. While the fraying definitely continued as with previous upholstery fabric samples, I think it balanced the symmetry and structure of the overall construction and I quite like its messiness.
While this sample is simple in its construction, it still manages to demonstrate some important parts of stitch interacting with fabric. The pulled machine stitches add depth and volume and the deliberately frayed edges also speak to the hand of the fabric. This sample almost evokes a sense of it being a sea creature (nudibranch?)
There is a previous example of this technique but the outcome is so different that I feel it is important to also include this sample. The unravelled edges between the rows of stitching produce a very different result.
Cutting through the fabric between the rows of buttonhole stitching demonstrate the perforate/punch concept and the buttonhole stitching prevents the threads of the fabric from coming undone.
I was able to successfully make this sample out of the plastic sheeting (above) so I was confident that the process and product would be very similar in working with upholstery fabric. I knew this fabric had a very soft hand so I considered that in making my loops. Had they been really tall, they may not have stood up so rigidly. The rigidity of each loop paired in each straight row with both the soft fabric and the curvy shapes of each loop create a tension and interest that the other samples can’t quite evoke.
Having explored some of the ways this kind of fabric can be manipulated, I have found that working with fabric over plastic is absolutely a preference. While both materials are synthetic, I still prefer the upholstery fabric to the shower curtain sheeting. I preferred the fact that the fabric, its texture and shape, as well as its tendency to unravel was the focus in the upholstery fabric whereas with the plastic, the stitches were the focus as they didn’t blend into the fabric which made of some visually busy samples. Both valuable explorations and I learned about the different characteristics of each material in these extensive explorations.
Having said that, I have strong ethics around fabric and would prefer to use naturally sourced, sustainable materials (cotton, linen, wool, etc.) going forward with sampling, despite my slightly remote location and materials being limited. I am going to do more research regarding the abilities of the fabric I intend to use for the next batch of sample development. I am keen to explore the next segment of the materials component of this unit.
Stage 2 - Sample Development - flannelette
After exploring some sampling techniques using the materials above, I was keen to begin developing samples which reflected the images I’d gathered to inspire the theme of “Bulbous and Inflated”. While this exploration was quite slow and involved, it proved to be a very fulfilling exercise and I’ve definitely enjoyed each discovery as it occurred. Not all samples are literal expressions of the theme but they work together well. I have introduced many hand stitched elements, particularly embroidery techniques. This was my favourite part of the sample development as it allowed me to marry my course work with the work I’m doing in my art practice in my professional life.
The first fabric used in the sample rage is a cotton flannelette. It was a cooperative material for the most part and produced some results I had anticipated with a few surprise outcomes.
Before I began working with the fabric, however, I did review my reference images. Those images certainly informed this sample range. Sketching out my ideas was key to maintaining momentum and focus. It also allowed play and deeper exploration of each sample’s potential.
When I originally sketched this concept, I had intended the sample to feature multiple stuffed columns. Because I had pre-cut the fabric into squares, by the time I stitched it and stuffed it, most of the fabric had been consumed in just one column. However, this sample did show me some important things. These long tube-like structures are easily impacted by the grain of the fabric. Any misalignment in the cutting of the fabric led to twisting of the tube. This was only noticeable upon stuffing. It’s possible that minor twisting could be eliminated with a little manipulation.
This sample was inspired by the previous one with the columnar formation. I initially wanted the strips to stand more upright than they do but seeing them as they are, the messiness and irregularity is an interesting interpretation of my original idea. This fabric doesn’t work well with this concept. Possibly mounting this sample vertically for presentation will correct some of the lack of “inflated”ness of the strips.
The gathered “petals” were stitched with embroidery floss as with all of the samples in this series. The fabric gained bulk in the gathering a little faster than I had anticipated. Opening up each petal to increase the texture and depth of the sample was the best part. The volume created by the stitching supported the opening up of the petals really well.
The work of Anna Gunnarsdottir inspired some of how this was crafted. As with previous fabric samples, I used thread to gather fabric into little bulbs but I wanted to make sure the bulbs remained “full” so I enclosed a small freshwater pearl inside each bulb. A bit extravagant but it’s what I had on hand. The sample is chaotic but the texture is what I wanted to create.
The biggest difficulty with this sample was keeping the base fabric flat while making the couched ovals. The base fabric wanted to buckle and shift but it was mostly resolved by the end. If I made something like this again, I’d cut the base fabric large enough to hold in an embroidery hoop, do the hand stitching, and then cut down the finished sample to size.
I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with French knots. Especially when working on a fabric that isn’t under tension. In this instance, the thread that travelled behind the work between knots was occasionally pulled a little too tight which led to puckering on the surface of the base fabric. Other than that, I think the tone-on-tone effect of the yarn knots on the flannelette works well to create an irregular yet interesting texture.
There’s an artist who I’ve been following on Instagram – Amy Dov – and she does a lot of work with combining weaving with ceramic elements. While her work isn’t exactly like my sample, my sample is inspired by her. The parallel stitches holding the needle felted “pebbles” in this sample echo the parallel warp threads that hold her ceramic pebbles in place. As with a few previous samples, I can see this method making a regular appearance in my everyday work. The preparation of the felted pebbles was straightforward, as was the stitching them to the fabric. This sample turned out as expected.
When I was in Iceland attending the Textilsetur residency, I spent time with embroidery artist, Richard McVetis who led an embroidery workshop. During this workshop, we had the chance to experiment with various embroidery techniques- couching being one of them. It was difficult to manipulate the flannelette tubes and keep them from coming undone as I was stitching, they eventually stayed put.
I loved the disorganized/organized nature of this sample and I especially enjoyed flipping the square tiles around so that they weren’t perfectly aligned. As with the couched strips in the sample above, keeping the tiles organized was tough but by allowing the chaos and imperfection, that is where this sample becomes interesting.
The work of Serena Garcia is my inspiration for this sample. I have welcomed her work into my IG feed for the better part of a year and while her palette is lively and colourful, her use of the organic bubble shape is such a pleasure to observe. Each individual bubble wants to be close to its neighbour, to take on part of its shape and space. While flannelette is anything but a stretch, I was determined to recreate the appearance of Serena’s bubble shapes. I think the hardest part was minimizing the folds and ripples where the fabric gathered in making the bubbles. Sewing them together definitely helped but didn’t eliminate them altogether. This configuration of shapes could be the starting point for a much deeper exploration of texture and dimension with fabric and with further embellishment.
Much like the french knots and the tiles, I was looking to create the sense of organized chaos. Each knot has its own personality in that the legs point up or down, the knots are either flat-side up or down, and the slightly fraying edges disrupt the otherwise organized nature of the repeating, symmetrical placement of each knot. I think that in hand stitching the knots allowed me to not only conceal the stitches but also create an opportunity for each knot to land on the fabric base ever so slightly differently than its neighbour. A very busy sample but one that I regard as a huge success.
In reflecting on my experience working with the flannelette, I have identified a preference for some textures/finishes over others. I describe myself as a “process” maker and not so much a “product” maker. By this, I mean that I’m far more interested in the “how” than in the “what”. While some samples were slow and tedious, the slowness and tediousness are what I liked best. If I look at the samples I like the most, they are also those during which the making was the most involved and interesting/challenging. It was also very interesting to discover what the flannelette would and would not do. It was in the obstacles that my greatest learnings occurred…of course.
I am very keen to move onto the final series of fabric samples and am interested to see what learnings await in working with a knit but creating these same samples. I have a few ideals already due to my experience in working with knits and wovens but I’m looking forward to learning something new in this process.
Sample Development - Jersey
The flanelette exploration was so satisfying and produced such consistent results, I think I came into the jersey work with an inflated sense of confidence. This fabric schooled me on putting assumptions aside and really connecting with the material. There were challenges but there were also great results. All in all, another success.
This first sample was created similarly to its flannelette predecessor, however, keeping this knit fabric straight, even with the use of pins was tricky. The synthetic fibres in the knit were resistant to the pins and the jersey rolled up onto itself which made it tough to keep track of the raw edge I was trying to keep concealed. Also, the stretchy nature of the jersey presented difficultites when the thread travelled between points on the wrong side of the work. I was concerned about minimizing pulling and puckering which was mostly achieved but a task none the less. As I observed when making the same sample with the flannelette, I’m certain that the puckering of the base fabric could have been eliminated by working on a larger piece of fabric held taut in an embroidery hoop.
These jersey tiles were SO wiggly! Because of the troubles I was having in managing the individual squares, I chose to embroider fewer squares than in the flannelette sample. Each tile is still secured with one French knot which attaches the tiles to the background but an unexpected textural result was when the edges of the jersey on the tiles curled up and toward the centre of the tile. I really like the outcome with this sample. The curled up edges lend a playfulness and relaxed appearance to the sample.
This sample turned out much as I predicted it would. The outcome of this exploration was very similar to the flannelette version, however, I think I prefer the jersey iteration of this sample. The gathers on each individual petal is more compact and the fabric has a nicer drape than did the flannelette. The raw edges on the petals, due to being a knit, are tidy and not unravelling as the flannelette ones were.
This sample was WAY harder in jersey than it was in flannelette. I had a really hard time manipulating curves, floss, and managing the background fabric. However, that aside, the results are great. I think the part of this exploration that was the most successful was the way the fabric rolled up into a tube. This absolutely allowed me to depict the “bulbous and inflated” theme. I loved this sample in flannelette and I equally love it in jersey.
This sample is where jersey really does its job. The stretchy nature of jersey was perfect for creating these bubble-like shapes. I found the construction of the bubbles satisfying and the results very much as expected. As with the Gathered Petals sample, the fabric was easy to stitch and gather. Once the bubbles were stuffed with fibre fill, the thread was easy to draw the bundle closed and none of the fill escaped. Each bubble was easy to attach to its neighbour and the shapes all managed to maintain a roundness, even when they were squished up close with their neighbour.
This sample produced results both similar to yet different from its flannelette counterpart. These knots were much slimmer due to the jersey’s inclination to curl when pulled. The “legs” of the knots ended up being much longer than those in the flannel, I expect this is a result of the knots being smaller. When deciding where to place the knots on the fabric, I opted for a less crowded configuration than the flannelette sample so I could compare the two samples. Again, I experienced a few challenges with the thread travelling on the “wrong” side of the base fabric between knots resulting in a bit of puckering.
This was a more challenging sample to create. With the flannelette version, I freestyle placed each pearl bubble. With the jersey, it was really tough to do that. I think I can attribute that to the hand of the fabric. The drape and responsiveness to gathering made this fabric especially difficult to randomly place the pearls and their bubbles. I think the sample was an overall success but it was a bit fiddly to manipulate.
When creating this sample, I opted to use an even thicker yarn than I did with the flannelette. I’m glad I made that decision. These knots are nice and prominent, easy to observe and interact with. It’s very tempting to touch them. I love the irregular placement of the knots, I think the placement suits this kind of stitch. The bulky yarn made for each knot looking slightly different which I like a lot. Each knot faces a different direction, some are looser and some are tighter. They’re like people.
At the end of this process of creating fabric samples, I learned many things including the following:
- With all exercises, have an open mind.
- Take all assumptions and set them aside.
- Expect the unexpected. surprises are waiting at every turn.
- My claim that working with textiles is a practice in letting go of control holds true.
- Undertake all tasks with awareness (so that when you have to write/speak about your work, you’re making mental notes along the way.
This sample development process was different than I was expecting. It was slow. The success of each sample varied. Switching fabrics sometimes had huge impacts on results. Being willing to try and to maintain an open mind was the only way this exercise was going to teach me anything. I pushed myself on this task. I’m really excited to press on with the exercises and assignments ahead.