Q – What did you set out to do?
Silk and wool were my chosen traditional materials and after a false start I decided to focus on these two in their simplest form to avoid being influenced colour or woven “manufactured” texture. Originally I had sourced some beautiful Thai silks in an amazing selection of colours and also a stunning collection of woven silks in natural nutty colours but I realised these were making me visualise my final outcome rather than letting the ideas evolve. I reduced the collection of starting fabrics to a pure wool felt, pure silk organza and habotai silk as they had contrasting qualities in weight and transparency and I felt they offered scope for development. The key words I wanted to represent were TEXTURAL / VARIARTION /LIGHT/ HEAVY/ WORN and I wanted to explore these fabrics and develop ideas of making textures by using a mix of techniques. I wanted visual and physical texture and aspects of deterioration.
Q – How did you develop your samples to your final idea?
The first samples used silk and wool felt that I had hand dyed but I felt the colour range was too “shell” like to develop further but I did like some of the textures so I went on to make smaller samples to try out combinations of fabrics and techniques and discover ways of layering to achieve the “worn” aspect. It was a useful exercise as not only did it show me what I could do but it showed me what I didn’t want to do!! I had planned for the squares to be the finished “3 x 3 textures” but I realised they had lost a very important aspect of texture as they were too finished and restricted by their precise measurements – I thought perhaps it was because I used a sewing machine and they were too square so I added some hand stitching which did improve the visual texture but they still looked too constrained and bland in colour. So I took another step back, and felted an old cream wool scarf, in the washing machine for speed as it was only the base fabric (90 degrees!) and just let the textures evolve by themselves as I worked along the wobbly line – the wobbly line was significant as it allowed me to relax about threads etc. hanging over the edge.
Q – What problems did you encounter along the way?
My biggest setback was having a pre-conceived idea of what I wanted the work to look like. I suspect I’ll have this stumbling block again as it’s a drawback of having many years of playing with textiles rather than following a brief. It was very hard to ignore my visualisation but I think my work is better as a result of having to evaluate as I went along and remind myself of what it was I wanted to achieve. I’m delighted with the way the silk organza responded to burning, although this did take a little practice to perfect into circles rather than scorched slashes. I also had to wash the silks after burning as ash was falling off and soiling the other work. I had wanted to do the same to the wool but this didn’t work at all.
Q – What would you do differently another time?
Generally speaking I will remember to put aside my flashes of inspiration and simply let ideas evolve.
In relation to this project, I might have investigated natural dyes as this would have been more appropriate to use to dye the wool and silk for the first samples. I suspect this is a large area of research and I didn’t want to get side-tracked for this project but I will investigate it slowly for future projects. On a very simple level I could have dyed with tea or onion skins for subtle colours to achieve an “aged old” effect but I suspect it wouldn’t have changed the final outcome very much. For this sample I am happy with the textural effect and wouldn’t do anything differently only develop it further.
Q – How well do you feel your final piece succeeds?
Overall I’m very pleased with the final outcome and I could have gone on to add further textures and result in something like a Dr Who scarf but I made a conscious decision to stop before it became too formulaic. I enjoyed burning the silk organza and habotai to give a perforated effect to represent “worn” but it also allowed me to build in layering of other textures and also introduce subtle and sympathetic colours rather than just a ”work in white”. The additional colour tones reflected the caramel colours of the scorched edges. I think I have achieved “texture” successfully and I really like the layers of silk organza with the burnt holes especially the area where it is raised above the section of other wool and stitch circles. Once I had discovered the hole making idea I set about trying to find other ways of making holes. Not an easy thing with fabric without a laser cutter but I did discover with a little concentration that I could vary the sizes of the burn holes and also a bookbinders punch worked reasonably well on the organza as it was stiff enough and therefore like paper. I also varied the scale of the burnt holes for additional interest. Similar to the small samples I added some hand stitching to add more interest – using only silk and wool thread.
Q – How might you develop the idea in future?
To develop this further I feel the main consideration would have to be its end use – would it be a free style wall hanging, horizontally or vertically and how the overhanging threads might respond to gravity, or would it be something I would need to frame or could I perhaps incorporate some wooden support structure to allow it to stand as a soft sculpture. I am sure, however, that I wouldn’t want to neaten up the edges etc. so on that basis I am very happy with the outcome so far.
Q – Anything else that it might be useful for your tutor to know
Whilst doing these samples and the research for traditional materials I have been inspired in many ways for future works that are not necessarily a follow on from this one, more as a by-product. Parts of my research lead me to look at the Stein collection on the V&A website of hemp samples and the Ritual banners of the Tibet Monks and also the woven/knitted/platted samples of twine and animal hair etc. It could be an interesting idea to investigate.
By using wool and silk for this project another link came to and that was felt making and incorporating silk to make Nuno silk. I also thought I could hand dye this in a shibori style to incorporate a traditional technique –it’s an idea I can re-visit.
Another idea that has sparked interest was during a visit to the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford whilst investigating traditional materials. I was really taken by the old weaving looms they had on display and thought they were beautiful in their own right. At some time I would like to investigate using leather and linen or hemp on a handcrafted loom but incorporating it into the design.