Project 6 Manipulating Fabric


To work on this project I chose these 6 pages of my sketchbook to work from.

  • The first two are inspired by fungi I spotted whilst out walking, I made a few initial sketches then worked from those and additional photo’s I found, experimenting with collage, oil pastels, acrylic paint and inktense pencils.
  • The next page was inspired by a photo I found of bird in a magazine which was focused on the beautiful pattern made by its feathers, I worked on these ideas using layering and scratching away acrylic paint, wax crayons, marker pens and a fabric collage. It was the jewel-like colours and overlapping shapes which really interested me here.
  • The ‘rock-pool’s’ page was inspired by the road where I walk my dog, it is very broken and uneven and the patterns the stones form on the floor always catch my attention. I really love the small range of colour’s shown in the photo I found, it is very simple and ‘earthy’ feeling, but still has lots of contrast, it also has a strong circular feeling to me which I think came through ion my sketches.
  • The page about ‘birds on a cliff’ doesn’t really show up very well in the photo, but I felt very drawn to its feeling of many layers and lines.
  • The last page I worked on has to be my favorite. I had been reading a book about people marooned on a desert island and when I saw this photo in a magazine it caught my attention. I really love the shapes and colours shown in the photo, although in some ways my sketches and collages make me think more of a peacocks tail than the desert island I intended.

I then moved on to paying around with fabrics to see what effects I could come up with. I started off by looking at layers and colour interaction, I drew on silk taffeta, and glued cotton or silk over it, trying thick lines, then thin, as well as different colours. I found some of the pieces felt boring and unfinished until I’d added in another colour, I’m especially happy with the orange square added to the blue layered piece – I feel the addition of the complementary colour makes it feel more exciting. I used a square as I was looking at Josef Albers for inspiartion and his simple geometric shapes really help me see how the colours are playing together without too many distractions.

I continued my experimenting by ripping and fraying fabric, layering it together with stitches or heat and painting over it. In other pieces I tried gathering the fabric, quilting it together, making tucks and pleats in it or even soaking it in glue and molding in to a shape. I worked these pieces in colour schemes from my sketchbook work, blues and greens from ‘Islands and Deepwater’ and creams and golds through to orange from ‘Fungi’.

These are some close-ups of my favourite examples of applique, the biggest one I began as my applique sample but found after many days work that it was too labour intensive to make it into a 30cm square.  I started off by appliqueing layers of felt as padding which I then covered with bright blue leather, these were meant to represent the deep water areas, I then surrounded these with flowing lines of raised whip stitch in various shades of green, blue and yellow to show the currents and ripples in the water. Remaining gaps were then appliqued with pale green netting to represent shallower areas of water. The next piece I made using many layers of organza stitched on to a square of felt with overlapping feather shapes. A soldering iron was then used to melt and cut away parts of the organza creating a shimmering reverse applique. The third piece is made from thin cotton muslin covered with fluorescent paint, which I then appliqued a small red square onto. I absolutely love how bright the red looks against the complementary green behind it.

So I tried again to create an applique sample, this time continuing with the layering, melting and cutting away of organza stitched onto felt. I used the same colour scheme but this time I included some small pieces of red and orange to add more interest as I liked it so much in the previous sample. The first picture shows the original idea I had in my head when I started making this piece, the dark blue dots were meant to be appliqued on top to represent the areas of deepwater. However, I couldn’t decide on where to place them, my first idea was to place them in a grid in a neat and orderly way inspired by looking at Josef Albers work, but this didn’t feel right so I tried them in a number of places, but in the end decided the piece just looked better without them. I created a new piece which I then appliqued a blue circle onto by melting the edges, but I’m not happy with the colours in this piece – the yellow areas are meant to represent the Islands.

For my final sample I had to use only one piece of fabric with nothing attached to it, so I returned to using calico as suggested which is a lovely natural cream colour similar to the ‘fungi’ inspired colours I have used before. Using a similar coloured thread I stitched many curved pin tucks into the fabric by hand, taking inspiration from the shapes in my sketchbook work on ‘rock-pools’, but to me the many lines close together in the finished piece feel more like the underneath of a mushroom. As the fabric was pulled in more and more by each pin tuck the entire piece seemed to curl up into a shallow 3D nest like shape.

To reflect back on the work I’ve done, here are the answers to a few questions:

  • How does working with fabric in this way compare with working directly with stitch?
    I enjoyed experimenting with all these different techniques, I found that adding in applique and 3D shapes can add a lot more texture and interest to a piece of work. If you want to cover a large space with a different colour or texture it is quick and simple to just applique on another piece of fabric, where as it can be very time consuming to attempt a similar thing with stitches alone, which may end up being less effective as stitches of a certain colour wouldn’t cover a space as effectively as a solid coloured piece of fabric, and 3D shapes can be much bigger and more robust with bits added to pad them out, without changing the shape of the entire piece of fabric.
  • Are you pleased with the shapes and movements that you have created in both applique and fabric manipulation? What would you do differently?
    As described above, I was very happy with some of my applique pieces, especially the one with raised leather areas and whip-stitch surrounding it, and I would love to try this one again on a bigger scale and in different colours – maybe metallic leather! The fabric manipulation pieces I didn’t find so interesting, in part maybe because it felt more restricted, I was pleased with where my final sample was heading though, and would like to some how make it more 3D, but I’m not quite sure how best to go about it.
  • How did the pieces work in relation to your drawings? Were the final results very different from the drawings? Did the fabric manipulation technique take over and dictate the final result?
    I feel the pieces were rather a loose interpretation of the sketchbook work. I embraced the colours that I felt very drawn to in my final applique pieces, but did very little with the actual shapes I had sketched, other than trying to capture the movement and colour changes of the water shown in ‘Islands and Deepwater’. In the final fabric manipulation piece I focused on the circular swirling feeling of the ‘rock pools’, which I think I managed to capture, however the piece changed quite dramatically from how I intended it to look at the start. My original idea was for the base of the fabric  to stay quite flat, but have large folds of fabric standing up to create the sides of the rock pool, however, the fabric did not want to stay flat, and I couldn’t work out a way to have such large folds of fabric which gradually faded back into the flat area, so I ended up making much smaller pin-tucks and having to put up with the waviness of the fabric. The undulating, nest-like structure that was produced in the end I’m actually quite pleased with though, and if I was to make the piece again I would focus on making it as curved and 3D as possible.
  • Was it helpful to work from the drawings in the applique exercise? Would you have preferred to play directly with cut shapes and materials?
    I used the drawings as inspiration in the applique exercise, but didn’t rigidly copy them as none of them seemed like something I could copy directly into another format, so whilst they were helpful for giving me an idea for a direction to go in with my work, in the end I just played around directly with the materials I had and arrived at my final piece that way.
  • How do you feel about working with stitch in general? Is it an area you would like to pursue in more depth? Do you find it limiting in any way?
    I really enjoy working with stitch, especially when combined with other techniques. I enjoy the control and ongoing changes and development of sewing something by hand over time, but it can also end up taking a very long time to complete something that way, so adding in a little bit of applique or painting along the way really helps fill some of the space and finish a piece off. I would very much like to look into combining stitch with other techniques to create heavily textured pieces, but I find the main limiting factor is simply time, pieces can take weeks or months to complete (and cause some very sore fingers) and that’s something I can’t always fit in within the time frame of the course.

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