Category Archives: Part 3

Craft Based Textile Production Today


This research point is about the range of textiles which are craft based in their production in today’s world.   The course notes refer to a range of techniques such as weaving, embroidery, painting, printing, dyeing, quilting, felting and basketry.   Those making work in a traditional or contemporary style often cross over and use techniques which can be applied in either style.   Whether makers see themselves are craftsmen or artist / designers they are unified by a goal of creating something which is individual or produced in very small numbers and which is high quality (and often labour intensive) in finish.

The relationship between industrial and craft based textiles has been dynamic since the invention of the first modern industrial spinning and weaving equipment.  Over the last two decades the inter-relationship between hand and industrial manufacture has been of interest in itself.   Many techniques formerly done in a traditional manner can now be done my machine but industrial manufacturing design borrows both techniques and design from craft textiles across cultural boundaries.

Craft-produced textiles still have an important place in our society and in our daily lives.  Notable in the world of high tech textile collection the NUNO corporation has created incredible visual effects in textiles for fashion, interiors and art.  Founded by Reiko Sudo and Junichi Arai in 1884 the vision is a combination of technology, traditional techniques and new finishing processes.  The outstanding textiles created by NUNO demonstrate the modern interest in combining tradition and culture with concepts for the future.

Over the recent past there has been an increasing interest in both traditional and modern textiles by both artists and academics.  Towards the end of the last century textiles were increasingly celebrated not only as part of an extended view of the visual arts but also for their intrinsic value as part of our lives and our culture.   Textiles can offer a window on to cultural diversity and provide a wide source of inspiration for artists, designers and craft makers to draw on from across and out with their own cultures.   Cloth itself has been associated with rites of passage and ritual throughout human history and an increasing interest in ethnographics and the diversity of displays and exhibitions being mounted in museums and galleries.

Artists and craftspeople / designers have drawn of other cultural textiles and traditional cultural textile techniques in a variety of ways.   For example in the 1970s onwards there has been a resurgence in interest in embroider, quilting, knitting and stitching both in terms of reviving the skills of the crafts but also in reinterpreting them through a fine art lens and in making objects based on these indigenous approaches in a more contemporary or conceptual way.

An interesting example of a revival of traditional crafts is the ‘Great Tapestry of Scotland’ currently a touring exhibition which had its first public viewing in the Scottish Parliament this year.  It is not a tapestry but an embroidery (like the Bayeux tapestry).  An idea born in 2010,   groups of volunteers across Scotland got together in small groups to stitch the story of Scottish history.  Building on the success of a embroidery of the Battle of Prestonpans the idea for a new work must be to some extent sponsored by the debate about Scottish independence and what it means to be Scottish.  The relationship between textiles and politics is of course, well documented and outwith the scope of these notes but is a ever present feature when we consider culture and textile production.

In world where global travel is a possibility for increasing numbers of people, especially in the west, the interest in the textiles of other people, the place in their lives and the difference and diversity in style, use of colour, difference of symbolism and cultural meanings has expanded.  Even those who are not artists or makers have a personal interest in capturing or recreating other cultures they have encountered.  This manifests itself in the collection of rugs, clothing, household items and textile art from other cultures.

The fashion industry draws heavily on cultural influence in new designs and innovative interpretation of ethnic textiles. Paul Greenhalgh, editor of ‘The Persistence of Craft’ is quoted as saying

‘Craft has changed its meaning fundamentally at least three times in the last two centuries, and it means fundamentally different things from nation to nation even in the Western world. So there can be no one-liner that identifies larger single meanings, as it doesn’t have one. If it is of use in the current context, it is to recognize the significance of genre-based practice in the arts. It should also be a useful category in a global cultural environment. It might even have meaning as a signifier of a socio-political outlook. But it should have nothing to do with aesthetics, and less to do with negative approaches to technology.’

Modern technology has created a world of textiles not available to earlier generations.   Trends in these textiles can either be innovative or forward looking or technology can be used to create textiles that look like they have been hand crafted.  An astonishing sock yarn enables those with basic skills to create knitted garments that look like fair isle knitting.  Many craft oriented workers and even those knitting only for their own use consider it be cheating.  Cheating or not it is an amazing feat (no pun intended) of engineering and fascinating in its own right.  It would never have been invented had there not remained an interest in hand knitted looking design signifying in a small way the interest we have in crafted textiles today.

I had a discussion with some people who attend a group of quilters who meet weekly. Some of them are only interested in traditional quilting techniques, many apply modern approaches to traditional patterns and make use of sewing machines, other are interested in contemporary or art quilt making.  Why do they spend so much time, money and effort on textiles and quilt making?  It’s certainly not because they need to cover beds to survive the winter though many are making utility quilts for household use.   It seems to be to do with the satisfaction of making a high quality article.  It is also a social and cultural grouping of people who enjoy being together.  They all share a love of fabric and textiles generally, colour and yarns.  Many are accomplished in several traditional craft.   They all believe it improves the quality of their lives.  They all gain value from the making as well as value from the crafted objects.


OCA course materials, OCA

Textiles Today, Colchester C, Thames and Hudson, 2009

World Textiles, Schoeser M, Thames and Hudson, 2003


Project 6 Stage 4 Raised and Structured Surface Techniques

I really enjoyed this section of the course. I could have spend a great deal more time on the techniques and I generated a lot of ideas that could be further developed later and perhaps resolved in to more finished pieces or could inform my final piece for this course unit. I experimented widely with all the techniques suggested in the course notes and whilst I have not included them all here in this entry I have generated some useful samples for further reference or development.

I started with a very traditional hand quilted sample. Based on design derived from Moorish tiles it was simple a clear demonstration of the impact of a simple quilting stitch on a plain fabric.

In this sample I used some fabric I had dyed in the Shibori style. It has not worked very well as an indigo dyed fabric as I had not left it in the dye for long enough but it did lend itself to this type of work with tucks being folded in different directions to create a dynamic ripple or wave effect. The lines on the fabric became the guide for where to pin the tucks and they already had the effect of flowing water. This could be incorporated as a panel in to a larger piece of work using indigo fabric and folding, pleating and tucking techniques.

I wanted to combine some quilting with slashing back fabric. Building up layers of fabric in red and green I created a quilted sample which I then slashed the top layers of to reveal the cut edges below. I had held the layers together on the top by adding sheer fabric which gave sheen and created an interesting additional dimension to the surface texture. The contrast between the complementary colours and the use of small pieces of scrap textiles gave this quite a dynamic look. That was enhances by the strong diagonal lines created by quilting and slashing.
I was interested in create a sample with raised shapes and I did that by trapping buttons of a variety of sizes between a fine cotton top layer and layers of thin wadding and backing. I hand stitched the buttons in to the layers and created further surface texture on one side by stitched and cut threads.


On the other side the sample has a more raised texture with the raised wadding being the key feature. I finished off the sample by machine quilting in a circular pattern to echo the shape of the buttons. The commercially produced fabric on the outside was already printed with circles which gave another dimension to the theme. I particularly liked the effect of monotone which enabled the surface texture to become the main feature.

The final samples I am noting in this post were three different techniques based on a post card I had used as a source in my sketch book for this stage. The postcard shows a section of metal which is rusting. I liked the oval shapes, the contrast of textures and the contrast of the rust metal and blue. I used this source to try out these three different fabric manipulation techniques.

100_7130 100_7131 100_7132

In the first sample I gathered a piece of a calico across and circle and round the circumference to represent the white algae bloom on the metal. I used a heat gun on layered black and blue materials to reveal the layers below and to create a decayed appearance like the metal. In the third I layered calico which was rust and tea stained on black and a background layer. This allowed me to demonstrate free motion quilting, cut back appliqué and layering. The three techniques are very different but all came from the same source image and the developed ideas.
I have recorded a number of ideas for further work and possible lines of development in my sketchbook.  Reflecting on this exercise I compared this approach to working directly with stitch.  Both approaches can be used to create texture: both physical texture and the appearance of texture.  Manipulating fabric and layering create more surface texture physically.   I was particularly interested in samples where I could combine both manipulated or textured approaches with the application of stitch.  By using both it built up the intensity and interest on the fabric.   I created movement in number of different ways; by reverse applique in the circles sample in the applique section, by strong lines of quilting and my allowing several different fabrics to show on the surface through cutting back and burning back layers.   Whilst the finished samples were not direct representations of my drawings or source materials the link between the source through the development work could be seen.  I do quite like working directly with materials but am increasingly working from sketch ideas and sources.  I believe though that it can be an iterative process.  Even starting with some development work in my sketchbook the use of the materials does have an impact on the continuing process of review and redesign and does affect the outcome.  Textiles and other materials can be the source of ideas on themselves so the process in not completely linear.

Project 6 Stage 3 Applied Fabric Technique

I have done quite a lot of appliqué in the past in my own craft work and wanted to do something a bit different as part of my course. I went back to some work in my sketch book where I had been developing circles and layers. I had used some of the earlier ideas in the print experiments but now I wanted to see if I could take the same ideas of circles with lines going through them in an appliqué sample. I also wanted to use the idea of building up layers with sheers or voices and trying to create contrast by the presence or absence of the voile layer. The course notes suggested working on a piece not more than 30 cm square. I did not feel that would work for what I wanted to do and decided to work on a different scale.
In this sample I tried out several of these ideas. I started with this sketch book idea of repeating circles.


I wanted to create something in the circle that would carry the composition across the piece and I wanted to move from light to dark in the colours I used. I have been thinking about the theme I want to explore in my theme book and am beginning to think about seeds and seed heads and I connected these two ideas with the round seed heads of dandelions.100_7137

Combining these and after experimenting with difference sizes of circles I cut out 16 circles which I wanted to appliqué to a background fabric and shadow appliqué them down. The sheer I used for the shadow appliqué also had a shaded effect with colours moving through yellow to purple.
The shadow appliqué was done my hand and I positioned the sheer to create a shading effect on each of the fabrics used for the circles.
In order to create the sections across the circles I then used a reverse appliqué approach cutting sections out of the sheer fabrics and using a variety of threads to stitch and give contrast to the cut away sections. I used a variety of colours and weights of threads. I also created the contrast in the areas with the sheer fabric cut away by sometimes changing the shade or the colour of stitching fabric. The effect is subtle but very interesting. The sheer fabric was difficult to work with hand stitching as it was very inclined to fray but overall I felt the sample worked out as I had planned and demonstrated two different approaches to appliqué. I also believe that the additional layer of removing the sheer in sections across the circles created movement around the sample piece.


Project 6 Stage 2 – Developing Ideas In Fabric Texture

The exercise in this stage of the course included going back to previous sketch work and / or working from other sources.   Building on the decisions made at the preparation stage I reviewed my earlier sketchbooks to find source material that had potential in terms of composition with reference to colour, patterns and texture.  Looking for drawings that had some expressive quality the activity focussed on developing those elements further.  The intention was to create a series of small collages developed from the original drawings other source material and to make use of the groups of fabrics collected together in the first stage of the project.

In particular I was looking for contrast in shape, colour, texture.  I had already chosen a harmonious groups of blue/ green materials and had also compiled materials in red and yellows.  Pulling out some further fabrics to highlight contrast seemed quite important at this stage so that there would be a range of approaches across the 6 pieces.

I started by altering the surface of some of the textiles.  I had collected some samples of linen which seemed to lend itself particularly well to have threads pulled out to create new pattern and texture.

I decided to do some further development work for each of my 6 sources which included a bit more sketching, selecting particular areas of the source material and matching the fabrics I had to that.  My aim was less to make it representation and more to create a response.  In fact some of the samples did end up quite representational whilst others were several iterations away. I wanted to play around with the composition and try to get some difference in the scale of the pieces that made up the small collages.

I have included images of just a couple of the pieces below.  In the first sample an abstract sketch resulting from an experiment with bleach was the starting point.

100_7109 100_7110

100_7111 100_7112

The second example started with an image of a quilt artists work and developed the concept but kept to the same monochromatic colour scheme.

100_7114               100_7115

I found this an interesting exercise and learned about composition and shape.  The texture and mood aspects could be developed further if these pieces were developed further in to more resolved work.   The teaching material only requires small samples but I could see potential in some of the pieces for further development at a later stage.  The six pieces all ended up looking very different with different moods and styles which I was pleased about.

Part 3 – Stage 1 – Preparation of fabrics

Part 3 – Stage 1 Preparation

Laying out my fabric samples chosen for this part of the course and linking them to my source material was not only enjoyable but generated ideas as part of the process.  Having looked forward to stage 2 I realised that I needed to prepare six different samples based on either drawings from my own sketchbooks or other sources materials.   I decided that I would plan to use three of my own drawings and three other sources which I found inspiring.   I selected fabrics which seemed to match the chosen idea in terms of colour but also mood and scale.   I also chose threads and other trimmings which might be useful.

Three examples of my samples are shown below.  I chose them for the variety of colour and mood, choosing one which was monochromatic as I thought that would engage me in a different kind of exercise in looking at the texture rather than colour.

Sample board 1 Blue / green

Sample board 1 Blue / green

Sample board 2 black and white

Sample board 2 black and white

Sample board 3 Red and yellow

Sample board 3 Red and yellow

Investigating style and design in textiles (1)

In part three of the course the first research point asked that we investigate the style and design of textiles available to the consumer.  It is a vast subject and I will continue to make notes, gather information and build my understanding of this throughout this course unit and others in the degree pathway.  In this post I am focussing on the following aspects:

  • Most  commonly used textiles and fabrics available to the ordinary consumer
  • An historic house and the conserved textiles
  • Building  a fabric collection

Commonly used textiles

I visited a number of textile outlets and clothes shops to investigate the style, composition and use of fabrics.  I was interested to note the predominance of certain kinds of fabric depending on the segment of the market that outlets were aimed at.  For example, in the high end fashion magazine, Vogue and Harpers for example, the fabrics listed tended to be linen, silk, velvet, brocade and interesting, some very high tech fabrics designed to be innovative and for drape and look.  In the everyday weekly or fortnightly magazines blends of fabrics and more man-made fabrics were in evidence though cotton/ polyester, cotton/ viscose mixes were very common.

As part of my research I visited Halley Stevenson a furnishing fabric store in Dundee.   I noted a number of things in looking at the fabrics and talking to the expert staff there.  The retail outlet is attached to the still working mill. The mill is one of Dundee’s oldest fabric mills, dating back to 1864. The factory currently specialises in waxed cotton but the shop sells fabrics for furnishing and curtains.  It was interesting to note the traditional fabrics on offer, linen, velvet and satinised cotton and to see the current fashion for mineral colours and duck egg blue much in evidence.   It was also interesting to see that particular fabric houses are very much in demand at the moment in terms of upholstery and household textiles.  Halley Stevenson carry a wide range of Moon and Laura Ashley fabrics.  At one time the mill did colouring and finishing for Laura Ashley so they have a close tie there.   The tartan, paisley and lowland Scotland landscape colours of the wool in Moon make it a popular choice in quality home furnishing and for traditional hotels.  I was interested to note the variation on the Martindale Scale (rub test) with the fabrics I looked at.   An indicator or suitability for use in furnishing I noted that some fabrics which were predominantly natural fibres had an element of man made fibre included to increase the durability of the fabric.

Researching the most commonly used fabrics I found several websites and references in the recommended course reading that identified the following fabrics as some most popular and commonly used in the fashion  textile industry today:

  • Cotton – fibre obtained from the cotton  plant and one of the traditional fibres used in the textile industry, durable and has good drape
  • Linen – made from the flax plant.  It has been in use throughout history, stiffer than cotton  and very durable
  • Jute  – nature fibre also in use for centuries and is high in strength
  • Silk – again in use throughout history, obtained from silk worms
  • Wool-  mainly obtained from sheep – good elasticity and drape
  • Polyester – introduced in 1951 – man made fibre which is durable and holds its shape
  • Nylon- invent in the 1930’s as a synthetic replacement for silk.  Strong, inexpensive and versatile
  • Rayon- manufactured from naturally occurring fibres so neither fully natural or synthetic.  It can be used to mimic the feel of silk, wool or linen
  • Spandex and lycra – synthetic fibre used for its ability to stretch.

Often used in combination to change the elasticity, durability and fit many modern fabrics contain two or more fibres and cross over the natural and synthetic groups.

In researching household curtain fabrics I noted several fabrics that were combinations of fibres and some of the most popular were:

  • Brocade – a heavy fabric made from cotton, wool or silk or a mixture of two or all three.  Raised designs – often floral were most common
  • Cambric – tightly woven and made from linen or cotton.  It has a sheen on one side so popular for curtains.
  • Chintz- mid to light weight cotton. Has a glazed finish and drapes well
  • Damask – made from cotton, silk or wool or a combination of one of those fibres with satin.  Characterised by raised designs.
  • Moiré – this refers to a finish on silk making it look like it has been dipped in water.  As a heavy weight is used in upholstery or lighter weight for curtains.
  • Organdy – a light weight cotton – washed in acid to give a crisp appearance
  • Taffeta – silk woven with an acetate to give a shiny appearance
  • Velvet – soft fabric woven from a combination of cotton, viscose rayon and polyester.

The House of Dun – visit to an historic house

Silk coverlet - House of Dun

Silk coverlet – House of Dun

One of the suggestions in the course materials for this piece of research was to visit an historic building to see what textiles might be conserved there.  I visited the House of Dun which overlooks the Montrose basin in Angus in Scotland.  There are several notable pieces of textiles which survive from the early 19th century in the house.  The house was built in the early 18th century for David Erskine.  It was commissioned from William Adam and is very well preserved.  About 100 years later it was modernised by the John Erskine and his wife Lady Augusta Fitsclarence.  Lady Augusta was the natural daughter of the Duke of Clarence (later King William IV) and the actress Mrs Jordan.  It was from this period that much the surviving textiles date.

In the dining room the embroidered panels on the curtains were worked in Berlin wools by Lady Augusta who by all accounts was a tireless needlewoman.  Many of the textiles of note in the house date to this period but there is an interesting embroidered silk counterpane made by the officers wives of the nearby RAF Leuchars on one of the beds that had no surviving cover.

Notable in the sitting room there are embroidered curtains and pelmet.  Decorated with flowers and exotic birds these embroideries are also thought to be the work of Lady Augusta.   National Trust staff found the embroidery rolled up in strips in a trunk in the attic.   The main fabric had rotted but the embroidered panels were in good condition and were appliquéd, by volunteers, on to new silk backing to form the curtains.

Another important textile piece is an embroidered pale yellow bedspread.  Also the work of Lady Augusta it is extensively embroidered and large floral tendrils form the letters which indicate that this was a gift to her son on his wedding.

Two 17th century Flemish tapestries can also be seen in the House of Dun.  The subject of the larger is the story of Bacchus and Ariadne and the second is a country scene with two figures where the subject has not been identified.

Finally, below stairs the house keepers bedroom has a red and white traditional hexagon patchwork coverlet in cotton.   A contrast with the fine silk and wool furnishings upstairs it is nonetheless interesting for its hand pieced work.

Building a fabric collection

Textile collecting

Textile collecting

Building on my existing fabric collection is no real hardship!  I have collected fabrics for many years.  My inability to throw away clothing or worn out household fabrics is a real advantage in not only creating a library of fabrics but also a living history of what was fashionable over the last 30 years.   Not all still have labels on them and in building samples of fabrics I have become much more careful about noting the fabric content and any other information about it.

The largest percentage of the fabric I already have in my collection is cotton, craft quality.  Because I have been on quilting and fabric dyeing it’s the obvious choice though even there the quality and in particular, the thread count and the methods of printing and dyeing vary considerably.  High thread count Egyptian cotton is ideal for fabric dyeing whilst calico prints well and is strong backing fabric.

Since starting this course I have built up a much wider range of fabrics and in particular have collected more furnishing and household fabrics as well as the myriad of blends of fabrics available in both household and fashion products.