field project: global cultural collaboration

this field project was supposed to be “going to morocco” – it was supposed to be a photography project. since it turned out i was unable to travel it turned into “what am i itching to make more of?” 😉

the original inspiration was a visit to the alhambra 15 (!) or so years ago. i fell in love with the decoration, the colour, the use of light and space. that trip to spain and morocco influenced my use of hard landscaping materials in our little garden.

brick and tiles

when the option modules came up i figured i could take my interest in origami tessellations a step further exploring islamic tile patterns. i knew they could be translated into fabric and since this was a textiles workshop-based course that seemed like a good direction to take.

origami tessellations in fabric | original design | indigo shibori dyed cotton

then i saw fannie van arkel’s work and realised she did it better than i ever could 😀 so i returned to the paper side of things. we’d constructed some paper models for translating into fabric manipulation, but the quality of those models really inspired me – that simple straight cuts and folds could bring the flat paper to life, give it a more organic form.

paper model for fabric manipulation

it reminded me of a) the sculptural qualities of geometric tile patterning – that skilled designers can map a pattern constructed with straight lines to fit onto curved domes – and b) my previous experiments with pleat tessellations following the techniques of goran konjevod.

pleat tessellations (pureland or organic origami)

i’m pleased with these – each uses the same simple technique but i’ve managed to improvise patterns and to some extent predict how a particular fold pattern will come out. i should have taken more pictures of the pieces backlit and/or used more translucent papers to show off the technique best. i developed these models into a larger 32-grid piece.

pleated origami | cartridge paper, drawing ink

i really should have looked up issey miyake sooner. not only does he have an entire clothing line based on simple pleats he also creates lanterns reminiscent of the paper folding xmas decorations we had as kids in the 70s.

issey miyake

and he uses a very simple technique to make the pleats –  simple if you’re a reasonably confident paper folder – two matching pleated paper patterns with the fabric sandwiched between and heat setting the pleats. i adapted some of my previous models and improvised patterns on the same basic prefold grids. my pleats aren’t permanent since they’re just ironed flat.

paper moulded fabric pleats | cotton, silk, ripstop nylon

i used these techniques on a larger piece that i shibori dyed (in itself a geometric, folding process) using clothes peg resists. i think my attempt to create a soft drape out of straight lines was successful in this piece.

silk | shibori dyed with drawing ink | heat-set pleats

all this prefolding on a grid brought me back round to examining the underlying geometry of the tile patterns that originally inspired me, probably the most rewarding part of the module. i drew templates for 8- and 12-point symmetry squares by hand and with software (Geometer’s Sketch Pad 5 – 1 year licence under £10, recommended) and mapped tile and screen patterns.

constructing a 12-point-symmetry base with geometer’s sketchpad

never one to miss the chance to do some hand paper cutting i made a small box using the mapped patterns and one i drafted on the basic 8-point base. this was also inspired by the craft skill and patterning of islamic carved jali screens. this really needs a light inside, and could translate well into laser-cut materials.

lantern box
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woven silk

so many lessons follow from taking the sample off the loom…

here’s how it came off – coarse and stiff due to the sericin remaining in the threads.

degumming involves gently simmering with an alkali and a surfactant (soda ash and synthrapol respectively). i used 1 tbsp soda and 2 of synthrapol and cooked for just over an hour.

following degumming 2 things are obvious : the fabric is mush softer and more flexible; it’s also sleazy (i think that’s the technical term :D). the weft threads slide a lot on the warp. part of my degumming was squeezing the cloth between my fingers to remove the jelly-like gum and the threads packed down as you can see above. on drying they were even slidier – they pack down into half the length of the warp. this tells me my sett was too wide – i didn’t have enough warp ends to make any kind of balanced cloth – and the slipperiness of the cleaned silk makes this even more apparent.

the other thing that jumps out is how un-shiny the finished cloth is, especially when compared to the naked warp threads which positively glow. i tried to catch the difference but a photo really doesn’t do it justice.

a couple of changes to my next sample suggested themselves. i doubled the number of warp ends per inch (4 per hole/slot), these threads gather together on the loom, making for a pronounced stripe in the cloth, i’ve no idea if it’s possible they’ll spread themselves out during finishing. i also increased the weight of the weft, in the hope that might produce a more balanced cloth, rather than the weft-face i’ve ended up with. i’ve done a short section with the original weft (2-ply) another with 32-ply to match the 32 threads through each hole and slot (4 x 8-ply threads), and another section with 16-ply (the easiest for me to produce from the threads i already have). i’ve also beaten the weft in harder.

the next sample just needs hemstitching before i can cut it off the loom. something else i can look at is degumming before weaving. the degummed threads are really incredible and more than justify the work it takes to reel the silk, it may well be that weaving simply isn’t the best use of those magical qualities, at least on the equipment i have available.

3D modelling

been wrestling with a rhino the past week or so. in theory i’m not asking it to do anything difficult, but in practice i just don’t speak rhino 😀

i wanted to make use of the benefits of digital design to make a medal for the bams student medal competition. i figured it would be a good way to split a shape with interesting geometry, and to produce two perfectly fitting halves of a whole.

initially i had no plans to use digital print in the final piece, i thought i’d just use it to produce a blank for mould-making, but when i saw the results from the powder bed printer i really liked the look and feel of them. it would also save all the additional work of mould making for traditional casting. i hoped by digitally printing i’d be able to include more detail than i could have achieved using casting methods, which still baffle me.

my tasks were splitting a solid, engraving text around the edge and inside, placing an accurate centre hole and applying an image to the top surface. mostly achieved in the end by flow along curve and surface and boolean split/difference to make cuts/holes in the solid.

the image on top is taken from a photograph (via photoshop) and used to create a heighfield surface – lighter areas produce high relief, darker parts are set back. i’m stuck at this point with how to join the height field surface to the solid medal, or even if i need to do that – if it renders okay it might print okay? only one way to find out… test printing… hours of test printing…

image on top is of a silk moth, bombyx mori. text is from kafka’s metamorphosis “he is my unfortunate son! can’t you understand i have to see him?”. the plan is  to cast the plainer bottom half of the medal in clear resin, including spun/woven reeled silk threads and a silk worm from inside a cocoon.

the halves will be held together using 4mm neodymium magnets in the central holes. it was brilliant trying the magnets in my first test print, they really brought it to life, gave it the pull of an  invisible thread that i was hoping for.

loom working

combs are taped either side of a wooden box. threads run around comb teeth and through alternate slots/holes in the reed. it’s an economic design for small amounts of yarn because there’s no waste warp. bunches of threads are tied behind the comb and taped in place.

i need a smaller shuttle for weaving silk threads because i’ll only warp the central section of the loom (i need small pieces from a limited amount of thread) and the long shuttle is a bit awkward to use on such a small loom. laser cutting one would be best as it leaves nicely smooth edges and anything even slightly rough that catches on the silk will be a problem. i need to sand the edges of the box for the same reason.

it’s a perfectly serviceable loom, not easy to work but i did manage to find some rhythm, which helped the selvedges. managed a full width/length sample in a weekend. i think with enough time and care it should be able to cope with the silk.

reeling silk

equipment: spoon and colander for moving cocoons about, toothbrush to pick up silk from the outside of the cocoons, skein winder for reeling off thread. cocoons are pre-soaking in hot tap water.

pot and burner, water is kept hot but not simmering. guide hook for gathering threads (i’m using the hook on the end of a drop spindle).

when you first add the cocoons to the pan they float.

the colander keeps them below the surface so they can soften and take in water, the air from inside bubbles out.

they’re ready to reel once they’re semi-submerged like this. then you start fishing around with the toothbrush to catch the loose fibres on the edge of the cocoon. at first you get a net of fibres but as you pull it narrows down to a single thread. the tangled waste discarded in this process can be degummed and spun. this is the most time consuming and frustrating part. the outer silk from where the cocoons were just started is more temperamental than the later thread. if the thread snaps you have to start over with the toothbrush. i used 25 cocoons in this batch.

as you gather the threads you run them over the hook, the warmth, wet and natural gum in the cocoons joins them into a single thread.

then you wind onto the skeiner, trying to adjust where you lay the thread so wet doesn’t sit on wet and stick together. it turns out this part is really important, thanks to sticky threads i’ve had a nightmare getting it off the skeiner.

this picture is from my first try and shows the silk from 7 cocoons. i rapidly upped that number to 25 because the thread was far too fine to handle, it kept snapping when i tried to wind it off the skeiner. even the thicker thread is tricky, as the thickness tails off as cocoons are exhausted. in future i’ll wind off the starts and ends and only skein the solid thread from the middle. once the cocoons are firmly attached there’s much less breakage and you can wind off the centre portions impressively quickly.

i had to cut my first sample off the skeiner, but i need continuous lengths to weave (unless i cut the threads into spinnable lengths of about 6 inches, degum, card and spin, which kind of negates the point of reeling single threads in the first place). my plan is to wind off long sections that i can then ply together into fine yarn strong enough for warping my little loom.

but at the moment i’m still working on getting it off the skeiner…

method adapted from original and improved versions on wormspit 🙂

laser loom

how to combine a 50-year-old technology with a 25,000-year-old one? laser cut a loom 🙂

i wanted a small sampling loom, following the pattern of this cardboard box loom. it’s a simple rigid heddle set up producing a plain weave cloth (one over, one under). but i wanted it to weave fine yarn, much finer than i could have achieved making one by hand.

the laser cutter did a brilliant job. i used 3mm ply which looks as though it will hold up if i don’t warp it too tightly. i made two end pieces to wrap the warp ends around and a reed/heddle with eyes/slots 1mm across and 1mm apart (which amounts to just over 12.5 dpi, which is the closest commercially available reed). depending on the thickness of the yarn i might have to sley multiple ends per hole/slot. after testing i might cut a long shuttle which i can also use to beat the warp.

as for the yarn – if all goes according to plan – reeled silk 🙂