This third assignment working with material manipulation and like assignments before, would pose new and welcome challenges. It also offered the chance to start working in a three dimensional format. Other than recent self-initiated projects with wet felting and the odd foray working with clay, my experience working in 3D is certainly a little limited.
In order to understand textiles as a medium, it’s important to understand their properties. This is particularly true with constructed textiles; understanding how a material or fibre behaves or responds to manipulation, handling or treatment is fundamental for artists and designers. This brief looks at exploring selected materials and their construction, manipulating their properties in order to produce design-led samples for potential use in textiles.
Researching a theme
I started this assignment by researching my chosen themes of stacked and layered and hairy and fibrous. These subjects consisted of both man-made and organic structures, ranging from architecture, art and design to nature. I also sourced imagery which contained examples of constructed and manipulated materials and textiles.
Below are some sample pages from my sketchbook with preparatory notes and sketches, created prior to starting making. However, I found it was easier to start working with the materials sooner than I normally would when beginning a new project.
(Images used for reference and research purposes only).
Artist Research – contemporary designers using material manipulation within their practice
Foldability – Paper
Foldability is a London based design studio run by Kyla McCallum who uses origami and geometry to create set designs, window displays and interior products such as lighting. She uses paper and wool to portray the art of fabric folding and pleating.
Fiona Hutchison – Weave
Fiona is a Scottish based textile artist who works predominantly with tapestry. She is greatly inspired by the sea and coast and the manipulation of weave is a driving force within her work. Experimenting with and manipulating warp and weft and using paper and linen yarns adds to the sense of experimentation in producing final pieces of highly conceptual work.
Ciara O’Neill – Polypropylene
Inspired by material innovation and organic structure, East London based Ciara O’Neill creates sculptural lighting from corrugated polypropylene using a unique cutting and forming technique to manipulate the material’s structure. This process produces materials that are flexible and tactile with dramatic light diffusing properties.
Just three more…spirals
Louise Bourgeois 1911–2010
Bourgeois was a French-American artist best known for her large-scale sculpture and installation art as well as being a prolific painter and printmaker. These two images below (while not connected to material manipulation) inspired me to create the Spirals through manipulating my chosen materials of paper and interlacing.
Richard Serra b. 1938
Serra is an American artist involved in the Process Art Movement. (Process art is an artistic movement as well as a creative sentiment where the end product of art and craft is not the principal focus, therefore, art is viewed as a creative journey or process, rather than as a deliverable or end product)*. While principally known for his large scale sculptures, Serra also creates large-scale drawings on handmade Hiromi paper or Belgian linen. He primarily works with charcoal or paintstick, a wax-like grease crayon, sometimes melting several paintsticks to form large pigment blocks. I love his bold, spirally drawings.
* Note to self: take note…
Sakiyama Takayuki b. 1958
Inspired by waves and currents, Japanese artist Sakiyama Takayuki produces highly sculptural, ceramic vessels that I couldn’t help but be instantly drawn to. As well as solidity, there is also an incredibly strong textural connection; the spiralling nature of these sculptures suggest movement, energy, fluidity and tactility. They remind me of wet, heavy pieces of fabric that have been manipulated by hand from being twisted, moulded and coiled into their final shapes and forms.
Material Testing – Paper
I chose to work with Kraft paper for its neutral colour, smooth texture and simplicity. The paper weights available were fairly limited so for manipulation purposes I chose to work with papers around 160gsm. However, this weight also proved to be fairly challenging. When I initially tried to bend or curl the paper I was left with creases – not the effect or result I wanted. I thought about ways I could mould the paper and realised I needed to soften it first; the most simplest of treatments solved the problem - water! In hindsight, it now seems obvious. Paper making, papier-mâché (minus the adhesive) and wood workers use water and steam to soften wood fibres in order to make the material more malleable. Once dry it also ‘sets’ which was the same working with paper. The solidity and strength of the wet formed, air dried tube towards the bottom of the image below is pretty phenomenal. It has also become ‘self-holding’ – so no fixatives required.
Material Testing – Vilene Interfacing
Non-woven interfacing is a synthetic material that is generally used in dressmaking to make areas of garments more rigid or to add body to fabric. It wasn’t something I was familiar with until I started on the test material samples and I found it was quite awkward to work with. When I look at how the material behaved, it tore and cut easily, revealing fibrous qualities that was less obvious in the Kraft paper. Due to the lack of rigidity I preferred threading it with craft wire rather than normal sewing thread. It did sand particularly well, exposing the underlying fibres.
Sample Development – Paper
Following on from the initial material tests and continuing to work with wet Kraft paper, I then started to develop and shape different forms based on simple spot or stripe designs while bearing in mind the initial themes of stacked, layered or hairy and fibrous. In the back of my mind, I was almost treating these forms as sculptures; how could they work on a large scale in a different material such as woven fibres or even steel or bronze? The work of Thomas Heatherwick sprang to mind, particularly with Image 1. Finding objects to use as a mould for wet paper was key to achieving the shapes I was after, for example the spirals in Images 3 and 7 were moulded around a narrow towel rail on our downstairs loo sink. I then took initial forms of spirals (Image 7) one step further, to create a ‘spot’ which required further manipulation to attempt to keep its rounder shape. Fixing or fastening solutions were purposely kept simple – as there was no need to complicate these I used flexible craft wire as ‘staples’, fairly raw hemp fibres to sew with (Image 3), cut slits to hold the paper in situ (Image 4) and then the natural self binding properties of the materials themselves (Images 9 and 10). Samples were only partially fixed to the A6 mount board to allow for handling and ‘interaction’, particularly those in Images 5 and 8.
Sample Development – Vilene Interlacing
I found I struggled more with this material and kept going back and fiddling with paper. It was then that I stopped myself from overthinking and wanted to keep it as simple as possible. Working with spots and stripes, I generally chose hairy or fibrous as the theme. Referring back to the research images and the paper samples I had previously produced, I attempted like for like, particularly with Images 1, 2 and 5, the ‘sculpture’, the spiral and the ‘nest’. The interlacing ‘sculpture’ required threading with wire to hold the folds and curves in place as did the spiral, the ‘nest’ required some loose interweaving and wrapping to keep it together, whereas the paper’s only requirements were water, hand moulding and air. The interlacing spiral was shaped using the binding wire from an old notebook, still in its original spiral. It was definitely a material with contrasting behaviours. It had a fragility which was dependent on the width of the fabric while at times it felt incredibly tough to manipulate. I do have mixed feelings about the produced samples in terms of satisfaction or success, but I am drawn to 7 and 8, the simplest of the lot – the stripes threaded through and the spots on the stripe. They may not be the most adventurous but by sewing the interlacing with its own fabric and then attempting to perforate it (but not succeeding), I like the simple qualities these have achieved.
Differences and comparisons… There were significant differences between my two chosen materials and one I massively preferred over the other. The contrasting characteristics and structural features of the paper and interlacing couldn’t be any different. It was a case of organic v inorganic and the most notable differences when working with them was the lack of rigidity with the interfacing. I can’t say it lacked structure as it had structural fibres, but being synthetic it was slippy and surprisingly tricky to work with. I just found that the paper offered more opportunity for moulding and manipulating into any given shape. Having said that, I felt it was easier to ‘expose’ the fibres in the interlacing, for instance, when I sanded the material with a coarse sand paper, this had a far more interesting result than sanding the paper which didn’t really expose any fibres.
And surprises… I think my biggest surprise (obvious when I really thought about it) was the discovery of just using water to mould, manipulate and form the paper samples. The paper became far more pliable and flexible. Depending how it was held in shape as it air dried (loosely or tightly), the paper dried exactly how it had been left, almost to the point of absolute perfection. The spirals that were wet formed and air dried around the towel rail were a complete success.
There was also a degree of flexibility with the moulded paper forms, particularly when it came to photographing them. By looking at different angles or upside down or back to front or actually unravelling, the forms could take on quite a different feel as the perspective changed.
The most successful… To me the simplest forms were the most successful. They were also the easiest to construct. They either moulded and dried perfectly or just had the simplest approach, yet were still aesthetically pleasing to handle and look at. The samples that I felt were more sculptural and could be worked up to a larger scale were high on my list in terms of a successful outcome.
How they could be used in textiles… These samples are part of a discovery and exploration process that could be evolved and reflected on if required, having looked at their behaviour and how they perform when manipulated, stressed or put through various stages and processes. They could also provide ideas and inspiration for shape and structure either in constructed textiles or as a possible repeat pattern. For instance, some of the shapes could prompt pattern ideas for weave or print.
And my learnings… I learned I was able to change the behaviour of a material through changing the way the fibres worked using a wetting and drying process. I also discovered what you can do with one material you may not be able to do with another, and if that was the case, could you create variations, working with the material’s properties and limitations? There was also a fragility involved; wet paper could not be over handled, while it needed to be substantially wet, there was also a risk it would rip or start to wear. Too dry, it wouldn’t mould to shape and would crease rather than form smooth curves. I also discovered it was better for me to ‘make’ rather than ‘sketch’. I needed to physically work with the material as despite sketching first, the material forms never came out like the sketch! Making and handling through sampling, was I guess, sketching in 3D.
It also isn’t apparent how a material is going to behave. This means that some will be a success or fail or the end result isn’t as wanted, meaning plenty of discarded test samples when they break, rip or tear or simply, just don’t work. I’ve not worked with materials like this before and I did question if there was a deconstruction process I should go through in order to figure out how they were made in the first place. I’ve made paper before many, many years ago but the interlacing was a complete unknown and in a way I wish it behaved like wool or I wished that wool was one of the material options! I think in hindsight, I may have discarded this or at least purchased an adhesive version to give me more options. But the point of the brief is the process, to understand the way materials and fibres work and push them to see what they can or can’t do. Or at least discovering how far you actually want to take them and if it’s the right material for you.
And almost finally, I need to remind myself that these are test samples, the early stages of a much lengthier process, rather than finished pieces of work.
(On a final note, it wasn’t until the end of this assignment when I began to collate and review the work and research imagery, I found I had subliminally and unintentionally become obsessed with spirals).