Monthly Archives: April 2014

Activity 1.1: Part 2



Activity 1.1: Part 2

Right, as promised here is the second part of Activity 1.1. (Chapter 1), which should have been posted as one unit, but I had so much stuff on mark making, I split it. So here are painted marks on wet paper, colour washes, where I lacked knowledge and technique, and different types of paper, where I used what came to hand!

Wet Photocopier Paper: The bottom half of the paper was better, and gave a more impressionist effect, but it’s quite difficult predicting how the painted marks will react. Either there was more water on this bottom section, or my paint was wetter.

Wet Cartridge Paper 96gsm: I may have gone to the other extreme here and used too much water on the paper, or perhaps the paint was too watery, or the brush too wet. At any rate, there seems to be an awful lot of ‘bleeding’ of paint, and you can’t really see the original marks clearly.  

Wet Catridge Paper 230 gsm: Heavier quality paper definitely reacted differently – the paint smudged, but didn’t ‘bleed’ as much.  

Dry Colour Washed Cartridge Paper 230 gsm: I think my colour wash should have been much more watery, but it was fun painting marks over a painted surface. 

Most of the rest of the samples speak for themselves, but there were one or two surprises – I thought the blotting paper would soak paint up and just produce shapeless splodges, but it didn’t, and the results were quite nice (much better than sugar paper. And the shiny inkjet paper was lovely to work on, despite my fears that the paint would just form puddles on the surface – it gave quite good textured effects. In fact, the paint took fairly well on most surfaces, except the black tissue, which was a disaster. I knew the red paint wouldn’t show up that well on the black tissue, but I didn’t expect it to vanish the way it did! 

I found a pad of 300gsm water colour postcards among the art supplies from my elder daughter, and tried wetting this, then painting marks, but it didn’t seem to stay damp enough to produce any affect. Should I have made it wetter? Soaked it? Used wetter paint (it was pretty runny)? And do I paint immediately? Or let the water soak in? Or is this just the wrong sort of paper to damp down? And what happens if I slosh water over the painted marks?

And painting marks on top of a wet colourwash on 230gsm cartridge paper was fabulous. Again, I think the wash may have been too strong, and it would have been nice if the painted marks had run a bit more, but I think I got the idea a bit better here, so if I have time I’m going to experiment some more with wet paper, colour washes runny paint, and water!

By the way, any text that appears here on the blog, does appear in the sketchbook – longer pieces get stuck in, shorter pieces are handwritten. And I’m working on improvements to the wonky photos – it’s down to a combination of pages not lying flat, and me not holding the camera straight!





Activity 1.1: Part 1

This is by way of an introductory note. I’m not an artist. I never studied art (although I love wandering around art galleries), and the only thing I remember from school is cutting circles and rectangles from tissue paper and sticking them on paper. I have no recollection of doing any drawing, or colour studies or anything like that.

Consequently. I found the colour and shape studies of my wall (Embroidery Taster Module, Unit 3) quite difficult, but I bought a couple of art books from Oxfam and spent some time experimenting with making marks and mixing colours, and I’m hoping this course will help me build on what I’ve already learned, and give me a better understanding of colour, shape, texture, pattern etc. It will certainly be a challenge, but I am looking forward to it.

My sketchbook is only 160 gsm, not the recommended 180gsm, but it was the heaviest weight paper I could get locally, so I hope it is OK. Also, I’ve split Activity 1.1 (Chapter 1) into two parts, because I got a bit carried away trying out different mark-making tools, and mostly I did a sample per page, so I had a clear record of my work, which means I seem to have used oodles of pages before I thought about using different types of paper and wet surfaces. I saw each suggested task as a separate undertaking, but I could have experimented with different tools and different papers at the same time, and tried to provide more variety in the sizes and shapes of my marks, and made the marks closer together, and tried making patterns with them. However, I’ve had tremendous fun playing around, and I’m fascinated to see how the most unlikely objects can be used to paint. And I’m curious to know at what point marks are printed rather than painted.

Most of the art supplies I have (pads of paper, paints, brushes, coloured pencils, sketching pencils, pastels etc) were my elder daughter’s, and she gave them to me when she left home. They are not the best quality – they are all old and cheap – but they are good enough to get me started. The paint just says ‘crimson red’, while the brushes are probably nylon, and don’t seem to have much information about size or shape, or if they do the details are hidden under layers of paint on the handles and some of them need throwing out, because the bristles are all stuck together. 

On the whole I worked directly into the sketchbook, and used a hair-dryer to dry the paint when it seemed too wet to turn to the next page (I also inserted sheets of kitchen paper between pages to blot any excess moisture). Occasionally the paint was so wet that I painted the next sample on to paper (92gsm, from a pad ), then stuck it in to the sketchbook.  

Other than the first couple of samples, I didn’t make any conscious effort to try different strengths of paint, but it varied as I went along, because each time I added more paint I left it thick to start with, and kept adding water to thin it down until I had to put more paint in again. You can see the variation between the thick, dark paint and the thin, paler colours. I suspect my colour would be stronger with a better quality paint. 

Some markers worked best with ‘pure’ paint, while I liked the effect of others in more watery straight paint. Some things gave unexpected results – I loved the little bottle brush, feather, lollipop stick and big, fat, fluffy brush which looked like a giant make-up brush. But the natural sponge was no better than artificial ones (actually, I think I preferred the artificial ones), and crumpled material was disappointing, though it might be good for covering paper. 

Anyway, my work on different types of paper will be in the next post, as there seemed to be too much stuff to put it on the blog all together. Meanwhile, here’s a photo of my hastily compiled ‘mood board’ showing paintings, wrapping paper, postcards which use lines, spirals, squiggles and all sorts of other marks. My favourite is the amazing Paul Klee goldfish – when you look at the picture closely everything is covered in little marks that look like designs scratched into the surface.


And here are lots of photographs from my sketchbook, showing my efforts at producing marks on paper with paint and a variety of tools. I’ve cropped  them as best I can, as well as editing them to make them a little lighter and brighter, to give clearer images.

The upper part of the page shows work with a dry and a wet brush, and watering the paint down. The lower part shows paint straight from the tube, which was quite difficult to control, but gave a deeper, richer, textured effect. You could make marks in the paint with a comb, or knitting needle to get even more texture. This took a very long time to dry.


These marks (above) were done with a children’s paint brush, which gave surprisingly good and varied results, but whatever I do to it, the photo will only print upside down.

The marks at the bottom of the page  above were made with a large fluffy round brush (it looked like a giant make-up brush), used dry, and I just love this. They could be flowers, or strange animal footprints… 

The big, fluffy brush used wet was nice, but not as spectacular, so I over-painted with the end of a straw, and various cardboard tubes (from a loo roll, kitchen roll and cooking foil). 

These marks (above) were made with a very small bottle brush (when I was a child my mother used one of these to clean the teapot spout!). It made wonderful patterns, and reminds me of flowers, and pine forests, and ploughed furrows in fields… 


The footbrush, dragged along (above) looked a bit messy, so I over-painted with a twig, which  was capable of more delicate marks than I expected.

I found a magpie’s feather, and used  it to produce marks (above and below). It looks a bit messy, but was fun to use, and different parts gave quite different effects.  

The marks made with a cotton wool bud (above) were a bit clumnsy. I tried over-painting with  scrunched up plastic mesh (the kind you buy oranges in) but it just makes dots, rather than netting marks.  

This page (above) was created using an eye make=up applicator – one of those little sponge things on a plastic stick.  
Ooh, this was such fun! Different sized marbles, rolled across the page (this would be much better carried out in a box). It would be fabulous with different coloured, thicker paints. Perhaps I could try putting blobs of paint over the paper before rolling the marbles… I could have my very own Jackson Pollock style painting!

The cat ball gave interesting results, but wouldn’t roll properly, because it had a ridge round the middle (no wonder the cat didn’t like it). If I could find a better ball I’d like to try this again, with the marbles.  


I thought the bamboo pen (top of the above page) would be easy to use, but it wasn’t. It was awkward to hold, unwieldy to use, and wouldn’t retain paint for more than a second or two, and the effects looked clumsy.


The wooden stick for stirring tea was another awkward tool, but the lollipop stick was fabulous – I love the textured effects it gave.


I thought there would be a noticeable difference between artificial and natural sponge, and that the natural one would be better, but in actual fact the artificial sponges  were more versatile.


The little flat, flexible, plastic spatula for glue (you used to get these with children’s glue – do they still make them I wonder?) was another surprise, because it produced a variety of marks – fat, thing, curved, straight, dots and all sorts. 

Cable needle for knitting (above) – tricky to work with.

The oddment of silk (above) and the velvet (below) were both disappointing, although they were OK for big marks. They might be better used to cover a sheet of paper in paint. The over-painted fine lines at the bottom of the page above were done with an old nit comb, but it was difficult to paint with – but you’d get great effects using it to produce textured effects in a thick painted surface.




Well, I got my feedback for my Resolved Samples, and the assessment was far better than I expected, so I was thrilled, and I enjoyed the Embroidery Taster Course so much I decided to enrol on another one. But I thought rather than doing more embroidery at a higher level , I would like to study the Creative Sketch Book Modules, with Viv White, as I feel these would help me work on sketching, painting etc, and give me a much better foundation to develop my ideas for embroidery.

It will be a challenge, but I’m looking forward to learning new skills.

10B: Resolved Sample 2





Many of the comments about 10a Resolved Sample 1 apply equally to this second Resolved Sample, so I won’t say a lot! And, since I’m still having technical problems, and since the pages didn’t reproduce very well, I’m cutting and pasting my copy, and using scanned images, rather than trying to scan them on a page.


I flipped the section I used for Resolved Sample 1, which reversed it, and I only did three columns, because I thought it was better to have larger areas to stitch. After I’d started work on it I read Sian’s feed-back (as I explained in the last post, I sent all my work off together, almost at the end of the course, which was silly) I wished I’d been braver and tried to work diagonally, or squeezed or distorted the image in some way. I feel it is too similar to Resolved Sample 1 (and I think I needed to show more variation with my stiches and colours. But I enjoyed working on this, and was quite pleased with the result. Overall I thought this was quite successful.


I didn’t really plan the way I did for the first sample. I think that was because it was so similar, and my colour and thread palettes were pretty much the same. I had an idea in my mind of what I wanted, and I just kind of went for it, and came together better than I had hoped! 


Canvas:         10HPI 

Threads:        A mixed selection of thin, thick and textured yarns, including many of the dark grey Oliver Twists yarns, the lighter grey threads I dyed, and various others, including some brand makes, like the Anchor variegated yellow stranded embroidery floss. 

Materials:       Used black scrim (bought, not dyed by me) over the canvas, before stitching, and cut it away in some places, for the lighter sections. Green would have worked better I think, and I didn’t make best use of it. I could have bunched it up more at the side of the squares, to give impression of moss and soften the hard edges. And I could have left larger sections bare, with only the scrim showing, and a small amount of stitching for the marks on the paper. I wanted to try and pull some through on the bright green/black sari silk square at the top of the third column, like the slashed clothing of Tudor times, but I made such a mess I ended up trying to using ‘random’ cross stitches to cover up. And I made some felt for the bottom right-hand square, even managing to get a white stripe running through it, like the square in the paper weaving. I stitched it on with little ‘seeding’ stitches, like the ones used in crewel work. I did consider using running stitches, for a quilted effect, or covering the surface with embroidery before I stitched it on, but I was looking for texture to contrast with the rest of the embroidery, and random stitched effect. The edges were roughed up with a toothbrush. And I used some yellow chiffon, frayed at the edges, to soften the brightness of the orange in an Anchor variegated thread (I overstitched with lots of grey first, but that didn’t improve it). 

I could have used a greater variety of embroidery stitches and, as I said earlier, I should have made much better use of the black scrim. Next time I try this I’ll manipulate the fabric before doing anything else, and use little stitches, with black cotton, to hold it in place, then embroider over the top of it, and around raised bits, leaving open, flatter areas.

Chenille needles might make stitching ‘marks’ over other stitching easier, as long as the thread isn’t too thick – they have large eyes, and sharp points, so I could try stitching through stitching, rather than pushing through to the holes in the canvas. .All my needles were too small for anything other than very fine thread, so I stuck to tapestry needles, which wasn’t ideal.

I’ve not been anywhere near as well organised as I should have been, and throughout the course I’ve not been as bold as I would have liked (I kept saying that). But I’ve had tremendous fun experimenting with paints, paper, fabric and thread, and having got to the end I can see how different shape, colour and texture work together, and how you can use elements from them, together or separately, to create something unique and personal. I’ve got lots of ideas of other things to try, and think I feel confident enough to try some of those ideas on my own – I was too scared to use something like rug canvas, or to try stitching a diagonal design, and I never made full use of those striking black radiating marks on my wall, so I’d like to have a go at combining those three things. And I’ve still got this notion of doing something based on Tamworth Castle, and some of the women who lived there over the centuries.





My original plan for one of the viridian green squares in my Resolved Sampler 2 was to couch textured threads, but the ones I had in mind were very turquoise, and I’d made such a hash of the couching in Resolved Sample 1 that I wanted to try something different…. But what? Then I remembered that somewhere up in the attic was a big of little balls of dyed but unspun wool, left over from felt making left over from the days when I was a crafty mum helper in my elder daughter’s infant school and I did felt making with the kids. The wool must be around 20 years old (Elder Daughter is now 27, and she was about six when her class did this), but it’s still perfectly OK, all wrapped up as good as new – and there are colours that are just right.  

So I racked my brains to remember what I did all that time ago. 

·         I pulled out strands of green wool and laid them on an old raffia table mat, all pointing in the same direction, and put a few strands of white wool on it, to look a bit like the white gap in the viridian square, and added a couple more layers of green wool, going up and down in one layer, and across in the next. You can make really thin felt that you practically see through, or keep building layers for thicker felt. And you can sandwich small scraps of fabric or ends of thread between the layers. 

·         Then I rolled the wool up in the tablemat (like a Swiss roll), and tied it closed with some thread. Then I stuck it in the old washing up bowl, and poured boiling water over it, with a little bit of Stergene, and pummelled it with an old wooden spoon. Actually, when I did this with the school years ago we only used cold water, and it still worked. Boiling water is better but you need to wear strong rubber gloves to protect your hands). I kept tipping the water out as it cooled, and adding more boiling, and every now again I took the roll out and twisted and turned it, and I also whacked against the wall outside the backdoor. 

·         It’s a bit hit and miss knowing when the felt is ready, but of you unroll gently, and the wool is obviously not felted, you can roll it up again and have another go. 

·         When it’s ready, lift it off gently, rinse it, and spread it to dry. It gets firmer the longer you leave it – if you rush, the felt can be quite soft, and more difficult to work with 

There you have it. Dead simple felt making for very small quantities. And I do have photos, and samples of the wool and the felt, but can’t get them to upload. So I’ll post this this and try again later.

10a: Resolved Sample 1

Even though I have really enjoyed this course, I feel a bit as if I’ve never quite got into my stride with this course. I started all behind-hand, because of the weather, and printer problems, and seem to have been playing catch-up ever since. I eventually had to buy a new printer – and now the computer is playing up, and I’m having problems accessing files and the internet, and the computer is refusing to talk to the printer! Anyway, my final Resolved Samples are complete. Since the sketch book is really crammed, with just a few pages left, and since these pieces, and my samples, are quite bulky, I’ve pasted and stitched these on to A4 cartridge paper (there was a pad among the art supplies my elder daughter left here). I’ve scanned the pages in, but they are not very clear, as the scan quality is poor, and it’s not easy to read my writing, so I’ve typed by observations out as well!
I wanted to try working with more unusual threads, on a bigger canvas, but wasn’t sure what to use, so I worked a few stitches on rug canvas using string, thick thread and sari ‘ribbon’, but it was quite difficult to work, and I felt a bit intimidated by the size of those holes!  
So then I stitched on part of mesh sheet for baking chips (it was new), with thick threads, string, suede strips, a shoelace and more sari ribbon. The effect was interesting, and you could use really unusual threads, but the surface was very rigid, which made it a bit tricky to work on, and I didn’t feel very confident about using it.


So I tried this (see next sample) because the holes seemed a nice size, but it was vile to work on because even if you work on a frame, with thin thread, the canvas distorts – it seems to be much too soft for this kind of stitching. I must admit I have no idea what it is, although it seems to be about 8 holes per inch. I acquired it from a friend of my mother! 
Finally I had a go on double canvas, which isn’t an obvious choice perhaps but it forms nice squares that are larger than 10HPI canvas, but nowhere near as big as rug canvas. Basically, I used the bigger squares, but occasionally use the smaller ones if I felt it improved coverage. 
Image from Weaving 
I cropped in on this bit, because it gave some colour contrasts, and included that lovely viridian!  
Canvas:         Double canvas, about 5 big holes per inch.
Threads:        Oliver Twists ‘Happy Bag’ in dark grey shades
                       Mixed threads I dyed light grey (see ‘Extra: Dying’)
                       Other oddments of thread
Needles:        Needles (tapestry) 
This sample was planned out to some extent – I made myself a ‘mood’ board for inspiration, and wrapped threads around a lolly stick to get a clearer idea of the colours and textures I had, and to see what they would look like. Due to technical problems, I can’t upload the photo, so I laid the on the printer and scanned them in. And I used squared paper to make diagrams so I had a kind of framework to work to. However, I didn’t stick to it rigidly, and the stitching evolved as I worked. I was going to pot a photo of the board, but I’m having problems with new photos, so I put them on the printer and scanned them in!
Canvas: I pinned the canvas to a small, rectangular wooden frame, and used watercolours (tubes, mixed to colours I wanted) to sponge over the surface of the canvas, to try and create a greyish-green effect, like the background colour of the wall. I have a photo of it, but it won’t post.
Threads: I used a variety of threads, mixing colours and textures as I went along, picking up different threads as I went along, so most of the squares had quite a lot of changes of colour. 
Stitches: Tried to include a variety of stitches, but still not clear what constitutes a canvas stitch – I suspect some of these (like the spider’s web, French knots and couching) are not. 
Resolved Sample 1
This is what I ended up with!
And here is a photocopy of Resolved Sample 1, with my notes! 
I tried to get way too much of the woven design into my stitching. On a larger hole count it would have been better to cut in to far fewer squares – perhaps a maximum of four. Then I could have portrayed markings and shadings more effectively. There wasn’t enough room to get those details into small squares, so everything became clumsy, cramped and childish, and looked more like a sampler than a representation of the weaving of the wall. 
I wish I’d been less formal, and tried to avoid the ‘blocky’ effect of the squares – blending the edges in with staggered stitches would have been better, and given a more uneven effect.  
And I’m not happy with some of my colour choices – some of those yellows and greens are too bright and seem to clash, and I should have left some areas unstitched to give more textural variety. Perhaps some of the ‘markings’ could have been stitched on the canvas, rather than over the other stitches, to show the canvas, which I went to the trouble of painting, then covered up!  
The couching with the suede strips (which I dyed myself) didn’t really work – I was after a more gradual gradation of colour than this gave, and I didn’t get the technique quite right. .
Somehow, nothing seemed to come together, and by the time I’d completed the first three vertical rows I nearly gave up, but I threw caution to the winds, and tried a different approach on the final, fourth vertical row, using a much more random approach, with stitches going in different directions, using silk strips and raffia that I’d dyed myself, and blends of green and my dyed grey threads. I had more ragged edges, and left some ends hanging. This is a bit of a contrast to the rest of the stitching, but I feel it somehow pulls it together a bit more.  
I would have to say, I loved working with torn strips of fabric – the silk, the scrim, and the sari ribbon. And I adored being able to use threads I dyed myself.  
Finally, many of the things I’m not happy with could have been resolved if I had sent my work to Sian on a regular basis (little and often), rather than waiting until I started these two final pieces then sending everything up to that point! It would have helped her as well I think. Her feedback was very positive, and very useful but, due to my ineptitude, by the time I received it I was already working on the Resolved Samples.


Extra: Dying

Oh dear, I got side-tracked and I’ve been dying, which is not one of the tasks in the Embroidery Taster Module, but I am  so thrilled to be using some of ‘my’ threads’ in my Resolved Samples that I thought I would record what I’ve done!
It was all the fault of that stitching exhibition at the NEC, and chatting to one of the students from Kim Thittichai’s Experimental Textiles course, who assured me that dying small quantities of fabric and thread is dead simple, and not to bother with buckets and things, just use re-sealable plastic bags.
Anyway, I thought I would have a go, so I treated myself to Procion dyes (red, yellow, blue and black), as well as the necessary urea and soda ash, and I bought Calgon because we live in a hard water area, and Stergene (soap-free and detergent-free) to wash the fabric and threads.
Procion dyes
Soda Ash (or washing soda)
Calgon water softener
Stergene (soap-free, detergent-free washing liquid)
Pipettes or small spray bottles
Plastic dishes to mix dyes
Measuring spoons
Old scales
Washing up bowl (not to be used with food dishes!)
Brown bottles
Newspaper (lots – this was messy)
Vinyl Gloves (essential if you don’t want to dye your hands!)
Re-sealable plastic bags
Broken crochet hook (to mix dyes)
Face mask (on health & safety grounds one should use this, but I don’t have one)

Basically, I followed the instructions from Art Van Go (see attached sheet, together with Health and Safety Guidelines) but I used ordinary washing soda rather than soda ash, and used less dye than they suggested, because I was only dying a small quantity of fabric and threads, and I had no idea how strong the colours would be, especially as I as trying to use polythene bugs, rather than a bucket of water.
Once mixed, the ‘chemical water’ (water, urea and Calgon) and the washing soda solution were stored in brown plastic bottles (purloined from my husband’s beer making stuff!), securely stoppered, and clearly marked, so they couldn’t be drunk or used for anything else.
I used some of the white/cream/natural threads from the big bag of mixed yarns I raided for my ‘Stitchery from Rubbings Sample’ (Section 7), adding in a bit of raffia, some tubular knitting yarn, string, and some narrow strips of suede and a couple of pieces of material – scrim and silk to tear into stripes for embroidery, and cotton and calico, just to see what happened! 
In the beginning… To start with I had white threads…
The end result… Coloured threads!
Everything was washed first in the Stergene (to make sure it was clean, and to get rid of any stiffening or surface treatments) and rinsed well, then I dried them, but I could have dyed them without drying – in the end I damped it all down again because the colours seemed to merge and spread more effectively. I just shoved the materials and yarns into strong, re-sealable plastic bags (just a few things in each bag), and used pipettes to drop black, yellow and blue dyes in splodges over everything before sealing the tops of the bags Then I kept squishing, squashing and manipulating the contents. I left the bags standing in an empty ice cream container for 24 hours, but went back every so often to squidge everything around.
Finally, a good rinse, another Stergene wash, yet more rinsing, drying… And hey presto, fabrics and threads all ready for use, in pearly shades of grey and green!
This was fantastic – absolutely magical. Like everyone else my age, I’ve tie dyed T-shirts, with a plastic bucket and tin of Dylon, producing somewhat erratic results, but I’ve never done anything like this before, and I just love being able to use materials and threads where I’ve created the colours myself, so I’ll definitely be doing this again. I’m not sure if I’ve done everything correctly – all I had to go on were the instructions that came with the dyes, and what the woman at the NEC said, but it seems to have worked OK. And I read all the health and safety notes very carefully they were pretty scary), and stored everything I used in a labelled container in the utility room, and cleaned up very thoroughly. However, I didn’t wear a face mask, because I don’t have one. 

I wish I’d dyed more thread (I only used a little bit – I kept the rest for a rainy day), and I wish I’d used slightly stronger colours. I like what I’ve done, but I didn’t realise how much paler they would come up, especially after rinsing. And I wonder if I should have left them for longer than 24 hours, or put them in a warmer place. Also, next time I’ll keep a more detailed record of how much dye I use.
Bags of threads.

Dyed, but not rinsed, washed or dried. 

Silk and scrim, ready to be torn into strips for embroidering.