Monthly Archives: December 2016

Module 2, Chapter 5: Additional Activity – Helen Edwards


This is my rather feeble effort at producing something similar to something I saw by textile artist Helen Edwards. This is the sample with little squares stitched on individually.

Back in the summer, while I was cat and rabbit sitting for my Elder Daughter in Plymouth, I popped into 45 Southside, which is a lovely little shop/gallery in The Barbican, and spotted some fabulous stitched paper art by Devon-based multi-media artist Helen Edwards. I like the way she is recycling paper, and that grid-like formation of squares – a little like Rosalie Gascoigne perhaps, but not so raw. Anyway, Iwas worried about taking photographs there, so I took pictures off a website (her’s, or the shop’s, or – sorry, but I didn’t take proper notes and can’t remember which).


Stitched paper artwork by Helen Edwards. This was my favourite. I love the colour blue, and I thought this worked really well with just blue and white. It reminded me of blue and white china, although the subject matter is different.



‘Beano’, a stitched paper artwork by Helen Edwards

They’re about 15 inches x 18 inches, and are created out of pages from books, mainly comic book annuals I think, but she also recycles things like music manuscripts. They consist of a series of squares, overlaid with other squares, which are flapped back at the corners to form triangles, turning the lower squares into diamonds. The layers are stitched, and on some of the works the threads hang loose. It is difficult to see exactly how the base layer is created – it looks as if it’s made from lots of square rather than a single picture, and the folded layer also appears to be constructed from lots of small pieces. Perhaps there is some kind of third layer under the other two, to stabilise everything. The flapped-back triangles make it three-dimensional – some of them stand upright, some lie almost flat, others are at an angle, and they create interesting shadows (though this may be unintentional, and probably depends on the position and quality of the lighting wherever they are hung). You don’t get the full effect from a photograph, but they really caught my imagination, and although I was still on Chapter 4 at the time, I thought they would tie in nicely with Chapter 5, so I did a bit of research.

I  couldn’t find much about her, but there’s an interesting interview on in which she says: “I feel fortunate that I had the chance to train formally in Art/Design and Contemporary Craft in my forties, following a rewarding 21 year career as a Speech and Language Therapist. During this training I realised how much I loved texture, pattern and construction. I was encouraged to handle many different materials and this has carried through into my work today. The tactile quality of my pieces is as important as the visual quality.”

A member of the Society of Designer Craftsmen and the Devon Guild of Craftsmen, she works with a huge range of artistic techniques and materials, including metal, textiles and ceramics. You can see some of her work at her website.


‘Strongheart’, a stitched paper artwork by Helen Edwards.


‘I can give you the starlight’, stitched paper artwork by Helen Edwards. You can see the hanging threads quite clearly in this one. It wasn’t in the shop but I found it online, and included it here because I think it’s beautiful.

I thought I would have a go at something similar, but decided it would have to be much simpler, so I used a page from a magazine as my base, and this wrapping paper for my top layer, because I thought the squares were fairly regular and would be easy.


But the squares were not very square, and trying to stitch on paper that has a stitched design is a big mistake! Anyway,  I left the magazine page base as it was, then used the embroidery foot on the sewing machine to stitch the wrapping paper to it around the edges, and around some squares, then used a small pair of sharp scissors to cut diagonal lines through the top layer of each square on the grid. It’s actually very difficult to pierce the top layer of paper without cutting the lower layer – the sample ended up much smaller than it started, because I mutilated quite a bit of it!


This is the only bit of the original sample fit to be seen! Basically I stitched two layers of paper together, then slashed a cross in the centre of each square to make four smaller squares in each one, and folded the corners back. It’s neater than using separate pieces, but difficult to cut.

I tried another sample using little squares, and stitching each one on separately, which is also quite tricky, as the folded triangular flaps get in the way of each other, and the end result isn’t very straight, but I guess that doesn’t matter. I cut off all the loose threads because I was getting in a tangle, and I used the embroidery foot on the machine, because I thought it would be narrower and easier to manoeuvre than a normal foot, but I couldn’t get the tension right – I think this was ambitious considering how little experience I’ve had with machine embroidery, but I enjoyed trying.

It probably works better if you measure everything very thoroughly to start with and draw guidelines. And I think you need stiffer paper, with slightly more body to it than wrapping paper and a pages from a magazine. My efforts are bigger than Helen Edwards’ work, and it was still very fiddly. It was a real learning curve, but I have got ideas on how this could be improved.


A sideways view of my pieced sample, showing the flapped back triangles.

NB: I’ve got notes and pictures in the sketchbook, but my samples are in a box, to stope them getting flattened. And I was struggling to scan in big pages, so I’ve keyed my notes in and downloaded the photos.


Module 2, Chapter 5: Recycled Papers (Mainly Strips)


2.5.1: Paper and Glue

Well, it’s December, and I don’t seem to be as far forward as I had hoped. It’s been a funny sort of year really, starting on a high with our Younger Daughter’s graduation (her second), and our Elder Daughter’s wedding, both of which, as you can imagine, were lovely, happy occasions which left us with some wonderful memories. And I’ve been very glad of these bright spots to look back on, because not long after that my Mother was ill, and as she recovered we finally acknowledged just how bad her memory is, and how much help she needs to cope with everyday life. I seem to have been backwards and forwards every week for months, checking that everything is OK, liaising with carers, organising visits to doctors, audiologists, and goodness knows who else. It’s all very stressful, and I haven’t had much time to spare, but the Creative Sketchbook Course has become something of a lifesaver, although I’m working even more slowly than usual. It is so satisfying to play around with paper, paints, glue etc – very therapeutic!

I haven’t quite finished Chapter 5, but here is record of my work and thoughts so far. A lot of it is little samples: experiments, to see what happens! I think I’m actually supposed to be creating new sheets of paper from old (a little like the magician in Aladdin!) with flat surfaces that can be used for painting or printing,  but I ended up being more interested in creating colours, patterns, textures…  I’m not sure they would all be suitable for using as a base for other techniques, and I’m even less sure that I want to cover some with paint or gesso, because I like them as they are! Anyway, here goes.

The Sketchbook: I chose to work in an A3 book, because everything else I have done has been on A4, A5, A6, and smallish square books, so I thought it would be good for me to work on a larger scale, and using recycled papers seemed to lend itself to bigger things. But I’ve found the sketchbook very cumbersome – it is really awkward to work in, and the size, and the sight of all that white paper is really intimidating. I tried painting and printing on some pages to add colour and pattern, and I tried to divide the pages up, to make them easier to work with, and to make them look more interesting. But I haven’t really achieved my aim of working on a larger scale. And it is really tricky to display sketchbook work on the blog, because the pages are to big to scan in, and I’m having problems getting enough detail into photographs, so I’ve posted bits of pages, if that makes sense.

2.5.1: Make a collection of recycled papers.


My treasure of recycled papers.

I’ve amassed a box full of papers, which I mentioned in a post here, so I’ve used the photo again. I’ve been dipping in and out of the box for previous activities, using the contents as and  when inspiration strikes. Since I keep adding things, the box of papers never gets any less, or any tidier, but I love rooting through it. There’s junk mail; old books, maps and manuscripts; magazines; wrapping paper; wallpaper samples; paper bags; food wrappers, and all sorts of other bits and bobs, as well as interesting bits of paper for printing, writing, stamping etc, and some oddments I really like – postcards, birthday cards, that kind of thing.

2.5.1 (Additional), Paper Grain:

Generally paper is manufactured from wood pulp, but it can be made from a variety of plant material, as well as some fabrics.It comes in all kinds of different weights, textures, and surfaces, and can be thin or thick, hard or soft, smooth or rough. But I’d forgotten it also has a grain, depending on which way the majority of the fibres in the pulp lie during the paper-making process. If they lie lengthways, along the longest side of the paper, then the end product is ‘grain long’. If they lie across the shortest edge it is ‘grain short’. This affects the properties of paper – water absorption, strength, lying flat etc (for example, books are usually bound with the binding parallel to the grain because then the pages will lie flat.

It also affects the way paper tears – if you tear in the direction of the grain you’ll a fairly straight line, but if you tear against it you get more jagged edges, which can be exploited for this chapter, because they make interesting shapes. The main problem is knowing which way the grain lies, because that is established during the manufacturing process, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that ‘long grain’ runs the length of your printing paper, book or magazine (though I think it usually does).

Anyway, I did some samples, just to show the difference.


2.5.1 (Additional): Cutting Edges:

Thinking about the way paper tears led me to explore different ways of cutting paper.

  • Tearing ‘freehand’ – No good if you want a really straight edge, but does give interesting shapes.
  • Tearing along a folded edge – Gives a fairly straight edge, but kind of fuzzyish, so you can usually see fibres along the edge.
  • Tearing against a ruler – Slightly straighter, but still with a kind of fuzzyish edge, so you can usually see fibres along the edge.
  • Using two hands to pull the paper apart – Uneven, but I like the effect. Depends what you are doing.
  • Scissors – Very straight, very even, with no fibres showing at the edge.
  • Craft knife – I have to admit that I’m a bit of a dunderhead with a craft knife but, like scissors, it does give very straight, very even edges, with no fibres showing.
  • Fine paint brush dipped in water to ‘paint’ lines which can be gently torn or pulled apart. This is really good for circles.shapes with wavy edges, and irregular shapes. I should remember to make more use of this technique.

And I did a few samples:


2.5.1: Gathering Glues:

I seem to have plenty of glues, and I did some experiments with glue and tracing paper back at the start of the year when I was doing 2.1, and I acquired some more glues when I was doing glue drawing,  but some of the glues I had weren’t really suitable for doing the Activities in this Chapter, and it’s a long time since I used home-made glues, so I was happy to have a play and see what worked best.

PVA (which apparently stands for polyvinyl acetate) can be a bit gloopy, but if it is too thick, you can water it down. It’s cheap, covers large areas fairly easily, dries fairly quickly and evenly, and gives good adhesion. On the downside, for activities like those in this chapter, where you have glue on the surface, it makes things shiny, and I’d rather have paper with its natural surface.

Wallpaper Paste is brilliant – it covers large areas really easily, gives a nice even, flat surface (sometimes you get a few bubbles, but they usually disappear as it dries). I like the way it allows you to slide paper shapes around on the base layer of paper, and it sticks really well, but it takes ages and ages and ages to dry. And it made my hands itch. I should have worn vinyl gloves, or tried to track down wallpaper paste without fungicide.

Artists’ Gel Medium is excellent – it dries very quickly, with a flat, smooth surface, and is a really strong glue. I bought the matte one, because I didn’t want shiny surfaces, and I liked using this, and how effective it was. This was my favourite but, sadly, it’s way too expensive to use on large areas, but I used it on some of the strips, applying it to each piece of paper (rather than covering the base paper).

Flour and Water Raw mixed together and used cold (without cooking it) wasn’t very effective – perhaps I had the proportions wrong. I used a cup of water and a cup of flour, but the papers came unstuck quite quickly, so I resorted  to matte gel medium to make them stick.

Flour and Water Cooked There are all kinds of recipes online, and in craft books, but the basic recipe (which I used to make when my daughters were small) is one part flour to three parts water (I used I cup of plain flour and three cups of water, which made an awful lot –  too much really). I just whisked it all together, and heated it slowly in an old saucepan, stirring it all the time with a wooden spoon. If you put it in an airtight container in the fridge it keeps for a week so. You can whisk it up again, and add a bit more water if it goes too thick. It was actually quite effective, and dried evenly, with good adhesion. It took a little while to dry – nowhere near as long as the wallpaper paste, but not as quick as PVA.

NB: I tended to use PVA, but did apply different glues for different activities, although I didn’t always remember to make a note of which was which!


NB: Rolling Edges Flat – Throughout this chapter, where I’ve used glues, I rolled my shapes flat with a lint roller (the kind used to get cat hairs off clothes!). The have a lovely loose rolling movement (I use them for printing as well), and they roll papers and glue nice and flat. You can pick them up dead cheap, and if you leave the shiny paper cover over the sticky roller (or just stick some paper to the tacky surface) it doesn’t stick to things. Additionally, one of those little ‘cushions’ that cleans condensation off windscreens is good for smoothing and pressing down glued papers. A large, plastic pet food mat makes a brilliant working surface, which is easy to wipe clean, and I bought flat brushes, which looked like small household paintbrushes, and were ideal for spreading glue on paper.

2.5.2 (Using Glue to make Recycled Papers), and 2.5.3 (Stitching to make Recycled Papers).

I thought it would be easy to stick to the various activities but, as usual, they all got a bit jumbled together, and I forgot to stick some things in, and added them later, or thought of trying something when I was in the middle of something else, so things hop about a bit. , But I think I’ve covered everything – glueing and stitching newspaper torn into strips; other papers torn into strips;  patches of paper; headlines and large letters from magazines, newspapers and other used papers and pasted on to a sheet of newspaper leaving gaps to allow the smaller print to show through; weaving). Additionally, there are some extra activities that were my own explorations.

These are all scanned in, and I’ve had to do two for each page, and they seem to be missing some edges. Sorry. Anyway, here we go!

On this page I used wallpaper paste to glue torn newspaper strips onto a page of newspaper, and it stuck very well, but took for ever and ever. Coating the base layer of paper with glue lets you slide pattern pieces around, and results in a smooth, flat surface – more so than you get by glueing the individual pieces I think. I guess it’s a similar technique to decoupage (not the 3D layered stuff people do today, but the kind that was incredibly popular in the 18th century, when people cut flowers and scenes and things from paper, stuck them onto a surface, and applied coat after of varnish, so the papers were ‘sunk’ in the layers, and you ended up with a seamless, smooth finish where you couldn’t see or feel the paper edges).


Next up, recycled pages from an old book and a magazine.


This one is a grid, made from torn Radio Times strips stuck onto painted newspaper. And  I had a little play to try out different methods of making shiny surfaces, though it doesn’t really show on screen. There isn’t really a lot to choose between them. The PVA (the cheapest) is as good as anything, smooth and glossy. But I rather like the acrylic wax, which isn’t quite so shiny – it’s more like a polished surface.


Here we have graduating strips from an old book on brown wrapping paper. I like the combination of colour and texture, and the way you can build up a pattern with strips of different widths.


Above (but below the graduated strips in the sketchbook) is a glossy magazine page that I cut strips in then threaded strips cut from an old book through the slots. It was a bit fiddly glueing bits in place, but I love this – I like the effect, and the contrast between the glossy, smooth surface of the magazine paper with the duller, rougher book page strips. I’d like to try this using hand embroidery to hold the strips in place – you could embroider the strips or the background. Each way would look quite different I think.


Oh, I had such fun with this next couple of pages. I cut a map into strips, and stuck them on a page from a paint sample book, then sliced it into three sections, and offset each row slightly, and trimmed everything up. You could make lovely patchwork this way, or use a design like this as some kind of canvaswork sampler perhaps. I included a photocopy of my original pattern, and then did some more photocopies and cutting and glueing, because I kind of wished I’d done the design differently! I loved, loved, loved this. But on the downside, the printed pages were much too busy, and there is way too much green and rd on the pages – a plain background would have been much better.


Below are two halves of a page where I had one of my ‘what if…’ moments, and used a shredder to make strips from old maps and book pages. The first one owes a lot to Rosalie Gascoigne (again!) and I used PVA to stick the strips onto an oddment of black sugar paper, which was a huge mistake, because the suigar paper soaked up glue like there was no tomorrow, and the strips kept coming coming unstuck. I don’t usually do shiny, but I kept brushing PVA over the finished surface, to try and hold everything down. It could probably do with another coat.

The other sample, still using shredded book pages, was on left from some printing experiments that went wrong. I wanted to try and get a diagonal pattern. Working with gaps between the strips was easier than the previous sample where they butted on to each other, and I used gel medium, which held them down nicely.


More shredded paper. First up a map, with strips made from unfolded ‘paper string’, which i bought under the impression it was garden twine! The red strips are shredded map, coloured with a wax crayon. This didn’t really go the way I wanted. Below that I chopped shredded strips up to make patterns and paper.



The next page was too nice (and too busy) to cover up, so I tried to make it part of a design by creating an outline of a square with long strips of blue paper. And I used more strips to echo the inside of the square on the opposite page. You can use your imagination to turn the boxes into anything you want.



At this point I thought; “Do strips have to have straight lines?: And having decided that they don’t, I chopped up strips with a pair of old pinking shears (I know, that sounds like sacrilege, but they really don’t well on material any longer). The top left sample was stitched on black paper, using the zigzag on the machine – I started trying to vary the length and width, but the thread kept breaking, so I left it). I like this, especially the way the pinked edges of the paper create a pattern with the black background. Top right the pinked paper strips are stitched to a piece of black felt, using various stitches. It works best where you use stitches that emphasise the edges, like columns 1 and 3. The star was stitched on yellow cellophane. And the folded black paper is just my notes.


The page below was an experiment, with lots of small samples using different papers and the brush and water method to make wavy edges. I found that OS maps don’t tear very easily, and the paintbrush and water method does not work on them – I guess they must be toughened and protected in some way. And the brush and water method doesn’t work on coloured photos on glossy magazine pages, although it works on text on the same pages. The coloured inks seem to form a resist.


I really enjoyed working on the next page. Having decided that strips don’t have to be straight, I wondered if they could have two different edges. So I cut wide strips from magazine pages, and cut fancy edgings. The fringing (the second one done) as a bit of a disaster – some bits got torn and bent, and it was flattened when I stuck it on the page, even though the fringe has no glue on it.


The bit I like best is my pointed edging at the bottom of the page – I stitched it on, and punched holes on the points to add short pieces of braid I made with twisted wool, and I added some of my hand-made beads. The problem wit it is that once I’d done that I realised the paper wasn’t really strong enough, so I put blobs of glue from the glue gun on the back, to hold the braids where they went through the back, and I tried gluing Vilene and more paper on the back, but the surface is too bumpy and they started coming apart. Next time I’ll strengthen the edge first, then embellish it.


Everything on this page was hand stitched. I found it quite tricky to stitch ‘freehand’ because it’s awkward on an unyielding surface, and trying to push the needle through from the back in the correct place wasn’t easy, and I got holes where I didn’t want them! So I made holes with different implements, trying to measure to get them equidistant. This wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be, because I couldn’t gauge the size of the stitches, and I still ended up with holes in the wrong places. Plus with some of them I forgot to put the cutting mat underneath the page, so I have a sketchbook with holes on a heap of pages!

Notes on making holes for stitching in paper

  • Machine, on straight stitch setting, with no thread top or bottom: Not as even as I thought it would be, with holes very close together – adjusting stitch length or speed  might help.
  • Awl (from my husband’s toolbox): Was OK.
  • Bookmaking awl: Much finer, and much better results – nice and neat, easy to use, not too big.
  • Japanese Screw Punch: Lots of people rave about these, so I treated myself, but I suspect it may be a waste of money. It’s not as simple to use as I thought. The hole was a bit big (but there are smaller end bit that you can buy) and it was such a fiddle-faddle cleaning paper out of it.
  • Thing that looks like a very narrow metal handle, with a very fine, very sharp needle-like point at one end: I have no idea what it is (it was among my mother’s art and needlework stuff). It’s quite effective, and the point is lethal!

Here’s a photo of them:


Next up is fattish, wavy edges strips (or perhaps they’ve morphed into some other shapes) which I cut from a magazine page and stuck onto a picture from a book on Norman Rockwell (rescued from the Oxfam recycling bags). The magazine cut-outs were intended as the focal point, and I as going to do some stitching, but the background pushed it’s way to the front and took centre stage! Regrettably, the red lines I drew my strips with are noticeable where I didn’t cut properly, but I think they look OK.


Below are a couple more experiments with wavy edges. One has strips cut with children’s fancy scissors, which are fun to use. The two left-hand ones at the bottom (on the red background) were done with the die cutter, and they’re nice and neat – and boring. The two on the left were done with little hand held punches. The punches and dies only do short strips and it’s awkward trying to match a repeat pattern to make them longer. More fun to make your own patterns I think.


I was trying to be clever here by cutting strips in a page to reveal the page below. And there’s a strip on the right with triangle cut out and flapped out. I enjoyed doing this, but you need to be very precise. And I didn’t think carefully enough about whether my pattern would hold together when it was cut – I kept things simple, but even so I ended up having to do a couple of repairs with glue and sticky tape! I’d like to handstitch the two pages together, but I haven’t got time at the moment.


I’m trying to break this down into several posts – this one is mainly glue and strips.