Textiles 1: Ideas and Processes Nina O'Connor

Learning Log


Exercise 1.2 Personal Experience

We were asked to take a journey to gather inspiration, with a camera, sketchbook and a bag for items found.

On my return home, I’m not sure why, but started by editing my pictures to make a final selection and realised this was not a true story of my personal experience, but an edited version.  To ‘see’ everything, I need to be true to myself and my journey.  Beginning again, I printed out all of my pictures as instructed and surrounded myself with them and my notes.   I thought about how I might map my route, but realised I was rushing ahead again. The requirement before that is to write 300-500 words.  I needed to reflect honestly on the experience.

Having laid out my timeline, complete with sketches and notes it filled the surface of my desk, too unwieldy to photograph.  Recording it needed a rethink, so I had a photoshop lesson at home and arranged some of the photographs in order:


A reasonable first attempt, could have been improved on a coloured background and some of the overlapping could be reversed, but an evening well spent, learning a new skill.

Next using photoshop, a combination of the notes, sketches and photographs


Hindhead Common & Devil’s Punchbowl – 11.25-12.25 – Sunday 12th February, 2017

Had to clear a little snow from the windscreen, short drive. Cold, sense of anticipation, whistling as I walk away from the car. Remnants of snow, capturing the texture of footprints.  The view is misty but there’s a brighter white, a hint of a peachy glow, above the tree-line.   Branches silhouette against the sky, gnarled, knobbly. Yellow gorse flowers light up the hedgerow. The bright green of the moss against the snow is almost lime, there’s a crunch of icy snow underfoot . A pine tree, ravaged, weather worn, torn, ripped, draws me closer, I sketch it quickly. Some anger in the drawing? Some painful emotion just below the surface, I push it away, pick up some bark, look up at the mosaic of branches, pine cones and needles. Occasional voices intrude. I walk on, drawn to lichen covered branches, the path beckons. A bench, a flask of coffee, a small tree with root-like branches at the base alone in the red-brown heather. Coffee in hand, this is my peace, I need more of this in my life.

Texture dominates, tread marks, moss, bark, the white of the snow and flash of yellow gorse brighten the day, there’s promise. Branches, pine needles, inky black lines pattern the sky, another theme, browns, grey-greens contrast with white.

To what extent is it autobiographical? I choose to come here for peace occasionally. Its a hidden, ignored, quashed part of my being which needs to be acknowledged and acted upon.


Accept or admit the existence or truth of

Recognise the importance of quality of

Express gratitude for or appreciation of

Accept the validity or legitimacy of

What does is suggest about my feelings on the day?     That I gave them a voice.

Visually the journey could be re-arranged into branch & silhouette patterns, texture and peace.   The order in which the information was collected is not an important part of the collection.  The day was wet and cold, not conducive to collecting treasures, or maybe the calming effective of the surroundings was all encompassing and seeking items was forgotten.  As a result the groupings are not very experimental or playful.  Grouping the branches and shapes against the sky has strengthened the selection as the monochromatic effect is striking.  The texture and peace groupings highlight the green and brown palette.  The narrative has become three different stories and less of a journey.

Branches and shapes against the sky:



Then we were asked to draw a map of the journey ‘big enough to place each piece in the location it derived from’. Working on A1 paper and drawing with a combination of oil pastels, wax crayons and gouache to express the texture and colour of the landscape, I was slightly out of my comfort zone, with both the paint and A1.  I worked quite quickly, standing at an easel.  The oil pastel base was chosen to resist the paint creating some visual texture, which was added to with a sponge.  Although it looks a little garish in the photograph, I am quite encouraged with the outcome, the palette and marks have captured the essence of Hindhead Common.


Reflecting on the journey, to some extent, I think I was going through the motions.  So in need of some time on my own away from other  challenges, the peace enveloped me as I wandered and captured aspects that interested me. Looking at the map, the colour palette is familiar and accurate, the sky was grey but not dismal, and the bluey grey lifts the mood of the piece.   What stands out for me is the slightly aggressive way I sketched the ravaged, weather worn tree, although I chose to ignore it at the time.  It was 1º, icy and damp, the sketch was quick, standing with the notebook, but I recall a tear threatened to fall.


So to take this forward and “create a new mixed-media work entitled ‘My Journey’ to communicate the important elements and experiences’, I have been drawn to the tree.

Initial ideas included:

  • monochrome, black, greys, whites,
  • texture foot prints, moss, bark, branches
  • branch patterns, layer, print and collage
  • small samples joined in concertina book form
  • stitch on a large ground created from smaller pieces
  • explore mixed media grounds  “The wet-applique process”  using  methyl cellulose, “lightly holds layered fabrics and papers together into a loose collage of cloth”  as used by Cas Holmes, Stitch Stories pp47
  • layers, cotton organdie, stitched/printed collagraph?, lens tissue, T-bag paper, image transfer
  • Ann Somerset Miles (Stitch Stories pp59) used Daler-Rowney 45gsm layout paper to print  her designs onto and then pastes it onto cheesecloth or other fine fabric which when stitched has the appearance and feel of fabric.

Using a method of image transfer unfamiliar to me, a copy of the words written to accompany the journey was laminated to silk muslin using a method described in Paper & Metal Leaf Lamination a mixed media approach with cloth by Claire Benn, Jane Dunnewold & Leslie Morgan of Committed to Cloth and Art Studios.   Photographed below and held against the light, it is translucent, could be layered and quite soft which suggests it would be easy to stitch into.  I wonder if the paper could have been scrubbed away a little more, but it seemed delicate.  With the text broken up by scrubbing and less clear to read, it might be more attractive, but an effective process.


Using oil pastels and Zest solvent, I experimented with different effects to draw branches, mindful of a quote from Cas Holmes, Stitch Stories.

I often refer to the marks I make with my pen or pencil in a sketchbook as a means to inform the texture and form of my stitching.


Taking inspiration from Ann Somerset Miles’ process an ‘angry’ tree was sketched with graphite on 45g layout paper and laminated to muslin with Golden soft gel matte medium applied with a squeegee and allowed to dry overnight. The squeegee helped to produce a very smooth surface. Before stitching, the roughly drawn tree stuck to muslin was flat and uninteresting but the substrate was easy to stitch into.   Keeping to the ‘angry’ theme, black thread was used and the free-machining kept straight and angular.  The stitch has been quite successful in enhancing the original qualities of the sketched tree, making it more dynamic and the process has merit for use in the future.

A further tree was sketched with charcoal.  Here, the application of fix and then matt gel smudged the sketch. Application with a brush produced more texture and wrinkles and the effect of smudged charcoal is atmospheric.  The anger felt amidst the peace of the journey was tinged with sadness.  By chance, this sketch depicts ‘some sadness’.  To preserve that impression and to distinguish it from the tree above, it was stitched less, in a blue-grey thread, with softer lines.  I was trying to make each line of stitching count, and think that the effect is more melancholy than the angry tree, although the wishbone shape in the top left quarter is distracting and would have been better avoided.  However, whilst the stitch enhanced the angry tree, I’m not sure it added anything to the sad tree and perhaps even distracted from the soft, lines and delicate tones of the original drawing.


The next opportunity to continue developing the idea coincided with my local textile group meeting, where I was influenced by a lino cutting workshop delivered by Will Dyke.

We were given a quick explanation of which tools can be used for different cuts and made some experimental marks on a small piece of vinyl flooring followed by a test print.


I was quickly reminded of how much I enjoy block printing and the versatility of mark making for texture.  It would be useful to me to spend some time building a vocabulary of marks.  The second from the left produced by cutting repeatedly in different directions is something I’d like to explore.

Moving on we were encouraged to sketch our design, which I did quickly from memory.


The design was transferred to the lino using tracing paper and carbon paper and the excess cut away to leave the drawn marks.  A trial print was made.


I was very pleased with the branches but a bit cross with myself for hurriedly cutting the bark with a ‘u’ shaped tool as it detracted from the angular nature of the some of the other more considered marks.  I corrected the most obvious round ends with a fine ‘v’ shaped tool. The traces of cut away background add energy and texture but a clean sharp print with a little more ink would be effective too.

Referring back the one of the ideas to layer branches, a variety of lightweight fabrics and papers were printed with a view to layering them to give the impression of depth.


Substrates included cotton and linen scrim, silk noil, polyester voile, chappra tissue, kozo paper. Arranging and rearranging the prints was exciting and frustrating at the same time.  The interplay of diagonal lines criss-crossing when overlayed with a transparent fabric was encouraging but how to stitch them to best effect?

The day after printing the above, I was booked on an experimental machine embroidery class at the local sixth form college so, armed with the six or seven prints, I spent some time looking at the samples there and decided to combine the trees, stitch and cut away slivers to reveal the layers beneath.  This might work better with more prints.  As printing wasn’t practical, some rubbings were taken:

The resulting rubbings produced that exciting feeling I have been advised to acknowledge and act upon. The delicacy and translucency of graphite on 9g lens tissue was delightful, (and was used in the sample). The effect on muslin was similar, below:


To me, there is something beautiful and ethereal about the quality of the marks. However, I was at a machine embroidery workshop so decided take full advantage of the situation and try something new by continuing with the original idea of layering the fabrics and paper, free machining and cutting away.  Occasionally the photographs are better than the work, in this case, I think the actual piece is slightly better than the photograph, its a little more weathered and textural.


Reflection of the sample:

We are asked ‘have you captured the essence of your journey?’.  I haven’t captured the essence of my journey on that day, but of my underlying mood. It is unusual for me to acknowledge feelings in my work and quite an achievement to see the chaos of my thoughts and darker undercurrent.    The map has a more open feel which reflects the actual day.   I think the sample works well in aesthetic terms, it gives the effect of a dense wood and the suggestion of the gap between the two main trunks draws the eye in.  The top third is effective, on the right, the almost black print on chappra tissue benefits from the ‘spaces in between’ and the contrast of dark branches on cream.  The top left lines of stitch combined with the indistinct print on silk noil gives an impression of distance.  Half way down the left, the glimpses of cotton scrim peeping through, the fraying muslin, the different weights of brown, grey and black lines are an effective combination.  The papers and fabrics with ‘rubbed’ images are less effective.  The graphite and soft pastel needed fixing before use.  With repeated handling, the terracotta of the tree on the right smudged and rubbed away so the image has less definition than the rest of the sample.   There is a fine line between the softness of the grey graphite enhancing the whole by adding a different tone and the lack of definition created by the smudged chalk pastel.

The lino cut tree effectively captured the fractured aspects of the tree and the choice of different papers and fabrics created a variety of texture, within a limited palette.

Have I learnt anything new from this process?  Yes, definitely.  Being outside is important for me, and an effective way to collect information.  I continue to be attracted to texture and print, paper and stitch find their way into my work.   Having amassed different materials since starting the course, it was so enjoyable to combine surfaces and drawing media and motivating to have a choice at arm’s reach.

There is a continuing theme of exploring different substrates for stitch and combining layers, drawing is more automatic and relaxed.  I have taken inspiration from the work and processes of Cas Holmes, Anne Kelly and Leslie Morgan, Clare Benn & Jane Dunnewold.

I am conscious that I have put more time and effort into this exercise than was probably necessary.  My aim at the outset of this course was to focus more and not undertake extra work as, which, whilst enjoyable, will slow my progress towards a degree.  However, I am so interested and driven by the processes, exploring and determining the most effective for different applications that I get carried away.  The lino and free machine workshops are an important part of my development not least as they enable me to interact with my peers, but they too encouraged me to spend more time on the sample.

Benn, C Dunnewold, J & Morgan, L (2008)  Paper & Metal Leaf Lamination Committed to Cloth & Art Cloth Studios

Holmes C Kelly A (2013) Connected to Cloth Batsford London

Holmes C (2010) The Found Object in Textile Art Batsford London

Holmes C (2015) Stitch Stories Batsford London