Textiles 1: Ideas and Processes Nina O'Connor

Learning Log


Project 1 Initiating ideas Exercise 1.1 Identity & labels – a new piece that draws on two or more visual art disciplines

Thinking about the artists reviewed during this exercise so far, I have identified that Ernesto Neto’s installation, Bella May Leonard’s arch, Nick Cave’s suits and Harriet Popham’s chair have an interactive element in common which appeals to me.  The tactility and texture of different materials and an opportunity to explore them with my senses is compelling.   I would like the viewer to be able to engage with my sample, examine and explore it if they wish.


  • attracted to Harriet Popham’s colour palate teal, magenta and white.  A bright flat white balances stronger magenta/teal
  • Using stitch like Bella May Leonard transparent, translucent material, stitched, layered.
  • Explore materials that can be stitched?
  • some sort of book form could be handled, reasonably resilient materials, quality cartridge paper? waxed fabric? waxed paper?
  •  senses: sight smell hear taste touch
  • Ernesto Neto’s installations sometimes include bags of spices which release their aroma as visitors clamber through the pathways.  Herbs, spices, essential oils, perfume?
  • Beeswax? smells more appealing than other options.

Reminder from course manual:  ‘Sample piece, work quickly, think sketching or mark-making, it’s the thinking and experimentation that matters here’

To explore combining a book with layers and stitch would develop ideas from Mixed Media for Textiles final piece, a 3d book, pages printed from stitch.  Reading The Penland Book of Handmade Books, Master Classes in Bookmaking Techniques, I was struck by a quote from Hedi Kyle

I see each book as an environment that sets the stage, so to speak, for an intimate journey.  I want the viewer to enjoy a moment of playfulness and amusement, of bedazzlement and investigation” pp119

This is an exciting prospect.

Maybe a book with a book screw?

Papers were decorated in the chosen palette, with acrylic paint, oil pastels, wax crayons, biro, marker pen, using drawing, stitching and painting. Considering the transparent element, acetate sheets were also painted and stitched.

Quite excited by the decorated papers, the different effects were evaluated.

  • Stitching on acetate was promising but stitching the same stitch, keeping it simple was more effective.
  • The colour palette was working well.
  • White GellyRoll pen effective, showed up well through painted acetate but the shell like pattern, inspired from Harriet Popham’s design was amateurishly executed and less appealing in this context.
  • painted papers dipped in the wax pot and held up to drain & harden have a lovely, smooth, tactile finish, and the wax candle and oil pastel drawn stitch worked well with an acrylic wash and waxed finish
  • the colour of the hand dyed cloth darkened with the wax taking it out of the colour palette.
  • the rubbing of stitch with an inktense pencil onto the hand dyed cloth had potential but perhaps not in this piece.
  • absolultely delicious – dipping the pencil drawn cretan stitch in wax created a delightful translucency in the paper enabling it to be seen both sides.  Also creating good contrast with biro and mark pen drawn stitch on the reverse of the paper. The grey of the pencil would suit a more neutral or monochrome palette.
  • dipping a painted piece of watercolour paper, stitched with white linen into the wax had the effect of turning the thread cream, taking it out of the palette.
  • bottom right, the teal cretan stitch on the left of a scrap of white sheeting reacted well to the wax.

Combining some of the pieces in a book screw type book form was a little disappointing:

The papers were different weights and the lighter ones had cockled, the surface texture affected the smooth operation of the book.  Stitch would impede that further.  On the left the colour was too concentrated and would benefit from some white as shown on the right. The idea of layers wasn’t really working,  there needs to be some distance between the individual sheets and some daylight behind the transparent/translucent pieces.

The pleasure of the tags joined with the screw is the weight in the hand, the uniformity of the edges, the smoothness of fanning out the individual tags.


Perhaps a crown binding would work?

Inspired by Hedi Kyle’s ‘Blizzard Book’, cartridge paper was folded to create a binding. On the right, the folding created deep triangle’s which could hold individual pages.  On the left small triangles hold an accordian folded book.  This is a strong sculptural structure with lots of potential.   However the cartridge paper for the binding was 220g at least and a little heavy.  Referring to Ailsa Golden’s book, she comments that it took about three years for Hedi’s design to get “from the handsof Hedi Kyle in Philadelphia to the San Francisco Bay area” and her instructions suggest ‘text weight’ paper.   Standard copier paper worked very well, but might cockle if decorated with wet media.  130g cartridge paper was a reasonable compromise, but difficult to get sharp creases.


Various papers were sampled in the binding:

Initial attempts with the lighter weight paper were disappointing, the pages needed to be equally sturdy.  The addition of acetate was promising.  Combining full white paper pages with the acetate affected the transparent effect.  Further acetate pages were prepared.  Time was ebbing away as I inserted, re-arranged, reconsidered how to make this work.  Mindful of the instruction to work quickly, which I clearly wasn’t, a simple book was assembled, taking the most effective selection of papers and stitch..  A new binding from teal decorated paper was folded as it seemed to unify the piece and the white original had become scruffy in the process of experimentation.

Finished sample:

Analysis of finished sample

Initial preparation of papers was quick, with mark-making taking priority,  a mixture of materials were used.   Inspired by Bella May Leonard, alternative contexts for embroidery were considered and tried, painted papers, painted and waxed papers, waxed cloth, stitched waxed papers, waxed stitched papers, painted, folded and stitched acetate. Harriet Popham’s colour palette was adopted and the concept of layering from both artists explored.

The piece is sturdy, the crown binding effectively holding the pages apart enabling two or more layers of colour and stitch to be seen as one. The limited palette works well.  In particular the contrast of the bright white cotton thread against the strong teal and magenta.  The view from the pink stitch on the acetate through to the oil pastel drawn stitch is effective giving the impression of an offset pattern.


Choosing to limit the surface pattern to one stitch gives the piece continuity, as do the dry brush strokes used to decorate the various materials.  All the decorated papers chosen have some merit, but particularly effective is the white cotton against the dark teal with the dry brush stroke revealing the white of the watercolour paper.


The aim to make something which could be handled and interacted with has been achieved although  I think the ‘handle’ could be developed.  It is interesting to to flick through, but the experience could be improved with a little more weight and maybe the warmth and tactile nature of khadi, home made paper or a fabric cover.   The long edge of the binding is gaping on the front covers and could be bettered.

The use of line is considered with some brush marks at 90º to others, the lines of straight machine stitch complementing the brush marks and the zig-zag echoing the cretan stitch.

A variety of tones are achieved by breaking up the boldness of the colour with the transparency of the acetate or the background white. The waxed pieces have a slightly softer palette with a more matt finish than the acetate and a little more sheen than the paper.

The stitched and drawn marks complement each other, the stitch is similar in scale with more variation in the scale of the drawn marks.  The size of the piece makes it easy to hold in the palm of the hand and turn the pages.

The visual texture is very appealing and there is variety in the actual texture.

The placement and composition are considered with regard to contrasting the colours and marks and allowing the transparent layers to combine effectively.

Whilst I think the sample is successful as discussed above and its evolution through careful consideration of the creative process, it is the potential that is most exciting.   Many other combinations or ideas could be explored to develop the design such as more stitching into acetate, greater difference in the scale of stitch, creating windows to stitch and/or needle weave across, drawing into the acetate with a soldering iron, machine stitching the cretan stitch pattern, stitching/drawing onto transparent fabric, voile, net, mono, collatype or screen printing paper or cloth.

Golden A (2010) Making handmade books: 100 bindings, structures & forms, Lark New York


LaFerla J, Gunter VA (2004) The Penland Book of Handmade Books:Master Classes in Bookmaking Techniques, Lark Books

Leave a comment

Project 1 Initiating ideas Exercise 1.1 Identity & labels – Own work that crosses boundaries between disciplines

Looking back at my Mixed Media Coursework, the following samples have been selected as they loosely cross boundaries between disciplines or resist labels associated with categories of visual art.   All photographs were previously published within the learning log accompanying the course Textiles 1: Mixed Media for Textiles.

In the samples below, combining printmaking and machine embroidery, heat soluble gauze was stitched and the gauze ironed away to leave a piece of machine stitching used as a collagraph to produce a series of prints.  Initially, although I didn’t think of it in that way there was a sub-conscious intention to cross boundaries as I was exploring printing with stitch.  However, the decision to stitch into the one of the prints, (bottom right) ‘just happened’, it seemed a natural progression in what had become a small series.

Below, a small bag was crafted with stitch to create a vessel to cast with builder’s plaster. This was in response to the the frustration of trying to cast from plastic bags, as instructed in the course notes.  I had difficulty controlling the outcome with the plastic bag and wanted to remedy that.  The ideal solution was to stitch a bag or vessel, enabling me to influence the shape and texture.

There wasn’t a conscious decision to combine disciplines, but a progression in my endeavour to understand the properties and potential of the material, in this case, builder’s plaster and a desire to push boundaries by taking risks to produce something interesting and unpredictable.   Continuing with those intentions, the following piece resulted from stitching a plastic magazine envelope a created a cushion-like sculpture.

The following resist labels associated with visual art as they question our normal perception of a a series of jugs and spoons.  The course notes encouraged us to wrap everyday items so effectively we were invited to combine disciplines by using a variety of materials and the outcome resists a label as it is an unexpected way to present jugs.

Also, both the jugs and spoons cannot be used efficiently for their intended purpose whilst wrapped, which changes their characteristics and accepted definition.

Considering the question “is it useful to your understanding of the work to give it a label?” in this context, I would say not.  If the artist wants to help the viewer understand the meaning of the work or the inspiration behind it, a label may be a useful clue, but if the intention is that the viewer should interpret or question the work any way they wish, then a label would be a distraction or influence their judgement.




Project 1 Initiating ideas Exercise 1.1 Identity & labels – Works that challenge conventional labels

We are asked to collect at least four images of works that challenge conventional labels and write a personal response to each.

Ernesto Neto

Balanço em U, ventre, ponto e linha, 2012 Crochet of polyester and polypropylene rope; plastic balls 400 x 350 x 390 cm.

View of the exhibition “Ernesto Neto, Não tenha medo do seu corpo” at Galeria Fortes Vilaça, 2012

A large installation crossing the boundaries between crochet & sculpture, approximately 4m2 , comprising strong polyester and polypropylene rope crocheted into giant cocoon like hanging pathways suspended from the ceiling with plastic ball-filled pouffes nestled into the base. It is big and strong enough to explore by climbing in and walking through providing an interactive, playful, sensory experience, inviting investigation.   Appears soft and tactile but would polyester and polypropylene rope be so?

Flexible knotted pods in a vibrant palette, orange, pink, yellow, almost fluorescent, each colour flowing into the next as though it were painted on the page. Although vibrant, the lace like structure softens the colour, with darker softer grey/browns filling the squashy pillows contrasting with the lighter webbed surround.

The floor too is covered in concentric circle patterned crochet, unifying the space.  The installation has a pleasing aesthetic with low light, soft contours.  Crochet knots, polyester and polypropylene rope strong and fit for purpose. Unsure of its meaning, to me it seems a calm inviting place to explore, a safe haven, in which to relax or read. Although, imagining it with other visitors exploring would change the dynamic to a playful mood, with squeals, laughter, out of controlled rocking or swaying like a rope bridge. Pathways are tunnel-like, the opening inviting the viewer in and guiding them through the artwork.



Bella May Leonard

Departure Archway, 2013 200 x 260cm Perspex, mixed wires, cords and thread. Hand embroidery

A large, freestanding, perspex archway punctured with holes and brightly stitched with a variety of coloured electrical wire crossing disciplines between sculpture and embroidery. I was initially attracted to the possibility of making holes in a transparent medium for the weaving exercise later in the course, but, the more I looked, the more my eye was drawn in to the intricate patterns of stitch, the spaces in between. The perspex allowing the whole stitch to be seen, both front and back.

The work has a folk aesthetic and from an article by Jo Hall in Embroidery magazine, the embroidery “references traditional patterns while reinventing their application”.

Perspex cut with a laser cutter, hand embroidered with electrical wire

Bella May Leonard has successfully achieved her aim to challenge common perceptions of embroidery with the scale of the arch, perspex ground and electrical wire as thread.

Visually, I am attracted to the playfulness and scale of the structure, I imagine being able to examine the detail of the stitch at eye-level.

It is difficult to comment on the composition as I have only seen photographs of this work, but I feel the space in between the embroidery helps to offset the stitch and the additional unstitched holes reinforce the line of the design.

The Departure Archway appealed to me because it pushes the boundaries of embroidery and takes it beyond people’s usual perception into a new context.






Nick Cave

I might describe Nick Cave’s Soundsuits as crossing disciplines between textiles and sculpture or once they are worn, art, dance & fashion, although from an extract of Jessica Hemmings, Cultural Threads:transnational textiles today

His seductive and deceptively playful pieces pay no attention to the boundaries between fine and applied art, high and low culture, gendered and racial identity, let alone fashion, textiles and craft.

The suits are constructed from an eclectic mix of found materials, cleverly combined, often vibrant, tactile, bizarrely stylish and mesmerising, taking different forms and making sounds when worn.  Each suit is usually inspired by an object, and then other found items are sought to build the idea and the whole suit is evolved in the making. Cave chooses not to sketch out designs.  The pieces take on different guises once worn and in my mind then become performance art.   The suits do not appear to have names, so I have concentrated on a button suit which was inspired by a found chair and is discussed in the interview with Nick Cave at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston on youtube included below.

This suit has a chair as the basis of the structure.  The seat has been removed and the chair rests on the shoulders.  A pearlised thigh length top with the drape of a vintage sequinned Frank Usher falls away from the back and seat of the chair, shimmering as the buttons reflect the light, coupled with matching trousers and a pair of slip on shoes.   Extending above the shoulders is a large balloon like transparent capsule punctuated with buttons resulting in a a fantastic, dramatic costume ready to take on any persona the performer desires.

There is a deeper meaning behind the suits which opposes the joyous, party like visual the collection presents.  Nick Cave’s first suit was made in response to the Rodney King incident in 1992 which are said to have triggered the LA riots and the feelings of being devalued and dismissed.  It was constructed of discarded twigs.  It is interesting to note that this was a critical part in the development of the work as the “core understructure of the work is based on found objects or materials”.   In the interview below Nick Cave refers to himself as an artist with a ‘social conscience’ and the ‘surplus and abundance of what we gather’ and how materials can be viewed with re-purpose in mind which is an encouraging stance.  In addition each suit ‘erases gender, race and class’ liberating the wearer and allowing the viewer non-judgemental observation.


Harriet Popham 

Harriet Popham’s fabric, Glastonbury Meadows 2015 80 x 60cm, is a combination of print-making and embroidery.

The Glastonbury Meadows Chair is a beautifully crafted re-upholstered, vintage nursing chair, using Harriet Popham’s hand drawn illustrations as the basis for a screen printed surface design which she then embellishes with freehand machine embroidery.

The artist visits the place she has selected as inspiration and takes photographs to work from later.  She makes lots of drawings which she then scans and pieces digitally before sending the final design to an English fabric manufacturer for printing.

The colour palette is a successful striking combination of fuchsia pink, cyan and white, the detail on the seat is white and pink on a rich cyan background whilst on the chair back, the illustrations are in pink and cyan on a white background. The printed fabric is layered with further illustrations in freehand machine embroidery.   The illustrations are representational but include a playful combination of architecture juxtaposed with plants and animals in varying scales and perspective. There is almost equal balance of illustrative lines and negative space allowing the images to be clearly identified.  The end result is a sumptuous, decorative piece.



Embroidery The Textile Art Magazine November/December 2016 pp28-31

Embroidery The Textile Art Magazine January/February 2017 pp 30 – 35

Hemmings J (2014) Cultural Threads: transnational textiles today Bloomsbury

Selvedge Magazine The Fabric of Life: Carnival Issue 68 Crochet Cocoon pp31-34

Selvedge The Fabric of Your Life The Pop Issue No. 65 Sound and Vision pp33-35


1 Comment

Project 1 Initiating Ideas

Before beginning the exercises, we are asked to read, absorb and annotate an article in which Edmund de Waal ‘talks about craft as practice and where he feels it sits within the range of visual arts disciplines’.

Reading the recommended article, I was reminded that quite early in my Level 1 studies, I was profoundly moved by the transcript of a speech Edmund de Waal gave in parliament to accompany Our Future is in the making: An Education Manifesto for Craft and Making developed by The Crafts Council and its members, so my first thought on reading was that it was inflammatory of Grant Gibson to ask Edmund de Waal if ‘he felt he now stood slightly askance of the craft world.  If he had, in effect, broken out of the craft ‘lagoon’ As Grayson Perry once described it”.  I felt indignant on his behalf.  If the author had done his homework, he would know that de Waal gave an ‘impassioned speech’ on Why craft is central, the transcript of which was published in the January/February 2015 Issue 250 of Crafts Magazine.  Although, on reflection, I realise a good journalist is entitled to ask whatever questions are necessary to produce an interesting article.

To annotate the article as requested, I had to consider his words and decipher the meaning of his comment which begins

“Craft is the great otherness in our culture.  It’s little understood.  It’s extraordinarily relevant and powerful.  It goes deep into people’s lives.  It’s catalytic.  It changes the world.”

and continues  passionately.  I thought about the definition of ‘craft’ as an activity involving skill in making things by hand, or in the singular, skills involved in carrying out one’s work and realised that I feel very strongly that ‘craft is central’.  It extends far beyond its well know labels such as embroidery, ceramics or woodwork and I couldn’t agree more with the Manifesto which opens with the words “Craft and making are vital to our society, culture and economy”.   This view is echoed by Rosy Greenlees’ comment below which was posted and published September 2014 Crafts Magazine Issue No. 250

Important in and of itself, a craft education isn’t just about creating beautiful objects. It has a vital role to play in wider industry, helps with problem-solving (as Matthew Crawford illustrated in his best-seller The Case for Working with Your Hands), and contributes to general cognitive development. It helps students see that there is more than one way to learn, and provides a sense of agency and empowerment. As the historian and master of Wellington College Dr Anthony Seldon argued in the Evening Standard recently: ‘All young people need an excellent grounding in the arts, creativity and sport.’ Yet if this decline continues then there is no question that the future of British craft will be in real jeopardy. And with it the material skills and expertise required by the film industry, engineers, designers, architects and surgeons.

I feel incensed when I read of a reduction in funding for creative arts in schools and believe a rounded education in creative and academic pursuits is vital.  So many talents can’t be judged by academic ability.  Often, individuals who find academic work difficult excel in creative activities .  Creativity also has positive effects on mental health.  Whilst this article is intended as a ‘catalyst to suggest themes and approaches to the creative practice’, it has also reminded me of the importance of craft in society.

The article also prompted me to think about craft in relation to fine art and I was interested to listen to a BBC Radio 4 Woman’s hour broadcast from 19th January 2017 looking at the history of craft and how it was elevated to the rank of fine art. The interviewees, Joanna Norman, Senior lecturer in Design History at Kingston University and Dr. Catharine Rossi, Head of Research, V&A Museum really helped me to put the role of craft in fine art textile practices into context.

Catharine Rossi was asked when craft began to be appreciated as art and responded that the idea of craft defined as a ‘category of making’ dates back to the history of industrialisation in the 18th and 19th centuries with the emergence of another way of making. The factory emerged as mass-produced, paid labour, associated with men and the home emerged as a site of amateur making, unpaid work, associated with women.

Joanna Norman was asked how craft differs from fine art and responded that craft is to do with skill and materials, particular kinds of making in particular materials such as ceramics, wood or textiles. In her view, the difference between the two is in training. From the mid 18th century there was organised training in Fine Art such as painting, but no equivalent for crafts such as ceramics, embroidery or making for the home. There were pattern books and instruction manuals but no formalised training.

In simple terms, I can relate to this, many people have excellent craft skills, some craft their own ideas and some follow the direction/instructions of others.  I used to, loosely, fall into that category, fortunate to be able to pick up practical craft skills, such as needlework, embroidery, dress making, free machining but with no idea how to develop my ideas beyond using other people’s ideas or patterns. Following a degree course and learning the creative process is enabling me to use my practical skills to express myself creatively and develop my own style.  In turn I feel I can call myself an artist, rather than, or, as well as, a maker, but I firmly believe that craft is central to the process.   For me, there is great pleasure in producing a well-crafted piece of work, the basis of which is a good understanding of the materials and related skills.  Such knowledge enables and empowers me to develop work to produce new and exciting outcomes.

Going  back to the article, de Waal says he “spent a lifetime thinking about porcelain but I didn’t know it”.  I feel to get the most out of your chosen material, it is important to get to know it well.  I remember reading that El Anatsui commented similarly and believe it is fundamental to explore your material and understand its properties.

I noted the words associated with pottery; fragmented, broken up, shards, patchwork, broken things and the comments, ‘the spaces between things’, and ‘the new way of making with more space between objects’.  What does he mean?  I need to consider this and come back to it.

I wonder if ‘making is very close to music’ for everyone, as commented in relation to his collaboration with the composer Martin Suckling.  I used to play music, but it wasn’t in my soul, perhaps thats why I stopped.   I feel as though making art, or the learning and executing of the process is.

It was interesting to note that de Waal increasingly does projects in places that he “really wants to understand and spend time in.  Place, it seems to me, is really compelling.”.  In developing my artist’s voice, I have become more aware of my individual needs and preferences and it is becoming more important for me to choose places I really want to be in and explore what it is about them that make it so.   Closely linked is the recognition that I need to get out of my safety zone to explore and expand what is beneficial for me, as de Waal did when he left Herefordshire and moved to Sheffield in trying to work out “who he was, and what it was to be working by yourself, making something that had some value”.