Books: Natural Processes in Textile Art

As the work in this section has been inspired by medicinal plants, I wanted to bring natural processes into my work and found Natural Processes in Textile Art: From Rust Dyeing to Found Objects by Alice Fox in my local library.

There is a wealth of techniques and ideas in here that I would like to try:

  • Onion skins (red and white), used tea bags, discarded outer leaves of red cabbage, avocado skins and stones, beetroot skins, out of date spices, teas or coffee grounds can all be used for mark-making, dyeing, staining or painting. (p25)
  • In her work “Gifts from the Pavement” Fox layered marks including rust prints or leaf prints, wetted pages with tea and laid items on top and let them dry, rollers with most of the ink removed to add texture, printmaking and finally stitches. As well as playing with black tea I am intrigued to try using herbal teas to take prints from the plants that they are made from. It will also be interesting to see if the prescription leaflets from the medications with similar properties can be dyed/printed on. (p26)
  • Eco printing is when colour is transferred directly from plant matter on to cloth or paper. The general method is to layer leaves and plant matter along with metal found items (the metal acts as a mordant helping to fix the colours) with fabric or paper, fold/bundle them together and steam or simmer the bundle. The bundles must be left until completely dry before unwrapping to see the results (p32)
  • Vegetable inks can be made by simmering vegetable matter in a pan with just enough water to cover for 20 mins. Strain off the solids and boil to reduce to required consistency. Adding vinegar or baking soda alters the pH and can alter the colour too. Results may vary on differing pH papers. Ground turmeric could be used for a bright yellow (p47)
  • Grasses and nettles can be stripped and twisted into strings (p79)
  • Leaves can be used to print or take rubbings from. Wax rubbings will work as a resist to other dyes. (p94)
  • Thick paper can be embossed with objects if damp ie soak for a while before blotting as you want it damp not wet. (p97)
  • Perhaps try stitching the textile first and printing/dyeing after (p104)
  • Fine sheets can be layered together using wax as this method allows small items to be trapped between the layers (p106)


Fox, A. (2015) Natural Processes in Textile Art: From Rust Dyeing to Found Objects London: Batsford


Part Five: Building a Collection – Research

I was inspired to build a collection based on plants that had medicinal properties similar to the medications that I have been prescribed as this would link in with the stitch and yarn explorations I have done in the previous sections.

I used two books as sources of possible plants to create a still life with and these were:

  • White, L. B. & Foster, S. (2000) The Herbal Drugstore: The Best Natural Alternatives to Over-the-Counter and Prescription Medicines Rodale Inc.
  • Steel, S. (2011) Neal’s Yard Remedies: Cook, Brew and Blend Your Own Herbs London: Dorling Kindersley Limited

Disclaimer: I should be clear here that I am not in any way using these plants as alternatives or to supplement the drug regime prescribed by my GP. The following plant list is only being used as inspiration for a still life and subsequent textiles project.

PlantPotential Medicinal Uses
Aloe VeraAnti-inflammatory
BorageAdrenal Stimulant
Cayenne & Other PeppersAnti-inflammatory, Raynaud’s, Headaches
ChamomileAnti-inflammatory, antispasmodic,
ChicoryDigestive Aid
Cleavers (Galium Aparine)Lymphatic Cleanser, Anti-Inflammatory
DandelionStimulates Digestion
Dog Rose (Rosa Canina)Anti-inflammatory
EchinaceaAnti-allergenic, Anti-inflammatory
Elder (Sambucus Nigra)Anti-inflammatory, Bruising
FeverfewAnti-inflammatory, Digestive Stimulant,
Garlic (Allium Sativum)Antihistaminic
JasmineNervine, Mild Analgesic, Antispasmodic
LavenderAntispasmodic, Analgesic
Lemon BalmInsomnia, Headaches, Digestive Stimulant
Lemon GrassAntispasmodic, Analgesic
LiquoriceAdrenal Stimulant, Anti-inflammatory
Marigold (Calendula)Anti-Inflammatory, Bruising
PassionflowerAnalgesic, Antispasmodic, Insomnia,
PeppermintAntispasmodic, Digestive Aid, Analgesic
Poppy (Papaver Somniferum)Analgesic
RosemaryNervine, Antispasmodic
Stinging NettleAnti-inflammatory, Osteoporosis, Hayfever
Thyme (Thymus Vulgaris)Antispasmodic
Valerian (officinalis)Acts in similar manner to Valium, Insomnia

The plants that I collected together can be seen in the photographs below and I am intrigued to see how the composition will change over the coming weeks as different plants flower.

Referred to “a jungle and a half” by a visitor, the collection includes:

  • Iceland Poppy Garden Gnome
  • Feverfew
  • Lavender
  • Passionflower
  • Willow (dried in 3 colours)
  • Echinacea
  • Bronze Fennel
  • Chamomile
  • Sage
  • Chilli Plant Prairie Fire
  • Elder
  • Peppermint
  • Marigolds
  • Thyme
  • Dandelions
  • Cleavers
  • Aloe Vera
  • Stinging Nettles
  • Bay

Now the plants have been collected, the brief is to create eight to ten new drawings using any media and in any size I wish.

Part Five: Building a Collection

The course notes for this section begin with a quote from Chris Ofili

“The studio is a laboratory, not a factory. An exhibition is the result of your experiments but the process is never-ending. So an exhibition is not a conclusion”

Younge, G. (2010) After the Elephant Dung: Chris Ofili

I am drawn to Chris Ofili’s description of the studio as a laboratory as that is very familiar to my previous studies. I like the idea of experimenting with different techniques and recording them in a sketchbook much as you record experimental notes in a lab book.

Many of the ideas I get come from the research I do, reading around and looking at the work of other artists or even things that I have seen years ago. I like to let the ideas float around in my mind and have a plan of what I want to do when I am in the studio. I think up to this point I have a natural tendency to read about techniques extensively before I give them a try for myself. I would like to take a more experimental approach and aim to do that with this final project to push myself further.

Ofili’s view that “an exhibition is not a conclusion” was an interesting idea as, if I am honest, I have always seen it as such. I think I view an exhibition in a similar manner to writing a scientific paper in that you write up when you have a conclusion that you can draw. This doesn’t mean that you never work on a related idea or a new question that has been raised, only that you have enough results to feel that it would be of interest to others.

The notes ask us to “write down how [we] feel [we] would like to conclude or stop at the end of this course” and I think that I would like this project to be a template or springboard that allows me to start generating work of my own that is more considered. I am aware that there are a lot more modules to go before I complete the BA but I am not taking to course so much to obtain another qualification, rather to be exposed to ideas and processes that I might not encounter otherwise.

I feel that the work I have produced so far could be pushed further although there are whole sections that if I had the time I would rework entirely (such as Assignment 2). I am eager to undertake part 5 of the course as I feel like it gives us the perfect opportunity to start from scratch essentially and put into practice what we have learnt in subsequent sections. I feel that I have gained more from the experiments than the final outcomes of the earlier sections but was more satisfied with the latter assignments. I am not sure that I see the assignments as “conclusions” in that they are more of a record of the experiments that I have embarked upon and feel that they are a stepping stone to making better textile work in future.

[All links accessed on 16/6/19]

Assignment Four: Reflections

What have I learnt over the duration of the two projects that made up Part 4 Yarn & Linear Exploration?

The most obvious skill I have learnt by working through part 4 is how to spin wool into yarn. Whilst I am by no means an expert spinner, I am finding that with practice I am able to produce more consistent yarns. It has also been enjoyable to look at unconventional materials for possible yarn samples. It did feel a bit awkward to start with but I soon found myself looking at anything and everything to work out if it could be used or deconstructed and used. It was fortuitous that we had a build ongoing during this part of my module as I had access to some materials such as cement and insulation that wouldn’t normally be around the house.

I am always hesitant to push my boundaries when creating work but I now feel that I would like to push some of the samples further for instance the delicate samples inspired by The Toilet of Venus or the watercolour stripes could be used to create a fabulous overskirt for a dress as they had a lot of movement when suspended.

I did find working with unusual materials more challenging as they were harder to store and present without damaging. There was also one complete disaster with a sample when I tried to suspend tiny pieces of concrete in PVA glue as it just fell apart when it dried. Looking at the aims for the assignment, I am trying to take heart in the fact that I have learnt as much from the failures as those that worked well.

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Review of assessment criteria

Demonstration of technical and visual skills– materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skill (40%)

As with learning to use gouache in Part 3, I chose to learn to spin wool for this section and although some of my early attempts did not produce very balanced or interesting yarns, by Exercise 4.4 I was able to produce yarn that was more consistent than I expected. I would like to be able to practice more and attempt some of the more fancy yarn techniques but that will take a lot more time. I have been trying to focus on making conscious design and compositional decisions and have enjoyed the opportunity to push the projects in directions that interest me as they were so open ended.

Quality of outcome– content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas (20%)

It was noted in my feedback from Part Three that the presentation of my physical work had drastically improved since Part Two. I wanted to continue this and aimed to use very similar presentation techniques with the intention that when the work is submitted for formal assessment there will be clear continuity.

It was suggested that I should try photographing my work against a white background to make it look more consistent and professional and I have done that in this Part of the course. The only exception to this was when I was photographing the relevant pages of my sketchbook. The reason I chose to have the odd snippet of mess behind was because I admit that that is how I work in reality. My sketchbook is always floating around on top of the mess so I can stick bits in or make notes as they occur to me!

Demonstration of creativity– imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice (20%)

Some of the more successful pieces from Part Three were those that demonstrated a much stronger ‘personal voice’ and I enjoyed continuing to play with themes such as health and life changes in this section. As most of the yarn samples were based on the colour resource book from Assignment Three they were fairly cohesive and only needed minor tweaks to form a collection.

Context– reflection, research, critical thinking (20%)

In this part I tried to continue to play with the materials and see what evolved rather than have a preconceived idea of an outcome. This was particularly relevant in Exercises 4.1 and 4.2 as I found myself stuck creatively at a few points. Rather than force an outcome I decided to risk leaving the work as it was and reviewing it when I had finished all the other exercises. As I tend to want to finish work before moving on, this wasn’t the most natural decision for me. I feel that the final outcomes of the two yarns created whilst I pulled together the yarn collection were far more interesting and had more meaning to me than any yarn I would have created at the time. I probably still need to research more artists as I feel that in teaching myself spinning techniques (and having health problems) that was the main thing that was neglected in this section. I am eager to start Part Five: Building a Collection and can see that I will need to do a significant amount of research on artists to create my own collection.

[All links accessed on 10/06/19]

Assignment Four: A Yarn Collection

The aims of this assignment are:

  • demonstrate my ability to value all stages of the design development process
  • build on my ability to be selective and analytical of my design and presentation decisions.

The brief of Assignment Four is to pull together the work from Part 4: Yarn and Linear Exploration to create a cohesive collection. As yarns can be difficult to display clearly and effectively this assignment requires me to address the presentation of the work.

Sketchbook Pages

When I reviewed all the samples I had made, there were two samples in particular that didn’t seem as interesting or relevant and these were placed into my sketchbook. Although I didn’t like some of the samples wrapped on mount board from Exercise 4.1, when presented together there did appear to be a logical progression from one sample to the next as I tried out different ideas. A few are not particularly well executed as I was building up my spinning skill however one of the aims of this assignment is “to value all stages of the design development process” which I am taking to mean that there is merit even in samples that didn’t work very well. It can be seen that by Exercise 4.4 I was able to spin yarns with more accuracy. All the sketchbook pages related to Part Four are shown below.

Reworked Samples

In Exercise 4.1, there was a 100cm yarn sample that I was uninspired with but couldn’t work out how I wanted to finish it. After reviewing the collection as a whole I wanted to finish it using some of the unconventional materials that I had gathered for Exercise 4.2 to help unify the collection.

The original sample was a yarn spun from a prescription leaflet and after the submission of this assignment was delayed by a week due to health problems I wanted to continue this personal theme. I used a yarn spun from an offcut of the metal layer of insulation used in my newly built studio to ply with the prescription yarn. I then created a yarn from a plastic bag as the texture of the plastic when stretched was reminiscent of the rubber gloves worn by medical personnel during examinations.

When I wrapped the plastic ply around the core, I allowed parts of the metallic ply to “escape”. I stitched “nerves” using black cotton to represent pain and the irritation associated with being in pain when it “gets on your nerves”. The metallic insulation to me represents the excitement of having a creative space of my own despite recent health setbacks which gave me the idea to call this yarn “Silver Lining Glimmers”.

Continuing the theme of using unconventional materials I noticed that an old telephone wire had a coating that was a similar colour to the background of Craft Cotton Co.’s Give Me The Sea Boats (from Exercise 4.2) with a bright green cable inside. When I deconstructed the cable to access the green part I realised that the inside of the insulating layer had a ribbed texture which when bent created a wave effect. To hold the wave in place I twisted the green and black cores together (there was no brown) and wove a yarn that was dipped in concrete around the wire cores to create another layer of interest. All these materials have been used in the studio build (well a mains cable rather than telephone cable) and I have managed to get a wifi signal using a powerline adaptor (something that sends the internet access via the mains supply using power sockets) which gave me the idea to call this yarn sample “Creative Waves”.


As I discussed in Assignment 3, the colour resource book seemed to have a consistent colour scheme which I attempted to emphasise when I dyed a cover (a sample is shown below).

When I was planning how to display the yarn collection it became obvious that while some of the samples would sit well on card alongside a photograph of the inspiration, there were other yarns that would look best wrapped onto spools.

It was apparent that these spools were not going to be large enough for the longer or chunkier yarn samples that I had created. I decided to create my own spools from some card and toilet roll tubes. (It can be seen from the photo below that my assistance dog was less impressed as she normally gets to play with them!)

I applied a layer of dilute white acrylic to ensure that the yarn samples would be clearly seen and an example can be seen below.

I realised when I took photographs of some of the samples together that I wanted to try to unify the spools a bit more.

To make the spools look more consistent I decided to try to replicate the labels on the inherited spools. The resulting collection can be seen below.

The final conundrum was how I was going to package up the spools so they wouldn’t get damaged in the post. In the end I found a box that was just large enough to contain all the spools and chose to paint the inside white and used Mod Podge to cover the exterior with a napkin that had a similar colour scheme to my colour resource book.

The Final Yarn Collection

[All links accessed on 10/06/19]

Exercise 4.5 Collage-inspired yarn

The aims of this exercise are to:

  • further explore and refine colour, composition and making techniques in yarn design
  • find ways to translate making techniques and approaches used in collage work into yarn concepts, with a focus on flat yarns
  • master and refine strong development and making techniques and approaches that I’ve already tackled.

The brief of this exercise is to work in ways that echo the collage techniques employed in Exercise 3.4 but now with the focus on yarn design.

The collages from Exercise 3.4 that I found most inspiring for this exercise are shown below

It was suggested that we start by focusing on the following forms of yarn construction:

  • flat yarns – most often nylon or polyester yarns that are spun and processed in such a manner as to give a silky texture whilst retaining strength. Often used in applications such as sports wear or automotive (eg seatbelt) textiles eg Schill + Seilacher
  • flat braids – according to the Encyclopaedia Brittanica braiding is defined as the interlacing of three or more yarns or bias-cut strips to create a diagonal formation resulting in a narrow flat strip. This was a technique I used in Exercise 4.3 for one of my yarn samples but also is seen often in textiles as trims.
  • ribbons – traditionally used as decoration and trims. Ribbons are traditionally woven on looms with a warp and weft.
  • slit or slit-film yarns – made from materials such as polypropylene where a film of the plastic is slit or extruded through a slit to produce tapes or yarns. [source]
  • rag yarns – yarn made from strips of fabric and a good way of recycling old clothes or using leftover strips.
  • tape yarns – are also often referred to as ribbon yarns as they are flat. Knitting or weaving with these yarns is said to give a different texture than traditional yarns with a round profile [source]. These yarns are therefore popular in the fashion industry to create unusual knitwear.

I created the following flat yarns inspired by the first collage:

The first flat yarn is created from deconstructed fabrics and spiral shapes cut freehand from a faux leather fabric sample salvaged from a skip (brand & composition is unknown but the the colour is called Praline)

The second flat yarn was created from spirals cut from acrylic felt and the faux leather freehand. I then used a spiral pattern created by my sewing machine to join the spirals together.

The following yarns were inspired by the “Blue sky thinking” collage:

In these flat yarns I used remnants of the papers present in the original collage in different configurations to create three completely different samples that I found interesting.

The first one I created by cutting strips the same width and weaving them together in a repeating pattern. The shorter strips were organised to change from light to dark and back again to mimic the overall effect of the original collage which moves from generally darker at the bottom to lighter at the top. The longer strips had a subtle wave pattern on them which helps to generate a sense of movement echoed by the change in tone of the shorter strips. To me this is reminiscent of the way the light changes on waves.

The second flat yarn was intended to be more graphic and is reminiscent of a chain. Most likely this was influenced by a beginners jewellery making course that I took at a local college last term. I wanted the pattern to be random but found it more visually appealing if I ensured there was a contrast in tone touching rectangles.

When creating the collages and yarns I had a few offcuts that consisted of the insignia and symbols that are recognisably from envelopes and I wanted to make use of these. Much of my work with Purple Iris involves reusing and upcycling materials that would otherwise be discarded and whilst many of these projects aim to disguise their preloved origins, there is something appealing about creating items that respect the heritage and previous incarnation of objects. I wanted to embrace the paper offcuts’ source and create a yarn that made this link more obvious visually.

[All links accessed on 8/6/19]

Exercise 4.4: Deconstructing colour as yarn

The aim of this exercise is to select and explore new and appropriate making and deconstructing techniques to make lighter and more transparent qualities into yarns.

The brief of this exercise is to the stripe designs created in Exercise 3.3 to inform material selection and then apply methods of deconstruction and reduction to capture the lightness, colour, energy and particular qualities of the watercolour-painted stripes in a small series of yarn designs and yarn concepts.

For reference the stripe designs from Exercise 3.3 that I found particularly inspiring are shown below

I started by deconstructing a piece of material into its individual components, blending some roving to better colour match the stripe designs. The roving was blended by selecting colours that looked as though they would mix together to get the shade I wanted (including adding white where necessary) and then repeatedly pulling the roving apart gently and recombining until the roving appeared to be a more consistent colour. I also played with applying heat to a polyester voile (this was an idea I had after constructing ribbon leaves for a friend’s bridal bouquet). As can be seen in the photos below, the way the voile reacted to the heat was to concentrate the dye along the edges which was very reminiscent of the way that watercolour often has a stronger pigmentation along the edges.

The yarns that I created inspired by these striped designs are as follows. The first yarn was created using a white roving as the dominant core and I caught strands of cream and green from deconstructed fabrics into the yarn as it was spun.

The second yarn I created was somewhat inspired by one of the yarns created in Exercise 4.3 but I also wove a cream thread from a deconstructed fabric to exaggerate the stripe effect.

For the third yarn I wanted to play with the idea of the transparency of watercolour paint and how the colours change as they are laid over one another as it was inspired by the bleeding sections of the stripe designs.

Inspired by the pooling of pigment by watercolour paint I created the following yarn made from strips of voile, heating the edges to distress and bind each strip to the previous one.

For the final yarn, I wanted to create a more tradition spun yarn with the colouring of the striped design that was reminiscent of candy stripes. The first version I created can be seen here but I felt that it was a bit too dark to capture the stripe accurately. I found that when I spun the yarn together, the dark colours dominated more than I expected.

I decided to try again and created this yarn instead

Both of the two spun yarns inspired by this colour scheme were created by a technique called Navajo plying where a single ply is turned into a three-ply yarn. I found this technique very exciting as it allowed me to create a plied yarn without having to handle multiple balls of spun yarn at once. It also allows you to consolidate colours by spinning the single ply in colour blocks and then plying those sections together. The place where you pass the yarn through to create a new loop isn’t easy to spot but can be seen most clearly in the centre of bottom yarn in the photo below:

[All links accessed on 25/05/19]