Books: Stitches, Straps & Layers

I picked up Maggie Grey’s book Stitches, straps & layers because I was particularly interested in the fact that it focuses on the ‘fabrics and art materials that we already have in our cupboards’ and uses them to create textile art. When I set up Purple Iris, one of the aims was to try to reuse as much fabric as possible and so this book was interesting as we may be able to come up with more unusual uses for items.

Bearing in mind the focus on using what you already have, the useful materials list in the beginning of the book is relatively short (as in an earlier post, sources for unusual materials are included but shopping around is advised):

  • velvet, felt and some sheer fabrics.
  • Abaca paper (Tissutex)
  • fusible webbing (Bondaweb) and foil
  • yarns, beads, sequins and charms
  • water-soluble film or fabric
  • scrim or vanishing muslin (Thermogauze)
  • metal from purée tubes and tissue paper from packaging.

Grey recommends investigating whether your local authority has recycling initiatives. When I lived in London there was a brilliant one in Watford and I do know of one that looks great in Southampton but it is a bit too far away. If you want to find out if there is one near you this handy map may help from ReusefulUK. My current technique is to just rescue anything from landfill that if I hear that someone is throwing it out in the hopes that I can make use of it later.

A basic technique for adding foil to fabric is to bond a piece of fusible webbing to it with a hot iron. Cool the iron to a silk setting and add a piece of gold foil shiny side up, cover with baking paper and then run the iron lightly over it. Peel off the unstuck gold and use again – this works particularly well on velvets and cords especially when a sheer is used over the top. Items such as sequins can be sprinkled over the webbing and foil before adding a layer of sheer fabric or Abaca tissue on top. If you lay threads on the base fabric before ironing the webbing and then foil, when you remove the threads you create voids. This can also be done with paper shapes. Pieces can be stitched and layered many times.

Purple Iris Upcycle Idea: Chopped up used threads can be sprinkled in too – perfect for all those tacking threads from making clothing and accessories!

Printed and stamped bases can be interesting if you stitch straight lines or pin tucks to distort the motifs. Upcycle Idea: Polystyrene trays from supermarket products can be used to make stamps!

Working on paper opens up painting options that won’t work on fabric and if you stabilise it on felt it sews on a machine fine (I’ve done this myself and it sews easily).

Building up the base

Tapes and yarns can be stitched directly to the background and if you want to cover the whole background it is worth using something like felt or stabilised cotton. Utility stitches work well and don’t overpower the background. I can see that complementary and contrasting thread could produce very different effects. Spray adhesive may help secure the yarn for stitching or if very hairy yarn is being used, water-soluble fabric may help stitching. Plaiting or weaving tape will give a very different effect than having all the yarns parallel. Upcycle Idea: work cable stitch by winding chunky threads, Christmas cords etc onto the bobbin and work upside-down so that the top thread couches the bobbin thread.

Layer up frayed and distressed fabrics to give the impression of an historic item. Scrim (here meaning very loosely woven cheap fabric) can be painted before applying to the background with thicker satin-type stitching. Once secure threads can be removed from the scrim. Thermogauze can be removed/distressed with a heat tool but beware painting this as it may cause smoking/fumes! Very light stitching is all that is needed to create delicate shapes. Embossing powder can also be used and pintucks can be used to create all sorts of effects.

Grey recommends keeping a ‘failed experiments box’ as any unfinished work, disasters etc can be reused later as backgrounds.

Building up layers

A sample of Jackie Langfeld’s work is fascinating as it is inspired by a spine and I found her work Paper Warriors intriguing. Grey also suggests stamping with puff paint which I think refers to products like EXpandit 3D. Application of heat makes the design become three-dimensional and it could then be painted/embossed.

Felt shapes can be cut out, layered and stitched. If the felt shape has a hole in, the centre can be filled with lacy stitching by placing a layer of water soluble fabric over it before stitching. The centre can also be filled with metal foil, shim or even the inside of purée tubes.

Add patches of tea/coffee stained paper usually in geometric shapes. Patches can be decorated in any way you like including lettering, stamping, pieces of metal, snippets of failed experiments, charms and beads. Paper-clips can be wrapped in yarn especially if they are unusual shapes. Puff paint can be used.

Strips and straps

Purple Iris Upcycle Idea: This process works best if using ready-made strips (or in our case left over strips, scraps of ribbon)

Ideas for making the straps:

  • strips of sari silk applied to felt and cut up
  • embellished surfaces – silk or wool fibres with chiffon
  • paper, stamped, stencilled and painted – stitching reinforces it
  • carrier rods (from silk making process) split and applied to felt by couching.
  • flower-stitched circles or cut-outs with wrapped cords running through
  • pieces of embellished fabric and cut out pieces of embroidery
  • wrapped rings to enhance strap
  • stitched border patterns cut from felt and further embellished
  • flat knitting tapes embellished or stitched.

Don’t forget that these techniques can be used successively or combined to make more interesting straps for instance felt could be stitched with a geometric pattern in satin stitch, cut out and stitched again.

It is possible to print onto Abaca tissue paper by gluing the edges firmly and running it through an inkjet printer (not laser!) but this will need careful trial in case the printer jams.

There are other embellishments that can be made such as paper beads, painting and then embossing watercolour paper, sprinkling embossing powder on puff paint before heating etc.

PS. This is just a sample of the ideas used in this book so if any intrigue you I can definitely recommend getting your hands on this book and it can be purchased from d4daisy direct if your local library isn’t as well stocked as the West Sussex ones.

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