Textiles for Mixed Media: What is involved?

The Open College of Arts (OCA) is based Barnsley in the UK. It is the UK’s only education charity. The basic aims of the Textiles for (Hons) degree course is to:

  • Widen access to education in textiles at undergraduate level through Open and Flexible Learning.
  • Ensure you gain the traditional skills in textiles to form a solid foundation for further development.
  • Provide an intellectually stimulating programme of study based on high quality study material and tutor support.
  • Develop your creative capacities and your ability in interpretation and application.
  • Develop your critical understanding of the theoretical and conceptual issues central to the practice of textiles and the social, historical and cultural context in which it is practiced.
  • Provide an environment in which you have has the possibility of changing your view of the world and your interaction with it both visually and intellectually.
  • Foster high-level ethical and professional standards and an awareness of the possibilities offered by existing and new developments in textiles to expand your application areas.
  • To develop autonomous learners capable of applying intellectual and practical skills in a chosen area of visual communications appropriate to employment, further study, or life-long learning.

My latest course,  Textiles for Mixed Media reminds students that there are a total of 400 hours of work, study and research to get through on this level one course. If my previous work with The Open College of Arts  is anything to go by, then I would double that figure.  It depends a lot on the individuals background in the arts, knowledge base and skill level as well as proficiency with photography. It is also useful to have knowledge of HTML code for keeping an online blog. Personally, I also factor in visiting exhibitions, trade and student shows and learning new skills that can’t be taught by book or YouTube videos. It helps a lot, if students have a grasp of photo editing techniques. Sometimes, because I live in The Canary Islands, I have to take a structured course or workshop abroad, which can entail an expensive trip away from home. On the other hand if I visit the UK I also spend time in UK libraries and museums doing research. It is rare if I have the opportunity to meet other OCA students and tutors at the UK based study days.

It is not, as some people assume, an 0n-line study program. Each student receives a manual of projects and is assigned a tutor. After each series of projects, these are parceled off the the tutor for comment. When all projects are complete, all the projects are mounted and displayed and parcelled as a whole and sent to an assessment centre (in the UK), for an external examiner, to give the student an overall grading in keeping with university level education.

There are no research facilities in English where I live, in Spain.  So I often wait until I visit the UK and factor in study-time and order books in advance from local libraries. Normally they are very accommodating, wherever I happened to stay, they will send them ahead to a local branch.

One problem that arises due to my location outside of the UK, is that, despite having a reading list, (at least with the study for the coursework  for A Creative Approach To Textiles), there were times when a book was either restricted by the publishing house for posting to certain countries, or the book was out of print. The OCA administrators, tutors, organisers should consider this when publishing a reading list that covers  globally located students.

The internet is a huge help for research, in fact I couldn’t have done the course work without it. The OCA’s student webs pages have been criticized by many students for being difficult to access and interact with. Enclosed with the course material that I received is an A4 page about how to log on and share information! I brace myself each time I have to upload notes. I have in the past tried uploading my work to the site for tutor feedback, and spent two hours navigating the site, it used to be incredibly slow and cumbersome to work with. There have been a number of recent modifications which have helped a little. I don’t know of any student that uploads their coursework to the OCA website.  That is one reason most students keep a blog of their work. WordPress and Blogger are extremely easy to navigate and keep track of and can hold a lot of images without difficulty. I can not fathom why OCA have such a cumbersome system.

Fortunately the Textiles students also have a Facebook page to ‘chat’ and share information. If they have queries about their work and blogs, usually there is a student who has been down that route and can offer advice. If a student can’t attend  study days, which are arranged at various locations  (always in the UK)  then the social aspect of the course is lacking. I can see that UK study days  can be a chance to meet other students and tutors and exchange ideas.  Tutor support relies mostly on feedback from the work you have already done, I have never met or spoken to my tutor, Rebecca Fairely.  I’m aware that some students and tutors can chat on SKYPE. I would find that a huge advance for distance learning students to be able to interact with their tutors regularly, I like the idea of a face to face conversation where you can discuss project work,  research or queries.

Mixed Media for Textiles is broken down into five sections, each section has a number of projects to be completed.

Part One: Surface Distortion

Project 1 Folding and crumpling

Project 2 Tearing and cutting

Project 3 Heating and fusing

Project 4 Scratching and embossing

Project 5 Puncturing and stitching

Part Two: Joining and Wrapping

Project 1 Joining

Project 2 Wrapping

Part Three: Molding and casting

Project 1 Molding from a surface

Project 2 Casting the internal space of a vessel

Part Four: Mono and collatype printing

Project 1 Monoprinting

Project 2 Collotype printing

Part 5: A final piece

This final sample is to bring all the learning, research and work from this course, to a conclusion. To have the freedom to combine methods or choose materials we particularly enjoyed working with, and perhaps extend them further. A time to show off the skills learned and methods you employed. The format is as with the other projects, that is showing your research, sample making, recording outcomes and sorting.

One of the facets of home study is a feeling of isolation and occasionally lack of motivation. There is no one to ask if  you are not sure of the suggestions in the course manual or whether the standard of your work is heading in the right direction. I don’t find it helpful when a tutor suggests that you go your own way, and that there is no right or wrong way to interpret the manual. Then when students send in their assignments for assessment, some have said the criticism can be keen and brutal. I know of 3 students who left have courses  due to their frustrations with interpretation and feeling they were not having adequate support. The dilemma with the OCA distance learning programs, and which one has to adjust,  is that tutors are not available full time, they are only paid for a certain number of hours and only work on particular days.

Happily the Mixed Media for Textiles is a new course. From my initial reading, it seems very strategic and well planned and it has been written by Rebecca Fairley, my current tutor.

When it comes to referencing and working from internet information,  students have to be wary and careful of their sources and be rigorous about quoting references about information, other peoples work and methodology. Also it is really important that if you use another artists photograph or discuss their work, to seek their agreement to using information or imagery before publishing it on the internet in a blog.


Project 1: Exercise 1: Linear Accordian Pleats

I have been reading Roger Housden’s book, Keeping the Faith Without a Religion.

Who made the world?  he asks. Who made this hand traveling across the page in the slanting light of an August afternoon? I look and I wonder and I sit back and I gasp as I realize that I do not know what a single thing is. What this is before me that is known as a table and who this is that sits breathing softly by my side, her legs crossed and her eyes down? It is a wonder we are here at all and a greater wonder still that I can wonder at it, and yet the more I wonder the closer I feel, the more intimate I feel, to this throbbing wild and passionate world. I wonder, and I come alive as the world comes alive before my eyes. Can we wonder the world alive, in spite of all that we think we know about it already? In spite of everything?

I spent my morning, wondering the world alive, turning my thoughts away and instead looking and sensing. I went into my garden, I noticed the waft of honeysuckle under the pergola,  I examined the soft down on the stems, the shape of its curling, looping, fragile, tapering flowers, the alternating saffron and white colours, so bright in the sunlight, its twining branches that curl around everything in its path. The intense green leaves, bold against whitewashed walls and the veins that branch out into tiny curls of web like structures. A potter wasp was hovering nearby, drawn by its mysteries, I was in overwhelm of nature and I had only been there for a few minutes.

I might draw this plant, I might photograph it or use its leaves as a colouring agent, I might put it in the house, so that the scent can remind me of its presence. I don’t know. I’m trying not to think. I could never know the depth of these fragile, living structures, even if I spent the rest of my life studying every thing that is known about them…. and that is the human dilema…. We think we can know everything there is to know by reading and researching it. Our minds are stuffed with information, personal problems,  world problems, information technology and our own biased cultural conditioning. Do we miss or bypass our senses, when the mind-made-self has such importance, do we miss the essence of the moment?  I’m trying not to think. I want to escape the mind of words and judgements. Today I want to wonder.

My wondering took me into the house, and to my experiments with folding flat paper into 3D structures. I am sat in a room full of sunlight, so good for experimental work and photography. Paul Jackson’s book, Folding Techniques for Designers is in front of me: He has been teaching paper folding and crumpling techniques for over 30 years. He encourages the reader to adapt his basic ideas to create personal work using their own themes. He has taught the basic skills to fashion designers, architects, jewellers, interior designers, packaging companies as well as artists and embroideres.

His primary advice is “…to work fluently and quickly…” and “It need not be technically perfect…” this is unexpected, given that some of his projects look terrifyingly precise and geometric. However, he does warn the reader to follow his exact instructions. Some rudimentary equipment is recommended:

  • scalpel or craft knife
  • ruler
  • pair of compasses
  • protractor
  • sharp pencil
  • A4 paper

Exercise 1:

I started with the basics, making linear accordian pleats, in various divisions.  I quickly understood how crucial it is to follow his method, especially using discreet pencil marks, because it is all too easy for the fold lines to disappear and loose track of where the next valley or mountain should be placed. I’m not good at following rules, on my first attempt things went awry. There is an inner drive in me that wants to do things my way! Once I got back on track, folding and following the instructions, I found myself in a heightened state of reality.

Linear folding samples
1.1 Linear folding samples

Maybe it was because I was sat in a white-painted room, flooded with sunlight from four high windows, I was sat at a white table, using white printer paper, wearing white shorts and t-shirt, an almost white cat was sat on my lap. The only colour is the terracota tiles under my feet. I was lost in the work, nothing else existed except the scratchy sound of my hands working the paper on the table, my cat occassionlly stretching out a paw with affection. I was in Zen time.

Linear folds
1.2 Linear pleats: 32 valleys & mountains
Linear pleats shaped
1.3 Linear pleats fan shaped
Liner pleats rolled into a tight bud
1.4 Liner pleats rolled into a tight bud
Linear pleated bud 2
1.5 Linear pleated bud 2
Linear folds on A3 painted drawing paper
1.6 Linear fold 16 mountains,15 valleys. painted paper
Linear pleated cylinder
1.7 Linear pleated cylinder, painted paper
1.8 Linear pleats, shaped paper
1.9 pleats flattened
Linear pleats flattened into shape
1.10  pleats flattened &  shaped
1.11 pleats with curl

I took the basic folding idea (equal spaces between valleys and mountains) to other materials that can hold a fold reasonably well. First I chose new African wax cloth, it is unwashed, thus it contains a stiffening agent. I ironed equal sized valley and mountain pleats into place, then punched central holes through the pleats. Next I threaded a wooden skewer, and then a ring binder through them to hold or enhance a shape.

linear folds african wax cloth and skewer
1.12 linear pleats, African wax cloth
Liner pleats on African wax cloth
1.113 Liner pleat cylinder, African wax cloth
1.14 Brown (scrunched) wrap

Mosquito netting is an interesting and plaible material, but it does not press into shapes very well. I created equally distanced valley and mountains in the fine netting and held it in place with a bulldog clip overnight. The next day the linear shapes were still not pronounced enough to stay in place. I put a warm iron on them, between two pieces of brown paper. This resulted in the two folds nearest the heat source melting! There must be a lot of polyester fibre in the material. I decided to stitch all the folds (valleys and mountains) in place with a tiny button-hole stitch, using a fine cotton thread. It took over an hour, but it is a hot August day  (35 degrees), and too hot to be outside, I sat in the shade of the pergola, stitching after a lazy Sunday lunch. I had made a seafood rissotto and shared a bottle of  chilled white verdejo with my husband.

mos net stitch
1-15 Linear pleats in mosquito net stitched
mos net stitch 3
1-16 Linear pleats in cylinder shape

The flat surfaces I started with this morning are starting to feel more interesting. The regularity of the linear accordian pleats on white paper was quitely satisfying, and whilst I worked on them I thought to put some of them together inside a box, like a Louise Nevelson assemblage. In the later samples I liked the addition of a little color, of red matt cotton, it  was a complete contrast to the grey shiny mesh. I left my red threads loose and long, waiting for more inspiration.

accordian pleats

1.1.16 My final sample used a fine filament mesh to create  semi-circular accordian pleats. It was tricky keeping the mesh from being damaged during folding. I handled it with great care. The depth of the folds are 6cm each, they held their shape better after being put under a press for a couple of hours. I love the fragility of this piece and used a dyed silk cocoon rod to hold it in place.I could use organza on this idea next. I hope the images are good enough because hardly any of this work would survive a journey in the post for my tutor to view them.

In summary for these exercises, I can clearly appreciate that I like a little disorder and working on organic shaped pieces more than stiff regimented lines and precision. graceful folds in sculptureI love this graceful sculpture (above) with its folding elements, leaning to one side in repose and looking out over the ocean in Arrecife, Lanzarote. There is no plaque to say who the artist is. I pass it, and admire its beautiful shapes often, when I cycle along the coastline, no words spring into my mind, I just feel peaceful when I look upon it. I think Kandinsky would be pleased with my response.

Artists Interviews Lanzarote: Tatum Chick

Hello. What is your name and age?

I am Tatum Chick. I am 12 years old and the youngest member in the Sunday Shooters club. I would like to thank them for allowing me to be part of the group.

Where are you from originally?

Solihull, Birmingham, UK.

How long have you lived on Lanzarote?

I moved here the day before my 2nd birthday, so I have been here 10 years.

What did you do in the place you lived before?

I slept a lot, ate a lot and cried a lot (according to my mum anyway)

What brought you to Lanzarote?

Mum and Dad came here to start a new life in the sun

What is your favourite thing about Lanzarote?

Lots of interesting things to photograph

How and what made you interested in photography?

I like to see things differently through the camera lens. My photography allows me to let others see what I see through the images I shoot.

Have you always been interested in photography?


What work do you have at the Elements exhibition in Barstro?

I have 4 pieces on display. My favourite is the photo of my dog standing on the wall of my house breathing on the moon. It is a very unique and original photo

Are you working on anything else?

Yes, the local bar Los Tr3s, Las Brenas is going to allow me to display all my work for everyone to see (and buy if they like it) in the main lounge. This is really exciting but I am also very nervous in case people don’t like it

Is there usually a theme to your work or is it random?

I take photos of everything. That is the advantage of a digital camera. If you don’t like a picture… delete and its gone, move onto the next one

Obviously you dont offer courses on the island, but what is your next step?

No, I don’t teach, but if anybody would like to teach me how to become a better / professional photographer then I am a willing student

What is your goal for your work?

For people to see what I can do with a camera. Hope that they will like my photos and maybe buy some so I can make some pocket money to buy my mum flowers as she is always very supportive and comes to do interesting photo shoots with me

What would you like to achieve in the future?

I would like to go to university and become a professional photographer. I have always liked animals, so maybe one day I will get to work for NatGeo or Greenpeace

Who or what is your inspiration / muse?

I really like Betty Rawson. She takes a normal photo that anyone could take and with a bit of magic and skill makes the ordinary … extraordinary

What is your scariest art moment?

I don’t really have one, but taking a photograph of my mum first thing in the morning is always a frightening experience !

What, Where or Who would you like to photo?

I would love to photograph Zac Effron on a beach, sunbathing … mmm. My mum says she would chaperone me for that photo shoot … not good !!!.

Thank you Tatum. Good luck with the exhibitions, I’m sure we will all be following your career with interest.

Tatum Chick
Tatum Chick

Research: Mixed Media for Textiles

My initial research has flagged some interesting textile artists working in 3D structures, to follow-up for this module: I am sure more will follow.

Louise Nevelson, (1899-1938) American, Russian born, Sculptor. She was famous for her monochromatic wooden assemblages and was contemporary with Alexander Calder. In the 1940s she produced Cubist figures in stone, bronze, terracotta and wood. I have admired her work since 2002 when I created a minimalist version of her ideas using simple 3D forms in wood. I created the form ideas generally to do with modern sun worship, and called it White Out, as it’s white sculptures embedded on an all white background (in fact it was the sign board for the house that I bought) it has a thin black border.

Penny Burnfield, UK, with her interesting background in science, biology and medicine and her interests in alchemy and archaeology. I immediately like her piece Towers of Babel, based on a Mesopotamian obelisk for a Japanese exhibition, which she formed out of foamboard and international newspapers. My interest in archaeology informs a lot of my work and I have an inner drive to express myself in larger structures, using cement, ceramic tiles and wood, though getting them in the post and under the 20kg weight limit for my tutor is another matter.

Penny Burnfield: Towers of Babel
Penny Burnfield: Towers of Babel

Susan Lenz (USA), her work is conceptual, she is influenced by vanishing environments, anything neglected, old and vintage. Her need to create is one of her greatest drives and I feel like that a lot of the time. I rarely struggle to create, even on the worst of days. It is my antidote to the banalities of life and the inhumanity that exists in the world.

Susan Lenz: Keys
Susan Lenz: Keys

Ali Furguson, Textile Artist, UK. She uses her art to translate other people’s stories into patched and stitched textile pieces. She often prints her own fabric using vintage letters, recipes and post cards. I am fascinated by her process of drilling holes and then stitching into wooden objects. My husband is rather concerned that I have been eyeing his small electric drill very thoughtfully.

Ali Ferguson
Ali Ferguson, stitches on wood

Lindsay Taylor. UK, makes use of Free Machine Embroidery to create 3D work, by molding, wiring, felting and sculpting. I particularly like the fragility that she creates. I have a little project I did for A Creative Approach to Textiles using molding for a fragile linen and organza sample. It was pleasing to create shapes in this way and I look forward to creating more samples and taking this idea further, especially utilising the ideas from the web like structures that can be created with FME.

Lindsay Taylor: Shoe
Lindsay Taylor: Shoe

Shannon Weber, USA. Mixed media sculptor. She most often works outdoors, inspired by nature and ephemera she finds there. She admits to rarely buying supplies, instead most of her materials are found objects like beach finds, fish bones, plant fibers and recycled materials. Her materials for Tossed  Ashore 2014 were reclaimed fishing wire, washers, sticks, nails, and bone. I’m an avid collector of ephemera in my environment and my cupboards are full of beach finds, sea glass, dried palm and banana fronds, and rusting pieces from my husband’s workshop. My fingers are itching to make my own sample when I see her work, even her titles draw me in to experiment.

Shannon Weber: Burned Offerings
Bethany Walker, UK. Mixed media artist, who completed her degree in 2010. I will follow her progress with interest. She works in concrete and fabric and draws her inspiration from the urban environment. She had a collaborative exhibition with Ruth Singer, Interlace at the Bilston Gallery.

In an interview by Textile Artist.Org she was asked:

What or who were your early influences and how has your life/upbringing influenced your work?

My work uses a combination of Cement & Textiles. An odd combination you may think – but this dynamic combo creates beautiful and captivating pieces which possess immense tactile qualities. Embroidered and knitted fibres are embedded in a hand cast concrete composition. I have developed my own individual hand techniques’, meaning each piece is individual and creates intrigue with its integral shape, colour and relief. It’s a bit of amessy process but that makes it all the more interesting.

I am intrigued by this mismatch of materials and want to learn more, particularly as I learned how to mix concrete whilst renovating the house I now live in. At least one of my works, Matres Domesticae, using ceramic mosaics is embedded in concrete. Happily, my tutor, Rebecca Fairley also works with these unusual materials.

Bethany Walker: concrete & fabric
Bethany Walker: concrete & fabric

My next line of research to compliment the exercises I am about to undertake, arises from artists using solid materials to create structures using crushing, crumpling and folded techniques. I studied the work of the following artists:

El Anutsi, one of Africa’s most famous artists. He created an installation on the facade of the Pallazo  Fortunny in Venice, constructed from the diatrus of modern African culture. He collects old bottle tops and tin cans then crushes, folds and links them together using the resources of teams of villagers.

El Anutsi: crushed cans
El Anutsi: crushed cans

Amy Jean Boebal from USA, who uses crushed folded layers of screen mesh to make fragile, gossamer installations. By some incredible coincidence that often makes me smile,  I read about her work and chatted over dinner to my husband about her use of materials. The next day he handed me folds of mosquito netting, left over from a job he undertook for a friend. The experimental itch is unbearable, I can hardly wait.

Amy Jean Boebal 600 x 480 mesh /metal sculpture


This blog follows my work for The Textiles and Mixed Media module with The Open College of Arts, (OCA) based in the UK. I live in Lanzarote, in The Canary Islands, Spain.

I have received the course manual and an introductory letter from my tutor,  Rebecca Fairley   and I was reminded by the college, that, when completed, this module earns me 40 points towards a Bachelor of Arts, honours degree in Textiles. This level 1 course is expected to take 400 hours of learning time.

Part one is about surface distortion. It has around 10 exercises to be completed, several samples in different mediums created, annotated, photographed and critical comments made to uncover the creative potential inherent both in the material itself as well as the technique.  The course uses the following experimental processess.

  • Folding and crumpling
  • Tearing and cutting
  • Heating and fusing
  • Scratching and embossing
  • Puncturing and stitching

The arrival of the course manual coincided with my involvement in, and the setting up of, an art exhibition titled ‘Elements’, with 15 local artists in Lanzarote.  It’s taken me three months of research and work to create four goddesses fabric sculptures, representative of earth, sea, sky and fire. (I will describe the process in detail with my tutor if she wishes). Artists have been arriving at my house to leave their work in preparation for arranging their paintings and pictures. Its been thrilling to meet each and everyone and seeing their work.  I’ve been collating data on a spreadsheet for information for each art work that will be used to create a catalogue.

The date for hanging all the work for the exhibition, in conjunction with Betty Rawson (BA, MA, author, teacher, photographer and mentor) and Jodie Tilbury-Fowler (artist), at Barstro Restaurant, Nazaret is flagged for 2 June. Opening night is nearly upon us on 4 June, with up to 100 guests expected. Barstro Restaurant has quickly earned its place as 4th best restaurant in Lanzarote with its chef/owners taking a huge interest in the arts on the island. They are providing canapes and cava and serving our guests. We also have two musicians to add to the atmosphere for opening night. This is our second collaboration at Barstro, and the first in which I have had a direct involvement in organising.

june 2015 026
Betty Rawson (photographer, upper right) on a photo shoot in Lanzarote

Fabric sculptures by Diane Lawton

Diane Lawton and artist Jodie Tilbury-Fowler

Diane Lawton and Paul Campbell, part owner of Barstro Restauarant

I have sent an introductory letter to Rebecca, and garnered the basic details of the course over a long lunch the day I received it, getting quietly excited about starting a new line of artistic inquiry, using new materials and having Rebecca as my tutor.

The Elements exhibition opening night was exhilarating, especially as so many artists were involved and there were many invited guests to meet. The youngest artist was a photographer, at 12 years old, the oldest, a glass artist with a studio in Arrecife is 72. Barstro restaurant and their magnificent team looked after everyone. The open evening was covered by Artsnspire on their website. Elements will stay in place until the end of August.

The next day, I was, finally able to dive deep into the Textiles and Mixed Media manual and take Rebbeca’s sage advice of research, research, research.

I spent some time on Pinterest and copied images to follow up later.  I learned about Paul Jackson’s teaching methods with folding paper techniques and watched some of  his Youtube tutorials. I ordered his book Folding Techniques for Designers, to familiarise myself with this new art form, before attempting any of the exercises in the coursework.

Not wanting to wait for the postman to deliver everything, I downloaded a new book, 3D Mixed Media Textile Art to my ipad Kindle. Being a member of the TextileArtist.Org  and its resourceful and inspirational website, I had read about the book and it seemed very timely to buy it. Being an insomniac I read through most of the book, in the dark hours, making notes of materials used, techniques and working methods and noting favorite artists to follow up later.

Finally, the title of my blog comes from Wassily Kandinsky’s Book, Concerning The Spiritual In Art, it was translated from the Russian title, Über das Geistige in der Kunst  of 1911. It feels appropriate, because most of my art work and inspiration arise out of my own personal search for the sacred.

I have always loved reading about our ancient forebears and their drive to find the spiritual, wherever they found themselves. It’s the human search for the sacred in art, architecture, text, images, sculpture, painting, archaeology etc, that crosses all genders, eons, continents and cultures that so fascinate me. My inquiry and inspiration from that source is as deep as Brawnwen’s Cauldron. I have been reading the out of  print book The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe by Marija Gimbutas, that I managed to buy on Amazon, as part of my research for the Elements exhibition.